Friday, January 29, 2016

Spam Roundup, January, 2016

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

Hey, somebody broke the English

- I've been browsing on-line more than three hours as of late, yet I by no means found any attention-grabbing article like yours. I'ts pretty price enough for me.

- You actually make it appear so easy together with your presentation however I to find this matter to be actually one thing which I feel I'd never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely wide for me.

- I loved as much as you'll receive carried out right here

Lumbering Along into a New Year

This one post about the lumber truck has been featured
so many times in the Spam Roundup, I decided to take
some new pictures to keep things fresh. Enjoy!
The Straco Express Layout, Part 23 - Lumbering Along continues to be a high-traffic post. And I continue to be amused by the comments it brings in. Remember -- we're talking about a brief post about a small, cheap, Japanese friction toy car here.

- Its such as you read my thoughts! You appear to grasp a lot approximately this, like you wrote the e book or something. [Well, actually, I did write an e-book. But not about this!]

- If some one wished to be updated with most recent technologies afterward he must be visit this website and be up to date every day. [Sure. If you say so.]

- This piece of writing will help the internet viewers for creating new website. [No it won't.]

- Hi, i think i saw you visiting my site so i came to "return the favor." I'm trying to find things to imporve my site! suppose its ok to use some of your ideas! [No, and no.]

A fastidious end?

I'm not sure about these final two comments. Has the word "Fastidious" finally run its course among the spambots?

- thanks in support of sharing such a fastidious thought, paragraph is fastidious [iFastidious -- I got it.]

- thanks for the auspicious writeup. It in truth was a entertainment account it. [Is auspicious the new fastidious?]

That's all for this month. Overall, I think this month's selection is pretty price.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Haji Theme and Variations

Updated 6/14/15

One of the things I find fascinating about vintage toys is how manufacturers created a seemingly wide variety of items by just changing a few basic things (I'm sure current toy makers do this as well, but that's not my area of interest).

A good example of this (among many) are the inexpensive fleet of trucks produced by Mansei Toy Co. Ltd. Mansei used the brand name Haji. All of their products have the word "Haji" in an oval on them somewhere. Mansei was a small company, and produced toys from about 1951 through 1960, when they disappeared from the market. Documentation about the company and the products they carried are virtually non-existent, so all I know about these toys comes through observation.

Their series of 3-inch friction-powered trucks seem to be all produced around the same time. It's not clear if they were ever offered in sets. It's more likely they were imported just for individual sale.

As you can see, Mansei used the same frame and cab for the entire line. What they put on the truck bed changed, as did the colors of the trucks. What I find most interesting, though, is that they also changed the design of the lithography. If you look carefully, you'll see that the windshields and side doors vary on the cabs. Some have running lights on the roof, some don't.

Placed side by side, it's easy to see the variations. I'm not sure if it's significant, bot so far, I've only found two variations of each truck body type.

Delivery truck

Note how different the cab designs are. (click on images to enlarge)

Dump Truck

Again, Mansei didn't just change the color of the trucks -- the lithography is completely different for both. Even the font of the word "Dump" is different. 

Cement Mixer

It was difficult funding good examples of the cement mixer. These were very fragile toys, and because they were so inexpensive were often considered disposable. Although the cement tumbler is missing on the blue truck, enough of the frame remains to show how different these two mixers were in decoration.

Winch Truck

I wonder if these two were made slightly later. Note that, with the exception of the body color, the lithography is identical. Did Mansei decide it was cheaper just to change a single color plate rather than do a complete redesign?

Fire Truck

Although this shares the same chassis as the rest of the series, the fire truck has some major differences. The closed cab has been replaced by an open cab and a driver. This is a relatively expensive change. The closed cab was created with the same stamper used for the other models in the line. The windshield and fireman were created with new dies. And that means two pieces to be hand-attached rather than one. Of course, that expense is relative -- perhaps adding t2o cents to a nickel more to the retail price?

There are two questions I'd like to find the answers to. Did Mansei produce other types of trucks using these Haji chassis? Are there more than two versions of the examples I've discovered so far?  If I find out more, I'll update this page accordingly.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Let the Wind Speak - Kaija Saariaho flute music

The cover for this release perfectly represents its contents. It's a photograph of Camilla Hoitenga playing her flute. The image has been manipulated, though, with added layers and textures. And it's been slightly distorted, giving the flute a very gently S-curve. Saariaho's music for the flute seems to do the same -- it ever so gently bends and distorts to create something beyond the sound of the traditional flute.

"Let the Wind Speak" also documents a friendship. In the liner notes, Hoitenga discusses how her career intersects with Saariaho's, beginning with "Laconisme de l'alle" in 1982. And it's a dynamic relationship. Some works, such as were commissioned by Hoitenga, but others have a different story.

