Monday, June 30, 2014

Spam Roundup, June, 2014

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

- Each new age brought the criminal element forward with it. Then consider yourself one of the few, true internet marketers.It's probably some mix of the two, so I have to give him props for not going too far in either direction.
[So are you saying I part of the criminal element, Internet marketers, or what?]

Spelling Counts
- You should take part in a contest for one of tthe highest quality websites online. I most certainly will hihly recommend this website!
[I hihly doubt your recommendation will mean much unless you work on your spelling.] 

- Hi there, all the time i used to check web sie posts here early in the break off day, because i like tto lerarn mor and more.
[I'd like you tto lerarn mor and more about about spelling, please.]  

Lumbering along with a load of spam
Of course we received more comments about The Straco Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering along, a short post about small vintage Japanese tinplate toy.

The Nomura 3" Lumber Truck, ca. 1960. One of the hottest
topicsonline -- if my posted comments are to be believed.
- And tҺаt's reflected in tҺe price-it sells neԝ fօr ɑbout $400. You should consider batteries ѡhich can be ɑvailable from 9. Initially tools simply աere created fгom shells and stones.
[Um, this toy goes for about $10 tops. And it has a friction motor. And -- I have no idea what shells and stones have to do with anything.]

- I’m not that much of a online readеr to be ɦonest but your blogs really nice, keep it up! I'll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back later on. All the Ьest
[To be fionest, I don't think much of your comment.]

 - WOW just what I was searching for. Came here by searching for erotic arts on The Straco Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering along
[Wow, did you come to the wrong blog!]

- Hello everyone, it's my first visit at this web site, and post is genuinely fruitful for me, keep up posting these content.
[We'll try to keep up the fruity goodness!]

What could be more fastidious than spam?
The word "fastidious" continues to be a favorite with these guys. How many ways can you misuse a word? Here are a few:

- Asking questions are truly fastidious thing if you are not understanding something totally, however this post presents good understanding even.

- Wow, this article is fastidious, my sister is analyzing such things, therefore I am going to inform her.

- Very rapidly this website will be famous among all blogging and site-building viewers, due to it's fastidious posts
[Yes, fastidious fame -- that's what I'm after.] 

- Its not my first time to pay a visit this site, i am browsing this web page dailly and take fastidious information from here daily.

- Ahaa, its fastidious dialogue on the topic of this piece of writing at this place at this web site, I have read all that, so at this time me also commenting at this place.
[Ahaa, indeed.]

- Asking questions are in fact fastidious thing if you are not understanding anything completely, except this article offers pleasant understanding even.
[We're all about pleasant understanding. Even.] 

 - Hello, its fastidious piece of writing concerning media print, we all be familiar with media is a fantastic source of facts.
 [Make that fastidious facts, if you please.] 

 And that's it for this month. Remember to keep your posts genuinely fruitful, full of fionest, fastidious information. Because you never know whose sister is analyzing such things.

Friday, June 27, 2014

CCC 107 - Chan Ka Nin

This installment of the Consonant Classical Challenge features Canadian composer Chan Ka Nin. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Chan emigrated to Canada, and teaches at the University of Toronto. His musical language, as one might expect, blends both Eastern and Western traditions into a unique compositional voice. As his website describes it,
Characteristically luminous in texture and exotic in instrumental colors, Prof. Chan's music has been described by critics as "sensuous," "haunting," and "intricate." The composer often draws his inspiration directly from his personal experiences: for example, the birth of one of his daughters, the death of his father, his spiritual quests, or his connection to nature and concern for the environment.
Chan's music is most definitely tonal, without being confined to the major/minor tradition. There are strong tonal centers which his music moves away from and returns to.

The Fantasia & Fugue for solo piano has some of that afore-mentioned flavor of exoticisim. Chan's use of pentatonic melodies give the Fantasia an Eastern flavor. The fugue follows Western tradition more closely, but because the underlying structure isn't rooted in a major or minor system, the harmonic motion is much freer and the work has a natural flow to it.

Chan's chamber work Among Friends is in essence a conversation between the clarinet, piano, and cello. Chan's melodies are mostly diatonic, which ensures they'll fit together with very little dissonance. At the same time, it gives him the freedom to create long, involved passages that wind in and out of each other, creating a continually shifting mix of timbres that keep things moving along.

