Monday, February 25, 2013

W8: The Art of Orchestration

When this week’s book came out of the Biblio-Mat, I was excited. Bound in forest green with gold scripted text, this dustjacketless tome was a welcome sight. Regardless of what the book subject matter was, at the very worst I had received a nice hardcover to add some colour and elegance to my bookshelf.

Judge this book by its cover.
The Art of Orchestration, by Bernard Rogers was surprisingly printed in 1951. In contrast to last week’s book, first impressions would lead it to have been printed much earlier. I’d like to say it was the textured binding and the musty smell of a vintage tome but really it was the fact that anything written in an Arabic-esque script automatically becomes ancient and profound.

When I imagine “orchestration”, my mind wanders to politicians and nobility of ill repute skulking in dark confines laying the groundwork for grand plots of a Machiavellian nature. This hope of instructional views to scheme like a mastermind was lost when I opened the cover and saw musical notes. Right. That type of orchestration. While I believe everything has an artistic component, the predominant memories of my grade eight band teacher flailing his conductor wand wildly as thirty teenagers butchered four-note arrangements did not conjure up enough artistic value to fill a pamphlet, let alone a book. However, like a cultural sieve I approach all things literary with an open mind.

The images looked not unlike that W5 battery book.
The Art of Orchestration was helpfully divided into two parts. The first, “The Tonal Elements”, introduced the different components of an orchestra. With chapter titles like “The Sovereign Strings” and “Heroic Expression: The Brass”, one cannot help but feel the grandeur of mythic factions being assembled for an epic journey. It should be noted, though, that I had recently watched The Hobbit so many things are being reimagined like Middle-earthen quests in my mind. That being said, these sections did indeed impart many understated aspects to a variety of instruments that I was not aware of before. At one to two paragraphs for each entry, Rogers presents clear concise descriptions of the utility of each orchestra instrument. If, for reasons unknown, you need more than a paragraph understand what a trombone is, I would suggest other sources. Like the internet.

The second part, title “From Line to Color”, embraces the metaphor of arranging an orchestra being the same as painting a masterpiece. The chapters “The Sketch” and “The Picture: One” hint at it subtly; “The Orchestral Painter” not so much. The most interesting aspect of this book, though, falls in these chapters. Rogers presents the idea that all the instruments covered in the first part fall under specific colours and like in painting, you can mix these colours in certain ways to get secondary sound/colours. Using warm colours to invoke feelings of harmony and happiness, blues and greens to stir up fear and isolation, it becomes a method of arranging by visuals. As a fan of paint by numbers, I wholeheartedly embrace this theory.

It's why I'm so good at Electroplankton.
The appendix itself was a whole separate text. It contained nothing but eleven pages of sheet music going over the music theories covered in the first two sections. However, with a staff of half a centimeter, the twenty-four lines on each page resembled a four-lane highway for ants. 

That or a spit-take with a mouthful of J├Ąger.
Luckily, with a background in playing the trumpet through my junior years in high school, I was able to follow along fairly easily. Rebuffed by the confidence of my past experience mixing in with the newfound knowledge of this musical colour theory, I picked up my guitar wondering if this fresh awareness has helped my playing. An hour later, the answer was no.

Book rating: 9/10 (useful, educational, and good-looking)

Random quote: “Another rare device is the pizzicato tremolo, in Italian, bisbigliando.” (This sentence sounds delicious.)

Monday, February 18, 2013

W7: Over Prairie Trails

I set out to The Monkey’s Paw on a cool crisp winter afternoon with the intent to pick up my weekly serendipitous book, and after depositing my two dollars into the Biblio-Mat I did indeed procure a thick set of pages bound between two covers in the style that books are apt to come in. Over Prairie Trails by Frederick Philip Grove.

The first warning sign was woodgrain.
Dustjacketless, the pages of this 1929 book are printed on heavy and textured paper stock that is far too extravagant for the content. The cleanness of the typesetting and header bordering evokes a more modern style of design rather than a book over eighty years old. On the inside coversheet, there is a name written in exquisite penmanship - Sylvia Greenwood. That is the most entertaining aspect of this book.

