Thursday, October 31, 2013

Spam Roundup October, 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.

Torturing syntax should be a crime
 - It's very trouble-free to find out any matter on net as compared to books, as I found this post at this web page.
Trying to decipher this comment, though, is anything but trouble-free.

- I'm gone to convey my little brother, that he should also pay a visit this weblog on regular basis to take updated from hottest information.
I have this image of a man pushing around his little brother in a wheelbarrow....

If you're not part of the solution... 
- І thinκ the aԁmin оf thiѕ sіte iѕ іn fаct workіng hаrd fοr his ωebѕіte, sіnce hеге every mаteгial is quality bаsеd information.
And the more spam like this I get from bots like you, the harder I have to work!

You bet your -- 
- I'll immediately snatch your rss as I can not find your e-mail subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Kindly let me realize in order that I may subscribe. Thanks.
Stop grabbing my rss.

Huh? - 
 - This paragraph gives clear idea in favor of the new visitors of blogging, that really how to do running a blog.
I have no clear idea of what you're trying to say

What a guy! What a world! 
 - Wow, that's what I was looking for, what a material!

Variations on a fastidious theme (see: Fastidious Spam)
 - Hello to all, how is all, I think every one is getting more from this web site, and your views are fastidious designed for new people.

 - Thanks in favor of sharing such a nice thought, piece of writing is fastidious, thats why i have read it entirely
This comment was left for the post "Fastidious Spam" -- of course

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tyberg: Symphony No. 2, Piano Sonata No. 2

Tyberg: Symphony No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 2
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta, conductor
Fabio Bidini, piano

Austrian composer Marcel Tyberg's career (and life) was cut short by the Second World War. Despite being a devout Roman Catholic, he was arrested by the Nazis in 1943 because his great grandfather was Jewish. Fortunately, he entrusted his music to a friend before his death in 1944 en route to Auschwitz.

Tyberg didn't compose many works, but the quality of them makes one wonder how he would have fared in a less toxic atmosphere. His second symphony, finished in 1931 is a big, post-romantic composition and reminded me of Erich Korngold's symphonic works. Tyberg seems more influenced by Beethoven than Brahms, however, with simple motives building and transforming themselves in rigorously logical fashion. The overarching themes were expressive examples of post-romanticism -- not as memorable as Rachmaninov's but still quite moving.

JoAnne Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic are thoroughly invested in this work, and that dedication shows. Falletta lets the music stand on its own strengths. The performance presents a well-constructed symphony that should be immediately appealing to  most listeners.

Coupled with the symphony is Tyberg's second piano sonata from 1934. Tyberg was a pianist and organist, and his composition takes full advantage of the instrument. The work ranges over the keyboard, with plenty of Liszt-inspired gestures. If Nicolai Medtner wrote more tightly organized music, he might have composed something along these lines.

Pianist Fabio Bidini performs the sonata with relish, delivering the music with all its inherent drama and brio.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 26

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.

Days 26 brings in another character I had been waiting for. Joe Palooka was an amazingly popular strip in the 1940's (running in over 900 papers at its peak). Ham Fisher's boxing champ even survived his creator's suicide in 1955, and the comic strip ran for another 29 years, ending in 1984. So there's a good chance relatively young readers might have first-hand memories of Joe Palooka (as opposed to, say, Old Doc Yak, which ended in 1917). I'm surprised Scancarelli didn't bring him in before, but still glad he made an appearance.

1. Joe Palooka - Joe Palooka (1930-1984) by Ham Fisher
2. Maggie - Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus
3. Fearless Fosdick - Li'l Abner (1934-1977) by Al Capp

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Diabelli Project 017 - Fugue for two or more voices

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.

My little bits of flash compositions are accomplishing their purpose -- I find musical ideas coming to me more easily. On a good day I feel I could produce them on demand. But the problem is that now some of the ideas I'm coming up with are a little two expansive for the Diabelli Project.

