Twelve Tone Sketch 1

I’ve been pretty creatively tapped recently, so since I’m stuck in quarantine I thought I’d try my hand at a Schoenberg-style 12-tone composition as an exercise to try to stoke my creativity. It’s short, but it packs in a lot in just 1 minute.

I used 9 of the rows based on the sequence I chose. I didn’t go for *straight-up* Schoenbergian atonality in my approach though – while I technically follow all the rules to the letter, I instead opted for something a little more personal; plus I thought trying to resolve some of these intentionally hard-to-resolve tones might be an interesting additional challenge.

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State of the Prang – Summer 2019

It’s been a minute since my last post, so I wanted to bring you all up to speed on what’s been going on in my life since then. This will be a long post – here we go!

Work Stuff

I’ve recently been promoted to Senior Consultant at my company, a fintech consulting firm that provides clients with development & support for business analytics applications – after being with them for a little over 3 years. Having worked previously in both IT support and application development roles, this place has been a pretty solid fit for me, as it sort of combines my favorite aspects of both workflows. I have worked with a variety of clients during my time here, and have recently been able to add Port Authority to this list.

I’ve also recently been tapped to write some documentation & other content for the company’s blog. Here’s a recent example, on integrating SSO capabilities into IBM Planning Analytics Local.

Music Stuff

After having taken a bit of a break from music, I’ve been getting back in the swing of things a bit, and have a couple projects I’ve been working on recently.

First: the release of the Light & Sweet EP, which I mentioned in my last post, has stalled a bit, as I’ve brought another producer on board, and we are doing a complete re-mix of the entire project to give it a bit more of a professional sheen. In the meantime, here’s another sample from the project (the original mix anyway):

But I have some other side stuff I’ve been working on as well – recently, I’ve been trying to incorporate more analog synth into my work, inspired by some of the collaborations I’ve done with my good friends in the band Weather, with whom I now share a music studio (!!). So last autumn, to get myself more comfortable with the required workflows, I decided I’d try adapting something for analog synth, as an exercise. I’d been listening to Steve Reich a lot at the time, and the third movement from his composition “Electric Counterpoint” seemed like an excellent candidate, so I gave this a shot. Every sound here was created with a Korg Volca Keys synthesizer – with the exception of a drum machine I applied later in Logic. This addition might be a bit controversial to some, but I felt it was missing a certain je ne sais quoi as-is. In my opinion, you can’t be afraid to add some personal flair when adapting or covering something! Otherwise, why bother?

And finally, on the much sillier side – I recently discovered the wonderful world of j a z z m e m e s… inspired by the incredible work of Adam Neely, Simon Fransman and others, a couple weeks ago I decided I wanted to try my hand at one myself. This is a goof, but it actually took a lot of work!

As an aside: Recently I’ve been thinking about some of my older tunes, and what I should do with them – they aren’t doing any good just sitting on my hard drive collecting e-dust. Should I put them out as-is in a quick-n-dirty compilation release? Should I clean them up? I don’t know yet… but either way, in the spirit of that, I’ve restored a bunch of old stuff to the site that had been missing before – I’ll explain in a little more detail in the next section…

Website Stuff

First up: As I alluded to above, I’ve restored a bunch of older content to the site that was missing before. Back in the iWeb iteration of this site from when I was in high school (oh yeah), “blog” posts and “music” posts were essentially two separate feeds, and when I made the transition to Blogger (and then later to WordPress), I only ever imported the actual “blog” feed. Having recently stumbled on an old backup, I’ve gone back and manually restored all of these old “music” posts as normal blog posts, taking extra care to make sure the timestamps on each are accurate. So, if you go back through the 2007-2010 period of my blog, you will notice some new posts that weren’t there before!

But – most of the actual music referenced in those posts would have been missing as-is, since I switched to SoundCloud to manage my “public” music library in 2012, and most of the older content didn’t make the cut. So, to supplement these new posts, I also screened every post in the blog and re-added any missing music that I previously removed. At the time, it made sense to offload all of my music to a service like SoundCloud – but I’ve had my own private hosting solution since about 2013, so there’s actually no real reason I can’t just upload everything, even if it’s stuff I’m not super proud of. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to do this before, but I decided to finally take advantage of this and restore the missing content. So now, every post that makes a reference to a track has a link to the relevant track, regardless of whether or not there’s a newer equivalent on SoundCloud.

