Monday, September 30, 2013

Spam Roundup September, 2013

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.

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(posted to The Straco Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering along)
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Friday, September 27, 2013

CCC 088 - Lorenzo Ferrero

Italian composer Lorenzo Ferrero is the subject of this week's CCC. Ferrero is fairly young, but he's built up a large catalog of music. Included in his ouvre are twelve operas and three ballets. His neo-tonal style is perfectly suited to those genres, and gives his music a ready appeal.

Ferrero constructs his music around triads, which makes it accessible, although chord progressions seldom follow traditional paths. He also uses modern techniques such as odd meters, tonal clusters, and unusual instrumental combinations that give his work a fresh sound.

La ruta de Cortes is from a much larger work. Ferrero's use of the orchestra shares traits with minimalist composers like Philip Glass, but the underlying aesthetic is completely different. The music moves forward with a fluid grace.

The Canzoni d'amore: Mi palpita il cuore is a good example of Ferrero's vocal writing. As you can hear, the melody, while quite expressive, seems to be naturally suited to the voice.

Ferrero uses tonality to great effect. Glamora Spies is a sprightly chamber work is an expressive chamber work that paints a vivid picture. We hear the dangerous and uncertain world of espionage that surround the hero. And perhaps because it's framed in a familiar harmonic structure, we're instantly drawn into the action.


The Launch of the Aegusa, from his ballet "Franca Florio" shows Ferrero's skill at orchestration. Over the cours of this seven-minute ballet he adds instruments as the crowd gathers for the launch, culminating in a triumphal fanfare of trumpets. And then suddenly the mood changes, and where we heard mostly woodwinds and brass before, now strings are used to convey the worry and anxiety of the main characters.


Lorenzo Ferrero uses tonality to great effect. His music is packed with emotional expressiveness, and its accessibility brings that expression directly to the listener. Although not often performed in this country, I think audiences would be quite receptive to Ferrero's work. I'd particularly like to hear his operas.

Recommended Recordings

Ferrero: La Nueva Espana

Ferrero: Tempi di Quartetto

Ex Novo Ensemble: Chamber Music

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Wendy Warner: Haydn & Myslivecek - An appealing program

Haydn; Myslivecek: Cello Concertos 
Wendy Warner, cello
Camerata Chicago; Drostan Hall, conductor

An appealing program played by a masterful virtuoso. That's my impression of this new release from Cedille. As with many recordings, this Chicago-based label uses local talent -- but what talent it is! Drostan Hall and the Camerata Chicago perform with precision and sensitivity admirably suited to Haydn. And Wendy Warner, though from Chicago, is an internationally-recognized cellist who brings a fresh interpretation to some well-known works.

The two cello concertos of Franz Joseph Haydn have long been repertoire staples, and just about every major cellist has recorded them. Warner's performances are expressive without being overly dramatic. The clear, singing tone of her Guarneri cello is beautiful -- and beautifully recorded. And Warner's interpretation, accompanied by a small ensemble, makes these works sound warmly intimate.

Sandwiched between the Haydn concertos on the album is Josef Myslivecek's only concerto for cello. A contemporary of Haydn (and friend of Mozart), Myslivecek's wrote in a similar style that nicely complements the Haydn concerti. And the Myslivecek concerto does not suffer for the comparison. Myslivecek wrote in a leaner, more straight-forward manner, bringing the aesthetics of the classical style to the forefront of his music.

A well-thought out release that works on just about every level. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Nine Notes that Shook the World

Nine Notes That Shook the World (Blu Ray Audio & CD) 
Ronn McFarlane and Mindy Rosenfeld
Sono Luminus

Is it OK to call a classical release a "feel-good recording?" Because to my ears, that's what Nine Notes is. Lutenist Ronn McFarlane and flutist Mindy Rosenfeld have been playing together for over thirty years in various groups (mostly the Baltimore Consort), and are more than comfortable with each other's style. Plus, this release features some of their favorite early music works. The performances have a natural easiness to them that I find quite relaxing.

Not that this is background music by any means. McFarlane and Rosenfeld present a first-rate program of renaissance and baroque music that draws the listener in. While one might be used to hearing "My Lady Carey's Dompe" performed as an early music duet, arranging Handel and Bach for recorder and lute gives those works a fresh sound.

And McFarlane and Rosenfeld vary their instruments from piece to piece, subtlety matching texture and timbre to the character of each work. In the end, though, it's the chemistry between the performers that makes this such an appealing release. Two old friends playing the music they love best -- what could be better?