Like this fugue, for example (click on image to enlarge). I hadn't had a chance to add more voices before I ran out of time. If I continued it, I would make it a double fugue -- but that's just me.

What possibilities do you see in this? As always, you have an open invitation to make of this what you will. And I look forward to the results. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Inukusuit - Soundscapes by John Luther Adams

John Luther Adams

If I had to describe Inukusuit, I’d say it sounds like Edgar Varese’s “Ionization” performed in the woods. But that really doesn’t do justice to Adams’ innovative soundscape. Inukusuit is a work intended for outdoor performance The ambient sounds are an important part of the composition, making every performance unique.

Be warned: Inukusuit require a major time investment (about an hour) to be experienced properly. But it will be worth the effort.

The recording starts with about three minutes of ambient sounds of the forest, before the percussion ensemble makes its presence known. Eventually the ensemble builds to a climax, completely drowning out the sounds of nature. Then the man-made music subsides, and in the end, we are left with only the chirping of birds and wind rustling the trees.

Adams’ music seems an organic part of the landscape. There’s a lot of wooden percussive sounds (including a wooden flute), and the ensemble seems to rise and fall, as if breathing. The disc comes with both an audio CD and a DVD version. And that’s a good thing. Because the DVD, played through a 5.1 home theater system, will get you as close as possible to the performance – which, after all, involves heightening the listener’s sense of space.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Lessons from York: What we didn't see -- old favorites

Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. As always, we discussed what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and why.

Last post (What we saw -- smaller scale, smaller sets) posited that the emerging trends were based on a change in demographics. If we assume that collectors are primarily interested in the toys of their youth, and the average collector is late middle-aged, then that creates a window of market demand. And it's a window that moves as the population ages.

So what didn't we see this time?

Standard gauge sets
Or indeed, much standard gauge trains at all. Lionel, Ives, American Flyer and other manufacturers offered these large tinplate trains from about 1905-1932. Highly desirable to the first generation of train collectors in the 1950's-1960's. For the current generation looking nostalgically back to the late 1960's, though, not so much.

One in a series of 13. Collect them all!
MPC Commemorative Cars
When General Mills bought Lionel in the early 1970's, they immediately recognized that the primary market for Lionel trains had shifted from children to adult collectors. And so MPC, the division that ran Lionel, churned out dozens of "collectible" series. There were Disney-decorated cars, and a boxcar for each of the 50 states, and Great Moments in Lionel History boxcars, and so on.

Are we nearing the end of the postwar dream?
Most of them sold out, bought by collectors who knew that 5-10 years later, they could flip these cars for a big profit. Only that never happened, because the demand always artificially inflated. The past few years we say tables with stacks of these collectibles with below-retail pricing. This time, almost nothing. Perhaps the vendors finally gave up.

Early postwar trains
It's a subtle thing, but for the first time I didn't see an overabundance of trains made between 1949-1955. Following my premise, this would have been near and dear to collectors born between 1939 and 1949. That population is now in their 70's, when most collectors stop purchasing because of fixed income.

Still no Industrial Rail
In my analysis of the April 2012 York meet I talked about the scarcity of Industrial Rail freight cars. These inexpensive 027 gauge cars were never designed as collectible, but rather be run on layouts.
Still looking for this Industrial Rail tank car.
I did find a few examples, but they were still quite rare, but all modestly priced (they're still not collectible). If our theory about aging is correct, then maybe we'll start seeing Industrial Rail cars appear as elderly collectors downsize and operating layouts are dismantled.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Lessons from York - What we saw: smaller scale, smaller sets

A great N scale starter set in the 1960's. And one that appears to be
making an appearance on the collector's market.
Dad and I recently returned from our semi-annual trip to the Train Collectors Association Eastern Division toy train meet in York, PA. As always, we discussed what we saw a lot of (and what we didn't) -- and why.

