Jun 22

Solo (2018) – the non-spoiler review

My gut reaction immediately after the movie was that of annoyance above all else, but that was going into it with some subconscious bias about it given that the movie continues to flop worldwide and has had a lot of mixed reviews. I wanted to give it some time before writing about it to see if my opinion would change after it settled in my brain.

The answer? Kinda.

I never saw Episode III because the degree of loathing I had for Episode II was so high that I was done with the whole franchise. Given that perspective, Solo was still annoying, yes, but it was also mostly fine and doesn’t turn me off of the franchise or the idea of exploring other Star Wars characters (even though Disney has announced that this other star wars spinoffs are now on hold). Given the troubled production, I’d say that Ron Howard did the best that he could, especially because i heard that he did it for practically no pay after Lord and Miller left.

The biggest success of the movie was the train sequence. And i thought that all of the characters acted their part pretty well, even not-Harrison-Ford-Han-Solo.

The biggest annoyances of the movie were, well, everything else, but I think that what bothered me the most in the end was that all of the Star Wars-ness of the movie was immensely distracting and took me out of the movie more than pulled me in – a drastic contrast to the excellent Rogue One. I found myself thinking that the movie would have sat better with me if it was new IP instead of Star Wars because all of the easter egg references to the original trilogy felt more like a nostalgia pull rather than something that would naturally occur over the course of the events of the film. That’s always a fine line to cross, but in general I tend to think that such things fail more than they succeed – lines like “Come with me if you want to live” and “I’ll be back” were incredibly iconic in the early Terminator films and will live in infamy until the end of time, but even if Genisys was a critical success, who is going to consider the reuse of those lines in that movie to be just as iconic or even appropriate?

Trying to force-feed that sort of iconicism down the audiences’ throat is where Solo ultimately fails. The trailer itself tried to tug on that iconicism immediately by featuring Solo saying the line “I’ve got a really good feeling about this” as if to say, “We know you loved that line in the original trilogy, so here it is again, love this film!” Too much of the film was littered with those sort of metaphorical empty calories, and I think in the end that made me feel like i metaphorically didn’t eat anything of real substance while simultaneously making me feel metaphorically uncomfortably full.

I think this fails the Bechdel test? There were a few prominent female characters in the film, but I don’t think there was ever a point when they interacted with each other.

May 27

How a single spacetime could still be preserved after the AoS season 5 finale

Spoiler warning for Agents Of SHIELD end of Season 5.

One of the key narratives in AoS season 5’s second pod was the conflict between what Fitz and Simmons had both believed about spacetime back in season three (time is fixed and can’t be changed) and the idea that maybe it wasn’t fixed – which they had to rationalize to try to change the events in which the earth was cracked by “the Destroyer of Worlds” (believed to be Daisy) as told to them when they traveled to the future in season 5’s first pod.

The conclusion of season five seemed to support the idea that the fixed spacetime theory was proven wrong – the earth didn’t crack, Polly Hinton was still alive, Fitz died so therefore Deke couldn’t have been born, etc. So no future lighthouse, no Kasius or Sinara, and etc. etc.

Earlier this week it occurred to me that that conclusion could have been a very big red herring. I did some initial rewatching and poking around and now have a theory that the concept of a single fixed spacetime is still intact because there’s no actual definitive date/time that they established that the world cracked before the year 2022, so the events that lead to the future lighthouse could still happen.

Here’s my thoughts:

1. The footage of Daisy leaving the Zephyr.

In episode 502 Orientation Part 2, footage is shown of Daisy leaving the Zephyr, and Deke says that this is the last time that Quake was seen before the earth cracked. There’s strong implication made that when Daisy leaves the Zephyr to fight Graivton in episode 522 The End that that coincides with the footage from episode 502, but it might not. The footage has no date on it, and it’s possible that at some point in nearer future, Daisy also leaves the Zephyr by herself again to deal with a different earth-cracking threat.

2. Robin’s 2018 Gravity Storm flashback.

In Episode 508 The Last Day, Robin has a flashback scene of Zephyr One in the year 2018 caught in a gravity storm. This is also supposedly because the earth cracked, but there are a few other possibilities – new gravitonium found, or maybe now that Daisy is all jacked up on Cenipede serum, she accidentally did something that caused a gravity storm that she’s working to control. This also could explain why Polly Hinton was still alive by the end of season five but “didn’t make it this far” in the flashback.

3. Robin’s 2022 Lighthouse flashback.

In that same episode, there’s another Robin flashback that definitively states that the earth was cracked by 2022 – Fitz goes on a frustrated rant about how time is fixed and nothing changed, they did so many things to try to change it, but Daisy still cracked the world. Similar to the misdirect of Daisy being the Destroyer of Worlds in the first place, it’s possible that Daisy was not the one that actually destroyed the world – rather Fitz just thinks that she did.

Granted, it’s highly unlikely that Fitz would have been mistaken about the world actually cracking apart, but this could have happened after the end of season five (and really any time between the end of season five and that scene, so a three-year time period). Also, because of how heated Fitz was about it, maybe it happened closer to 2022 than 2018.

4. Fitz’s 2018 death could still be a part of a single spacetime.

Having Fitz die in the season five finale seems to heavily imply that the aforementioned Fitz rant in 2022 is going to be replaced by the new timeline going forward, but it’s highly possible that the current timeline is still intact:

  1. Current SHIELD team finds frozen Fitz with Enoch. Happy reunions and all. Jemma gets pregnant.
  2. The earth cracks apart. Fitz rant scene happens in 2022.
  3. The team discovers something that requires that Fitz needs to be refrozen and that memory of his unfrozen time needs to be wiped out.
  4. The rest of the SHIELD team continues their lives in post-earth crack. Fitz gets awoken by Enoch and thinks he was asleep the whole time.

