Introducing the Jewel in Hong Kong’s Crown

Yep, you guessed it, today it’s all about Tom Lee Music HQ in Tsim Sha Tsui.

I dropped off my ailing acoustic to a guitar tech in Jordan yesterday and seeing as TST is so close I couldn’t resist a quick visit to everyone’s favourite mega-shop, Tom Lee Music.

This place is massive. Divided over three floors, there’s 7 or 8 distinct areas maybe more. You’ve got electric guitars & amps. mostly Fender as the licence for Gibson is with a competitor:

There’s also Gretsch, PRS, Godin, Ibanez, Yamaha and Musicman:

Spot the world’s ugliest guitar…

The best amp I’ve ever played through is there — the Marshall Silver Jubilee 25/50:

The Acoustic range is even better than the electric:

Not shortage of acoustic pianos, including the gorgeous Schimmels:

There’s also lots of pro-audio recording gear, live sound equipment, drums & percussion, sheet music, hi-fi, orchestral instruments and probably other stuff I’m forgetting. The only thing they’re really missing is a good collection of microphones. A mic booth here would be the icing on this rock n’ roll cake.

As a final recommendation, every single time I visit, there’s a big sale on. It’s always <insert holiday> sale, or at least mid-year sale or a blow-out sale and the discounts can be substantial.

Next time you’re in Hong Kong skip the cultural delights and head straight to Tom Lee Music in TST. It’s 5 minutes from the TST MTR (Exit D).

Enjoy!

2019: Books for January and February

As mentioned here in a post about the Goodreads challenge, I want to organise the books I read a little better this year.

I’d like to read more biographies for one. Also more of the classics. I started 2017 with the Count of Monte Cristo followed by Great Expectations and they were both brilliant. Classics are classics for a reason.

So I’ve gone through my books and put together the first 10 books I want to read this year:

NON-FICTION

Life – Keith Richards

An absolute crime I haven’t read this yet. I’ve been saving it I guess.

Einstein – Walter Isaacson

Thought Isaacson’s Steve Jobs was a great read and this look good too.

Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 – Ryan Walsh

A book about the best album of all time. Haven’t bought it yet but I will SOON.

The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg

Already into this. Enjoying it.

My 12 Recommended Books for 2015

Willpower – Kelly McGonigal

A nice companion book to ‘The Power of Habit’, I think.

Homo Deus – Yuval Noah Harari

A loved this guy’s first book and this looks fascinating.

Educated – Tara Westover

Have to see what all the fuss is about with this one.

FICTION

Killing Commendatore – Haruki Murakami

A new book by my favourite author. Bought and waiting on the kindle. I was going to buy the actual book but it’s a great whooping hardcover and all the other Murakami books I used to own have been either given away or lost moving. Bizarrely the digital version might be the more durable option. This is the book I’m most looking forward to.

Crime and Punishment – Dostoevsky

Here’s a classic! Spend an hour comparing 5 different translations on amazon. Tough going. Got the Juliya Salkovskaya, Nicholas Rice translation which I preferred to the others.

Robinson Crusoe – Defoe

And… another classic! One of the first English novels. Written in 1719 so celebrating its 300th birthday this year. Worth reading just for that.

That’s the first 10.Feeling organised!

Hoping to finish these in 2 months which might be optimistic. Anybody else lining books up for the new year?

Book 1: The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

This book won the National Book award in 2016 and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year. You still see it everywhere online and I can’t remember too many recent books that have had the same level of praise and exposure.

Expectations run high with books like this. There’s even two pages of reviews at the start of the book to prime the reader and these are seriously good reviews. You’ve never seen reviews this good.

The story itself is set in pre-civil war America and it’s a brutal, oppressive place. Cora escapes a life of slavery using an underground railway but is relentlessly hunted by the slave-catcher Ridgeway. Should be a powerful story right?

So I started the book. As expected it hits pretty hard at the start. The life of the slave seems even worse than we can imagine. I kept reading though and began to notice something: I wasn’t actually enjoying the book or the characters. The writing didn’t seem to flow and I had to tell myself more than once to keep going and give the book more time.

Now as a rule, I’ll give any book 50 pages. I feel that’s long enough to impress the reader in some way but after reading 100 pages of this book, I was still unimpressed. I keep on to 150 pages on account of the reviews and high expectations. Then I continued reading due to the time I’d already put in, but I was really frowning and scratching my head at this point.