The influences of East and West work both ways. Chan's Double Happiness Trio is written for two erhus and piano. Although the erhu (also known as the Chinese violin) is an Eastern instrument, Chan's music is more Western in orientation, somewhat resembling Debussy or Ravel. Yet he still takes full advantage of the unique attributes of the erhus in his writing.

Chan Ka Nin writes engaging and accessible music that I believe most audiences could enjoy on first hearing. I'd like to explore more of his catalog, especially his orchestral writing. It seems to me that performing groups looking to move beyond standard repertoire to engage new audiences (without losing their current ones) should consider programming a work or two by Chan Ka Nin.

Recommended Recordings

Chan, Ka Nin: Majestic Flair

Canadian Premieres

Orchestral Works

Wild Bird

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Collecting -- and collecting information 16

Who made these, and were they sold as a set?
It doesn't take much to open up a line of inquiry. In this case, it was an impulse purchase costing a dollar. I'm always on the lookout for appropriate accessories to add to the Straco Express display layout. The main criteria are that additions have to be Made in Japan tinplate toys from the 1950s-1960s.

At a recent toy train show, two such items caught my eye. They were brightly lithographed road signs, and were marked $0.50 each. Sold.

When I got home, I examined them carefully.  Both were marked "Made in Japan," and both had a patent number of them -- but no manufacturer's mark. Unfortunately, the patent number didn't yield and information from the available American and Japanese patent registers, so the maker is still a mystery.

Clearly the same manufacturer (note the octagonal sign),
but this set yielded no additional information.
In the process of searching, though, I ran across an assortment of similar signs for sale. The signs were clearly a set: each one was made the same way, with the same peculiar shade of blue paint covering the back.

Along with the signs were six under-sized toy cars. Two blue, two red, and two green, with identical lithographed details. They all belonged together, but did they belong with the signs.

I think so. The style of the lithography is consistent, and the undersides of the vehicles are the same blue as the signs. I was even surer of my deduction because of a second assortment that became available.

A three-piece toy train with four railroad signs went up for auction, which I won. Like the car set, the locomotive and the passenger cars have their undersides painted blue, and it is indeed the same blue as the back of the signs. Plus, both this set and the car set have the same octagonal RR crossing sign.

Both the backs of the signs and the
undersides of the cars were painted the
same blue, suggesting a common origin.
I'm pretty sure that the train and the signs were also sold as a set. The only question is, do I have a complete one?   The car set has six signs (two pairs, plus two odd designs), and six cars. The train set has four unique signs and a three-piece train. Have some of the passenger cars been lost along with some of the signs?

It's possible that the train set had matching railroad crossing signs, just as the car set had matching railroad crossing and traffic intersection signs. On the other hand, the pin and loop connectors are only marginally effective at keeping the rolling stock coupled. Adding three more passenger cars, light though they may be, might be too much for the couplers.

Plus, the semaphore and the crossbuck sign are larger than any of the road signs, using about twice the metal. So perhaps to keep the price the same, the train set only had seven pieces while the car set had 12.

The undersides of the train pieces are the same blue,
and the tires appear identical to those of the
toy cars.
Lots of questions, that can only be partially answered at this point. I've noticed on eBay that more of these vintage Japanese penny toys are coming on the market in their original plastic bags, reclaimed from unsold (and probably forgotten) store stock. The cardboard tag on such a bag may have the answers I'm looking for.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Johann Nepomuk David: Symphonies 1 & 6 -- a confluence of influences

Johann Nepomuk David
Symphonies Nos. 1 & 6
ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien
Johannes Wildner, conductor

Johann Nepomuk David's (1895-1977) was an Austrian composer, teacher, and conductor who managed to go his own way. As a young man he was fascinated by Bruckner and Mahler. He later became a devotee of Brahms, and in the 1930's studied with Arnold Schoenberg. But it was the music of Bach that remained his life-long obsession and inspiration.

All of those influences come together in David's music. The result isn't a mishmash of styles, but a unique sound that happily acknowledges its roots.

The Symphony No. 1 (1936) starts with a bold, simple theme. That theme grows and expands, as Schoenberg might develop a 12-tone motif. In this case, though, the development remains firmly grounded in tonality (albeit the expanded tonality of Mahler). Structurally, the work moves from event to event like Bruckner. But it's the rigorous counterpoint that provides development and overarching organization for the work.

