Friday, November 29, 2013

Nanowrimo - is there an improvement?

For me, the National November Writing Month challenge wasn't quite as challenging. Could that possibly mean I'm getting better at this? Possibly. Although I should define what "this" is. The challenge is to turn off your inner editor/critic and write a 50,000 word novel over the course of 30 days.

It's not art -- just flat-out writing (sort of typing for a purpose). This year I actually started late (Nanowrimo - Late out of the gate), but by the middle of the month, I was about 25,000 words in -- exactly where I should have been (Nanowrimo -- Rounding the outside turn). In years past it's been a challenge to get those last few thousand words out, but not this time. I easily passed the 50,000 word mark, and I still have another chapter to go!

Finishing up the story feels like taking a victory lap after the race. Once I'm done, I'll give it a quick cleanup and add it to the other Nanowrimo tomes (An Anthology of Literature (Sort of)).

Yes, it's another Raven adventure, which made things easy -- the cast was set, and the story builds on the previous novels in the series. Still, this one just flowed.

So now just writing fiction isn't that difficult. But what about the actual content? This year's entry was another pulp adventure tale, set in the 1930's. The message? If you build a Diabolical Weapon, and think the authorities can't touch you, a costumed vigilante will bring about your demise.

As I like to say, great fun, but not great art. Perhaps next year I'll write a real novel about the human condition. Or maybe Raven will face another challenge from another supercrook that threatens the world...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Plymouth Adventure

Happy Thanksgiving!

Many American families have Thanksgiving stories and traditions, mine included. And ours is perhaps a little unusual, as my ancestors include three men who sailed on the Mayflower: William Brewster, spiritual head of the Pilgrims; Stephen Hopkins, a sailor and adventurer; and Thomas Rogers, a Pilgrim and a cloth merchant.

The story of the Pilgrims coming to the New World and celebrating the first Thanksgiving, has grown large in the retelling as years have passed. The historical truth of the founding of P.ymouth Colony is far removed from the national myth. And understandably so -- the myth is much more appealing.

One of my favorite versions is the 1953 all-star epic "The Plymouth Adventure." The men are noble, the women glamorous, the passion overheated -- in other words, a typical Hollywood movie of the period.

But it's still a lot of fun. Two of my ancestors are represented -- although it's unlikely William Brewster looked much like Barry Jones, or Stephen Hopkins Don Dillaway (I know -- who?).

Taken as myth, it's rollicking entertainment. And the film has two other things going for it -- the ship and the music. The model of the Mayflower was one of the most detailed ever constructed, and is part of the reason the film won an Oscar for best special effects.

And who wouldn't enjoy an epic film with a Miklos Rozsa score? Rozsa did his research. The hymn you hear at the beginning isn't "Simple Gifts," it's actually "Confess Jehovah Thankfully," by Henry Ainsworth. Ainsworth's Psalter (collection of hymns), was published in 1612 and was taken to Plymouth by the Pilgrims.

Family stories don't have to be true, as long as they entertain. Ours got the MGM treatment. Very little of it is true, but it is entertaining!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Starobin: New Music with Guitar, Vol. 8 - A personal program

New Music with Guitar, Vol. 8
David Starobin; Paul Lansky; Poul Ruders; George Crumb
David Starobin, guitar
Bridge Records

David Starobin's New Music with Guitar series has done much to expand the repertoire for the instrument. Volume 8 continues the same high standards set for composition and performance set by the previous volumes. Only this time it's personal.

It's sort of a Bridge family release. David Starobin, in addition to being the featured artist (and one of the composers), is also  the co-founder of Bridge Records. Bridge has long championed the compositions of Poul Ruders, and is releasing an on-going series of George Crumb's music. And all four composers share the same manager.

That collegial relationship gives the record, despite the disparity in styles, a unified and somewhat intimate-feeling program. (at least to my ears). 

The album starts with David Starobin's "Nielsen Variations" for solo guitar. It's the most tonal of the selections, probably because of the source material. Starobin is an imaginative composer -- especially when he's writing for his own instrument. A delightful work from start to finish.

