Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Spam Roundup November, 2016

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. 

Thanks -- I think

 - I read this piece of writing completely about the resemblance of newest and previous technologies. My website - curing hemorrhoids [!]

 - It's actually a pleasant for me to go see this web site, it includes precious information. [Not too precious, I hope!]

 - The contents present at this site are in fact awesome for people experience [Does that makes my post people movers?]

Not sure I'd call this "quality contents."
Lumbering along lumbers along

It was just a short post in an obscure series about vintage Japanese tin toys. It didn't even had that much useful information.

But The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along still draws the spambots. And how! 

 - I have just been looking for info about this topic for a long time and yours is the best I have found out till now. However, what in regards to the bottom line? Are you sure about the supply? [Not to worry -- there seems to be a limitless supply of spam comments for this post.]

 - It has a mysterious and atypical cut out in the locker room for your mate to find.[Mysterious is the word all right. Like what this has to do with anything.]

 - Unquestionably believe that which you said. [Which what I said?]

More Fastidious Spam

My post on Fastidious Spam continues to draw comments that, being from spambots, are completely unaware of the irony. 

 - Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.  [Yes, I'm pretty much the top expert on fastidiousness and its relationship to spambots.]

 - Saved as a favorite. My blog -- hemorroides [Why do so many of my posts get linked to hemorrhoid treatment sites? Is there a message here?.]

That's all for this month Remember, all posts are precious, so treat them accordingly. And really -- if you have hemorrhoids, enjoy this blog responsibly and consult your doctor if symptoms persist.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Death in the Comics: Gil Thorp (part 1)

Death in the comics is rare. Humor strips, of course, pretty much avoid it (with the exception of Pearls Before Swine). Adventure and other types of narrative strips also tend to avoid it as well.

But the death of a character can make for an emotionally powerful story -- although strong emotions aren't usually the aim of even the best narrative strips. Particularly well-done was the death of high school student Boo Radley in Gil Thorp.

Throughout April and May of 2016, the creative team of Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham developed two concurrent storylines: the blooming romance of Radley and True Standish, and the escalating problem Barry Bader's father had with alcohol. Barry and True were on Milford baseball team, as was Ken Brown, son of the judge who had convicted Mr. Bader of DWI. So there was already dramatic conflict.

Because narrative strips are told in very small increments (two-three panels a day), stories move at a glacial pace. And that makes it challenging to tell a story without having the reader see the end of the arc weeks before it arrives.

In this case, though, Rubin and Whigham managed (I think) to pull it off. And that's because there was very little foreshadowing. Here's the sequence:

It looks like both Bader and Radley survive the crash until...

The sequences that immediately follow are equally well done.

Next week: Aftermath

Monday, November 28, 2016

Diabelli Project 135 - Duet for Trumpet and Trombone

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's flash composition is a duet for trumpet and trombone. I'm not sure where the idea for this instrumental combination came from. When the timer started, it just popped into my head. But that's part of the fun (I think) with this project. My subconscious still surprises.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 029 - Brace

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

029 - Brace

The brace was the most realistic toy I've constructed with this set to date. Perhaps because the brace is a tool, the metal strips and knobby connections on the handles have an industrial look to them that seems right. 

Construction was not too difficult. I attached the bit to its metal strip first, then the handle to the second strip. I then slipped the wooden collar and what would become the inside fiber collars onto the dowel. I then pushed it through one of the metal strips, secured it with the outer fiber collar, then did the same with the second.

Unfortunately, my adult fingers were way to big to actually play with this drill. But if I were only eight... 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Phantom Insider - 6

The story arc that began in The Phantom comic strip November 7, 2016, had an introduction by Lee Falk. Writer Tony DePaul and artist Paul Ryan have used this device before -- having the creator of the comic strip stepping in address the reader (see: The Phantom Insider).

It's not something DePaul and Ryan do every time a new story starts. An introduction by Falk usually adds significance to the upcoming story. In this case, Orson Burley (in a nod to Orson Wells), is about to cross paths with the Phantom.

He wants to create a commemorative stamp for what he sees as a fictional figure. Everyone tells him it's a bad idea, but he eventually has to meet the Phantom himself before he abandons the project.

