Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rautavaara, Sibelius' heir

Few countries' classical music have been dominated so much by one composer as Finland. Many casual classical music lovers would be hard pressed to name one Finnish composer besides Sibelius. Which is not fair to the likes of Aho, Crusell, Madetoja, Kokkonen and especially Sallinen and Rautavaara, who are amongst my favourite living composers. Spotlight today is on Einojuhani Rautavaara (born 1928). There is a pastoral beauty in much of his works, even though he writes in a distinctly modern idiom. If you have been following my blog for a few years, you may remember the main composition on the CD from the Unusual Concerto Series. Scored for taped bird sounds and orchestra, the 1972 composition Cantus Arcticus (Concerto for Birds and Orchestra) weaves recordings of bogs, larks and swans into the orchestral tapestries with great cunning. This work is probably his best known, and for me one of the best composition of the second half of the 20th century. The other pieces on the CD are no fillers either. The first piano concerto from 1969 is a dazzling piece, receving a brilliant performance here. The third symphony from 1960 may be less famous than his later ones, but deserves attention nonetheless for its almost Brucknerian approach - a romantic dodecaphonic masterpiece. These compositions are expertly played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Hannu Lintu, with Laura Mikkola on piano in the concerto. The recording is great as well -as is the fascinating cover design. All in all, an essential bargain priced CD to start to explore one of the greatest living composers.

Amazon

Liquid sunlight

High time to show more of the stunning photographic art of my Flickr friend jenny downing. A beautiful shot by itself with that splash of gold against the greyish bokeh'ed background, but also a very symbolic shot, indicating spring after winter or more generally good times after bad. Love her title as well.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hope in a hopeless world

A fitting visual echo in the hat from the previous post to this one. This is an example of the more tender and romantic side of my wife's Shanghai Expressionism. She made this in France, and we gave it as a wedding present to friends of ours.

The Art of Lu Schaper

Monday, February 23, 2009

Father, Son

The album Ovo, produced in 2000 for the London Millennium show, does not stand out as a highlight in Peter Gabriel's distinguished career. A weird mixture of different styles, from rap to jigs to ambient, aiming to represent the various cultural influences of modern London. Ambitious, yes, successful, no. It is typical though of his immense talent that even in a somewhat failed project you will find a real gem of a song, the beautiful ballad Father, Son.
Art Rock score: 9/10 (very strong song, one of 650 best songs of all time)

YouTube

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The last stand

I love it when someone can take a photograph cliche like sunsets and still turn out an original and interesting shot. In this case, by my Flickr friend Nature Explorer, it is accomplished by limiting those Walt Dsney like sunset colours to a third of the shot, leaving the greater part for the greyish rocks with their beautiful shapes and textures.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Sitting on our ass

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 Notre Dame Hounds. Brilliant 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 Michel de Montaigne: Even on the highest throne in the world, we are still sitting on our ass.
[3] The illustration: pick a suitable one from my Flickr collection. My picture, Take a break 5, can be found here on Flickr. The on-line editing was done with the programme On-line image editor, the font settings selected were Franklin Gothic 80 Blue and Delirium 30 Red respectively.

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.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Canoe at dawn

The photo stream of my Flickr friend peter bowers has plenty of magnificent photographs, but the highlight is his series of canoe shots immersed in fog. The above is a great example.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Klimtesque reveries

And to finalize the triptych on Klimt, here is a totally different Klimt inspired photograph - a gorgeous self portrait by my Flickr friend batedbreath.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Adele Bloch-Bauer

And here is the man himself. Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) is the main exponent of the Vienna Art Nouveau (Vienna Secession) movement. Of course, everyonw knows the Kiss to the extent that other works tend to be forgotten by many members of the public,even though the exmaple above, the 1907 portrait Adele Bloch-Bauer I, was purchased in 2006 for the Neue Galerie in New York by Ronald Lauder for a reported US $135 million. More on Klimt in the wikipedia article linked to below.

Klimtesque abstract

The first of a triptych of Klimt-inspired posts. The moment I spotted this texture on a wall in Prague, I associated it with the famous art nouveau paintings of the Austrian grandmaster. One of the best examples of many wall-based abstracts in my photo stream.

Camera: Canon PowerShot Pro1 8 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.006 sec (1/160)
Aperture: f/4.0
Focal Length: 7.2 mm
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Monday, February 16, 2009

Birds

Bic Runga is a relatively unknown New Zealand singer/song writer, whose third studio album Birds I came across in a blog about two years ago. Great music, beautiful singer, shown to great effect by this gorgeous cover.

