Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A to Z: Zaimont

And so we come to the end of this year's A-to-Z adventure, with another modern composer, Judith Lang Zaimont. I've never heard her music before the other day, so this chalks up as another 'new to me' composer, which is great! I've enjoyed my mix of music that is totally new to me and music that I know very, very well, over the course of this challenge. For too many years I've been content to simply keep enjoying and re-experiencing music I already knew, forgetting often how it was that I got to know that music in the first place. It all started, every single note of every single piece, with me thinking, "I wonder if this is any good?"

To wrap things up, here's Borealis by Judith Lang Zaimont. I found this work vibrant and energetic and modern, while somehow familiar. Good stuff!

Tomorrow: Nothin'. We're done. No more alphabet. But we'll do it again in 2014!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Yeah, we'll get 'em again tomorrow.

Sorry, folks, I got nothin'. This is what today was like:

Nothing bad, mind you -- just abnormally demanding. So I'm having some rum, doing some writing, and watching stuff.

A to Z: Yoshimatsu

We're almost to the end! Today we're back in Japan, with the music of the very-much-still-with-us Takashi Yoshimatsu. There is a lot of fascinating music coming out of Japan these days. Yoshimatsu is almost entirely self-taught, having gained his musical knowledge in that finest of late 20th century ways: by toiling in a rock band for a while. I love stories like that.

The work today is new to me, but I find it wonderful listening. It's actually a series of works for solo piano, called the Pleiades Dances. It's the type of post-Romantic, post-Modern music that's new-sounding but also highly accessible. The works are intended to convey a sense of color and of various musical modes; Yoshimatsu employs many different modes and time signatures for a work that is unusually refreshing. I'd never heard the Pleiades Dances before yesterday, but I really enjoy and admire them.

Tomorrow: we wrap up the alphabet. With whom? I don't know. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A to Z: Xenakis

I know, I missed yesterday, so we'll do a make-up post today. 'X' is a tough letter anyway, obviously, and it pretty much led me inexporably to Iannis Xenakis, a Greek composer of highly mathematical, avant-garde music. When I say "highly mathematical", I mean just that: Xanakis applied a lot of advanced mathematical concepts to the creation of his music. From Wikipedia:

Xenakis pioneered the use of mathematical models in music such as applications of set theory, stochastic processes and game theory and was also an important influence on the development of electronic and computer music. He integrated music with architecture, designing music for pre-existing spaces, and designing spaces to be integrated with specific music compositions and performances.

The work below, Metastaseis, is...you know, I honestly don't know how to grasp this kind of music on any kind of intellectual way. This sort of thing takes music so far into pure abstraction that I find words utterly inadequate. Even after reading on its composition, I find it terribly difficult to understand the work, and I find myself confronting the philosophical problem of how the genesis of a given effect is somehow identical with that effect. I don't know.

I don't understand music like this. That's not to say that I don't like it -- although this type of listening is really only possible for me in small doses -- but that liking or disliking it just seems almost irrelevant. It's like walking along a dirt road and saying, "I don't like that pebble." What the hell does the pebble care?

Here's Metastaseis.

Tomorrow: Don't know yet!

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound...but I wasn't online much this week, so I only have one thing: this article about the fellow who invented Sriracha Sauce, which is the newest food craze. Yes, I have a bottle on hand. I like it, although I tend to forget that it is significantly hotter than my usual Frank's Red Hot.

Early on, one of Tran's packaging suppliers told him, "Your product is too spicy. How can you sell it?" Add a tomato base, some friends counseled. Sweeten the flavor to pair it better with chicken, others said. But Tran stood firm.

"Hot sauce must be hot. If you don't like it hot, use less," he said. "We don't make mayonnaise here."

I especially like the part toward the end, when the article discusses what Tran did when underforecasting led to the company literally running out of product for three months. Their choices were to change the formula so they could keep bottles on the shelves, or...well, check it out.

More next week!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Why DO people like "Mad Men"?

I watched the first episode of Mad Men the other night, after a number of years of reading many, many folks whose judgment I trust insisting that it's one of the best things ever. But after just one episode, I was really baffled. The show looks and sounds amazing, and yet, after a single episode, I wasn't sure I liked any of the characters enough to keep watching.

Then I read this post by Ken Levine:

When I’m creating a show my first rule is that I’ve got to love my characters. They may be flawed – they should be flawed – but ultimately I love them and care about them. And hopefully, I can convey that to the audience and they’ll love them too.

Again, the characters don’t have to be particularly loveable. Sweet and earnest and always-doing-the-right-thing is also boring. The best characters are complex. They may have internal battles between good and evil. They may be scoundrels but deliciously so. Or they can’t get out of their own way. Or life’s dealt them a bad hand. Or Hitler was their nanny growing up. I dunno – there are endless possibilities.

And often times the more layers the better.

But lately I’ve observed a disturbing trend. (Now the rant begins) Series creators are making their characters so hateful that I stop caring.

So apparently over time, the characters in Mad Men with whom I was not particular impressed in the first episode get even worse? Well, that settles that, then. Real life offers crappy people a-plenty to deal with. Why watch more of them on teevee?

Friday, April 26, 2013

A to Z: Wagner

Richard Wagner can be a real slog, I will admit. He can be heavy and ponderous, and even when he's not being those things -- because he can also be light and ethereal -- he's always totally serious. He's never kidding. I hear a lot of wonderful things in Wagner's music, but humor is, for the most part, not one of them.

Wagner appeals to that part of me that still loves a big, epic story to chew on. Wagner is big stories, featuring heartbreaking sacrifices made by lovers. Wagner is epic magic, the magic that existed before the world began. Wagner is stately lines of guests entering torch-lit castle halls, and he is creatures of myth winging through the air. Wagner is a Knight of the Grail who is forbidden to reveal his name, and he is the final fall of the gods themselves.

No, Wagner is not much for the lighter things in life.

Wagner is also a stern test for the idea that an artist's art should not be judged by the artist's personality. This is because Wagner was pretty much of a shit -- an arrogant and pompous philandering ass who went through life demanding money of others that he might maintain his lavish lifestyle. He was an anti-Semite and pretty much of a boor. But his music -- oh, his music transcends.

Here is an orchestral excerpt from his masterwork, Der Ring des Nibelungen -- specifically, the fourth opera, Gotterdammerung. It is "Siegfried's Funeral Music", but it also closes with the "Redemption Through Love" music that closes out the entire saga. Wagner's not for everyone...but I sure dig him.

Tomorrow: X. I'll be doing some Googling again....

Thursday, April 25, 2013

My only thought on the NFL draft

Barkevious Mingo, who went to the Browns, may have the greatest name in the history of football. I just love that name. He sounds like something out of a pulp SF novel...like one of the natives of Barsoom met by John Carter in Edgar Rice Burroughs's Mars books.

Barkevious Mingo. I just like saying that name. Barkevious Mingo! Barkevious Mingo! And it's easy to type, too!

OK, I'm done. Sorry.

A to Z; Vivaldi

In the interests of honesty, here's some music by a guy whose music I just don't like very much at all. Antonio Vivaldi is one of the leading Baroque composers, and he's uncommonly beloved, but whenever I listen to Vivaldi, I hear all of the things I dislike in Baroque music and none of the profundities a J.S. Bach brings to the table that blunt the impact of the stuff I don't like. This is all purely a matter of taste, but so far as I'm concerned, the old saw that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto five hundred times really does carry some weight.

Yes, I had to perform this piece in college. Aside from enjoying the challenge of the trumpet part...nah, I didn't even enjoy the challenge of the trumpet part. I just found this whole thing irritating. I have no rational explanation for this, any more than I have a rational explanation for my recoiling in horror from a plate of steamed broccoli. I've tried to be more fair to poor Vivaldi a number of times over the years, and in all honesty I find this piece more palatable than the ever-maddening The Four Seasons (I could live my whole life and happily never hear a bar of that work again), but there's times when we just don't like stuff, you know? But Vivaldi is an important part of musical history, so here's Vivaldi's Gloria in D.