This isn't a run-of-the-mill story, hence the introduction by Falk. Just another reason for me to keep reading.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hans Gál Chamber Music for Clarinet Spans Career

Austrian composer Hans Gál had a promising career in the 1930s. His opera Die heilige Ente (premiered under George Szell) received multiple performances, he was appointed the director of the Mainz conservatory on the recommendations of Wilhelm Furtwängler and Richard Strauss, his compositions won awards and critical acclaim.

But it all disappeared once the Nazis rose to power. Because of his Jewish background, Gál's music was banned from performance. Gal fled to the UK, where he settled and remained.

While his music was performed during and after the war, it never achieved the same prominence it had in prewar Europe. Part of the reason was that Gál eschewed the move towards atonality, preferring to further develop his post-romantic style.

As the three works on this album show, that choice didn't make his music sound old-fashioned -- it just didn't sound new-fashioned.

The three clarinet works on this album span Gál's career. The Serenade for Clarinet, Violin, and Cello, Op. 93 of 1935 is wonderfully expressive, with a musical language that falls (to my ears) somewhere between that of Paul Hindemith and Max Reger.

The 1950 Trio for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano, Op. 97 further opens up Gál's harmonic language. While still firmly tonal, both melody and harmony take some unexpected turns that would have been out of place in Gal's prewar style.

The 1977 Clarinet Quintet, Op. 107 may sound very conservative to some, but listening carefully one can hear the growth in Gál's style. Some sections reminded me of Bartok, while others of Shostakovich.

The best way to enjoy music by Hans Gál? Don't worry about when it was written and try to put it into context. Just listen to it on its own terms. That's what I did -- and that's why I'll be seeking out more of Gál's music.

Hans Gál: Chamber Music for Clarinet
Clarinet Quintet, Op. 107; Trio for Violin, Clarine,t and Piano, Op. 97; Serenade for Clarinet, Violin and Cello, Op. 93
Ensemble Burletta
Toccata Classics TOCC 0377

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Mark Trail Goes with the Wind

The current artist/writer of the comic strip Mark Trail just seems to go from strength to strength. As I mentioned in an earlier post (A Marked Improvement for Mark Trail) James Allen has brought some dynamic and contemporary graphic story-telling techniques to this 50-year-old strip.

And, beginning with this sequence from May 28-30, 2016, Allen also seems to have raised the heat. In this story arc, Mark and two friends are trapped in a cave by coyotes (not the animals -- the immigrant smugglers) and are forced to find a new exit. (Another sign that Allen's pulled this strip out of the 1950's)

Carina slips and tumbles into an underground pool. Mark Trail dives in after her. And then...

Is it getting hot in this cave or is that just me?

It's a great sequence, and any steaminess attached to a basic first-aid technique is part of James Allen's artistry. Not the positioning of Mark and Carina in the second panel of the middle strip.  Look familiar? It should.

The male figure looking down on the female he's holding is often tied to romance and passion. See the poster at right.

While Trail squelches any such ideas immediately, it's still something that -- however briefly -- entered the strip. And I suspect not for the last time.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Diabelli Project 134 - String Quartet

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.

Sometimes I think I'm making progress. In February of 2015, I sketched out a string quartet as part of this project (See: Diabelli Project 079 - String Quartet in C). This week's flash composition is also for string quartet and uses the same stretto opening. But there are significant differences. First, the tonal color is a little more adventuresome. Second, the meter is less conventional. And third, although the overall length of both sketches is the same (about 12 measures), this score's a little more complex.

Is this a work of genius? Hardly. But it tells me that my creative chops are getting a little stronger.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 028 - Ladder

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

028 Ladder

Without a doubt, the ladder was the most challenging toy to build to date. Getting all five of the ladder rungs in place took more effort and patience than most young children would have. And it took a fair amount of dexterity, too. 

I put all the rungs through one of the steel braces, which wasn't too bad. But then I had to get all five of the wobbly rungs to line up so they would all go through the holes in the second steel brace. Yikes!

Cinching all the collars was a little challenging, too. Sometimes pushing down on the collar on one side of the ladder pulled the rung out of the other steel brace. Hoo boy!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Von Reznicek Violin Concerto - Post-romantic goodness

In 1928, musicologist Alfred Einstein named the three leading German composers of their generation: Richard Strauss, Hans Pfitzner, and Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek. While Strauss' compositions entered the basic repertoire, those of Pfitzner and von Reznicek didn't fare as well.

