pátek, prosince 08, 2006


An Evening in Prague in France?

pondělí, listopadu 27, 2006


Live blogging, Voting Off Show, Final No. 6, Česko Hledá Superstar

Hello fellow readers... I have a new idea. I will blog LIVE as the show progresses. Tonight is the 6th voting off show of Season Three of Česko Hledá Superstar. Follow LIVE as the show progresses.

9:25 PM
Zbeněk is wearing a silly yellow T-shirt on with the logo 'Spy-Game' on it...
9:30 PM
Reviewing of performances from Sunday...
9:35 PM
Michal Hudček sings 'Ready for Your Love' from his recent album. He seems to have been a participant in last year's CHS.
9:45 PM
Ondrej thinks that Martin Ševčik will leave the show. Ilona feels that the weakest performance was given by Zbyněk Drda, and the Professor concurs with Ondrej.
Ševčik has been on the hot seat for a while already ... let's see if he survives another week.
9:54 PM
Strange thing going on here, Mareš the moderator is asking the contestants what was the worst feeling they experienced. Most of them said something to the effect that 'vote-off' Mondays are the toughest, and that they are getting tired.
9:58 PM
Ševčík just voted off. Spends about a minute hugging Barbora (2nd least votes, I think). Crowd shouts 'Martin, Martin!!!'. He's crying a little. He said something that amounted to a final goodbye but I didn't understand his Czech.
10:01 PM
Martin sings delivers his final performance, reprise of Depeche Mode's 'Enjoy the Silence'.
10:05 PM
Martin is unable to finish the song, engages in group hug with co-contestants, and Mareš ends up cutting off the band. Quite an unintended bit of drama from the producers point of view, lucky for them. Good for ratings.


If you eat this, you will dream!

As I prepare to leave the country (hopefully not for good) I will take along some poignant memories. As bad a rap as it gets here, I will actually miss some aspects of food. Yes, you might not be able to choose from 20 types of apples as you would in Berkeley, CA but certainly some things are worth mentioning. I devote this post to REMBRANDT DONUTS. This is a Czech bakery whose clients are mainly restaurants or even perhaps general foodstores, but also maintain about 5 bakeries in Prague, one of which is located about 60 meters from my apartment. In fact looking at those pictures of goodies inspires me to take a walk down to the bakery and acquire one of these morsels as an afternoon snack. So I'll finish this post when I get back.

..... 25 mins. later .....

Okay, I am now replenished, with the švestkový sen s tvarohem (right), a 'plum dream with cream cheese'. You'd be dreaming if you ate one of these too! It's basically a simple dough-based pastry with plum and cream cheese filling, but under the right conditions the crust/outside is fairly crispy and the insides are warm and sweet and gooey. I know, you Frenchies might think they've got nothing on those croissants but for Northern / Central Europe it's quite good. I think Karla and Jesse can attest to the quality of these 'dreams'; i think they've tasted their pastries once or twice.

I am also curious whether any of the bakers of Rembrandt Donuts has been insp
ired by the real Rembrandt shown below! Karla, thoughts?


Kudos to BookCrossing.com

I would like to give a shout out for the website / book club bookcrossing.com. The idea is to, upon finishing reading a book (or if you don't want to, you don't have to), register the book on the site, write its number on the inside cover, or on a label supplied by the site, and then insidiously leave the book at a suitable public location for the next reader to pick up, or just to give it to a friend. The idea for them is to read it, review it, and then pass it along, so that each book has a history of being 'released' and 'captured.' I recently joined as a member and am dumping my read books in various cafes and giving them to various friends in Prague. So release your books into the wild and let others enjoy them! What good are they on your shelves anyways?


Review of Česko Hledá Superstar, Final Round No. 6

Just another quick update of 80s night on Česko Hledá Superstar (The Czech version of Pop Idol) last night, or rather, nightmare. Check out Barbora Zemanová's (on right) Czech version of 'Staying Alive' (orig. Bee Gees), known to the Czech locals as 'Hodina Há'. I thought the jury was much too rough on her, commenting more on how difficult the words were in Czech rather than on her performance. Believe me, "Sobota jak z medu a já si řeknu jedu je tu hodina Há,hodina Há" is much more of a mouthful than "Feel the city breakin' and ev'rybody shakin' and we're stayin' alive, stayin' alive". Or witness here Zbyněk Drda's mauling of Aha's 'Take on Me'. The intonation of the falsetto phrases veered sharply away from any recognizable resemblance of pitch, nor did he maintain the spirit of the original song. The band didn't help either ... the keyboardist chose instrumental timbres that were much too dull, turning this lovable sonic icon of 80s optimism, wealth, and glamour into a dreary piece of mush.

