Ethereality News & Weblog

January 24, 2009

Westone 3 in-ear headphone review

WEBLOG:
My Westone 3’s finally arrived (noise-canceling in-ear headphones). After testing it out, here is my review of it.

If you don’t want to read the detailed review, I’ll simply say that the Westone 3’s sound very warm–too warm for certain genres of music that require very articulate clarity in the high and low frequency ranges. The Westone 3’s have the treble rolled off and the bass hyped, and it takes away much of the compelling detail such as the articulate snap of a double bass, the sizzle of cymbals on a drum set, the buzzing blast of the brass section, or the highest harmonics of a string section. I can EQ the Westone 3’s to sound fairly neutral (which is my ultimate goal when shopping for any audio reproduction equipment–that the equipment become invisible and do not color the sound of the original recordings), but that drains the battery on my MP3 player faster. If I end up exchanging the Westone 3’s I’ll have to research some more to see which brand/model on the market is the most neutral.

By the way, this is what the Westone 3’s look like, and retails for about $399 USD (though I got mine for $291 from an authorized dealer in China):
Westone 3

Quickie movie reviews:

Last King of Scotland – One of the better films I’ve seen in a while. Completely absorbing from beginning to end, and an outstanding performance from Forest Whitaker.

The Lives of Others – Another excellent film–one that has a rarely seen ending that’s bittersweet and very satisfying at the same time. Definitely deserves all the awards it has won. After the film I commented to Elena that it must be a really surreal feeling to be able to sit down and read the files that the secret police had kept on you, knowing these very files could have meant your certain death or at the very least ruined the rest of your life. Then I think about the fact that we’re now living in China and in many ways, the government here is still operating in a similar manner as the old East Germany secret police. People still disappear in the middle of the night here. Maybe one day China will finally realize that’s not how a modern and civilized country should behave.

Revolutionary Road – I was somewhat underwhelmed by this film. I’ve enjoyed all of Sam Mendes’s previous films (American Beauty is one of my favorite films of all time), and this one while was good, just felt a little bit vacant. In some ways I keep feeling like I’ve seen this film in a different form before–the young idealist couple trapped in a suburban environment where dreams wither and die under the weight of oppressive mundane reality. I have never read the original novel so I have no idea how different or similar it is to the film. Some people online joked that if Jack from the Titanic had lived and married Rose, this is what might’ve happened to them. That would be the ultimate anti-climax, wouldn’t it?

January 13, 2009

Let the Right One In

Filed under: Art & CG — Rob Chang @ 1:37 am

WEBLOG:
People I know have been making a fuss about Twitter and I finally decided to give it a try and see what the fuss is all about. It’s a pretty interesting concept and I like it so far. The main reason I joined was because this other nifty site that allows you to create custom search words and stream tweets from twitter accounts all around the world (even in various languages) that are relevant to your searches. I would enter terms that only musicians, filmmakers, artists, photographers, or filmmakers would use, and it’s actually quite amazing how many hits I get. Give it a try yourself and see (the custom search is on the left hand side, and you can enter as many as you want):
http://twitterfall.com/

Here’s my Twitter profile:
http://twitter.com/LunatiqueRob

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how our genre preferences will impact our response to an idea. I think genre preferences often dictate how we respond to the exact same idea but told by different premises. For example, let’s say we have a story about loyalty and brotherhood, and we have five different films of different genres (this same concept applies to any form of narrative like literature and songs)–one is a sports film, one is sci-fi, one is a western, one is epic historical, and one is a crime drama. We could make the plot practically identical, even with almost the same dialogs and the same kind of creative sensibility, but because of our genre preferences, we will like some of these films more than the others. For example, I watch all different genres, but I don’t particularly like musicals and subconsciously avoid them unless one gets rave reviews–then I would give it a shot, though kind of grudgingly. I’m also not much of a fan of popular team sports, but I will watch movies about those sports and enjoy them for the storytelling, as human dramas are universal; however, I don’t think a sports movie will ever make my list of all time favorite films (but never say never, since I really enjoyed the TV Show Friday Night Lights, and it’s about a high school football team). I think truly intelligent people are capable of seeing through the genre conventions and premises and understand the themes and the universal truths portrayed, but taste is a strange thing–it often pushes us to be biased whether we like it or not.

