New Blog

Alright. So this is clearly not working. I haven’t updated this in months. But that’s ok. I’m starting a new blog. One that I hope to update more, perhaps. Every day, perhaps. The blog is called Still A Teen, and is meant to be a somewhat photographic chronicle of my twentieth year. Starting from my nineteeth birthday on the 22nd of August, 2009, the blog will be updated once a day as a record of my final year as a teenager, accompanied by photos that I will take on my new camera that I am getting for my birthday.

I won’t start photographing/writing until my birthday, but the blog has already been set up with an introductory post as well as an About Me section. I promise that the new blog will be more successful and regular than the first (i.e. this one), so please bookmark it, follow it– whatever it is you do on the internet. Follow me on Twitter to receive updates about the blog, and the various mundane details of my life.

Remember! The 22nd of August. I hope to see you then.

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Twitter and More Blogging

Hello, whoever is reading this! I haven’t written a blog post for AGES. My theory is that I use things like blogging for procrastination, so I only really blog when I’m really busy. Hence, when I’m on holiday, I don’t say so much. Which is silly, because it is exactly when I can say a lot. Or photos, or whatever.

Anyway, I really want to get back into this (by which I mean blogging) and might change my focus/direction. Everything I’ve written so far tends to be quite long and thought-out, so it’s more difficult for me to write regularly. I think I’ll switch to shorter posts about pointless thoughts I’ve had rather than sticking to reviewing movies and music (because then I have to actually listen to the whole album and think of something original to say).

I also need to find more blogs and get a blogroll and whatever. Ooh! And I’m on Twitter now. I’m not sure how it will work out, since I’ve got one follower who I think has already given up on it. So, add me on http://twitter.com/apsheko so I can start a network or something.

Do I need a conclusion? Psssh, I’m not at school anymore. Fin.

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7 Things

The idea of “7 Things” is to write seven things that your readers may not know about you and then “tag” other bloggers to do the same. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough bloggers to do that, so if you read this and decide to participate, please let me know so I can pretend that I put you up to this. Here goes.

1. When I was in pre-school, I was convinced I was not a human being. The reason? We were read an environmental-themed book which showed “human beings destroying animals’ habitats”. Logic: human beings practise deforestation, I have never even thought about deforesting anything, ergo I am not a human being.

2. In the past week, I have been eaten by lift doors over a dozen times and almost lost my manhood to a scaffolding pole at a church clean-up

3. Russians don’t have middle names but rather patronymics so my full name is Alexander Petrovich Sheko (which is to say, “Alexander Sheko, son of Peter”). However, when I was young, I decided to rebel against the patriarchal system (you’re welcome, ladies) and called myself AlexanderTatianovich (Alexander, son of Tania).

4. At the age of three (or so), I had nightmares about a dragon chasing me around the backyard. Not just any dragon: the St George dragon. And I don’t mean the generic ectothermic creature of legend, but the dragon on the St George Bank logo. (Ironic twist: Last year I briefly worked for a sales company representing St George Bank)

5. I sing bass but because I have never had proper singing training, my range depends on the temperature, time of day and how long I have been singing. Usually the lowest note I can reach is D below the stave but it can go up to F if I’ve strained my voice. I once sang an A below the stave.

6. My parents made me learn the piano. At various points in time, I despised it and hated them for not letting me quit. I now have an Associate Diploma in piano, am being paid to play for a school musical (Cabaret) and enjoy playing every single day. I consider it a great blessing and one of the most rewarding aspects of my life.

7. A fundamental element of Russian culture is forcing children who have barely learned to speak to commit to memory large portions of poetry and recite them in front of large groups of people. At some point in my childhood, it was decided that it would be a good for my education (despite the fact I spoke very little Russian) for me to participate in this cultural treat and I learned some verses of a poem to recite at the annual Russian Culture Day. Unfortunately, I was sent on stage with a girl (half my age and height) who recited her poetry first. It never occured to me to adjust the microphone stand and I could not understand why several dozen Russians were laughing raucously at my attempt to combine poetry recitation with limbo.

If you are reading this and have a blog, please give it a shot of your own (and tell me so I can have a read!). It’s good fun.

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20 Things I Learned in 2008

1. Never SMS, drink and pose for photos while standing perilously close to an unfilled hole containing a pointy metal foundation post

2. The sun rises in the west in Queensland

3. Skipping across a school oval with another guy singing “I’ve Just Seen A Face” may cause impressions of homosexuality

4. The addition of Jagermeister does not improve the taste of Red Bull

5. It is preferable not to question the arguments of Irish Catholic dramatists when one’s English teacher is an Irish Catholic

6. People don’t eat leaves and the only safe thing to do is pray

7. When organising a birthday get-together at a licensed venue, inform the underage guests that should they choose to exit the premises once security has arrived for the night, it is extremely unlikely that they will be able to come back in

8. The introduction of “structured celebratory activities” by the school does not decrease the probability of traditional muck-up day happenings