Written in 1954, David's Sixth Symphony shows how far the composer progressed. The orchestration is more adventuresome, the harmonies more ambitious, and even the counterpoint sounds more relaxed and intuitively written. David never totally abandoned tonality, although this work has a more modal sound than the major/minor melodies of the first symphony.

Johannes Wildner and the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna perform these works with clarity and precision, making the counterpoint easy to follow. The ensemble has a warm, smooth sound that seem to give David's harmonies an added richness.

I found these symphonies quite appealing, and I think listeners who enjoy Zemlinksy, Reger, or Martinu might find them so as well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Kenner Sky Rail Project Part 1 - The challenge

Instructions for the Kenner No. 18
Sky Rail Set.
Dad has started me off on yet another oddball adventure. He's a member of the Capital Miniature Auto Collectors Club. The tradition is that the rotating host come up with a program (related to toy cars, of course).

Long-time readers may recall that when Dad hosted in 2012, he decided the theme should be Japanese tin toy vehicles of the postwar era. Since most of the toys were mine originally, yours truly was designated the guest speaker -- and started my frenzied investigation to quickly become an expert in the subject.

This time, Dad's decided the theme will be building toys often used with toy cars -- and since most of the building sets residing in his collection were originally mine...

Here we go again.

The plan is to hold the meeting at a facility with several tables where these sets could be assembled. And there are a bunch of them. Just among the Graves collection are:
1) American Brick - pressed composite flat Lego-style bricks.
2) Block City - plastic locking blocks that created mid-1950's-style homes and structures
3) Legos (other members will probably bring examples of those -- we'll focus on the more exotic building sets)
4) Kenner Girder and Panel sets

Just a few of the many things you could build by combining
Girder & Panel sets.
Girder and Panel Sets
Kenner made over thirty different girder and panel sets from 1957 to 1965. After that, Kenner assets passed through several hands, ending up at Bridge Street Toys and are still available (after a fashion) today.

I was the recipient of four different sets; the No. 4 Bridge and Turnpike set, the No. 3 Girder and Panel Building set, the No. 16 Build-A-Home Subdivision set, and the No. 18 Sky Rail set. They also made a Hydromatic Building set, but Mom wasn't about to have model waterworks (with real water) keeping her basement damp.

All the sets could be used together, so it was possible to create some elaborate structures and roadways. Most of the sets were compatible with H0 scale vehicles, so my Matchbox cars and trucks had an instant urban environment to drive in.

Here it is, my No. 18 set -- opened for the first time
since 1968.
The challenge
For the car club presentation, it will be my task to build something with each of the already mentioned sets to show as examples. The real challenge will be the Sky Rail.

The Kenner Sky Rail was a fairly ambitious toy. It was a monorail that operated on direct current, supplied by two "D' cell batteries. Like the Japanese battery-operated train sets I've worked with (see the Straco Express series), operation was marginal at best.

So the goal is to take this play set that has remained in storage since 1968 and restore it to operating condition (if possible) in time for the meeting next month. This will be a challenge.

Read all the posts about this project here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Diabelli Project 046 - Piano Piece in A minor

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 the next few posts, expect more fledgling piano pieces. I kind of got on a roll and the ideas just flowed. Like this one. The idea of the alternating 5/8 and 6/8 measures came first, and that pattern determined the structure and the shape of the melody. (click on image to enlarge)

So where does that build-up at the end of measure 8 lead to? That's up to you. Perhaps the tension set up by the alternating meters is released with a calming section of 4/4. Or maybe it transitions into a new key center. You're welcome to finish this bit of flash composition any way you choose. Just let know what you came up with.

Friday, June 20, 2014

CCC 106 - Roger Zare

This week American composer Roger Zare is the focus of the Consonant Classical Challenge. Zare began playing the piano at 5, and composing at 14. As he's matured, so has his compositional skill. Zare is fascinated with science and nature, and often uses them as sources of inspiration. That doesn't mean his music is dry or academic. Rather, it provides an underlying logic to his works. Zare seems to prefer consonant intervals that move and resolve in unusual ways because of that logic.

The chamber work "Geometries" brings mathematics to the fore. The first movement, "Fractals" presents a theme that continually generates smaller versions of itself, increasing in complexity and harmonic richness as it progresses. The second, "Tangents" has a single line melody that goes off into, well, tangents.