This also gave me the opportunity to add some extra goodies I hadn’t shared before… for example, here is the original recording of Oedipus Rex from way back in 2005, in all its glorious MIDI terribleness!

I also collected all these and grouped them into a new “Old Music Archive” sub-page. I also did manage to dig around and find an old raw html version of the last iteration of the “music” page that existed on the Blogger version of my site right before I went to SoundCloud – after cleaning it up a little I also put a version of that up as well; as I figured there’s something to be said for having a version of it preserved pretty much the way it was.

On the technical side, I’ve been doing some additional tinkering since my last update. The site itself is now a bit more responsive thanks to some PHP & html5 enhancements I added in – this makes the site feel a bit more modern and behave a bit better on mobile devices. Using PHP, I’ve also minimized WordPress’s role in the site so it basically just injects text (and manages the blog’s database), giving me as much manual control over the site as a whole as possible. The source code I’d put on GitHub back in 2015 is now super, super out of date, but to be honest I don’t really care, and I don’t think I’m gonna bother updating it. But I’ve said this before and I’ll say again – my site isn’t the best, most professional thing in the world, but it’s mine, dammit; I created it from scratch, and I’m proud of it.

That’s it for now! Stay tuned for more updates soon!

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“Light & Sweet” EP Coming Soon

I’m happy to announce I’m working on the finishing touches of my first actual music release, “Light & Sweet” – a 20-minute soundtrack album to a short film-slash-pilot I worked on together with Pablo Panda Productions about a year ago about the trials and tribulations of working in a stressful coffee shop (Which is something I can relate to, having worked at Starbucks in a “previous life”). While not exactly “jazz,” this record definitely has a jazz “flavor” to it.

Although I’ve got about 15 years of backlogged material built up that I’ve never released, I thought focusing on this most recent music project first would be a great way of “testing the waters” – the plan is to release on Bandcamp, and if things go well, I’ll see about preparing some other material for future release as well.

While I wrote & produced all the material on the record, I couldn’t have done it without the help of my good friend Jake Reid who manned guitar & bass on the recording, Mike Bognar who remastered all the material to prepare for the release, and of course, the film’s fearless director, Gregg Ellson, who provided crucial guidance throughout the entire writing process.

Stay tuned for more updates, but for now, here’s a preview clip from one of the tracks on the record, which should give an idea of the “hybrid jazz” style I went for on the project.

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Rant: EA/DICE can still save Battlefront – but they have to act fast.

Wherein the snowspeeder represents consumers and the AT-AT stepping on it is EA.

Wherein the snowspeeder represents consumers and the AT-AT stepping on it is EA (lol I’m so good at metaphors guys /s)

Yeah, I meant to post about some other, more interesting stuff after bringing this blog back. And yeah, this might seem like a dumb topic to post about after such a long break. But the drama surrounding this game has me peeved enough to want to weigh in myself. So without further ado, let me get a-rantin’.

As a gamer and a huge Star Wars fan, it goes without saying that I was pretty pumped for the new Battlefront game from EA/DICE, especially with the new movie coming out soon (less than a week as of this posting!). But as we all know, the game’s reception post-release has not exactly been warm. There are lots of aspects folks take issue with, some more technical than others, but pretty much everyone agrees on one thing – there just isn’t enough content to justify the asking price. And charging basically the same price as the base game for additional content – content that debatably should have been included with the price of the base game – is seen by many as borderline insulting.

Now, do I enjoy the game? Yeah, I do. Gameplay-wise, I have no real issues – the game looks great and sounds great, and while the new loadout system is a little strange, I don’t have as big a problem with it as some other players do (there are some things I take issue with, but we’ll get to that a little later). But I definitely can’t overlook what seems like blatant price-gouging and non-consumer-friendliness (I’d even go as far as using the term consumer-contempt) on the part of EA/DICE. And I do regret paying full price for the game – especially in light of the additional issues I’ve experienced since buying it.

Continue reading

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The blog is back (Again)!!

I'M BAAAACK

I’M BAAAACK

I’m back, fools!

After a nearly two-year hiatus, I’ve imported and relaunched the blog I’ve been updating in some form since high school as a core component of my actual website. And it’s about time!