And that's too bad. All three composers wrote in a lush, post-romantic style and yet each one had a distinctive voice. This recording focuses on von Reznicek's compositions from 1903 to 1918 -- approximately the time period of Strauss' most popular tone poems and early operas.

Von Reznicek's music compares favorably to that of his colleague. Strauss' music has a brashness to it as if the young composer wanted to show off his talents. von Reznicek, on the other hand, shows his talent in a different way. The brilliant orchestrations and rich harmonies support a mordant sense of humor. It's dry, witty, and can be easy to miss at times.

His 1900 work Wie Till Eulenspiegel lebte features the same German folk figure as Strauss' tone poem. It's a high-energy work, but the humor is less anarchic. But it's there, making this a delightful overture that works on its own merits.

In 1903, von Reznicek met Gustav Mahler, and you can hear some of that influence in his Goldpirol - Idyllic Overture. While the development of the motifs is similar to Mahler, the orchestration is somewhat lighter, making this a charming work, rather than one that plumbs the depths of humanity.

The high point of the release is von Reznicek's 1918 violin concerto, a work with a somewhat tortured history. Von Reznicek turned to Haydn for inspiration, creating a concerto where the soloist and ensemble are a team, rather than set in opposition to each other. Some critics thought it sounded more like Mendelssohn than Brahms. The 15th-century folk tune rises to the surface in the finale adds an element of fun.

If you find Strauss too overbearing, and Pfitzner too staid, then I recommend giving this recording a listen. I think Von Reznicek's a composer that deserves further exploration.

Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek: Violin Concerto in E major 
Goldpirol - Idyllische Ouvertüre; Wie Till Eulenspiegel lebte - Symphonic Interlude in the Form of an Overture; Prelude and Fugue for Orchestra in C minor; Konzertstück for Violin with Orchestral Accompaniment in E major; Nachtstück for Violin and Small Orchestra 
 Sophie Jaffé, Violin Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin; Marcus Bosch, conductor
CPO 77-983-2

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Stanford String Quartets - pure music with an Irish accent

This new release by the Dante Quartet features two of the eight string quartets composed by Charles Villiers Stanford.

String Quartet No. 5  (1907) was written in memory of violinist and composer Joseph Joachim. As a violinist, Joachim was a major force in classical music (Brahms' Violin Concerto and Double Concerto were written for him). And he was the founder of the Joachim String Quartet, which set the standard for quartet playing in the last part of the 19th century.

Joachim and the younger Stanford (also a violinist) were close friends and colleagues. Because of their shared love of chamber music, Stanford chose to commemorate Joachim with a string quartet.

The work has a wistfulness to it, but the quartet is hardly a gloomy work. The melodies sparkle and engage, often tinged with Stanford's characteristic Irish lilt. There's a lightness to the music that celebrates rather than mourns the death of this famous violinist and quartet player.

In the work, Stanford quotes a passage from Joachim's Romance, Op. 2, No. 1. That piece is thoughtfully included in the album for reference.

Stanford's final quartet, his eighth, was finished in 1919 and remained unpublished. By that time, his music (modeled on German romanticism) was considered hopelessly old-fashioned. And so it may have been. But taken on its own merits, this quartet is wonderfully expressive composition.

Stanford imbues a restless urgency in the opening movement that returns in a quiet echo at the end of the work. In between is a gorgeously lyrical slow movement and (of course) an Irish music-inspired finale. It may have been out of date, but Stanford's last quartet was an authentic expression of his musical voice.

The Dante Quartet give these works warm, sympathetic readings. Their refined delicate performances make the most of Stanford's lyrical passages. The recording seems to give the ensemble a slightly hollow sound, but that's a minor complaint. I've always enjoyed Stanford's music, so for me, this recording is welcome, indeed.

Charles Villiers Stanford: String Quartets Nos. 5 & 8
Joseph Joachim: Romance Op. 2, No. 1
Dante Quartet
Somm SOMMCD 0160
World premiere recordings

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Straco Express Layout, Part 54 - Milwaukee Set Complete!

Read all the installments of the Straco Express layout project here.

It wasn't that long ago that I wrote about the Nomura Milwaukee set I was slowly accumulating (see:
Part 52 - Nomura Milwaukee Road Flashing Light Diesel). I knew the Nomura set consisted of three pieces: an F3 diesel, a box car, and a gondola car. I had found the gondola car a while ago, and only recently acquired the diesel.

