Thursday, June 30, 2016

Spam Roundup June, 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.

How's that again?

English is a challenging language to learn -- even for translation programs, apparently. 

 - Look advanced to more added agreeable from you! [I promise to keep adding the agreeable.]

 - Post writing is also a fun, if you know then you can write if not it is difficult to write [Trying to read sentences like this is also a fun.]

  - somebody essentially assists to make seriously articles I'd state. [Well, you'd state wrong. I'm a solo act, pal.]

Still not seeing the attraction here.
Loving the lumber

The Straco Layout, Part 23 -- Lumbering Along continues to attract a great deal of attention from spambots. I'm not sure why. I can't imagine the content attracting that much attention. It's just a write-up about a cheap Japanese tin toy car from the late 1950s. The thing isn't even especially valuable. And yet it continues to generate rave reviews -- of a sort. 

 - So wonderful to find somebody with unique thoughts on this subject matter [Unique thoughts? Heck, this topic's so obscure these are probably the ONLY thoughts!]

 - It's an remarkable paragraph in favor of all the web people [Power to the web people! All hail the lumber truck!]

Fastidious refuses to fade

I think cause and effect are starting to blur here. The misused word "fastidious" used to be common in the spam I received, and then it went away. But then I wrote about it, (see Fastidious Spam) and the comments started to roll in again. 

 - Hi, it is a good piece of writing concerning media print [Didn't realize "fastidious" was also a problem for newspapers and magazines.]

It's nearly impossible to find knowledgeable people for this topic, however, you seem like you know what you're talking about. Thanks my weblog - hemroids [I can't possibly top that one.]

That's all for this month. Try to touch only pleasant factors, and remember -- you, too, may be a great author.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Scott Wheeler - Portraits and Tributes

"The piano is an instrument I play, sometimes in public, though hardly as a virtuoso or a recitalist." That's how Scott Wheeler begins his liner notes. As he explains, "I have always used the composer as a sketch pad, a place to explore ideas in two-minute pieces that might turn up in larger works."

The liner notes set the expectations for the listener -- this is indeed a collection of 27 very short piano pieces, only a few of which pass the 3-minute mark. But I think Wheeler is perhaps a little modest. I didn't hear anything rudimentary about the piano writing in any of these works.

I think there's enough meat here for most serious performers. And while they may be sketches, they all sounded like fully-realized self-contained miniatures. I didn't have to make any allowances for what I was hearing. To my ears, these all sounded like complete musical thoughts.

Most of the works are indeed musical sketches -- musical portraits of various people in Wheeler's life. And the music is as varied as the personalities they depict. "Pseudo-Rag: GS," written for Gunther Schuller filters ragtime music through a serialist filter, approaching Schuller's own musical style in sound (although perhaps leaning a little more towards the academic. By contrast, the "Calamity Rag," dedicated to a jazz piano scholar, is a more straight-forward (and tonal) interpretation of the Joplin style.

"By the Sea" for Stephen Sondheim reworks a melody from "Sweeney Todd," breaking it apart and reassembling it with pointillistic precision. "Epithalamion," a wedding present for pianist Donald Berman is a technically challenging post-tonal toccata with a klezmer melody folded into it.

Some of these compositions sound avant-garde and atonal, some sound aggressively modern, some neo-classical, some even are a little jazzy. But in my opinion, there's not a one that's not engaging and well-constructed. And the wide stylistic range of these pieces makes them work quite well together as a coherent program.

Donald Berman's thoughtful performances get the most out of the music. These may be short pieces, but they're by no means slight. This is a release you can either enjoy one piece at a time or all in one sitting. A thoroughly enjoyable release.

Scott Wheeler: Portraits and Tributes
Works for Piano (1977-2014)
Donald Berman, piano
Bridge Records 9463

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Clockwork Coupe from Japan

I recently won an auction for the tinplate toy you see below. It's made in Japan (as marked), and initially I purchased it for the Straco Display Layout. But now I'm not so sure.

The size of the piece is pretty close ("scale" is a squishy concept with these inexpensive Japanese toys). While most of the vehicles on the display layout are friction-powered, this coupe is clockwork. That's not really a problem. Some of the display cars have no power at all, just free-spinning wheels.

