Review: Zoë Keating

One of my goals along the road to composing is to be able to write really good string music, so the other day I thought I’d tip toe in the string world for a bit and ended up getting the latest issue of Strad Magazine (Essential Reading For The String Music World Since 1890) where I read an interview with Zoë Keating.

Zoë Keating

“Live-looping cellist Zoë Keating tells Peter Somerford how technology and the internet have helped her home-grown music flourish outside the industry mainstream.” – Strad Magazine (January 2014)

I had no idea who this Zoë Keating was but as I read the interview I knew that I needed to find out and I’m so glad that I did. I bought her new album pretty much straight away and have edited together this little suite so you can have a listen and better understand what I’m talking about when I say how amazing she is.

From the beginning of the suite you can instantly recognise the use of the loop pedal, which enables her to add layer upon layer of cello. Obviously lots of thought goes into creating these tracks, but as the suite goes on you’ll notice that the layering becomes more and more intricate, and it becomes hard to believe that she can actually perform these tracks live, by herself. To me the album sounds more like a movie soundtrack than a classical album, as it excites images in my mind that I would love to watch on screen. It’s also given me a great insight to the different sounds of the cello, something I’m not sure you can really get from playing around with cello synths on a MIDI keyboard. So knowing the sound of the instrument outside of an orchestra or string quartet has really inspired me and it’s given me some ideas I’ll definitely be calling upon again in the future.

Zoe Keating Into The Trees

Purchase from iTunes

Learn To Play Piano with GarageBand

Check out my soundtrack for the short film Friend Request and download your free copy – Friend Request (Original Short Film Soundtrack)


I’ve been getting on pretty well with teaching myself piano using the series of books/cassettes that I have. But whilst I was waiting for my cassette player to arrive from the 80s, I had ago at the Learn To Play function that comes with the new GarageBand.

If you own a Mac then you’ll also have GarageBand pre-installed on it. GarageBand now comes with Learn To Play. Learn To Play will teach you the basics of how to play the Piano or the Guitar. Both come with one lesson instantly accessible, but the other lessons are easy to download and also free. Basic Piano has 9 lessons in total. Each one has two parts: Learn and Play. In the Learn part you are taken through different steps for that lesson with your teacher, Tim. It’s fun and easy to understand even for a complete beginner, so I’d definitely recommend giving it a try.

GarageBand Review 1

The second part is Play, here you are given the opportunity to play what you learnt in the lesson and you even have a full band backing you up to make you sound even better. You play along and practice a few times before hitting the record button where GarageBand will track your playing and tell you how well you did at the end and even where you can improve. If you find the piece too fast then that’s no problem as you can easily slow it down and have another go. Each lesson only takes about 10-15 minutes so it’s really not very time consuming. The last two lessons could take up a bit more of your time as the pieces of music you play at the end of the lessons are a bit more complex, but just keep practicing and you’ll be well on your way to becoming the next Lang Lang.

Once you’ve done the Basic Piano lessons then GarageBand has 6 Pop Piano lessons, 4 Classical Piano lessons and 8 Artist Lessons, the latter being where famous Artists will teach you to play one of their hit songs. The Pop Piano and Classical Piano lessons are all free, but you will have to pay £2.95 for each Artist lesson that you download. All in all it’s a great little addition to GarageBand that is well worth taking advantage of, so get learning and get creating.

StreetDance

I never got to watch this in the cinema unfortunately as I didn’t really know anyone else that was interested in seeing it and I’m not really one to go to the cinema on my own. Although perhaps it’s something I should do when there’s a film I want to see that no one else does, as I find I don’t really buy a lot of DVDs so tend to go to the cinema as much as I can instead. When I saw that this film was available to rent on iTunes for 99p then I just had to do it, and I’m glad I did. Since I rented it from iTunes though I only watched the 2D version, but I don’t think 3D would have really helped the movie that much, unlike films like Avatar where the 3D takes the film to a whole other level. But then I could be wrong since I haven’t seen StreetDance in 3D.