Paul Lansky's "Partita" for guitar and percussion, is quite accessible. Lanksy's music has a New York City feel to it -- not quite Broadway, but quite cosmopolitan, sophisticated, and full of bustling energy.

"Six Pages" by Poul Ruders is just that -- six short epigrams. The whole piece only takes about seven minutes to play. Still, these are no slight pieces. Ruders carefully constructs each "page" using minimal music resources to maximum effect.

"The Ghosts of Alhambra" is classic George Crumb. This work for baritone, guitar, and percussion reminds me somewhat of his "Madrigals" and "Ancient Voices of Children." It has that same atmospheric sound and use of extended techniques that gives Crumb's music its unique character.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 29

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)

Days 29 begins to wind down the sequence, yet it has something unusual. (click on images to enlarge)

In the second panel we see both Li'l Abner and his "ideel," Fearless Fosdick. Fearless Fosdick was a comic strip that Li'l Abner read -- a strip within a strip. Since Fosdick was a fiction character in Li'l Abner's world, the two were never seen together. But since Al Capp's strip is discontinued, both apparently moved to the Old Comics Retirement Home -- where the rules are different, apparently.

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

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Diabelli Project 018 - Fugue in Lydian mode

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.

I've said it before -- I like odd meters. And that's just one of the odd things about this week's entry. It's also in A lydian mode, which means it has two sharps instead of three. And that means that cadences will resolve VII-I, rather than V7-I (in other words, G major chord to A major, rather than E major seventh to A major). (click on image to enlarge)

So what happens next? If I were to continue it, I'd keep changing the opening motif. Note how the statement of the subject in the bass isn't exactly the same as the original. The rhythm's slightly different. As the piece progressed, these minor changes would further transform the motif, and perhaps the ending would be the arrival of a new motif, rather than the restatement of the original. But perhaps you'd envision a different direction. I invite you to have a go. And please share the results!

Friday, November 22, 2013

CCC 091 - Michael Conway Baker

Vancouver-based Michael Conway Baker is this week's Consonant Classical Challenge. Baker has composed for film as well as the concert hall. He's best known for his score to The Grey Fox. Baker's also a respected music educator, and spent 17 years as an elementary school teacher.

Perhaps its his work as an educator that informs his compositional process. Baker's style is unabashedly tonal, although the chords are often richly textured. Baker's melodies are made up of memorable motifs, which makes them easy for the average listener to follow.

The Elegy for Flute and Organ, Op. 21 demonstrates Baker's gift of melody. It's a short and simple work, but one that just seems to naturally unfold from the opening statement by the flute.

Aurora String Quartet shows Baker's skill at composing chamber music. The instruments are well-balanced, with each getting their own turn in the spotlight. The fugal section towards the end is a definite highpoint.

Baker's Concerto for Harp provides an example of his orchestral writing. The work is straight-forward. The harp part, although requiring the best out of the performer, isn't needlessly complex.

Chanson Joyeuse is an uptempo short work for orchestra. The harmonic movement is similar to that of John Rutter, and delivers the same kind of contemporary almost-pop music feel.

Michael Conway Baker is a well-known and well-respected composer in Canada, where he became a naturalized citizen. In America (where he was born), the same can't be said. And that's too bad. Because his bigger works -- such as his two symphonies and his piano concerto -- as just as well-constructed and appealing to a general audience as the works showcased above.

Recommended Recordings

Hope's Journey

Washington Square

Fantasia for flute and guitar

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Meta Foxtrot

I always enjoy comic strips that occasionally step back and take a look at comic strips. I've shared examples of comics breaking the fourth wall, cross-referencing each other, setting up a joke in one comic strip for a punchline delivered in another, and more.