Tomorrow: 'W' can go a lot of directions. Which will I take? Tune in!

Something for Thursday

Bruce. Live.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A to Z: Uzoigwe

African classical music, what little I've heard, tends to be as interesting as any nationalistic classical music, especially when the language of Western music is combined with the folk tunes and indigenous rhythms of the homeland. This is yet another area of classical music about which I know very little and wish I knew more; there's a blog called AfriClassical that explores this area. African influence on music is, I suppose, often thought to be strongest through the importation of native rhythms and song to the Americas through the slave trade and then eventually into jazz, but it's only natural that a classical tradition should spring up as the cultural pollination started going the other way, as well.

For a 'U' composer, I found Joshua Uzoigwe. Biographical information on Uzoigwe seems a bit scant, but he lived from 1946 to 2005 and was a native of Nigeria. This work of his, called "Ukom (from 'Talking Drums')", is a very pleasurable study in rhythm.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Go back in time to when you were a kid. Your parents tell you they're taking you out for dinner, and you get to pick the place. Where are you eating?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A to Z: Tower

As I near the end of this alphabetic exercise, I look back and note a complete lack of women cited here. Now, this blogging meme-thing was clearly not meant to serve as any kind of exhaustive, or even representative, survey of the long and rich history of classical music. But the question cannot be avoided: why is the long and rich history of classical music so dominated by men? Literature and art had prominent women in their history, but women seem oddly absent.

One answer is that they weren't absent at all, we just don't really bother with what they were doing. And that's a fair point; googling "female classical composers" turns up an enormous number of names. But why have so few works by women endured to eventually enter the standard classical repertoire?

I wish I had a good answer other than "Music has a pretty sexist history", which is a tautological answer, when you get right down to it. But it is true, nevertheless; witness the fact that the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the notion that women were even worthy of being allowed to appear within its ranks. It just seems to me that music has been an undeniable area of enduring sexism; just why that is the case is beyond my knowledge as a layperson. One argument I read recently is that music, unlike literature or visual art, is dependent upon others to work. You can write a symphony, but a fat lot of good it does you if you can't get an orchestra to play it. As orchestras were, for most of history, dominated by men -- well, that's kind of the ballgame. I suspect that's at least a chunk of the answer. Even the great male composers often had to struggle to get their works performed, with many of the most cherished masterpieces of all time having never been heard at all by their own composers. Here's a good article as a starting point on this topic:

Classical music -- at least in the United States -- is one of those areas that tend to be something of a hole in a lot of people's education. I've been continually surprised by the number of extremely intelligent people I know who can discuss politics, visual art, film, philosophy and popular music in detail who, nevertheless, don't know very much about classical music – at least, beyond the three B's (Bach, Beethoven and Brahms) and Mozart. Maybe Haydn or Handel. Maybe Wagner (but usually only Ride of the Valkyries). Maybe a 20th-century composer or two like Stravinsky or Copland. But certainly, never about any of the women over the years who have written classical music. After all, just about every field of art tends to diminish the accomplishments of women, but especially classical music, since most of it that outsiders pay attention to was made in a time when women's roles in the arts were limited. Even today -- in an era where there are countless amazing female composers -- when I tell people I studied music composition in college, I still get "Wow, a woman writing classical music! I've never heard of that!" about as often as I get, "Wait, people still write classical music?"

But women have always been writing classical music; it's just that, now, we're more able to make a career of it, and compete with the guys. In the past, women were often limited in what they could write, thanks to gender roles. The rules for a female composer of the 18th or 19th century (when most of the best-known male composers flourished) were: only solo and small-ensemble works that you could play in your living room (which is why we now know this as "chamber music"). Never large-scale works, like operas or symphonies, where you would need to rent out a concert hall to have them properly performed. It's easy to see how this was able to limit women; while there are a number of male composers known primarily for their chamber music (such as Chopin), most of them, while they wrote in a variety of genres, made their names through the big stuff. In fact, some of the biggest, most influential composers of that era were known mainly for writing operas, like Verdi and Wagner, or symphonies, like Gustav Mahler. Even the men who became famous for their chamber music were usually able to get them performed in large halls, unlike women, who were limited precisely so they wouldn't be taking attention -- and careers -- away from men.

There is a great deal of classical music by women that deserves very much to be heard. Here are a few works by one such composer, Joan Tower, who is still with us and active. I find these works fascinating, particularly the Percussion Quintet.

Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman (the inspiration here is pretty obvious):


DNA for Percussion Quintet (percussion ensembles can make for some really riveting listening):

Tomorrow: I have no idea. 'U' is not the easiest letter....

Redeeming April

This has been a pretty trying month, all the way around. But at least I get to put the flags out on the front of The Store for the first time of the year. That helps!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day

Keep on spinnin', you crazy world! #Earth #EarthDay #Globe

Sorry we keep making such a mess of you, you sweet old planet, you!

A to Z: Sibelius

Jean Sibelius is one of those composers I struggle with from time to time. He seems like a composer whose music I should like more than I do, and yet, I don't dislike his music. I've never really made a huge effort to listen to him, so I suppose the fault is mine. His life and career straddled the transition from Romanticism to Modernism, but Sibelius is generally best seen as one of the Romantics, albeit a highly nationalized one, coming from Finland and thus having a sound world all his own, quite distinct from the Wagner-Brahms thing going on farther south. Sibelius's music is more of a cloth with Carl Nielsen's, I suppose, but I tend to find it more distant, more difficult to really find the emotional center. But I also find that the more I listen to it, the more the internal logic of what he's doing shows up. Sibelius's music doesn't so much sing or emote, as contemplate. It's very inward-looking music.

In terms of performance, Sibelius was on my very first orchestral program, way back in the college days. It was the work below, his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. It was nearly impossible in those early rehearsals to get any real feel for the work, as our orchestra only had half its complement for most rehearsals (our ranks would be padded out by paid pros from Waterloo/Cedar Falls, the large city twenty miles south), and we didn't have the soloist (a violinist from the University of Iowa, named Leopold La Fosse) available for most of it, either. These were hardly ideal circumstances on which to engage with a piece of music, which is a shame because it was -- and is -- quite the concerto, when you really hear it.

(Those sparse rehearsals got a lot better over time. The orchestra's director, Dr. Janice Wade, was in the early stages at that point of really striving to build a string program from almost nothing at Wartburg. By the time I graduated, four years later, we had a full orchestra present each week at rehearsal. Dr. Wade could be idiosyncratic, to say the least, but I came to deeply admire and respect the job that she did with that group. Indeed, some of my fondest musical memories come from my time under her baton. She retired a short time ago.)

Here's the Sibelius Violin Concerto.

Tomorrow: A really modern composer!

Taking a break from writing about fictional spaceships....

...here are some photos, from a NASA FLickr stream, of an actual real spaceship launch. Specifically, the Antares rocket, developed by a private company. I think that the human future in space will depend in great part on private enterprise, and also that the future of the human economy will depend on our future in space.

Plus, there's still something awfully thrilling about a rocket launching for space.

Antares Rocket Preparation

Rocket at Sunrise

Antares/Beach Front

Antares launch

Antares Rocket Test Launch

Space still beckons!

Sentential Links

Pilfering more participants from A-to-Z this week....

:: Kind of cheating today, since the letter Q doesn't exist in the Greek alphabet! So, quests it is (it was a toss up between quests and queens) and I'm going with the quests of Theseus.