The April, 2013 meet had a remarkable amount of the smaller scales (as I noted in What we saw: a change in scale). This meed that trend continued, and I think it's also related to the other thing we saw an unusual amount of -- low-end train sets from the late 1960's. And it all has to do with the passage of time

A little background on scale
Toy trains come in a variety of sizes, that has generally decreased over time. Here's a quick overview. The last column, "Years Popular" is something of a judgement call. It represents the time the gauge was commercially viable in the general toy market. Standard and S gauge gear is still being made today, but its designed and marketed to the niche collectors market.

Name Scale Track Width Years Popular
Standard Gauge 1:32 2-1/8" 1906-1933
O Gauge 1:48 1-1/4" 1932-1986
S Gauge 1:64 7/8" 1949-1967
H0 Gauge 1:87 5/8" 1957-present
N Gauge 1:160 3/8" 1962-present

The smallest scale returns in a big way
Last meet I remarked about how much H0 scale items were available. This time there was much more N scale trains for sale, mostly from the 1960's. And while there was plenty of loose cars and engines, there was also a significant amount of box sets from Aurora, Atlas, and Bachmann and other early N scale manufacturers.

But if you refer to the chart above, it makes sense. The average toy collector (be it trains, dolls, or board games) is after the products of their youth.

A Lionel entry-level passenger set from 1966. One with all
the pieces intact like this example have decided
increased in value.
When the Train Collectors Association was founded in the 1950's the middle-aged founders were primarily interested in the toy trains of their youth -- the 1920's and early 1930's. Standard gauge trains were the most desirable. By the 1970's, the average middle-aged collector sought the toys of his (or her) youth of the Postwar Era. O gauge and S gauge trains grew in value.

And now in 2013, the middle-aged collector is looking nostalgically back to late 1960's - early 1970's. Right when N gauge really took off with inexpensive all-in-one starter sets (like the one I received). No wonder it's coming back!

The smallest sets return, too
The original Lionel Corporation manufactured toy trains until 1969, when it sold that part of the business to General Mills. The late 60's saw a number of modest 027 starter sets offered -- sets that would have been a youngster's first train set. They were all there, and commanding some good prices, too!

There was still some standard gauge trains for sale, and plenty of postwar O and S gauge trains, too. But not quite as much as before.

Has the market started to shift? Two points of data don't necessarily mark a trend. We'll be returning to York in the spring with great interest.

NEXT: What we didn't see -- old favorites.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 25

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.

Days 25 is chock full of comic characters, including some that are only decorations! And there's another themed grouping, this time of doctors.

 And as always, it's important to pay attention to the background figures Scancarelli populates the panels with. Sometimes they're generic onlookers, and sometimes they're not...

1. Tillie Jones - Tillie the Toiler (1921-1959) by Russ Westover
2. Unknown
3. The Little King - The Little King (1931-1975) b y Otto Soglow
4. Rex Morgan - Rex Morgan, M.D. (1948 - ) by Dale Curtis
5. Jeff - Mutt and Jeff (1907-1982) by Bud Fisher
6. Old Doc Yak - Old Doc Yak (1908-1917) by Sidney Smith

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Diabelli Project 016 - Motet a 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.

For this entry I decided to go a different route. Perhaps inspired by my surroundings (I sketch these in church right before the service starts), I decided to try a motet for four voices. While the harmonic motion isn't exactly traditional, I think it flows nicely. And it does what I want it to, which is carry that three-note scalar motif throughout the piece. (click to enlarge)

So how do these four lines cadence? On a strong G major chord? Do they move to the dominant and end on V/V - V (A7 - D major)? Or something else?  Chose your own musical adventure!

Friday, October 18, 2013

CCC 090 Martin Watt

South African composer Martin Watt is this week's entry in the Consonant Classical Challenge. Watt has written a fair amount of music both for the solo voice and choral groups. His melodies are structured to fit the human voice in a natural fashion. And that style carries over into his instrumental writing, too. Although Watt's music is tonally based, unusual relationship between chords give his work a certain freshness of sound.

O Sacrum convivium demonstrates Watt's mastery of sacred choral traditions. Listen carefully, though. Even thought the texture and blend may sound familiar, the harmonic motion isn't.