Sono Luminus sweetens the pot by including two versions of the release; CD, and Blu-ray audio. If you've got the equipment, stick with the Blu-ray disc. The full, natural sound makes these soft-spoken instruments come alive.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 19

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired.

Day 19 requires the reader to be up on the sequence to date, as some of the characters are barely in the panel. If you know what Maggie was wearing, she's easy to identify. And Li'l Abner's footwear is a distinctive part of his character. (click on images to enlarge)

Some of the people shown I believe are simply generic drawings -- I can't find any reference to them anywhere (although I could be wrong). Those figures aren't numbered.

1. Maggie- Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus
2. Li'l Abner - Li'l Abner (1934-1977) by Al Capp
3 Ignatz - Krazy Kat (1913-1944) by George Herriman
4.Krazy Kat - Krazy Kat (1913-1944) by George Herriman
5. Little Jimmy - Little Jimmy (1904-1958) by Jimmy Swinnerton
6. Fearless Fosdick - Li'l Abner (1934-1977) by Al Capp

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Diabelli Project 013 - 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 entry's pretty simple -- although there are some parts of it I like. The opening motive outlines the basic tonality, and the second voice continues the downward motion, liking the two. (click to enlarge)

Where does it go next? I'm thinking there should be more downward motion throughout the piece, and that dotted rhythm should turn in on itself about halfway through. But you may have different ideas.

Friday, September 20, 2013

CCC 087 Kamilló Lendvay

What we sometimes forget is that our musical tastes -- both individually and collectively -- evolve over time. The purpose of the Consonant Classical Challenge is to showcase living composers who are writing tonal music. But the concept of "tonality" in the 21st Century is quite removed from what 18th Century composers (and audiences) would understand.

In a way, this week's subject, Hungarian composer Kamilló Lendvay illustrates that point. Stylistically, Lendvay's music shares similarities with that of Bela Bartok and Igor Stravinsky. And while the music of those two composers was considered shocking when first premiered, many of their works have since entered the standard repertoire and been accepted by audiences. And we accept works like Bartok's "Concerto for Orchestra" and Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" as being basically tonal, even if some of the chords get a little thorny.

Kamilló Lendvay shares Bartok's musical heritage, and it's easy to hear the influences in his work. The Concertino for Piano, Winds, and Harp has exciting, driving rhythms and complex tone clusters that reminds me of Bartok's "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta." Lendway's work is wholly original, of course, but the common background is there.

Lendvay's chamber works offer additional insights into the composer's style. With minimal resources, he still manages to compose engaging, robust music that's full of energy. The "Five Movements for Brass Trio" is short, to-the-point, and just fun to listen to (I think).

Lendvay has been involved with the singing, conducting, and composing of choral works since he was a young man. His "Requiem" shows his understanding and mastery of choral technique and composition.


Kamilló Lendvay writes that he wants his works to display "stable form, clear structure, and authentic content". In that, I think he succeeds. For orchestras and audiences that consider Bartok and Stravinsky modern and daring, Lendvay should provide some welcome variety. And even for those who are comfortable with contemporary music, Lendvay's compositions still offer much to enjoy. After all, authentic content is timeless in its appeal.

Recommended Recordings

Orchestral Works

Music for Winds and Percussion

California Polytechnic State University Wind Ensemble Live! In the Walt Disney Concert Hall

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Daniel Wohl: Corps Exquis

Corps Exquis
Daniel Wohl
New Amsterdam

For me, Daniel Wohl's music lands somewhere between classical and ambient. And those are two musical worlds that seldom connect. The building blocks of the soundscapes Wohl creates in Corps Exquis are common to ambient and trance, but the way he uses them is more classical in structure. This isn't just stringing together cool-sounding samples in a studio to create a mood. Rather, this is (to my ears) carefully constructed music that has some substance and depth to it.

Plus ou moins, the longest work on the album, is a good example of this. The piano ostinato that gradually morphs sounds minimalist in inspiration, but the darting clarinet/glockenspiel figure doesn't. Scraping strings and electronic sound samples give the work an ambient feel, but careful listening reveals the subtle interplay between the voices. Lines influence each other in sort of a contrarian counterpoint, tying together what at first blush appears random.