My friend Chris (http://www.ugoaudio.com/) and I have been discussing in detail how to collaborate on a music project together over the internet, and we’ve got most of the kinks figured out, but now I’m going to be away from the studio for six months. I had the dilemma of not having enough room in my luggage to bring everything I want to bring when we fly back to the States, and I have to choose between my MIDI controller (Novation ReMote 25 SL) and my Xbox 360–an extremely hard choice, since on one hand I really want to compose while in the States, but at the same time I had just bought the Xbox 360 and want to get some quality gaming time in as well. His brilliant suggestion was to look into the Korg Nano Controllers, and I have, and I’m quite pleased with the reviews and youtube videos I’ve seen thus far. I think I’ll bring the Xbox 360 and then get the NanoKey and NanoPad once I’m back in the States. They are so tiny that they won’t take up much room at all when we fly back to China. This is what they look like:

Korg Nano Controllers

Pretty darn cute, eh? I kinda prefer the black ones, although the reversed colors on the keys are a bit disconcerting:

Korg Nano Controllers black

Now that I’m done with Dead Space, it’s time to finish Mass Effect. I liked Mass Effect so far, but it’s no Knights of the Old Republic, although I shouldn’t expect it to be, even if it’s made by the same company and have similar gameplay mechanics and design philosophy. I’m bringing a bunch of Xbox 360 games with me on this trip, so that when I’m not teaching the workshop, collaborating with Chris on our music project, or working on my personal projects, I’ll be able to get some quality gaming time in. I’d like to see more of my family and friends as well, since I may not get to see them for a long time after this trip.

Elena and I will need to rent a car right after we get off the plane, then get a motel, then start looking for a temporary housing in the Bay Area and find a used car to buy. My brother Dennis suggested Zipcar, but I’m not sure if that kind of car sharing service is better for us in the long run. My greatest fear in buying a cheap used car is if something goes wrong and ends up costing a lot more money, but it’s the most practical option for us when we are only staying for six months.

Quickie movie reviews:

Let the Right One In – One of the best films I’ve seen in a long time, and I don’t simply mean it’s a good film as in the kind you see several times a year–I mean this is the kind of beautiful film that you see only a few of in a decade. I’m going to let it sink in for a while longer before I decide to put it on my all time favorite films list–that’s how much I loved it. It’s original, beautiful, haunting, bittersweet, and one of those rare films that transcends whatever genre conventions associated with its premise and grabs you by the heart. Some people may never give this film a chance because they think it’s a vampire horror film, but it really isn’t–the premise is merely a metaphor, and what’s deep inside the film is a moving human drama that anyone can relate to.

Taken – A very entertaining film and one of quality, but I wish it could’ve been more realistic like the Jason Bourne series. What I love about the Bourne series is that as badass as Jason is, he’s never depicted as far superior to everyone else like some kind of superman–the other assassins are just as good as he is and often Jason would have to fight tooth and nail only to win by a hair, and we sweat for him because we knew he’s in very real and urgent danger. In Taken, Liam Neeson is portrayed as this untouchable badass that wipes the floor even with other highly trained agents and bodyguards, and that just seems a bit excessive to me. The only time he was kind of matched by another trained security expert was in the very end for the action climax–a little too convenient. It’s still a very enjoyable film though.

The Day the Earth Stood Still – Don’t you love how some films just squander a very interesting premise by making it so simple-minded, illogical, trite and disingenuous? It’s so easy to point the finger at the screenwriter, but as we all know, often it’s the clueless studio executives that forces stunning stupid changes to a great script and turn it into trash. I have no idea which is the case for this film, but the result is disappointing either way.

Twilight – A fairly enjoyable teenage girl romantic fantasy about a vampire boyfriend, but it’s just a bit too safe and caters to the teenage girl crowd a bit too much to resonate with other groups. The color grading of the film in some scenes got on my nerves too–too green and too cold, trying so hard to make everyone look as pale as corpses. I think Interview With the Vampire did a better job in terms of convincing pale skin makeup, and that film is about fifteen years old.

Every once a while I wonder to myself what will be the next film that rises above all the films I’ve been watching and push its way onto my list of all time favorite films, and when it does happen, it’s almost always a film that would have a significant amount of impact on me and makes me think about it for a long time afterward–days, or even longer. The last time it happened was about five years ago, and I was beginning to wonder if it’ll ever happen again (fearing that getting older means I’m getting jaded as well). Now it finally happened again with Let the Right One In, and this time I think it’ll motivate me to finish my ongoing personal project, the short film Promise–one that I’ve been working on for many years (created the premise in 1998, wrote it into a short story in 2001, and then began to work on the actual pre-production in 2002, intending to turn it into an animated short film, but when the company that was to fund the project lost the funding, I put the project on the shelf, since it’s not the kind of project one person can do alone due to some very large scale scenes that would require a team to tackle. Let the Right One In reminded me of Promise because Promise at its core is also about a boy and girl, sacrifice and love, and the desire to protect someone helpless, though the tone is quite different–it’s more ethereal and melancholic than dark and morbid. I’m now seriously contemplating turning Promise into a graphic novel and just get it done myself and put it out there and share it with the world. It’s no use waiting for funding to make the film because I may never find the funding, but I can definitely do the graphic novel alone. It may not be as immediate and visceral as a film, but at least it can approximate the vision I have for it. It’s better than keeping it on the shelf and perhaps going into the grave with me when my time is up.