Over Prairie Trails is a curious text in that it is both deceiving long and short. At 231 pages, my first notion was that this book would be a lengthy daunting read, but upon closer inspection I found the author, much like my university self, had inflated the page count of his work with a toolbox of tricks. Why, the first chapter itself does not begin until the nineteenth page! Numbered image and cushioning plates, large margins, and the traditional typesetter double-space after each sentence puts an estimation of the realistic page count at about half. My first notion would turn out to be correct, however, as one hundred fifty pages of a school teacher recalling his thirty-six horse drawn carriage trips taken in one year between school and home through the Canadian prairies is realistically about one hundred forty-nine pages and fifteen sentences too long.

Snow. There is a lot of it. 40 odd pages or so.
The Biblio-Mat does seem to have a sense of humour, though, as chance would have it the day after receiving this book I, too, was struggling through a snowstorm on an often repeated journey across Canada to visit family. Sensing the tone of dry mid-western Canadian literature of my childhood, I had been putting off this book for a few days but decided to start reading when our pilot announced that our aeroplane would be sitting in the runway for no less than two hours as we awaited de-icing. When I woke up 30,000 feet in the air, I had progressed five pages in.

To say Over Prairie Trails was filled with stories that go nowhere would be giving the strings of words in the text too much credit as stories. The first four pages described the minute details of the narrator’s horse as well as all the desired attributes he wanted when he was contemplating the acquisition of said horse, which lead up to summarization in a single line twelve paragraphs later that this horse could indeed do all the things horses generally do. The ramblings of the most senile television characters are put to shame. One of my least favourite books, The English Patient, would often devolve into describing the mundane with sweeping paragraphs describing the way shadows tend to reflect on walls, wavering ever so gently. Over Prairie Trails had a thirty-five page chapter exploring how interesting it is that fog appears to be made of tiny moisture droplets. For anyone that has ever traveled on a paved road, I very much consider the ability to read this book all the way through as a feat of mental strength.

The phantom shadow was a tree. No jest.
Taken in a participatory art-form point of view, however, this book would be a work of genius as nothing invokes the mind-numbing uneventfulness of traveling fifty miles through the frozen Canadian prairies than reading about the journey repeatedly. Recommended only for those that enjoy long non-comedic meandering lectures about nothing. 

Book rating: 3/10 (if this book had a dustjacket, it would be solid brown)

Random quote: "When I come to the home of frog and toad, of gartersnake and owl and whip-poor-will, a great tenderness takes possession of me, and I should like to shield and help them all and tell them not to be afraid of me; but I rather think they know it anyway."

Monday, February 11, 2013

W6: WomanStyle

No sooner did this week’s book, a definitive guide on women’s fashion published in 1979, come out of the Biblio-Mat then I was approached by a woman who offered to swap her random acquisition on model ships for it. I graciously declined for I am a man of virtue and integrity and to switch out a book would be cheating the intent of this project, plus I already spend a great deal of time writing in the basement of the AGO surrounded by actual model ships and the notion of glamrock and hip flares seemed more entertaining.

The lack of a space signifies cutting edge.
If you have ever wondered what body style you are or if that pair of crochet shorts are appropriate for winter gatherings, then this 1979 book by Leah Feldon is a must read. For the rest of us with Y chromosomes, WomanStyle is still an enlightening look at the much maligned fashion era that is the 70s. Sadly, though, shoulder-pads were not quite a staple of the decade as much as it was the 80s but the seventy-five colour images still provided sufficient amusement.

Brilliant editor, mediocre at furniture camouflaging.
The opening chapter introduces what the perfectly proportioned body looks like, along with all the reasons, in detail, on why 90% of the women in society will not fit into this “privileged and elite group”. Ten years or so ago there was a show called ‘Are You Hot?’ where a panel of judges critiqued people’s bodies on stage. This section was not unlike that show. But fret not, tucked between the in-depth flaw assessments is the nugget of advice to not be overcritical. Crises averted.

