Copycat (and copydog)

Those little chinese cats, the ones that slowly wave their paws in the air, are often to be seen in gift shops. But I never thought I’d see one of these pretend cats being copied by a real cat.

Dogs will copy, including copying their humans, like in this bit of video at the same Twitter feed, but I never knew that any cats were also this way inclined. I didn’t know that there were actual copycats.

I guess my surprise comes from me not having known any cats who were growing up in the company of other cats, and hence still at the stage of learning how to be a cat, by copying those other cats.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Michael Fabiano does a Master Class at the Royal College

Yesterday afternoon GodDaughter2 arranged for me to be in the audience (which was mostly singing students like her) of a master class presided over by American operatic tenor Michael Fabiano, a totally new name to me. He should not have been. My bad, as he would say. Very impressive. Very impressive.

This event was the most recent one of these. But they scrub all mention from there of the past, however immediate, so no mention there of Fabiano, which there had been until yesterday.

Here are a few recollections I banged into my computer last night before going to bed. Not tidied up much. I just didn’t want to forget it.

Sing, every note, all the time – switch off singing and then when you need to switch on again, you won’t be able to do it.

Singing is not just done with two little things in your throat. Sing with your whole body, from head to toe. Including your balls. (The student singers he was teaching were all guys, two baritones, two tenors.) I hope you don’t mind me saying such things. (Nobody did.)

You must sing to the people way up in the roof. They must hear every note you sing. Not just the people in the first five rows.

Don’t be afraid to take a breath – I’m a great fan of breathing when you need to breath – no seriously

First note is critical. Final note is critical. You can screw up in between. But first note bad can mean they’ll hear nothing further. Final note good, and that’s what they’ll remember.

Stay firmly planted on the floor. Stand how you stand in the tube, when you have nothing to hold on to. Don’t rise off the floor on your toes when it gets difficult.

Stay relaxed by going to your “happy place” in your mind.

In auditions, don’t be bound by rules that box you in. Break those rules, do whatever you have to do to do what you do. Applies to all artists.

Piano accompanists: play louder, like an orchestra. Louder. Twice as loud as that. (He spent a lot of time conducting the pianists.)

Go for it. (Said that a lot.) Be free. Fly like a bird. Never relax your wings (keep singing) or you fall to the ground.

In my opinion … this is my opinion …

Make progress as a young singer by finding one or two people whose judgement you trust. Follow their advice and work hour after hour, day after day, with them. A hundred people advising is confusion. One or two is what a young person needs.

How to make the transition from student to real singer? With difficulty. I began by doing 22 auditions all over Europe. First 21, I followed the rules, stood in the spot marked X: nothing, failure. 22nd audition: disaster. Fell over at the start, literally. But laughed at myself. Good middle notes, they knew I had a cold, but also a good personality. Got work. They trusted me to do better.

Mentor? Renee Fleming was one. Sang next to her on stage. Her voice ridiculously small, on stage. But, my agent way up at the back heard everything, and wept. I then sat way up there myself and listened to Fleming sing equally quietly, heard everything and was equally moved

Sing oh well and sing ee well, and you’ll sing ah well. (Think that was it.) …

And probably lots more that I missed. But, I now find, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube. However, the length-to-content ratio of watching something like this on YouTube is such that you, if you have got this far in this posting, are much more likely to make do with reading what I just put. So let’s hope I didn’t get anything too wrong. Plus: more mentions of this event, with video bits, at the RCM Twitter feed. Fabiano also tweets, of course. More reaction to yesterday there.

There were four student singers on show, first two being baritones, and in the second half, two tenors. The most extraordinary moments of this event came in the second half, when the two tenors took it in turns to sing things that Fabiano has presumably sung for real, as it were. And occasionally, to illustrate a point he was making, Fabiano would sing a snatch of the thing himself.

At which point, as the young people say these day: OMG. His sound was about four times bigger than what the students were doing. (The first of these moments got Fabiano a loud round of applause.) Fabiano’s talk, about filling the entire 2,500 people place, was a hell of a lot more than talk. He does this, every time he sings in such a place. The message was loud and the message was clear. That’s what you guys must aim for. That’s what it sounds like.

The good news is that the first tenor in particular (Thomas Erlank), was taking audible steps towards being an opera star, after only a few minutes of badgering from Fabiano. I think you’re great, said Fabiano, which is why I’m being so hard on you. Fabiano didn’t say those exact words to any of the others, so that will definitely have counted for something, in Erlank’s mind. You could see him getting bigger, as Fabiano both talked him up and hacked away at his mistakes.