Bill Amend, creator of Foxtrot carries the concept of metacognition to perhaps its logical conclusion. (click on image to enlarge)

So what's going on? Basically, you've just been given the standard outline for a typical comic strip sequence. Keep this outline in mind the next time you read a humor strip  and you'll see it at work. Changing the way we read comics by heightening our awareness? Now that's really meta.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Penderecki: Piano Concerto "Resurrection"

Krysztof Penderecki: Piano Concerto "Resurrection"
Florian Uhlig, piano
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Lukasz Borowicz, conductor
Hänssler Classic

The events of 9/11 triggered the creation of many musical works. Some are only of passing interest, while others, such as Penderecki's piano concerto have taken on a life of their own. This new recording presents the revised version of this concerto. In 2007 Penderecki rewrote the final movement, and in the process made it a more hopeful and inspiring work.

Although some of the tone clusters and and atonal gestures reminded me of his 1964 "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima," Penderecki's piano concerto is a vastly different work. I'd almost classify it as post-romantic. It has the same sprawling bigness of a Rachmaninoff concerto. Although there's not a discernible cadenza, the piano plays almost non-stop throughout the work with virtuoso runs and chords. And although there are sections of great intimacy and delicacy, there are even more where the full orchestra's playing with maximum volume.

Florian Uhlig plays with the right emotional tone. He's a brilliant technician, of course, but he also understands that this is a work of deep emotion. Uhlig effectively communicates that emotion with virtually every note. And conductor Likasz Borowicz is right there with him. The work has some sudden shifts and juxtapositions, but under Borowicz' direction, there's never a misstep.

The revised "Resurrection" concerto is a powerful work that should find a place in the standard repertoire. Yes, it's that good -- and so is this recording.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 28

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 28 wasn't much of a challenge, in terms of identifying the characters. But there was one little oddity... (click on images to enlarge)

"We viewed the security tapes." Wait -- the Old Comics Home has CCTV?! For what purpose? Are there a lot of crimes going on there? It also seems strange that comic strip characters that were active in the early to middle part of the last century seem to be conversant with modern surveillance techniques!

Just to remind you  of the parameters of this sequence, Jim Scancarelli's set the action in the Old Comic Strip Retirement Home. So the characters (with the exception of Gasoline Alley's Walt Wallet and Slim Skinner), are all from discontinued comic strips. 

1. Jeff - Mutt and Jeff (1907-1982) by Bud Fisher
2. Mutt - Mutt and Jeff (1907-1982) by Bud Fisher
3. Smokey Stover - Smokey Stover (1935-1973) by Bill Holman
4. Maggie - Bringing Up Father (1913-2000) by George McManus

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Diabelli Project 019 - Fugue in E-flat lydian mode

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.

OK, this one represents a mashup of styles. The modes represented the various ways one could organize a scale. If you think of just using the white keys on a piano, Dorian mode would be the white keys from D to D; Phrygian from E to E; Lydian from F to F, and so on. There were eight possible modes one could use, each with a slightly different (and to our ears) and exotic sound.

One of the biggest changes around 1600, the transition from the renaissance to the baroque, was the dropping of all but two of those old modes; which became major and minor. It was during the baroque period that fugal writing really took off. And so, writing a fugue (a Baroque form), in E-flat lydian (a renaissance form), is a little odd. But that's how the thing turned out.

 What would you do with this sketch? Keep it in the mode it starts in? Since modal keys don't have the same strong relationships that major and minor have, modulation would be perhaps more difficult. Or would it? As always, if you decide to take on the challenge, let me know how your version of this sketch turns out!

Friday, November 15, 2013

NaNoWriMo -- Rounding the outside turn

November 15th marks the halfway point of the National November Writing Month challenge. According to my status bar on the NaNoWriMo site, I should have written 25,000 words by day's end in order to finish my 50,000 word novel on time.

I'm actually at 24,502, but I'm not worried a bit. As I wrote in my first report (Late out of the gate), I started way behind this year. My outline wasn't nearly as detailed as in years past, and I honestly didn't know if I'd be able to finish.

But something strange happened. The words just flowed. And not only did they flow, but the story evolved in the process. My original plot revolved around some scientists that were being kidnapped to work on an Infernal Machine. By the time I got to the second chapter, I realized that if they all belonged to the same professional organization, there could be a reason why the victims were chosen, and a pattern for the heroes to discover.(Remember, this story takes place in 1938).