:: For the challenge this year, I have decided to challenge you. Because I love mathematics codes, and riddles, my 26 posts will test your brain. (Gotta look back on this one....)

:: Admittedly, one of Marvel's more....strange...as well as obscure characters. I think this one might be the most obscure of the whole twenty-six I planned for this challenge.

:: Six years ago my husband bought me a beautiful leather journal for Christmas. The journal sat on a shelf for a few months because I wasn’t sure what I should write in it.

I wanted it to be more than a diary. I have to be honest, I always felt a little corny when I would write a daily entry in the diary I received when I was younger. The process felt forced to me.

:: Need help knowing how to talk to your teenage son? First off, what NOT to do: Never ask him directly how he feels. If you make that mistake, your conversation will be very short and will likely involve nothing but shrugs and grunts on his part.

:: When I was researching this piece, I found that Rachel had done a huge amount of film scores that I really love and actually own. It's great to see women making their way in this still hugely male dominant arena.

:: The electronic format is definitely a large part of the future of gamebooks, but I'm hopeful that printed versions will continue to be produced, aka Destiny Quest. I'd like to see gamebooks explore different concepts - while hack 'n' slash has its place, it would be great to see gamebooks where the choices made have real consequences, beyond "you don't have this item so the dragon eats you". Imagine a gamebook based on the ideas explored in Planescape: Torment or Tides of Numenera. (I have no idea what a 'gamebook' is. I need to look this up.)

:: Questions left unanswered. It's a bit of a long stretch but what I really mean is cliffhangers. I have a very love/hate relationship with cliffhangers.

I LOVE writing them and watching as chaos erupts around me.

However, I hate being on the reading end when a bomb drops and you know theres no way you're sleeping tonight because you just have to finish the whole book after that.

More next week. Maybe. Or not. Who can tell, in these times of unpredictability? I could just end this post in the middle of a word, breaking off in highly strange fash

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Some random thoughts on "Once Upon a Time"

I like this show a lot. We watch it every week. But it's a really maddening show, because there are times it's so wonderfully written (thank God they've got Jane Espenson on the staff), and other when it is so...not (too bad they can't clone Jane Espenson).

:: Snow White / Mary Margaret is kind of irritating. She reminds me of the way Mary Ingalls was always depicted in the Little House books: insufferably good. The current storyline, of forcing her to do evil, could be interesting, but so far all they can figure out what to do is have her roll around in bed as she processes her existential crisis.

:: Regina / The Evil Queen is, by far, the most interesting character on the show. And Lana Parrilla plays her magnificently. She's the most three-dimensional character on the show, and Parrilla captures that beautifully.

:: The next most interesting character on the show? Robert Carlyle's Mr. Gold / Rumpelstiltskin. He seems to get the best lines, and so far, the writers have managed to keep him treading the line between good and evil in exactly the way a good Trickster character is supposed to do.

:: Come to think of it: Lana Parrilla will sadly be too old to play one of the Princesses when the totally inevitable movie of Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title) gets made, which gives me a sad, because frankly, she'd be perfect for the older of the two. She has a very expressive face and a lot of range as an actress. (As opposed to Ginnifer Goodwin, who as Mary Margaret / Snow White seems to only have two expressions: happy smile and sad smile.) Robert Carlyle has a part waiting for him, too.

:: The worst character, by far, no competition, is Captain Hook. He is awful. The guy exudes zero menace, his sexual innuendos are embarrassing since he has no charisma or chemistry at all with anybody, he only serves to show up at inopportune moments to do something evil, and then he invariably gets his ass kicked. Hook isn't a character, he's a plot device, and a badly-acted one at that; every single time he shows up, any energy the show has gets sucked right out. The sooner the writers come to their senses and jettison this guy, the better.

:: I hope they never show August / Pinocchio as an adult wooden guy again. That was one of the creepiest damn things I've ever seen. Made that episode nearly impossible to watch.

:: I like the guy who plays David / Prince Charming, but his lips are distractingly red. Seriously, I've never seen a guy with lips that red before. Every time he's onscreen, at some point during the scene I find myself staring at his lips. And I won't lie -- that makes me feel a little strange.

:: Some of the mining of old stories and folklore is pretty creative. Some of it, though...I don't really know about. The last episode seemed to be going toward some kind of Asian lore, in a Big Trouble in Little China kind of way. I'm not sure where they're going with that.

:: I'm honestly not sure how much longer this show can last -- maybe one more season? My problem is that the worldbuilding feels increasingly tenuous. The town of Storybrooke can't interact with the 'outside' world? Well, OK...but it's a modern town, with all the modern trappings, so how do they get stuff? Where does the food at the store come from? How do they get gas for the vehicles they drive? It's a town, not a separate world.

That's about it. The second season starts winding down tonight...I think there are only three or four episodes left. I wonder how they'll leave things hanging?

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: This is kind of creepy: the library of dust.

“In 1913, the Oregon State Insane Asylum began to cremate the remains of unclaimed patients and their ashes were stored in copper canisters.

After decades in storage the canisters have undergone chemical reactions resulting in explosions of vivid blue-green corrosion. Maisel was granted access to the room in which the canisters were stored to document them for his book.”

The full image of the room, with the cannisters all nicely arranged on the shelves like items in someone's pantry, is particularly troubling to behold.

Well...that's about it, I guess. This week really sucked, folks. We'll get better, though!

A thought

Can we move National Poetry Month to October?

Because October is awesome, and April sucks.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A to Z: Rimsky-Korsakov

Toward the late 19th century, Russia came into its own in a big way as artistic Romanticism took hold in that country. One of the greatest composers to emerge from that period, slightly before Tchaikovsky, was Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

I haven't heard too much of Rimsky-Korsakov's work, but I've yet to hear a piece of his that isn't somehow deeply scintillating and evocative. The Russian gift for lyrical melody and brooding atmosphere is almost a stereotype, but Rimsky-Korsakov really was a magnificent melodist, but even more, he was one of the most brilliant orchestrators ever. He had a way of using the instruments of the standard orchestra in new and exciting ways to achieve tonal effects and colors that are as brilliant and fresh today as ever. This is particularly evident in this, my favorite work of his, and one of my favorite works of all time: the symphonic suite Scheherazade.

The idea of 'program music' has always been mildly problematic for composers. Can purely orchestral music really tell a story? Or can it only suggest mood and color? I tend to think the latter, but the visual associations in this music are very hard to forget once you read the titles of the movements. In any event, Scheherazade is an utterly spectacular musical entertainment, big and bold and vivid and melodic and thrilling and passionate and exotic. I used to pore over the score to Scheherazade, noting with amazement the things Rimsky-Korsakov did with just the standard symphony orchestra.

This particular performance, by the way, may sound slightly odd to modern ears, because the orchestra performs on period instruments, using period performance standards (such as a mellower trumpet sound and much less vibrato in the strings). I often find period-instrument performances fascinating and compelling if the performance carries a passion to match. This one nails the passion of Scheherazade fairly well.

Only eight letters left. What to do with 'S'? We'll see on Monday!

In the cornerless office

P041613PS-0931, originally uploaded by The White House.

I continue to love the White House's Flickr stream and its photographic documentation of the goings-on at the White House. White House photographers do great work, and I enjoy paging through it.

This particular photo is pretty cool because of its symmetry, the fact that the Obama Apple Bowl is in the center, and that you can really see how well the Oval Office's wood furniture is polished. Senator McCain's face is reflected with almost perfect clarity in that table.

And note that through the windows behind the President's desk, it almost looks like there's some sort of cabin or something out there, on the grounds. Anybody know what that is?