Which leads me to the more interesting parts of the show. Remember the 80s were a dreary and mushy time for those living in these parts of the world. At the beginning viewers were treated to footage of Czechoslovakia in the 80s, with relevant film of Gorbachev, Soviet tanks spraying water into crowds (I think this might have referred to 1989's Velvet Revolution), and other reels. In the pretaped segments of the show the kids then were directed to imitate certain television news personalities from the 80s, (who, whom, I don't know), with 80s hair styles and dresses. Though I didn't understand most of the Czech I found these segments sufficiently funny and no question they achieved their parodic intent of making fun of something outdated, outmoded, and unhip. Click here for a sample of what I'm referring to. (Sorry I couldn't find a photo clip.)

As free advertisement on behalf of Great TV Nova, tune in tonight at 9:20 CET to find out who will be knocked off. I think the result this week will be much less predictable than previous weeks.

sobota, listopadu 25, 2006


You're 15 years old, shouldn't you be in school?

More on Česko Hledá Superstar, I'm such an addict!

Here on the right is Soňa Pavelková, voted off the last show (the Beatles - Abba show). She was almost voted off the musicals portion too the prior week. I don't remember if they make the voted-offees sing right after having learned the decision. Pleasant enough voice, sure, pleasant enough stage personality, but she is only 15 years old.
Soňa, shouldn't you be in school? I guess that as an American I've been trained to think that schooling should always come first, and that if a more unconventional career like singing doesn't work out you'd still have a strong educational foundation to build off on. If each week these kids are coming on this show, and staying in a hotel in Prague, and working with vocal coaches, and fulfilling obligations like signing autographs, and partying (which in itself is an obligation to the show), I don't think they'll be doing much schoolwork. Maybe I'm missing something here.

Anyway here is the link to the photographs from the GOOD BYE PARTY that the show throws each evening the contestant is voted off. The photo located at row 2 column 3 shows
Zbyněk Drda with the caption 'Zbyněk zapíjel žal z odchodu Soni nealkoholickým mojitem...' (Zbyněk drank away his sorrows from the departure of Soňa with a non-alchoholic mojito...). But how much do you want to bet that they aren't drinking something stronger off camera? Yeah, I didn't think so.

And here is the CHS's chat archive, where a 2nd language acquisition student like myself can learn all sorts of slang, and sometimes unfortunately, some more risque words. Each week those most recently sent off sit 3 hours in front of a computer responding to lame questions. It was on one of these chats that I learned the meanings of 'Pa Pa' (like Adios) and 'huliš?' (do you smoke weed?). So a silly show lives on, but great for learning language, and other things, I guess, as well.

So best of luck this upcoming week, where 2.5 million Czech and 1 American will be treated to 80s disco night. So everyone, shake your groove thang!


A Curiosity for all: a Hummer in Prague!

Two days ago I saw a HUMMER (they have a CZECH WEB SITE!!) on Jilská Ulice. It is designed, I believe, after some sort of a military tank, but geared toward modern upscale American family usage. It's website, in Czech, boasts the slogan "Tam, kde ostatní končí, my začínáme" (Something like 'We begin where others end.') So imagine my shock when I saw one of these coming towards me on Jilská, as in oh my gosh this thing is going to run me over and my life will end. On the right is a picture of what Jilská Ulice looked like in the late 1800s, but the present-day street is just as narrow. Literally, if the doors had opened up on both sides it would have knocked off half of Old Town. Now, can you imagine this humongous gas-guzzling monster of a moving machine hogging up all this space? Well, I couldn't either, before two nights a
go. But indeed, it was there. Curiously enough, there stood within a 50 foot (about 16 meters for those European-inclined) vicinity of me about 5 or so huge Mafia looking dudes, also curiously staring at this large vehicle that was approaching us. I don't know if the Mafia looking dudes were together, or just happened to be a bunch of huge dudes staring at this HUMMER.