Then I went to theTrain Collectors Association (TCA) Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. (see: Lessons from York). At the meet, I ran into a collector who was looking for me. He'd been reading about the Straco Express project, and he had a present -- a working Milwaukee Road set.

It had been part of a box lot he'd bought at auction, and wanted me to have it -- free! I'm very grateful -- I had never seen the boxcar appear on the market, and even if it had, I wasn't really prepared to pay a lot for it. Well, you can't beat free.

And when I got it home I discovered some interesting things when comparing them to similar sets that Nomura produced.

I had assumed that the only alteration to the boxcar graphics was a change in the primary color and the addition of the Milwaukee logo. As you can see, that's not quite the case.

From the Flashing Light Santa Fe set (top) and
Flashing Light Milwaukee set (bottom)
Nomura changed some other elements of the lithography, which is a little surprising. There's no need to shift the numbers around.

This shot makes it easier to see the difference in couplers. Milwaukee set at
left, Santa Fe set at right. Note the small differences in the design, and
that both sport the Nomura logo - "TN" in a diamond.
The second thing I noticed is the relative ages of these pieces is apparent. The brown car (top) is newer. That confirms that the sets with the simpler couplers were made first, then the more complex couplers added later. So now I believe the manufacturing order to be:

1) Freight Set - Santa Fe diesel, Santa Fe refrigerator car, Santa Fe stock car - simple hook couplers
2) Passenger Set - Santa Fe diesel, 2 Santa Fe passenger cars - simple hook and loop couplers
3) Milwaukee Road Flashing Light Set - Milwaukee Road illuminated diesel, blue Mobilgas automobile car, yellow Milwaukee Road gondola - simple hook couplers
4) Santa Fe Flashing Light Set - Santa Fe illuminated diesel, brown Mobilgas automobile car, green Santa Fe refrigerator car - Mantua-style hoop and latch couplers

When I took apart the first Milwaukee Road diesel I got, I discovered that Nomura used the recycled tin for a concealed flywheel.

See that yellow surface? That pulley started out life as something else.
The diesel I received at York also had a pulley made of recycled tin -- and in the very same color and pattern. That suggests that both of the locomotives were part of the same manufacturing run.

I'm grateful to my colleague for sharing this set with me. It's about time to put my duplicates on the market so others can enjoy them.

I believe this rounds out Nomura's H0 scale offerings. But without any reference materials to consult, I'm never quite sure...

Layout construction:
  • Pegboard: $4.95
  • Flathead Screws: $0.40
  • Molding: $2.49
  • SilClear: borrowed from a friend
  • Green Paint: leftover  from another project
  • Wood Screws: $3.60
  • Felt Pads: $1.99
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29

Bandai Areo Station: $8.99
2 tinplate signs: $1.00
4 tinplate signs (with train) $5.99
Cragstan HO Light Tower $20.49
4 nesting houses $4.99
Tinplate gas station: $5.00

Vehicles:Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • Haji three-wheel tanker $5.00
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • LineMar Police Car $9.00
  • LineMar Pepco Truck $8.50
  • LineMar Bond Bread Van $8.00
  • LineMar Fire Engine $4.95
  • LineMar Dump Truck $12.99
  • LineMar GE Courier Car $10.98
  • LineMar County School Bus $9.99
  • Nomura Red Sedan $5.00
  • Nomura Police Car $2.52
  • Nomura lumber truck $3.48
  • 6 Nomura vehicles $16.99
  • Orange Sedan $10.99
  • King Sedan $9.95
  • Indian Head logo sedan $4.99
  • Indian Head (?) convertible $18.00
  • Yellow/red Express truck $9.99
  • Red limousine FREE
Total Project Cost: $238.35

Monday, November 14, 2016

Diabelli Project 133 - Duet for Violin and Percussion, Mvt. 4

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. 

The basics of the Diabelli Project remain the same. I sit down once a week and furiously compose for ten minutes. No editing, no filter, just from brain to paper as fast as possible. Recently I've been doing a series of sketches for a multi-movemnt duo for violin and percussion. I thought I had finished it last week, but my subconcious had its own ideas.