Mining Salt (a writing update)

This wasn't a particularly good week for writing:

Oog. My Self-Motivation Circuit is REALLY displeased with my apparent lack of progress. #AmWriting

Between following the news (what an irritating week it was, news-wise -- thanks for that, Boston terrorists and United States Senate), trying to work my way through a thorny scene that represents a bit of a plot problem (coming up with a logical rationale for the characters to do something that I needed them to do but have it seem like their idea and not mine was a real struggle), and the general lack of brain power left for last evening that came from getting up at 4:00 am to do a job at The Store...well, I just did not manage to get a lot of production done on Princess In SPACE!!! II: The Princesses' Bogus Journey. I have spent the requisite amount of time hanging my head in shame and doing penance, and now it's time to delve back in.

Back to the salt mines! #AmWriting

As for the first volume of the adventures of the Princesses, no agents have bit yet. But I'm not even close to exhausting that pool, so I'll be getting more queries out. Oh yes!

Future writing plans: Finish first draft of The Princesses' Bogus Journey, which should take me into the fall, hopefully in time for NaNoWriMo, during which I will switch genres and write the horror book I've had knocking around my head for just a bit less time than the Princesses have. And after that, I'll jump back into Lighthouse Boy, because I've had some interesting thoughts about that particular tale of late that could bear fruit. And beyond that? Editing The Princesses' Bogus Journey, thinking about Princesses III: The Princesses In 3D!!!...and who knows, maybe somewhere in there, the publishing process will start.

Onward and upward! Zap! Pow!!

Friday, April 19, 2013

A to Z: Qu

Well, you gotta do what you gotta do when you get to Q. I don't know anything about this composer at all. Not a thing. His Wikipedia page indicates that he was born and studied in China and eventually emigrated to the United States, where he continues to compose. That's all I know.

So obviously, I've never heard this piece before. It's in two parts (because of YouTube length restrictions), and I don't think it's complete, but it's interesting enough that I don't care: a short opera called The Death of Oedipus. And it's fascinating. I'd love to see this staging live, with the stylized acting using masks on the singers. Wow. I love finding works like this! Back in college, the music department had a thing called "Opera Workshop", in which the vocal majors would learn and perform works like this. I've never much thought about the world of short opera since then. I wonder why that is?

Anyway, here is The Death of Oedipus.

Tomorrow: R. So many directions I could go...but probably back to Mother Russia.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

When I was a kid, I wanted to be Bud Herseth.

God-in-Heaven, a lot of people have died lately. But this one is the one that hits me in the heart. Adolph Herseth is dead. Herseth was the principal trumpet player for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, for a career that spanned nearly fifty years.

When you're a young musician and you become the slightest bit serious about your musical endeavors, you start to learn the names of those who are really, really good at your instrument. It's not at all unlike...well, you know, it's exactly like how young athletes in school idolize the best in their sport. The school's star baseball player wants to be Howard Johnson or Doc Gooden. The star football player wants to be Marino or Montana or Bruce Smith. (I'm using names from when I was young, obviously.)

Well, the same thing happens for musical kids, too. Flute players hear about Galway or Rampal. Clarinetists idolize Richard Stoltzman. Percussionists? Well, if they're jazz players, they dream of being the next Lionel Hampton, maybe. This is totally natural.

I remember one day, when we in the Allegany Senior Jazz Band were on one of our band trips for a competition, to Binghamton or Syracuse or some such place. We had already had our morning performance and were due to come back in the afternoon to play again, which gave us some free time for lunch, so we ended up at some local burger joint, where conversation turned, as it so often does for young trumpet players, to who we are idolizing now. Wynton Marsalis's name came up, obviously, especially then, because this was the late 1980s, when Marsalis's musical star was just starting to really shine. And Doc Severensen. Maurice Andre. Even Chuck Mangione's name came up (a flugelhorn is just a trumpet with a larger bell and bore, for a darker, mellower sound).

I was the only one to mention Adolph Herseth.

I'm pretty sure that none of them had any idea who Herseth was, and that was fine. Herseth wasn't a soloist, after all – he was a member of a symphony orchestra. But my tastes always ran to the orchestral; my attitude was always that the orchestra itself was the ultimate instrument (an attitude I likely acquired in the course of my hero-worship of Hector Berlioz). But I was still a trumpet player, too, and I had to have a narrower focus at times. Hence, Mr. Herseth.

I still remember when I first heard of him. Not the date or time, actually, but the circumstance: I was spending a study hall not in the actual study hall but practicing in the band room one day during school, and I spotted a stack of old magazines. There's a magazine for band and orchestra teachers called Instrumentalist, and we had a bunch of these things lying there. I thumbed through the stack and pilfered out a bunch that had articles I wanted to read – a profile of a conductor here, a composer there...and on the cover of one, a guy in the standard orchestral uniform of tux with white tie, holding a trumpet. The caption identified the man as Adolph Herseth. Inside was an absolutely fascinating interview with the man, and it just...informed everything I would ever want to do with the trumpet.

I've long since lost that issue of that magazine (although maybe it's still floating around some of the music-related ephemera at my parents' house), but I remember a great deal from it, even though I haven't read it in many years. Specifically, two points stuck with me. First, Herseth's amusement with the tendency of American brass players to worry about mechanics to an odd degree. I always saw this with my brass brethren: worrying about the embouchure. (The embouchure is the group of muscles, mostly around your lips and jaw but also including your neck and even your upper arm, that you use to produce sound in a wind instrument.) Brass players, in my experience, tend to spend a lot of time thinking about their embouchures: how to properly place the instrument upon the lips. How to angle the mouthpiece for optimum pitch, range, and endurance. How to develop the muscles properly. How to, how to, how to...but Herseth found a lot of that plainly ridiculous, citing Maurice Andre who asked him, "Why do Americans worry so much about their lips? Why don't you just pick it up and play?" Herseth agreed, and I've come to think of that as kind of a Chicago way of thinking. You just show up and do your job, and you do it well because it's your job. Herseth's attitude toward trumpet playing doesn't strike me as being all that different from Roger Ebert's approach to writing movie reviews, or Mike Royko's approach to writing columns.

That sense of practicality served Herseth well when, early in his career, he was involved in a really bad car accident that put his face into the steering wheel, smashing his jaw and mouth terribly. After his recovery he literally had to relearn how to play, moving the trumpet back and forth to accommodate his dead nerves and two dead teeth, until he found a spot where it worked, and then he practiced his way right back to where he'd been to start with. I tend to have the most respect for people who take what they're given and just say, "OK, let me figure out how to make this work."

Second was Herseth's comparison of the trumpet to the human voice. He openly referred to the voice as the primary and greatest instrument, and insisted that the job of the instrumentalist is to approach the quality of the human voice as closely as possible. This struck the young musician in me as very odd, but the more I thought about it, the more correct I thought he was. Herseth said that the greatest singers, the greatest musicians, were the ones who told a story in their music, and that he always wanted to be able to do that. That leads into this wonderful NPR feature, on the occasion of Herseth's final concert with the CSO:

I love how he indicates that he never wanted a solo career, finding far greater musical satisfaction in the life of the orchestral musician. I always agreed with this, finding no greater musical rush than being one voice in this giant, unwieldy instrument that is the orchestra. Herseth refers to being able to get immense musical satisfaction out of so simple a passage as a simple, three-note descending figure in the Brahms Symphony No. 1. I never played that symphony (to my regret, as it's one of my very favorite symphonies), but I did play the Strauss waltz On the Beautiful Blue Danube, toward the end of which is one of my very favorite bits in all music. The trumpet simply sounds a major arpeggio, three times. But when I played that piece as a freshman in college, I was so thrilled to see it on the program, because I knew that I got to sing those three slow arpeggios with my trumpet.

