Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Triangle

I've always been fascinated with the Bermuda Triangle, ever since i first read about it in my secondary school days. It's just one of those unexplained phenomenon happening in our world, hyped up by so many good stories, that its become almost a myth or legend even!

I remember back in my secondary school days (think it was Sec 1), when asked to do a "research project" on any topic we could choose, i teamed up with 2 other guys, and we chose to research on "Paranormal And the Unexplained". I did the "Bermuda triangle" bit, while the other 2 guys did "UFOs" and "Loch Ness monster" respectively. I still keep a copy of our "thesis" from back then. :)

For those of your who do not know what the Bermuda Triangle is (it's not just a song, mind you!), here's a snippet taken from Wikipedia:

The Bermuda Triangle, also known as the Devil's Triangle, is a geographical area in the Atlantic Ocean approximately triangular in shape and is famous for its supposed paranormal activities. The Bermuda Triangle's three corners are roughly defined by Bermuda, Puerto Rico, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, giving it an area of nearly half a million square miles (1.2 million km²).

Paranormal Claims:

- "A significant number of ships and aircraft have disappeared under highly unusual circumstances."

- "Paranormal activity where the known laws of physics are violated."

- It has even been suggested that "extraterrestrial beings are responsible for some of the disappearances."

Despite popular belief, the United States Coast Guard and other agencies cite statistics indicating that the number of incidents involving lost ships and aircraft is no larger than that of any other heavily-travelled region of the world. While many of the alleged mysteries have proven not so mysterious or unusual upon closer examination, with inaccuracies and misinformation about the cases often circulating and recirculating over the decades, many others still have no explanation.

I'm currently watching this mini-series called "The Triangle" - which is a story revolving round 4 main characters, who are trying to figure out what the heck is happening to their lives, after they'd accepted a seemingly irresistable offer from a multi-millionaire (played by Sam Neil - a.k.a. the Dinosaur man from Jurassic Park; or Dr Weir, from the horror/sci-fi Event Horizon. Oh, by the way, he's also "Merlin" :P ) who hired them to find out how some of his ships went AWOL around the Bermuda triangle region.

So far, the storyline is quite interesting, though i am hoping they show more "action" happening in the Bermuda triangle itself, rather than how the 4 poor chaps are being affected in their personal lives (like seeing hallucinations, or witnessing 'alternate realities' ).

Someone should make a serious movie out of this - the Bermuda triangle. Or for that matter, i'd love to see more shows on Big Foot, or Loch ness monster too! Give me monster movies anyday!! :)

"It ain't no man, and we're all gonna die" - quote from the movie Predator.

Monday, September 25, 2006


记得中学时候念儒家思想时,读到关于孟子与旬子之间的思想差异. 其中之一包括"人性本善"或"人性本恶"之争. 到底人是一生下来就有罪恶的念头,还是后天的因素导致一个人走上不正当的途径?

Why do i suddenly think of such things? Well, a simple incident at work, really.

A week back, i lent my laptop charger to a colleague, who subsequently returned it to me. The problem is - he simply left it on a common table, and didnt hand it to me personally. (at my workplace, there's no personal desk, so we all share common "hotdesks" in the office)

When i went to the hotdesk to retrieve my charger, i simply took one which was lying there and unused, assuming it was mine (the colleague told me where he left it, and since i found one lying at the location, i'd assumed it was the one).

The next day, another colleague came to me and asked if i've seen her charger, which she claimed was lying exactly at the same spot. Since there's no way of confirming the rightful owner, i decided not to create a scene and i decided not to "contest" the issue of ownership.

Today, through a series of asking around and "testimonials" from several witnesses, it became a little more likely that the charger actually was mine. But the problem is, there's nothing conclusive and since the charger was not labeled, nobody could prove it was mine/hers.

But whatever the outcome here, it led me to a disturbing conclusion - that SOMEONE must have stolen a charger from the desk. And according to some of my more experienced colleagues around who told me, "you should've labeled all your stuff. it's not safe leaving things around in this office". Hey, we're not talking about a large multistorey office building with hundreds of employees streaming around. We're just a small one floor office (in a building), with max 50 or so employees, all of whom more or less know one another (if not by name, at least by face).

拿走不属于自己的东西,而没有打算还,这就是偷. "偷东西是不对的",这是我们从小就被家长和老师灌输的道德观念之一. 这道理有谁不知道,不明白? 我之所以感到遗憾是因为在这里上班的人应该全都是受高等教育的专业人才,怎么连这点基本的道德观念都没有呢?

