Feb 24, 2009

So it begins... again

Well I'm back from Australia (which you'll get to see in the next post), and as the skool year here started while I was away that means it is time to get back to work.

Meaning my first step was to go around town to every single skool and let them know I was back in town. Why you might ask? Well it is one of the quirks of being in a different country.

Relief teaching in New Zealand is a lot different that the institution of substitute teaching in North America that I'm more familiar with. In NA, skools are all part of a unified board, and it is this central agency that deploys substitutes wherever they are needed.

Not here in NZ. Back in the 80's they pseudo privatized their skools, and dissolved all the country's boards. Meaning that though each skool is centrally funded by the federal government, otherwise they are their own self sustaining and administrating entities. Meaning it is up to each skool to acquire their own substitute teachers.

Now there are two ways a relief teacher such as myself can get myself covering gigs. One is through the Dunedin pool. A rather cunning individual in Dunedin saw a entrepeneurial opportunity in this lack of a central substitute organization, and so set themself up as a free market version of what a skool board normally does. We relievers sign up into the pool, and then when a skool contacts the pool we are sent if available. The relieving pool does a great job, and I have nothing but good things to say about it. Afterall it was what got me going in the beginning of my relieving career.

However I've found that if I got my name out beyond the pool, I got more work. Skool's will book you for planned teacher absences, and they will even sometimes call you directly if they like you, when a teacher is absent.

Meaning to get myself rolling this year, I spent yesterday doing that tour of Dunedin's skools. Man there is a lot of them! The cool/weird thing is I've worked in 90% of them these days!!!

It is kind of fun getting your name out there, and having to market yourself. I much prefer it to the central organization system in the sense of gauging my performance, as more and more skools contact me directly (meaning they must have liked how I was doing things).

I'm sure there are benefits to a centralized system, but given the rough year the ministry of education gave me last year on my pay I'm not to keen on centralized bureaucracy at moment (as it was the government's fault I was in trouble... the local independent skools were nothing but supportive!)

I guess my only complaint with this job is "phone anticipation" in the morning. If I don't have prebooked days I never know if I'll get THE call or not. So often I'll wake up about 7am regardless if I have work or not, waiting for the phone to ring... even if it never does.

Oh well, it's not that big a worry. I'm stronger than ever in the local skool scene, and had a ton of prebooked days by the time I got home yesterday. Based on the trends of late last year I'm more likely to have to have too many offers rather than worry about a lot of jobless time.

So don't be expecting to much posting out of me, as I'm more busy than ever with work. Which is a nice change of pace...

Feb 21, 2009

Australia Exploration

Well the biggest event of the new year so far has been my 2 week trip to Australia.

Lady R's family was nice enough to bring me along for a big family gathering they had this month. If you're reading family oh R, again THANK YOU!!!

Given the current natural disasters that are ravaging through that country right now, it was a very epic and memorable time to be there. There was a lot of loss and hardship, but at the same time it was amazing to see the whole country rally to the aid of the bushfire and flood victims!
Fortunately I was in the one part of the country that didn't seem to be falling apart...
We arrived in Sydney right at the conclusion of the massive heatwave it was having. For us it was cloudy and rainy in Aussie the whole time though. Honestly a good thing. They really needed the rain! At the same time a day or two of sun to enjoy the beaches or pools I had available would have been nice...

I gained a new nickname though. The rainmaker. Which is funny, as the rain followed me back here. In Dunedin the last few days we've had a "practise winter" with constant rain and temperatures under 10 degrees (remember that our summers and winters are the opposite of the North).

However being the trooper I am, I didn't let a little thing like rain and bad weather get me down!

I spent as much time as I could out hunting for wildlife!

Boy was I successful! Australia ranks very very high in my list of wild places. I saw way more stuff in two weeks there than my 2 years in New Zealand (granted most of NZ's coolest stuff was wiped out years ago sadly).

Sadly the I was under strict orders from Lady R to avoid any:
  1. Snakes

  2. Sharks

  3. or Spiders

In other words all the fun critters I could find (minus crocodiles, but they just don't live that far South in Australia...).