Of the others, the one who particularly impressed me was the second baritone (Kieran Rayner), who looked and behaved like a trainee accountant, but who sang like a trainee god. By the time Fabiano had been at him for a bit, he started to get a bit more like an actual god. The sheer sound of Rayner’s voice was beautiful from the start, I thought. As did Fabiano.

Fabiano made a big deal of vibrato, which he seemed almost to equate with singing. But vibrato is, for me, a huge barrier. Rayner did do enough of it to satisfy Fabiano, but not nearly enough to put me off. I mention this because I believe that I am not the only one who feels this way. Too much wobble, and it just sounds like wobble and nothing else. Singers who overdo the wobble never break past that oh-god-it’s-bloody-opera barrier. But not enough vibrato, and they don’t get to fill those 2,500 seat opera houses. And even if they do, no OMG, Fabiano style.

Final point, by way of summary. When each singer did his performance, Fabiano made a point of going to the back of the hall, to hear how it sounded there. Fabiano made no bones about it that what concerned him was not how you or he felt about it while doing it, or how Renee Fleming sounded to him when he was standing on the stage right next to her. What matters is the effect it has on the audience, all of the audience, including and especially the audience in the cheaper seats. Are they getting what they came for and they paid for?

Deepest thanks to GD2 for enabling me to witness all this.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Adriana Lukas tells Libertarian Home about the experience of communism

Earlier this evening at the Two Chairmen, Westminsters, Adriana Lukas, who grew up in the old Czechoslovakia as was, gave a most eloquent talk about this experience. She didn’t bang on at length about the usual horrors – prison camps, executions, purges, and so on – although of course these were mentioned. Rather did she focus on the minutiae of life for the rather less unlucky victims of communism, the ones who got to stay alive. People adjusted, basically. Or if, like Adriana’s family, they were dissidents, they learned to be extremely distrustful of almost everyone but their closest and most trusted loved ones. Being a dissident wasn’t about overthrowing the regime; it was merely about staying sane.

Here are four photos, that I picked out from the dozen or more that I took, and that I just sent to meetings organiser Simon Gibbs, who is to be seen in the first one, introducing Adriana. The photos I sent to Simon were rectangles, but I actually prefer these square cropped versions.

As you can see, this excellent talk was videoed. Videos are far harder to edit than merely to … video. So you may have to wait a bit before seeing this one. But, for those who did not attend this talk and for many who did, it will be worth the wait.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

The RSC’s Antony and Cleopatra at the Barbican

GodDaughter One’s Mum and Dad are members of a theatre-going gang, who take it in turns to organise for them all to go to the theatrical performance, about every month or so. Tonight it was Antony and Cleopatra by the RSC, at the Barbican. But GodDaughter One’s Mum was otherwise engaged, helping out with a jewellery show done by GodDaughter One’s Sister, so I went to the Barbican instead.

As so often, when I really pay attention to a Shakespeare play (and if you are seeing it in a theatre there is not a lot else to be doing), I learned a great deal about it.

I did not catch every word. Much of the support acting, especially by the young men playing various Roman soldiers and messengers, was decidedly school-play-ish, to my old eyes and old ears. These brand-X guys simply did not fill the auditorium properly. Since we were at the back, we suffered. Nor did it help that I for one could not see their faces properly, from that far away. But Antony and Cleopatra were both pretty good, as was Enobarbus. But honestly, only the music came over loud and clear.

I will be investigating this play further on the screen. YouTube offers this, which looks like it could be pretty good. I quite like north American accents in Shakespeare, given that it probably sounded more like this originally than it sounded like modern Posh English.

As for DVDs, this and this both look promising. Also: cheap.

Back in the Barbican, Josette Simon as Cleopatra yanked the verse around a lot, but that all added to the impression of her being a force of nature. Antony, played by Peter Byrne, was a very prosaic figure by comparison. I especially like the line in this Guardian review about how “Simon is excellent in the closing passages suggesting that Cleopatra is living out a fantasy of an idealised Antony”. Yes. So, best of all might well be a DVD of this RSC production.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Brushing up my Shakespeare

A few weeks ago, I watched and recorded a Shakespeare documentary series, in one episode of which Jeremy Irons talked about, and talked with others about, the two Henry IV plays. And that got me watching two recorded DVDs that I had already made of these plays, the BBC “Hollow Crown” versions, with Irons as King Henry and Tom Hiddleston as the King’s son, Prince Hal. While watching these, I realised how little I really knew these wonderful plays, and how much I was enjoying correcting that a little.

