Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Interview Meme! Yay!

I see that one of my favorite blog-memes is making the rounds again: the Five Question Interview, in which I answer five questions posed to me by the blogger on whose blog I saw the meme in play (in this case, Electronic Cerebrectomy), and then offer to ask any questions myself of anyone who wishes them! Hoo-ray! This game comes around about once a year or so -- I suppose that's how long it takes before it wends its way out of my little corner of Blogistan and then back again, but I'm always happy to see it return.

Anyhow, SamuraiFrog posed five questions to me, and here they are:

1. You’re a fantasy novelist. What kind of books did you read as a child and which ones stand out for you as influences?

My reading interests were often all over the map. My mother, as I've noted before, had a tendency to punish my mis-deeds by handing me a book and telling me that I'd watch no TV until I read said book. Even more deviously, though, she'd make sure that the book she gave me was the first book in some series or other. The first time this happened was Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three, the first volume in his Prydain Chronicles. I was nine years old at the time. This was my first exposure to epic fantasy with a map and everything. I've never recovered.

2. I’ve been enjoying your reviews on space opera novels. Is there another genre or subgenre you’re planning on giving a try?

I'll probably read the occasional hard-SF work, since that's the second type of SF I tend to like a lot. (Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy rocked my world pretty strongly.) Military SF tends to not be my cup of tea, although some of it I like (the Vorkosigan series by Bujold, for example). I've flirted with alternate history, but for me, a little of that goes a long way. Cyberpunk also never rang my bell all that much.

As for fantasy, multi-volume "fat" fantasy isn't a major obsession of mine these days, although there are some series that have caught my eye. I'm interested in reading earlier stuff now: Robert E. Howard, Lord Dunsany, and so on.

How about non-SF genres? I have to admit that I'm tempted to read some bodice-ripping romances. I'm always on the lookout for really compelling love stories; it's the romantic in me, I suppose. (Go ahead and suggest some.) I also want to read some Larry McMurtry Westerns, and I'm sure I'll get a hankering for some horror sooner or later. (I tend to read horror in spurts. Like blood!) Espionage novels aren't much of a love of mine anymore, although I tore through a number of them back in my late-high-school years. Non-genre fiction? I'll read some every so often, if I hear of a title that sounds especially interesting.

Reading some Jane Austen is high on my "to do" list. I'm currently reading Wuthering Heights, and re-reading Jane Eyre is also high on my list. I loved it when I read it in high school, but I haven't picked it up since.

3. We both have a love of film music. I’ve been somewhat disappointed by the majority of scores I’ve heard in the 21st century; what’s your take on the modern film score?

I always have a hard time making generalized statements about the state of any art right now, because I really do believe that those who inhabit a certain time are in no way best equipped to judge their own period's art. Today you can go to any film music message board or forum and find postings like "Wow, today's stuff has no flavor of its own, and it's crap compared to Goldsmith and the giants of yesteryear", but I'd be willing to bet that if you could go back in time to when, say, The Wind and the Lion was a new score or when Rosza's King of Kings had come out, you'd find more than a few film music fans of those times saying, "Meh". (This is generally why I generally scorn the notion that professional critics should be taken as the best arbiters of quality. Read up on even the very best critics of all time, and you'll find them being flat-out wrong much of the time.)

That said, I think that film music today isn't to my taste nearly as often as it's been in the past. The rise of "corporate culture" in Hollywood has only had the same effect on movies that the corporatizing of, say, radio has had: the general spread of homogenization. Film scores tend to sound the same much of the time, and what's worse, they're intended and even required to sound the same. Films are edited with "temp tracks", in which music from other films or classical works are slapped into the film as an intended guide for the composers, but then, the composers are required to produce scores that sound very like the temp tracks, as opposed to the works they'd produce using their own instincts and their own voices.

