Friday, January 31, 2014

Spam Roundup January 2014

There's spam, and then there's spam so oddly written it's somewhat amusing. Here's a roundup of some of the "best" comments I received this month from spambots around the world. Here we go!

So it's the information you like, then?

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I'm glad that you simply shared this useful info with us. Please stay us informed like this.

Through Google translate, darkly

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Hello, young blogger lovers

I have read so many posts concerning the blogger lovers but this paragraph is genuinely a good article, keep it up.
 - BTW - here's post they're talking about. The ever popular Straco Express Layout Part 23!


- Avoid sending updates that are irrelevant to your business. re selling or even the general subject it falls under. It becomes a medium for exchanging news and ideas regarding the conference, seminar or tradeshow.
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Really really
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 - Yes, I'm sure it has

I think Yoda posted this one...

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...not so sure about who wrote this one.

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Sometimes spambots leave a cryptic response...

 - ll need gum paste, a holly leaf cutter, aluminum foil and gum glue. Defensive driving is a course that has been designed to teach techniques to defend oneself in the event of reckless driving of others. Kids may grow impatient as they wait for you to put together their Christmas gifts.

... sometimes they just degenerate down to word generation.

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fulhams  fullams  fullers  fullery  fullest  fulling  fulmars  fulmine.
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Thank you >your name here< for commenting!
 - Thanks for finally talking about > "CCC 079 - Willem Wander van Nieuwkerk" < Liked it!

Still fastidious after all these years
 - Wow, this piece of writing is fastidious, my younger sister is analyzing these kinds of things, thus I am going to inform her.

Be sure to inform your little sister. We'll have another roundup of fresh comments at the end of February! Til then, avoid sending irrelevant updates, keep your fulmine fulling, and stay fastidious!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Three collecting principles and a cautionary tale

I've written quite a lot about collecting over the years. A good many of those posts attempt to define what collecting is (as a concept), and what makes a good collection.

I think three criteria determine the value of any collectable item:
1)  Desirabilty -- how attractive the object is, and to how many people
2)  Scarcity - how many of the objects exist, in relation to demand
3)  Condition - how complete , undamaged, or operational the object is

Notice I didn't say old. Something can be quite new, but if it's in short supply and there's a huge demand, it can be more valuable than something very old but quite plentiful that few people care about.

If any one of the parameters change, then so does the perceived value. You can see that dynamic in action reading The Rise and Fall of 7 Fad Collectibles at It's an excellent article that outlines the boom and bust of Beanie Babies, Hummel figures, Cabbage Patch Dolls, and more.

If you read the article carefully, you'll see the same themes played out again and again. When the object took off in popularity, demand far outstripped supply, sending prices up. When the manufacturers caught on and started producing the items in quantity, the market was flooded, enthusiasm waned, and values plunged.

Because in the end, a collectible item is only worth what others are willing to pay for it. So it doesn't matter if you purchased that limited edition plate for $200 when it was new. If no one's interested, it has the same value as a ten-cent plate in a yard sale. Except that you can't eat off of a limited edition collectable plate, so to many people, it's of even less value then that 10-cent Blue Willow plate.

There's a corollary to the article that I don't think the writers emphasized enough, though. Never ever buy anything labeled a collector's item. If "collectible" is printed on the packaging, the one thing you can be sure if is that the object inside isn't.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Daedalus Quartet navigates easily through Perle String Quartets

George Perle
String Quartet 2, 5, & 8
Daedalus Quartet

George Perle created what he called "twelve-tone tonality," and the works on this release are all prime examples.

The earliest quartet on the album, Perle's second, also sounds the most tonal -- but that's a relative statement. Even though this is technically written in the key of D minor, the tonal center shifts about quite a bit. All in all, though, a carefully constructed work that moves along to its own internal harmonic logic.

The String Quartet No. 5 seems to continual shift back and forth between tonality and atonality. The underlying serial organization takes the work is somewhat unexpected directions. But its overall tonal character keeps the work grounded, making it sound exotic, rather than beyond the ken.

Perle's String Quartet 8 is more decided atonal in sound, although not entirely so. Perle creates an expressive work with a highly charged emotional atmosphere. Molto Adagio the earliest work on the album (1938), like String Quartet No. 8, seems very much influenced by Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht. The dissonances are a little sharper in this work, though, giving it a harder edge than the eighth quartet.