Watt's Second String Quartet offer a good example of his instrumental compositions. Watt is quite comfortable with contrapuntal writing, and knows how to keep a piece moving.

The Coca Cola Fughetta is a fun little piece that also shows Watt's love of counterpoint. A fairly mundane jingle becomes something quite different in Watt's treatment.

The Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano strips Watt's style down to its essentials. Listen especially to the lyrical second movement, and the expressiveness of the melody.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any recordings of Martin Watt's music to link to. And that's too bad. Based on the quality of the few examples I found, I would really like to hear his piano concerto, or his Rhapsody for orchestra. And it's possible that concert-going audience might like to, also.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Strange Case of the Schubert Symphonies

If there's one thing most people know about Franz Schubert, it's that his most popular symphony is unfinished. If there's a second thing folks remember about Franz Schubert, it's that he only wrote nine symphonies. But if you look carefully at the list, you'll notice two oddities.

Symphony No. 1 in D major, D 82
Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major, D 125
Symphony No. 3 in D major, D 200
Symphony No. 4 in C minor, "Tragic" D 417
Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, D 485
Symphony No. 6 in C major "Little C Major" D 589
Symphony No. 8 in B minor "Unfinished" D 759
Symphony No. 9 in C major "Great C Major" D 944

What's odd?
1) There's a symphony missing.
2) It's not the unfinished symphony.

Unfinished but included
The official "Unfinished" symphony (No. 8) incompletion wasn't because of Schubert's death. He wrote the first and second movement in 1822 (six years before his death), and just never got around to writing the last two movements. (most symphonies from this era had four movements). The first two movements were of such quality, though, that they were performed and have become part of the standard repertoire.

Unfinished and missing
The missing symphony is No. 7 is even more of a fragment than the 8th. composed in 1821, this E major symphony exists in sketch form, with a melody line and bass and counterpoint underneath. Unlike the 8th, all four movements of the 7th were written, and the first part of the first movement is fully orchestrated (the next step in the composition process).

The other other unfinished symphony
And there's another symphony missing from the list. In the final weeks of his life, Schubert composed a 10th symphony in a piano reduction score. That is, the music is written to be played on the piano, with notes indicating instruments for later orchestration. Like the 7th, it appears to be complete in sketch form.

With a significant amount of these compositions complete, it isn't surprising that musicians have been tempted to fill in the blanks.

Symphony No. 7's three co-composers
Schubert's 7th symphony was first completed in 1881 by John Francis Barnett, an English composer, and teacher. Famed conductor Felix Weingartner did his own version in 1934 and featured it in performance. The final version (to date) is by composer and scholar Brian Newbould, who extensively studied Schubert in order to make his completion as authentic as possible.

Symphony No. 10's two-and-a-half co-composers
The score for Symphony No. 10 was only identified as such in the 1970's, and Brian Newbould offered a scholarly completion of it. Conductor Pierre Bartholomeé revised Newbould's version with controversial results. And finally, composer Luciano Berio used the source material  as the basis for his work "Rendering."

Questions remain
So how many symphonies did Schubert really write? In terms of completed works, seven. In terms of what's commonly performed, eight. And in terms of what might have been, ten.

But are these completions valid? It's difficult to say. Schubert may have revised the surviving material after working with it for a while. We can say a combination of instruments for a certain passage is likely, based on similar patterns in Schubert's other works. But we can't say it's exactly what Schubert would have done. There's always a possibility that he may have done something original and unexpected -- great composers are like that.

Personally, I think the sketches are complete enough that most of the resulting music is Schubert's. And I'm glad for the opportunity to hear these works, even in an adulterated form. They deepen my understanding and appreciation of this short-lived musical genius. (below is a performance of Schubert's Symphony No. 7 so you can judge for yourself).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Penderecki: Works for String Orchestra

Penderecki: Works For String Orchestra 
Likasz Dlugosz, flute
Rafat Kwiatkowski, cello
Radom Chamber Orchestra
Maciej Zoltowski, conductor

The purpose of this recording is to showcase the Radom Chamber Orchestra. The CD booklet begins with a letter from the mayor of this Polish city outlining the proud musical history of the town, and its cultural rebirth, of which the Radom Chamber Orchestra is a part.

