About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

24 May 2015

Modderfontein Reserve and Northern Farm

I started regular mountain biking after a long break about 2 years ago; and have largely stuck to Groenkloof Nature Reserve just outside Pretoria. Groenkloof has a lot of variety in terms of length and difficulty of tracks; and over the past two years, I have steadily increased both the distance and difficulty of my rides.

In the past few weeks, I have branched out to other venues - Modderfontein reserve, and Northern Farm. Both venues are more well known, and more popular; but strangely much of their tracks are relatively easy in terms of difficulty. In fact, except for some sandy trails, there isn't much in terms of difficult terrain (both venues seem to focus more on distance it seems) - at least on the intermediate rated tracks I have ridden.

While neither has the large game that roam Groenkloof (so no running into giraffes, zebras and ostriches), the do compensate with more dams and greenery. In fact, Modderfontein dam spots a neat waterfall near the entrance of the trail (and the view from the Gautrain as it approaches Marlboro station in the mornings can be spectacular).

I will keep riding on Groenkloof for most weeks - the uphills and terrain may be more painful; but equally their downhills are faster and more exhilarating; and it ultimately provides more exercise. Northern Farm and Modderfontein can serve as nice breaks in routine however - and I am keen to explore other opportunities for more such breaks.

17 May 2015

Swan Lake

While I am not a fan of his ballets, I love Tchaikovsky's ballet scores - especially the score of Swan Lake. Thus, M did not have to try too hard to persuade me to go to a performance of Swan Lake this month. There are two ballet companies showcasing Swan Lake this month, and we settled on the St Petersburg Ballet company's performance at Montecasino.

I can't really judge the ballet performance itself; other than make a few lay man observations. The prince (the male lead), didn't seem to have much presence - in fact, it seemed that the jester and the magician had far more presence and activity than the prince. The jester for example, was far more energetic and seemed to have most of the acrobatic performance. In comparison, Odette (the lead swan), definitely had stage presence and commanded the stage when she performed. The dancers were backed up with a magnificent stage production; in terms of the backdrops and costumes - so it was a visually stunning feast.

As for the music - it was fantastic. It was great to hear the music in sequence and link the music to the actual story. The Johannesburg Festival Orchestra gave an amazing performance; and overall it was a great performance (although I am not rushing to watch more ballet performances).

01 May 2015

Movie: The Imitation Game

In my opinion, biographical films should try to portray the character and events as realistically as possible. This is particularly important, as biographical movies have a far wider audience than books and other biographical material - and also to preserve the accuracy of the character and achievements; not only of the main subject but also of the characters around the subject. In all of these respects, by all accounts, The Imitation Game, is a failure in the portrayal of Alan Turing and his fellow cryptographers.

The movie gets too many things wrong. Alan Turing was not a self centred, isolated genius who single handedly broke the Enigma code. The Enigma code was not the only code to be broken, and its success did not happen all at once. Fellow cryptographers also had significant contributions to the project. The military management did not actively hinder the project. And so, the list goes on.

That said, the performance of Benedict Cumberbatch was impressive - and the movie does make a fine inspirational tale. It's just a pity that the real tale is just as amazing and didn't need to be fictionalised.

30 April 2015

Movie: Avengers: Age of Ultron

I suppose that it was inevitable - that the villain the Avengers fight are created by the Avengers. It's the logical extension of the Hydra movement hatched in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the latest Avengers, it is Ultron, an AI built by Tony Stark, that goes rogue, and wants to rush in the age of the machines (like that plot hasn't been done before).

As to be expected, the movie is action packed; corny one liners, generally unbelievable physics and weird geography errors (we go from a rusting shipyard to Johannesburg in the same scene sequence). It is a fun movie, but the movies have become formulaic. Brainless entertainment, can still be entertaining though!

29 April 2015

Movie: Dear White People

The synopsis of the movie on Ster-Kinekor's site (and for that matter on IMDB) was rather mundane; but the movie is far better than it sounds. Set in a posh private university, the movie is an exploration of various racial stereotypes, and dynamics - especially told from a black perspective. Well written, with very sharp dialogue - it is a welcome departure from other movies that have explored similar themes. 

The movie takes place around the events surrounding a "blackface" themed Haloween party. For a script that has poses some very strong questions on racial dynamics, it strangely doesn't really explore why the concept of "blackface" is itself degrading; and instead focuses on the specifics in the movie plot itself. Regardless, it is a very sharp commentary on racial dynamics of our times.

27 April 2015

Pops Mohamed and The Millenium Experience

Towards the end of the performance, Pops Mohamed talked about how unique South Africa was in the ability to produce the type of music that was performed last night. It wasn't hyperbole - Pops Mohamed has managed to take fusion of cultures and music to a whole new level - combining classical Indian music (featuring tabla and sitar performed by Ashish Joshi and Poorwi Bhana respectively); traditional African instruments (predominantly the kora but also many others, including a San bow, thumb piano and various whistles performed by Pops Mohamed) and Western instruments (saxophones and flute performed by Sipho 'Hotstix' Mabuse).

And the music produced was equally diverse. There were new compositions that seamlessly weaved in the various instruments; to re-arrangements of classics - an Indian classical raga (led by Poorwi Bhana), Mabuse's breakout 70's hit Burnout, and the Beatles' Norweigan Wood (although that does feature the sitar in the original version). 

If I were to choose amongst the amazing pieces, the two standouts for me was the new composition "African Dreams" and a traditional San piece "Honey song". African dreams combined all the genres seamlessly, with Pops Mohamed and Sipho Mabuse starting an impromptu duel on the saxophone and kora respectively; followed by the rest of the band thereafter. It was spontaneous, lively, fun and an amzing showcase of instrumental prowess. The San piece had story on the collection of honey in the desert; and featured Pops Mohamed playing music with a bow pressed in his mouth. It's difficult to describe - but it was an amazing showcase of a very tribal form of music; but one that was not just beating of drums.

It was a mind-blowing performance, of new music - music that no one really had heard before; and everyone wanting more. There are no recordings (yet) - and I hope there is much more (in terms of both public performances and recordings) to come. And The Orbit once again delivered an amazing musical experience.

26 April 2015

The Alma Chamber Orchestra with The Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble

When compared to many European cathedrals, the Regina Mundi church in Soweto is neither imposing, nor ornate - in fact it looks like a warehouse in some respects. But, it has a storied past as a refuge for anti-apartheid activists, a seat of TRC hearings and commemorates some of the iconic events in an amazing stained glass window panel. It is an apt location for a concert on peace - especially in the times of xenophobic violence.

The main sponsor of the South African leg is the Ichikowitz Family Foundation; and its founder Ivor Ichikowitz gave a passionate speech on the need for peace drawing upon the numerous conflicts around the world. All ironic, given that Mr Ichikowitz makes his money from the Paramount Group - a noted manufacturer in the defense industry.

The French orchestra, fronted by concertmaster Anne Gravoin, has had a short tour in South Africa, playing at Linder Auditorium and in Durban in the past week; and this was the last performance - a free concert together with Buskaid.

The programme consisted of a number of movements from Vivaldi (Concerto for four violins, concerto for trumpet), Elgar (romance for bassoon), Mozart (horn concerto) and Bellini (concerto for oboe). The Buskaid joined the orchestra to play Khachaturian's Masquerade Waltz and the South African national anthem, before Buskaid finished the concert off with their traditional selection of kwela, which had quite a few members of the audience singing and dancing along.