All Music

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Postprocessing for dummies

This is a short summary of what I usually do in terms of postprocessing. I consider myself still a dummy in this respect, so do not take offence by the title. Within a few minutes you can beef up your digital pictures without expensive software like Photoshop. Let's go through it.

1. Taking photographs
I am not going to address technical matters here, but I do want to point out a few learning points that I have picked up along the way:
- Always shoot photographs at the highest resolution that the camera will allow. The files are of couse bigger but with the prices of memory cards and DVD's going down, you need to work with the best material.
- Always take a number of pictures of the subject you want to photograph, from different angles. Behind the computer you can select the best one.
- Try to go for the right composition in general, but aim to shoot a larger photograph than you want. You can easily cut parts off, you cannot add parts you did not take.

2. Postprocessing (general)
I am using a simple and intuitive freeware programme for this, Picasa (see download link below). The postprocessing should aim at getting the best composition, with the desired contrasts and colours. I will not be discussing special postprocessing techniques here (Orton effect, HDR, Holga, Lomo) - maybe in another post later. My typical Picasa postprocessing, illustrated with the sample above, goes as follows:

Picasa step 1 - Basic fixes
I upload the shot I want to process in Picasa (#1 in the collage above). This is straight from the camera. First I select the desired crop to get the right composition. Things to look out for here are the rule of thirds, decentralizing the main subject, and getting rid of distractions. The background to the left is such a distraction and had to go. The resulting crop gets very close to square so I decided to go for a perfect square crop. I should have taken the original shot with more space around the model - the rule of thirds is difficult to apply now. Still, the decentralization in the crop is sufficient to make for a pleasing composition. Next I straightened the shot a notch. This is often not required, but if a horizon is included it is mandatory to check whether that is perfectly straight. Here I made sure that the vertical wall is 100% vertical by a very small correction. The third option I typically use on this page is the button auto contrast. In this case I did not like the result, so I reversed it. The shot after this first phase of postprocessing is included as #2 in the collage.

Picasa step 2 - Effects
Although the third page in Picasa, I prefer to do this as second. First I sharpen the picture a notch. In most cases this is a beneficial effect, but sometimes you will decide to reverse it. Secondly, I use the saturation button, again a notch. It is easy to overdo it. An alternative option at this stage is to go for black and white or sepia. When colours are not very interesting, this is an attractive alternative. Also when shapes are dominating, a black and white rendition can be a striking version. The shot after this first phase of postprocessing is included as #3 in the collage.

Picasa step 3 - Tuning
Typically I will increase Fill lights and Highlights a notch and Shadows a bit more. This is very much trial and error until you have the end result you are satisified with. Once you reach that stage, the shot is finished and ready for saving. The shot after this first phase of postprocessing is included as #4 in the collage.

The link below leads you to the Picasa download page.

link

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentines in ambush

And to round off this Valentine triptych, one of my favourite shots by my Flickr friend kate mellersh. One of those amazing coincidences, that a great photographer will spot - and fortunately whilst holding a camera. And it is worthwhile to read her own notes to this marvellous shot.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

My Valentine

Time for a personal post. Even though we never succumbed to the commercial side of Valentine's day, I cannot help but noticing that this is the first Valentine's day since we met May 1999 that we are not together. This one is for you, my Shanghai Valentine.

The song itself is from the album Picture this by New Age pianist Jim Brinkman, one of the best in that genre (although not as good as George Winston). Amidst the usual instrumentals, there was this track with vocals, by country music icon Martina McBride. Sweet, cheesy even, but I love it.
Art Rock score: 8/10 (great song, I'd put it on my MP3 player)

YouTube

Friday, February 13, 2009

Curves in black and white

Minimalism and black & white are two of my favourite themes in photography and to see them so skillfully combined in one shot is a treat. This is a picture by fellow Flickrite tom.wright, and to my taste the composition is perfect in all aspects: the decision how much to show of the vase, the placement in the overall composition and the balance in terms of space occupied between the dark vase and the white background.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Through the ice

From one windmill to the next. Within a few days, this shot has become my second most popular at Flickr (already 74 faves an counting) - and it came higher than any of my other shots in Explore, topping at 22. Actually, by all rights, it should not even exist. It is part of the last set of shots that I uploaded to my desktop before it crashed. The crash came too soon to have them back-upped. And normally I delete the shots from the camera once I check that they are on the computer. For some reason, I forgot that last part and this shot was still in the camera.....