Well, it's a good start.

The ensemble has a warm, rich blend with strong section leaders. The talent of those first chairs comes to the fore quite often in the works on this program and they perform admirably. The music is also well-suited to the ensemble. There seems to be an intuitive understanding of what fellow countryman Kryzysztof Penderecki had in mind with these works, and the Maciej Zoltowski and the Radon Chamber Orchestra deliver.

In these performances, Penderecki's music doesn't seem as dissonant -- and yet there's an undercurrent of power to them. The 1990 Sinfonietta for Strings, for example, reminded me quite strongly of Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony, Op. 100. It had the same overall sound, and carried the same emotional intensity.

The Serenade for Strings is perhaps the most atonal of the works. It gradually builds to a satisfying climax from the simplest of melodic ideas. Pendericki's Sinfonietta No. 2 for flute and strings isn't quite a concerto, although the flute does have a prominent role. Lukasz Dlogosz plays with a plaintive introspection that gives the work emotional weight.

The Concerto for Viola and string, percussion, and celeste (performed here in it's cello concerto version) begins as a very quiet work. The cello develops the melody in short, hesitant gestures. Once the full ensemble enters, though, the work changes character, becoming stormy and brooding. A powerful composition.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 24

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.

Days 24 we finally get the solution to the mystery (no thanks to Fosdick, of course). Although Walt's been on the scene throughout most of the sequence, Slim's only made an occasional appearance.

 And as always, it's important to pay attention to the background figures Scancarelli populates the panels with. Sometimes they're generic onlookers, and sometimes they're not...

1. Smokey Stover - Smokey Stover (1935-1973) by Bill Holman
2. Fearless Fosdick - Li'l Abner (1934-1977) by Al Capp 
3. Boob McNutt - Boob McNutt (1915 -1934) by Rube Goldberg
4. Joe Stork - Krazy Kat (1913-1944) by George Herriman
5. Unknown 

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Diabelli Project 015 - 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.

 Last week's entry was quite long -- and this week's is quite short. Although only three measures, there's enough there to give you a general idea where I was going. I was trying to write something in the Dorian mode, which is why there's no B-flat in the key signature to go with that D minor opening triad. Modes can be a little tricky, because they don't have the strong harmonic sense of direction that major and minor scales do.

So one must resort to other means.  In the third measure I was beginning some suspensions, which -- when resolved -- would have a strong sense of arrival.

What would you do with this idea? Keep in the Dorian mode? Modulate the tonal center, or perhaps to another mode -- or both? If inspiration strikes you and you finish this sketch, let me know! I'm not sure how this one turns out myself.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Prince Valiant: 4,000 Pages of Adventure

Prince Valiant marked a major milestone this past Sunday -- it was the 4,000th installment of this weekly adventure strip. The current creative team of Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates lead up to event nicely. In transit to their next adventure in the Misty Isles, Val, and his family see portentous omens. (Click on images to enlarge).

And page 4000 has the appearance of a milestone. Val's assembled family and friends harken to his speech, as they look ahead to the future.

But it's that speech that bothers me.

Look at how the previous creative teams marked similar events. Hal Foster, for page 2,000 recapped some of the highlights of Prince Valiant's career.

For page 3,000, Foster's successor John Cullen Murphy recounted other key events from Val's past (all of which were dutifully chronicled in the strip).

But for page 4,000, Schultz & Yeates have Val saying "The past is dead and gone and holds no claim on us. There is only the here and now, and we are masters of this moment."

Maybe it's just me, but that sounds like the language of a reboot. Wipe the slate clean and start the story from scratch, changing characters, events, and back stories to suit a reimagined Prince Valiant.