Many fine scores also get rejected when the films test poorly at screenings, since usually at that point in production the score is just about the only thing that can be changed. The film Troy is a notable example; Gabriel Yared wrote a fine score for that film, but when the film tested poorly, the score was removed and James Horner was brought in to crank out a replacement score in a matter of weeks. James Newton Howard had to score King Kong in a similarly short period after Howard Shore's effort was turned down (a shocking development at the time, after the brilliant work Shore had done for Peter Jackson's earlier Lord of the Rings).

Mainstream film right now is not an environment where composers can be distinctive, individual, or innovative, and that's a shame. For an entire series of examples of how the director/composer relationship is supposed to work, one only need go to Japan and look at the films of Hayao Miyazaki. The idea that he'd ever tell Joe Hisaishi what kind of music to write is unthinkable, and the result is that Hisaishi's scores for those films are, in just about every case, either very high in quality or just outright masterpieces. There are some highly talented composers today, just as much the case as was ever so in film. But it does seem to me that finding good film music tends to involve digging through lots of lesser work, as though we're pushing the ratio in Sturgeon's Law to 93 or 94 percent.

But then, I think we have to be careful. Were previous "golden ages" of film music as golden as all that? Are we forgetting the misses, and assuming that what was truly great was representative of film music as a whole during those times? Or, even worse, are we inflating scores that are OK but otherwise fall into that giant realm of musical works which don't make "the Canon" but don't quite deserve total obscurity, either? You see this kind of thing all the time on lots of film music forums: composers who are completely forgotten today, except by the most encyclopedically-knowledged of film music fans, who wrote decent enough scores for the kinds of films you used to see aired at two in the morning on AMC or on the "Two-buck DVD rack" at the supermarket, lauded as "unjustly forgotten masters". You also see composers' entire bodies of work elevated to unfairly high stature. (Let's face it, the man scored more than two hundred films and TV productions. Not everything Jerry Goldsmith produced is a classic.)

So who's good right now? James Newton Howard seems to be the current favorite of the "Goldsmith was God" crowd. For my money, Howard Shore's the best working today, but for some reason, I think he gets overlooked a lot. Gabriel Yared is superb. Michael Giacchino is a musical chameleon, and a first-rate one, at that. Thomas Newman's voice is unmistakable. Jan A.P. Kaczmarek is something of a newcomer to filmscoring outside of his native Poland, but what little of his work I've heard is wonderful. David Arnold's work tends to be viewed in lesser light, but I like him. Alan Silvestri is in no way a great composer, but he's a very fine one, very professional, whose music always does exactly what it's supposed to do (and he's got a tremendous melodic gift). I'm not a big fan of Danny Elfman, but he's got his moments. And there's the "bad boy" of film music, Eliot Goldenthal. Finally, you know what? Hans Zimmer's music doesn't always suck. He's written some good stuff, as have Klaus Badelt and Harry Gregson Williams.

And hey, I'm not about to write off the current film music era as long as John Williams is alive.

4. When did your interest in classical music begin, and what was the piece that really pulled you in the first time?

It's very hard to say when it began, because it was always around to some degree in our home, as far back as I can remember. My sister is six years older than I, and she started piano lessons early enough that I don't remember her not playing the piano (although I do have one very vague memory of riding the freight elevator at the piano dealership, a memory which may well be totally wrong). So there was classical music, as well as other genres, as early as I can recall.

I started my own musical adventures in fifth grade, when I was talked into joining the band. I played French horn that first year, but switched a year later to the trumpet. Even so, I didn't really feel the "bite" of the music for another couple of years. I recall that the first orchestral score I studied was Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor. That work was, and continues to be, for me a revelation. And I've written before of how I came to Berlioz, which was a year or so after I came to Mozart.

In short, it was gradual. There's no guaranteed way to make kids love classical music, but the best way is almost certainly to make sure they're surrounded by it from early on.

5. Finally: how, exactly, is Jaquandor pronounced? I’ve been saying it as though the Q made a K sound and ignoring the U.