难道人性真的是"本恶"吗? 又或是,在这个竞争激烈,你争我夺的功利社会里,所讲究的"真理"是-"人不为己,天诛地灭"?

A collegue told me to fight for the charger. His words were "if you want it back, you cannot be a nice guy". Yeah, someone said before "nice guys finish last". So that means, if we want to finish first, we can't be nice anymore.

If everyone thinks like that, this society will be a really scary place to live in.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The small ensemble - Esplanade performance

The Genus performing ensemble put up 2 nights of 2x30 minutes show at the Esplanade concourse on 20 and 21st September.

I took part on the first night, playing about 10 songs in total, including Malaguena, which Owls "arrowed" me to play the Prime solo part.

The experience wasn't too bad. We played to a considerable crowd, who'd gathered around the concourse area at 730pm and 830pm respectively. There were also some familiar faces amongst the crowd, as some Genus alumni members dropped by to lend their support. (I spotted Peiting, Janice, Lui Kiang amongst our alumni players)

The miking wasn't too ideal, as the sound from our combined effort came across as 'thin', and without the 'punch' - a comment made by Robert, who was amongst the audience in the first half performance. Only the soloist mics seemed reasonable good.

Anyway, maybe it isnt really fair to compare this performance with the 15 minute performance we put up in the Guitarist Network event, but i still cant help having the feeling that it was a much tighter group back then. The music may have been different, the length of performance (hence the level of difficulty) may have been different; but playing alongside with this "new look" ensemble doesn't inspire the same kind of confidence as before.

The players makeup does make a big difference. The level of preparedness also is a huge factor. (i personally would have preferred not to perform at all, if it were not for the fact that i promised Owls to play. Frankly, i have missed too many rehearsals, so much so that i was sight-reading some scores during performance!)

Hmm... looks like it's time i re-evaluate my priorities again.

To play, or not to play in this small group. That is my question.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Good fun and great nerves

I have to say it was predictable. And to be honest, rather expected really.
And i'm not talking about the mood and atmosphere we were greeted with at the library@Esplanade yesterday.

16th September 2006 was the first time Guitaresque had an hour long performance indoors, all by ourselves (not as part of Genus or with other small groups) - playing to an actual 'listening audience'. That means, we were not playing to some big shots in a dinner setting, where we could basically just smoke out and keep repeating repertoire without anyone noticing (ala Pine Tree club charity dinner); or in an open stage in a garden where the sound probably sounded crap regardless of what we played (ala Chinese garden performance).

This was really a good experience. Nice, appreciative audience. Rather cosy and warm ambience lightings, and at least decent sound (it wasn't as good as playing in my home studio of course! ). Many of our friends came to listen to us and to lend their support. The usual Genus alumni gang were there - Mich, Wai, Sherrie, Mel, HF, JQ, JH, Moh. Some of the SMU Guitarissimo members popped by too. I also had 'past' and 'present' colleagues coming to "support" me - really appreciate the gesture - Lina & Sandra! :)

But what was really predictable and expected was the fact that some of us 'froze up' during the performance. I think it is precisely the fact that we knew that we were being watched and listened to by an attentive audience, coupled with a video camera pointing at us at the same time, that created the nerves and anxiety.

Haha.. i cant recall ever hearing Owls play the Habanera melody line wrongly in ALL our practices. But it happened.

Barber couldnt get his fingers to listen to him as he attempted those darn Aragonaise scales. He even ended Canon 2 bars before we did - causing alarming and disbelief stares from Owls and myself. ( i was too stunned to realise what OG was doing )

The Telemann concerto sounded like we were sight-reading it for the first time. I think the passing of melodies were completely missing as fingers were slow to react to the panicked mind.

I messed up several arppeggios (those darn pizz!) in Canon too. Not to mention the usual nerves when playing the art. harmonics in 老情歌.

But OG kept the best for last. (wahahah!) The 'ad-lib' display in our encore showed that he was back at his best. I could barely contain my mirth as we completed the supposedly romantic Entrac'te.

As the leader of the group, i feel that we may have to challenge ourselves a little differently going forward. While we are certainly progressing in terms of our technical abilities and being able to tackle more challenging repertoire (e.g. A Furiosa, Libertango); there remains this aspect of us not being able to rise to the occasion when we are in front of an audience.