9. Electric cooktops are cheaper for a reason

10. When walking to a location to which everybody else is driving, make sure to ascertain exactly where it is and, failing that, try not to walk in the wrong direction once you get to the wrong place

11. Never question the logic of a mad epistemology teacher

12. Bringing a Maoist propaganda book to class as a joke may cause some of the international students to believe that you too are a communist

13. Accordions are heavy but fun

14. Sleeping on couches significantly shorter than one’s height can be quite the uncomfortable experience

15. Never stand between an adolescent girl and a Stephanie Meyer book

16. There is an inverse correlation between the amount of mockery levelled at one’s music teacher and one’s chances of being selected for Music Captain

17. Holding a chair/music stand/etc… and walking nowhere in particular with a determined look on one’s face gives the impression one is actually contributing to cleanup

18. The “Toast-O-Matic” at the University Open Day was just a bunch of Science students with toasters behind a panel of flashing lights and random gauges

19. Never watch seven straight hours of David Lynch films, especially late at night

20. If you are expecting to see an MA-rated movie and sit down in a cinema filled with children, you have probably made a wrong turn at some point

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The Bawdies (with The Happy Endings): East Brunswick Club, 5 December 2008

The BawdiesI promised to start blogging again after the end of exams, but it hasn’t really worked out, has it? I mean, I’ve written three posts since then. Hopefully, the blogging lethargy will wear off soon, and to that end here is another post.

Last Friday, I went with some friends, who had just returned from the Queenscliff Music Festival, to the East Brunswick Club. We went to see The Bawdies, a Japanese rock band they had seen at the festival. The band was co-touring with The Basics and supported by The Happy Endings, both local acts. 

Firstly, The Happy Endings were very good. I always appreciate decent support acts because I never go to gigs expecting much from or knowing much about them, so when they are good, it comes as a pleasant bonus. I also picked up that some of their songs sounded very similar to other artists, among them Foo Fighters, The Killers and Jet— although whether the band was influenced by these artists or if it were just coincidence or over-analysis on my part is debatable (not that anybody would really care to debate it…).

The Bawdies were absolutely fantastic. Their music was unpretentious, simple, old school rock’n’roll. They looked like a Japanese version of The Beatles and their enthusiasm and joy gushed out of them (as did a fair amount of perspiration, given the fact they were clad in suits and ties). Although their music was not groundbreaking (many of their songs were 12 bar blues or followed progressions such as 1-6-2-5), they certainly did not lack instrumental skill (evidenced in Jim’s brilliant guitar playing) and delivered greatly as performers, entertaining the audience and really getting them pumped.

dsc01065Definitely my favourite of The Bawdies (and not to imply that the other members weren’t great!) was Jim, whose massive toothy grin and childlike, ecstatic manner was very entertaining; as was his showmanship, which included energetic guitar solos combined with the appropriate “rock god” posturing or kneeling into the adoring crowd, his floppy hair flapping around. 

All in all, they were very enjoyable to listen to and although I would recommend checking out their songs on last.fm and their Myspace page, the entire power of their performance only comes across live. Before seeing them, I had listened to some of their songs online and liked them, but it was only when I saw them live that I was blown away.

They were also very fun to talk to after the show, as I talked to them while I obtained their autographs on my souvenir poster. It turned out that most of them knew about as much English as I did Japanese, which made for an amusing exchange of what little I remember of that language– gems such as “どうぞよろしく” (“pleased to meet you”), “子の音楽はとても楽しいです” (“This music is very fun!”) and “ボーヂーズが大すきいです” (“I love The Bawdies”). However, they were very friendly and only too happy to oblige when asked for a photograph (which I will upload when Cheryl puts them on!!!)

Unfortunately, I didn’t stay to see The Basics but was informed they were nothing special. Apologies to that band if they in fact were, however it was a very fun night indeed.  I will be sure to see The Bawdies again next time they’re in Melbourne (barring a death in the family, namely my own). 4.5 stars.

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RocknRolla

I went to see RocknRolla yesterday with fairly low expectations, which were partly fulfilled and partly exceeded. Though on the whole, I found the movie unsatisfying, it was stylish and pleasing to the eye; and had just enough humourous moments to keep me from nodding off altogether.

The biggest problem with the film is its beginning, which was overly loaded with exposition and took about as long to get started as a bomby car in a horror movie. Probably the entire first half hour of the film was devoted to tediously introducing the various characters one by one, without much of interest occurring at all.

The second problem was the plot, which, though conceivably attractive in synopsis, didn’t really go anywhere. Too much seemed to be going on, but not in a good way (if I may put it that simply). There were many threads to the storyline, all interacting, but because this was poorly executed, the result was lacklustre and at times confusing. The plot centres around a deal between a shady London mobster and a Roman Abramovich clone (down to the football stadium); and the involvement of other criminals, junkies and miscellaneous ne’er-do-wells with the deal and the criminal underworld, united by a McGuffin in the form of the Russian businessman’s “lucky painting”.