To get a definitive answer on this, you'd probably have to ask Doug Moench, the writer who scripted the comic book from which I snagged the name. The comic is Six From Sirius, a space opera (big surprise!) espionage tale that came out as a Marvel Limited Series in the mid-1980s. That said, I pronounce it "juh-KWAN-dor".

OK, that ends that. If anyone would like five questions from me, just drop into comments here and indicate as much. I'll craft some devious questions and e-mail them your way.


Roger Owen Green said...

"If anyone would like five questions from me, just drop into comments here and indicate as much. I'll craft some devious questions and e-mail them your way." Well, heck, yeah! I'm too lazy to come up with my own content.

Punning Pundit said...

Question me!
(I do still blog...)

Emily Suess said...

I haven't done this one, but I'd like to. What'd'ya say?

Anonymous said...

A small point:

You wrote:

"I generally scorn the notion that professional critics should be taken as the best arbiters of quality. Read up on even the very best critics of all time, and you'll find them being flat-out wrong much of the time.)"

Most of the very best critics are not primarily concerned with evaluating quality. Rather they are interested in understanding, and helping their readers to understand, where a piece of art comes from and how it works.

A critic's explication may be more or less skillfully argued, and more or less helpful; those, it seems to me, are what we should think about while reading criticism. Perhaps the critic's ultimate evaluation of an art work (should he or she choose to include one) will not concur with what comes to be the mass consensus, but that is entirely irrelevant to whether it is good criticism or not (and wouldn't necessarily mean they were "flat-out wrong").

So to take your argument a step further than you do, it's true that critics are not "the best arbiters of quality." Giving a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down is only something good critics do incidentally; Critics may choose, and often do choose, not to be arbiters of quality at all. Their work is often most compelling when that is the choice they make.


Laura said...

i'll play! i need the inspiration.
i'm glad to know that i pronounce jaquandor the way that you do and now i know the origins.

Anonymous said...

I guess it's time I finally got in on this one. Ask me questions. No hurry; just whenever you're in the mood.

Tosy And Cosh said...

Add me to the mix! Free content!

Anonymous said...

I'm game. Inquire of me Your Questions Five... when you find the time.

Anonymous said...

If you don't mind crossing international borders into Livejournal land, pick me...

teflonjedi said...

I'm in...interested to see what comes my way...

Kelly Sedinger said...

Roger's questions (since I can't find your e-mail address anywhere):

1. So what's it like living in Albany and reading other bloggers like myself who gripe about "the folks in Albany"?

2. What made you choose librarianship as a career?

3. To what extent do you want to slap people upside the head when they suggest that in the day and age of the Internet, public libraries are dispensible luxuries?

4. What's the strangest request you've ever had to field from a library patron (to the extent that you can write about it)?

5. You're offered a paid vacation that is to last as long as it takes you to read five books that you've always wanted to read but never had the time. What are the books?

Kelly Sedinger said...

Andrew's questions! (Might as well put 'em all in here.)

1. Tell one of those stories bookstore employees (or former bookstore employees) always seem to have about customers who request help finding a book when they can offer almost no identifying things about the book they're looking for.

2. Wax poetic on toilet paper. Seriously. Should it roll off the front of the roll, or behind it? Is TP with aloe lotion in it inherently gross? Do you silently (or not so silently) curse when you go to a public bathroom and find that the TP there is one of those GIANT rolls, and it's brand new, so it's cumbersome to spin on its spindle?

3. Name any gadget -- computer gadget, music gadget, kitchen gadget, automotive gadget, whatever -- where you feel strongly that the onward march of technology has maxed itself out as far as its usefulness to you goes.

4. You can go on a vacation anywhere in the world, on the condition that when you get there, you are immediately relieved of all your money and are then dropped randomly somewhere in the middle of it. Where do you go?