Whilst it’s not a great film in terms of story and acting I did still enjoy it. I’d heard some pretty bad reviews of this film from some friends so was quite worried about watching it, but the opening credits came up and I was like this film isn’t that bad, the opening credits are quite good. It was shot well, had great sound, and the actors seemed fine. That was until they opened their mouths! Being British you’d think I would like to watch a film where the actors have British accents, but for some reason I just found it so bad. Now bad acting doesn’t usually bother me that much, but because they were British accents I knew for a fact that they were bad actors. And the story was another thing that was awful.

But after about 15 minutes I found myself getting used to the bad acting and it didn’t really bother me that much, I just wanted to watch the film for the dance sequences anyway. Although as the film went on I found that the story just got better and better. Yes it was still cheesy, but it was good cheesy. Mixing streetdance with ballet I found really sucked me in as well, because I love it when you get two opposites and crash them together. Mixing dance and music genres together has created some of my favourite pieces.

When this film was promoted though it was plugged as featuring Diveristy, Flawless and George Sampson from Britain’s Got Talent. However, this seemed more like a promotional plug for both them and the film. Diversity perform once in the film and it isn’t shot that great. Flawless do about three performances all of which are very good and are the best of the lot. And George Sampson does one dance performance at the end which is pretty cool. But most of the dancing is done by the dance crew which the film is about, and they are pretty good. I enjoyed all the dance sequences apart from Diversity’s due to it being filmed poorly, and I also enjoyed the fact that there are actually lots of dance sequences.

If you’re into street dance or ballet then I’d say check this film out. But I wouldn’t go as for as to say that you should buy the DVD and watch it again and again, because I’m not sure I’d watch it again. It was enjoyable, but definitely more of a one time thing.

Black Swan

Black Swan is a dance film and dance films are very close to my heart, because ever since I was little I’ve always had a dance in my head. Now dance is a great means to express yourself and as I’ve been watching Got To Dance on Sky 1 (Sunday’s at 6pm), I’ve found it really interesting hearing the stories of kids, teenagers, even adults and how dance helps them express themselves and the emotions they can feel. So how do you express that feeling onto the screen. It is something that I have been fascinated with, and I guess you might even say become obsessed with. There have been many many dance films and very rarely do I see a dance that I think, wow that was filmed amazingly. Every single moment in Black Swan was like that though for me, it was just incredible. The opening scene was by far my favourite. The camera moves so quickly and yet you can still see the dancers, it really is like you become part of the dance. And what I particularly loved about the scene was the use of CGI as Natalie Portman‘s partner in the opening sequence transforms from a human into a demon. This is the sort of thing I’ve always had in my head and yet I’ve never seen anyone else do until now.

However, whilst I would say that Black Swan is the closest film that exists to perfection when it comes to my vision of a dance film the actual dancing isn’t filmed that well because the camera does not focus on the hands, the feet or even the dancers body, but instead focuses on their face. And their face being Natalie Portman’s, because her character (Nina) is who the film is all about. And her performance is absolutely sublime, and in my opinion is her best performance to date. The film is all about what she feels and what is going on in her head and so the main focus on the dance scenes (and throughout the rest of the scenes) is her face. And yet still I find that the dance scenes are shot incredible due to the movement of the camera, as it really gave me a sense that I was dancing.

The film is basically a literal telling of the story of Swan Lake, and it reminds me of the David Lynch film Inland Empire, because the characters in Black Swan are rehearsing for a performance of Swan Lake whilst the actual story of Swan Lake begins to happen to Natalie Portman’s character. Similar to Inland Empire in that Laura Dern‘s character is acting in a movie and as the production goes on the events of the movie begin to happen to her. Fortunately for the audience Black Swan is a lot easier to understand then Inland Empire!

I’ve only seen two other films by Darren Aronofsky, Requiem For A Dream which I really didn’t enjoy and The Fountain which was simply amazing in my opinion. It seems in terms of themes that Aronofsky has returned more to his roots with drugs and sex being a strong motif throughout Black Swan, and what I enjoyed about the film was that he kept his surreal sort of style as well. 90% of The Fountain is a pretty normal story, but the end can be quite confusing if you think about it too much because it is quite abstract. Well whilst I wouldn’t say Black Swan is confusing there is an element of the abstract world in the film, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

There are horror elements to the film as it progresses and whilst some people I’ve spoken to have said they are too over dramatic I found that they were just right because they are meant to be over dramatic. Scored by classical music by Clint Mansell and using themes from Tchaikovsky‘s original ballet score, brings a whole other level of dramatics to the scenes which I thought spoke beautifully of ballet itself, which the film is representing. It is the film version of a ballet and so must be dramatic.