There's a terrific book, long out-of-print, called Season with Solti by William Barry Furlong, which recounts a single season of the the Chicago Symphony in grand behind-the-scenes fashion, profiling many of the musicians as they go through an entire year in the life of a great American orchestra. I suppose a lot of the book's details of orchestral life are well out-of-date, given that it was written in 1974. But there's a good sense in which musicians are musicians. Today's trumpet players still have to confront that horribly exposed passage in Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra, or Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, or the awkward syncopated entrance in one of the Schumann symphonies (which Herseth himself screwed up one night, in concert, prompting him to approach the infamously-tyrannical conductor Fritz Reiner afterwards to apologize for 'conduct unbecoming the principal trumpet player of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra').

Here is part of the section from the book on Bud Herseth.

Just as scrupulous – but far different – in his practice habits is Adolph "Bud" Herseth, the first trumpet player. "I practice every day," he says. But not the same amount every day. It's three hours on days when the work with the orchestra is light; it's one and a half hours when it's heavy. He also paces the practices to the style of music that's being played in the Hall – by doing the opposite. When the week's work involves 'heavy' music – "Mahler, Bruckner, Strauss, Wagner" – he spends his practice time on the light, highly refined works. When the week's program is light, he turns to the heavier works. "I just try to balance it out."

This he works on his articulation – in opposition. In weeks of work on pieces demanding heavy, almost percussive, articulation, he looks for "soft" works to practice on, so that he's always in shape for the music that's coming up. "I sometimes have to remind myself that, if we've played several weeks of 'hard' concerts – very aggressive, very hard playing – you tend to fall into the habit of using your articulation, your tongue, in a forceful way. And then you are playing nothing but delicate little things, like Mozart or something like that the next week." So his practice is not always aimed at what the work of the week is, but at what it is not. For he'll get seven and one-half to ten hours of rehearsal on the work of the week at Orchestra Hall, and he feels he needs to use his private practice time to balance it all out.

Nor does he practice on just one trumpet. At some point every week he'll practice with smaller trumpets. He's got a total of thirty-four different trumpets at home, most of them experimental in one form or another. ("We try a lot of different things – different shapes of the bell, different bore sizes, different tapers in the lead pipe – any changes that might make a big difference in the quality of sound in the instrument and in the gradation of volume that is available.") In particular, he'll work intensely in the extremely high ranges of the instruments. "Well beyond the range where I play," he says. "I practice so that the high C's are easy to reach – once you've played enough above them, you know that you can cope with them."

He augments all this quite religiously with a program of exercise patterened after the Canadian Air Force system. He got started on it as a way to avoid a recurrence of an attack of sciatica nine or ten years ago, and he continues it as a way of maintaining his endurance on the trumpet. "The trumpet is physically the most strenuous instrument in the orchestra," he says. "That is one reason why the trumpeters do not play as continuously as the violins, for instance. The violins' type of strenuous work comes from the continuity with which they have to play. But their actual effort is nothing – bar for bar – compared to playing the high registers in the trumpet."

The rewards of this labor are many and varied.

Some of them come from particular performances. A season or so ago, Herseth was asked by Solti to play Bach's Brandenburg Concerto in F Major, no. 2. That, he says, "is the hardest single piece in the repertoire for the first trumpet. That is the most demanding of all. Nothing – nothing can be compared to the Brandenburg." For one thing, the range is extremely high, so high that many orchestras do not give it to the trumpet to play. Instead they'll turn to the soprano saxophone to take the trumpet part; in fact, the Chicago Symphony often had it played by an E-flat clarinet in the days before Herseth took over the first trumpet's chair. Another problem is in the articulation. "Not only do you have to play some phrases hard, but you have to remember to play select phrases lightly because you are in a concert-type group, trying to balance with a flute, fiddle, and oboe and you do not want to be too predominant."

He was so stunningly successful at it that Solti asked him to repeat the last movement as an encore, in response to the storm of applause that the performance arouses. "I don't remember any other time that we did an encore on a Thursday night performance," he says – and he's been in the orchestra for twenty-five years. Solti himself was so moved by the work that he wanted to hear it again. ("He said to me, 'Can you do the last movement again?' And I said, 'Well, let's find out.'") He did it again, to new and thunderous applause – and one suspects that Solti was barely restrained from doing it once more. Certainly the audience wanted it.

The Curtis Institute never answered his letter [of application to study music]. Juilliard and Eastman put him off for a year. But the New England Conservatory said they'd admit him at the next semester, in January 1946. He started his studies there are was still immersed in them – spending his free time hanging around the Boston Symphony Orchestra – when he got a telegram telling him that Maestro Artur Rodzinski would be pleased to audition him in his Fifth Avenue apartment in New York City. Herseth knew that Rodzinski was music director of the Chicago Symphony, but he'd never given much thought to playing in a symphony. He just figured that Rodzinski was between appearances in Chicago and was looking around for some reserves, perhaps "someone to play down at the end of the section." He adds, "I did not know how he got my name or anything else."

He went to New York and auditioned in Rodzinski's apartment for an hour and a half. When it was over, Rodzinski congratulated Herseth: "You are the new first trumpet player for the Chicago Symphony." Herseth was astounded. "I about went through the floor," he says. But he wasn't inclined to turn the job down.

Subsequently he discovered that the job had been offered to the first trumpet player of the Boston Symphony. He'd turned it down but, having heard Herseth play, he recommended him for the job. The irony was that Rodzinski left the Chicago Symphony after that and Herseth never played under him. "I often joke that they fired him as soon as they learned he'd hired me" – a twenty-four year-old who hadn't finished his musical studies, as the first trumpet in the Chicago Symphony.

One final personal note: in my junior year of college, my last with the Concert Band, the major work on our spring concert program – the program we took on our annual tour – was a transcription, and quite a good one at that, of the first movement of Mahler's Symphony No. 5. This symphony begins with a funeral march that in turn opens with a solo trumpet, and that trumpet part comes and goes throughout the entire movement. It's not the most technical of parts, but it's tremendously difficult, musically: you, the trumpet player, are setting the tone for the work. If you don't sing that part and sing it just right, the entire piece just doesn't get off the ground. For inspiration, I went out and bought a CD of the Symphony: Solti conducting the CSO, with Adolph Herseth playing, obviously. I didn't try to consciously emulate Herseth's performance in mine, but I tried to sing it as well as he did. I don't know how successful I was, but I like to think I got part of it right.

Here is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with Adolph "Bud" Herseth at principal trumpet, conducted by Daniel Barenboim, in Mahler's Symphony No. 5.

Obviously, as Robert Frost wrote, way leads on to way, and music wasn't my destiny. I didn't become Bud Herseth, but who knows – maybe I'm approaching writing in some of the same way he approached music. I hope I am. Music is still an extremely central part of my creative life, and I've always been of the belief that I'd rather lose my vision than my hearing. I do know this, too: one's life need not track a path identical to that of one's heroes in order for that relationship to bear fruit.

Farewell, Maestro Herseth! May yours be one of the trumpets that heralds the Ending of the World!

To Bill

Drag that shit outside and kick its arse. It's the only acceptable alternative.

UPDATE: Actually, Bill clarifies that he's not the one suffering the malady in question. Still the well-wishes are extended to the likely complete stranger who is!

A to Z: Puccini

I really don't know nearly as much about lyric opera as I think I probably should. I'm not sure why that is, as its characteristics really seem to line up with what I look for in art: interesting people in curious circumstances, elevated to statuses larger than life, living lives of overwhelming emotion shot through by melodies that shine like sun through the cracks in storm clouds. Alas, I've seen far too few operas in my lifetime, and perhaps it's time to change that, if not through live performance, then through video.

One opera that I have seen live, though -- in college -- is Madama Butterfly, by Giacomo Puccini. I suppose that Puccini and Wagner comprise what most people think of, almost stereotypically, when they think of opera: from the latter you have giant sopranos wearing horned helmets and breastplates, while from the former you have tenors belting out soaring arias as they go to their deaths. Butterfly is a well-known story, and a sad one; it was later updated, not entirely successfully, by the Les Miserables team in Miss Saigon.