But something strange happened. The words just flowed. And not only did they flow, but the story evolved in the process. My original plot revolved around some scientists that were being kidnapped to work on an Infernal Machine. By the time I got to the second chapter, I realized that if they all belonged to the same professional organization, there could be a reason why the victims were chosen, and a pattern for the heroes to discover.(Remember, this story takes place in 1938).
The Empire State Electrical Society was founded in 1900 by Phineas Warton, an early manufacturer of electrical fixtures. Warton was convinced that electricity was the wave of the future and established the society to bring together the best minds in the field to encourage technological innovation

An inventor himself, Warton was independently wealthy from the many patents he held. He used that wealth to not only start the organization, but to provide a grand structure for its home. The Electrical Building, as it was known, had a grand white marble facade with elaborately carved lintels, door frames, and ledges. Two allegorical statues framed the entrance, representing electricity and light. b

Inside, the reception area was richly appointed with wood-paneled walls and inset mirrors. A large chandelier provided the illumination, its light bouncing off the mirrors and dazzling all who entered. There were several small but luxurious offices for the Society's staff emptying into the reception area, as well as a member's lounge and a well-stocked research library.

The upper floors contained laboratories of various sizes, where members could collaborate on experiments and test new forms of electrical distribution. The basement contained a small but powerful generator, ensuring the Society's work didn't overtax the city's electrical system.

On the top floor there was a large board room for the steering committee which ran the organization. A long mahogany table ran the length of the room. Six carved wooden chairs lined each side, with a large, high-backed leather chair at one end. Next to the leather chair, looking as if it had been placed there as an afterthought, was a plain folding camp chair. 

And a fair amount of activity takes place in this facility I had no idea even existed until I wrote those words! Although I know who the ultimate villain will turn out to be, I had know idea he would have a confederate, and a ruthless one at that:

Smith opened the laboratory notebook to a marked page, and turned the book to face Connors. “Can you explain these figures?” Smith asked in a flat voice.

Connors looked at the numbers Smith had indicated with a long index finger. He studied them for a moment, uneasy, without exactly knowing why.

“It looks like I reversed the numbers after the decimals,” he said finally. “3.92 is too far out of spec. 3.29 is the correct reading, I’m sure.”

Smith pursed his lips and nodded. “Did you not read my note cautioning you against making false readings, Dr. Connors?”

“I – I did,” Connors stammered. “This notation was an honest mistake, I promise.”

Smith slammed a fist down on the desk, The notebook jumped from the force of the impact, Connors jumped from the force of the sound.

“Let me make things even clearer, Doctor,” Smith said. “Anything that delays the outcome of this project -- deliberate sabotage, sloppy work, anything -- will not be tolerated.”

Smith signaled to the two guards standing on either side of Connors. One seized his shoulders.

“You’re right-handed, I believe, Dr. Connors?” asked Smith.

Stunned, Connors nodded dumbly. Smith arched an eyebrow and the second guard grasped Connors left arm at the elbow and the wrist. With a swift motion he pushed Connors hand flat onto the desk, the fingers splayed out on the oak surface.

Smith opened a desk drawer. In it were a variety of implements. Smith dug through them and pulled out a rubber mallet, similar to the ones auto mechanics used.

Smith’s hand whipped over his head and brought the mallet down hard on Connor’s left little finger. Pain overpowered the scientist. His knees buckled and he gasped for air. As he sagged, the two guards released their hold and he sank slowly to the floor.

Smith walked around his desk and stood over him. He gently tapped the mallet in the cupped palm of his left hand.

“You have received a warning, and a punishment. I have other tools in my drawer that can deliver much more pain. Your finger will bruise and swell, but will heal over time. Let it serve as reminder. I expect full cooperation, and I expect your best work at all times. You will return to your lab now and do so.”

The two guards each grabbed an arm and helped Connors to his feet. They half-walked, half-drug him to the door. One opened it, and before they pulled Connors into the hall, they turned him around to face Smith once more.