"Aerodynamics" for orchestra is a tone poem describing a hang glider flight. Zare's effective orchestration turns the ensemble into the rising and falling wind currents, over and through which the simple melody is kept aloft.

"Lift-Off" captures the excitement of watching a space shuttle launch. Zare has both an orchestral and concert band version of this work, and both are equally exciting.

Roger Zare has found a new way of organizing music that not only opens up fresh new possibilities, but doesn't leave the audience behind. Most of the music I've heard is quite accessible, though never failing to surprise or delight. I'd love to hear a concert program open with "Lift-Off." Then we'd be getting somewhere!

Recommended Recordings

Although I couldn't find any recordings available for sale, Roger Zale has his own YouTube channel where you can enjoy many of his compositions.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Straco Layout, Part 34 - Signs for Safety

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

It wasn't that long ago that I ran across two vintage Japanese tinplate road signs that proved perfect for the Straco Express display layout (See: Part 33 - Signs for Change). Once I was aware such things existed, I started looking for them. I was sure my two signs were part of a set, and I was right.

I did find an example of the set, which had four signs plus four under-sized cars. What I didn't know was that there was a companion set by the same unknown manufacturer -- and this one had railroad signs!

The Japanese tinplate toy train and companion
railroad signs -- manufacturer unknown.
The set consists of four safety markers common on most railroads (at least in the postwar era), and a small toy train to go with it. (click on images to enlarge)

The signs were over-sized compared to the train, but that was fine -- I bid on the set anyway, and won the auction. Included with the set were two railroad crossing signs: an octagonal sign that matches the one I already had, and a crossbuck railroad crossing sign. The road crosses the tracks at three places, so now every crossing is marked (at least in one direction).

The set also had two railroad signals. The tall semiphone was used to indicate whether the rails ahead were clear or not. This is something one would see on a mainline. The smaller signal (called a dwarf signal), served the same purpose for secondary branch lines and sidings.

The semiphore signal for the mainline.
Taken all together, the signs add visual interest to the layout (I think). Now if only I could find the companion road set...

Total cost for the project:
Layout construction:
  • Pegboard: $4.95
  • Flathead Screws: $0.40
  • Molding: $2.49
  • SilClear: borrowed from a friend
  • Green Paint: left over from another project
  • Wood Screws: $3.60
  • Felt Pads: $1.99
The dwarf signal helps keep the spur line safe.
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29
Bandai Areo Station: $8.99
2 tinplate signs: $1.00
4 tinplate signs (with train) $5.99

  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Namura Police Car $2.52
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • Namura lumber truck $3.48
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • 6 Namura vehicles $16.99
  • LineMar Pepco Truck $8.50
  • LineMar Bond Bread Van $8.00 
  • Linemar Fire Engine $4.95 
  • Linemar Dump Truck $12.99
  • Namura Red Sedan $5.00
Total Cost: $127.98

Now all the crossings are marked.

The crossbuck railroad crossing sign -- you'll just have to
imagine those lights are flashing.

The signs add some welcome variety to the display layout.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio's Successful American Tour

An American Tour
Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio
Bridge Records

"An American Tour" presents a quick survey of American piano trio music in the 21st century. It's an ambitious program, but the Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio is more than equal to the task. The ensemble worked closely with two of the four composers featured, and counts one as a member. These personal relations let the ensemble go deep into the works to get at the essence of what the composers were trying to express.

Lera Auerbach's Triptych almost sounds like a musical collage. Eastern European cafe music mixes with extended instrumental technique, pointalistic melodies, and slightly off-kilter tonal passages. Yet, in the capable performances of the Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio, it all blends together into a coherent - and highly expressive -- whole.

Chen Yi is another composer the group has worked with. Her "Tunes From My Home," is a fascinating blend of Oriental and Occidental musical traditions. Yes, the source material is Cantonese, but it's been completely reworked. The pentatonic melodic outline is there, and occasionally the violin and cello mimic the plucked sound of Chinese string instruments. The working out of the material proceeds in a manner more familiar to Western audiences.