January 11, 2009

Bring out the fireworks!

NEWS:
I should probably mention that in the next couple of months, the online workshop I’ll be teaching will start to accept applications. The course title is “Creating Compelling Images: Critical knowledge and techniques for today‚Äôs artists.” Essentially, the workshop is the distillation of the most important things I’ve ever learned as an artist to date, and if I could travel back in time to teach my younger self for only two months, this is the stuff I’d teach him/me.

WEBLOG:
The very last bit of work has been finished for our new home, and it is finally complete! The up’s and down’s we went through during the last six months could only be described as dramatic, and just when you think you had it figured out, something explodes or breaks or leaks or falls apart. This is just how things are in China–every person that deals with contractors goes through what we went through–the lies, the empty promises, the lack of standard for quality, the substandard materials, the complete lack of acceptable workmanship…etc. But we stuck to our guns and demanded nothing less than what we paid for and deserves, and we mostly got what we wanted, with a few minor compromises we had to make.

Last time I posted photos of the new studio, and now it’s time for photos of the rest of the new home. If you just want to look at a some photos, then the ones shown below will do. If you want to look at all the photos (including ones during the construction phase, and also the the insanely epic Century Gate) along with commentary, then look here.

Entrance:
Cloud Pagoda

Kitchen:
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Kitchen:
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Living room and study:
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Downstairs bathroom:
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Stairs:
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Bedroom:
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Dressing/laundry room:
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Upstairs bathroom:
Cloud Pagoda

How the studio looks with normal lighting (last time I posted colored LED lighting):
Cloud Pagoda

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Cloud Pagoda

Cloud Pagoda

I still cannot get Mass Effect to run on my PC, and I’m going to stop trying for now, and will wait and see if EA ever releases another patch that addresses the problem. At this point, this is the straw that broke the camel’s back–I’m going to abandon the PC as a gaming platform because I just don’t have the patience to deal with buggy game releases anymore at this point in my life.

I just got over a cold a few weeks ago and now I’m sick again. Very annoying. I looked around online for sore throat/cough remedies, and it seems that chili pepper powder is very popular these days as a remedy. I decided to give it a try (since the typical menthol lozenges don’t work all that well), and I was surprised that it really worked. I felt so much better, and the pain went away fast. Here’s my mixture:
cold remedy

I don’t even bother measuring–I just dump a small mound of the chili pepper into a mug, add about half a mug of warm water, and if I want extra strength, I add vinegar and lemon juice and honey as well. The effect it has on me is similar to boiling ginger root with brown sugar. It numbs the pain, improves circulation, and makes me feel all fuzzy inside. I prefer the taste of the ginger stuff though, but it’s a bit more of a hassle to make.

One afternoon I was in the rest room, and a funny thing happened–something that demonstrated to me just how much some musicians crave to work together. I was in the rest room, and I heard someone playing jazz piano from the window, and this person was really, really good. The playing would go on for a bit then stop, and then later pick up again. I was so surprised because the likelihood of finding such an advanced jazz pianist in a city like Fuzhou is pretty slim, and I started to think of ways I could track this person down so I could make friends. I also started thinking about what type of projects I’d like to collaborate with the person. Then I got out of the rest room and went back into my studio–and I burst out laughing. Apparently, I had clicked on a website before going into the restroom, and it was streaming a track from a legendary jazz pianist. The streaming wasn’t fast enough, so it would play a bit, and then buffer a bit, and then play a bit more. It was a live recording, so the ambiance was different from a studio recording, and the music traveled from the windows of the studio, around the building, and into the bathroom on the other side. I guess I was right–no way a jazz pianist that good would be in a city like Fuzhou, unless he was just passing through visiting someone.

I mentioned before that our In-Ear-Monitors were destroyed by faulty airline headhphone adapters, so it was only a matter of time before we purchased replacements. This time around, we did not go with the same models/brands as previous choices because I’m always on the look out for better bang for the buck. For Elena, we replaced her destroyed Denon AH-C351 with JVC HA-FX34 “Marshmallows” (Red). Since the Denon’s are destroyed, I really can’t make direct comparisons between them, but overall I’d say the JVC’s are quite good for the price range. The fit is comfortable, and the sound quality is good enough if you’re not after audiophile quality. Elena is really not that much into music at all, so she’ll only be using the JVC’s for when we are flying and watching movies on the plane. For myself, I’ve decided to get the recently released Westone 3 after doing a ton of research (especially reading user reviews at head-fi.org). I have no doubt it’ll be a significant improvement over my now destroyed Shure E4C.