Smith pointed the mallet at Connors. “I expect not to see you in my office again. The consequences next time will be worse, I promise you.” 
Since I've started writing, everything has just flowed, and I'm able to bang out about 2,000 words a day. Have I finally hit my stride as a writer? I'm not 100% sure, but whatever this feeling is, I like it!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Danielpour: Darkness in the Ancient Valley

Richard Danielpour: Darkness in the Ancient Valley 
Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor 
Angela Brown, soprano 
Hila Plitmann, soprano 

Darkness in the Ancient Valley is Richard Danielpour's attempt to return to his Persian heritage. The basis for this five-movement symphony is a 16th century Iranian poem.

To my ears, the opening movement sounds like film music trying to evoke a Middle Eastern setting. But as the work progresses, pastiche gives way to passion, and the music develops its own blended and original voice. The final movement for orchestra and soprano (Hila Plitmann, for whom the part was written) brings the work home with an emotional and transcendent finale.

Rounding out the release are two other orchestral works. Lacrimae Beati sounds a little like Copland with its open intervals. Although based on the first eight bars of Mozart's Requiem (reportedly the last music he ever wrote), Danielpour so completely integrates the source material that there's almost no trace of the original composer. And that's a good thing -- this is a deeply personal work, a musing on mortality. It would be jarring to Mozart's music stick out from the rest of the composition.

A Woman's Life, a setting of eight poems by Maya Angelou, has a distinctively American feel to it. But it's not Copland Americana. While the harmonies may sound similar, the rhythm of the words and the melodic seem to recall African-American gospel traditions. The work was composed for soprano Angela Brown, and her performance here infuses the words with understated drama and urgency. A beautiful orchestral song cycle that deserves a place in the repertoire.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Jean Maillard: A renaissance composer rediscovered

Jean Maillard:
Missa Je Suis Deheritee & Motets
The Marian Consort; Rory McCleery, director
Delphian Records

Jean Maillard was a student of Josquin des Prez, and his music inspired Palestrina. Although little-known today, this French composer's music was highly regarded by his contemporaries. And listening to these performances by the Marian Consort, it's easy to understand why.

Maillard carefully and tastefully builds his contrapuntal compositions in a manner similar to Palestrina, although with a lighter touch. The primary work on this album, the Missa Je suis Desheritee is one of Maillard's largest works, and the most popular during his lifetime. It, like the motets interspersed throughout, show a composer in full command of his talent, able to create ethereal cathedrals from pure sound.

The Marian Consort has a uniform clarity of tone that's well-suited to these works. The ensemble blend is quite smooth throughout, although at times the sopranos seemed to have a slight edge to their voices (especially after a wide upwards leap).

All in all, though, this is a disc that should be in the collection of anyone who loves renaissance sacred music. Maillard may be the link between Des Pres and Palestrina, but he has a style all his own.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Gasoline Alley and the Old Comic Strip Challenge 27

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 27 has me completely stumped. This strip ran in June, 2013, and ever since I've been trying to identify the pig featured so prominently.

Just to remind you  of the parameters of this sequence, Jim Scancarelli's set the action in the Old Comic Strip Retirement Home. So the characters (with the exception of Gasoline Alley's Walt Wallet and Slim Skinner), are all from discontinued comic strips. 

So the character is definitely not Porky Pig. It's possible that it's an advertising figure, such as the Pepsi Cola cops, but I'm doubtful. Could it be one of the Three Little Pigs from Walt Kelly's comic? Perhaps, but I'm not entirely sure. So for now, I simply have to mark this character

1. Unknown

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Diabelli Project 018 - Odd-metered fugue for 2 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.

I admit it -- I love odd meters. This week's installment features one in 5/8. One thing about the way I write -- I'm very careful about the notation. Beams connect groups of notes for two reasons; readability and to show organization. As you can see, the overall pulse of this fugue is a group of three followed by a group of two. Were I to continue this, I might change that around, perhaps even playing 3+2 against 2+3 at some point. (click on image to enlarge)

But I'm not going to finish this (at least not for a while). And so you're invited to give this sketch your own spin. What do you think happens next? If you complete this fugue, please share your results!