I ended up with another slow movement. Normally, I like to end multi-movement works with something uptempo. But not this time, apparently. When I finish the rest of the sketch, I think I'll end with the tympani repeating it's opening figure and fading out softly, perhaps with a sustained note in the violin. We'll see.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

The Duet for Violin and Percussion:
Movement 1 - Allegro
Movement 2 - Adagio
Movement 3 - Vivace
Movement 4 - Adagio

Friday, November 11, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 027 Spindle

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

027 - Spindle

I found this an odd choice for a stand-alone toy. This spindle certainly isn't sturdy enough to actually spin thread around. And really -- what else can you do with it? (Actually, a 21st Century kid might pretend it's an X-wing fighter and fly it into a beach ball Death Star -- just saying.)

The spindle was fairly simple to build. The collar underneath the connected steel braces isn't shown. One could assume that it's just a fiber collar, but I chose to use one of the wooden discs. This provided a little more stability to the toy.

There are only two wooden discs in the set, so I couldn't use them for the outer arms. But having the center sit flat helped tremendously.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Romancing the Viola - Rudolf Haken performs his works

This is a great time for classical music. It's not only post-tonal, but it's post-atonal as well. Composers don't have to worry about sounding new-fangled or old-fashioned. They just have to create music that's worth listening to.

That thought came to me as I listened to this recording. Rudolf Haken's musical language is just a little north of post-romantic while remaining imaginative and authentic. And yes, it's worth listening to.

Haken's also an accomplished violist, which makes this release doubly interesting. Haken wrote these works between the ages of 15 and 25, and there's a certain youthful energy and directness to them.

Although all the works have an immediate appeal, there were two I especially took notice of. The first is the 1981 Suite in A minor for solo viola. It's clearly modeled on the Bach cello suites. Haken masterfully creates both melody and harmony with his single instrument, and sometimes counter-melodies as well. Each of the six movements is less than two minutes in length, the music distilled down to its essence.

The second is the substantial Sonata in D minor. This 30-minute work uses chromaticism effectively to up the emotional content of the music. To my ears, there's a distinctively American quality to the work, especially in the slow movement. Haken has a real melodic gift, and there are long, flowing passages where the viola seems to sing.

Romancing the Viola is well worth a listen, whether you're interested in the possibilities of the instrument, or wanting to explore a more tonal side of contemporary music.

Romancing the Viola
Viola Music of Rudolf Haken
Rudolf Haken, viola; Rachel Jensen, piano
MSR Classics 1609

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Rebel Takes Goldberg Beyond the Variations

There here are two things I can count on with a Rebel release. First, it won't be the usual early music fare. Second, it will have performances that command my attention. "Johann Gottlieb Goldberg: Beyond the Variations" runs true to form.

There's a story behind that title. Johann Gottlieb Goldberg is indeed the Goldberg of Bach's Aria with 30 Variations, BWV 998. While the story of Goldberg's involvement with the creation and performance of the "Goldberg" Variations might be questionable, scholars agree there's a strong connection between Goldberg and Bach.

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg was a virtuoso keyboardist as well as a composer (and only 14 when Bach composed the variations). He did study with JS Bach, and later his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann. Like that of W.F. Bach, Goldberg's music looks back to the baroque rather than forward to the classical.

Especially impressive in this set of sonatas is Goldberg's use of counterpoint -- he learned well from his mentors. And while his style resembles that of J.S. Bach, it's not imitative. Goldberg's melodies have a different and sometimes simpler shape to them than Bach's.

Rebel infuses these works with energy, delivering enthusiastic performances. It's difficult to describe. Perhaps it was the lightness of the basso continuo playing or the way the violins dug into the trills and mordants -- I can't say precisely. But I did get the impression that these musicians were having fun with this music. And that made for a pleasurable listening experience.

There are two things I can count on with a Rebel release. They were both present in this release.

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg: Beyond the Variations
Chamber Music for Strings and Basso Continuo
Rebel; Jörg-Michael Schwarz, conductor
Bridge Records 9478

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Beyond Voting

As usual, I voted today. This election is supposed to have a large turnout, yet will still be decided by the minority of eligible voters. There have been plenty of exortations to persuade those who choose not to vote to participate -- I'm not adding my voice to that chorus.