If so, that would be a real shame. Prince Valiant is an ongoing saga with a rich history and a wealth of characters. Val has grown from a young boy to a mature adult during the course of the tale, and his children have grown into adulthood as well. There are places scattered throughout medieval Europe, Asia and the Americas where Val has made friends -- and enemies. But unlike the cluttered continuity of the Marvel or DC Comics universe, there's still a very large world for Val to explore.

There are small kingdoms to discover, new characters to introduce, and lands to explore (like South America). Unlike the comic book universes, Prince Valiant's world is full without being confining.

The backstory of the supporting cast adds richness to the saga and rewards long-time readers for their loyalty. And it's not an exclusive club -- Prince Valiant reprints are readily available, as are chronologies. We don't need a Crises on Infinite Earths here -- just keep telling the story of Prince Valiant as he explores the historic and mythic world of 500 AD.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Kaija Saariaho - Chamber Works for Strings, Vol. 1 - A good start


Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho is a master of soundscapes. Her orchestral works weave tapestries of sound that are both earthy and other-worldly. And as this new collection shows, her nuanced approach to music is equally effective with the limited forces of chamber groups.

Although the string quartet META4 are the featured artists, they only perform together on one track -- Nymphéa. The rest of the selections are for a single string instrument with varying types of accompaniment: Tocar, and Calices for violin and piano; Vent nocturne for viola and electronics; Spins and Spells for cello solo, and Nocturne for violin solo.

Nymphéa is composed for string quartet plus electronics. And Saariaho applies said electronics with a very light touch. She uses them to enhance the sound of the acoustic instruments, almost like super-saturating the colors of a photograph. The electronics heighten the emotional intensity of the string quartet in this pensive work.

My personal favorite is Spins and Spells for solo cello. There's an off-kilter quality to the music that keeps it moving forward in fits and starts.  The work feels perpetually off-balance and tumbling forward right up to the end.

If you're already a fan of Saariaho's music, this disc is a must. If not, this can provide a good and somewhat intimate introduction to this visionary composer's style.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 22-23

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.

Days 22 and 23 continues the "mystery," and presents a nice confluence of the absurd.

Fearless Fosdick, the parody comic strip within Li'l Abner was over the top. Fearless would be riddled with bullet holes (always depicted like those in Swiss cheese - a hole through a solid), that he would shrug off as "mere scratches." One of his villains was a murderous Chippendale chair.

Smokey Stover, while not a parody, was a strip that also cheerfully ignored any semblance of reality to mine a deeper vein of humor. Bill Holman's creation drove an impossible two-wheel car, known as the Foomobile. That hole in his hinged hat was for his cigar. The visual puns (usually labelled pictures or calendars) that hung the walls and non sequitur sayings on his car would change from panel to panel, cheerfully ignoring any kind of continuity. All in all, Smokey and Fearless would probably be right at home in each other's worlds.

One more thing -- Smokey's cat Spooky keeps repeating "Foo" for a reason. Holman billed Smokey as the "foolish foo fighter" (substituting "foo" for "fire"), thus providing the origin for the term "foo fighters."

1. Spooky - Smokey Stover (1935-1973) by Bill Holman
2. Smokey Stover - Smokey Stover (1935-1973) by Bill Holman
3. Fearless Fosdick - Li'l Abner (1934-1977) by Al Capp

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Monday, October 07, 2013

Diabelli Project 014 - 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 week's entry is a little more ambitious than the previous offerings. I was quite surprised when I transcribed it and needed to use two systems. One of the things I enjoy about composing is the serendipity. The opening bar, for example, should begin on count 1 and have 4 eighth notes. Because of a simple error (the extra bar), it starts on count 2 and has 4 sixteenth notes.

The entry of the upper voice gives you an idea of what it should look like. No matter -- I think I like it better that way. And were I to write more, I'd explore the differences between the shortened 2-beat motive and the longer 3-beat version. (click on image to enlarge).

Of course, you can go in a completely different direction. That's up to you.