Friday, November 08, 2013

Dick Tracy and the Unseen Cameo

Cameos by other comic strip characters in Dick Tracy is nothing new. Under the creative team of Mike Curtis and Joe Staton, Dick Tracy has taken on new life -- and not always taken itself too seriously. I've already noted the appearance of Boston Charlie from Terry and the Pirates, and Walt Wallet from Gasoline Alley (even a crossover with the Jumble team).

The sequence run the last week of October, 2013 was a little unusual for two reasons. The first being that the crossover character never appeared in panel (well, not completely). As you can see from the examples below, there's no doubt who the occupants of the neighboring cabin are. (click on images to enlarge).

We get a little foreshadowing with the name of the boat -- Swee'pea. And Olive's profile is unmistakable. I imagine copyright constraints prevented Popeye and the cast of Thimble Theater from appearing onstage. I applaud the creative way X and Staton worked around that obstacle to tell the story they wanted to tell. Well done!

I said there were two things unusual about the sequence. Here's the second. To my knowledge, this is the first time Dick Tracy has gone on vacation without running into a master criminal -- and that includes his honeymoon!

Thanks to Curtis and Staton for giving the world's most famous detective some time off.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Marcel Tyberg: Symphony No. 3 - A Voice Not Silenced

Marcel Tyberg
Symphony No. 3
Piano Trio in F major
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta, conductor
Michael Ludwig, violin; Roman Mckinulov, cello; Ya-Fe Chuang, piano

Marcel Tyberg finished his third symphony in 1943, shortly before his arrest by the Nazis and death at Auswitz. Fortunately, he entrusted all of his scores to a friend and so they survived the war.

The symphony is a marvelous post-romantic work, and reminds me very much of Bruckner’s 4th Symphony without in any way sounding derivative. Tyberg’s melodies are full-bodied and bursting with energy. The Scherzo is a particular delight, and the adagio is absolutely gorgeous.

It’s a bittersweet listening experience. The symphony stands on its own merits, but it makes one wonder what Tyberg might have accomplished had he lived.

Coupled with the Symphony is the piano trio from 1936. Like the symphony, it’s a lush, romantic work with plenty of opportunities for all the players to shine. In a video promoting this release, JoAnn Falletta stated she’s fallen in love with Tyberg’s music. And her performance shows it.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

John McDonald: Airy - music for violin and piano

John McDonald: Airy, Music for Violin and Piano
Joanna Kurkowicz, violin
John McDonald, piano

Airy brings together  John McDonald's music for violin and piano, bringing together light-hearted miniatures with more serious long-form compositions. It's an appealing program that's full of variety. Mad Dance, Op. 66 and the Suite of Six Curt Pieces, Op. 326 are just plain fun, while the major work, the Sonata for Solo Violin, Op. 219 is more complex composition with greater emotional depth.

In the program notes, McDonald says he considers many of these works to be songs without words -- and it's an apt description. Poem, Op. 12, for example, is based on the poetry of Samuel Beckett. The shape of the music is determined by the poem, although not a word is sung. That's also the case with Lily Events, Op. 97 (inspired by poetry collection),  and the Lines After Keats, Op. 336.

There's an audible chemistry between violinist Joanna Kurkowicz and the composer (who accompanies her). Airy is the title of the release, and airy it is.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Why I voted -- and you should, too

Off-year elections traditionally have low turn outs. And that's too bad. Because most people don't understand that all elections are important -- especially the local ones. This year here in the Old Dominion we're electing a governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.

So what? So, if you live in Virginia, these three leaders can have a great impact on your life. The governor and attorney general can set the tone for state government, deciding what laws to enact (or enforce), what tax initiatives to enact (or repeal), what programs and services get funded or defunded, and a variety of other things that directly impact everyday life.

A lot of attention is focused on the federal government, but a lot of what really concerns most citizens can be impacted by state, regional, and local officials. But because most people choose to sit out the "unimportant" elections, it means that those officials are selected by a much smaller pool.