The story goes further: you can join the HUMMER CLUB in the Czech Republic. Here is
the first paragraph from its mission statement as found on its home page:

"Hummer Club CZ is the only club of owners and fans of terrain vehicles in the Czech Republic. We don't need to go into particulars about its capabilities as an all-terrain vehicle. We'll just say that these vehicles are used in the American Army, where they are subjected to extremely vigorous conditions. Now even YOU have the opportunity to try out everything that this unique specimen of a vehicle can do."

Just click around there and see if you're not as frightened as I am upon seeing some of those pictures. For example, what the heck is this (on right)? This sort of thing I thought only happened in the backwaters of Texas state, not in Benešov.

Note, these recent posts should be entitled "Why has this country seemed to adopt the worst of Western culture?"

čtvrtek, října 05, 2006


Karaoke in Prague, or... OUCH my EARS hurt!

I wonder why I chose not to do pop music studies. Last night I showed a few visitors from California the joys of Karaoke in Prague. (I just felt Karaoke had to be Capitalized, especially in Prague!). I had been once before to Meloun, a little joint down on Michalská, that charges 60 Kc (about $2.50} for one entry and an evening of unlimited belting out of Czech and American pop tunes. I had wanted to choose (beware this supercomplicated website) Madonna's 'Like a Prayer' or No Doubt's 'Don't Speak,' but my recollection of the varied (failed) attempts of both songs on recent installations of Česko Hledá Superstar made me think otherwise. (See a comment I posted on my own entry about CHS). Both are really difficult to pull off, have certain high notes in tricky places... and are essentially tied to the identity of the voices portrayed by female protagonists.

First observation: the crowd was much smaller than last time I went, probably due to the lack of summer Czech language students who populated the scene during my first outing.

Second observation: At one point one of the patrons got up and sang 'Žizen lasky' (trans. as 'Thirst for love' redone in 1999 by
Leona Machálková) to the music of Flashdance's 'What a Feeling!' it's a real treat to listen to a song done in a foreign language that you're familiar with in its original language. Here are the lyrics to 'Žizen lasky'.

Two of the other patrons who seemed like regulars based on the ease with which they took the stage did end up choosing 'Prayer' and 'Don't Speak'; in my estimation a really really gutsy call. They did well under the circumstances.

My contribution to the evening was 'Lemon Tree' by Fool's Garden. I had only recently become acquainted with this song. A fair song to be sure... but easier than some others chosen. The song was taken by Jan Kříž (click here for a .wmv of his version) in last week's CHS semifinal. I think his version fared significantly better than my attempt. For one, I couldn't hear myself sing (a must ....), and, I don't have a big fat voice, confirmed by the d.j. who kept egging me to sing 'hlasitějši, hlasitějši!!!' (louder, louder!!!!). But I was able to keep my intonation, which is of utmost importance to me as a composer-musician. (I, like Milton Babbitt, really like pitch.) Sorry, that was a quote from Milton when I met him in Cincinnati in 1999. Incidentally, Milton's musical upbringing was rooted in jazz and popular music, music which has pervaded even his more abstract works. In 'Lemon Tree' there is a line that goes 'I'm turning turning turning turning turning around' which I wanted to enact on stage but couldn't because of the mic lines. Also, I wish there had been a real lemon tree on stage.

All in all a decent time, even if my musical training, self-consciousness, (and lack of alcohol intake) prevent me from having a typical all-out karaoke experience. And I managed to put Milton and Madonna in the same blog! Photos of me doing 'Lemon Tree' will be up soon in an updated version of this very blog.

pondělí, října 02, 2006


Review of Česko Hledá Superstar, Semifinal rounds

Many apologies for not blogging regularly, or even blogging at all. The weight of creating music constantly becomes more burdensome, weight in terms of responsibility towards creating a piece that provides myself the satisfaction of creating something meaningful, and weight in terms of practical issues like timelines (that lovely word deadlines) and I figured since that was my main reason for being in this Fulbright residency, and not blogging, that I should be doing that. Currently working on a piece for 2 flutes to be performed in Venice by Francesca Cescon and her colleague in Venice to be premiered December 10. Yikes, deadlines!