An occasion to vote

All parties worked hard to get out the vote this time around. I wondered, though, about all those new registrants. Were these people who just turned 18 or just became citizens and were eligible to vote for the first time? Perhaps there were some, but I think rather the marjority were people who had been eligible for years but simply hadn't bothered to vote in past elections. 

Sure, this one was important. But it shouldn't be a special occasion.

More than one choice

I'm sure most folks walked into the polls already knowing which presidential ticket they'd vote for. But what about the rest of the ballot? In my state, for example, there was a House of Representatives seat up for election. Sure, one could just vote the party and not think about it. 

But is the party choice automatically the best advocate for the district? I prefer to take it on a case by case basis. We've been well served by members of both parties. What they had in common was that they knew and understood the needs of their constituents and served as advocates for their districts.

More than one issue

On my ballot were two state constitutional amendments. They were both carefully crafted with seemingly unending strings of subordinate clauses to obscured their true intent. Here's one of the questions we voted on today -- and this is the wording on the ballot:

Should Article I of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to prohibit any agreement or combination between an employer and a labor union or labor organization whereby (i) nonmembers of the union or organization are denied the right to work for the employer, (ii) membership to the union or organization is made a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer, or (iii) the union or organization acquires an employment monopoly in any such enterprise?

Any idea of what a yes or no vote would do? 

Only if you were familiar with the Constitution of Virginia, and the Commonwealth's current right to work statutes. The defeat or passage of this amendment can have consequences for the state -- and perhaps not the one the voter would want. 

In my opinion, my civic duty isn't just to show up and vote. Rather, it's to show up having done my homework so that I know what I'm voting for (or against).

More than one election

To all the folks who turned out this year to vote, I'd like to extend an invitation -- let's do it again next year. There's more to participatory democracy than just picking a president. Every election is important, and your participation is vital. 

You can help decide who represents you in the Senate and in the House. You can help decide who represents you at the state capital. You can help decide who the governer will be. Depending on where you are, you can help decide who your local sheriff will be, what judges will sit on your benches, who will run your school board, who will be mayor of your town, who will prosecute criminals, and who will govern your county, borough, or township. 

And those are the elected officials who can really impact your everyday life. And if you don't show up to vote, then someone else will decide for you. Maybe even me. 

So please -- same time, next year.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Diabelli Project 132 - Duet for Violin and Percussion, Mvt. 3

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. 

Two weeks ago I decided to stretch the parameters of the Diabelli Project. it's still a flash composition that has to be done in a ten-minute time frame. But now I'm thinking in terms of bigger structures. I've already created sketches for the first two movements. This week's sketch is the third movement of the same larger work.

It's marked Vivace, providing stark contrast to the slow second movement. And if I were to expand it out, I'd probably keep the violin and marimba pairing, rather than have the percussionist play other instruments. Should there be a fourth movement to round out the work, or is this enough? I'll find that out next week when I put pen to paper and start the clock.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

The Duet for Violin and Percussion:
Movement 1 - Allegro
Movement 2 - Adagio
Movement 3 - Vivace
Movement 4 - Adagio

Friday, November 04, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 026 Walker

I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

026 - Walker

No, I don't think he's a Texas Ranger. This turned out to be a tricky build. The toy itself is quite stable, with the legs attached to a common base.

Most of the construction was straightforward. Push a dowel through the steel box, attach the arms, and secure with collars. Push the second dowel through the box, attach the legs, and secure with collars.

But then there was the head. As you can see from the photo (left), the dowel holding the head can only go down so far into the body. It's blocked by the dowel holding the arms.

Ideally, I should have placed another collar on the head supporting dowel inside the body. I would then have collars on both sides of the metal that would further secure the head.

I could see I'd need tweezers to push the collar flush against the metal. Since I only needed the toy to hold together long enough to get a picture, I didn't bother. If you look carefully at the photo, you can see the walker's head is tilted a little forward. That's not quite how it appears in the illustration. But I'm happy with the results. That head tilt makes this walker look like a man on a mission!

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Les Witches - Musical Europe at the Court of Christian IV

Alpha's reissue series continues with this landmark 2008 recording from Les Witches. The recording was built around a program of music that would have been heard by Danish king Christian IV around 1600. Christian IV was a patron of the arts, and his home Konge Af Denmark  became a cultural center for Scandinavia.