The version of "Couleurs du vent" on this release is the shorter version of this work -- a version that came about when Hoitenga accidentally skipped several pages during a performance. Saariaho thought the accident worked and so made this revision.

Also included are some arrangements by Hoitenga, made in consultation with the composer. The opening track "Tocar," for example, works well in its flute and harp arrangement (originally written for violin and piano). As does "Oi Kuu," a study in multiphonics. Although Saariaho wrote the work as an exploration of tonal contrast between a bass clarinet and cello, this alternate version for bass flute and cello yields similar insights with the interplay between the two instruments.

As compelling as the solo works and duets are on this album, for me the centerpiece is "Sombre I-III," written for Da Camera of Houston in 2012. This dark, introspective work features settings of Ezra Pound's last Cantos. The use of "dark" instruments -- bass flute, baritone voice and double bass -- give "Sombre" its emotional weight.

While I might not recommend that someone start their exploration of Kaija Saariaho's music with "Let the Wind Speak," I do think it belongs in the collection of anyone who's responded to her work. It's intimate, personal, beautiful music that certainly resonated with me.

Kaija Saariaho: Let the Wind Speak
Camilla Hoitenga, flutes
Aussi Karttunen, cello; Daniel Belcher, baritone; Héloise Dautry, harp; Da Camera of Houston Ondine ODE 1276-2

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Danish Romantic Piano Trio collection delivers

If you're familiar with Denmark's rich musical heritage, then you might already be predisposed to give this release a listen. If not, then let me encourage you to do so. These works compare favorably (I think) to those by the famous composers that inspired them -- Brahms, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Wagner.

Peter Lange-Muller was a pianist as well as a composer. Robert Schumann was one of his major influences (Danish folk song being another). Indeed, his 1898 Trio for piano, violin, and cello in f minor, Op. 53 has a certain Schumann quality to it (and not just the piano part).

The work has a certain impulsive restlessness to it. But while Lange-Muller's music is highly emotional, it never threatens to go off the rails the way some of Schumann's later works seem to. Perhaps it's the folk song element that keeps the work grounded. Nevertheless, Lange-Muller's trio is an exciting and beautifully crafted work.

Niels W. Gade is represented by two works; the Piano Trio in F major, and the Piano Trio Movement. Gade became director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra after Mendelssohn's death. His music also shows the influence of his colleague and friend. Gade was also influenced by Danish folk song. His 1863 trio has clean, uncluttered lines and the emotional restraint of Mendelssohn, but all with a completely original voice. His 1838 Piano Trio Movement is an interesting torso. The 22-year-old Gade may have been overly ambitious with his projected four-movement trio, but the surviving completed movement satisfies on its own.

Rued Langgard was best known for his orchestral works. Fjeldblomster (Mountain Flowers), written when he was fifteen, concludes the album. This short work shows Langgard's love of Wagner in its construction, and only hints at the original composer Langgard would become.

Danish Romantic Piano Trios: Gade, Lange-Muller, Langgaard 
The Danish Piano Trio 
Dacapo 8.226119

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sally Forth -- Into the Funky Past

For some reason, 2015 seemed to be the year of time loops. In Funky Winkerbean a time/space wormhole let the strip's original cast meet their future (our current) selves. The story line was a little problematic (even accepting the basic premise). The high school versions of Funky Winkerbean, Crazy Harry, Bull Bushka, Cindy Summers, Les Moore, Holly Budd, and Lisa Crawford encountered their older selves at a class reunion in an August, 2015 sequence.

Missing, of course, was the older version of Lisa, who had died of cancer years before. Various older characters made excuses for her absence, but the young Les Moore saw the tribute photo album and read his older self's book "Lisa's Story." (click on images to enlarge)

And that's where it gets problematic. When they returned, did the memories fade for the high schoolers? I hope so. 

Because when Lisa's cancer returned, a mix-up of charts indicated it wasn't serious. By the time the mistake was sorted out, it was too advanced to treat. One would assume that Les,armed with that knowledge, would have changed history and ensured his wife got the treatment she needed promptly -- instead of it being as much of a surprise to him as it was to her. 

Much less problematic is the Forth family encountering themselves in the corn maze. The family's inability to navigate the maze is a recurring trope in Sally Forth. In this sequence they encounter younger versions of themselves -- in a way.

Unlike Funky Winkderbean which has its characters age, Sally Forth is more or less frozen in time. In this case, its a meta time warp. On the left are the characters as drawn by original creator Greg Howard. On the right, the characters as depicted by the current team of Jim Keefe, Francesco Marciuliano and Steve Alaniz.

