Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Q is for questions

This shot is a perfect symbolic way to end the year with in this blog - and I hardly expected that when I shot this ribbon artist in Shanghai's French Park in October. Q is for questions indeed. Seldom has my life been so full of uncertainties as right now. I said goodbye to my wife at Schiphol airport this afternoon - she is moving back to Shanghai. The intent is that I follow, but it is still uncertain what time scale we are talking about here..... anyway, we will see eachother in Shanghai for a month in April 2009.

Camera: Canon Powershot Pro1 8 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.017 sec (1/60)
Aperture: f/2.4
Focal Length: 7.2 mm
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Ma zui

Faye Wong is the uncrowned queen of mandarin pop/rock, selling millions upon millions of her albums all over East Asia. Ma zui (Anaesthesia) from 1997 is one of her best songs. The mandarin title is a play on words that cannot be translated: apart from the medical meaning, ma zui also stands for the type of high you get from love, drugs or alcohol. The song itself has a strong melody, good instrumentation and stunning vocals. Some of her greatest successes have been mandarin covers from artists such as Tori Amos, Cranberries and Cocteau Twins, but this one is an original Chinese production.
Art Rock score: 9/10 (very strong song, one of 650 best songs of all time)

YouTube

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Shattered

It is seldom that you encounter a photograph where both the idea and the execution are original and absolutely flawless. Well, my Flickr friend risquillo managed to achieve this rare feat with his shot Year 2008. Simply magnificent how the burst of the water balloon has been captured here.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Monday, December 29, 2008

MacDowell, the romantic American

As so many other interesting composers, Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) is doomed to be remembered mainly by one composition: the piano piece To a wild rose. It's a pity, because his oeuvre, although conventionally romantic, is well worth exploring. This Naxos CD is a good introduction to his orchestral output. The first suite (1893) is in five parts and explores a fairytale like world, with some musical links to the likes of Liszt and Wagner. The second suite (1897), named the Indian, is perhaps the more interesting of the two. It depicts scenes from the American Indian life, with some musical themes taking from their cultural heritage. To complete the CD, we have his early tone poem Hamlet and Ophelia (1885), an intriguing combination of two musical character studies, the more dramatic Hamlet and the melancholic Ophelia. The performances by the Ulster Orchestra under Takuo Yuasa are fine, and so is the recording quality. Give this a try if you like late romantic composers such as Bruch and Raff.

Amazon

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Luminous

We spent Christmas day at my brother's place, and of course I took my new camera (my first digital mirror reflex) along. I quite like this shot of one of the christmas decorations.

PS: apparently I am not the only one who likes it - this is the fifth shot of mine to make Explore.

Camera: Canon EOS 400D Digital 10 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.025 sec (1/40)
Aperture: f/4.5
Focal Length: 28 mm
ISO speed 1600
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Intimacy

A frequently heard complaint is that the art of making beautiful album covers has died out with the replacement of LP's by CD's. I am glad to see that even an album released as recently as October this year can have really stunning cover art. No clue what they sound like, but the cover (photography by Perry Curties) is brilliant.

All Music

Friday, December 26, 2008

Winter Wonderland

Around this time last year, a freak combination of continued fog and sub-zero temperatures turned large part of the Netherlands into a fairytale landscape for a short time. Everybody was out there, taking pictures. I have several in my own Flickr photostream, incidentally also called Winter Wonderland, but this one by my Flickr friend buteijn is simply magnificent.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Fairytale of New York

The fifth and final in a series of videos around christmas. This is the song that (at least in the UK in Ireland) repeatedly was voted the best christmas song ever - and I admit that it comes close to the previous one by Jim Croce in my own appreciation. As time progresses, it may even catch up: I actually had never heard the song until christmas ast year and it is definitely growing on me. It is perhaps an unlikely combination: the Irish folk rockers The Pogue and Scottish singer Kirsty MacColl (R.I.P.) teamed up in 1987 to record this folk style ballad about a drunken man's Christmas Eve reverie about holidays past while sleeping off a binge in a New York City drunk tank. After an inebriated old man also incarcerated in the jail cell sings a passage from the Irish drinking ballad "The Rare Old Mountain Dew", the drunken man (MacGowan) begins to dream about a failed relationship. The remainder of the song (which may be an internal monologue) takes the form of a call and response between two Irish immigrants, lovers or ex-lovers, their youthful hopes crushed by alcoholism and drug addiction, reminiscing and bickering on Christmas Eve in New York City. MacColl's melodious singing contrasts with the harsh sound of MacGowan's voice and the lyrics are sometimes bittersweet, sometimes plain bitter: "Happy Christmas your arse/ I pray God it's our last" (taken from wikipedia). There are various video's of the song on YouTube, but the ones with the original footage of the performers end prematurely. So in the end, I opted for this one, which has the added advantage that it shows the lyrics.
Art Rock score: 9/10 (very strong song, one of 650 best songs of all time)

