Thursday, November 16, 2006

Base Bose

The time once came when I decided to move on from Sony HiFi systems and set up a home theatre. I had procured an amplifier and a dvd player. I had to go speaker shopping. I grew up hearing a lot about these amazingly small speakers that belt out awesome sound. So the first in the list of probable speakers was Bose. Have you ever visited a Bose showroom? If not I heartily recommend that you make a beeline to the nearest store this weekend when time permits. It makes for a nice experience. I have been to showrooms here in Bombay quite a few times. It never fails to give me a kick. Before proceeding I must state that I have nothing against the salespeople there. They are smart and very friendy. They can also without fail keep smiling for ten minutes without a shortening of the arc which stretches from ear to ear. The demo usually takes around five minutes and is done in batches of five - for the home theatre demo they will normally play the horses scene from Fellowship Of The Ring - Lovely Liv being pursued by the wicked wraiths or the Quidditch cup clip from Harry Potter. They will pause twice in between the demo and ask you to pay special attention to the sound coming from all corners of the room and how crisp the chants of limpid eyed Liv sound. They say it with such vehemence - it is as if till now all you were doing is staring at luscious Liv and trying to listen to the hum of the air conditioner and not paying any attention at all to the speakers. And when the scene is over with a florish he or she will without fail ask you "Wasn't that wonderful!?". They make you feel as if they had just put on a magic show or performed a small miracle. (If you stand up and applaud they will probably take a bow).
Then when you ask them for the specifications of the speakers they reply that Bose doesn't believe in putting numbers to their speakers. No sir. Impedence, sensitivity, frequency response, crossover frequency is all classified information and would be of no use to the customer. We are to let only our ears do the judging when buying Bose. The first time they said that to me I couldn't believe anyone selling speakers can say that to a customer. Yes, the ears have the maximum say in the decision to decide on a particular speaker but the specifications add greatly to the judgement. Any questions on technical details are just not encouraged or met with vague answers. It was apparant that the guys at Bose are not very interested in selling just the speakers. What they want for you to do is to buy their whole system - all the jewel cubes, the media center and the bulky Acoustimass module. The product line is called Lifestyle. That says a lot to me. The reason I became anti-Bose is not because of the quality of their products (which is really good) nor the fact that they have serious competitors (there are many), it is because of their marketing strategy - "Don't question us. Just buy our product". It is not about music, It is about "Lifestyle". They want you to buy Bose, not speakers. It didn't sell to me.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What's in a Name

This is with regards to a post I had put up sometime ago - Unravelling the Womb. This was done with the intention of following it up with another explaning the reason for posting a wierd drawing with the curious title. The time has come.

I was reading up on paintings and downloaded random works of a few famous artists. The names of some of them struck me. They ranged from the very simple to the highly abstract. It set me thinking as to how much thought does a painter have to put into naming his creation. How pertinent is the title of a painting or sculpture for an artist. It looks like the title assumes different levels of importance for different artists. It must have been a very easy task for some - One of Renoir's painting shows a girl with a watering can standing in a garden. Renoir called the painting A Girl with a Watering Can (1876) - it can't get simpler than that. Thoreau would have been mighty pleased with Renoir.

Dali takes it to the other extreme - The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (1954). It is tough to conjure up a picture on hearing the title. It is equally tough to make any sense of it on having a look at it too. It has a fish, lots of bricks, a couple of leafless trees, watches that seem to be melting with the hands floating over them. It seems that to Dali this painting symbolises "the psychological effect that the advent of the atomic bomb had on humanity"!!! (Wiki's my source) I bet you a million bucks that there was no way you would have come up with that unless you had heard or read about it.

The point is that the title can be very straightforward in many cases and it can often be vague with no obvious connect to the painting. Does a seemingly cyyptic title enhance the appeal of the painting by making the viewer try and think about what was going through the artist's mind when he was creating the work of art? I think it does. The average man would walk past Renoir's painting thinking Aaah, girl with the watering can, how sweet, those are very pretty colours. The same man will stop for more than a while at the Dali trying to figure out what the boxes and the jellyfish have to do with memory and disintegration.

Another enigmatic one is Paul Gauguin's painting that is called Where Do We Come From, What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897) Bill Watterson's Calvin had a very ready answer to Gauguin's queries. "I came from my room, I'm a kid with big plans, and I'm going outside!". Gauguin would not have agreed. His masterpiece portrays more profound thoughts. Gauguin's thoughts on the whole of humanity. The characters in the painting depict different stages of life. The painting is to be "read" from the right to left, starting with birth and ending with death and beyond.

I think artists stopped being concerned with just the composition, form and colours. They wanted their paintings to have a character that was an extension of the artist themselves, wanted the painting to portray opinions and philosophy. The titles have thus kept getting more obscure with time (or so I feel).

Painting Eras of the last century and a quarter - Impressionism giving way to the Post Impressionist period followed by the Expression, Abstraction, and Fantasy and then Surrealism.

