#rpm12 day 5: Pocket Symphonies

Progress on the RPM album continues. Five days in, I have seven tracks finished, two more in progress, and I’m hovering around 35 minutes (one of the two minimum requirements of the challenge). And there’s a lot more to come.

The most notable achievement of the day, however, is that I have settled on a final title for the album. I had been tentatively calling it i, owing to the fact that its central conceit is that all sounds on the album are being produced on an iPhone. But I was never totally happy with that title.

Then this morning, it hit me: Pocket Symphonies. The term was coined by Brian Wilson (or, if Wikipedia is to be believed, his publicist Derek Taylor) in 1966, used to describe what might be considered his crowning achievement as a composer and producer: the brilliantly crafted hit single “Good Vibrations”.

It is not my intention in the least to claim that what I’m producing this month is even from the same planet of artistic achievement as the greatest pop single ever recorded. But I think the idea of a “pocket symphony” is intriguing, and while Wilson simply meant that his song packed the compositional structure of a symphony into a 4-minute package, I am taking it in an entirely different direction.

I’ve been asked if I had considered also using my iPad in recording this album. No, is my answer. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to try it; many of the apps I’m using have fuller-featured iPad versions, and there are other great music apps that exist only for the iPad. But the thing that I find most compelling for this project is that every sound on it is coming from a device that I carry around in my pocket.

I suspect that Brian Wilson could not have imagined in 1966 that, in his lifetime, millions of people would be carrying around portable music studios in their pockets, masquerading as phones. And while only a small fraction of us iPhone owners are using them as musical instruments, the potential is there, for everyone. A “pocket symphony” means something in 2012 that was beyond the farthest realm of possibility in the mid-’60s. (Come on, Star Trek had only just premiered a month before “Good Vibrations” was released.)

And so, Pocket Symphonies it is. It’s exciting to watch this nebulous concept begin to take shape as the month wears on.

Movie review: Star Trek

Star TrekTo say that I was excited to see the new Star Trek movie is an understatement. I first mentioned it here back in November.

So it should be no surprise that I went to see it on opening night, and I was not disappointed. The reviews are consistently superlative, and I agree. As someone who’s been a lifelong fan, albeit a somewhat tepid one, one who has approached the films in the series (my God, is this really the eleventh one?) with a degree of caution and/or passive disinterest (I’m not even sure I’ve seen all of the later ones), I know the characters well. I know the clichés and conventions (though I’ve never been to a convention — that’s not what I’m talking about). I know the difference between “Trekkie” and “Trekker” though I would not describe myself as either.

And then there’s the director, J.J. Abrams. I’ve heard good things about him, but believe it or not I’ve never watched a single episode of one of his TV shows, nor have I seen any of his movies. I’m not even sure what movies he’s done. Cloverfield, right? Anything else? (Yes, I know I could just check IMDb, but I’m trying to make a point.)

In short, while by all outward appearances I should be a hardcore fanboy for this, I’m not so much, really. And with that said, I can tell you I thoroughly enjoyed this movie (well, except maybe for the last few minutes), and that I think it will be equally appealing to both the serious Star Trek fan (Trekker, if you please) and to the summer blockbuster action-adventure watcher looking for a little over two hours of genuine quality entertainment. Perhaps the only people this movie will not appeal to are hardcore sci-fi aficionados who do not already like Star Trek. Though set in the future, and drenched in stunning futuristic visual effects, the movie is fairly light on the “sci.”

What it’s not light on, though, is intense action, an engaging story, great acting, and a near-perfect balance of plot, adventure and humor. It manages to be simultaneously reverent and irreverent towards the original series, in a way that reminds us that Gene Roddenberry’s ’60s version was both smart and silly, clever and clichéd, boldly original and drinking-game-worthy predictable.

Minor spoiler alert: if you want to be totally surprised when you see it, stop reading here.

The casting is first-rate. The actors have managed to evoke their original counterparts while simultaneously fully inhabiting the characters and making them their own. Chris Pine, in particular, is excellent as James T. Kirk. He’s probably doomed never to be as memorable or iconic as William Shatner, but he’s a lot more believable as the brash, reckless, brilliant, defiant soon-to-be captain of the USS Enterprise. I was less impressed with Zachary Quinto’s take on Spock, but that’s perhaps a bit unfair: in the context of this story, Spock is supposed to be somewhat abrasive and unlikable. The scene stealers, though, are definitely Karl Urban as McCoy and Simon Pegg as Scotty. I am hoping for some sequels if for no other reason than to see more of these two.

I could go on for pages about the details of the story, but I’ll let you see it for yourself. Suffice to say, time travel and alternate realities are involved, and I think that particular plot device was handled in a completely novel way. All of the requisite Star Trek tropes are here: Bones saying “Dammit, I’m a doctor not a…”; Scotty saying “I’m givin’ ‘er all she can take!”; Chekov’s ridiculously over-the-top accent; and of course, the two most essential elements of Star Trek: Kirk making out with a green-skinned woman, and an anonymous “red shirt” dying on an away mission.

A true Trekker wouldn’t have it any other way.

Space… the final frontier

It’s true, I’ve always preferred Star Trek to Star Wars. But most of the Star Trek movies have… well… kinda sucked. Wrath of Khan is badass and First Contact is the Picardian equivalent. But other than those two… I could probably take or leave the rest.

That said, I am now officially stoked for the new J.J. Abrams version. It looks wicked awesome. You can see trailers on the official site and, if you’re impatient to see the new trailer (coming to the site tomorrow but screened this weekend in theaters preceding the new Bond film), someone surreptitiously recorded it and it’s now posted on YouTube (found on BuzzFeed).