Though this may sound good in concept, it was poorly translated to a film of just under two hours (but one which seemed a lot longer). Though a great fan of multi-thread storylines which demand the complete attention of the viewer (i.e. Pulp Fiction, 21 Grams), this particular one could not pique my interest and thus, for me, failed with respect to its plot. This could perhaps be excused if the characters were interesting or developed in some creative fashion, but unfortunately, this aspect of the film was also lacking. Though the film featured a large and varied cast of characters, they remained through its duration rather one-dimensional and uncompelling. In addition, the dialogue was often unconvincing or pretentious.

One redeeming feature of the film was its visual appeal, being gritty and stylized. At least this aspect of directing was carried out well, with a variety of colourful settings, decent cinematography and stylish costumes. Another positive was the humour throughout the film, which was, admittedly, quite funny and well-done (less amusing was the raucous laughter of the person of indeterminate gender about rows in front of me). Particularly funny was the slow-dance scene and the seemingly invincible Russian thugs.

However, for a film primarily about violent gangsters and with an MA rating (in Australia, R in America), there seemed to be a conspicuously low level of violence and mostly concentrated in the latter half of the film, as if inserted as an afterthought. Perhaps it was my fault for expecting more action in the film, but I felt that a touch more excitement would engaged the viewers more, given the lack of engaging characters and compelling storyline. This grievance of mine is perhaps best summarised by critic David Stratton, who says:

“Scenes of violence are downplayed in ROCKNROLLA, which may disappoint Ritchie fans. The trouble is that nothing all that interesting replaces them”

One particularly (for me) cringeworthy aspect of the film was the awful Russian accents of some of the actors, which detracted from the appeal of their characters. In addition, the subtitling of the Russian dialogue sometimes seemed quite bizarre, as in one scene where one character said “I don’t like her” in Russian, but the subtitles read “Hand me my gloves”.

All in all, RocknRolla was not a terrible film. It was not even a completely boring film, but nonetheless it was less than satisfying. Its undeniable visual appeal did not make up for what was an essentially confusing and flat storyline. It seemed as though the director brainstormed as many interesting ideas for a film of the gangster genre as possible and then failed in putting them into a successful and coherent whole. Perhaps one main reason for my largely negative response to it was its first half, which actually had me wishing for the film’s conclusion. However, the second half was more interesting, and the humour and wit were well-done. Despite a good deal of “cool”, some quite enjoyable scenes and a decent soundtrack, my overall impression of the film was lukewarm. 3 stars.

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Colours

ColoursAaah… my first non-reflective post. It’s good to return to blogging, having kept an eye on my stats during the period I wasn’t writing. Having had 40, 50 or more visits per day during the period in which I was initially writing (having stopped in late September/early October to focus on study), it was a bit disappointing to see the number of visits steadily decreasing as people realised there was nothing new.

But now I’m back and hope to turn all that around. Firstly, I’d like to promote some music I’ve recorded during the study period, a short concept album of sorts. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to embed the music player directly into the blog, but you can listen to (and download) these recordings at my Last.fm page. The idea of a colour-themed concept album (EP, really) came to me when my brother was studying musical general knowledge for his violin exam and was learning about Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, a Russian composer of the Romantic era who had colour synesthesia, a condition which caused him to “experience” colours when hearing music played in certain keys.

I casually remarked to my mother that I associated certain colours with various keys and we soon realised that though I did not have synesthesia (I did not vividly “feel” the colours), some of my colour associations were the same as Rimsky-Korsakov’s. This gave me the idea to play with some musical ideas and record a set of improvisations in keys with which I associated colours, using colour-related ideas.

Red is in D minor, a key which I associate with the colour red and contains a lot of arpeggi and sequence passages, which sort of made me think of some exotic or ornate object, returning to loud and powerful tonal notes in the bass. Yellow is in triple time and meant to sound a bit Eastern European in its chord structure, which made me think of old Russian cartoons and storybooks with a big yellow sun. I also associated yellow with A minor. The image underlying Green (G minor) was one of a forest, and so I worked in some (admittedly simple) cross-rhythms to give the sensation of the complexity of the forest, of the trees in three dimensions, randomly scattered. Blue (E minor) is an ocean, with a lapping, repetitve bass line; the waves rising and falling with cresendo and diminuendo. Finally, White is in C major, more conventional and ballad-y with a recurring tonic note in the higher registers. When I was playing around with the ideas on my upright, the image was one of ice and its cold purity, especially through the harmonics that it caused; but unfortunately these were lost when I recorded it on my electronic piano.

I wanted to record a collection of pieces that meant something to me as a whole, unified by the concept and I found this difficult to do as music without words is quite an abstract medium. So I chose the theme of colour to unify the tracks, and the structure of the album as a whole is sort of like a tierce de Picardie, being in minor but ending in major.

The quality of the playing is far from perfect as these were essentially improvisations, but the actual recording quality turned out all right considering I connected an electric piano directly to the microphone plug of my laptop computer and recorded in Audacity without editing the sound (mainly because I don’t know how to). I would be very grateful for any feedback and hope you enjoy listening to the music (it’s available for free download). Hopefully, it’s something I will be doing more of in the future.

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