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Eoin Conway "eoinc" (Dublin, Ireland)

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Scala & Kolacny Brothers
Scala & Kolacny Brothers
Price: £11.37

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Like a very good school choir, 31 Dec. 2011
I bought this album having been blown away by their cover of With or Without You. What impressed me most about that performance was that it was a true **arrangement** for choir, and not a mere transcription of an original. Too many choirs sing pop songs by simply duplicating all of the instruments in "bap dap dap" fashion, and the result is almost never well suited to voices. But Scala sang their own version of the song, transforming it in the process, showing us something in it that we hadn't heard before. This is what arrangements should do. And it was sung simply, purely, with tasteful piano accompaniment and judiciously-placed harmonies. I give With or Without You five stars, and if you can purchase just that song for download, I recommend it.

But as you listen to the album, a formula begins to emerge. Up-tempo songs are preserved more or less as recorded, with the piano supplying the rhythm and harmony, and the choir taking the vocals. More introspective songs are generally slowed down, and sung quietly and sadly. Few songs are improved by this process. Smells Like Teen Spirit is interesting, stripping away the grunge-rock to get at something darker and more introspective, and substituting Nirvana's alternating quiet / loud structure for one gradual build in volume. But their version of Radiohead's "Creep" takes the same approach, and I started to question whether smoothing out the cathartic outbursts of anger, replacing them with a constant passivity, is really such a good idea.

The choir is good. They sing in tune, and their voices blend well together, but unison melodies (with occasional harmony) are not difficult to sing, and this choir is always well within its comfort zone. They sing accurately, but that's about it. If this was a school choir (which is what I thought when I first heard them), it would be very impressive indeed. But from an adult choir, we should expect some more engagement with the music. The sense of "easiness" comes through in the music. It's undemanding, both on the choir and the listener, and consequently its rewards are rather shallow.

Double Sextet / 2x5
Double Sextet / 2x5
Price: £11.06

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Best for die-hard fans and newcomers., 4 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Double Sextet / 2x5 (Audio CD)
Steve Reich describes the commissioning process in the liner notes to this new CD. His publisher wanted him to write a piece for Eighth Blackbird, but he initially refused: 8bb consist of one flute, one clarinet, one violin, one cello, one piano, and percussion. Reich said he couldn't write for such a lineup because his unison canons require pairs of identical instruments, as they have done ever since his earliest phasing pieces. He later reconsidered, and wrote this piece for live + pre-recorded sextet, giving him two flutes, two clarinets, two pianos, etc.

Therein lies much of the problem with this piece. There was never any question that Reich might try something new. Never a consideration that, perhaps, he could try writing a piece which, for once, didn't rely on unison canons. Or one which wasn't written in the form of a theme and variations. Or one which wasn't in three movements titled Fast, Slow, and Fast. Or one which wasn't built from duelling pianos playing block chords in an irregular pattern of 3 + 2 beats, with other instruments playing sustained high notes at dissonant intervals.

Double Sextet is a fine piece of music, and Eighth Blackbird play it brilliantly. But Reich breaks little or no new ground. If you own, or have heard, the You Are Variations, the Daniel Variations, the Variations for Vibes, Pianos and Strings, you do not need to buy this CD (unless you love all of those pieces, and cannot get enough of his music). If, on the other hand, you are unfamiliar with those pieces, and are looking for something by Reich to add to your CD collection, you might as well buy it because it's at least as good as any of the others. In this context, the Pulitzer Prize makes more sense as a lifetime achievement award.

2 x 5 is less good as a composition, but it at least has the benefit of having some interesting textures and instrumental colouration.

Steve Reich, just like Philip Glass, has found his niche, and discovered a system of composition which works for him. His music has always been about repeating patterns, but now it seems as if he is merely repeating himself.

The Grand Design: New Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life
The Grand Design: New Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life
by Stephen Hawking
Edition: Hardcover

52 of 67 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not very enlightening, and frequently annoying, 11 Sept. 2010
Hawking's new book has had a lot of advance publicity in the news as being the book in which Hawking renounces God, or proves that the universe started without a divine creator. This makes for good headlines, but isn't a fair description of the book as a whole. Hawking has never claimed to be a religious man (his references to "God" in previous work being intended as a personification of the laws of nature), and only chapters six and seven of this slim volume are written about the big bang, or the multiverse theory. Admittedly, however, the chapters which describe the history of scientific enquiry are framed in terms of new theories overturning the previously held ideas about gods and supernatural causes. In general, however, it's another addition to the catalog of popular science books.

The problem with the book is that it seems uncertain of who its target audience is, and it is alternately too simplified for anyone with a basic grasp of physics to learn much, and yet can be capable of veering off into passages which would go over the heads of beginners. The problem isn't the difficulty of information being presented; rather it is that Hawking (and his co-author, Leonard Mlodinow) occasionally skim through an idea rather than breaking it down step by step.

The breezy writing style is liable to leave some readers behind, as in this passage, page 106 - 107:

"Feynman diagrams aren't just a neat way of picturing and categorizing how interactions can occur. Feynman diagrams come with rules that allow you to read off, from the lines and vertices in each diagram, a mathematical expression. The probability, say, that the incoming electrons, with some given initial momentum, will end up flying off with with some particular final momentum is then obtained by summing the contributions from each Feynman diagram. That can take some work, because, as we've said, there are an infinite number of them. Moreover, although the incoming and outgoing electrons are assigned a definite energy and momentum, the particles in the closed loops in the interior of the diagram can have any energy and momentum. That is important because in forming the Feynman sum one must sum not only over all diagrams but also over all those values of energy and momentum."