YouTube

Snowscape with cows

Time for a seasonal painting by one of impressionism's greatest masters, Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). Although eclipsed in the general public's view by Monet, his contribution to the development of this style should not be underestimated. This snowscape from 1874 was painted in the French village of Montfoucault and it depicts the home of fellow painter Ludovic Piette. More on Pissarro in the wikipedia article linked to below.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

It doesn't have to be that way

The fourth in a series of videos around christmas. For me, christmas songs do not come better than this. The great late Jim Croce (1943-1973) created some of the most beautiful songs of the 20th century and this one, recorded the year he died in a plane crash, is a perfect example of his art. The first verse immediately sets the scene for another of those lost love ballads that he should have gotten a patent on: "Snowy nights and Christmas lights, icy windowpanes, make me wish that we could be together again. And the windy winter avenues just don't seem the same, and the Christmas carols sound like blues, but the choir is not to blame." Beautiful song, and the fact that the "video" is a continuous still shot just has to be accepted.
Art Rock score: 9/10 (very strong song, one of 650 best songs of all time)

YouTube

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter in the water village

This painting of my wife dates back about 10 years ago - before we met. It depicts a scene in one of the small ancient water villages around Shanghai, some of which unfortunately have become tourist traps in more recent years. I still remember the strange feeling when I first saw this one, as we lived in Singapore at the time, about as far removed from snow as you can imagine.

The Art of Lu Schaper

Silent night (Oiche Chiuin)

The third in a series of videos around christmas. There are reasons why christmas classics have become classics, even though they tend to be overplayed. Perhaps the most played of them all is Gruber's Silent night, dating back to 1818. This is the most beautiful version I know - and it is refreshing to hear deviating lyrics, as Enya decided to record this everwhite in 1989 in a Gaelic version.
Art Rock score: 8/10 (great song, I'd put it on my MP3 player)

YouTube

Monday, December 22, 2008

No loss of enthusiasm

The idea of this little game is to create an album cover for an imaginary artist/group, following these instructions:

[1] The artist/group: go to the wiki random page generator. The first random Wikipedia article obtained this way is the name of the band or performer. In this case, I ended up with Britannia Hospital.
[2] The title: go to the random quotations site. The last four words of the very last quote of the page is the title of the album. The random quote that came up was by Winston Churchill: Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.
[3] The illustration: pick a suitable one from my Flickr collection. My picture, Dance away the tears, can be found here on Flickr.
The on-line editing was done with the programme On-line image editor, the font settings selected were Footlights MT Light 60/50 Beige.

Note: this is a variation on the "Debut album game" that has been making its rounds around bulletin boards and blogs for some time now - the original version called for a random Flickr Explore photograph to be used as the cover. I have been trying to find out who had the original idea, but so far no success.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A wake to tranquility

What better way to honour the shortest day of the year than to include a photograph of the rising sun? And this must be one of the best in that category that I have seen on Flickr. It was shot by my Flickr friend Rick (word artist) on the cliff tops of Beachy Head at the English Channel. Marvellous composition and colours, and I love how the horizon seems to bend inwards by the weight of the sun.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Strange little girls

The 2001 album Strange little girls by Tori Amos may not be the best in her catalogue, but it had an unusual variation on the usual cover design: the customer was given the choice between a number of different ones, each depicting Tori in the mood of one of the cover songs that made up the album. An intriguing concept.

All Music

Friday, December 19, 2008

Weihnachtsmann vom Dach

The second in a series of videos around christmas - and this definitely is not your standard seasonal classic. The German punk band Die Toten Hosen (The dead trousers) recorded several christmas songs as Die Rote Rosen (The red roses), and this song from the 1996 album Wir warten auf's Christkind (We are waiting for baby Jesus) was a small hit in Germany and Austria. It is as bizarre as one would expect.
Art Rock score: 7/10 (fun to hear it on the radio)

YouTube

The fighting Temeraire

Or to give this masterpiece its full title: The fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up. The English artist Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) is often seen as one of the founders of impressionism, even though he had his roots in romantic English landscape painting. This painting from 1838 is one of his best known - it was voted Britain's "greatest painting" in a public poll organised by the BBC in 2006. In my opinion this is one of the best paintings of the 19th century: I love the colour schemes here. More on Turner in the wikipedia article linked to below.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

November spawned a monster

After the Smiths broke up, lead singer and musical brain Morrissey went solo. He had some reamarkable successes, but the one song that stands out in his career is the gorgeous and controversial November spawns a monster, which was a hit single in the UK, and remains one of the artist's personal favourites. The song deals with the difficult situation of the disabled, a unique subject for a hit single. Morrissey's use of words such as 'monster' and 'twisted' creates a strange mix of revulsion, sympathy and black comedy, all used to enlighten, and disturb, the audience. The middle section has disturbing sound images which many believe to have been recorded by an actual disabled child, but in fact it was the Canadian artist Mary Margaret O'Hara who created this hauntingly effective outpouring. A unique song - which I got to know (better late than never) in 2008...
Art Rock score: 9/10 (very strong song, one of 650 best songs of all time)

YouTube

The queen is dead

One of the most striking covers of the eighties: The 1986 album The queen is dead by the Smiths. Excellent album as well by the way. The cover was designed by their front man Morrissey, and it is based on a still from a 1964 French movie (L' Insoumis) starring Alain Delon.