And Ted's right. His eccentricities didn't really blossom until Howard turned over the writing duties to others.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

JoAnn Falletta and BPO shine with Florent Schmitt

Up until about 1940, Florent Schmitt was one of most frequently-performed living French composers. Although his music virtually disappeared from the repertoire after the Second World War, recent recordings (like this one) have helped a new generation rediscover this remarkable composer.

The two orchestral suites Florent Schmitt extracted from his 1920 musiques de scène "Antoine et Cléopâtre" are, to my ears, music of their time. But that's not a bad thing. Although these extracts were originally intended for ballet dancers they work very well as stand-alone concert pieces.

Schmitt was a friend of Ravel, and I could hear some echoes of "Daphnis et Chloé" in this impressionistic score. Also present is the overripe exoticism of Richard Strauss' "Salome." Schmitt was a master orchestrator, and his music sets the stage, with tinkling percussion and sinuous double reed solos.

If you enjoy Debussy's "La Mer," or the Ravel and Strauss works I mentioned earlier, you'll probably find much to like in the "Antoine et Cléopâtre" suites.

Also included is Schmitt's "Le Palais hanté," a Étude Symphonique based, according to the title, on Edgar Allen Poe's poem, "The Haunted Palace." Actually, it's based on Stéphane Mallarmé's translation of Poe's poem which is quite a different thing. Mallarmé tended to reinterpret rather than do word-for-word translations. The 1904 work is impressionistic and simply flows from idea to idea, paralleling the lines of the poem.

JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra perform well, although I sometimes felt the recorded sound a little too clean. In my opinion, impressionist works sound best when the recording's a little soft around the edges. Overall, though, another wonderful performance by Falletta and the BPO.

Florent Schmitt: Antoine et Cléopâtre, Op. 69a and 69b; Le Palais hanté Op. 49
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

New Orford, New Brahms

I found this to be a deceptively simple recording. Last count had 58 recordings of Brahms' Op. 51 quartets, so competition's stiff.

The first few times I listened to the New Orford recording, I thought it sat somewhere in the middle of the pack -- well-played, but not especially noteworthy.

But then I started listening more closely, and more critically. I realized that what the New Orford brings to these works are transparent performances. Their interpretation seemed more concerned with serving the music, rather than making a mark on it.

The New Orford has a near-perfect ensemble blend that to my ears made it seem as if I was listening to a single instrument, rather than four. If you want to introduce someone to these works, this recording is a great place to start. The New Orford Quartet delivers solid performances of these works -- performances that I appreciate more with every hearing.

Johannes Brahms: String Quartet Nos. 1 and 2, Op. 51
New Orford String Quartet
Bridge Records 9464

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Straco Express Layout, Part 48 - Nesting Instinct

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

Because the theme of the Straco Express display layout is so tightly focused. scenery additions have come slowly. The type of trains on the layout itself were never meant to be used for any type of model railroading -- they were just toy trains, offered in self-contained sets. Unlike Lionel or American Flyer, there was no rolling stock or trackside accessories offered for separate sale.

By limiting the parameters of what I can add to the display, I've achieved my purpose -- to create a miniature world of tinplate that's internally consistent. Everything has to be made in Japan between 1946-1965, everything has to be made predominantly of metal or wood, as opposed to plastic, and everything has to be approximately the same scale (vaguely H0 in this case).

Since scenery was never made specifically for use with these trains, I've had to be creative. The last structure I added was a station that doubled as a power pack (see Part 16 - Station-Aero).

Not a complete set of nesting houses, but it serves my purpose.

So I was happy to find a source for structures from an unusual source -- nesting toys. Nesting toys have been around for quite a while, of course. This particular set does indeed come from Japan during the right time frame, and has a certain Japanese quality to the decoration.

It's not really a complete set -- there should be very small solid wooden house as well. But that's OK -- I didn't really need an outhouse on the layout. The set's been used, but that's alright, too. I now have a variety of structures to fill out the layout -- and this seems like a good place to stop.

But I could do with a few more bottle brush trees....

All the nesting houses are in this shot. Can you find them all?

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
Power Pack: $5.90
Small Houses: $3.00
Testor's Gray Paint for road: $1.29

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

  • Two Japanese toy cars: $2.00
  • A.W. Livestock truck: $4.99
  • Taxi: $2.99
  • Ambulance: $2.99
  • Two Japanese patriotic cars: $6.99
  • Haji three-wheel sedan $3.00
  • Haji three-wheel tanker $5.00
  • 1950's sedan $2.99
  • LineMar Police Car $9.00
  • LineMar Pepco Truck $8.50
  • LineMar Bond Bread Van $8.00
  • LineMar Fire Engine $4.95
  • LineMar Dump Truck $12.99
  • LineMar GE Courier Car $10.98
  • LineMar County School Bus $9.99
  • Nomura Red Sedan $5.00
  • Nomura Police Car $2.52
  • Nomura lumber truck $3.48
  • 6 Namura vehicles $16.99
  • Orange Sedan $10.99
  • King Sedan $9.95
  • Indian Head logo sedan $4.99
  • Indian Head (?) convertible $18.00
  • Yellow/red Express truck $9.99
Total Project Cost: $233.35

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Andrew Manze continues strong Larsson series

I was favorably impressed by the first volume of Lars-Erik Larsson on all counts (see: Larsson receives his due in new recording). The music was well-constructed, the conductor and orchestra played with authority, and the SACD recording was superb.