Monet (1840-1926) - Water Lily Pond (1899), Impression: Sunrise (1872) (Impressionist)

Renoir (1841-1919) - Girl With a Hoop (1885), On The Terrace (1881), Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876) (Impressionist)

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) - The Yellow Christ (1889), The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch (1892) (Post Impressionist)

Van Gogh (1853-1890) - The Potato Eaters (1885), Still Life with Absinthe (1887) (Post Impressionist)

Dali (1904-1989) - The Persistence of Memory (1931), Soft Construction With Boiled Beans (1936), The Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937), Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bumblebee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening (1944) (Surrealist)

Calling a rose a rose is not going to raise any eyebrows. Calling it Layers of Love on Thorns might add a new dimension to it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

When I Grow Up

Yesterday's paper had an article on Neil Patrik Harris. He has announced that he is gay. His lover is a fellow actor of name David Burtka. Seems they have acted together in the sitcom that Harris is currently starring in, How I Met Your Mother. It was strange - the emotions that coursed through me when assimilating the news on Harris. It has been well over 12 years since all ties between him and me were severed. I am talking about Doogie Howser M.D. It used to be one of my favourite serials when I was in school and Harris played the young doctor who juggles work and adolescence. It had things that are the worries of any teenager - peer pressure, girls, best friends, sports, unravelling life. Was easy putting myself in his shoes (although he was a practising doctor and I was struggling with high school). Then I went to college, Doogie Howser dropped off my radar. Now suddenly Doogie is back and he's back to say that he's gay. I was certainly surprised. Doogie had a steady and sweet girlfriend called Wanda! I also haven't met anyone who is gay so my impression is only that which is stereotyped and somehow Doogie doesn't confirm to that. It all just goes to show how much one tends to associate the actors to the roles they portray on screen.

The article also made me look up on what Fred Savage is doing nowadays. This dude played Kevin Arnold in Wonder Years. I liked this serial more than Doogie Howser M.D. Kevin was the more realistic sort - has a hard time in school, gets bullied, doesn't score wonderful grades, not great at sports. As with Doogie I lost all contact via the TV with Kevin once I moved to college and I missed the last few seasons. In real life, it turns out that Fred later graduated from Stanford, is married to a Jennifer Stone, became a father in Aug 2006, is working on a serial called Crumbs. His girlfriend in Wonder Years Winne Cooper was played by Danica McKellar who has majored in Mathematics and has a theorem to her name now! She has also written and directed two short films.

The place that these serials held was what Friends replaced once I grew up. I can't help wishing that Harris and Savage hadn't grown up with me - Doogie Howser and Kevin Arnold just aren't the same people anymore.

On a different note, the last lines of the final Wonder Years episode pretty much sums up the feelings that most of us have about the time gone by...

Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you're in diapers, the next day you're gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place, a town, a house like a lot of other houses, a yard like a lot of other yards, on a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back, with wonder.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

You can leave your Hat on...

Was watching Nelly Furtado's recent videos the other day and was pretty amazed to see the changes in the once like-a-bird girl. It was not too long ago she was wondering where her home is, where her soul is. She said her love was true and her love was rare and that she was a bird who'll fly away. Her latest album is called Loose! That sets the tone for the songs. She is a Man Eater who will make you work more, spend more, buy cars, fall hard on love. Then in the next song she says that she's a Promiscuous Girl and tells the promiscuous boy (who claims to know what the promiscuous girl wants and that he has what pg needs) that she's all his and asks what's he waiting for?! *wipes sweat off brow* Phew. Its getting hot in here Nelly. She had certainly put in more thought into the lyrics of the songs (I'm like a bird, Turn off the light, Powerless) in her first two albums (Whoa Nelly, Folklore) but I am not complaining. Loose is cool. Loose is good.

Cristina Aguilera - She was a genie in a bottle and if you wanted to be with her you had to rub her the right way! Suggestive? - certainly, Risque? - I don't think so. Then she came out with the album Stripped. If the title left some scope for imagination the first video removed all doubts - lets get Dirrty - and she wasnt talking about rolling in the mud. She came in for heavy criticism - unjustified I feel. The lady dares to bare, why should anyone care?

Lets not forget Britney Spears. The chaste schoolgirl-like Spears stuck to the good girl image for quite a while, a lot longer than the other ladies who have featured on this post. When she said "Ooops! I did it again" she made it clear what 'it' was. 'It' was just playing with hearts and getting lost in the game. No ambiguity a la Meatloaf and his doing anything for love but not that. Stronger, Lucky, Born to Make You Happy, Crazy - wholesome family pop - dad, mom, daughter, son can all sing and dance along together. Then there was I'm a slave 4 U. Family dancing and singing turned a tad uncomfortable. She followed it up with Toxic, Breathe on Me, Touch My Hand. She kissed Madonna on stage during a gig. It was time for the family dancing and singing together to stop. Dad returns to Jim Reeves, mom to Cliff Richard, sis and bro take the cd to their friends place.

I have to mention Mariah Carey. This was probably the first transformation I took notice of. Hero, Emotions, Dreamlover - songs that you listen to and at the end of which you want to pick her up and be all protective and caring and feel all macho. She also did Christmas carols. Just when you think that she's just that kind of gal mom's discerning eye would be appreciative of, she comes out with the album Butterfly. Honey - it's first single. High high heels, short short skirt, small small top. Mom meeting Mariah was one meeting hastily struck off the calendar. Nice doey eyed Carey dropped clothes at the same time that she claims to have got total creative control over her music. I heartily agree, partly because the songs too were good. The new image however was there to stay. The later albums never had Mariah dancing by the brook in flower filled fields - Dreamlover was a thing of the past.

Four singers who left behind their Miss Goody Two Shoes image and opted for a more sexy and naughty look. Good girls go to heaven, but the bad girls go everywhere?