Daniel Wohl has a unique compositional voice. Repeated listening helped me appreciate the artistry of that voice. Corps Exquis may sometimes evoke strange, dreamlike images, but there's purpose behind those fever dreams.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Fetching Winch in the O-Gauge Zen Garden

1:43 scale diecast vehicles are OK for an O-gauge layout,
but I wanted something a little more interesting.
For quite some time now, there's been a standard solution for representing traffic on an O-gauge layout. And that solution has been to use 1:43 diecast vehicles. The scale is about the same, and diecast cars have a metallic finish that looks pretty good.

It's a solution I've used for my O-gauge Zen garden (or layout, if you will). The problem has been that -- to me -- it makes things look a little dull.

Until now.

My foray into the field of tinplate Japanese transportation toys put me onto a Haji winch truck that was for sale. This vehicle was approximately the right size for the layout, and had very appealing lithography.

The Haji winch truck at work. It fits in well with the metal box
on the loading dock and the metal Erector set shed in the background.
The truck is a friction toy made by the Japanese company Haji in the late 1950's and was probably sold in five & dime stores. The winch has a positional arm and hook, giving it a little more play value than the average tin truck. And despite its age, the lithography is intact, as is the winch assembly.

It was almost too appealing to pass up. My layout is a mixture of semi-scale and tinplate toys, and I thought such a tinplate vehicle might make an interesting addition.

And so it has, as you can see.

Currently, I have it in the middle of the layout, but that might change. There's an American Flyer tin lithographed station in the corner that the Haji truck might complement perfectly.

Note the lithographed detail in the bed of the truck.
The arm raises and lowers. Simple but effective representation
of the real thing.

What great lines! And those treaded tires are a nice touch, too.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 18

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired.

Day 18 just has two characters: Fearless Fosdick and Uncle Walt.

Fearless Fosdick was a comic strip within the comic strip Li'l Abner. Creator Al Capp parodied Chester Gould's Dick Tracy to an extent Gould felt unwarranted. With the exception of the same crag-like features, the two were mirror images of each other. Capp was quite savage in his satire, and Fearless Fosdick became a popular character in his own right. Interestingly, it seemed to have virtually no impact on the popularity of Dick Tracy. In the 1950's both characters were licensed to advertisers, and often time appeared on the same newspaper comics page.

1. Fearless Fosdick - Li'l Abner (1934-1977) by Al Capp

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Diabelli Project 012 - Fugue

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 is another longer -- and perhaps -- more ambitious snippet. I think I probably mislabeled this one. The entry of the second voice doesn't mirror the first one like it should, although the contour is similar. And really, there should be a third voice entering in the next to the last measure. (click to enlarge)

If I choose to develop this further, that's probably what I'll do. But what you do with it is up to you. That's the point of the this project -- to see if any of these ideas inspire others.

Friday, September 13, 2013

CCC 086 - Douwe Eisenga

This week the Consonant Classical Challenge features a Dutch composer, Douwe Eisenga. Eisenga has written for orchestras large and small, as well as chamber groups and choirs. Many of his works feature piano, and he's written extensively for the solo piano.

Originally, Eisenga was self-taught, although he studied composition formally in the 1990's. Perhaps as a result of his beginnings, Eisenga's music has some unique qualities to it. Eisenga's motives are highly rhythmic. His music develops by stacking these small motifs on top of one another.

It's a very appealing sound. At first blush one might think of Eisena's music as minimalistic, but more listener-friendly. Very much like art rock, ideas are added and subtracted. Unlike minimalism, they don't go in and out of phase with each other, so the uneasy tension minimalist works can sometimes generate is absent. Instead, Eisenga takes the listener on an interesting sonic journey, pulled along by the rhythm, and presents them with various set pieces along the way.

Eisenga's piano concerto illustrates the composer's style perfectly. Eisenga eschews the overly dramatic and showy, instead creating a work that hums right along. There are plenty of technical challenges for the solo pianist, but they're not quite so obvious as such to the audience. That's not to say there's no drama -- each movement moves inexorably to its climax, giving the listener a sense of journey and completion.

Reqiuem 1953 was composed to commorate the North Sea flood of 1953. The choral parts sometimes sound like Orff, but the solo sections have a folk-like intimacy to them that effectively convey the human tragedy of the event.

In the 20th Century, many classical composers experimented with jazz. Douwe Eisenga's no exception. His classical style of composition actually fits quite well with the jazz idiom, making works like the Delta Dance quite effective.

Motion is a work for a chamber ensemble. It presents Eisenga's style stripped down to its basics. The building block rythyms, straight-forward triads, and arcing melodic gestures are all there, given a sense of immediacy by the small ensemble.