Oh and by the way, before y’all geeks get all condescending on me, yeah, I know the design isn’t the best… like how it’s not very responsive. But cut me some slack; it was the first site I put together 100% from scratch by myself, and I just haven’t changed it that much since then – heck, I’ve barely had time! (Though to be fair, it’s much better than it was!)

But why not plug in some kind of framework like Bootstrap? Pfft – what kind of programmer would be if I gave up that much control over my code? I’d no longer be a developer, I’d be a janitor. No thanks. And come on, it’s not like this is a professional/corporate site, it’s a pet project, and I’d feel more pride if I could point and say “look! I made this all by myself!!” It may not be the best but dang it, it’s mine. WordPress for the blog is of course an exception though – I wanted to merge the blog and my existing site, and I had no interest in trying to come up with a database on my own. But anyway – rest assured I will get around to it improving the site and making it more responsive at some point. Just need to set aside some time.

Continue reading

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I now own patrickmauro.net!

Yup, it’s true. As of this post I’ve only got a temporary “parked” page up (which is really just this image here), but I will begin working on developing a full personal website that will include a general bio, my qualifications (and perhaps my resume), a portfolio of project examples, and links to my SoundCloud and LinkedIn pages.

What I’m also probably going to do is migrate this entire blog over to a private subdomain of this site (when I say “private,” I really just mean I won’t include a link to it on my home page, but it will probably be accessible at /blog). Since the blog has sometimes dealt with personal issues, I would rather not have it easily available from the same location “official stuff” like my resume and portfolio are at. But, I can at least take advantage of having the domain and move it elsewhere so that I’ll no longer have to rely on Blogger/Blogspot, which I’ve grown kind of tired with (sorry guys, you’ve been great but it’s time for me to move on).

Stay tuned! 🙂

Update 9/16/13

Just wanted to give a tiny update – while I haven’t gone through the process of migrating the blog away from Blogger to a new format, this blog, however, is now reachable at patrickmauro.net/blog as well as the usual mauruslair.blogspot.com.

In addition, I’ve got a slightly more professional-looking temp page up, with links to my SoundCloud and LinkedIn pages and everything. Cool stuff.

That’s all for now, carry on!

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“Kuusisto” returns as “The Blind Scholar”

Those who follow my blog (does anyone follow my blog? I actually have no idea) will remember my music piece Kuusisto. Working on Kuusisto was kind of a big milestone for me. Believe it or not, it sort of changed the way I thought about music, and it really helped pave the way for the rest of my stuff. Mentally, I even separate my stuff as pre- and post-Kuusisto.

So some might have been surprised when I launched my SoundCloud account and did not feature Kuusisto. Well, the problem is it hadn’t aged very gracefully, and I no longer felt like it represented the quality of the music I was working on.

Since then I actually had been tinkering with it in the background, trying to figure out what direction I wanted to go with it, but never actively. I’d been doing the same with a lot of my older pieces, actually. But a big turning point was when I received my brand new Yeti microphone this winter. Having that kind of recording quality meant I could now work with more live elements, and fast-track reworkings of earlier projects.

Of course, I was busy finishing up my senior year, so I didn’t have that kind of time – but recently I had the opportunity to participate in a game enthusiasts’ music festival called D’nipalooza, which gave me an excuse to brush up some of my music. As a result, I was finally able to put that new coat of paint on Kuusisto – which I’ve now re-titled The Blind Scholar to make it a little more accessible.

I’m still calling it a work in progress, though, because I don’t quite consider it done. The new drumkit soundfonts are much better than what I had before, but they still sound pretty terrible in a few spots. I’d really like to replace the drum track, as well as the bass track, with live recordings if at all possible. I also think something seems a little off about the piano part in this version, so I may want to adjust that a little.

The Blind Scholar, as well as new versions of Over the Fence and Bottles, can be seen on my SoundCloud page. Together with The Champion, they make up my set from D’nipalooza – which I’ll share below. Retroactive edit: I actually ended up deleting that playlist sometime after (though all 4 tunes are still on my SoundCloud) – but here’s “The Blind Scholar.”

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I am now on SoundCloud!

