Book #81: How Music Works (2012)

howmusicworksAuthor: David Byrne
Language: English
Length: 13 hours 11 minutes
Finished listening on: 24 Feb 2015

I had almost forgotten about this audiobook, which I downloaded in the Humble Bundle last year. I’m not much of a music fan overall – of course, I listen to music a lot, but I don’t play any instruments, and I’m not interested in music theory much – so I was a little apprehensive about starting it.

Truth be told, I should have recognized David Byrne’s name on the cover as the lead singer of Talking Heads. As it happened, it slowly dawned on me during the first couple of chapters as he wrote about his experiences as the frontman. The book, as Byrne explains in the foreword, is supposed to be written neutrally as a guide to the social phenomenon of music, and can be dipped into in different places. In practice, it contains a lot of autobiographical information and is possibly the closest thing to an actual autobiography or chronicle of his career with Talking Heads that Byrne will write.

As always, I’ve not been keeping to my own deadlines, so the book has faded somewhat from my memory, so only a few prominent details stand out. Some of them are reiterated, in order to keep up the idea that one can dip into the book anywhere. Byrne makes a lot of the fact that his music career was essentially an accident and he can’t really sing well in his opinion. There were also some snippets of the way in which Talking Heads would compose their songs.

The one that stands out to me and is relevant to my interests was the chapter towards the end that touched on linguistics. In particular, evidently there have been a bunch of studies done on the frequency distribution and prosodic rhythm of a bunch of different languages, and there may actually be evolutionary evidence for why most cultures around the world use them same small set of musical scales – that fits with my experience, anyway, where many Japanese people seem to think that Auld Lang Syne is a traditional native tune, unaware that it was imported from Scotland in the 19th century.

It’s a well-written and informative book overall, and even for me, it was interesting. It’s worth reading if you have the chance.


Film #144: Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers (2005)

kameaka: 亀は意外と速く泳ぐ (Kame wa igai to hayaku oyogu)
Director: Miki Satoshi
Language: Japanese and a bit of French
Length: 90 minutes
Watched on: 15 Feb 2015

I picked this and a few other things up in the UK using my Christmas money before I came back to Japan – although I could mostly get by fine now, I still don’t really want to watch movies without subtitles. Of course, if I didn’t restrict myself like that, I’d have a much wider selection of films to choose from, but frankly, most of the Japanese films I see advertised in cinemas seem as unappealing as the awful soap operas they have on their TV, so filtering them through the lens of being good enough to make their way across the world seems a good idea.

Thus I ended up with this, a feel-good film about small-town life in Japan. It’s charming but hideously and knowingly quirky, heavily inspired by the likes of Amélie and other early-2000s movies like it. It looks like a cartoon most of the time, with bright colours and carefully-arranged mise en scene. Its characters are archetypes that can be reduced to a single attribute – the quiet girl, the loud girl, the stoic ramen shop owner.

The story is purely background, as I don’t think much is ever made of it, or that it ends with an anticlimax, instead serving as the backdrop for a number of vignettes about the characters’ daily lives. The main character, stuck in the house while her unseen husband works abroad, in the throes of ennui, accidentally finds an ad looking for spies, so she answers it – but the people she meets turn out to be a crazy couple, who tell her that to be a spy, she must act as normal as possible. Then for the rest of the movie she starts second-guessing herself, wondering whether it’s really normal to buy so many carrots in the supermarket, or how a normal person ties their shoelaces.

Despite the quirkiness, I enjoyed the movie, as it was funny and silly, and the cast of characters was great, especially the crazy couple trying to sneak around. It had a lot of memorable moments, although the overarching plot could be left out without changing much. One other thing I liked a lot about this movie is that it forgoes any romantic subplot, except for a failed date with an old classmate – but basically, she’s married, so the relationships in this movie are not romantic in nature. When 90% or more of the movies you see have that kind of thing, it’s nice to find ones that don’t.

Radio: Good Omens (2014)

goodomensAuthors: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Adapted by: Dirk Maggs
Language: English
Length: 6 episodes – 5 of 30 minutes and one of 60 minutes
Finished listening on: 9 Feb 2015

I always forget that the BBC still makes radio plays for Radio 4. But apparently they do, and evidently, they still make ones that are worth watching. I actually heard about this via Neil Gaiman’s Tumblr – a nice way for him to stay in touch with fans.

Good Omens was one of the first audiobooks that I downloaded using the Audible service a few years ago. In fact, I wrote a review for it on this blog back near the beginning. So listening to the story again was like a distantly familiar memory, even though it’s in a very different form overall. Here there is a cast of actors including some veterans of the UK comedy scene like Mark Heap and Peter Serafinowicz in the lead roles, and a bunch of child actors for the child roles, as far as I can tell.

One other key difference is that the radio play is much shorter, since it’s broken into smaller digestible chunks. This makes it easier to follow but leaves me with the distinct impression that they’ve left stuff out.

As for the story itself, I’m not going to recap it much here, but I ought to note that for whatever reason – it might be my growing cynicism as I grow older, or it might be because the scene was badly written – I found the final scene somewhat underwhelming and not profound. I can’t remember what I thought the first time I heard the story, but here the scene was confusing and the moral a bit empty.

As yet, I’m still wondering why they haven’t made a movie of this. But I definitely think the BBC should continue making things like this!

Before I end this review, it would be amiss for me not to mention Terry Pratchett’s tragic passing back in March. I was actually going to write my thoughts on it when I got to the review of Raising Steam, which I was reading around that time, and thus which stuck in my memory as important. Tacked on the end of this review they would seem too hasty, though, so I think I’m still going to wait until then. Rest assured it was nice to hear that he was able to make a cameo appearance along with Gaiman in the first episode – but I feel slightly ashamed for having missed that entirely until it was later pointed out to me!