Sadly I managed to not see any of the listed critters (at least till later in the trip!). However I was not one to let that damper my danger seeking spirit, and within my first day I found one of the most venomous critters on Earth! Fortunately not on Lady R's list. So no trouble for me!

Unlike New Zealand, Australia has proper tidal pools for me to explore. Unlike North American tidal pools though, it turns out these ones have deadly critters!

Such as this one... I stumbled across it 10 minutes after launching my pool exploration.

A Blue Ringed Octopus!!! Well, okay it was probably a not very dangerous Southern Rock Octopus after further research, but at the time I was primed to have just found and photographed a cephalopod in the wild! It was cooler as there was a chance it could have been a blue ringed!!!

Here he is in moving action. The moment he figured out I was there based on his actions you'll see.
Out doing me in spectacle Lady R 3-5 minutes later found this much larger wounded Octopus in a much easier and small pool. As much as this poor hurt guy wanted to hide, he couldn't. There was nothing in his "pool" for him to duck under. The white marks are heavy damage to his tentacles and body.

Speaking of doomed individuals. The weirdest and coolest discovery I made was of this baby moray eel. It was definitely a Moray, but just really tiny at 20-25cm long. The poor guy could barely move, that alone defend itself (I got it to finally bite my exploration stick only after putting it RIGHT in front of the head).

The reason for all the in rough shape wildlife? There'd be a HUGE storm the night before, and my theory is it damaged a lot of stuff offshore, and washed the hurt ones into the pools (note my first octopus was fine, and I think he was supposed to live there, unlike Lady R's giant).

Lucky for me Australia has tons of poisonous critters. Far too many for Lady R to ban me from seeing. Including this little "blue bottle"... a Man-o-war!!! Which Lady R and Mama R almost walked on with bare feet (I always wear footwear just in case... you never know what you might step on!). In their defense it was an otherwise beautiful sandy beach.

For the first couple days I was taunted by Pelicans such as these flying over head. All I'd manage were distant blurry digital zoomed photographs like these.

Till on the third day, during a brief break from the weather (among the three times it could have passed for almost nice weather), I discovered where the Pelicans were gathering and flocking too.

The outlet for a river into the ocean. It was teaming with bait fish, which the Pelicans naturally were trying to eat.

On hands and knees I crept up to photograph them here. It may look like the Zoo, but I assure you that concrete in the background was just a left over of a long abandoned dock or something.

This for a day was my best photo. Digital Zoom grainy yes, but passable for an okay photo.
Thinking myself quite the sneaky nature photographer I was very happy with this till...

On a drive through a small fishing town we spotted a harbour that was lined to the brim with Pelicans. All of whom were unbelievably tame.
So much so that at one point I jokingly tried to encourage one to fly by flapping my arms. It just looked at me like I was insane (probably justified really).

So I was able to leisurely walk right up to them and take pictures like this... No zoom or anything!
Awesome, but diminished my earlier crawling.

Than in the middle of my trip I met my newest obsession, and bane to photograph. The Kookaburra, king of the kingfishers.
As you can see from this early attempted photo they had me at a total disadvantage. Not only would they keep their distance, but they only hung out around the house at dawn. The worst lighting imaginable for photograph...
For several days I tried futilely to capture a single okay photo.
Than on the early morning I got up before they showed up, I made a key discovery. The Kookaburras were coming to our house because of frogs who were getting trapped in the pool!

Cool (which you'll note rhymes with the just mentioned pool)! Not only I was I doing some hardcore urban zoology, but I now had some bait with which the Kookaburras might come into range for!

My plan worked. Only sadly the darn birds were fast, and backed up with dawn lighting I was doomed. Sure I took photos of cool moments of Kookys grabbing frogs from the pool (this was the best of those photos), but you can't tell that's what their doing.
By the tail end of the trip I was despairing. I hadn't managed to see on at close range at all.
Finally Mama R showed me a trick with ground beef to lure them in close. The first time
produced several okay (but still blurry on account of it being now dusk) photos.

However on my last day towards the last minute I was able to lure a single brave Kooky down in broad day light and snapped about 30 awesome photos!!!
I totally fell in love with these birds on this trip. Probably a bit more about that soon.
It also turns out the ants are hardcore down under. This guy is about 3 times the size of the average Alberta ants I'm used to. His pincers alone were about 1/3 the length of one of those small ants. Glad I didn't tangle with these guys!