The problem here - and with passages like it - is that the difficulty faced by particle physicists becomes inadvertently translated into difficulty for the reader. It would have been sufficient just to say that Feynman diagrams allow one to predict interactions between particles, but that the calculations are difficult to work out in practice. The quasi-jargonistic language of "initial momentum", "incoming and outgoing electrons", "definite energy", "closed loops in the interior" is off-putting to the general non-scientist, and the otherwise breezy, conversational tone makes matters all the more frustrating.

At other times - perhaps this is because of the book's dual authorship - the tone of the writing becomes irritatingly patronising, as if patiently explaining something to a slightly stupid child, and loaded with inane jokes. Around page 90, Hawking explains that visible light is just one part of the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to x-rays, and that we see in the visible spectrum because that comprises the majority of our sun's output. If the sun's output were different (as it will many years in the future, when it becomes a red giant), our eyes would have evolved to have different sensitivites. The same point was explained, beautifully and vividly, by Arthur C Clarke in his essay "The light of common day". Hawking then quips, "so aliens who evolved in the presence of X-rays might have a nice career in airport security"!

Or, referring to frames of reference, he says that if you walked slowly up the aisle of a jet plane in flight, you might consider your speed to be 2 miles per hour. An observer on the ground, however, would say you were moving at 572 miles per hour. An observer at the sun would say you are travelling at 18 miles per second. And, not to mention, he would probably envy your air conditioning!

Or, describing the idea that time travels at different speeds for different observers, he mentioned the experiment performed in 1972 in which an atomic clock was flown around the world. So, he remarks, you could extend your life by flying around the world, but you might get tired of watching all those airline movies!

This cutesy tone begins to grate on the nerves after a while, and what's worse is that the jokes aren't funny, and and don't help to clarify anything. Popular science writing can be witty. Bill Bryson did well with this approach in his Short History of Nearly Everything, and Richard Dawkins is very skilled at using wry humour to illustrate a point. Hawking / Mlodinow's jokes are just cringe-worthy. On the occasions when they restrain themselves, the resulting passages are the better for it.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 12, 2010 4:39 PM BST

Glass: Solo Piano
Glass: Solo Piano
Price: £5.99

15 of 48 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Could do with a good edit, 15 Jan. 2007
This review is from: Glass: Solo Piano (Audio CD)
This is, as others have said, a representative introduction to the music of Philip Glass. Some pieces have their moments, and some are quite enjoyable for the first couple of minutes, but overall it's very dull stuff.

If anyone is interested, here is how to write a Philip Glass piece for solo piano, based on what we hear on this recording:

1. Write a chord sequence of 4 or 8 chords. It should contain at least one instance of a chord changing from its minor mode to major mode (or the other way around). The sequence of chords should be arrived at by moving your fingers to the nearest available consonant notes, and not through any logical progression.

2. Repeat 1.

3. Take the first chord of your sequence, and alternate its first two notes, over and over. For example, if your first chord is C major, then play a constant C - E pattern with your left hand.

4. While continuing 3, play the root note (in the above case it would also be a C) very low in the bass register. This will involve crossing your hands over, and it will be the most difficult moment in the entire piece.

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4.

6. Go back to the start, and play steps 1 to 5 again, including the repeats.

7. Using your chord sequence (from step 1) in your left hand, played as block chords, invent a slow moving melody in the right hand lasting 4 bars.

8. Repeat step 7.

9. Repeat steps 3 and 4.

10. Repeat steps 8 and 9.

11. Take your original chord sequence, and play it with both hands doing exactly the same thing.

12. Keeping your hands in exactly the same positions they were in for step 11, play the sequence again but with the chords arpeggiated instead of played as blocks.

13. Repeat steps 3 and 4.

14. Repeat step 12, but with a slightly different speed of arpeggio.

15. Repeat steps 7, 8 and 9.

16. (optional step, and only for the truly adventurous) Repeat the slow moving melody of step 7, but arpeggiating the chords instead of playing them in blocks.

17. Repeat steps 3 and 4 a few more times.

18. Stop suddenly.

Also, if at all possible, make use of a "3 against 2" pattern somewhere. Either play quavers against triplet quavers, or alternate between bars of 6/8 and 3/4.

Some of his ideas are interesting. I actually quite like to play some of his pieces, albeit with most of the repeats taken out. But it's not music I could really listen to. It's background music, it's probably excellent for meditation, but it doesn't make for good listening.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 21, 2012 3:54 PM GMT

Ben Folds: Rockin' the Suburbs
Ben Folds: Rockin' the Suburbs
by Ben Folds
Edition: Paperback

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Simplified, 8 Sept. 2004
This book is mostly alright, but some parts are overly-simplified, to the point that they noticeably do not sound like the recorded versions. Listen, for example, to the difficult instrumental section in 'Fired'. Now play the sheet music version, and you will hear just how much emptier the sheet music's version sounds. The other sheet music books, which transcribe the Ben Folds Five cds, are much more accurate - it's a shame that Hal Leonard didn't produce this one the same way. I guess they're trying to make the music easier to play, but it's a bit of a let down for more experienced players.

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