But there is one addiction that I cannot resist, and that is to watch the latest installation of Česko Hledá Superstar (hereafter CHS), which is the Czech version of American Idol. I was a bit of an American Idol addict when it first came out, so it's no surprise for me to waste two hours of each week of my life in the name of "language acquisition skills" and "inter-cultural understanding." When I say version, I mean that the producers seemed to have actually bought a license from Fremantle Media, the company that produces and holds the rights various versions of the original
Pop Idol. As such, the logos, music, and other aspects of brand formatting eerily resemble all other instantiations of the Idol series. The Czech series is currently in the semifinal stage (link to videoclips here) and what follows is a short review which also serves as a comparison the more familiar (at least to me) American Idol known and loved by American audiences.

First note that CHS splits up the 10 guys and the 10 girls into two separate nights. Guys compete against guys, girls against girls. I found this surprising; I'm not sure what this says about gender relations in this country, or about gender preferences applied to pop and rock singers.

I haven't observed the more recent installations of American Idol, but the quality of the
singing of the Czech pop stars, at least at the semifinal level, I surmise holds up well with the American contestants. All chose American tunes (list for guys here, list for girls here), or at least English language tunes (... can someone with more pop music expertise help me out; I knew I should have taken some seminars in ethnomusicology at Berkeley to bolster my interest in pop music) except for David Spilka who sang 'S tebou' by Lucie. I will point out particular performances that stood out.

On the right is 19-year old Zbenek Drda, (don't ask why these photos look like mug shots) who squeaked out a rather timid version of "If tomorrow never comes," by Ronan Keating. The judges seem to intimate that he was nervous, but that he had potential to continue further in the next rounds. His voice was unsure at times, and some of his notes faded in and out, but he conveyed a soothing sensitivity of tone that leaves us wanting to hear more. In the case of some of the others, a choice of a famous song impeded our ability to judge the performance on its own terms. I felt that while Robert Daniel's rendition of Sinatra's 'My Way' and Roman Lasota's 'Heaven' (orig. Bryan Adams) held their own, but one couldn't avoid being bothered by Daniel's overtly open vowels or Lasota's lack of support, as compared to how Sinatra and Adams conveyed the originals, respectively. Nevertheless both displayed big fine voices. On the girls' side, the Barbara Opplová's 'Whiter Shade of Pale' certainly shaded in comparison with the others.

The role of the 'porotci' (jury) differs strikingly from our favorite Simon, Paula, and Randy of American Idol fame. Instead of flamboyance, the Czechs actually deliver quality judges who are less interested in soundbites and actually evaluate the performers and state their cases for evaluation at the end of each performance. No more of Simon's cutting "I'm bored" or Randy's oft-applied platitude "You really got it going man!" The three Czech judges carry credentials. Ilona Csáková was former member of the famous Czech pop band 'Laura and Her Tigers', Ondřej Hejma worked as an AP reporter, and Eduard Klezla (shown below) is a professor at the Jaroslav Jezek Conseravatory here in Prague! A Professor on Idol! Elitist elements in pop culture, woohoo!
The comments, as compared to S, P, and R over in America, actually comment on specifics of intonation, tone, and presentation.

One of their comments heard with the greatest frequency was that a candidate's song would be 'docela slušně' which translates roughly as 'not bad'. It seemed as every finish to each song was folllowed by Ondřej's 'docela slušně' followed by a good comment, and then a slightly critical comment. There were no direct attacks on any particular performance, and most comments were at least slightly nuanced. Many time the judges wanted to see 'what else' the kids were capable of... some of them looked forward to hearing a Czech song (if they sang an English song), some of them desired a song in a different style, if they felt that the chosen song was not 'their type.' The judges did not critique the kids as strong as Simon Paula and Randy, and there was no sense of the jury harping on the fact that the competition 'is getting tougher and tougher' as Simon would often times do in the American version. Likewise, you didn't see any of the kids snapping back at the Czech jury, perhaps because in a public setting the youth here are more respectful of elderly expertise, or perhaps because this jury actually does demonstrate some expertise.

So we all wait in anticipation of the first cut, whereby two guys and two girls will unfortunately be voted off the show.

pondělí, ledna 02, 2006


Test posting number 1

This is a test post. There is nothing to see here yet. Now if you excuse me I have to compose.

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