More recently, partly spurred on by what Trevor Nunn in that same documentary series had to say about it, I have been doing the same with The Tempest, this time making use of a DVD that I long ago purchased for next to nothing in a charity shop but had failed ever to watch.

By accident, when this DVD of The Tempest began, there were subtitles to be seen, and I realised that these written lines, far from getting in the way, only added to my enjoyment, so I left them on. And, if subtitles were helping, why not the entire text? Maybe I possess a copy of The Tempest, but if so I could not find it, so instead, I tried the internet, which quickly obliged. My eyesight not being the best, I beefed up the magnification of the text until it was nearly as big as those subtitles. So, I watched, I read subtitles, and I was able to see who was saying what, and what they were about to say. And very gratifying it all was:

On the telly, on the left, David Dixon as Ariel and, on the right, Michael Hordern as Prospero, both very impressive.

And here, should you be curious, is the text they were enacting at that particular moment, as shown on the right of the above photo, but now blown up and photoshop-cloned into greater legibility:

I think the reason I found this redundancy-packed way of watching The Tempest so very satisfying is that with Shakespeare, the mere matter of what is going on is secondary to the far more significant matter of exactly what is being said, this latter often consisting of phrases and sentences which have bounced about in our culture for several centuries. As ever more people have felt the need to recycle these snatches or chunks of verbiage, for their own sake, and because they illuminate so much else that has happened and is happening in the world, so these words have gathered ever more force and charismatic power. As the apocryphal old lady said when leaving a performance of Hamlet: “Lovely. So full of quotations.”

The thing is, Shakespeare’s characters don’t just do the things that they do, and say only what needs to be said to keep the plot rolling along. They seek to find the universal meaning of their experiences, and being theatrical characters, they are able, having found the right words to describe these experiences, to pass on this knowledge to their audiences. This is especially true of Hamlet, because central to Hamlet’s character is that he is constantly trying to pin down the meaning of life, in a series of what we would now call tweets, and consequently to be remembered after his death.

Prospero in The Tempest is not quite so desperate to be remembered, any more, we are told, than Shakespeare himself was. In Prospero, as Trevor Nunn explained in his documentary about The Tempest, many hear Shakespeare saying goodbye to his career as a theatrical magician and returning to his provincial life of Middle English normality. But Shakespeare was Shakespeare. He couldn’t help creating these supremely eloquent central characters. Even when all they are doing is ordering room service, or in the case of Prospero doing something like passing on his latest instructions to Ariel, they all end up speaking Shakespeare, with words and phrases that beg to be remembered for ever. These famous Shakespeare bits are rather like those favourite bits that we classical music fans all hear in the great works of the Western musical cannon.

So, a way of watching these plays that enables these great word-clusters to hang around for a while is just what you want. (Especially if, like Prospero, you are getting old, and your short-term memory is not what it was.) It also helps being able to press the pause button from time to time, to enable you to savour these moments, to absorb their context, better than you could if just watching the one unpausable performance in front of you. Although I agree, having a pause symbol on the furrowed brow of Prospero, as in my telly-photo above, is not ideal.

I am now browsing through my Shakespeare DVD collection, wondering which one to wallow in next.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Jordan Peterson on why zebras look the way they do

Today, I was thinking, what with it being Friday: What can I put here about cats or other creatures that would be of interest? But instead of looking for something along those lines, I was listening to a video conversation between Jordan Peterson and Camille Paglia, about the sorry state of the humanities departments of American universities. I can’t remember why or how, but I was. And twenty four and a half minutes into this, I listened in astonishment as Peterson suddenly started talking, fascinatingly, about zebras.

Why do zebras look the way they do, so very black and and so very white, and so very stripey?

This has long puzzled me. The arch enemy of the zebra is the lion, and the lions are impeccably camouflaged. Their coats are the same colour as the veldt, or whatever it is that the zebras roam about on and that the lions hunt the zebras on, and so the zebras don’t see the lions coming. But the zebras, with their garish black and white plumage, are nothing at all like the colour of the land they live on. What gives? Why the lurid and fantastically visible stripes?

Today I learned the answer to this question.

The answer is: When lions hunt zebras, they do this by deciding on just the one zebra that they are going to hunt, and they concentrate entirely on that one zebra. Eventually, the chosen zebra is exhausted, and the lions catch it and kill it.