5. You get to choose ten pieces of music for the next Voyager Interstellar Record. What pieces do you send to the stars, in hopes that they will thus outlive humanity? (Assume length of the work is no issue.)

Kelly Sedinger said...

Questions for Two Write Hands!

1. Indianapolis: what's so great about it?

2. Your background image on the blog is of two hands on a manual typewriter. Do you own a manual typewriter? Would you, if you could?

3. Out of the blue, a new acquaintance with whom you've been hitting it off well says "I hate the book ______". Sadly, this book is so important to you that this is a deal breaker, and the proto-friendship dies on the vine. What's the book?

4. Who are your favorite poets, and why?

5. How much fun was clerical work, anyway?

Kelly Sedinger said...

Questions for Laura!

1. How do you learn to talk to parents whose children are in the NICU, whether they're the ones who get to have hope or the ones who don't?

2. Hollywood wants to make a movie of your life. Who plays the lead?

3. Name some foods that you used to adore but could now go your whole life without ever eating again.

4. The upcoming sitcom about those cavemen from the Geico commercials: great idea, or unbelievably bad one?

5. What's the single biggest thing about the NICU that's different now from the way it was when you started there?

Kelly Sedinger said...

Questions for Lynn:

1. My favorite exchange from Firefly is from the first episode:

MAL: How come you didn't turn on me, Jayne?

JAYNE: Money wasn't good enough.

MAL: What happens when it is?

JAYNE: Well that's gonna be an interesting day, isn't it?

Since we're not going to get Whedon's version, what do you think happens when the money's good enough for Jayne to turn?

2. Your ideal breakfast: what's on the table?

3. How much longer can Brett Favre go before he turns from grizzled veteran warrior to "guy who just can't let go"?

4. What is the single best reason to move to Oklahoma?

5. Settle this long-standing debate in my family: is it OK to put garlic in tuna salad?

Kelly Sedinger said...

Queries for Tosy and Cosh!

1. Name your single favorite Rick-and-Lily moment from Once and Again. (Define this as both of them on screen at the same time.)

2. How bad is the Jersey Turnpike, anyway?

3. You get a paid weekend trip to someplace of your choice, as long as it's within a three-hour drive of your home. Where do you go? (For our purposes, NYC is out!)

4. If you and your wife have some kind of "renewal of the vows" thing with a "reception" after, what song will be your new "first dance"?

5. You may have written on this before, but I don't recall, so what's your take on Andrew Lloyd Webber? Great Broadway artist, or peddler of annoying spectacle?

Kelly Sedinger said...

Questions for Jason!

1. What will it take to get you blogging regularly? I mean, really regularly?

2. I haven't been there in years, so are there good bookstores in Cedar Falls/Waterloo now?

3. How do you respond to people who say that poetry is dead?

4. Am I deluded in thinking that at least some of the poetry in Lord of the Rings is good stuff?

5. Where are the most physically beautiful parts of Iowa?

Kelly Sedinger said...

Questions for Dave!

1. I may have asked this before, but how on Earth did you find a woman to marry who isn't turned off by your taste in movies?

2. It's been a while since the hey-days of rec.music.movies, so what are some film scores you've liked in the last couple of years?

3. If you could erase from history the existence of a single movie, which would it be?

4. Not that you're much into posting about politics, but what would Tony Blair's legacy be if he hadn't succumbed to the temptation of war?

5. How bad IS English food, anyway???

Kelly Sedinger said...

Questions for Teflonjedi!

1. "Teflonjedi"? What's the story behind the pseudonym?

2. With your familiarity with China, how do you feel about the growing sense in the US that China's the next big "villain"? Seems like we always have to have a villain.

3. Is my eternal quest to defend the honor of the Star Wars prequel trilogy ultimately doomed to failure?

4. Living in Asia, do you listen to much Asian music? I love Asian music, but it tends to be pretty expensive here.

5. Is it hard finding books you want to read in Asia?