Clancy Newman is the group's cellist -- and also a talented composer. According to the liner notes, his piece Juxt-Opposition is based on a methodical working-out of an eight note motif. And it one that works. Like all good music, it lives on the merits of its own sound, and requires no extra-musical information to help the listener make sense of it. The work just naturally seems to unfold from its sparse opening, branching out in many directions in the process.

Paul Schoenfield's Cafe Music is probably the most famous piano trio written in the last few years (or at least the most popular). Four Music Videos, given time, may run a close second. It sprang from a request to write something for MTV -- but the results are much better than that. The four movements, "Rock Song," "Bossa Nova" "Film Score" and "Samba" all deliver on the promises of their titles. But Schoenfield uses these genres as a starting point, not the destination. The music is sassy, high-energy, and perhaps more jazzy than rock -- but great fun to listen to from start to finish.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Pearls Before Calvin and Hobbes 3

Usually when I comment on comic strip cameos, I often feel like I'm the only one. Not so with the recent collaboration between Stephen Pastis and the legendary Bill Watterson in Pearls Before Swine. The story of how Pastis got the reclusive creator of Calvin and Hobbes (1985-1995) to return (albeit briefly) to comic strips is best told by Pastis himself on his Pearls Before Swine blog. And the story's been carried in all the major news outlets -- which mainly focused on the enormous reaction the strips received.

Normally I write these comic strip commentaries for a specific audience -- folks who casually read the funnies, but haven't really considered them as an art form. To that end, I'd like look at the Pastis/Watterson collaboration in a different way. While everyone was dazzled by Watterson's panels, there was a lot of brilliant cartooning going that no one seemed to have noticed.

The story arc starts innocently enough, laying the foundation (Pastis' lack of talent) that the week's strips will riff on. While "Libby" is an oblique reference to "Bill, " there is nothing in the appearance of the character to suggest anything vaguely related to Calvin and Hobbes. (click on images to enlarge)

In the first collaborative sequence, look carefully at Pastis' expression in the first and last panels. In the first, he's angry. It would be simple enough to keep that same look in the last panel without altering the joke. But instead of being mad at Libby's portrayal, he's stunned. It gives his line "I don't approve," a different context, making it a weak statement rather than a stern refusal.

The punchline of this sequence isn't just a humorous understatement -- it's a major issue in the comics world. The space allotted to comics continues to decrease.  Many of the finely detailed drawings of older artists (from Windsor McKay to Frank Cho) would look cramped and muddied if reproduced in the smaller space that's now the norm.

The last collaborative sequence furthers the commentary on the state of comic strips with its punchline, too. (I've seen commentary claiming Betty and Veronica from "Archie" are depicted in the middle panel. Not so. There are three women -- a blonde, a brunette and a redhead. Having one of each natural hair color suggests the new and improved Stephen Pastis is appealing to all women.)

 The story arc ends with a pointed reference to Calvin and Hobbes' final panel. Most readers seemed to have got the connection, but did they notice how Pastis set it up?

Watterson ended his comic strip with the characters set in an almost all-white backround. Here's the last panel below. It's easy to see that Pastis gave Libby the same sled and same clothes as Calvin. But look carefully at all of the strips that came before it. All of them have every panel encased in a border -- save for the final sequence. There, the first panel has no border. It's just open white space -- a reference to the wide-open white spaces of Watterson's original.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Diabelli Project 045 - Piano Piece in D minor

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 seems to be an amalgam of the two previous piano pieces (Diabelli Project 042 and 043). The 5/8 bass pattern is similar to the other 5/8 fragment -- perhaps it's part of the same piece? The key is wrong, though -- it actually is related to the first sketch.

It could be that subconsciously I've been thinking about a piano piece, and all three of these are part of the same larger composition. If you find something in this sketch that's useful, though, don't feel you need to tie it to the other parts. This music is free for the taking -- in whatever form you want to take it in. Just let me know how it all turns out. And if I do decide to pull all of these pieces together, I promise to share the results.

Friday, June 13, 2014

CCC 105 - Tigran Mansurian

Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian is the subject this week of the Consonant Classical Challenge. Mansurian is a well-respected composer who enjoys an international reputation. He's won several artistic awards in his own country, and his choral work "Monodia" was nominated for two Grammy Awards in the field of classical music.

My goal with this series is to show that there are still living composers who have not completely abandoned classical traditions; composers who can create meaningful works of art using tonality. But there are many ways to use tonality, and the truly creative composers will push it in sometimes unexpected directions.