Volume 2 reinforces my initial impressions, while further fleshing out my understanding of this still relatively-unknown composer. Lars-Erik Larsson may have been highly respected and influential in Sweden, but not so much outside of Scandinavia.

Larsson was never very happy with his second symphony, and withdrew it after its premier in 1937. It would not be heard again until it was performed on Swedish Radio in 1973, and reached a larger audience via its first recording in 1988 (with the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra).

I actually prefer Larsson's second symphony to his first. The three-movement work is built on a few easily identifiable motifs, that expand outward in logical progression. It instantly engaged me, and I had no problem following the course of the music. Larsson's straight-forward orchestration doesn't call attention to itself, its transparency ensuring the motifs remain in the forefront of the listener's attention (and makes them easy to follow).

Rounding out the album are two shorter orchestral works, the 1973 Barococo Suite for Orchestra, and 1962 Variations for Orchestra. Larsson experimented with different styles throughout his career. The Variations are one of his 12-tone works. But Larsson didn't just blindly adopt Schoenberg's system. His is a freer interpretation of dodecophonic composition, more in line with Berg (also sections reminded me of Bartok).

The neo-classical Barococo is a delightful work that has a certain joie de vivre quality. Larsson's adaptation of earlier musical forms did little to stifle his originality. On a neo-classical musical spectrum, I'd place Barococo somewhere between Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony and Stravinsky's "Pulcinella."

The Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra is well familiar with Larsson's music with authority (see above), and so is Andrew Manze. And that familiarity makes all the difference in these performances, I think. Larsson wrote three symphonies, so I'm assuming there will be at least one more volume in this series. I can't wait.

Lars-Erik Larsson: Orchestral Works, Vol. 2 
Symphony No. 2 Op. 17; Variations for Orchestra, Op. 50; Barococo, Suite for Orchestra, Op. 64 
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Manze, conductor 
CPO 777672-2  SACD

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Denise Tryon - So*Low

A program of music for a solo instrument (unless it's the piano) usually has limited appeal to the general classical music lover. But this release of music for the low horn should really be the exception -- because both the music and the performance are exceptional.

The low horn is part of the French horn family (and part of the horn section of an orchestra), with a range that extends below that of a regular French horn. Denise Tryon is a low horn specialist, and is not only one of the most prominent players of the instrument, but an advocate of music for it.

The majority of the works on So*Low were commissioned by Tryon, and show the low horn (and her abilities) to best advantage. Tryon plays with a warm, smooth delivery that enhances the dark richness of the instrument itself.

The commissioned works are all relatively conservative in their tonality, while being richly inventive in other ways. Brett Miller's "Hunting Songs," for example, turns the concept of triadic hunt calls around, and presents some dramatic and technical challenges for Tryon.

"A Door Into Dark.." by Peter Askim, exploits the lowest register of the horn, and makes the piano an equal partner in the development of the music.

Also included are some standards of the horn repertoire -- Hermann Neuling's "Bagatelle" and Carl Nielsen's "Canto Serioso." Although they're the oldest works on the album, they fit nicely with the more modern selections in style.

I'm sure there are many horn players who recognize Tryon's name and will want to own this recording. But this is more than just a specialty disc. The music and the performances make this a recording I'd recommend to anyone interested in quality chamber music.

Denise Tryon: So*Low
Music by Hermann Neuling, Peter Askim, Tim Martin, Brett Miller, Nathan Pawelek, Dante Yenque, Carl Nielsen, Andrea Clearfield
Denise Tryon, horn; Julie Nishimura, piano
Bridge 9455

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Lio and the Family Circus 3

Lio creator Mark Tartulli is one of the newer generation of artists who seem to have a certain.. disdain for the venerable comic the Family Circus (see Lio and the Family Circus 1 and 2). And, as I've also noted, Tartulli likes to play with the fourth wall of the comic strip genre -- specifically, the outlines of the panel that generally go unnoticed by the reader (see: Lio and the Fourth Wall for other examples).

In his New Year's Eve strip for 2015, Tartulli brilliantly combined both. (click on image to enlarge)

It's what keeps me reading the funny pages.