Looking like that exempts you from good penmanship.
The following chapters were vastly more useful, though, with sections on what to wear, how to wear it, and most importantly understanding lines of all sorts, for fashion is all about lines - necklines, hemlines, bustlines, waistlines, etc (the smaller  the better if this book is any indication). Being quite versed in sartorial knowledge, I was duly impressed on the amount of practical and useful fashion advice contained within that was still applicable today. My preconception was that much of the book would date itself but sections on garment care, colour theory, and fabric selection makes this publication timeless and relevant for any age.

Mostly timeless, anyway.
I was very much sold on this book, until the section on shoes and footwear. Feldon opens with the virtues of owning comfortable footwear and keeping her shoe wardrobe to a minimum. All credibility suddenly flew out of the beige bellbottomed window. I have lived with enough women to know that shoes are the lifeblood of women’s fashion, and quite possibly their existence. It is a fact of life. I remember carrying one of my roommates through the streets of LA after dinner once because her four inch heels made her feet bleed and she couldn’t walk the three blocks back to the hotel. Two weeks later she bought the same pair in leopard print. Comfort and practicality do not even register on the consideration list for choosing shoes. The true extent of the author's fashion knowledge has become questionable at best. Follow the advice in WomenStyle at your own discretion.

Book rating: 8.5/10 (the garment care page now lets me snip clothing tags with reckless abandon)

Random quote: “One other thing you’re going to need, aside from your iron will, is a good-quality full-length mirror – one of life’s absolute necessities. There is simply no way to truly see proportion without it. So if you don’t have one, turn to “Mirrors” in your Yellow Pages, do some comparison shopping and have one delivered.”

Monday, February 4, 2013

W5: Primary and Secondary Batteries

Inserting my two dollars into the Biblio-mat this week resulted in a deceivingly thin vintage textbook on everything one would need to know about batteries, circa 1945.

Profusely illustrated indeed.
Containing 168 pages of in-depth information, Primary and Storage Batteries by E. S. Lincoln is profusely illustrated, up-to-date, accurate, and authoritative. It had to be, it was written on the cover. This book would have been immensely useful if it had come out of the machine a week before when our trivia team missed a question based on electricity and lost the night by a single point. Then again, perhaps the cosmos enjoy rubbing in failures caused by lapses in high school science knowledge. 

Detailed schematics to build a Keepalite.
Primary and Storage Batteries reads surprisingly well for a textbook. Riddled with black and white photographs of antique batteries and illustrations explaining the virtues of various circuit connections, the information is spread out and easily digestible. Interesting enough, not much has actually changed in the world of batteries. Sixty years ago they used the same AA, C, and D type cells. It was still an informative book, though, with the two main things I learned being:

1) There are two classes of batteries - the Primary type that works through the concumption of chemical reactions and the Secondary type that stores and recalls electrical charges.

2) Eveready was once a well respected brand of portable power before it became the shitty discount red batteries that fathers used to buy at Radio Shack for Christmas toys.

With steps on how to refill chemical reaction batteries with different kinds of acid and diagrams to make your own storage batteries out of nickel plates and glass jars, the book comes across at times as a crude Instructables with a tinge of Anarchist Cookbook. Filled with a rebel spirit and a false sense of electrical DIY knowledge, it inspired me to attempt a battery change on my Sonicare electric toothbrush that died two weeks ago.

This is what I imagine a cyborg shank to look like.
With some prying, cutting, three bandaids, and two hours of un-soldering and re-soldering, I had successfully replaced the proprietary battery that looks suspiciously like a label-less double A with an actual Eneloop double A. It now works better than new. However, Primary and Storage Batteries didn't quite cover lithium-ion or magnetic charging compatibility so I may be brushing my teeth with a ticking shrapnel bomb. I should probably get a new toothbrush.

Book rating: 6/10 (not super enlightening but it has the old book smell)

Random quote: "Dry or in solution, it will burn or injure the skin, eyes and clothing. In case of accident, flush affected part freely with water, apply antidotes prescribed on label of soda can"