I found the Requiem 1953 to be quite moving, and it made me want to hear more of Eisenga's work. Douwe Eisenga has a very distinctive compositional voice, and one that should click with younger (under 50) audiences. I can't recall seeing his music programmed, and that's too bad. Eisenga can be one of those composers that could build a bridge between rock and classical, and help bring new listeners into the classical world. And unlike "crossover" composers, his music is of sufficient substance to merit careful and repeated listening.

Recommended Recordings

Requiem 1953

The Piano Files

Music for Wiek

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Higdon: Early chamber works hold their own

Higdon: Early Chamber Works
Serafin Quartet
Charles Abramovic, piano
Eric Stomberg, bassoon

In this collection of early chamber works, one can hear hints of the composer Jennifer Higdon would become -- and the amazing amount of talent she already possessed.

Amazing Grace (written when Higdon was 24)  breaks this overly-familiar hymn into small bits and rearranges them in a kaleidoscopic fashion. Great fun, and a great way to open the program. 

Her String Trio (another student work), is a well-structured work, although a trifle unfocussed. The style of the work doesn't sound completely gelled. The trio sometimes leans towards the academic, before settling into Higdon's characteristic quasi-modal style towards the end.

Bassoonist Eric Stomberg admirably performs Dark Wood, a fast-moving work for bassoon and piano trio. This engaging work full of energy that casts the bassoon not as a clown, or as a mournful crooner, but as an agile and aggressive solo instrument.

Higdon's Sonata for Viola and Pniao lets the viola sing in the first movement, and contrapuntally interact with the piano in the second, trading ideas back and forth. The Sky Quartet evokes the grandeur of the Western sky (which inspired its composition). Elegiac and expansive, the quartet is definitely a work of a composer in command of her material.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 17

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired.

Day 17 features just two characters, connected by an unusual relationship. One is a fictional character in the universe of the other. 

Al Capp's Li'l Abner satirized many aspects of American culture. fashion, and politics. In 1942 he introduced "Fearless Fosdick," a comic strip that Li'l Abner read. The strip was a parody of "Dick Tracy," and held a fun house mirror up to many of the tropes of Chester Gould's strip. Of course, Fosdick was as incompetent as Tracy was masterful in crime detection -- as this sequence illustrates.

1. Li'l Abner - Li'l Abner (1934-1977) by Al Capp
2. Fearless Fosdick - Li'l Abner (1934-1977) by Al Capp

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Monday, September 09, 2013

Diabelli Project 011 - Two-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.

At this point I had been dashing off these little five-minute musical sketches for about two months. And the ideas were starting to flow. The original had all the notes squished together -- I was surprised when I copied it that the music expanded out to two staves. (click to enlarge)

Remember, you can use all, some, or even just a snippet of these sketches in your own music. What possibilities to do you hear in this?

Friday, September 06, 2013

CCC 085 - Andrew Carter

Some composers write for all genres of classical music -- orchestral, chamber, solo instrument, vocal, choral, etc. Some choose to specialize -- like Chopin for piano music, and UK composer Andrew Carter for choral music. Carter, this week's subject of the Consonant Classical Challenge has been involved with the singing, conducting, and composing of choral works since he was a young man.

His music continues the English choral traditions. Many of his works are for mixed choruses of boys and men, a uniquely English sound. While Carter does employ some advanced harmonies in his work, they're still triadic in structure, giving the ear a firm foundation. Carter's melodies flow naturally, taking full advantage of choral singing technique rather than discarding it for unusual sounds.

The Agnus Dei from Andrew Carter's Missa Sancti Pauli shows the composer at his finest.The work was written for the tercentenary celebration of St. Paul's Cathedral. While the structure draws on the rich heritage of the English choral school, the harmony moves in subtly different directions making the work standout as something original.

The Magnificat from the Californian Canticles is another representative work. Tradition text, set in a seemingly tradition fashion -- unless one listens closely. The harmonies, while tonal, mark this as a late 20th-Century work.

As with many choral masters, Andrew Carter is also an accomplished organist. His Toccata on Veni Emmanuel shows both the quality of his contrapuntal inventiveness, and the level of his technical mastery of the instrument.

When it comes to contemporary choral music, there seem to be just two names conductors know -- John Rutter (CCC 020) and Eric Whitaker (CCC 021). Andrew Carter deserves to be added to that list -- at least on this side of the Atlantic. (His Advent and Christmas compositions are often performed in Lessons and Carols services in the UK) Personally, I'd really like to hear his organ concerto sometime.