The Daedalus Quartet performs these works in a straight-forward, no-nonsense fashion. Vibrato is tightly reigned in, and the ensemble has a clean, precise, transparent sound that admirably serves these works.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Barney & Clyde -- and Garfield

The sequence in Barney & Clyde published 1/3/14 had a rather clever reference to another comic strip. And I wonder -- was it a one-sided reference on the part of the creative team -- Gene & Dan Weingarten and David Clark -- or was Jim Davis also involved? Here's the sequence in question:
(click on images to enlarge)

Folks who are avid comics readers know that the full name of Garfield's owner is Jon Arbuckle. His girlfriend, veterinarian Liz doesn't appear in every sequence, but she did in Garfield's 1/3/14 sequence. And Garfield comes between them, making the Barney & Clyde sequence appear to provide commentary on the action!

Coincidence? Perhaps. But it did make reading Garfield a little more enjoyable (at least that day). Thanks, B&C!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Diabelli Project 026 - Fugue in C major

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This sketch is a little more straight-forward than the past few. It's clearly in the key of C major, for example. And the repeated three-note motif crops up in every measure. It's easy to remember, and it gives the composer lots to work with. The subject is somewhat long-winded, though, but it has possibilities.

Does this remain a two-voice fugue? As I recall, I thought it might work as a double fugue. At the next bar the second fugue would begin, probably with a more active motif. But that's just me. If you come up with your own solution, be sure to let me know.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Aleck Karis plays Webern, Wolpe & Feldman: connection and context

Webern, Wolpe & Feldman
Aleck Karis, piano

Atonal music -- just like tonal music -- is all about the relationships between notes. This new recording by Aleck Karis is also about relationships. In this case, the one between three composers. Anton Webern, who distilled the essence of Schoenberg's dodecaphonic theories, taught Stephen Wolpe. Wolpe, in turn, taught Morton Feldman.

While the works presented on this album by these three men have the same overall sound, placed side-by-side one can hear the subtle differences between their compositional voices.

Webern's "variations, Op. 27" is almost epigrammatic; a concise and precise working out of 12-tone motifs. Wolpe's "Form" and "Form IV: Broken Sequences" are also short, but of a totally different character. There is an underlying lyricism in these works, which make them sound somehow warmer and less purely intellectual than Webern's work.

Morton Feldman's works are the longest in the program. "Piano" and "Palais de Mari" each run over 20 minutes. Feldman slowly and carefully builds his soundscapes. In context, one can hear how Felman's music grows out of the same theoretical basis as Webern's and Wolpe's. And one can hear how Feldman further shaped those theories to conform to his unique musical vision.

Aleck Karis performs admirably, bringing out the expressive qualities of each work. This album isn't for everyone. But if you're a fan of 20th Century music, I highly recommend this release.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Paul Lansky: Notes to Self a notable release

Paul Lansky: Notes to Self
Real Quiet
Mihae Lee, piano
David Starobin, guitar
Mari Yoshinaga, percussion
Odense Symphony Orchestra; Justin Brown, conductor

Paul Lanksy established his reputation in the field of electronic and computer music composition. Recently, though, he's turned his attention to acoustic instruments. "Notes to Self" presents an overview of this new phase in Lansky's career.

"Arches" and "Line and Shadow" are short but engaging orchestral works. LS lyrical with rich, yet unusual harmonies Arches - builds from a simple scale. While somewhat austere, it achieve a  elegant beauty all its own as the work unfolds.

"Partita" was written for guitarist David Starobin, and is performed by him here. The work is for guitar and percussion. Each movement features a different set of percussion instruments, dramatically changing the sound of the ensemble and the emotional weight. There's a hint of jazz that runs through this work that I find quite appealing.

The title track, "Notes to Self" is a four-movement work for solo piano that pays tribute to several composers Lansky was inspired by -- including Babbitt, Bartok, Perle, Hindemith, and Messiaen. The work is performed by Mihae Lee, to whom the work was dedicated.