Friday, October 04, 2013

CCC 089 - Sérgio Azevedo

This week's entry in the  Consonant Classical Challenge features Sérgio Azevedo, a Portuguese composer and educator. And its perhaps of his latter role that his music is written in a clear, straightforward fashion.  Portuguese folk traditions are a part of Azevedo's musical language, giving his works a distinctive flavor that sets it apart from similar compositions from Northern Europe.

Azevedo's works are tonally based, but he doesn't shy away from dissonance. As a result, his music has a dynamic, expressive feel to it. And because its tonally based, the listener can very quickly assimilate the context of the work and more immediately experience the emotional content.

Azevedo's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra is a large-scale work that takes the traditional three-movement concerto form as its starting point. The first movement brims with energy and good spirits. The second slows down the pace, it's open dissonances creating an atmosphere of mystery. But the clouds clear for the last movement, which races to the finale with a jaunty bounce (and a hint of jazz).


Six pieces for guitar shows Azevedo's use of folk traditions. The playing style is Portuguese, the melodic material entirely original. The result is a refreshing alternative to the Spanish and Latin American influences that dominate the modern classical guitar repertoire.

The Piano Sonatina No. 2 provides insight into Azevedo's style. This modest work lays bare Azevdo's harmonies and structural organization.


Azevedo is an educator, and a good portion of his compositional output are for student ensembles. Music for Schools II: March is one such work. Although it's fairly simple and flexible in its instrumentation, the March is nevertheless a well-written composition.


Sérgio Azevedo has a great reputation in his native Portugal, although still relatively unknown in America. I think his music would connect with American audiences -- even somewhat staid ones. Here's hoping we have an opportunity soon.

Recommended Recordings

Musica Contemporanea Portuguesa (Contemporary Portuguese Music)

Nuno Pinto - Clarinete Solo

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Dent and Sail - Living up to potential, Part 2

Lester Dent was a prolific pulp magazine author, and a successful one (see part one for more details).  In 1936 Dent was writing a 40,000 word Doc Savage novel monthly, and getting paid $750 for each one (that's about $12,400 in 2913 dollars).

But Dent wanted to write something of substance, and Joseph P. Shaw, editor of Black Mask magazine, gave him that chance. Shaw forced Dent to produce the best writing of his career -- two stories about Miami-based private investigator Oscar Sail.

Angelfish - published December, 1936

As with the previous story about Oscar Sail, Dent begins by throwing the reader off balance.
She was a long, blue-eyed girl who lay squarely on her back with the sun shining in her mouth. Her teeth were small and her tongue was flat, not pointed, and there was about two whiskey glassfuls of scarlet liquid in her mouth.

As she tuned her head slowly to the side, the scarlet emptied out on the black asphalt walk, splashing her tan columnar neck and the shoulder of her white frock.

Oscar Sail stood beside her and kept looking at the gun in his hand.
Angelfish has two parallel stories -- one in the foreground, one in the background. The foreground story involved purloined documents, murder, and kidnapping -- and a considerable amount of mayhem to Oscar Sail's body. The background story is the hurricane that's rapidly approaching Miami.

Lester Dent was owned a sail boat -- as did his protagonist Oscar Sail -- and was quite familiar with the waters around Miami. He also knew quite well the real danger hurricanes present to boats.

In Angelfish the reader first hears of the storm through a radio broadcast playing in the background. As the story progresses, windows are shuttered, boats are taken to dry dock, and the city hunkers down as the storm approaches. But all of these activities are seemingly secondary to the main action. And as Oscar Sail is the only character who has nautical experience, he's also the only one who takes the approaching hurricane seriously.

At the climax, the villains (and supporting heroes) who've ignored the hurricane warnings are caught in the full fury of the storm. And Oscar Sail, who would have preferred to ride it out in safety, is stuck right in the middle of it with them.
Sail jockeyed the wheel and the stream of water moving past and pressing against the rudder caused the bugeye to swing on her chain in towards the power boat. He was facing the wind now. His polo shirt and trousers hugged one side of his body while ballooned out on the other. And he could see at all only when he held his open hand over his eyes and squinted between the fingers.
Dent's writing is fast-paced, and accurate. One can almost feel the fury of the storm as it hits.