Today's selection comes not from Butterfly, but rather from Puccini's last opera, Turandot, during the composition of which Puccini actually died, leaving the work unfinished. He was close enough to the end, though, and had left enough sketches for a student to 'finish' the piece, and Turandot has been a standard in the opera repertoire ever since. And part of that is because of arias like this one, which has become one of those works from opera and classical music that have woven their way into the cultural mainstream. This aria is very closely associated with Luciano Pavarotti, who only died a few years ago; Pavarotti performed this aria often in concerts as an encore, and it was a mainstay of his "Three Tenors" concerts.

I honestly don't know what the dramatic situation is when the tenor sings "Nessun dorma" in Turandot; I should probably hear the aria in the proper context at some point, because as gorgeous and famous as this is, its emotional impact is probably even greater in the context of the story of which it is a part. You can tell that the music is supposed to keep going, as opposed to building up to a huge chord; that chord at the end, designed to close out concert performances, always feels terribly out of place to me.

Pavarotti and the "Three Tenors" turned into quite the classical-kitsch enterprise toward the end, but for all that, I never heard Pavarotti fail to sing "Nessun dorma" without a lot of passion. And in this performance -- not from the Three Tenors, but from the closing ceremonies at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino (it's pre-recorded, actually) -- Pavarotti wrings about as much passion from the music as you could want. And well he should have: this was his last public performance.

Tomorrow: I got no idea. I need to research what to do with 'Q'!

Something for Thursday

Sometimes you don't need a lot of comment. Here's Leonard Bernstein, conducting his own overture to Candide.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why are you still LURKING!

Just a reminder, folks: it's Delurking Week here on Byzantium's Shores! Drop in comments and say Hello or...whatever! I'll be turning anonymous commenting back off on Sunday morning, so say something!

A to Z: Ohki

I really have very little to go on with this piece. I've never heard it until as I'm writing this, and I've never heard of this composer, either. I got nothin', folks!

Masao Ohki was a Japanese composer who lived from 1901 to 1971. Here's the most extensive biographical entry I could find.

The work in question is Ohki's Symphony No. 5, subtitled Hiroshima. It's a very modernistic work, often atonal and impressionistic. There is little light or optimism to be found in it, as might be expected from a work so titled. I honestly don't have a great deal to say about it, other than to note that is an undeniably powerful work.

Tomorrow: An opera hit!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Everybody has done the 'fitness' thing at one point or other. What's an exercise regimen, diet, or activity that you tried, thinking you'd like it, only to discover that you...didn't?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Vignette

This is something I'm going to try doing on a somewhat regular basis, as a bit of writing practice, since I always feel that my descriptions could use some work....

I was working a shit job at the time. A warehouse job. I lasted four days before they showed me the door, but I remember that guy.

Four days, I don't think That Guy changed his outfit once. White button-down Oxford shirt, tucked into navy blue dress pants (but a cheap brand). White sneakers that matched his shirt. And a navy blue windbreaker that matched his pants. There were two bulges in the windbreaker: his enormous key ring in the outer pocket, and the rectangle of a pack of cigarettes in the inner one.

That Guy was short and potbellied. His hair was white and was the most perfectly-combed hair in history. He had to use some kind of product.

I have no idea what his job was. I only saw him walk around the warehouse, constantly muttering under his breath, in a thick Italian accent. There was one phrase that he used, over and over and over and over again: "Alla that shit". It was like a mantra for him: "Alla that shit. Alla that shit. Alla that shit." Once in a while he'd stop and talk to the dude I was working with – never addressing me a single time – and he'd point and say "Move alla that shit". It was never clear what, exactly, he was pointing to. One time he came back an hour later and said, "Didja move alla that shit?"

Dude I worked with said, "Sure did."

That Guy looked, grunted with approval, and then waved in some other direction. "Start workin' on alla that shit." And then he walked off.

Of course we hadn't moved a single thing.

Yeah, I remember That Guy.

A to Z: Nielsen

I like randomness in music. It's fun to hear works that are literally different each and every time they are played. Of course, there's a sense in which all works are different each and every time they are played; the exact combination of tempi and specific blend of instrumental or vocal sonorities can never be matched perfectly, but true randomness in music is something that came along with the Modern era: improvisational works, experimental works that use random elements to determine their course, and so on.

One work that employs a random element to startlingly amazing degree is Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 5. This work is not atonal, but it is most certainly modern in its sound, approach to even a traditional kind of harmony, and its treatment of melodic material. The symphony is in two movements, and the overwhelming feeling when listening to the work is one of strife and of the orchestra's efforts to surmount it. It's almost as if Nielsen's score is trying to elevate itself above the violent concerns of our world.

This comes to the fore in the second section of the first of the Symphony's two movements. It sounds like a traditional slow movement at first, but the clouds quickly gather, and then the random strife shows up in the form of the instructions given to the snare drummer. The snare is directed to improvise, wildly and loudly, more and more insistently, as if trying to disrupt the music entirely. The rest of the orchestra swells and swells, even as the snare drum thrashes about, until finally the orchestra overwhelms the percussionist. The effect is one of the most thrilling uses of improvisatory randomness I know.

Carl Nielsen was born and lived in Denmark, and he is generally considered the finest Danish composer. His work is partly a natural evolution of the classically Romantic approach of Brahms and Grieg, but he soon struck out in his own direction, so much so that Nielsen always strikes me as a late-Romantic, early-Modern analog of Hector Berlioz, in that he was a brilliant orchestrator whose music isn't the easiest to crack into and whose approach can seem indulgent, but who is, in the end, deeply moving and involving.

Here is Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 5.

Tomorrow: A side-trip...to Japan!

On keeping perspective

A good article by Bruce Schneier:

As the details about the bombings in Boston unfold, it'd be easy to be scared. It'd be easy to feel powerless and demand that our elected leaders do something -- anything -- to keep us safe.

It'd be easy, but it'd be wrong. We need to be angry and empathize with the victims without being scared. Our fears would play right into the perpetrators' hands -- and magnify the power of their victory for whichever goals whatever group behind this, still to be uncovered, has. We don't have to be scared, and we're not powerless. We actually have all the power here, and there's one thing we can do to render terrorism ineffective: Refuse to be terrorized.

It's hard to do, because terrorism is designed precisely to scare people -- far out of proportion to its actual danger. A huge amount of research on fear and the brain teaches us that we exaggerate threats that are rare, spectacular, immediate, random -- in this case involving an innocent child -- senseless, horrific and graphic. Terrorism pushes all of our fear buttons, really hard, and we overreact.

But our brains are fooling us. Even though this will be in the news for weeks, we should recognize this for what it is: a rare event. That's the very definition of news: something that is unusual -- in this case, something that almost never happens.

Remember after 9/11 when people predicted we'd see these sorts of attacks every few months? That never happened, and it wasn't because the TSA confiscated knives and snow globes at airports. Give the FBI credit for rolling up terrorist networks and interdicting terrorist funding, but we also exaggerated the threat. We get our ideas about how easy it is to blow things up from television and the movies. It turns out that terrorism is much harder than most people think. It's hard to find willing terrorists, it's hard to put a plot together, it's hard to get materials, and it's hard to execute a workable plan. As a collective group, terrorists are dumb, and they make dumb mistakes; criminal masterminds are another myth from movies and comic books.

Meantime, stop reading the news. It doesn't help.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Thoughts of Boston

Even though I haven't been there in 16 years, I have a lot of fine memories of Boston.