In the end, I finished not so much to see how the book ended but instead to see if there was something about the ending that shifted my perspective of the book as a whole. There was a revelation about Cora’s mother that was one of a few heart-wrenching moments in the book but for the most part it finished as it started.

People talk about Dan Brown’s characters being two dimensional and without emotional depth. Well I kind of feel the same way about the cast of ‘The Underground Railway’. There was always a distance to the way the characters were written which seems bizarre to me to when you consider the emotionally charged material.

It’s psychologically challenging to not like something that is so widely loved but that’s the truth of it. This book just didn’t do it for me at all. I am still struggling to see why so many people liked it. There’s certainly moral warnings in the book that would have given the book a political lift in the America of Donald Trump but that can’t account for the widespread acclaim. It will stay something of a mystery to me I guess, I just can’t fathom it.

So that’s my first book of the year. Pretty disappointing when I was so looking forward to reading it — I even bought my brother a copy (before I read it). I was lining up Murakami’s new book for my next read but since reading this one I’m returning to non-fiction for a while.

Hope others get more out of this one than I was able to, but it’s 2 stars from me.

The Japanese Concept of ‘Ma’ and Silence in Music

In ‘Absolutely on Music’ the conductor Seiji Ozawa spoke of ‘Ma’.

The excerpt where it first came up is copied below. Murakami and Ozawa are discussing the second movement of Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto while listening to the actual recording of Bernstein conducting the Columbia Symphony orchestra with soloist Glenn Gould from 1959.

I’ve linked the youtube performance under the text (skip ahead to 5:40 to match the conversation):

Gould end a phrase, takes a brief pause, and moves on to the next phrase (5:40)

OZAWA: Now that – where he took that pause – that’s absolutely Glenn at his freest. It’s the hallmark of his style, those perfectly timed empty spaces.

The Piano and orchestra intertwine beautifully for a while.

OZAWA: Now we’re completely in Glen Gould’s world. He’s totally in charge now. In Japan we talk about ‘ma’ in Asian music – the importance of those pauses or empty spaces – but it’s there in Western music, too. You get a musician like Glenn Gould, and he’s doing exactly the same thing. Not everybody can do it – certainly no ordinary musician. But somebody like him does it all the time.

Murakami: Ordinary musicians don’t do it?

OZAWA: No, never. Or if they do the spaces don’t fit in as naturally as this.

Absolutely on Music – Murakami & Ozawa

‘Ma’ seems a slightly different concept to rest or space in music – being more of an active silence – requiring the listener or performer to give the silence meaning:

Ma is not something that is created by compositional elements; it takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences these elements.

Wikipedia

The violinist Isaac Stern described something similar:

An emptiness full of possibilities, like a promise yet to be fulfilled. The silence between the notes which make the music.

Isaac Stern

I see music in terms of tension between opposites so I have been thinking on this refined concept of ‘ma’ since finishing the book. It’s all pretty subtle I guess, trying to think about silence in a slightly different way, but it is interesting.

Rock music struggles to accommodate this idea most of the time, but I’ve always been attracted to bands where the guitarists play ‘space’ well — players like Keith Richards, B.B King and Pete Townshend never had much finger speed but instead had timing, musicality and ‘sympathy’ for the song.

This is the reason why I never went with other guitarist friends into the world of Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen. I found the blur of notes all too busy and soulless and I think this ‘ma’ thing might have had something to do with it.

Everyone will have their own examples of this — it’s subjective after all but one track that came to mind when thinking of examples outside of Classical was ‘Brother in arms’. Mark Knopfler is an incredible player with a beautiful touch. He always had impeccable timing and he’s one of a small number of guitarists who tend to underplay.

Have a listen to the his dynamic playing here — some of the notes are barely audible, silent even. Guitar playing at its absolute best, I think:

Moore’s Law and Samsung’s incredible T5 portable drives

Intel’s co-founder Gordon Moore wrote a paper back in 65′ which predicted that the number of transistors on a microchip would double every year (updated to every two years in 1985). Amazing this has held for the past 50+ years.

So then, after all that time, just how big are transistors these days?

They’re small.

Really small.