62302_10151297431173163_1366846530_n

My friend and I picked up composer Tarik O’Regan from the local train station the other day. It was a good day.

After being strongly urged to join SoundCloud, I finally did it. I think it was a good choice ultimately, because it will allow me to network with other composer friends I know. I hope choosing SC will allow me to expand my horizons a bit composing-wise.

I’ve changed the Music page on this blog so it now just shows a big ol’ SC widget rather than my tracks with the description on them – so it’s a lot, lot cleaner looking, actually, However, I realized after I changed the page that I have some explaining to do, because almost All the content I uploaded is brand-new, and most of the content I had on the site is gone.

To clarify: no, I have not reposted Oedipus Rex¹, Salley Gardens, Ver Frigidus², Organized Insanity², the whole dang Ordo ab Chao suite², A Distracted Isolation, Ver Calidus¹, Kuusisto¹, Beyond the Barrier, Over the Fence¹, The Beat of my Own Drummer, An Sléibhte na hÉireann, or Searching for Sight¹.

RETROACTIVE EDIT:
1 – I actually did re-post this tune later on; check the music page.
2 – I’m working on a new version of this and may post it later!

Instead, I am happy to first introduce two new revisions of the Over the Fence Theme and Searching for Sight, both featuring actual guitar and stuff. I’m particularly proud of the OTF Theme revision (which is pretty robust), it’s a lot of fun and I think you’ll enjoy it too.

I’d also like to introduce a bunch of new tracks, some of which I had been intending on posting to this blog: Dragons in the Sky, Seven Billion, Bottles, Battle! Champion Maurus, and Passing on the Right, which as of now is still in the W-I-P phase.

Dragons and Seven Billion are two tracks I had wanted to announce under a “Music 219” post, the reason being that they had both been produced in my class MUSIC-219, Electronic Music. They’re both considered “tape music” or “musique concrète,” in that they’re made with synthesizers and/or synthesized source audio and compiled together. Of the two, Seven Billion is the more “experimental,” however; Dragons has a more noticeable groove to it.

Bottles is quite a different piece – I usually do music that’s a bit heavier, but instead I just wanted to make more of a “fun” song. And a song in which I sing in. There are some prog elements to be sure, but it’s a lot easier on the ears than some of my other work is. I want to make some more songs like this in the future. However, I don’t quite consider it done yet, as there’s quite a bit of work I still feel needs to get done on this track, not the least of which are recording a live drum track and re-recording the vocals and guitar parts.

Battle! Champion Maurus came about because I was playing Pokémon White over Summer 2012, and I was reminded of an idea I had to create a Pokémon-inspired track. Plus, I was teaching myself guitar, so it was a good outlet. As you can imagine, it is essentially an homage to the music of the Pokémon games, for the most part composed by Junichi Masuda, and there are more than a few nods to some of the music from the games. Like “Bottles” and “OTF,” I was really surprised by how fun a track I could make. Hopefully I will make more “fun” music like this in the future.

Finally, “Passing on the Right” is a brand-new track, only a few days old as of this posting. It’s based on an idea that has been rattling around in my head for a while now, and while I’m not 100% comfortable with this cut (it is again a work-in-progress), I’m glad to have finally gotten it down. It is inspired by road rage, and is heavily influenced by the King Crimson albums THRAK, The ConstruKction of Light, and The Power to Believe.

So why did I get rid of so much of the music? A few reasons, actually – one being that SoundCloud has an upload limit, so it’s in my best interests not to upload all of my music, but the perhaps more important reason being that I simply don’t feel a lot of the tracks accurately represent my current skill level, and I don’t feel comfortable having them represent me by putting them online, even if I were to label them as only “works in progress.”

That being said, there are a few tracks I hope to make revised versions of, including both of the Ver’s, Organized Insanity (and let’s be honest, a revision has been a LONG time coming), Kuusisto, The Beat of my Own Drummer, and An Sléibhte na hÉireann. Most of these are just matters of re-arranging, lengthening, and actually recording with live instruments (Sléibhte is an example of a track that just doesn’t sound good unless it’s live), but I don’t want to put them up in their current forms.