No, the issue is that this is definitely a pre-war toy -- and the focus of the display layout is early post-war Japanese tin toys. The design of this toy mimics automobiles of the of the late 1930s, and the type of lithography and the colors used are also more pre- than post-war. And it's ingeniously constructed..

This coupe seems to fit right into the Straco display.

The sides are indented to give room for the stem. This keeps the stem from sticking too far out the side of the vehicle. There are two tabs, one under each bumper. The front tab is the catch, which lets you wind the spring, then release it for motion. The back tab controls the rear wheels, which can be turned at a slight angle to the left or right. So you can steer this coupe (sort of).

Front tab is spring catch, the back turns the rear wheels.

It's a great piece, and remarkably, after eighty years, it still runs. No one's over-tightened the spring, or bent the axles, or broken off the stem. And that allowed me to make the video below. Well worth the $9.80 this cost me!


And it does look good on the layout....

Monday, June 27, 2016

Diabelli Project 116 - Piece for solo marimba

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 my subconscious served up another solo marimba piece. In a way, it's a continuation of No. 114, which was also for marimba. In that sketch, as in this one, every time I begin the melody I add a little more to it. In this case, the additions are measures of 6/8, contrasting with the 3/4 semi-cadence. I think if I were to continue this, the melody would eventually break free of the 3/4, which perhaps would form the building block of a contrasting section. Perhaps.

You may have a different idea about where this should go. As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 010 - Altar

010. Altar
I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

010. Altar

The altar went together pretty easily. I did use a dowel rod inside the cross to help stabilize it. Without the dowel, it was almost impossible to position the cross assembly without having the two top pieces get out of alignment (or fall off).

As I mentioned in the previous post, I've worked with these metal pieces enough now that virtually every side is very close to a 90° bend from the base. So getting that long piece to stand on its narrow side wasn't that difficult.

010. Altar (I'm assuming it's non-denominational)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Beach Blanket Bingo - the DJ set

The station I volunteer for, WTJU, is co-sponsoring a summer film series in Charlottesville, VA with the Virginia Film Festival. Our role is to provide a DJ before the movie. This Friday, the VFF is screening Beach Blanket Bingo -- so of course, I volunteered to DJ. 

Last post (Beach Blanket DJ) I detailed the various elements I considered in assembling the set list. Below is the finished set list, with some additional commentary. The time scheduled is 90 minutes. I actually have 110 minutes programmed, in case I need to start early, and/or I need to drop a track in reaction to the crowd.

The Set List

1 Beach Blanket Bingo (opening credits) - Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello - this is the movie they've come to see, seems like a good way to start

2 Surfin' USA - The Beach Boys - the audience will expect some Beach Boys, so here they are

3 Miserlou - Dick Dale & His Del-Tones - another familiar track, and Dick Dale was in several of the beach party movies (just not the one we're showing)

4 The Lonely Surfer - Jack Nitzsche - an instrumental classic of the era, plus it's slower, to calm things down a bit

5 Cycle Set - Donna Loren - this track is featured in the movie, sung by the Hondells. Donna Loren is also featured in the movie. I went with this one because female vocals add variety

6 Surf Party - The Astronauts - a surf guitar instrumental, and the Astronauts were featured in many of the beach party movies

7 Sandy - Ronny & The Daytonas - a slow number (and top 40 hit) with a Beach Boy-like sound

8 Andele - PJ & The Galaxies - an uptempo surf guitar instrumental

9 Hawaii - Bruce & Terry - Bruce Johnson and Terry Melchor helped developed the beach music sound. Bruce Johnson would later join the Beach Boys. I chose this track because it had the Beach Boys vibe. I wanted to use the actual Beach Boys tracks sparingly.

10 Muscle Bustle - Donna Loren - from the soundtrack of "Muscle Bustle," another American International beach party movie. An uptempo track contrasting with the chill medium tempo "Hawaii."

11 Little Honda The Hondells - The Hondells are featured in "Beach Blanket Bingo." This was their biggest top-40 hit, and should be familiar to the audience.

