Where have I been?

It's been a while since my previous post, so this is a general recollection of many of the things I've been occupied with since then.

Naturally I needed to upgrade my machine to cope with the demands of certain software (see my previous post), plus I was due for a RAM upgrade anyway.

Well, what a saga that was. Most RAM nowadays is DDR2, which requires a slightly different motherboard slot design, so that prompted a motherboard upgrade as well. While I was at it, I upgraded the CPU to an Athlon64 dual core (which is also handy for taking advantage of applications that support parallel processing). This narrows down the choices of motherboards available (that I could order through Ascent), most of which were also designed for PCIe-16 graphics cards. You guessed it - a graphics card upgrade as well. At the end of that I had enough to get decent performance from Crysis, among other things. Oh yes, I also upgraded the case to one with better airflow.

Remember Murphy's Law? If something can go wrong it will. The motherboard is what went wrong - an Asus M2N-SLI Deluxe. I narrowed that down after running MemTest, upgrading the power supply to a 620W model and stress-testing the CPU. It often seemed to happen when sound was playing, though not always. The computer would freeze, prompting a reboot, but the BIOS wouldn't boot. Turning the power off and on again was the only thing that would allow me to carry on.

The good thing is I received a replacement that seemed to work - until it locked up the system when I tried to timeshift or record TV programmes. It also froze when trying to record my music through the soundcard (more on that later), so back that motherboard went. This time I replaced it with a Gigabyte model that has been running fine since. Third time lucky!

Around the time of the upgrade, I received a letter from the NZSO letting me know of another chance to showcase my music composition - the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) Composer-in-Residence. Previously, I had entered the Young Composer Awards with my piece, "Perpetual Restlessness". Although my piece wasn't among those selected for orchestral readings in September last year, the feedback provided helpful hints as to what to look out for when writing music.

Using this knowledge, plus what I learned from reading Professor Belkin's Artistic Orchestration tutorial and Rimsky-Korsakov's Principles of Orchestration, I worked on a new piece titled "Maui", after the character from Maori legend. This work is a tone poem that describes the story of Maui setting out and fishing up what becomes known as the North Island of New Zealand. Rather than portaying Maui's prankster nature, this piece focuses on Maui's strength and determination through its regular beat and strong tonal theme.

Most recently, I have finished assisting my grandmother in putting together a short documentary-style film commemorating the work of a non-profit community organisation in Wellington over the past 125 years. I have to say it is wonderful for my grandparents (nearly 80 years old) to be tech-savvy enough to perform movie editing, of all things. They even have the initiative to seek help on Internet discussion forums! I know of many at that age who are bewildered and somewhat intimidated by today's technology. Nevertheless, it isn't helpful when the movie editing software being used is somewhat defective - which is why I was called in to help.

This basically involved recording my mother's narration and placing it in the movie, adding background music, titles and credits. Under request from my grandmother, my composition "Cathedral" was also used for the end of the film.

Finally, to answer "Where have I been" literally: I can now say that I've been to London, Paris, Lucerne, Nice, Pisa, Florence, Rome, Verona (think Romeo & Juliet), Venice, Hopfgarten, Munich, Vienna, Prague, St Goar and Amsterdam. Yes, I went on a Contiki tour of Europe from mid-June to mid-July. The tour I chose was the 21-day European Vista, which turned out to be a good length of time - long enough to really make the most of Europe and get to know everybody, yet short enough to not get too run-down from the late nights and early mornings. One of my main reasons for choosing this tour was that it visited Vienna, the hub for famous composers such as Haydn, Mozart and even Beethoven for a significant period of their lives. It was a classic (excuse the pun) to attend a concert in that very city. That obviously wasn't the only highlight - there were good times with the group in Lucerne, paragliding in the Austrian Tyrol and spending the last moments of the tour in Amsterdam.

The interesting thing is that my tour group consisted of mostly Australians, which I guess is rather handy being in (relatively) close proximity - it's quite a bit easier to catch up in person. As a few people who have been on such tours in the past, it is a great opportunity to see the sights, meet new people and have memorable experiences. Believe me, there were a few - such as getting lost in Paris on my own without a map (a great chance to see the 'real' Paris while exercising resourcefulness), working through the language barrier in rural Italy when locals don't speak English (it helps to remember the Italian words used in music as well as the basic phrases), and getting the reception of a rock star from singing "Sweet Child of Mine" at a karaoke nightclub in Florence. Yes, it was hard recovering afterwards (i.e. getting back into the routines), but the trip was definitely worth it with much gained. As one colleague put it - an experience of a lifetime.

Well they say that variety is certainly the spice of life, and the diversity of this post would indicate I'm enjoying a lot of spice. Next up: preparing for our next social/musical event at work - Rocktober!