As for the rest, well, I’m not re-doing some of the older stuff because I don’t think there’s a point (though I may post some of my EVEN OLDER tracks), the vocal stuff I don’t feel comfortable posting because I’ve matured so much since then that the tracks sound frankly bad to me now, and the whole Ordo ab Chao situation is… complicated. Pt. 3 is pretty solid, but Pt. 1’s a mess, and I’ve been working on a new Pt. 2 since 2011 and have never produced a result I felt happy with. So we’ll see, but don’t get your hopes up.

Anyway, that’s the situation with my music. I’m fortunate to be in a period of high creative energy right now. Vassar just had its annual ModFest, a celebration of modern art, and I got to speak with many very intelligent contemporary composers whom I have a lot of respect for.

I’ve also started a new YouTube channel, with the hope of eventually making some new quality content, so stay tuned: Both my new YouTube channel and my SoundCloud page are “MaurusMultimedia,” a name I thought much more suitable than my previous internet alias “MaurusRehMahrntahn.”

You’ll be hearing from me!

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Love and Latent Cruelty: Looking back at the Met Opera’s 1991 “Carmen”

agnesbaltsacarreras

For realzies though, these guys are adorable.

Seemingly out of pure coincidence, various friends of mine have been discussing Carmen recently. I’m writing opera reviews for a music class at school, and though familiar with much of Carmen, I’d never seen it all the way through, so I figured I might as well take this as a sign, and use this opportunity to seek out a recording of the opera, watch it, and write about it for one of my reviews. Then I decided to make it a blog post, because I liked it so why the heck not.

I picked up a DVD of the 1991 Met Opera production, featuring Agnes Baltsa as Carmen, José Carreras as Don José (hah… ), Leona Mitchell as Micaëla, and Samuel Ramey as Escamillo. I was utterly delighted by the opera – I was absolutely blown away by how excellent the music was, and was surprised it wasn’t a product of the early 1900s rather than 1875. Even the text seemed witty and interesting – and that’s based solely on seeing an English translation.

It’s funny how there are so many songs from this opera that have been absorbed into the public consciousness – namely the overture, the habanera and the toreador song (all these links are actually from this production!) – but in my opinion, the music that really makes this opera special isn’t really any one of those three, but elsewhere – one of my favorites being Les tringles des sistres tintaient. The “big three” do get credit from me, though, for being ridiculously catchy and ridiculously fun nevertheless.

Anyway, my job here is not to review the opera itself, but this particular production – I simply couldn’t help but bring it up since I enjoyed it so much – so let’s get started. All in all, the production was extremely impressive and tremendously executed, featured some powerful performances by its talented cast, some excellent singing, an exceptional orchestra, and great overall direction. Of note is the fact that the almost comically animated James Levine gets a consistently robust performance out of the orchestra throughout the entire production. (Not that he doesn’t normally, I’m sure he does, but it was so precise and so “mighty” sounding that it was noticeably excellent.) Even the way the DVD was cut impressed me – the camera angles were effective, the cuts and editing well-timed, creative and informed. One issue I did have though – and I don’t know whether or not this is actually the fault of those who edited the DVD – is that the voices on stage are fairly low down in the overall audio mix. In the DVD at least, the orchestra (and background sound effects, which is weird) are much louder and clearer than the voices of the singers on stage. Had I not had subtitles on (and if I spoke French), I probably wouldn’t have been able to understand what they were saying most of the time – which is a bit of a problem.

LevineBrule

…I’m just saying.

One of the interesting things I have taken away from writing these opera reviews so far is not to trust my first impression of a given actor/actress. Often times a particular performer will seem extremely weak to me in their initial appearance, but as the opera progresses I will eventually change my opinion. This was very true of Baltsa and Mitchell in this case, both of whom I severely disliked at first, but grew to love due to the strength of their performances. It was actually how surprising how strong the performances were – I’m fairly certain some real tears were shed during the course of this recording.

My issue with Mitchell was more minor, and was related directly to something more subtle in her first scene. Granted I was also initially fairly unimpressed with her voice, but what bothered me was that she had an odd habit of cheating out only when she had a line. It made for an awkward and stilted performance in her first scene, which involved a dialogue between her and an officer, and it really took me out of the moment. However, as the opera progressed, Mitchell delivered an emotionally-wrought performance backed by a surprisingly rich and skilled voice. She stayed directly in-character the entire time, and let emotion dictate her performance, in a way that made it all the more powerful. This was evident in the strength of her chemistry with Carreras: She seemed to truly love him; with him she seemed happy, thankful, filled with emotion. And the audience noticed – their first duet resulted in the recording’s first really rowdy reaction from the audience. Her brilliant performance of C’est les contrabandiers le refuge ordinaire in Act III also resulted in similarly vocal audience reaction.