Modern computers have transistors as small as 5-7 nanometers in length. If, like me you don’t know how big a nanometer is, it’s one billionth of a meter. A single human hair is about 100,000 nanometers wide. These transistors are hundreds of times smaller than bacteria cells. Have a look at the way they’ve shrunk since 1970:

So scientists are now getting 30 billion transistors onto a single circuit. How on earth…? The mind boggles.

So that’s Moore’s Law then — but what I actually wanted to write about was how amazed I was with the portable drive I bought yesterday.

The last portable hard drive I bought wasn’t that long ago, but the tech seems to have jumped forward in a short space of time.

Now you have solid state drives which are on a completely different level of speed and efficiency. Combine that with the ongoing miniaturisation (see Moore’s law above!) and you get this incredible little thing:

The Samsung T5 portable SSD drive. Transfer speeds up to 540 mb/s. Fully shock proof. 51 grams and look at the size of it:

50mm x 70mm. Tiny. Makes my phone look bulky and gigantic.

How many gigs can it store? 50GB? 100GB? Nope. This little guy stores 1TB, or a 1,000GB.

Hard drives aren’t the most fascinating things in the world and I wasn’t planning to write about them but after buying the T5 yesterday I really had to share my surprise.

My last book of 2018: The Nix by Nathan Hill

I did lots of reading in the past two weeks trying to claw back my 52 book reading challenge deficit and this was the last book I managed in 2018. To be honest had I known it was such a substantial novel, I might have pushed it to the new year as it’s more than 620 pages.

I can’t remember why I started reading this particular book after finishing Ed Catmull’s Creativity Inc, but I was literally laughing out loud in the first few pages and took that as a sign to continue.

It’s actually not a comic novel but it is hilarious in parts. Hilarious in the same way John Irving can be hilarious when he somehow mixes humour and tragedy in unexpected ways. I’m actually not sure what type of novel this is, but this review extract from Amazon captured something of the spirit:

If any novel defied an elevator pitch in 2016, it was The Nix. Acid critique of millennial entitlement, videogame addiction, and clueless academia; tender meditation on childhood friendship, first loves, and maternal abandonment; handy tutorial on ’60s radicalism and Norwegian ghost mythology

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly (Best Book of 2016)

This was Nathan Hill’s first novel. How he managed to write a book as accomplished as this on debut is a mystery to me. The quality of the writing is first class as is the originality. The characters are memorable, quirky and relatable.

The aspect I found hardest to deal with was the regular time and perspective shifts. I didn’t much enjoy the 1968 Chicago protest backstory and felt inclined to skip ahead out of it. I didn’t but I felt the flow of the story stopped and started too often for my taste. Despite this, I stuck with the book and I am pleased I did — the ending really delivered.

The Nix is very much a book for our times — being full of displacement, anger, manipulation, blame and secrets. At the same time though it’s about hope, redemption and belonging – and these are the facets that shine in the memory after finishing the book.

I gave this book 3 stars in the end, perhaps a bit harsh considering how much I enjoyed most of it. Perhaps others won’t be as bothered as I was with the all the jumping through time and space. In the end there’s much to enjoy in the book and it’s definitely worth reading. I’m following Nathan Hill with interest as well, he’s a hugely talented writer bound for great things.

2019 Goodreads Challenge?

In the past I have regarded reading as an enjoyable hobby. Something to pass the time, like a good movie. I don’t think like this anymore.

I now consider it an essential part of my ongoing education and the lifeblood of my own growth and development. I consider reading as one of the most productive and enriching ways I spend my time.

With that in mind it’s time for the Goodreads Challenge!

For this year, after setting 100 books for 2017 and 2018 and ‘failing’ both times, I am lowering the bar to a more manageable number.

Hey… why not sign up and make book challenge yourself? It has a magical way of helping you read more books.

Just sign up (if you have a kindle it’s even easier):

Set a number of books. Make it a low number – you can change it at anytime:

..and you’re off!

This year I’m going for 60 books and after two days, I’m on track!

I also want to be a little more intentional about what I read as well. Last year I tended to read reactively. If an interesting book popped up I’d read it. Looking back though, there were a few books that weren’t that great and I still have a large number of promising books on the kindle that remain unread.

Looking back through my previous 2017 and 2018 challenges, biographies were some of my favourites so I looking at reading more of those this year.

If you set a challenge up, let me know —there’s a community aspect to the site that I have never used but it looks good.

Here’s to a great year of books!