12 One Mint Julep PJ & The Galaxies - a mid-tempo surf guitar instrumental for contrast

13 Girls On The Beach - The Beach Boys - this slow number was a top-40 hit, so it should be familiar

14 Pajama Party - Annette Funicello - from the soundtrack to "Pajama Party," another American International beach party movie. It's uptempo and female vocals contrast with the previous track. Plus, Annette Funicello's in "Beach Blanket Bingo," so I'm setting the stage with this track.

15 Summer Means Fun - Bruce & Terry - an uptempo Beach Boys-like track. This may be cut for time considerations.

16 Heartbeats - Dick and Dee Dee - from the beach party movie "Wild, Wild, Winter" from Universal. Great contrast to the previous track.

17 Surf Jam - The Beach Boys - an uptempo instrumental from the Beach Boys. This may be cut due to time considerations.

18 California Sun - The Rivieras - a top 40 classic

19 The One You Can't Have - The Honeys - a fun, uptempo number. This female group was produced by Brian Wilson (who also wrote their songs), so it's the distaff version of the Beach Boys

20 Surfin' And A-Swingin' - Dick Dale - this is from "Beach Party" -- and it's Dick Dale, so two good reasons to play it.

21 Remember (Walkin' in the Sand) - The Shangri-Las - a top-40 favorite, complete with beach sound effects. This is a slow song with female vocals. Nice contrast, but may be cut for time considerations

22 Walk, Don't Run - The Ventures - a great almost-surf-guitar top 40 instrumental

23 409 - The Beach Boys - another top 40 hit that audiences should enjoy

24 Our Love's Gonna Snowball - Jackie and Gayle - a great track from "Wild, Wild, Winter," I chose this for the contrast of female vocals in the mix

25 Hot Rod Roadster - The Rip Chords -  an uptempo track

26 School's Out - The Sandals - a soundtrack selection from the Sandals. It's a surf guitar mid-tempo track. I may cut it for time considerations

27 I Get Around - The Beach Boys - a top 40 favorite

28 Beach Blanket Bingo - Donna Loren - we should be about halfway through set at this point. So for those who came in late, here's the theme song for tonight's feature

29 Bikini Drag - The Pyramids - a surf guitar instrumental from the soundtrack to "Bikini Beach"

30 Little Miss Go-Go - Gary Lewis & The Playboys - a Beach Boy-like uptempo track 

31 Secret Surfin' Spot -Dick Dale - from the soundtrack to "Beach Party" 

32 He's A Doll - The Honeys - female vocals for contrast, Beach Boys sound for familiarity

33 Two of a Kind - Jay & The Americans - from a Universal beach party soundtrack - uptempo track with contrasting non-beach sound.

34 The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena) - Jan & Dean  - a top 40 favorite, and way to continue the Beach Boy vibe without the Beach Boys.

35 Beach Party - Frankie Avalon - from the soundtrack to "Beach Party"

36 New Love- Donna Loren - a mid tempo ballad from "Beach Blanket Bingo." Contrasting female vocals and tempo to "Beach Party's" up tempo track

37 G.T.O. Ronny & The Daytonas - a top 40 favorite, and an uptempo track

38 Pipeline - The Chantays - a surf guitar and top 40 classic

39 I'll Never Change Him - Donna Loren - featured in "Pajama Party," it's a mid tempo track that I might cut due to time considerations

 - the rest of this line up is to get the audience primed for the main event - 

40 Theme From The Endless Summer - Sandals - a slow instrumental surf guitar classic.

41 Don't Stop Now - Frankie Avalon - uptempo track from "Beach Party"

42 Record Run - The Pyramids - uptempo track from "Bikini Beach" 

43 It Only Hurts When I Cry - Donna Loren - mid tempo ballad featured in "Beach Blanket Bingo"

44 I Live For The Sun - Sunrays - uptempo surf and top 40 classic

45 Gotcha Where I Want You - The Exciters - uptempo track from a beach party film

46 Wipe Out - The Surfaris - uptempo surf and top 40 classic

47 Bikini Beach (opening credits) - Cast - uptempo track from "Bikini Beach"

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Beach Blanket DJ

The station I volunteer for, WTJU, is co-sponsoring a summer film series in Charlottesville, VA with the Virginia Film Festival. Our role is to provide a DJ before the movie. This Friday, the VFF is screening Beach Blanket Bingo -- so of course, I volunteered to DJ.