I’ve been brainstorming ideas about a post apocalyptic zombie story, and I’m now finally starting to write it. I’ve always been a fan of the genre since I first watched Night of the Living Dead as a kid, and I think there’s still room for exploration, especially taking a more literary angle instead of following typical genre fiction conventions. I always felt that no premise is inherently unfit for serious literary efforts–the difference is in whether the author wants to dive that deep.

I might post finished chapters as I finish them, and once I have enough I’d start sending it out to publishers to get a feel for its marketability. If no one wants it, I’ll just post the whole thing for free.

I’ve mentioned my plan to built a custom computer isolation box before, and after getting used to this new studio space, I realized there isn’t enough room for the kind of design I want, so I went ahead and simplified the idea down to the bare minimum, which as you see, is no longer a box. They are now iso panels with 4″ glassfiber wrapped in burlap and fixed onto wooden boards, and I simply slide them out of the way when I need to access the computer. They cut the noise down significantly, but not completely. Since it’s not a full enclosure, the computers don’t heat up that much, and even if they do heat up, I only need to make the gaps bigger to get more air in and out. Overall I’m quite happy with this solution. Best part is, it’s very cheap and simple to make!

The front/left side:
Iso panels

Iso panels

The back/right side:
Iso panels

Iso panels

Simply slide them out of the way to access the computers:
Iso panels

Iso panels

Low tech solution to secure the panels together:
Iso panels

Quickie film reviews:

Lion For Lambs – I don’t think I’ve ever disliked a film with Robert Redford in it (and it has nothing to do with the fact that my mother named me after him), and this one’s no exception. The screenplay was good, but the main problem with the film is that it is too preachy, and ultimately felt like a college course about social duties in cinematic form. The actors did what they could to make the screenplay sound natural, but there were moments that were just too neat, too clean, and fits too well into bite-sized chunks of infotainment.

Night Skies – This one ended up being better than I expected, although it was definitely shoestring budget production. The dialogues were pretty believable, and the pacing was effective, although the cheap production took its toll. The girl that played the lead female (A.J. Cook) was pretty darn cute in the film, and when I looked her up online, her photos didn’t look as attractive (though to be fair, real life lighting situations rarely competes with cinematic lighting).

This is something I’ve noticed a lot–actresses in their real lives don’t necessarily have the taste to style themselves in ways that make them look as attractive as some of the roles they played. I’m not even talking about impeccable makeup or fancy dresses–sometimes the roles are just simple casual clothes and basic hair styles, with minimum makeup. The problem is, often an actresses was absolutely adorable and elegant in a role, and then you see the actress in real life dressed like a tramp with caked on makeup that just destroys all the things that were beautiful about her face, and the way she carries herself simply just lack any of the elegance and grace that the characters she played had. I remember being very disappointed by Madeleine Stowe and Andy McDowell years ago when I saw them on talk shows–they were kind of coarse, tacky, and graceful is not the word I’d use to describe their demeanor.

Undead – I tried watching this one years ago and I hated it so much that I turned it off before getting too far. I have since then read some glowing reviews of the film from zombie fans, and I thought I’d give it another shot. No go. I still hate it, and I still can’t make it past the first half of the film. I’m generally not a fan of horror + comedy + camp mixtures, and it would take a really special writer/director to change my mind (such as Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead). Undead just was simply bordering on idiotic, and the humor just wasn’t my cup of tea.

In A Dark Place – I have low tolerance for crappy horror films because it’s really not that hard to scare the living daylights out of someone. In my opinion, if a writer or director can’t even make an effective horror film, then he’s really got not business making any films at all. Needless to say, this film was really bad. It’s actually a rare occurrence for me to see the lack of talent in a director when I watch a film, but in this case, it was just blatantly obvious.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor – This one was actually OK as a mindless popcorn flick. It’s not going to be on anyone’s favorite films of all time lists, but for an hour and half of entertainment it was worth the time spent watching it. I read some online comments at imdb.com from people who complained about Isabella Leong’s bad English and I wonder what the hell they’re talking about. Her English was perfectly fine–far better than any American actor I’ve ever seen trying to speak Chinese on camera.

Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior – I’m not even going to bother. I have no idea why I watched it. Maybe because I didn’t have to pay for it?

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