"Horizons" for piano, cello, and percussion is an interesting chamber work. It's an unusual combination of instruments, and Lansky effectively exploits the possibilities. Lansky is never at a loss for melodic ideas, and that, plus the ever-changing instrumental combinations make for a thoroughly rewarding listening experience.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

University of Kansas Wind Ensemble excels with Glass/Fairouz release

Philip Glass: Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra
Mohammed Fairouz: Symphony No. 4, 'In the Shadow of No Towers'
University of Kansas Wind Ensemble
Paul W. Popiel, conductor

The University of Kansas Wind Ensemble turns in an excellent recording of some challenging and memorable compositions. this university ensemble is first-rate, especially the soloists. The ensemble blend is seamless, and the playing rock-solid.

Philip Glass' concerto, Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra, works quite well in this transcription for wind ensemble. Glass' sparse ensemble writing sounds even more so without strings. The result is a work with a razor-sharp edge to it.

Mohammed Fairouz's Symphony No. 4 was based on the Art Spiegelman graphic novel "In the Shadow of the Towers." Fortunately, one doesn't have to be familiar with the source to make sense of the music. Fairoz's composition uses the more traditional voicings found in wind ensemble literature. But that doesn't make this work any less original. His take on Spiegelman's take on 9/11 juxtaposes the known and familiar with the strange and unknown.

Although the work deals with an emotionally heavy topic, it does so in an authentic fashion. No maudlin tune to mourn the fall of the towers, nor uplifting Coplandesque hymn at the end to signify hope. Fairouz uses a sophisticated musical language to convey the complex and sometimes conflicting emotions 9/11 sparked. And I think he succeeds.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Diabelli Project 025 - Canon in G

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This week it's just a very simple canon, sort of. If you look at the date, you'll see that I wrote this over a year ago, so I'm not 100% certain of my intentions. It seems to be in G major -- the key signature matches, and the opening bar outlines a G major chord. But there's no strong sense of motion towards the dominant, D major. Could this possibly be in D Mixolydian mode? (click on image to enlarge)

That's for you to decide. This is as far as I got, but you're welcome to finish it. Does it remain a two-part canon, or do more voices come in? Questions, questions. If you have any answers, please let me know!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mercadante: Italian classicism at its best

Saverio Mercadante
Gran Sinfonia sopra motivi dell Stabat mater del celebre Rossini
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma
Francesco La Vecchia, conductor
Giammarco Casani, clarinet

"Omaggion a Bellini" and the "Gran Sinfonia sopra motivi dello Stabat Mater del celeb re Rossini" owe a lot to their source material. Mercadante is an imaginative arranger, but its the quality of the tunes that carry these works.

The "Seconda Sinfonia caratteristica napoletana" reminds me somewhat of Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony. The Neapolitan melodies and rhythms are orchestrated in a similar fashion -- with two major differences. First, Mercadante's Sinfonia is shorter and lighter. Second, Mercadante's speaking the musical language of his own country, instead of interpreting it second-hand as Mendelssohn did.

"Garibaldi - Sinfonia a grand'orchstra sopra l'inno dei cacciatori delle Alpi," also interprets Italian folk music for the concert stage, but in a much more serious fashion. Mercadante's work celebrates Italian unification, giving the work greater emotional weight than the light hearted Second Sinfonia.

All in all a pleasing program of Italian orchestral music from the early 19th century.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Massenet: Ballet Music from Operas

Massenet: Ballet Music
Barcelona Symphony Orchestra
Patrick Gallois, conductor

This release presents four ballet suites compiled from Massent operas. The most famous of these is "Thais," the origin of Massenet's greatest hit. The ballet music proves to be of similar quality, conveying the drama and the sensual nature of the title role, interspersed with moments of pious religiosity (there's an extended sequence for solo organ, for example).

The suite from "Herodiade" is in a similar vein, and no wonder -- the opera concerns Herod, Salome, and the death of John the Baptist. A good portion of this suite uses Jewish melodic turns to set the stage.

Lesser known are Massenet's operas "Bacchus" and "Le Cid." The former is based on Greek myth, and its ballet sequences are the most straight-forward of Massenet's works on this recording. By contrast, "Le Cid" is all about evoking the flavor of Spain (albeit filtered through a French sensibility).