Actually, I would have preferred to give the pre-screening lecture, but they said providing some music would be fine.

So what would you play for the 90 minutes before the movie starts? Perhaps an all-Beach Boys set would work, but that's lazy and wrong. Here's why:

A little movie background

The music featured in the early 1960s beach party movies only partially overlapped with the surf guitar and beach music genres. The genre took its name from the first of American International's beach movies, "Beach Party." It starred Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, whose names would become synonymous with the genre. 1964s Beach Blanket Bingo, (5th in the series) is where all the elements came together. When people refer to beach movies, this is the one film they're probably thinking of.


A little movie music background

Beach party movies don't necessarily feature beach music. Beach Blanket Bingo, for example, features songs by Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello that are simply pop tunes (and heavily orchestrated at that). Donna Loren sings a top 40-friendly ballad, and Linda Evan's two songs (lip synching Jackie Ward) wouldn't be out of place in the Brill Building. The Hondells do provide some Beach Boys-like beach music, but those are only two out of seven songs.

Great song -- but not especially "beachy."

Other American International beach pictures feature more authentic music, such as surf guitarist Dick Dale, the Astronauts, and the Pyramids. And they also feature Littel Stevie Wonder, Nancy Sinatra, and the Kingsmen.

A little music background

So what music would be appropriate for a pre-screening of Beach Blanket Bingo? Most of the audience won't have a deep knowledge of the variety of music found in beach party movies, so playing Stevie Wonder, Nancy Sinatra, and the Kingmen selections wouldn't set the right mood.

Beach music would be nice -- but what kind? Folks in the southeastern coastal states are well familiar with Carolina beach music. This style is rooted in 1950s soul, and doesn't prominently feature the guitar. Playing Bill Deal and the Rondells and the Tams would stir some memories, but would be a big disconnect wit the aesthetic of the film.

Great song for shagging (Carolina beach dance)-- but not West Coast enough

West Coast beach music has two subgenres -- surf guitar and beach music. In the early 1960s there were many southern California bands that had no vocalists. The lead guitar carried the tune. Its distinctive voicing can be heard in Dick Dale's music, as well as that of the Ventures, and the numerous one-hit-wonder groups who charted with surf music classics, like "Wipeout" and "Pipeline," (both surfing terms).

Dick Dale and the Deltones from "Muscle Beach Party." Now we're on the right track.

The Beach Boys took the surf guitar sound and softened it quite a bit. And they added the falsetto harmonies that became the signature sound of what many people consider beach music. Jan and Dean, the Hondells, and many others mimicked this sound, like Bruce and Terry (below).

The beach party movies do have representatives of both surf music and beach music, so tracks from these two genres would be appropriate -- and familiar to the audience.

Pick and choose

I created my final mix by blending selections from:

1) Songs from the soundtracks of the beach party movies
2) Surf guitar classics
3) Beach music classics
4) Related top-40 tracks.

Tomorrow: my set list

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mike Du Jour Balloons

This is only the second time I've posted about Mike Lester's comic strip (see Mike Du Jour's cameo du jour), Mike Du Jour. I do read it --and enjoy it -- daily. For the most part, though, the strip's humor doesn't comment on the conventions of cartooning -- which is mostly what I comment about in this blog.

There are exceptions. In a story arc from January 2016, this sequence was published:

What makes the humor work? The fact that the characters inside the strip can see thought balloons -- just like the reader. It's a standard convention that the contents of thought balloons are only known to the character thinking them and the reader, just as word balloons represent conversations heard by the characters, and by convention are invisible to them.

This was a great sequence -- especially given the somewhat racy nature of the character's wish. Glad we don't live a comic strip! (At least, I don't think we do.)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Diabelli Project 115 - String Orchestra Piece

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 sketch was something of an experiment in rhythm. The goal was to have this rumble of noise underneath the melody in the first violins. But I didn't want just a random sound -- rather, I wanted a strong rhythmic pulse that kept driving everything forward. And, after a ten-minute flash composition session, here's the result.