This tragically means that the relationship between Fitz and Simmons really only lasts within the time of him being unfrozen and being frozen again, especially tragic because Jemma likely will keep Fitz in the dark about his 2018 death. This also ties up the ambiguous open thread of what happened to Deke – he doesn’t blink out of existence because the spacetime is still intact.

The one piece that points to the possibility that the timeline is actually changed comes from Robin who, at the point just before Daisy finds the centipede serum, says “something’s different”, but that line is open-ended and vague. I’m sure that the “Season 5 is the last season of SHIELD” story would be that the timeline is changed, and yay happily ever after, but now that there’s a season six, the line can be reinterpreted into something that can still fit a single spacetime theory.

What does this mean for the future of earth?

Doctor Who was able to find a pretty brilliant way to retcon the Time War as “oh yeah, Gallifrey wasn’t destroyed after all”, so I’m sure there could be a way to address the future lighthouse and the earth cracking without actually destroying the earth and humanity or resorting to Minkowski multiverse things. Hopefully SHIELD will be around long enough to actually tell that story.

May 16

Minkowski Etudes: The Aftermath

It was about one year ago when I made the decision to write Minkowski Etudes as a work for solo trumpet and interactive electronics. Last week my performer Dylan premiered it in its entirety for his senior recital and he also played it as a part of the Southern Sonic Festival. The Max programming needs some final tweaking and I may want to redo my cue structure by using Antescofo (I have to decide if I want to pay for the annual Ircam fee), but given that a bulk of the creative, notational, and programming work is now complete, I thought I’d write a quick retrospective about it.

First off, I found it fascinating to get different people’s reactions to it during its premiere performances, primarily which parts of the piece that they liked the most. It was spread pretty evenly across all three movements and all for different reasons, and I think that makes the piece a success because different parts can appeal to a wide variety of people.

At this point for me personally, I find that I dislike the second movement the most. Part of that comes from some of the technical difficulties in error-free execution – the primary reason I want to potentially use Antescofo in the first place – but another part is that the metronomic nature of the movement means that it’s structurally the most rigid and inflexible, limiting the performer’s ability to add their own personal musical expression and leaving little margin for mistakes in execution. In the first and last movement, the electronics are the vehicle for the performer being the forefront, whereas in the second movement, the performer ends up being a vehicle of the electronics as a forefront. That feels counter to why the piece is in an interactive form in the first place – if i wanted it to be like that, I would have just created a tape accompaniment for the performer to play to. I’m not sure what to do about that given the nature of the material, but it’s something I’m thinking about as a consideration for use of that mechanic for future works.

The amount of work I put into the Max programming was a significant time chunk, although I would say that the time invested was well worth it – I learned a lot about MSP, a side of Max that I had never really used before, and all of the patches I created that went into this project can be more easily reused and adapted for future works as opposed to having to start from scratch. Even so, it’s worth remembering that creating a work that involves interactive electronics with the kind of attention to detail that I require as a fairly detail-oriented musician and a programmer doubles or more than doubles the amount of time and energy that I would put into any other kind of composition.

That might seem like something that would discourage me, but it actually does quite the opposite. The work I did on this project and the passion I had and still have for its final outcome has helped me realize that I think I have a lot of unique things to say in the interactive electronic medium that could have a lot of legs for my compositional career. I’m hoping that after tweaking the Max programming to make it as error free as possible, I can get this performed in Oregon and Pennsylvania with my alma mater universities, but I also have ambitions to publish this work and have it potentially played by other trumpet performers. If that happens, that could encourage me to devote more energy to the interactive electronic space as well as open up future opportunities and commissions for those that might come across this work and find it valuable.

Where I go from here immediately will take shape in the next few years. I’m close to closing a commission to write a wind ensemble piece for the spring of 2020 here at Tulane, which will be the first time I’ll have written for a large concert ensemble since beauty…beholder back in 2012. I’m also close to closing a commission deal to write a percussion duet for the 2018-2019 school year. That will likely be purely acoustic, as I already have a few conceptual ideas that are best fit in the purely acoustic space.

After that, I have the framework for a piece that I was originally going to be make as a standalone digital audio piece that I’m now inclined to make a work for solo cello and interactive electronics, specifically for my colleague Elise who plays with me as a part of Versipel New Music. I originally wanted to do that next year, but given the scale of the wind ensemble piece, i’m now thinking that I’ll have to put that off until the fall of 2020 or the spring of 2021. I’ve also been having some initial talks with a dancer/choreographer to maybe do some collaborative work with her and interactive video. That has no timeline, but given that I would have to spend time learning how to use Jitter, I imagine that that would have to be 2021 or later.

The other thing that I’m thinking about is taking the concepts that I’ve put into Minkowski and turning it into a series of pieces – using similar interactive and creative concepts and some of the same Max work for other instruments in the same way as Erin Gee’s Mouthpiece series or Berlioz’s Sequenza series. It would be a lot of fun to write a Minkowski for percussion and another one for clarinet. We’ll see what happens as I let this piece germinate and start to market it. If people want to play it and it’s received well, then it will definitely happen.

Some of the Max programming mechanics that I’ve done for this work have been put into my Kaizen YouTube series, and I’ll be posting up at least one more video that talks about it in the near future. For now, below is the most recent that talks about my custom interactive cue engine.

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