Les Witches recorded this album with the Esaias Compenius organ of Frederiksborg Castle. Virtually unchanged since it was installed in 1617, the Compenius organ retains its original tuning and voicing. Using the organ brought an additional level of authenticity to Les Witches' performances, and changed the dynamics of those performances.

As the musicians explain in the liner notes, the organ was so versatile they didn't have to use a harpsichord to vary the ensemble's texture. And they found that their own instruments blended quite well with this centuries-old instrument.

The program is music from the court (or at least time) of Christian IV, and the performances hold up quite well. At times one can hear the bellows of the organ creaking in the background, and sometimes in soft passages the action's audible. But for me, that just adds to the performance. Those noises were most likely there in the 1600s, and audiences ignored them as we do HVAC systems in modern venues.

When this album was first released, the music may have seemed a little exotic. While composers such as Mogens Pederson and Melchior Borchgrevinck remain obscure, others like Tobias Hume and Samuel Scheidt have enjoyed more frequent performances in the early music world.

The playing is enthusiastic, and the ensemble sound has a rough-hewn quality about it. That's not due to imprecise playing -- rather, it's the sound of early music instruments being pushed to their limits by the enthusiastic players. Konge af Denmark is great fun, and I"m glad it's available once again.

Konge af Danmark
Musical Europe at the Court of Christian IV
Les Witches
Alpha Classics 323

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Wuorinen's Eighth Symphony and Fourth Piano Concerto - complex and compelling

Charles Wuorinen's Eighth Symphony and Fourth Piano Concerto are hard music to perform, and hard music to listen to. But they're worth the investment of time and energy both for performers, and listeners.

Wourinen's music is complex, multi-faceted, and original in construction and sound. There's a lot to unpack in these works, and I certainly didn't get it all the first few times I listened (I still haven't).

Even the connections between Wuorinen's Eighth Symphony (2006) and the Fourth Piano Concerto (2003) are multi-layered. The Eighth Symphony is an expansion of Wuorinen's Theologoumenon, written for James Levine's sixtieth birthday (basically, Theologoumenon forms the first of the four movements in the symphony).  Levine and the Boston Symphony Orchestra commissioned the work, and the premier performance is what's captured in this recording.

Pianist Peter Serkin, like James Levine, has long championed Wuorinen's music. The Fourth Piano Concerto was also a Boston Symphony Orchestra commission premiered with Levine conducting and Serkin performing.

I might describe Wuorninen's style as a serialist, but not in a negative way. These aren't bloodless intellectual exercises. Wuorinen's music has an authenticity to it that comes through in the stormy emotions it expresses. The more I listened, the more I could sense the structure underlying the music.

Committed performances by Levine and Serkin help tremendously. They get what Wuorinen's about, and do their best to articulate those intentions.

The concerto makes interesting use of keyboard percussion, using it in places to underline the percussive nature of the piano.

I was also struck by the lyrical quality of the symphony's final movement. While there were dramatic changes in timber and texture, the music seemed to flow rather than jump from one motif to the other.

This is hard music to listen to. But if you keep listening, in time it may speak to you. And the Eighth Symphony and the Fourth Piano Concerto both have a lot to say.

Charles Wuorinen: Eight Symphony (Theologoumena); Fourth Piano Concerto
Boston Symphony Orchestra; James Levine, conductor
Peter Serkin, piano
(live recordings)
Bridge Records 9474

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Lio and Mutts

The Sunday comic strips have more real estate than then dailies. And artists like Mark Tatulli of Lio take full advantage of it. Tatulli's played with the concept of comic strip borders before. This sequence from May 22, 2016 shows what Tatulli can do given space:

Tatulli does a great job capturing the style of Patrick McDonnell for the Mutts panels. Note that the clumsy robot not only crashed through the various panels on his journey tracking right, but he also seems to have kicked his foot and destroyed the Mutts title panel at the far left. The robot's drawn with his rear leg doing just such a kick, to subtly plant that idea in the reader's head (should they be reading this strip as carefully as I am).

Also, note the use of color. At each break in the panel borders, there's no color at all. It's an effective way to draw the eye to the breaks, helping us track the progress of the robot. And it may have another purpose, too. No matter what colors are in the comic strip panels, the gutters (the space between two panels) is always white. Is Tatulli suggesting that if the borders are broken, the white contained in the gutters leaks into the panels?

I like to think so.