We had an interesting nighttime visitor one night. A little treefrog squeezed through a tiny crack in our bathroom, and was found by lady R in the middle of the night.
I launched a locate and rescue operation, made all the more difficult by his escaping from the bathroom (you'll note all the carpet lint all over him in this photo). I was successful in about 3 minutes and released him back outside (though he made a sprint for the still open door after I let him out... cheeky little thing!).

Remember how I wasn't supposed to go find spiders. Well I didn't, they found me!
This was a fairly dangerous trapdoor spider walking across the pool.

Lurking in the shed were massive huntmans. Note the power plug in for scale. This was one BIG spider!

At the very end of our trip me and Lady R explored Sydney for 2 days. Saw lots of cool stuff, like the local zoo, aquarium, and of course museum.

Here is a teaser, but that's all you're going to get out of me.
You'll have to wait till Traumador takes his trip to Sydney to see the rest!

Funny enough on this last day we actually got some nice weather.

Sadly it was on this note we had to bid Sydney farewell, and return to crap weather here in Dunedin.

Oh well had a fun time. Saw some amazing things, and got to hang with my special girl.

Thanks once again to Mama R for letting me come along (and ruin the trip ;P )

Feb 4, 2009

Soundtracks: Best Albums

Based on how popular my last soundtrack post was, I thought I'd do another one.

Today I thought I'd fire up a list of my favourite albums. Now when I talk about an album I mean listening to a soundtrack CD from start to finish in its entirety and judge the the overall listening experience.

In other words this doesn't take into account amazing singular tracks or mean these are my favourite soundtracks. Rather these are CDs that I feel have a high quality no matter what track you happen to listen to from them.

With this criteria it was a little difficult to come up with the list. I eliminated about 6 scores from this list when I realized I was subconsciously picking them for their highlight tracks, and not thinking about the other tracks I don't normally listen to.

So here they are in no particular order (other than by composer):

Lady in the Water by James Newton Howard.

Though I said these were in no order, if I had to pick the most consistent album for delivering great music it'd be this one. Though the movie it comes from is not necessarily to everyone's taste (I personal really enjoyed the first time I saw it, but it has since left me cold) it seems to have filled Howard with the magic it so desperately wanted to have.

This album perfectly catches the organic flow of water to the point that the tracks blend together seamlessly, like water being effected by the weather. This emotion flow of the music leads to a truly enjoyable listen start to finish. Myself and Peter listened to this one frequently in 2006 in the car when it came out, and we seldom swapped discs when it ended.

Atlantis by James Newton Howard.

The first album I ever bought on a whim, and it turned out to be a brilliant choice. This score actually fissures down the middle into almost two distinct sounds, which may throw off a few people.

The first half is one of cartoonish adventure and hardship as the explorers in the film search out Atlantis. The second half is one of the most amazing runs of "awe" music depicting the fantastic realm of Atlantis and its people. There is a single track that mixes the two rather well, but otherwise they do standoff against each other sound wise. I just happen to love both halves, so I consider it a very successful album overall.

Dinosaur by James Newton Howard.

Now you might think I picked this one up because it was a Dinosaur film. You'd be wrong. I hadn't seen the movie when I bought this. I boycotted Disney's Dinosaur when it came out, due to the high quality Dinosaurs talking. A decision I sort of regret. Anyways after buying Atlantis I read that this soundtrack had a great deal in common with Atlantis in quality. Picking it up I was very pleased to find this the case.

Unlike Atlantis it was not a dual identity score. Rather Dinosaur is a very continuous African flavoured musical experience. The middle of this album includes some of my favourite music ever, but the rest of the album holds up without it. If I were ever to do a prehistoric themed film I'd pick this score over Jurassic Park any day!

The 13th Warrior by Jerry Goldsmith.
This album reminds me I need to do a post shortly on bad movie soundtracks, and how often they can have the best music of them all!
The first half of this score develops dual thematic material for the vikings and arabs of the film. The second half is a collision of these two ethnic styles into some really fun action music. In fact if there is one word for this score is action. Start to finish it is fast paced and something musically is always happening. So if you like your music paced with slow and fast, this is NOT the album for you, but I love it personally on extreme fast forward!