Here's how the numbers break down for the county I live in:

Total population: 33,481
Total number of registered voters (2012) 21,830 total; 20,733 active.

So about 62% of the population votes. In other words, in a group of 3 people, 1 person gets to make the decision.

In the 2012 Presidential election, 16,118 people voted. That's 73% of the total who were registered, and 48% of the general population. In other words, in a group of 2 people, 1 made the decision and the other had to live with it.

In 2011, there weren't any big seats up for grabs, although our county's Commonwealth Attorney position was.  8,765 people decided who would get that job. That's about 40% of the registered voters, and 26% of the population. In other words, out of a group of 25 people, 1 person got to pick.

Now imagine yourself in a committee or a gathering of some kind with 25 people. A decision is put to the group, and one person stands up and said "I'll decide." Chances are you (and the other 23) would demand to know who died and made them king (or queen).

Well, if you choose not to vote, you did. And sometimes the small minority that actually turns out  makes decisions that run counter to the majority. But if the majority stays home, that's just too bad.

Not many people turned out to elect our county's Commonwealth Attorney. But that's the person who prosecutes criminals, decides which laws to strictly enforce and which require a more pragmatic approach. That's the person who cuts deals with defendants -- or decides not to. In other words, it's a person who has a direct impact on the safety of my home and family. I am not leaving that decision to somebody else!

Although I always encourage everyone to be good citizens, in a way I don't mind the way things are. I always vote, so I'm that one guy who gets to decide for the other 24. And in situations like that, it's good to be the king.

Monday, November 04, 2013

NaNoWriMo - Late out of the gate

It's November, and once again I'm participating in the National November Writing Month event. The goal, as always, is to write at 50,000 word novel in the space of 30 days. The purpose, however, is a little different. By having such a goal, it forces the writer (or at least this writer) to bypass their inner editor and just get the words down on paper (real or virtual). So my blog posting might not be as regular as you, dear reader, have come to expect.

My professional writing is carefully edited and researched by myself and by others. So I tend to write carefully. But for this event, I just open up the spigot and let it flow. Editing afterwards is a real chore, but it's still thrilling to watch a novel (however misshapen) take form as the month wears on.

This month, I start with a slight disadvantage. I was unable to begin until today, which means I'm already a few thousand words behind schedule. So I'll really have to pick up the pace.

I have another disadvantage, too. My original story outline just wasn't coming together at all. So at on the last day of October, I scrapped it and started over. The new story has promise. Below is the outline, such as it is.

There's only one problem, though. Although I'm only about 1,500 words into the story, I'm already off track and have introduced a new concept to the story. Where this one ends up is anybody's guess!

The Burning Death

Short plot:
It's 1936 and someone is stealing scientists to work on a special weapons system – a heat ray that can melt steel like butter. Raven tracks the villain to his island lair off the coast of Maine. X intends to sell the device to the highest bidder. In order to ensure it won’t be stolen, he has a bomb built into the only working prototype that receives a continual radio signal. If it’s interrupted, the bomb goes off. All of the documents relating to the ray are stored in an single vault, deep within the island.

Plot outline:
Chapter 1: Plant is raided and scientist stolen – Rowland reveals that several scientists have gone missing.

Chapter 2: Raven talks with Conners about pattern. There seems to be a pattern of experts in two fields. Body fished out of East river.

Chapter 3: The Barrs are talking with Roland when King bursts into the scene. He wants to know what Conners thinks, too. He reveals that the dead man is one of the missing scientists. Post mortem reveals he was chained.

Chapter 4: Conners kidnapped from home. Barrs have gone to pick him up, fail to stop kidnapping, but manage to down one of the kidnappers.

Chapter 5: Captured kidnapper just a local hire, but does give a name of who hired him. Y. MacGuffey tracks down Y in local tavern. Makes arrest, but Y is gunned down in the streets.

Chapter 6: MacGuffey goes to Y’s apartment looking for clues with Raymond, looking for clues. As they search, gunmen burst in and fan the room with a heat ray.

Chapter 7: Raymond manages to get MacGuffey out through the fire escape and fights off the gunmen. He drops on one, knocking him cold. The boss of the retreating raiders kill the captured man.