Overall, this is fine orchestral music that provides a pleasant listening experience. Patrick Gallois conducts the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra in a straight-forward fashion, letting the inherently dramatic nature of the music come through on its own. Perhaps, given the location of the orchestra, it's not surprising that the suite to "Le Cid" seems to sound a little more engaging.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pearls Before Calvin and Hobbes 2

Last week (Pearls Before Calvin and Hobbes) I did a short analysis of Steven Pastis' tribute to Calvin and Hobbes. That sequence was published on a Monday, and for the next three days Pearls Before Swine continued the where-are-they-now? riff. And each one is brilliant.

(Click on images to enlarge)

The first calls attention to a comic strip convention that's largely overlooked: characters wear the same clothes all the time. Even when a gag requires that they become tattered or torn, the next day the clothes (costume?) is shown intact. Bill Waterson's Calvin and Hobbes ran for a specific period of time, then stopped. His characters didn't overstay their welcome (quite the contrary!). So Pastis' depiction of a character who aged in his clothes still stuck in time is a mordant observation on the conventions of long-running strips.

 The last two sequences are two halves of the same coin -- in later life, a character turns into the opposite of what they were.

So Hobbes morphs from super-liberal to super-conservative, and Moe moves from neanderthal bully to born-again Christian. The juxtaposition creates the humor, but at the same time, it's an insightful observation. People can change over time, especially as they move from childhood to adulthood. Only the central character -- Calvin -- seems unable to move on. Funny, and thought-provoking stuff!

I only wish Pastis had shown us what happened to Suzie...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Diabelli Project 024 - 2-Part Invention in E Aeolian

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

Another simple two-part invention this time, although there's a slight wrinkle. Instead of being in E minor, it's actually in E Aeolian mode. The tip-off is the lack of D-sharps that would give the piece a B major chord to act as the dominant.

How this invention unfolds is up to you, although this may be one I finish myself. All I ask is that if you decide to use this material, just share the results.

Friday, January 10, 2014

CCC 092 Niel van der Watt

South African composer Niel van der Watt is the focus of this edition of the Consonant Classical Challenge. Van der Watt writes in an accessible post-romantic style that's well-grounded in tonality. One can also hear elements of pop and jazz into his music, which makes them even more readily accessible to general audiences. Van der Watt is also influenced by the music of his native country, and uses some of its language in his own work (as well as arranging South African music for more traditional forces).

"I Am the Voice of Africa" is one such work. Although the melody is African, van der Watt chooses to support it with more traditional Western harmony, while retaining South African rhythms.

This "Kyrie" shows van der Watt at his most traditional. The structure of this work is clearly derived from Gregorian chant, although the actual setting reflects van der Watt's musical personality.

Van der Watt's Suite for Flute and Piano contains some of the more popular musical elements that find their way into his music. The melody is straight-forward and unpretentious, although careful listening will reveal how carefully its been crafted. One can also hear a hint of jazz in the fast section.

It's unfortunate that I couldn't find a larger variety of Niel van der Watt's works to choose from. He's composed several works for orchestra, as well as many for choir and a few chamber works for unusual instrumental combinations. Based on the sampling of music in this post, though, I think it's safe to say that Niel van der Watt's compositions would be readily accepted by the average concert-goer.

Recommended Recordings

Voice of Africa

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Rozsa String Quartets -- style and substance

Miklos Rozsa: String Quartets
Tippett Quartet

Miklos Rozsa's film scores are well-known. His classical compositions less so -- especially his chamber music. The Tippett Quartet perform his two string quartets and an early string trio, three works worthy of our attention.

The String Trio (1922) was written when Rosza was 15 and just starting his career in Vienna. Although not as polished as the quartets, the work shows Rozsa's talent for creating interesting melodies supported by lush harmonies was there from the first.
Listening to the 1950 String Quartet No. 1, I was reminded of Shostakovich's quartet writing. Rozsa's quartet is a strongly tonal work, but one with a decided edge to it. The biting unison passages to me had the same impact as those in Shostakovich's Op. 110 quartet.

Rosza's String Quaret No. 2 appeared 31 years after the first. It's the most prickly of the three works, though still very much neoromantic. The scherzo especially brims with good humor, and the andante melody is beautifully constructed, as one might expect.