Tigran Mansurian is one such composer. His music has an emotional honesty about it, and he uses the tension between the consonance of triads and the grinding dissonances of minor seconds effectively and efficiently. Tonal music doesn't always have to sound pretty -- if it did, I wouldn't have started this series. What's the point of profiling the musical equivalents of Thomas Kincaid?

Mansurian's "Requiem" is a major work that contains all the basic elements of his style. The work is tonally based, though it may sound exotic to Western ears. Mansurian uses tetrachords as his scalar resource rather than major/minor keys. Tetrachords are a series of four notes (such as B-flat, C, D, and E-flat). The final note is the foundation of the next tetrachord and so on. The result is a "scale" that goes well beyond the eight notes of a major or minor scale, allowing for much richer melodic patters and chords. Both Armenian folk music and religious music is based on tetrachords. Mansurian's composition is actually quite traditional at heart, while simultaneously sounding modern and original.

Mansurian uses a similar process for his cello concerto. His orchestral compositions sound quite different than his choral works. The harmonies are much thicker, and the melodies move in less of a step-wise motion. Although the complexities of the melody weaken the sense of tonality, Mansurian provides long pedal points to help the listener find a frame of reference.

Ragtime is a good natured work that shows Mansurian can write a simple, straight-forward melody when he wants to. Of course, this work keeps it brash and sassy spirit by not always going in the most conventional direction, but that's part of the fun, I think.

String Quartet No. 3 strips down Mansurian's music to its essence. Long chromatic lines weave about through polyphonic chords and complex counterpoint. This short work is very tightly structured. Easily identified motives are repeated and return, giving the listener an aural road map of the work.

Tigran Mansurian has created an impressive body of work in all fields; orchestral, chamber, solo instrumental, choral. He's also written several film scores as well. And his music enjoys (relatively) frequent performance and recording. Still, it's more likely for one to hear his work performed in a concert program in Eastern Europe than here in America. And that's too bad. I think audiences who relate to Arvo Pärt and Bela Bartok might find Tigran Mansurian's music well-suited to their taste.

Recommended Recordings

Quasi Parlando


Hayren - Music Of Komitas And Tigran Mansurian

String Quartets

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Collecting -- and collecting information 15

My most recent acquisition -- and newest mystery.
A recent impulse purchase led to some more answers -- and questions -- to the nebulous subject of postwar Japanese toy manufacture. I found this box car (at right) sitting on a table a recent toy train meet (click on images to enlarge). It looked very close to the Nomura pieces I already owned, but there were puzzling differences. But it was also only $4.00, so I took a chance.

Sure enough, when I got home and did a side-by-side comparison, there were differences an similarities.

Nomura box car (left), and Rosko
mystery car (right)
  1. The Nomura Santa Fe car was marked with the company's logo -- "TN" in a diamond. The Boston and Maine (BM) myster car only said "Made in Japan" with no maker's mark. 
  2. The Nomrua car body was made of flat metal with a curved roof. The mystery piece had stamped detail, and creases in the metal to make a slanted roof with a catwalk. 
  3. The Nomura couplers had a hook and a flat hoop on one truck, and just a hoop on the other. The mystery piece had a hook with a thick hoop on both trucks. 
  4. The Rosko coupler could be
    easily disengaged mechanically.
  5. 4) The Nomura coupler made a simple connection. The mystery couplers had a curved tail hanging down that, when pushed up, lifted the coupler. It suggested a mechanical uncoupler of some kind.
  1. Both seemed to use the same frame design - and both frames were silver.
  2. Both had plastic trucks, and those trucks were almost identical in construction.
  3. Both truck frames were identical.
Rosko cattle car (top) and Nomura box car (bottom).
There does seem to be a strong family resemblance.
So was this a Nomura piece? The answer, as it turns out, is no -- and perhaps yes. Members of the Sakai and Seki Toy Train Discussion Group (specializing in Japanese tinplate) had the answers. The piece I had was part of a Rosko Tested train set. The De-Lux Electric Train Set with Whistle, to be precise.

This set featured a center-cab diesel locomotive, the mystery cattle car, a tank car, and a crane. Interestingly, the set came in two versions: one with a red color scheme, the other with a blue.