Camera: Canon PowerShot Pro1 8 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.008 sec (1/125)
Aperture: f/3.2
Focal Length: 7.2 mm
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Moeran, the forgotten pastoralist

Ernest John Moeran (1893-1950) was perhaps the last of the great British pastoral composers. A pupil of Charles Stanford and John Ireland, his oeuvre is not large, but ultimately highly rewarding. Influences of folk songs from Norfolk and Ireland are often present in his work. His major compositions are the cello concerto (one of the best in the genre to my taste), the violin concerto, and his only symphony. This work, composed between 1924 and 1937, shows some influences of Sibelius and Bax, but stands firm as an original work, and as one of the best symphonies to come from the UK in the 20th century. This Naxos CD presents the 45 minutes symphony with an interesting coupling: the 1940Sinfonietta. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, under James Lloyd, comes up with an excellent performance, very well recorded. A highly recommended CD to explore one of the most unjustly neglected composers of the 20th century.

Amazon

Stonehenge

Well, one great double rainbow deserves another. This work by Englishman John Constable (1776-1837), one of the greatest romantic painters of all time, is widely regarded as one of the best water colour paintings of all time. For its time (1835) it looks astonishingly progressive with hints of impressionism and even expressionism. More on Constable in the wikipedia article linked to below.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rainbow over the sisters

Definitely in my top 10 of favourite photographers on Flickr, and a bit late to introduce him in this blog for the first time (well, after the purge that is), but here he is: adrians_art. His landscape shots are amazing, often with stunning skies. Here is a first shot, taken at the Sussex seaside, more will follow the coming months.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

A little more fun

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 Public holidays in Barbados.
[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 Jenny Bicks: The fact is, sometimes it's hard to walk in a single woman's shoes. That's why we need really special ones now and then to make the walk a little more fun.
[3] The illustration: pick a suitable one from my Flickr collection. My picture, Multiple orgasmus, can be found here on Flickr.
The on-line editing was done with the programme On-line image editor, the font settings selected were Battle Beast normal 70/40 Antique white/Black.

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, February 08, 2009

Tango d'amor

One of the most beautiful sensual photographs I have seen on Flickr in recent weeks. It was posted by my Flickr friend FrizzText, who specializes in the square format. A CD cover waiting to happen.

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Look sharp

One of the classic album covers of the late seventies: Joe Jackson's 1979 Look sharp. Photographer Brian Griffin tried several themes, but it was an almost accidental take of Joe Jackson's new shoes that in the end turned out to be the best.

All Music

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Brand new day

A symbolic shot. I'm back on line - bought a new laptop this morning so that the desktop can be repaired. I have lost a lot of files that I intended to use in this blog, so the pace might be a bit lower than usual.

Camera: Canon PowerShot Pro1 8 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.06 sec (1/160)
Aperture: f/4.0
Focal Length: 20.9 mm
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Monday, February 02, 2009

The phantom of San Francisco

Sometimes we capture images and do not realize what exactly happened until we see the result on the computer screen. This haunting image by my Flickr friend LilFr38 is a good example. To quote him: "Fifth and last shot of the color set from a trip to San Francisco on May 2008, a B&W set is to come. Shot inside a lighted waterfall-fountain in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. I didn't notice at the moment but when I browsed the pictures back in France... wow!". Or my original comment on this shot: "It took me a while to fully get this one, even with your note. At first sight (at least mine), this is a great shot. The rain (OK, the waterfall, but let me follow my perhaps more romantic interpretation) providing such a great texture and context to the lights, the buildings, and the shadows. A perfect shot of a slightly melancholic city scene. And then the sudden realization what it was that you saw extra here. Absolutely amazing." If you don't see it, just keep on looking....

All rights retained by the photographer.

Flickr

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Bird of paradise

Well, one more exotic bird themed post to round things off. British Blues/rock singer Snowy White left Thin Lizzy in 1982 to pursue a solo career. His first solo album White flames contained the beautiful laid back track Bird of paradise, which was selected to be a single release and made the UK top 10. He never managed to repeat this success, and his only other claim to fame is that he performed in Roger Waters' memorable 1990 live concert of The Wall in Berlin, where Snowy White played the famous guitar solo in Comfortably numb.
Art Rock score: 9/10 (very strong song, one of 650 best songs of all time)

YouTube