Honeymooning there with my new Wife (still my current Wife). Shopping at Quincy Market, the Science Museum, the New England Aquarium. Boston Common. Seafood. Traditional dim sum in Chinatown (meaning, the kind of dim sum place where they wheel around the food on carts).

:: I remember construction everywhere when we were there. It was the Big Dig, as they called it. What a mess.

I remember walking into a store and having a clerk say, "How are you, ladies?" We had our back to her, and she saw two long-haired folks. (The Wife had long hair then.)

I also went there as a kid several summers in a row, from 1982 to 1985 or so, because my father had annual computer courses he took...someplace. I remember doing a lot of hoofing around downtown Boston with my mother and sister. We tracked down Paul Revere's grave, and later that same day, his house (with the help of the single nicest cop I've ever met). I remember Old North Church, and walking from the Science Museum to the USS Constitution. On that particular walk, we went past a brownstone on the doorstep of which was the first passed-out drunk I ever saw, the empty bottle on the ground just out of reach of his fingertips. I always wondered if he drained it, or if it ran out where it fell as he collapsed.

I remember clam chowder...at McDonald's. I remember falling in love with public transportation in general and trains in particular. I remember the paddleboats, Faneuil Hall, and a restaurant called the Magic Pan.

Boston is a great city -- it was today before the bombings, and it is today after them.

I just wanted to say that.

A to Z: Messiaen

I haven't heard much of Olivier Messiaen's music. I have a recording of his massive Turangalila Symphony that I haven't played in well over a decade, and I'm not sure I've ever owned a recording of the work on tap for today, the Quatuor pour la fin du temps, or in English, Quartet for the End of Time. But I have heard this piece before, so it's not entirely new to me.

But it sounds entirely new, because this is one of those pieces that you probably have to study closely to really tease out what's going on. It's not an easy work, by any means. As a Quartet, it's obvious that the work is scored for four musicians, but it's not a string quartet. Instead, it's scored for a clarinet, a violin, a cello, and a piano. That's a very odd grouping, to be sure, and it's partly that which creates this work's very unusual sound.

Messiaen, as did many of the greatest 20th century composers, tended to engage in a lot of experimentation, going well beyond traditional thought on melody, harmony, and form. He was an incredibly academic composer, in the best sense of the word; he was influenced by travels and studies that took him all over the world. Thus Messiaen's music is almost truly world music. You can't pin Messiaen into any simple nationalistic compositional school.

The Quartet for the End of Time has one of the most amazing stories behind its genesis that I've ever heard, and I'll just go ahead and quote Wikipedia here:

Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered World War II. He was captured by the German army in June 1940 and imprisoned in Stalag VIII-A, a prisoner-of-war camp in Görlitz, Germany (now Zgorzelec, Poland). While in transit to the camp, Messiaen showed the clarinetist Henri Akoka, also a prisoner, the sketches for what would become Abîme des oiseaux. Two other professional musicians, violinist Jean le Boulaire and cellist Étienne Pasquier, were among his fellow prisoners, and after he managed to obtain some paper and a small pencil from a sympathetic guard, Messiaen wrote a short trio for them; this piece developed into the Quatuor for the same trio with himself at the piano. The combination of instruments is unusual, but not without precedent:Walter Rabl had composed for it in 1896, as had Paul Hindemith in 1938.

The quartet was premiered at the camp, outdoors and in the rain, on January 15, 1941. The musicians had decrepit instruments and an audience of about 400 fellow prisoners and guards.[1]Messiaen later recalled: "Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension."

It's a difficult, modern work – but it's also an unmistakably human one, an elegiac meditation on the nature of the Apocalypse. Here is the Quartet for the End of Time.

Tomorrow: to Denmark we go!

Remember to delurk, all you lurker-type folks!

A reminder that it's Delurking Week here at Byzantium's Shores, so if you please, go ahead and leave a comment! (Or you can e-mail me, if you like. I just want to know who's out there!) Thanks!

Sentential Links

Again, I'm going to rely on the master list of A-to-Z blogging participants for this week's linkage. Check them out! There's a lot of good stuff being done out there in Blogistan. Anyone who says that blogging is dead isn't paying attention, and anyone who ignores personal blogs is losing out on a lot of great insight and writing.


:: Liripipe
noun [lir-ee-pahyp] -
a hood with a long, hanging peak, worn originally by medieval academics and later adopted for general wear in the 14th and 15th centuries.

:: I love writing fantasy. True, I’ve written stories in our world, but there is something fun about creating your own world. Plus, I have to admit I’m a bit lazy when it comes to research. Always have been. But in fantasy in an alternate Earth, I can use my imagination. If I want something to work a certain way, then it’s my right. Within reason, of course. Even fantasy has to have some basis in reality. *laughs*

:: HWMMS: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaa! (Electric flickers.)

Me: (LEAPING FROM THE COUCH therefore spilling my glass of water all over the remote controls, which apparently is more important than the fact I thought my Husband just got electrocuted and I need to learn to be more careful.)

:: Follow your writer's dream; do everything within your power to make it come true. (Good advice! I shall now track down every agent I've queried and kidnap their dogs and/or children, with a representation deal as ransom!

No, I won't do that. Sheesh.)

:: The letter L makes me think of South America. That’s became of Fernando Lamas, and llamas . . . and my old Roger Corman buddy, Lucho Llosa. (This blogger is doing A-to-Z on Roger Corman. That...is...awesome.)

:: It wasn't the smell of unfamiliar perfume that did it. It was the dark, rusty red lipstick that stained the collar of his shirt that made her freeze like a broken down robot, the offensive collar stretched out in front of her by trembling hands. She wasn't sure what to do next, so she just stood there staring at it.

:: One of the advantages and frustrations of being a writer is how little people in your own family actually read what you write. Today, it is an advantage. It means I can write about my oldest child. (What a lovely tribute!)

More next week!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The sun will come out, tomorrow! Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there'll be ETERNAL DAMNATION!!!!


You can't make this shit up, folks.


Here's what transpired:

1. I learn of the existence of a BBC show called Sherlock.

2. I hear good things about the BBC show called Sherlock and make a mental note that it could serve well for viewing when our regular teevee shows are in reruns or hiatuses (should that be 'hiati'? Look that up, self....).

3. In January all our shows go to hiatus or in reruns, so we need something to watch.

4. I say, "Hey dear, there's a show I heard of called Sherlock. It's apparently Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, simply moved into the modern day. I hear it's really good. Wanna try it?" She says sure, so off we go.

5. I notice that the first episode is 90 minutes, roughly.

6. I discover that the second episode is also 90 minutes. Wow, BBC shows must be really long! And there are two entire seasons to watch! This ought to take a while.

7. I learn that each of those two seasons has exactly three episodes, and that having watched three episodes, we are halfway through the existing series.

8. I react accordingly, below the fold.

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Want to buy an Uruk-Hai scimitar but you can't think of why you might need such a thing? This woman has you covered. This may be the best thing I see all year. (Lots of other folks thought so...apparently this has shot through the Tumblrsphere like fire on a dry prairie.)

:: Those of us who grew up seeing lots of movies first via their teevee-edited versions will find this article (link fixed) a trip down funny-memory lane. Creative edits for swearing in movies! The very first one on the list tickles me especially, as I literally thought that was the actual line in the movie until just three or four years ago when we watched that particular movie on DVD as a family!

:: 30 Indispensable Writing Tips From Famous Authors. Oddly, I don't see "Keep a list of the names of everyone who rejected you so can glory in their failure once you hit it big" anywhere on the list. Maybe I should delete that list....

(No, I am not keeping such a list! Sheesh!)

More next week!

Unlurk, you lurking lurkers!