Angelfish was published two months after Sail, and Dent was working on a third story Cay when Shaw was abruptly fired as editor of Black Mask. Dent abandoned the story, and at the same time abandoned the hope of making the move from pulp writer to literary writer.

As he said in a later interview,
[Shaw's firing] is what kept me from becoming a fine writer. Had I been exposed to the man's cunning hand for another year or two, I couldn't have missed. Instead I wrote reams of saleable crap which became my pattern and gradually there slipped away the bit of poetry Shaw had started awakening in me.
Editors can make a world of difference.

Living up to potential, part 1

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Dent and Sail -- Living up to potential, Part 1

Sometimes an editor can make all the difference.

Lester Dent was a prolific and successful author of the 1930's. Beginning in 1926, just about everything Dent wrote sold. In 1932 he was contracted by Street and Smith to write a 40,000 word novel a month for their new character, Doc Savage.

Not only did Dent do so, but continued to write other stories under other aliases as well as his own name. Lester Dent developed a formula for writing fiction, and by sticking to it he could produce commercial fiction almost at will.

But as Dent himself admitted, little of it had any staying power.

Joseph P. Shaw, editor of Black Mask magazine brought the detective story into the realm of serious literature, and was responsible for developing the authors who defined the genre -- Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner (among many others).

Thanks to his encouragement, Lester Dent dug deep and produced two outstanding stories for Black Mask. These two mysteries are considered Dent's best writing (by both Dent and critics alike), and are (in my opinion) on par with the best stories produced under Shaw's leadership.

Lester Dent's writing paid well, and he owned a sailboat he enjoyed sailing to Florida. That first-hand knowledge of sailing was an integral part of "Sail" and "Angelfish," the two stories featuring Oscar Sail. The stories -- unlike the fantastic adventures of Doc Savage -- were thorough grounded in reality.

Sail - published October, 1936

The famous Dent formula is absent from Sail. There are actually two mysteries going on in this story. The one that Oscar Sail deals with is relatively straight-forward and simple. But the one Dent presents to the reader is a little more complex.

The story opens this way:
The fish trembled its tail as the knife cut off its head, thin red ran out of it and made a mess on the planks and spread enough to cover the wet red marks where two human hands had tried to hold to the dock edge.
This disturbing scene  has far more gore than the entire canon of 181 Doc Savage novels. Oscar Sail is the person gutting the fish -- and making sure its blood covers up the hand prints on the edge of the dock.

And that's the mystery for the reader. What happened, and why is this man trying to hide it? It's only about halfway through the story that we learn who Oscar Sail really is, and why he's acting the way he does.

It's masterful writing. Dent's style was always somewhat spare, but with Sail, he makes every word count. Consider his description of his hero:
The officer splashed light on Sail He saw the round jolly brown features of a thirtyish man who probably liked his food, who would put weight on until he was forty, and spend the rest of his life secretly trying to take it off.
That's a lot of characterization in one sentence.

Unlike a lot of Dent's work, Sail was revised and rewritten several times before being accepted for publication. But that's where Shaw's editorial genius came in. He knew what Dent was capable of, and wouldn't accept anything less than his best. And the esteem Sail holds among mystery scholars over 80 years after its publication attests to Shaw's success.

Living up to potential, Part 2

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 20-21

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.

Days 20 and 21 wer somewhat relaxing for me -- only two characters, and ones I knew well. One of the things that has made this sequence so enjoyable is the way Scancarelli not only draws these vintage characters in their original style (or very close to it), but how he also has them act as they should. (click on images to enlarge)

Fearless Fosdick, as a parody of Dick Tracy, was always completely incompetent and never arrives at the right solution -- as he does here. Maggie, in George McManus' early strips, was a short-tempered harridan who was not to be crossed -- as she is here. Great fun!

1. Fearless Fosdick - Li'l Abner (1934-1977) by Al Capp
2. Maggie- Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus

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