So that explains the differences. But what about the similarities? Well, it turns out that many of these companies subcontracted to each other, making for a certain mixing and matching of parts.

Mystery solved. My cattle car is part of a Rosko 1001 train set.
Available in blue, too.
 As one of the members of the forum explained,
[Rosko was] tied into AHI somehow. [AHI was Azrak Hamway International, Inc. an American import company founded in 1964 and bought by Remco in 1974]. Some Rosko boxed sets were made up of AHI components like the C156 engine and tender, Shell tank car and standard red caboose. I found another Rosko ho plastic battery set that used the TN/Nomura battery tower, and the consist appeared to be Bandai H0 pieces with different trucks. Makes it tough to keep some of these Japanese manufacturers straight.
So it's possible that the reason I noticed similarities with some features of the two items is because those parts were made by the same company. Was it Nomura, Rosko, or perhaps another company? My forum answer has lead to more questions...

My new Rosko piece added to a Nomura/Cragstan set. OK, it's not
authentic, but you have to admit it looks pretty good.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Glenn Kotche: Adventureland

Glenn Kotche
Cantaloupe Music

Glenn Kotche's latest effort is indeed an audio adventure. The major  work -- Anomaly -- was written for the Kronos Quartet, who perform in this recording.

The concept is intriguing -- treat acoustic instruments (a string quartet) as an extension of a drum kit, shading the drums' indefinite pitches with specific notes played by the paired stringed instrument.

Each of Anomaly's seven movements examines this interface from a different perspective, using the building blocks of minimalism to create tension and motion -- with just a touch of rock n' roll.

Interspersed throughout Anomaly are short solo works by Kotche. These are mostly electronic, with so much packed into each piece that they actually seem much larger than they are.

I recommend listening to this album two ways -- first, as the composer intended with all the tracks in order. The moving back and forth from Anomaly to the other pieces creates an organic and compelling meta-composition. The second way is to just listen to the Anomaly movements. The interconnections between the movements become much clearer, and almost assumes a different character when heard as an integrated whole.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Judith Shatin: Time to Burn

Judith Shatin: Time to Burn
James Dunham, viola
The Cassatt String Quartet

Margaret Kampmeier, piano
Arron Hill, oboe
I-Jen Fang, Mike Shutz, percussion
F. Gerard Errent, D. Gause, clarinet
Innova Records

"Time to Burn" provides an extensive overview of this innovative composer's output. Head collectively, the works brings to light several themes which Shatin revisits and reinterprets in differing ways; her Judaic heritage; using sound (not just musical notes) to create art; and the interface between technology and humanity.

One of the highlights is "Glyph," for viola, string quartet and piano. The music has a very open sound, giving the solo viola plenty of room to maneuver in. The work's elegiac opening gives way to more animated and thickly textured movements. The solo viola remains always at the forefront, sometimes interacting with the ensemble, other times floating serenely above the busyness, and occasionally commenting on the action.

The title track "Time to Burn" is an engaging work for oboe and two percussionists. Extended techniques make the oboe sound almost like an electronic instrument in places. The interplay between the three instruments, and the imaginative way in which they're used gives the music a sense of energy and even urgency.

To me, "Sic Transit" was the least successful work on the album. The piece is for percussionist and computer-assisted drum machine, which the soloist interacts with. I suspect "Sic Transit" works well as a theater piece, where the audience can see the performer react to the drum machine. Without visual cues, I found the music somewhat aimless.

"Elijah's Chariot" was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, and was written for string quartet and electronics from processed shofar sounds. The shofar is a traditional Jewish instrument made from a horn and used in religious services. Shatin uses the shofar to represent the heavenly chariot that comes for Elijah. The composition is a heady blend of acoustic and electronic, spiritual and secular, emotional and intellectual.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Diabelli Project 044 - Fugue in D Dorian

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

This week it's back to counterpoint with a four-voice fugue in D Dorian mode. Or at least the start of one. (click on image to enlarge)

What happens next? The invitation is extended. If you'd like to try your hand at finishing this, I welcome your effort. Just let me know of the final result. I might revisit this one at some point -- it would be interesting compare notes -- literally.

Friday, June 06, 2014

CCC 104 - Loris Ohannes Chobanian

Armenian-American composer Loris Ohannes Chobanian is this week's  Consonant Classical Challenge feature. In addition to being a respected educator, Chobanian is also a professional classical guitarist, and a talented conductor. As might be expected, Chobanian has composed a significant amount of music for guitar and guitar ensembles -- as well as the lute.