As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Just for fun,  I did a time-lapse video of me preparing the fair copy of the score. I know that computers are faster, but there's something therapeutic about doing this work by hand (especially now that I no longer have pressing deadlines associated with it). Consider it my version of an adult coloring book (albeit one in black and white).

Friday, June 17, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 009 - Court House

009. Court House
I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

009. Court House

I have to admit this toy had me puzzled. I might have guessed a megachurch (OK, that's anachronistic), but not a courthouse. Even in the 1930s I don't think many courthouses had huge crosses on them -- not even in the deep South.

But that's what the instruction sheet says it is, so a courthouse it remains. As far as construction goes, it was pretty easy. I've worked with the small metal pieces enough so that their sides are relatively straight. In the photo below you can see that they joined up nicely with the large metal box. Because the cross wasn't that tall, I didn't need to put a dowel rod through it. Those pieces are simply stacked one atop the other -- just like the instruction book shows.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sacabuche! Performs 17th Century Italian Motets

The early baroque practice of doubling voices with trombones is well-known. Although instruments weren't always specified, there were plenty of woodcuts and paintings illustrating the practice. The baroque trombone, or sackbut, had a smaller bore than a modern instrument, but otherwise quite similar.

Scholarship has led to informed performance practices that incorporate trombones into baroque choral music. And that's what makes this new release by Sacabuche! is a little different.

Every work on this release specifically calls for trombones as part of the continuo. And the trombones don't just double the voices. They also serve a continuo role, providing harmonic texture to the moving vocal lines. And sometimes even serve as an additional wordless choir.

This early music sackbut and vocal ensemble knows this repertoire well -- even if the listener doesn't. As their literature says, they perform "the beautiful and lesser-known repertoire for baroque trombones, organ and voice." True on all counts. Francesco Usper, Gasparo Casati, and Stefano Pasino aren't familiar even to many baroque music aficionados -- but they should be. The music on this recording is all well-constructed and tuneful. And impeccably played.

17th Century Italian Motets
Atmas Classics ACD2 2712

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

New Music with Guitar series hits milestone

As David Starobin points out in the liner notes for this release, this series started over 35 years ago. The first three volumes were on LP, but as times changed, so did the media. This volume is available as a CD,  digital download, and is found on many streaming services.

But while the delivery has changed, the intent -- and the quality -- has not. Starobin is still interested in furthering the contemporary repertoire for guitar. As was the case with previous volumes, Starobin has strong personal connections with the works and composers. And because of that, I think, he brings something extra to the performances.

The release opens with "Steps," a 1975 work by Gregg Smith. Smith wrote the piece for his wife, Rosalind Rees, and David Starobin, who were touring together at the time. The piece is a post-atonal kaleidoscope, the music shifting rapidly in response to the stream of consciousness text. In places, the vocal writing reminded me of Hary Partch's "Barstow." Rees and Starobin's familiar partnership make this piece work -- and work well.

William Bland's simple, and beautiful set of variations of Carl Nielsen's "Underlige Aftenlufte" was quite charming. As the variations progress, the music undergoes some major transformations -- dare I say deconstruction? I consider it a companion piece to Starobin's own "Neilsen Variations" found on Volume 8.

"Four Stevens" by Starobin's brother Michael sets four visionary poems by Wallace Stevens. And although each poem references a season (making the title a pun), the music itself stays fairly serious and quietly contemplative.

Composers Paul Chihara and Poul Ruders are label mates with Starobin (who's also the co-founder of Bridge Records), so it's not surprising to see them represented here. Chlhara's 2014 "The Girl from Yerevan" is an engaging work for violin, viola, and guitar. This post-tonal work, to my ears, has a certain lightness to it. Perhaps it's the use of the viola rather than the cello.

"Oh Mother" is an excerpt from Poul Ruders' 2015 opera "The Thirteenth Child." The libretto was written by David and Becky Starobin. This chamber work for soprano, string quartet, and guitar is almost Coplanesque in places. It's a beautiful, poignant work that makes me want to hear the entire opera.