I haven't done this in a while, and it's something I do sporadically, so...it's Delurking Week here on Byzantium's Shores! For this week and this week only (unless I get flooded with spam and have to cut things short), I'm changing the comment settings to allow anonymous commenting. In order to hopefully keep the spam down, I'm turning back on the annoying CAPTCHAs. Don't worry, after this week I'll return to normal commenting procedure, which will mean deactivating the CAPTCHAs and again requiring Google or OpenID accounts. But for now, if you're a lurker here, say something! Just a quick "Hello from Kalamazoo!" or whatever.

(Just don't go into politics, please. I'm trying to avoid politics like the plague.)

Photographic proof that my cats are Republicans

This is how they respond to President Bill Clinton.

The boys are not impressed with Bill Clinton. It's OK, Mr. President! I'm still with ya! #Lester #Julio #PresidentWilliamJeffersonClinton

Oh well.

(Or maybe they just want tuna. You never know, with these doofuses.)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Another note to self

I have replaced the '100 Things About Me' post with an actual page on the site. It's in the sidebar at the top, or here, for those who don't like to look for stuff. Huzzah!

A to Z: Ligeti

(First of all, I have updated last night's placeholder of a post for K with more informative content!)

I'm not all about Romanticism and what's traditionally taken for 'beauty' in music. I am also fascinated by a lot of what has transpired in classical music since the early-20th century breakdown in tonality. I'm talking about music that explores the very boundaries of what can even be considered structured, formal music in the first place; music that eschews standard concepts of melody and harmony. Thus, the music of today's composer, the modern Hungarian master Gyorgi Ligeti.

Like many people, I first heard Ligeti's music in the context of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which Stanley Kubrick used carefully-chosen classical works to score his film in amazing ways.

(ASIDE: As amazing and great as the results of Kubrick's music selections for 2001 are, the processes by which Kubrick attained those results were...well, let's just say it outright. He was a dick. First, he actually brought in composer Alex North -- one of the great film composers, who wrote the magnificent score to Spartacus, for example -- to composer an original score for the movie. But then Kubrick decided to abandon North's work in favor of his 'selections from classical music' notion. Now, rejected scores are not at all unheard of in the film music world, but generally speaking, composers are told when their work is being replaced. Not so Alex North; he had no idea his music has been dumped until he saw the movie in release. And in the case of Ligeti, Kubrick used the music without getting full permission, which prompted Ligeti to sue for copyright infringement.

Oddly, in my years of participating in various film music forums online, I would often come across people who genuinely believe that the resulting film would have been better with North's score instead of Kubrick's now-iconic classical selections. This utterly baffles me, but film music fans are a baffling bunch.)

The piece below, Atmospheres, has no melody, no theme, and no rhythm, either. It is simply a series of sonic masses that shift and slide into one another, almost like a cacophonous sonic kaleidoscope. A look at a page from the score shows what Ligeti is up to:

The notation at the bottom of the page makes things clear: No melodic line is to come through. There is to be no hint, no intimation no matter how brief, of any melody at all in this work. As this recent article makes clear, performing this work has its own difficulties, for how do you conduct a work with no melodies, rhythms, or any of the usual things which mark the passage of musical time?

What this sort of music looks like on paper is no less peculiar. Where other composers evoke such complexity by offering only vague instructions to their performers, Ligeti took the opposite approach, writing out separate, detailed parts for each member of a large orchestra.

The result? Page after page of musical notation so dense, no human conductor -- not even music director laureate Christoph von Dohnanyi, who'll present the work here next month -- can truly process it all in the act of performance.

"The conductor can only shape it," Fitch said. "There's no way to cue every single person . . .

"In the end, it should sound like a placid surface with tremendous activity going on underneath."

And yet, for all that, I don't find Atmospheres hard to listen to. As music, it's like being in the midst of a crowd of people and just attending to the sounds they make; at times it can get to the point where you know that conversations are taking place, but you can't even pick out a single word, so thoroughly do all the voices blend together. The music sounds, at first, like some kind of stereotypical 'scary mood music', but I find that the longer I listen to this work, the farther I get into it, the less I perceive a sensation of fear at all. Ultimately I don't think I can ascribe a particular mood to this work at all: it just is.

Here is Gyorgi Ligeti's Atmospheres.

On Monday: You know, I have no idea. There are a lot of M composers to choose from!

A Tale in Four Photos.



Better still:


The End.

(Afternote: Did you ever notice how every single beverage in the world has its own sound when it's being poured? Interesting how the ingredients of a given beverage impact things like the acoustics of its pouring.)

Friday, April 12, 2013

A to Z: Kalinnikov


Vasili Kalinnikov is mostly unknown these days, mainly because he was really only starting to show his potential when he tragically died of tuberculosis when he was only 35 years of age. Still, a few of his works are still heard today, with the most familiar (if 'familiar' is even a word that can be applied to him) to his Symphony No. 1 in G minor, which is the work on tap today.

This is one of my favorite of all Russian symphonies, because it just oozes "Russian symphony-ness". Yes, that's a term I just made up, but if you know what I'm talking about, then you get it! Everything you'd ever want in a Russian symphony can be found here: gorgeously lyrical melodies (including one that's incredibly ear-wormy), a cyclic structure that sees melodic material from previous movements referenced and recast, terrific orchestration that uses the full complement of the modern orchestra and yet is very clear and precisely classical in its application, and most of all, that wonderful Russian fatalistic brooding that is yet somehow not entirely divorced from optimism. It's not a challenging symphony, but it is a rewarding one, sure-footed and confident; it's good enough that I think it should be heard a lot more than it is, and it's good enough that I wonder what Kalinnikov's later symphonies, say his fifth and sixth ones, might have been like had he lived to write past the second one.

OK, as I write this it's late and I don't want to miss the day, so here's the Symphony No 1 by Kalinnikov. I will update this post tomorrow with a few more annotations, though, so tune back in!

UPDATE 4-13-13: OK, here are a few annotations. The symphony's introductory passage sets the brooding mood quire nicely, and as you listen, make careful note of that first theme, because it will recur at the beginning of the fourth movement. Of particular note in the first movement, however, is the second theme (which in this recording comes at about the 1:07 mark). This lyrical tune, sung first by the cellos, sounds nice at first, but I have found over the years that after the movement is done, that melody lodges in the brain like few others. There then follows a third figure, similar to the first, that leads the movement into the development passage (after a repeat).

The second movement, the slow movement, is utterly lovely. I don't like to indulge visual metaphors much when I discuss music, but the second movement suggests to me the lovely delicacy and fragility of something like, oh, a painted egg. Again, make careful note of that main melody, heard first by the oboes and the violins(at 14:11) and then echoed immediately by the lower strings, because that very melody will return as well in the last movement.

The third movement is a finely constructed scherzo, but the last movement is where everything comes together. After a reprise of the symphony's opening bars, Kalinnikov launches into a brisk tune that almost has a folk-dance character (27:52) which almost immediately gives way to a more lyrical, but also dance-like, tune (28:09). And then, at 29:49, we hear that wonderful lyric theme from the first movement again, before being plunged right back into the dance. All this interweaves for a while, until Kalinnikov suddenly gets everything building up to the 33:20 mark, when the brass section starts to peal out that delicate, gossamer theme from the slow movement! No more 'fragile painted egg'; instead now that same melody has all the force of great church bells. Things calm back down, as if Kalinnikov senses that we're not quite ready for the church bells, so he builds again, starting at 34:16, but this time to gathering energy is undeniable, and again we crash into that slow movement theme, again pealed out by the brass, but if anything it's even more bell-like (35:01).

Musical moments like the closing pages of the Kalinnikov Symphony No. 1 are why I love the Russian masters so much: the best of them seem to have an internal sense of dramatic pacing that allows them to close things out in the most satisfying of ways. This is a great symphony!

Took me a minute....

Saw this on Facebook. It's funny. Really funny.