The Tippett Quartet is a young ensemble. They have a clean, precise sound that can sometimes seem a little reserved. Perhaps that will soften over time.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Roberto Sierra: Sinfonia No. 4 -- Classical Latino

Roberto Sierra: Sinfonia No. 4
Nashville Symphony
Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor

Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra writes in an original post-romantic style that reminds me of Villa-Lobos and Chavez -- but only a little. "Fandangos" which opens the album may be inspired by the music of Spain, but it's no pastiche. Sierra incorporates characteristic melodic turns into his music, giving it spice. The feel of the dance is there, making this a rousing curtain-raiser.

The Sinfonia No. 4 also has some Spanish elements in it. the third movement "Tiempo de Bolero" for example, emulates the rhythms of that dance. And the final movement uses gestures from Latino dance orchestra -- the piano playing rhythmic punctuations in octaves, and extensive use of Latin percussion, such as bongos, congas, and claves.

"Carnaval" is a set of five characterstic pieces, each one representing a fantastical monster. Each movement is a brilliant miniature, painting a vivid portrait of its subject through Sierra's skillful orchestrations.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Pearls Before Calvin and Hobbes

Bill Waterson's ground-breaking comic strip Calvin and Hobbes ran for ten years (1985-1995), and remains a popular and well-known strip. There have been references and tributes to the strip before in other comics, but none quite like Stephen Pastis' sequence in Pearls Before Swine on 12/16/13.

If you examine it carefully, you'll see why. (Click on image to enlarge)

Waterson refused to commercialize his creation in the way cartoonists were expected to. Unlike, say, "Peanuts," there are no plush toys, no TV specials, no Hallmark ornaments, and no car stickers. That last is important because a bootleg stickers featuring Calvin urinating on an automobile logo became -- and remain -- quite popular. You can get them with either Ford or Chevy as the target logo -- for your Chevy or Ford pickup respectively. 

And that's the genius of Pastis' sequence. He's the only cartoonist I know of who references that well-known but never talked-about use of Calvin's image. Note the sign's placement. It's on the far right of the panel, and halfway up -- ensuring it's the last thing the reader's eye will see as it tracks across the panel. The large joke is the grown-up Calvin hawking his childhood celebrity. The real punchline is the suggestion that he's behind those ubiquitous truck decals.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Diabelli Project 023 - 2-Part Invention

The Diabelli Project is about offering my weekly flash-composition sketches freely to all. Like Antonio Diabelli's theme these sketches aren't great music. But perhaps (as in Diabelli's case) there's a Beethoven out there who can do great things with them.

This time I was inspired to write something simple. And perhaps because it was so simple, I got further into the sketch than I usually do. This one's in C major, or perhaps C Ionian mode -- that's for you to decide. (click on image to enlarge)

As always, your feedback is most welcome. If you want to try your hand at finishing this work, please do so. I'd love to know what you made of it.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Evelyn Glennie conjures up a great performance with Corgliano concerto

John Corigliano
Conjurer for percussion soloist and string orchestra
Vocalise for soprano and orchestra
Evelyn Glennie, percussion; Hila Plitmann, soprano
Albany Symphony Orchestra
David Allen Miller, conductor

This new recording brings together two unusual additions to John Corigliano's repertoire. "Conjurer" is a percussion concerto composed for Evelyn Glennie (who performs on this release). The work has six sections: three cadenzas, and three movements, labeled Wood, Metal, and Skin. Each movement uses percussion instruments only belonging to its own group.

Corigliano blends tonal and non-tonal percussion instruments with alacrity. Each cadenza leads into a movement where the string orchestra further develops the themes, along with the soloist. It's an effective work when done well -- and in this recording, it's done very well.

"Vocalise" is the older of the two works, being completed in 1999. This challenging work for soprano, electronics and orchestra plays against audience expectations. When the piece begins, it sounds like a typical contemporary work. The melody seems to skip all over the place, the electronics add a strangeness and artificiality to the sound, and the orchestra bloops and bleeps away with tone clusters and glissandi.

But very soon things start to change. Like a flower blossoming, the work opens up. The melody becomes more tonal, the electronics more subtle, and the ensemble more expansive. It ends quietly, having made the journey through the full potential of the human voice.

The Albany symphony performs admirably in both works. Soprano Hila Plitmann has a pure sustained tone that gives her performance an ethereal quality -- one in keeping with the intent of "Vocalise."