Overall it was an amazing film which is up for several Oscar Nominations, including Best Picture which I think personally it should win. But then I love dance so I’m bias!

If you’re interested in sound design then here is a short featurette on the sound of Black Swan.

Tron Legacy

It’s been a while since I’ve done a film review after closing my other blog, but Tron Legacy was one I just had to do. First of all you don’t have to see the first Tron film to get this one, and if you have seen the first Tron film then this film is a hell of a lot less confusing. I have no idea how to explain the story of Tron, but Tron Legacy I could have crack at. But I’m not going to, if you want a glimpse at the story then watch the trailer. All I’m going to say is that the story was really good, so don’t worry about it.

The acting in this film is top notch and has many famous stars in it which all pull off an amazing performance. But perhaps the best performance is from the character Clu.

This is what Jeff Bridges who plays the character of Kevin Flynn looked like 20 years ago. Now the character of Clu is a copy of Kevin Flynn, and whilst Kevin Flynn ages and so is actually played by the much older Jeff Bridges, Clu does not age and so stays forever the same age. Therefore we have an old Jeff Bridges and a young Jeff Bridges in the same film and in once scene acting opposite each other. This was very cleverly done, as Jeff Bridges did all the facial acting and voice acting for Clu, and then his facial movements were tracked onto a digital reconstruction of his younger face reconstructed from looking at lots of old photos and films starring Bridges. But Clu’s body is played by another actor, with Bridges face then tracked onto the body actors, who I imagine was wearing a green or blue mask which would work in the same way as a green/blue screen. Not knowing he was digital I would not have noticed as he really does look very real. But there are a few shots were he does look a little fake, but this is made up for in the other shots where he looks 100% real.

Unusually this 3D film is not all in 3D, but strangely enough I actually think it made the film better. When we are in the real world it is all in 2D, but when we enter the programme world (what you might mistakingly call the world of Tron) we enter an incredible 3D world. The majority of the film is in the programme world so is mostly in 3D, but I found that the transition from 2D to 3D made the programme world that much more real, stunning and captivating when we got there.

When we first arrive in the programme world Sam is picked up by a Recognizer and I literally felt as though it was landing right in front of me as the bass in the cinema was almost blowing my clothes off! It was sound like I’ve never experienced it, and in addition with the 3D really made me feel like I was there.

And then we have the lightcycle game. The level design for this is so complex that it will blow your mind. I understood how they designed the game in the original film as it is essentially a 2D game when viewed from above as it only takes place on one level.

However, with the lightcycle scenes in Tron Legacy the game takes place on multiple levels that it is just in-comprehendible how the designers choreographed it all. For a glimpse at the complexity here is the original VFX concept test. And don’t worry it contains no spoilers as it is a test film, and so is not in the final film.

Now if you think that is cool then the real thing will blow your mind as there are a total of 10 lightcycles playing the game in Tron Legacy at the same time. Now that’s a lot of stuff to think about. And Tron Legacy doesn’t just stop there with the surprises as there is an even more complex chase later in the film with lightjets.

The music in this film is another thing that is just amazing. The music in Tron never really appealed to me, but the music in Tron Legacy, composed by Daft Punk, really does become part of the film with them actually appearing in one of the scenes in the film as DJs in the End Of The Line Club.

The soundtrack is available now on iTunes, Amazon etc. and even if you’ve not seen the movie then check out the soundtrack because it is awesome.

All in all the film is just amazing. And I aspire to make a film like this one day. However, with my dance obsession my dream would be to make a dance film like Tron Legacy, because why do dance films all ways have to be things like Step Up and StreetDance, why can’t they be more ground breaking when it comes to feature dance films, short dance films do it all the time. Dance films can be more than what they’ve become. In many ways Tron Legacy has dance elements in it. The scene where Sam gets his identity disc felt to me like a very weird dance and the fight scenes are so elegant and choreographed so well that they could be part of any film of mine and I would call them a dance.

So I guess my perfect film would be a dance version of Tron Legacy. However, since it doesn’t exist here is the next best thing in terms of dance.

Have a Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy New Year 🙂