Monday, 3 November 2008

A Musical Note

I spent last month at home on holiday (is that an oxymoron?) feeling lethargic as people do on holidays. As a result I did not touch my computer much and only spent a few hours learning Erlang.

However, I did get to learn music and ended up spending 1-2 hours per day in front of the electronic keyboard that I bought for my kids . I have to admit, I am not good at music at all - I did use to excel in singing in primary school; but since my voice broke I lost all enthusiasm on music - my parents sending me to a violin class where I was the only boy did not help either. Until last month, as I fiddled around with the piano/keyboard, I revived my thirst for knowledge on music and piano-playing. It turned out that piano-playing is really easy to learn (at least to start) if you are a fast touch-typist. So I relearned the basic music theory 101 by following the wonderful book Total Piano. As an IT professional geek, I couldn't help finding many striking similarities between the musical and computing worlds.

First of all there are the patterns in music. As a matter of fact, all musical pieces are based on establishing some patterns and then repeating them - there are quite a few symbols in the staff to represent repetitions (i.e. the GOTO statement). It seems like composers are lazier than system designers Also, there are chords and each chord has many variations - broken, harmonic, minor, etc. Again, it's all about repetition and reusing.

Then there is the arrangements. The same music can be (re)arranged to adapt to different environments/scenarios - e.g. to suit different musical instruments (e.g. piano solo, string quartet), or to suit different players (e.g. beginner vs. pro) etc. Thanks to simple arrangements of many great works included in the book, I was able to play some very interesting pieces and keep getting fully engaged in the learning process. By the way, how many AJAX'ian web frameworks have you come across recently?

Well-known musicians also remake other people's songs to boost their own career. Yesterday, I read an interview with Seal and his upcoming new album of remakes of classics that 'appealed' to him. In it, Seal revealed that quite a few young people in their 20s had not heard the original version of the songs. So Seal's version was the first time that they heard them and Seal kind of re-introduced the great classics back to the young generations. I hope the youngsters don't mistake Madona's American Pie with the original.

Every now and then I can hear curses coming from across the office when my colleagues cannot find some features in their MS Office 2007. I have mixed feelings about the ribbon interface of Office 2007 - I like the look and feel but hate the fact that so many features have been rearranged so that everytime I want to use them it's Easter all over again. I am sure if someone has never used the older versions, he/she will like the new ribbon interface.

Perhaps learning from the closed-door design experiences, Microsoft is openning up their design process for some of their major products - e.g. Enginnering Windows 7. On the other hand, music creation is usually an extremely personal experience, unless you are charged to write some propaganda piece or the national anthem (I will vote for Waltzing Matilda anytime for Aussie national anthem)!

Meanwhile, I'd better get back to practise the beautiful piano solo arrangement of Beijing 2008 Olympic theme song - You and Me.

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