There were many other Goldsmith contenders for best album, but I'm holding back as their slightly less consistent than this album. That and they will make up the bulk of my bad movie music post. Goldsmith was the master at amazing music for crap movies!

Star Wars: A New Hope by John Williams.
If there was ever a classic of classic soundtracks this would be it. Now I'm not going to be dumb enough (like many William's acolytes) to claim that ALL other soundtracks of the modern era owe their existence to this one. Though it is true A New Hope has had a very big impact on how movie music is put together. However in the 2000's I can personally construct an argument of how we have progressed beyond this, and into something of a post-Williams era.

Regardless this is a singularly amazing gem of movie music. Whether it be in the commercial version or the complete entire score versions, this is a solid listen. Especially if your a Star Wars fan. It has held up really well over 30 years!

Antz by John Powell and Harry Gregson Williams.
The first collaboration of these two favourites of mine (which would set the stage for Chicken Run... a break through soundtrack for me). Antz despite its seemingly jazzy style has a brilliant mix of fun, magic, and extreme epicness throughout its whole run. It is an infectious disc that if I even start a random track on it today (10 years after I bought it... man I'm getting old!) I tend to listen through the rest of it.
Despite not having brilliant singular tracks like Chicken Run, Antz the album as a whole is much stronger and coherent. Meaning it runs for my money on top animated soundtrack.

Sinbad Legend of the Seven Seas by Harry Gregson Williams.
Another example of bad films leading to great music. This score is pirate and swashbuckling through and through. It has all the themes and motifs one could need to sail the seven seas. Exploration, long montage travel, sinister threats and obstacles, and of course woven between and hold these all together a strong heroic theme.
If not for the rest, which is brilliant on its own, the heroes theme is my favourite part of this album. Most heroes themes in a film I have to make due with 1-3 presentations of it. This score I get spoiled with 7! Almost half the tracks have it in there somewhere. Brilliant!

Evolution by John Powell.
This was John Powell's first solo effort I ever purchased (before seeing the film), and I was pleasantly surprised to find it an excellent continuation of the sound of chicken run, though sadly not quite as strong as the two highlight Run tracks. This album is in my opinion the music of a scientific epic, and lends itself to when I'm doing homework.
It has an optimistic upbeat spin on what would otherwise be a fairly cardboard stereotypical action movie of the monster variety. I think that is why it has endured me so much. It is aware of the fact it is fluff, and has a fun time being it. A great feel good album this one (with just a hint of menace).

Kung Fu Panda by John Powell and Hans Zimmer.
My most recent strong album from last year was an absolute delight. This particular time I ended up seeing the film first, and was blown away by the music. However buying the album I was once again enamoured by the music, that in the film sometimes is overbeared by the noise on screen.
Much the way that the film captured all the awesome of martial arts movies and made them fun and friendly, the score captures the divine and delicate nature of Chinese music and merges it seamlessly with a western orchestra. This score is not only intoxicating with the ethnic flavour, but packs a punch with some major epic battle tracks, and than goes to the fun silly. This is one of the best multi vector assault soundtrack albums I can think of, successful intertwining all these competing sounds.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by Howard Shore. Much like how the first LOTR film was the strongest (in my opinion anyway) the first score was as well. I think the two owe each other for their success. The second film suffered in both script and score, and I can't help but feel they are linked (much like the Dark Lord and the Ring). I suspect if I ever managed to track down the complete score for the third film it'll have a strong soundtrack, but the commercial album leaves a lot to be desired (it is the weakest of three initial CDs, despite the film having some amazing amazing).
The first films music, whether on the shorter commercial album or the extensive complete score has the majesty and magic to convey everything and anything middle earth. Every piece and theme is an essential thread that together gives us a musical scape of the LOTR universe. Even the hobbit music, which I'm not keen on, have impact later in the score when it is used. This is as important an album in soundtrack history as Star Wars, and I'd argue the beginning marker of the post-Williams era.
So that just about does it. These are my top 10 albums. Next I'll give you my top 10 tracks, and than sometime after that the top 10 bad movie=great music scores.