Chobanian's music has a practical feel to it. It's sometimes complex, but never impossible to play. Perhaps his experience as a conductor and performer make him sympathetic to the challenges of the players.

Chobanian uses tonality in innovative ways. His chordal structures are often triadic, and move about freely, unconstrained by the notions of major and minor keys. There are clear tonal centers in Chobian's works, though, that give the listener a point of reference. The distance the music travels from that reference point provides dramatic tension, and its return brings about a satisfying resolution.

Chobanian "Requiem April 24," uses modal harmonic motion to weaken the sense of major and minor keys. At the same time, it frees Chobanian to move the music in unexpected directions. And because most of it is supported by triads, the audience is never lost.

"Four Legends for String Orchestra" was written for the Baldwin-Wallace Junior Youth Orchestra. Individually, the parts don't require much in the way of technique -- ideal for younger players. Chobanian compensates by using rich harmonies, and simple counterpoint, creating a work that's engaging to listen to as a legitimate concert work, rather than a student exercise piece.

"Dowland in Armenia" combines renaissance musical structure with Armenian folk inflections in a sophsiticated work that's far more than just an arrangement of John Dowland tunes. And because Chobnian is a guitarist himself, the music lays quite well on the instrument.

Just how skillful is Chobanian as a guitarist? Here he is performing his work "Lament for Homeland."


Loris Chobanian has enjoyed a successful career as a performer, conductor, and a composer. He's enjoyed several important commissions by major ensembles. He's composed large amount of orchestral music, as well as chamber works, and -- of course -- guitar works. He's also written a number of works for wind ensemble that should be heard by a wider audience.

It's a shame his music isn't programmed more often -- and I'm not just talking about his guitar works. I, for one, would like to hear Chobanian's cello concerto in performance sometime.

Recommended Recordings:

Concierto del Fuego (The Music of Loris Ohannes Chobanian)

Chamber Works With Guitar

Jamerica: American Music for the Guitar Quartet

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Re-paving Paradise in the O-Gauge Zen Garden (Part 3)

After painting the road surface with
flat black paint, I added white warning
strips at the crossings with flat white.
In Part 2, I showed how I filled in a side street using a pre-made roadway. Since it wasn't wide enough for the main street, my option was to paint it.

When I originally decided to add lines to the roadway (see: DOT in the O-Gauge Zen Garden) my intention was to use a Sharpie paint marker to draw the lines. It turned out that the marker didn't make a line of a consistent thickness, nor did it cover adequately.

The solution was simple -- I used flat white paint with a very small brush. I had some scrap cork that I could practice on, and it's a good thing I did. I found that the white paint covered the black with one coat, but that coat had to be carefully applied.

I outlined the areas to paint with painter's tape. I marked on my ruler not only where the center of the road was, but the 1/16" on either side of it that I wanted to lay my tape.

Final check before painting. Note I also added parking lanes
at left.
I placed the tape very lightly on the surface so I could adjust it easily. To borrow an old builder's phrase, I was careful to measure twice, paint once. Once I had double-checked the measurements along the entire length of the road, I pressed the tape onto the surface, making sure it was smoothly applied over the entire length.

On my practice surface, I learned I needed to always paint away from the edge of the tape. Because cork has an irregular surface, when I painted towards the tape, small amounts of paint got pushed underneath the tape. This meant I had ragged edges when I removed the tape.

 When I painted the rectangular strips at the railroad crossings, (see image above), it was easy to do. With the very thin area exposed for the lane lines, I had to use short brush strokes with the smallest amount of paint to keep from brushing away from one edge and into another with the same stroke.

The most difficult part of the process wasn't the painting. Rather it was the positioning. Even with much of the scenery removed, there were still objects I had to lean over to reach the  roadway. Next layout, maybe I'll do this detail work before I add a mountain and telephone poles with wires!

As you can see from the image below, the finished project looked just the way I had envisioned it. The roads of my O-gauge zen garden are a little safer.

There's just one thing: I think the ramps at the crossings should have some type of warning marks painted on them.

That's going to require a stencil, I think, and that makes it a project for another day.

A definite improvement.