Derp.

However, a much more significant cause of initial aggravation for me was Baltsa’s first scene. During the famous L’amour est un oiseaurebelle (AKA “habanera“) Baltsa consistently looked as though singing was a challenge for her, making various faces that vaguely resembled those of someone trying to push a heavy object. (Seriously, go click the link, it’s from this production.) This is fine, but the habanera is famous for its playfulness and its flirtatiousness, and seeing her make such an effort to sing really took me out of the moment and irked me. To make matters worse, she took many breaths I found questionable, and frankly wasn’t always in key. More generally, I was also was a bit bothered by the fact that she sang it a bit too much “like an opera singer” (that is to say, with tons of rigid vibrato and generally very little shape to the lines; she stayed mostly at mf – f), and not slightly more carefree and playful, as I feel the song almost dictates.

My doubts about her were slightly allayed almost immediately in the following scene, however, when Baltsa made a powerful acting choice in reacting to the entrance of Don José. Simply the way she looked at him suggested a thousand things about Carmen’s character, and about how Baltsa was going to play her – rather than take the hackneyed “love at first sight” approach, she instead dropped her smile and reacted with what can almost be described as a sense of dread – one gets the sense that Carmen is shocked, perhaps even somewhat disturbed, by her own impulsive feelings towards Don José; that she knows her own impulsivity is a flaw, that this has happened before, and she’s not 100% certain how she feels about it happening again. It was a really powerful moment, and made me completely change my opinion of the actress.

Throughout the rest of the opera, I thought her performance improved considerably, and she seemed more and more willing to inject playfulness and emotion into her style of singing. She did, however, retain that weird quirk of looking like she was concentrating on singing rather than acting most of the time, however. If she’s making the choice of playing Carmen as if she’s pissed off at everything at all times, that’s one thing, but I still really don’t think that’s appropriate for the character.

Good… good… I can feel your awe… IT GIVES ME POWER

What was impressive about Samuel Ramey wasn’t so much the strength of his voice – which was very strong; excellent even – but the command of his presence. The moment he stepped onstage he immediately received applause from the audience. And of course, the toreador song was excellent, as it always is, but it was made even more impressive by how engaging his performance was, and, once again, by the strength of the orchestra – it shines particularly well here. The defining moment here wasn’t during the song itself, though, but the moment immediately afterwards – the audience’s reaction was like nothing I’ve heard from an opera performance before. They sounded more like the audience of a rock concert, almost. The camera hung on Ramey, triumphantly posed, the entire time – and I got this magical sense that as this period progressed, his presence on stage was less an embodiment of the character’s pride and arrogance, and increasingly, a reflection of the actor’s own growing sense of glory – he is truly relishing this moment, feeding on the energy from his audience. It truly seemed like a mystical moment. Seriously, watch the scene yourself and try to tell me otherwise!

As for José Carreras – does anything really need to be said? Carreras is the real deal – and it shows in this performance. It is beautifully acted and beautifully sung, if not perhaps a bit over the top in terms of physicality. This is forgivable though – it’s frankly refreshing, compared to Araiza’s dull, flat performance as Tamino in the Magic Flute (the opera I had watched previously), which was actually recorded during the same Met Opera season as this. (My review of that production in a nutshell)

The only real problem I think I have with José Carreras’ performance is that Carreras seems like such a likeable guy that his “descent to the dark side,” as it were, seems… wrong. His decision to set Carmen free in Act I seems totally against everything we know about the character thus far in the opera, and while this could very well be a textual problem, it’s one that could have been assuaged by a stronger acting performance. He just didn’t seem really tempted enough to actually change his mind, so when he does, it seems sudden and wrong.

Georges_bizet

You guys, I’m not saying women are evil… but women are totally evil.