New Music With Guitar, Vol. 10
David Starobin, guitar
Music by Gregg Smith, William Bland, Michael Starobin, Paul Chihara, Poul Ruders
Bridge Records 9458

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Haji Theme and Variations 2

A simple and economic way to create new toys is to change a detail or two -- rather than starting from scratch each time. That was the strategy of Mansei Toy Co. Ltd. Under the brand name Haji, they produced a series of inexpensive friction drive toy trucks during the mid-1950s.

These 3-inch long tin toys all shared a common chassis and cab. By using different bodies and lithography, Mansei created a variety of toy vehicles with minimal investment. There's virtually no documentation about this line available, so everything I know about it has come from first-hand observation.

And recently, another variation has emerged.

The firetruck uses the common chassis, but that's about it. Rather than a closed cab, it has an open cab with a fireman. Both are unique to this toy, as are the ladder and hose storage. Different components mean added expense, and in this case, perhaps an unnecessary one.

The closed cab was made from a single sheet of metal with a stamper. And it was used over and over for all of the previous eight variations I'm aware of. That maximizes the investment in the tool and die work.

This vehicle replaces the single unit cab with two different pieces -- a windshield that has to be cut and shaped, and a fireman that also has to be stamped and bent. It also requires an addition to the stamper for the chassis to create the two additional slots for the fireman (that's not such a big deal). And added labor to affix both pieces where previously one was.

That makes this version a little more expensive to produce than the rest of the line. I wonder if that affected its wholesale/retail price?

The firetruck is a great-looking toy -- and one that's extremely rare to find intact. As with most firetrucks, the ladder is often missing, as is the fireman.

This is the ninth version of this truck I've found to date. Who knows what else is out there?

(To compare this to the other eight variations, visit the original Haji Theme and Variations post).

Monday, June 13, 2016

Diabelli Project 114 - Piece for solo marimba

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 flash composition is another take on this solo marimba piece that seems to be just bubbling under my consciousness. And there seems to be a connection. The flowing lines with the integrated slow-moving melody seem similar to that in No. 105.

But there's a distinct difference. In this sketch I tried to expand the melody by adding a note to the pattern with each iteration, just to see what would happen. Well, here's what happened.

What happens next? I'm not sure. But as always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 008 - Cross Bench

008. Cross Bench
I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

008. Cross Bench

I didn't know "cross benches" were a thing. In a way, this toy is sort of cross between two previous ones; No. 005, the Bench with Arm Rests, and No. 006, the Field Cross. As with No. 006, I used a dowel rod to stabilize the arm of the cross. And as before, balancing those very thin and light metal pieces on their narrow sides was something of a challenge.

But in the end, I was able to successfully build this toy. I did, however, have to be very careful not to accidentally hit the table as I set up the camera to take the shot. If you look carefully, you can see that the closet armrest looks like it could topple at a moment's notice.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Phantom Fete

While the characters in the Phantom don't age in real time, they do age -- especially under the current creative team of Tony DePaul and Paul Ryan. In mid-November, the strip reached an important milestone. The fraternal twins of the current Phantom, Kit and Heloise, turned 15. In the tradition of the Phantoms, it was time for the male heir to go out into the world to study and learn. He will return when the current Phantom dies to take his father's place.

And this time, because there's also a daughter, she'll go out into the world, too -- although not to return as a Phantom. In the mythos of the strip, the identity of the Phantom is secretly passed from father to son to preserve the perception that the Phantom is immortal, the "Ghost who walks."

Depaul and Ryan and have paid homage to Lee Falk, the creator of both the Phantom and Mandrake the Magician before (as I've noted in The Phantom Reunion). In this 15th birthday party celebration (and rite of passage), the team brings together the major characters from both strips in the panel from January 11, 2016.