As a group, our 默契 is certainly fantastic. We know one another well, and our weekly practices give us gives us time to gel and to develop our group dynamics.

Individually, as players, we need to develop our self-confidence too. Whether playing guitar to or addressing an audience is actually a test of our own self-confidence and esteem. I certainly still feel some nerves when doing so, but it really helps me to think "the fact that i'm here performing/speaking to you (ie. audience) means that i am probably the subject matter expert in this particular topic. So even if i fumble along the way, as long as i show the kind of confidence that experts normally do, then you wouldn't even know i'm "smoking" you."

* ironically, it's this kind of thinking that helped me 'survive' at my workplace too. Given the kind of people i sometimes have to deal with (e.g. bankers and traders), you have to demonstrate confidence in your product knowledge (no matter how cock-up the product sometimes can be), else you risk losing all credibility.

I think some members of Guitaresque need a little more of this confidence-training/booster than others. But all of us will benefit if we do not keep to our own comfort zone, playing good music behind closed doors, in a comfy studio which seduces us into thinking we are better players than we really are.

More performances for us, definitely. And Genus seems a good place to start. :)

Friday, September 15, 2006

A learning experience

They always say - the best way to learn how to swim is to jump into a deep pool and try your best not to drown. If you managed to do that, you'll learn how to swim faster than any coach can teach you.

I just got a taste of that at work.

Imagine trying to fix a problem on a computer terminal, where you're required to do re-programming of keys on a live dealing station. The best part of it is - you have not touched nor even seen this kind of keyboard setup in your life. So it's basically touch and go, you learn ON THE SPOT.

And all this while, the client is standing behind you asking, "what's the problem? why so slow? I need to trade real time. Now! "

Backup for me comes in the form of my experienced, and more importantly - helpful colleagues. I desparately went through my blackberry and dialed some numbers. I called a total of 3 colleagues, but alas! All three were busy, either in class or in training. Still, i managed to get some information and tips from each of them, and piece the suggestions together into a workable solution.
*and the best part is - i had to use only Mandarin to converse on the phone, so that the client (who's an Indian) wouldn't know that i actually know next to nothing about the stuff. He probably picked up on my desparate tone of voice though. :P

So - problem solved? Hardly... after the whole process was done, it turned out that it was a hardware issue! Something for the hardware engineers to worry about. Darn...

But it's true. You learn real fast when you're put on the spot, and under intense pressure to perform. Provided you don't crack. What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.

And also gives you a few more white hair too.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Niibori ensemble coming to town!

For the relatively small group of classical guitar players in Singapore who also happen to be involved in an guitar orchestra or ensemble setup, the Niibori Guitar Ensemble's visit to Singapore should not come as new "news". Afterall, there has been talk of Thomas Liauw bringing them to Singapore since 2 years back, only it didn't happen then.

But finally, this time round, things seemed to be confirmed. We get to hear the famed Niibori players play, and in our own backyard!

I remember when the Tsu ensemble came to CFA some time back, we were all very impressed with the kind of musicality, tightness of the ensemble, and the spirited display when they performed their repertoire at Dance Theatre. Thinking back, that was the first (and only) time I've heard an Niibori ensemble (superior to Genus) play Live. And to think the Tsu ensemble is not even a professional ensemble!

I'm certainly not going to miss this opportunity to admire a professional Niibori ensemble perform in Singapore. Can't wait for Dec 6th!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What is your life passion?

For many people, the reaction to such a question will be a stunned look. Or a bemused one. Invariably followed by, " Err.. not sure (leh) " if the person was local.

Actually, if we don't think too deeply, and just take it as a simple question of "is there something which you would like to be doing all your life", the answer may come a little easier.

Well... maybe not by much - going by the kind of responses i seem to be getting from some people whom i have talked to.

I guess, in today's hectic working environment, we all really have very little time to sit down and ponder about what we want. What we really enjoy doing, and what could be a life long hobby or passion.

Many of us lead pretty mundane lives - especially in a fast-paced, and materialistic society like Singapore - going after material wants almost every hour of every day of each week of every month of every year..... *you get the idea* :P And it's NOT OUR FAULT!!! Unless you can somehow tear yourself away from the societal pressures and heaps of expectations unleashed upon you by your fellow beings (includes all your family members ,friends, colleagues, etc..), you inevitably have to conform.