Chapter 8: Conners force to work on project – sees setup. Chained to work area, as are all scientists. Small prototype kept in vault where everyone’s papers are stored every evening.

Chapter 9: The body has a matchbook for a diner in Casco Bay, Maine. There’s also the last part of a phone number. King starts tracking the number, advises the Barrs to stay out.

Chapter 10: The Barrs arrive in Casco Bay. As Raven, Raymond goes to the diner and hangs out. Eventually he sees the boss. He signals Crow, and the two follow him to the docks and watch him take a launch out. They wait. When the launch comes in again. They slip into the water with breathing tubes. When the launch leaves, it drags Raven and Crow behind it.

Chapter 11: Conners surreptitiously palms gear. With it, he escapes from his cell. He soon discovers, though that security is too tight.

Chapter 12: The Barrs land on the island. They explore cautiously. There is a test site for the large heat ray. They see it in action. Crow is sent back to get help.

Chapter 13: Conners finally meets X and recognizes him. He is told he will cooperate or else. Raven glides through fortress, mapping it.

Chapter 14: The launch is in the middle of the bay when the pilot spots the rope pulling Crow. Getting suspicious, he stops the motor and begins to pull it in. A fight ensues and Crow is apparently killed. The launch returns to the island.

Chapter 15: The pilot reports the stowaway, and since he was coming from the island, the alarm is sounded. Raven is captured.

Chapter 16: Crow manages to swim to shore and contact King before passing out. The question is, will they arrive in time.

Chapter 17: Crow returns to the island. There’s a private airstrip on it, and he sees planes arriving. He sees the emissaries getting out, and recognizes Graupner!

Chapter 18: Conners opens his chains, and manages to free the other scientists. They overpower the guards and make for the door, but are met with heavy resistance.

Chapter 19: The heat ray is revealed, with Raven bound before it. As a small demonstration, X turns on the ray to its lowest setting, burning Raven’s abdomen. He then opens the bidding.

Chapter 20: The auction starts. Graupner tries to take control, but time bomb is revealed. He needs to sit down and bid against the others. Crow races through fortress.

Chapter 21: Conners and his escaped scientists have to go lower into the fortress. Bidding continues

Chapter 22: Resistance increases for Raven. X warned that there’s trouble. Bidding is suspended Conners and scientists reach vault. This is where transmitter is stored. Conners has idea.

Chapter 23; Raven breaks through guards, and now faces the heat ray. X fires up the ray. The bidders scatter in confusion. Raven dodges ray as it destroys chamber. Conners cuts off the transmitter. Both ray guns explode

Chapter 24: Raven is buried under the rubble, Crow is dazed. Conners and scientists fight their way up, and are met by King. Crow manages to free Raven and the two disappear before King arrives. X is killed, and most of the bidders are captured. Graupner escapes.

Chapter 25: Epilogue . Wrap up loose ends

Friday, November 01, 2013

Mauro Giuliani, Volume 2 - An appealling program

Mauro Giulinai, Volume 2
David Starobin, guitar
Amalia Hall, violin
Inon Barnatan, piano

This recording has two things going for it. First, it's an album by David Starobin, one of the most talented classical guitarists performing today. Second, it's released on Starobin's record label, Bridge, which has been recording guitar music since 1981. In other words, a perfect match of artist and recorded sound.

Mauro Giuliani's compositions are part of the classical tradition of Mozart and Haydn. Starobin plays them with warmth and delicacy. Although written as showpieces, Starobin chooses to emphasize the musicality of the works, a decision that I think adds to their overall appeal.

And Starobin wisely varies the program, too. Included are the Op. 24a variations for violin and two rondos for violin and guitar. Violinist Amalia Hall plays with a simple purity of tone that perfectly suits the elegant variations. Inon Barnalan's style also meshes nicely with Starobin's, although I thought the recorded piano sound was a little muted.

All in all, though, an excellent recording of classical guitar works by Giuliani. Perhaps there will be a volume 3 someday...