From left to right : Guran, Hero, Captain Lara, Prince Rex of Baronkahn,
 the Phantom, Diana Palmer-Walker, Kit Palmer-Walker, Princess Narda of Cockaigne,
Mandrake the Magician, Heloise Palmer-Walker, Prince Lothar, Old Man Mozz, Hojo
And arriving a little late via elephant, Lily Palmer, Diana's mother.
From left to right (first panel): Taru Tagama-Lauaga,
President Lamanda Lauaga of Bangalia, Lily Palmer, Dave Palmer
For long-time readers of these strips, it's a treat to see all these familiar characters together -- as it is for any family gathering.

So who are all these people?

This might give you some idea of the rich mythos built up in these two long-running strips. In order of mention: 

  • Guran is a member of the Bandar pygmy tribe and the current Phantom's oldest friend from childhood
  • Hero, the Phantom's dog
  • Captain Lara is Prince Rex's personal bodyguard and love interest. She's originally from Shambad, a neighboring Misty Mountain kingdom. Shambad had strained relations with Baronkahn, and her background -- and the fact that she's a commoner -- made her an unpopular choice for Prince Rex's affections.
  • Prince Rex of Baronkahn was an orphaned foundling rescued by the 21st Phantom. The Phantom adopted him as his ward and raised him. In time, it was revealed the Rex King was the heir to the throne of Baronkahn, one of the kingdoms of the Misty Mountains.
  • The Phantom is the 21st descendant of the original Phantom to assume the identity -- and the 21st to be named Kit Walker (after the original Phantom).
  • Diana Palmer-Walker is the wife of the 21st Phantom and the mother of Kit and Heloise. She works in the UN"s Bangala office.
  • Kit Palmer-Walker is the son of Kit and Diana, and in time will become the 22nd Phantom.
  • Princess Narda of Cockaigne (a small European country). Although she entered the Mandrake comic strip in 1934, she didn't marry him until 1997.
  • Mandrake the Magician, a master hypnotist (though he may have other powers, such as invisibility, shapeshifting, and teleportation -- it depends on the writer)
  • Heloise Palmer-Walker, 
  • Lothar, Prince of the Seven Nations, is Mandrake's long-time companion and friend.
  • Old Man Mozz is the resident sage of the strip, often telling jungle stories. He may have psychic powers (and he's always been ancient).
  • Hojo, chief of Intel-Intel. Originally just the chef for Mandrake's estate, he was later revealed to be the head of a secret international police force, as well as a master of the martial arts. Taru Tagama-Lauaga is the wife of President Lauaga. She entered the strip as the tutor for Rex King and the twins.
  • Lamanda Lauaga is a member of the Llongo tribe, and is president of the Republic of Bangalia
  • Lily Palmer is the mother of Diana, and sister to Dave Palmer.
  • Dave Palmer is Lily's brother and Diana's uncle. When he first entered the Phantom strip, he was a police commissioner (eventually serving as the Police Commissioner of New York City). He is currently is part of the US government's anti-terrorism department,

Monday, June 06, 2016

Diabelli Project 113 - Piece for solo marimba

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 flash composition sketch continues my nascent solo marimba piece. This section might be part of the same sketch as No. 102, which also plays the two mallets of the right hand off against those of the left. As this sketch continues, though, there's a movement from two to four voices in the music.

What happens next? I see a connection between this sketch and previous ones, but perhaps you see something different. As always, you can use any or all of the posted Diabelli Project sketches as you wish for free. Just be sure to share the results. I'm always curious to see what direction someone else can take this material.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Line Mar Match Box Construction 007 - Skyscraper

007 - Skyscraper
I found a Line Mar Match Box Construction Set from the 1930s, complete and with instructions. The box claimed the set made 100 different toys. I decided to test that claim -- one toy at a time. You can read all the posts for the Line Mar construction project at 100 Toys.

007. Skyscraper

As I've mentioned in past posts, stacking these featherweight little pieces of metal can be tricky. When the pieces were stamped, the sides were bent to approximately right angles. It's close enough for manufacturing a low-end toy component, but not good enough to stand one piece on top of the other.

Previously I had bent sides to true 90° angles so the pieces would stack up straight. With this structure (the tallest so far), I discovered that the pieces weren't cut quite square, either. That's why the top four stories lean slightly backward.

Fortunately, it all held together long enough for me to take the shot -- but only just.