And how do zebras respond, evolutionarily speaking? Answer: By becoming extremely hard to distinguish from each other. Their very stripey stripes do exactly this. The result of that is that although the lions try to hunt just the one zebra, thereby exhausting it and killing it, they instead keep getting confused about exactly which zebra is the one they are trying to hunt. And the result of that is that instead of hunting one zebra to its death, they hunt half a dozen zebras, not to any of their deaths, and go home without their dinner.

Some scientists who were studying zebra plumage did what turned out to be a rather cruel experiment which proved this. They squirted some colour onto one of the zebras in a zebra herd. The lions, confident now that they would not be confused about which zebra they were hunting, proceeded to hunt that one marked zebra to its inevitable death. Without such marking out, they couldn’t tell which zebra was which. With such marking, hunting success followed, every time. Every time, they chose the marked and hence easily distinguishable zebra.

I did not know this.

Peterson’s point was that American humanities professors are like this. They all have totally crazy, yet totally similar, opinions. That way, their enemies can’t fixate on one of them and destroy him. Or something. In this version of the zebra stripes story, Peterson is saying that people in general are like zebras. But I really didn’t care about that. It was the zebras and their stripes that interested me.

I love the internet.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Watching the Surrey v Yorkshire feed

Here. Goodness knows what will happen to that link in future hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, millennia. But as of now it is working very nicely, and Surrey are having a great day. Foakes has just hit four fours off four balls.

With its own built in commentary from Churchy and his pals, it still isn’t what you get from Sky or from national BBC, but it’s still good. The main drawback is there’s only two cameras, one at each end. It they hit a boundary, you just have to take their word for it about where it went and how fast. But this sort of thing can only get better. Hope it’s still happening tomorrow.

Scorecard of the game here. Close of play day one: Surrey 398-3. Sanga 85, Foakes 64. Nice.

Ex-Surrey batters Davies and Sibley have also been in the runs, for Somerset and for Warks. Also nice.

Off out very soon for dinner with friends, so that’s it here for today, and it makes my evening a lot better now that my duties here are done. Have a good one yourself, unless you are a Yorkshire supporter.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Aerobots

This is cool, says Instapundit, and he’s not wrong:

For all his joie de vivre, Jardine is a master drone builder and pilot whose skills have produced remarkable footage for shows like Australian Top Gear, the BBC’s Into the Volcano, and a range of music videos. His company Aerobot sells camera-outfitted drones, including custom jobs that require unique specifications like, say, the capacity to lift an IMAX camera. From a sprawling patch of coastline real estate in Queensland, Australia, Jardine builds, tests, and tweaks his creations; the rural tranquility is conducive to a process that may occasionally lead to unidentified falling objects.

Simply put, if you’ve got a drone flying challenge, Jardine is your first call.

So, Mr Jardine is now flying his flying robots over volcanoes. There are going to be lots of calls to have these things entirely banned, but they are just too useful for that to happen.

When I was a kid and making airplanes out of balsa wood and paper, powered with rubber band propellers, I remember thinking that such toys were potentially a lot more than mere toys. I’m actually surprised at how long it has taken for this to be proved right.

What were the recent developments that made useful drones like Jardine’s possible? It is down to the power-to-weight ratio of the latest mini-engines? I tried googling “why drones work”, but all I got was arguments saying that it’s good to use drones to kill America’s enemies, not why they are now usable for such missions.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

You can tell that drones have arrived because now they are being turned into a sport

I like cricket. And I like drones. But which is best?

There’s only one way to find out. Fight.

Actually, all the drone did there was hover, waiting to be clobbered, which, a minute and a half in, it duly was, by Chris Gayle.

What I want to see is a game where drones fight against each other. Or a war. Either would do.

Or, perhaps a demo.

Bloody Enrique Iglesias drone drama

Incoming from Michael Jennings:

Truly, that’s a glorious headline.

Indeed it is:

Enrique Iglesias sliced his fingers on a drone during a concert

The drone was not hostile. It was part of the show, as was Iglesias attempting to handle it. It was just that it all went rather wrong:

“During the show a drone is used to get crowd shots and some nights Enrique grabs the drone to give the audience a point of view shot,” the statement read. “Something went wrong and he had an accident. He decided to go on and continued playing for 30 minutes while the bleeding continued throughout the show.”

Iglesias was semi-treated immediately after the accident.

Definitely a future trivia question in a pop quiz. But the worst that could have resulted from this would have been a couple of missing Iglesian fingers. This (“NY-bound plane nearly collides with drone, FAA says”) could have ended far more grimly.

There will be many, many more drone dramas. They are colossally useful, and accidents buzzing around begging to happen.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog