Category Archives: Reviews

Bleak House Day 5 – Character Sketches

(Note – I read the book “blind”, that is with no idea what it contained.  I wrote the essays immediately after reading, so they are first impressions.)

I have given a few character sketches as part of my posts over the last few days, so I want to do a few “stand alone” sketches, starting with Mr. Jarndyce (John Jarndyce).

Mr. Jarndyce was one of the main characters, in the top three or four (Esther and Lady Dedlock being the only two I’d put before him, though he might have a lot more “screen time” than “my Lady”), but who was he?

He was obviously rich.  Bleak House wasn’t a giant manor like Chesney Wold, but it was multi-storied and rambling, so not small.  It had full-time live-in servants, even when Mr. Jarndyce and his wards weren’t there, possibly quite a few.  A half a dozen?  A dozen?  Two dozen?  More?  They are rarely talked about, but I would guess a minimum of half a dozen, though it could approach that biggest number.  He didn’t seem to work and was able to afford to rent a large house in London for months at a time.  He was very free and giving with his money, almost as if there was an endless supply.

Although he was not in the same class as the Lord and Lady Dedlock, Sir Leicester paid a visit to Bleak House to apologize for not being more welcoming when Mr. Jarndyce and his wards were close to Chesney Wold.  I doubt Sir Leicester did that to everybody in England.  Just saying…

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Bleak House Day 4 – Sir Leicester

(Note – I read the book “blind”, that is with no idea what it contained.  I wrote the essays immediately after reading, so they are first impressions.) (A few small spoilers)

I am not British and have never lived in the 12th century (well, I guess it is possible I did, but I don’t remember any past lives), but I have read a lot about the old aristocratic system, both the pre-feudal and the feudal society. 

Some points.

In many ways, partially because of the background of the almost democratic Anglo-Saxon world before the Normans tried to force the feudal system on England, it was never as pure as in other places, and slowly died out, a process that accelerated in the between-the-wars period (early 20th century), a process that is still occurring to this day.

One thing that people usually do not think of, but in a feudal society a Lord has set responsibilities, obligations, to the people under him.  It is a two-way street.  In 11th century England, the lowest serf working the land was given a place to stay, a certain amount of grain with the ability to increase it through labor, a small plot for vegetables, quite a few days off for religious celebrations/holidays (many, many more than mill workers 800 years later!), etc.  All of this was the Lord’s obligation to his people. 

Sir Leicester, with over a half a millennium of Dedlocks before him, still thought of himself as part of that 11th or 12th century system.  Yes, he knew it was a modern world, but he hated the way England was changing away from the old aristocratic, semi-feudal system where his class was entitled to many things just for being them, and resented the new world where ordinary people were given positions and privilege just because they had the skill and knowledge to do those jobs! Oh, the indignity of it all!

And yet, he did know his obligations to the people in his household and the village around Chesney Wold.  He would rather die than neglect these obligations.

For example, the village had a school, what he thought was a very good school, one he was proud of.  The village had prosperity, somewhat tied to the lord of the manor.  He was not unkind, nor uncaring.

He was just old fashioned.

He was the Lord of the Manor, after all.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this description of Sir Leicester as seen in the second chapter of the book: Although he was only a baronet, his family was as old as the hills, and far more respectable than the hills.  In fact, Sir Leicester could imagine a world without hills, but not a world without Deadlocks (yes, I stole that from Dickens).  Sir Leicester at 70 was still dashing, if no longer quite in the prime of his life.  And despite his complete devotion to the traditions of the past, he had married out of love and so didn’t mind that she had no family (he had plenty to spare…) and wasn’t in the same economic class as he was.  And he continued to dote on her as much as he did the day they were married.

I found the character of Sir Leicester fascinating, particularly at the end.  In a Dickens’ novel, we do not feel anything unless Charles has led us to it.  And we do feel sympathetic to Sir Leicester at the end.

Of course he is introduced as part of a long married couple that still acted as newlyweds.  He truly loved Lady Dedlock with all of his heart.  He doted on her.

And, though we find that he wasn’t her first love, probably not even close to “the love of her life”, she obviously loved him very much.  In her fashion.

She was willing to sacrifice herself for him.  She said many times that she would do anything to protect him

But Lady Dedlock was the love of Sir Leister’s life.  That has to be remembered.

Sir Leicester, and the relatives that surrounded him looking for his good graces, represented the aristocratic system, with all of its faults, corruptions and warts. 

Dickens did not love this system.  In fact, a happy ending in most of Dickens’ novels was a respectable middle class, not too rich, and far from being aristocratic.  Little Dorrit lost her fortune, Oliver Twist’s aunt’s lover gave up the aristocratic life and a seat in Parliament to marry the woman he loved (only because her sister bore Oliver out of wedlock – it ruined him!) and Esther and her friends end up, if not poor, not rich.  That was Dickens’ happy ending, not a fantasy of becoming Lord and Lady of the manor (something given up in Oliver Twist!)

And yet Dickens obviously didn’t totally hate it.  Perhaps it was so ingrained in society that he could not see it going away.

And since he didn’t totally hate the system, he didn’t totally hate Sir Leicester.

Despite his dated views on politics, industry, society, etc., Sir Leicester had good traits.  One instance is him going out of his way to go to Bleak House to apologize to Mr. Jarndyce and his wards for something that wasn’t his fault.  Sure, he did appreciate being treated as the aristocrat he was on that occasion, but he felt that obligation and was at least a bit friendly.

In the end Sir Leicester discovered what was truly important.  His wife, of course, was by far the most important thing in his life.  The people who chose to be around him for more than the thought that he might do them favors, whether while still alive or after passing, were important.

Loyalty.  Honor.  These were as important to him as they were to an old soldier.  I love the picture of Sir Leicester, weakened from his stroke, leaning on the strongest, most loyal person around, his old “friend” George.  Yes, the son of a servant, and a man of service himself, in many ways George is a far better friend than those cousins who are waiting from some scrap form his hand.  Or his will.

And I like that end.  It is perfect, and in ways touching.  Despite earlier having a grim laugh at Sir Leicester’s self-serving indignation at the changing state of England, we are sympathetic for the old man who has lost his greatest treasure but finds comfort in the stability of an old friend.

Dickens talks about a future where Sir Leicester joins the many generations of Dedlocks, including his beloved wife, in the family mausoleum, but he does not speak of that end as having occurred.

So let’s imagine Sir Leicester and George out for one more ride around the Park, the old soldier proud to be supporting the old man, the old man comfortable in relying in his best friend, the son of his servant.

(Note – I discovered long after I wrote this that “only a baronet” was actually quite the position – although it was the bottom rung of the inherited “nobility”, the aristocracy in Britain was much thinner than in other European countries and represented only one percent of one percent of the populace – 0.01%.  So Sir Leicester was part of the elite of the elite.)

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Bleak House Main Challenge Post

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Bleak House Day 3 – Mr. Skimpole

(Note – I read the book “blind”, that is with no idea what it contained.  I wrote the essays immediately after reading, so they are first impressions.)

I’ll admit Mr. Skimpole provided a bit of riddle for me from the beginning.  He shows up just after we are truly introduced to Mr. Jarndyce (we had met Mr. J once before and had heard of him often, but we had only just begun to actually know him when Mr. S shows up).  He is a character that is very often in Esther’s narrative but never, I believe, in the third person narrative.  The thing is, I never really figured out his purpose.  I know that sounds odd, but even though Dickens wrote a whole telephone book of names into his novels, each one has a purpose, and the more they show up, the more important the purpose. Mr. S. is one of the biggest characters in Esther’s narrative but did not figure in either of the big plots (the law suit, Lady Dedlock’s mystery) nor did he further any subplot at all.

So what was Mr. Skimpole’s purpose?

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Bleak House Day 1 – Overview

(Note – I read the book “blind”, that is with no idea what it contained.  I wrote the essays immediately after reading, so they are first impressions.)

This first real post of the challenge is just a quick review of the book, looking at it from a few angles.

The main story of Bleak House follows a civil lawsuit, Jarndyce and Jarndyce.  From the beginning we find out that this has been going on for decades and most of the principal players are long dead.  Although this is, in ways, the primary story and goes from beginning to end, in other ways it is just the glue that holds the rest of the book together.

There are many smaller stories and subplots, but the main story, after the lawsuit, is that of Lord and Lady Dedlock, and particularly Lady Dedlock and some mysteries surrounding this lady.  Oh, and Esther’s story, of course, but her story is in many ways just incidental to the main story lines of the law suit and Lady Dedlocks mysteries (I introduced Lady Dedlock and her mysteries here.)

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Bleak House – Dickens Challenge – Almost Time!

A few weeks ago, I let Dickens lead us into a very foggy and polluted London.  I didn’t continue with that first chapter, but if I had, I would have led you to the equally murky civil law of Dickens’ day.  There we would have first heard of the infamous law suit, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which forms the basis of the first, outer, plot of Bleak House.

In chapter two, we go out on that same bleak day but move to a far, far more fashionable part of Town where Dickens introduces us to Lady Deadlock, a woman who couldn’t move a finger without the action being reported by the fashion journalists in the leading three papers.  The fashion world knew she had bored of Lincolnshire and was spending a few days in Town before crossing to Paris for a short visit.  After Paris?  Not even the leading fashion experts could guess.

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Review Behringer Poly D

I have had the Behringer Poly D analog synthesizer for a couple of months now and have done a major project, so I want to do a quick review of it.  First, as always, I need to give a quick history lesson.  Why?  The Poly D is a Minimoog clone (sort of, in a way…).

(Skip to the review if you don’t want to read all of this, or the videos at the bottom)

The Minimoog was released in 1970 and was the first synthesizer that you could pick up in a normal retail music store.  It was one of the earliest synthesizers aimed at stage musicians and was extremely popular.  Even though Moog soon had a lot of competition in the portable synth market, such as the EMS Synthi (used by Pink Floyd*) and the different Arps (used by many, including Genesis), the Mini was so huge that most people used the terms “Moog” and “Synthesizer” synonymous.  And it did find its way into pop, rock, r&b, dance, jazz and beyond through the 70s.  Even in the 80s, it was the main synth on the Thriller album and was used by most of the early Technopop bands.  In the 90s it helped create the emerging electronica and electronic dance music. 

In other words, the Minimoog is one of the most iconic synthesizers of all times.

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Final Thoughts on Little Dorrit

Charles Dickens at his Desk in 1858 – This was from Wikimedia and I make no claim to ownership

OK, confession time – I did not finish Little Dorrit until last night.  I have a lot of excuses (other reading, a huge amount of writing, etc.) but for the most part they are just that, excuses. 

Anyway, when I was about three-quarters of the way through, I drew up a list of talking points.  Well, after finishing, I have some other things to say…. I will mention these talking points, I just won’t spend as much time with them as planned.  Still, maybe I will spend too much time on them ;) (long post warning…)

One thing that I noticed when I was deep into the book was that Dickens had spent the first 100 pages or so (my copy had 787 pages) just introducing characters and planting a few seeds of plot and subplot.  When I started reading, I only did a few pages at a time, usually before going to bed.  The problem was that there was no plot or substance to get my teeth into at first and so it was a real chore getting through the first 200 pages – I spent almost 4 months on those pages and less than 4 days on the other 587 pages!

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First Impressions – Sequential Prophet Rev 2

I picked up a Sequential (DSI) Prophet Rev 2 polyphonic analog synthesizer a couple of weeks ago. After two weeks of playing, I decided to make a recording and talk about it.

First a few terms. “Analog” means that the sound is created by electronics as a continuous electrical signal which is then manipulated by other electronics. I know,obtuse, but that definition is a contrast with “digital”, which means the sound is created and manipulated by a computer. Most of the first commercial synthesizers were analog.

I said it was a polyphonic synthesizer (poly-synth). In this case “polyphonic” means more than one note can be played at once, sort of like a piano, with each note being distinct. The distinct note is called a “voice” – my Prophet Rev 2 is an 8 voice synthesizer (16 voice Rev 2s exist – more about this later). The way this works is that each voice is played by a completely different synthesizer! In the late 1970s, Dave Smith perfected a way for a computer to store values for a synthesizer so that all of the different voices (synthesizers) could have the same sound though the user only has to set up the sound once (one set of controls). It also let the user save sounds. This instrument was the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5. It helped to revolutionist the music industry and, actually, music itself.

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Review – Behringer VC340

B VC340

Last week I received a Behringer VC340 that I ordered a few months back.  This is a recreation of a classic synthesizer, the Roland VP-330 Vocoder Plus, which was made in 1979 and 1980.  Although the production of this synthesizer was short, it, along with the rackmount version, the SVC-350, is found all over music of the early 80s, including artists as far apart as Vangelis and Laurie Anderson.

The VC330, like the original VP-330, instead of being a general synthesizer is divided into three main parts: a string synthesizer, a “human voice” synthesizer and a vocoder.

The string synthesizer is just what it sounds like, a synthesized string ensemble sound that uses simple analog technology of the day.  String synths were very popular in the late 70s and the Roland version can be heard on a lot of music by a wide variety of artists.  It offers a simple tone (brightness) control, attack (how quickly the sound starts) and release (how quickly the sound fades after you take your hands from the keys). Continue reading

Review – Korg ARP Odyssey

Korg ARP Odyssey

I just picked up the Korg recreation of the classic analog synthesizer, the ARP Odyssey.  I first started playing with the instrument on Friday and it is Monday morning, so this is more of a “first impression” than an actual review.  Before that first impression, I should talk about the instrument a little.

A Brief History of the Odyssey

Back in the early 1970s ARP released the Odyssey as a direct competitor for the Mini Moog.  The Mini had the famous big, phat sound, but the Odyssey, besides being less expensive, had a lot going for it.  It was duophonic (you could play two notes as opposed to the Mini’s one), it had a ring modulator (creates complex harmonics), you could synch the oscillators (forces them in tune with each other, even when you try to force them out of tune), you can put an envelope on pitch, there was sample and hold (S&H), there was a simple high pass filter, and you could do some more complex modulation routings. Continue reading