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.


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.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Genesis-Marillion blog

We have discussed the prog music blog Museo Rosenbach before - here is another favourite of mine in the same style. Even more interesting than the blog itself though is the art work that they use as a header, and which I have included above. A fascinating combination of excerpts from prog album covers, which makes for a great game to recognize as many as you can.

web site

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Manuel Outumuro

A very classical glamour shot of Spanish actress Penelope Cruz by Spanish fashion and portrait photographer Manuel Outumuro. More of his work can be found on his website linked to below.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Erasmus bridge Rotterdam

This elegant bridge in Rotterdam originally inspired me to start "Bridges" as a subject in my blog. The Erasmusbrug - to give it its Dutch name - was designed by Ben van Berkel and completed in 1996. The 808 metre long bridge has a 139 metre-high asymmetrical pylon, earning the bridge its apt nickname of "The Swan". More on this bridge in the wikipedia article linked to below.

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)


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.


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.

Jubilee Church Rome

Rome is justly famous for its more than 2000 years old buildings like the Colosseum, and its beautiful fountains. It is good to see that they also branch out into contemporary architecture. The Jubilee Church, designed by American architect Richard Meier, was constructed in 2000 as part of the Roman catholic Great Jubilee festivities to commemorate two millennia of Christianity. An interesting though scientifically controversial construction detail is the use of titanium dioxide in the walls to combat air pollution. More on this building can be found in the wikipedia link below.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Round time

There is something about clocks that brings out the best - if not always the most practical - in modern designers. This is another excellent example. Stunning decoration, but it takes more time to figure out the actual time of the day than necessary. An original italian design, setting you back about 200 USD.

web site

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.


Thursday, February 19, 2009


More photoshop brilliance taken from the advanced photoshop contest section of Worth1000. Here is an original shot created by their member ruxa2na for the Pirate Ren contest: piratization of a classic painting (in this case of course Vermeer).

All rights retained by the creator.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ansel Adams

Time for one of the all-time greats in the field. American artist Ansel Adams (1902-1984) is widely recognised as one of the greatest landscape photographers ever, especially in black and white. The above shot is a good example of his impressive style. Moon and Half Dome was taken in 1960 in Yosemite park. Adams himself said of this shot: "As soon as I saw the moon coming up by Half Dome I had visualized the image. …I have photographed Half Dome innumerable times, but it is never the same Half Dome, never the same light or the same mood. …Half Dome is a great mountain with endless variations of lighting and sky situations and seasonal characteristics; the many images I have made reflect my varied creative responses to this remarkable granite monolith". More on him in the wikipedia article linked to below.

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.


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


Monday, February 16, 2009


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

The artist

The Photo Art category got hit harder than any other by my computer crash: I had collected a lot of links to artists I wanted to feature, and they are all gone now. Whilst I try to rebuild that data base the coming weeks, here is another creation by my wife within this theme. Another blend of her photographs and her paintings. More of her photo art can be found on the Flickr collection page linked to below.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Arrival of the holes

More excellent fractal art by Manas Dichow. A perfect combination of colours and shapes, making for a beautiful fractal abstract. I could also have featured this in the Flickr favourites series.

All rights retained by the creator.


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.


Saturday, February 14, 2009


OK, so that makes four Valentine posts. I just came across this magnificent topical Heineken advertisement and had to include it in my blog. I found it in one of my favourite blogs, Oddee, which continuously produces new lists of interesting things, in this case Valentine ads. The link to that particular list is given below.

web site

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.


Je t'aime

Well, apart from the Zizi bit, this is a highly appropriate vintage poster for this day. Although it looks older, the subject matter dates it to the nineteen fifties. The poster was designed by an artist called Lagarrigue.

Vintage Posters

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)


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.