Recommended Recordings

Andrew Carter's Christmas Carols

The Music of Andrew Carter

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Phantom Insider 4

"For those who came in late." For decades that's been the caption for quick recaps of the origin story of the The Phantom. It had a certain irony to it, as the first member of the Walker family to become the Phantom did so in 1536. No matter how long you've been reading the strip, you've come in late!

The current creative team of Tony DePaul and Paul Ryan use the phrase to signal a cameo by the comic strip's creator, Lee Falk. Rather than recap the origin of the Phantom, Falk (the character) simply gets readers up to speed with the current story.

As I noted in the Falk's last appearance (The Phantom Insider 3), the current story is partially set in the actual New York City apartment building where Falk lived. So while he does break the fourth wall and talk directly to the reader, his appearance is quite logical. After all, he's just going to his apartment. (click on images to enlarge)

DePaul and Ryan are clearly having some fun with this convention. And when the creators have fun with a comic strip, it usually translates to fun for the attentive reader.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Mighty Marvel Mutts

Many comic strip artists riff on a joke. It's an easy way to come up with new material. And with the need to produce a gag every single day, that can be a godsend. But in the hands of a masterful artist, such as Patrick McDonnell, the riffs can build to an even bigger payoff.

Among the supporting cast of his comic strip Mutts are a pair of mischievous squirrels who bounce nuts off the heads of innocent bystanders. In mid-July 2013, the victims were superheroes. Each daily strip was essentially the same.
Panel one: superhero walks under tree.
Panel two: superhero gets bonked.
Panel three: squirrel makes a comment appropriate to the superhero.

Most comic strip riffs run from Monday to Saturday. Sunday strips are usually stand-alone, mostly because they're in a larger format, and they're printed in color.

Here's the entire sequence-- can you see why it merits special attention? (click on images to enlarge)

Did you notice how McDonnell carefully set up the finale? First, he limited the victims to just Marvel superheroes. So the appearance of the Hulk seemed like just another in a series. But it wasn't. Because of all the superheroes presented, the Hulk is the only one whose recognition mostly depends on color. We know Captain America by his shield; Iron Man by his armor, Spiderman by his webbed costume. The Hulk we know by his green skin.

Thus, the gag involving the Hulk only works in color -- and  many newspapers only print their comics in color on Sunday.

The final sequence also breaks the three-panel pattern. The additional panel (the largest) gives us a different outcome that the rest of the series. And also notice the squirrel's reaction. It's not a snappy observations. It hints that maybe they've carried this prank a little to far.

Well, actually not. McDonnell carried the riff exactly as far as it needed to go to deliver the unexpected conclusion. Surprise is at the heart of humor. As a seasoned comics reader, I didn't see this one coming. And I heartily enjoyed it.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 16

In a sequence that began on April 9, 2013, Gasoline Alley centenarian Walt Wallet receives an invitation to the Old Comics Home dinner. Walt has reminisced before about his fellow characters from discontinued comic strips. And since Gasoline Alley began in 1918, there are quite a few of his contemporaries who have been retired. (Read the whole series here)

Earlier in this sequence (see Day 7), Scancarelli had a round-up of cats from various comic strips. In day 16, he presents a round-up of police officers. But they're not quite the ones I had anticipated. Although he's referenced Krazy Kat several times in this story arc, Officer Pup isn't among the assembled.

And there's something else. Pepsi and Pete, the Pepsi-Cola Cops were advertising characters created by Pepsi-Cola. Their comic strip (a Pepsi ad), did run in the newspapers alongside other comics. But they're of a different sort than the other characters featured in this sequence.

1. Jiggs - Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus
2. Maggy - Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus
3. Paw Perkins - Polly and her Pals (1912-1958) by Cliff Sterrett
4. Happy Hooligan - Happy Hooligan (1900-1932) by Frederick Burt Opper
5. Pepsi & Pete - The Pepsi-Cola Cops (1939-1950) by Kin Platt et al.
6. Pottsy - Pottsy (1955-1970) by Irving Joel Rafsy
7. Fearless Fosdick - Li'l Abner (1934-1977) by Al Capp

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Monday, September 02, 2013

Diabelli Project 010 - Two-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 sketch started with a triad, and sort of grew from there. The opening statement is pretty long -- four bars! Which means not much got going before I ran out of time. Still, there's a lot to work with here, I think. I might return to develop this further, someday.

In the meantime, though, you're welcome to develop this piece of music yourself. What happens next? Flex your compositional muscles and let me know what you come up with.