All Music

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Silver rose

Almost a year ago I commented on this amazing image by my Flickr friend batedbreath for Flickr's Life Thru a Lenz group. I stand by my words of that time:

This is stunning. To use an understatement. I can't get away with something like "well spotted" - that is fine for multicoloured rusty shots and the like, but to spot this and see the potential of it - I bow for you very very deeply madam. To start with, a "best viewed large" should really be added here in order to get all the details in. The texture of the top layer is beautiful, reminding me in some way of the lunar surface. The cracks in it are very well caught with superb clarity. But of course, the heart of the shot is the second layer exposed where the top layer of paint has peeled away. The texture is marvellous, and the shine it has is amazing. And then as if all this were not enough, there is that shape of the peeled away section, that gave rise to your title. I wondered for a moment whether it would not be fitting to turn the shot anti-clockwise, but in the end I think I like it better the way it is. Gorgeous shot and an instant fave.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On the edge of a dream

This is one of the best paintings my wife ever made - in my opinion of course. What makes this one special in her development as an artist is that in hindsight this was the first painting that can be qualified in terms of style as Shanghai Expressionism - although it was painted while we were still in Singapore, a full two years before she actually created her current Shanghai Expressionism style.

The Art of Lu Schaper

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stop the cavalry

The first in a series of videos around christmas - and we kick off with one of my favourite pop songs on that theme. Jona Lewie charted worldwide in December 1980 with this song that was never intended as a christmas hit, but the salvation army style arrangement and the recurring line "Wish I was at home for Christmas" of course gives it frequent radio play every year around this time. And quite rightly so, in my opinion.
Art Rock score: 8/10 (great song, I'd put it on my MP3 player)

YouTube

Explored once more

Although I still do not get how Flickr's Explored - the 500 best shots of the day from the vast Flickr community - works (see previous post on this), I am childishly pleased whenever a shot of mine ends up there. This one (Abstraction in grey tones) is the fourth that made it, and so far the highest scoring, topping at #325. I took this at Schiphol airport waiting for an arrival - it is a close-up of a jet engine that was on display.

Camera: Canon Powershot Pro1 8 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.077 sec (1/13)
Aperture: f/2.4
Focal Length: 7.2 mm
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Bax, the Celtic symphonist

Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953) is hardly a household name amonst British composers, unlike say Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Britten. In my humble opinion though he may be the best of them all in the symphonic side of the repertoire: seven symphonies, various concertante works (especially his cello and violin concertos) and most of all, his symphonic poems. All in all he wrote 18 of these tone poems, and the best of them deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as those of Liszt, Strauss, Dvorak, Sibelius and Respighi. Naxos offers an excellent selection, presenting two of the composer's own favourite works (The garden of Fand, The tale the pine trees knew) as well as two of my favourites (Tintagel, November woods), with a fifth one (The happy forest) thrown in for good measure. Excellent examples of his late romantic style with celtic influences in the themes. I do not have this disc myself, having opted for the earlier Chandos releases, but the customer reviews suggest high quality. Warmly recommended.

Amazon

Boston sunrise

One tends to become blase about overused photographic themes - and sunrises/sunsets are amongst the most overused ever. Every once in a while however you encounter a shot that is so different and beautiful that you appreciate once more how great such themes can be. There are two things that make this shot by fellow Flickrite Keith Emmerich Photography stand out for me: the gorgeous curvature of the silhouetted buildings with their reflections, and that layer of ice on the water that gives such extraordinary textures both to the surface and to the reflections. Throw in the usual magnificent sunrise colours and it is clear that this is a very special shot.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Toward a meaningful end


The idea of this little game is to create an album cover for an imaginary artist/group, following these instructions:

[1] The artist/group: go to the wiki random page generator. The first random Wikipedia article obtained this way is the name of the band or performer. In this case, I ended up with Golden Square. Another great band name.
[2] The title: go to the random quotations site. The last four words of the very last quote of the page is the title of the album. The random quote that came up was by Dr. Thomas Dooley: Dedicate some of your life to others. Your dedication will not be a sacrifice. It will be an exhilarating experience because it is an intense effort applied toward a meaningful end.
[3] The illustration: pick a suitable one from my Flickr collection. My picture, Road to nowhere, can be found here on Flickr.
The on-line editing was done with the programme On-line image editor, the font settings selected were Battel Beasts Normal 55/30 Beige.

Note: this is a variation on the "Debut album game" that has been making its rounds around bulletin boards and blogs for some time now - the original version called for a random Flickr Explore photograph to be used as the cover. I have been trying to find out who had the original idea, but so far no success.