An important thing to note about the text – or at least, my interpretation of it – is that Carmen’s sudden intrusion into José’s life isn’t “making him bad” per se. Like Walter White in Breaking Bad, it really seems more that the situation and increasing desperation are beginning to bring out nastier elements of his personality that were already there, but repressed, rather than changing him directly. I’m willing to accept the idea that José is flawed as a character, but Carreras’ performance seems to suggest José is a totally nice guy that suddenly, by Act III/IV is a huge jerk. I guess I would have liked to see Carreras give José more of an arc.

I know realistically speaking they were probably all over the biblical idea of “the temptation of woman” when this plot was originally conceived, but I just find the other idea (situational chaos causing latent nastiness to suddenly come into the forefront) so much more interesting as a concept, as it presents a look inward, rather than suggest a more “magical” element (Temptation of woman = “evil”).

Some other more general notes: I thought all of the actors shared tremendous chemistry with each other, and enjoyed their performances down to their core, which made me, as a viewer, appreciate it that much more. Also, as a more minor note, I think this production used the children’s chorus effectively – I generally don’t like children’s choruses as they always sort of sound a bit “angelic” and unnatural to me, in a creepy sort of way. But here they made sure the children sang loudly and without real grace, which normally would be a bad thing, but was effective here because it reflected their status as “street urchins” very well.

All in all, I’m truly surprised by how much I enjoyed this, both as an opera and as a performance. There aren’t many things that can make me willingly write for three pages, single-spaced, and yet here we are. (Yeah, this was totally in Word, originally.)

Maybe I should make the overture my new ringtone.

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So let’s talk about the Portal 2 Level Editor.

There’s too much JK Simmons in my life right now. (Stolen from http://thepageofhopes.tumblr.com/)

The Portal 2 DLC “Perpetual Testing Initiative” came out about a week ago, featuring – and sometimes it’s easy to forget just how expansive this DLC is, so let’s go in order – seamless integration with Steam Workshop that lets players distribute, download and play custom-designed maps and stories *directly in-game* without having to install any executable packages separately – a simple yet comprehensive tool that allows even the least-experienced of players to create custom chambers easily (albeit obviously a good deal simpler than their custom-designed-in-blender counterparts), and almost an hour’s worth of new dialogue from JK Simmons as Aperture CEO Cave Johnson. That all would have been fine by itself if they had decided to simply make it all fun and non-canon, but rather than just do that, they decided to go the extra mile and make it as simple as possible by giving the DLC in-universe justification – ie, we technically got new plot/story as well (though not exactly comprehensive).

What makes this DLC *so* cool is that, rather than abandoning the already-existing Portal 2 mapping community, Valve has made it possible for custom chambers built in Hammer (or whatever) to be uploaded to the Workshop’s collection as well. They could have just as easily made the entire system just based off of the new level designer Valve built – ie, all chambers are made from it and downloaded, etc – which is what I *thought* was going to happen. It seemed clear that the system they put together seemed to revolve around the new map builder (with it being most relevant to the Cave dialogue, etc) but no, instead they took that extra step and included everybody.

It doesn’t even really break from the story of the DLC – your character, a hapless tester – seems to be jumping from universe to universe. It can be justified that occasionally you jump into a universe where Aperture is in disrepair, or GLaDOS is in charge rather than Cave, etc.

It’s really the “not knowing what to expect next” aspect of this (plus the ridiculous dialogue) that makes the DLC so enjoyable, which almost makes me wish they had included a system whereby it generates a random testing track by downloading a series of random chambers from the workshop, putting it in your queue and setting you off. (And according to Reddit, I am not alone in this desire.) Obviously, being able to pick and choose chambers or sets of chambers is nice, but that ability would really make it feel like a “perpetual testing initiative -” you go home and say “let me try another testing track” and then you just go ahead, always getting something new.

But going back to before, where we talked about the map-builder maps vs. maps built in hammer, I gotta say there is a certain level of disconnect. The map-builder is great, but it’s clear that there are a number of limitations that are preventing it from being as great as it *could* be. Namely, I think the goal should be to, over time of course, narrow that gap between the two kinds of chambers until it is less noticeable. Now I’m not complaining at all, mind – note as I’ve already said that this DLC is awesome and way more than I was expecting from Valve – but I imagine it would be in their best interest to improve the builder over time. Valve has always been one to tweak. If they do, I hope they keep the following things in mind.

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