Get a decent job that pays you decent salary. Get married and buy a home to stay in. Get a car if you need to transport your family, especially with kids (if you can afford it!) . Fulfilling your roles as a son, a husband, a father, a friend, a colleague, etc. often mean conforming to expectations of others too. So who can blame us for living mundane, and sometimes even robotic lives?

And so, in the midst of our evergoing pursuit of better jobs and better pay to fulfil our roles as described above, who then has time to think about "life passion/interest"???

Which is why i am so, so glad to be able to say that i have found ONE such interest. I know i want to play guitar for the rest of my mundane life. It -is- something which i cannot forsee myself giving up, ever. Barring extreme circumstances (e.g war, disability/illness) which prevents me from playing, i seriously doubt i will stop playing my beloved instrument.

And i have a role model too - someone who is still as passionate about the classical guitar, even though he is past 80 years old. Kuja is probably right when she commented that "take the passion away from the man, you take away his will to push on, and even possibly his will to continue living.. "

I wish i can still be able to play the guitar at such a ripe old age (if i live till then, that is :P ).

And i hope my friends can be there to play guitar with me too.
(hmm.. wonder how good we can become if we continue to play together for another 20-30 years! )

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A Guitar Night

Went to the "Classic meets Pop" performance last night with OG. It's a concert organised by the Toa Payoh Guitar Club to raise club funds, so that they can finally be 'on par' with many schools and institutions which have already went on their Niibori instrument shopping sprees.
(hmm.. think i'll talk about that in another blog. some mixed feeling there.. anyway..)

First thing that struck me, was that the concert was FULL HOUSE! When i reached at 725pm, the area outside the hall (DBS Auditorium) was packed. Lots of people, some many familiar faces...

The first half featured Ernest, playing several pieces from Villa Lobos, Danza Brasilera (Morel), Clavelitos, and he ended with a flourish by playing Grand Jota (Tarrega).

Frankly speaking, i wasn't so impressed with some of his renditions of the songs, especially when he tried to play certain sections at double-quick-time speeds. For instance, the Prelude No.1 (Villa Lobos) 2nd section was (to me) way too fast, so much so that it sounded a little tipsy.. Another example would be Danza Brasilera, which imho he played so fast that he actually forgot certain passages, and did a little "smoke-through".

But i really liked his interpretation of some slower songs, in which he was able to do more expression control using he wonderful tone. This is something which i really respect him for. A really good guitarist can make a not-so-good guitar sound really good. And when Ernest played the duets with Omar, this fact came through impressively.

Had a chat with Yudi during the interval. The guy told me he's making trip to the US next week to look at some guitars from a dealer there. Said he had Jim Redgate guitar he wanted to look at. Sigh... what a wonderfully "job" this would be, if only i had the money to start something like that :P

The 2nd half started, and i was able to get a seat beside OG, since the seat was empty. We had a good laugh when we discovered that Omar was playing his "signature" piece (yeah, again!) - Sounds from the Malboro country. Yep, that's the one where he does all the gimmicks like glissandos, left hand hammer-ons, harmonics, knocking his flamenco guitar all over the place to create percussive sounds, etc.. Basically, whatever you can think of from the guitar gimmick & tricks text, he's thrown them in.

OG doesnt have a too high opinion of Omar and his playing. He felt that its just 'playing tricks' using chord progressions, and some knowledge of rhythm (e.g. jazz beats, samba beats). I kind of agree. In the sense that as a serious classical guitar player, i am certainly more impressived with Ernest playing a serious Grand Jota piece, than Omar playing ANY of his pop songs. The kind of technique and 功力 required to play a proper classical repertoire well, cannot be compared to simply using flashy and attention-grabbing stuff to play a catchy tune. This is something which will not make much sense to the general audience, especially those who do not play classical guitar.

However, i do give Omar lots of credit for his efforts in doing his own guitar arrangements of pop songs. It is one thing to be able to play a piece, but another thing to be able to WRITE a piece. To me, i rather admire his arrangement abilities - some of the arrangements are very pleasing on the ear indeed. :)

The KEY event of the night was the encore ~~~

First, they invited Mr Alex A on stage to play a trio with Ernest and Omar - Mr Lonely. A simple arrangement really, but seeing the three players collaborating on stage, especially with Mr A on double bass, was rather interesting.

But they saved the best for last...

Mr A ended the evening with his famous rendition of ... *drumroll*


Peace to the World or The World in PIECESSSSS!

Certainly brings back memories ya? What a concert this turned out to be, worth every penny if you asked me. :)