Behold the mighty skyscraper -- bending in the wind!

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Neeme Järvi conducts Jacques Ibert: A sumptuous sonic feast

There's a reason Chandos released this in the SACD format. Neeme Järvi and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande perform Ibert's orchestral works with sympathy and panache -- and subtle inflection. And that means every sonic detail is important.

As recorded by Chandos, the orchestra, performing in Victoria Hall, Geneva, has a rich, seamless ensemble blend that can be transparent when it needs to. There's enough ambience to give the listener a sense of space, yet all the fine details of the music -- such as the solo passages -- never get lost.

Escales - Ports of Call from 1924 has a languorous opening that almost a study in impressionist soft-focus. At times, Jarvi and the orchestra seem to lose themselves in the beauty of the sound. But they never lose their way. And when the piece kicks into high gear. Jarvi brings out the drama, making the most of the contrasts in the second and third movements.

Jarvi's interpretation of Divertissement hits the sweet spot, I think. It's energetic, jazzy, light-hearted, and sometimes a little silly, But it all works. Ibert's Bacchanale is another high-energy work and is a real showpiece for the orchestra. The full-bodied sound of the ensemble occasionally gave me chills.

By contrast, the Sarabande from Don Quichotte is a simple, and simply a beautiful orchestral song. Jarvi's interpretation is delicate and charming. The symphonic tone poem Féerique is similarly lyrical in sections but with a different, more complex character. In this performance, I heard Ibert's connection to Debussy more clearly than I had before.

The other works on the album are also performed with the same high degree of musicianship -- musicianship that reveals itself in minute details. For that reason, I recommend purchasing the SACD version of this recording. If you prefer downloads, seek out the highest resolution audio files you can find. It will make a difference.

Neeme Järvi conducts Ibert
Escales; Sarabande pour Dulcinée; Ouverture de fête; Féerique; Divertissement; Hommage à Mozart; Suite symphonique ‘Paris’; Bacchanale
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande; Neeme Järvi, conductor
Chandos SACD CHSA 5168 

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

WTJU and the Long Goodbye

On-air fundraising is always a delicate balancing act.

You want to encourage listeners to donate -- without sounding like a scold.

You want to be upbeat and positive about every donation (no matter how small) -- without getting snarky with upper-middle class donors who pledge $10-$25 (really).

You want to convey the urgency of the need -- without threatening that the station will leave the airways without support (it might, but not in the immediate future).

And in the case of WTJU, we have an additional challenge. The station airs four musical genres -- classical, folk, jazz, and rock. For a long time, the classical and folk departments were the top moneymakers for the station, but no longer. Over the past two years, donations made during classical shows has dropped off.

Of course, classical music tends to skew older, so simple attrition may be at the heart of it. But we're in a university town. Not only is there a thriving music department, but there are an amazing amount of amateur ensembles -- including at least two early music groups, three orchestras, two chorales, and a community band. There are a number of arts organizations WTJU's closely associated with -- like the professional chamber music concert series, the summer opera series, the local screenings of the Met Opera broadcasts, and the fall chamber music festival.

Several of WTJU's volunteer classical announcers are members of these organizations.

So where's the support?

It's a question that we'll need to answer in the next year or so for classical programming to continue on the station. And let's be clear -- this isn't a duplication with the competing public radio stations in our market. WTJU is the only station to offer morning classical music 5-9AM Sunday through Friday; it's the only station to have any weekday evening classical programming. And it's the only station to offer programming to underserved classical audiences. We have a dedicated early music show, a vocal music show, a contemporary music show, and even a Broadway musical show -- all hosted by knowledgeable volunteers who know their subjects inside and out.

So where's the support?

Surveys tell us people are listening -- they're just not pledging.

So for our fundraising this week, we have an additional challenge.

We need to help our listeners understand that without funding, classical music will go away -- without sounding alarmist. So we need to ring the alarm very softly, yet insistently.

Of course, radio is by nature, ephemeral. If classical programming were to go away, it would very quickly be as if it was never there at all -- and newer audiences certainly wouldn't be any the wiser.

But I think our community would be the poorer.