Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Boy

The first album of U2 from 1980, years before they attained their superstar status, remains a strong debut. It also has by far their best cover art - stunning simplicity, just a black and white shot of a young boy, and hardly any reference at all to the band or the title of the album. The photograph is by Hugo McGuiness. The image was changed to a distorted picture of the band for the American and Canadian release, due to the record company's fears that the band would be accused of pedophilia. The mind boggles.

All Music

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Inward peace and harmony

You can't judge a book by its cover? Well, for some albums that saying simply does not hold true. The title already evokes new age visions of the sappy kind, and the cute cover only strengthens the feeling. And indeed, as soon as the first harp sounds and panflutes arpeggios ooze from the speakers, you know: this is the typical commercial new age drivel. For good new age, seek out the likes of George Winston, Tingstadt and Rumbel or Jim Brickman. At all cost, avoid Corubal River.

The idea of this little game is to create an album cover for an imaginary artist/group, as well as an imaginary review, 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 Corubal River.
[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 Seneca: Let tears flow of their own accord: their flowing is not inconsistent with inward peace and harmony.
[3] The illustration: pick a suitable one from my Flickr collection. My picture, Safe in the arms of her boss (a shot of my brother's dog), can be found here on Flickr. The on-line editing was done with the programme On-line image editor, the font settings selected were Centaur 60 Violet Red and FortunaDot 50 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.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Xin tian di fountain

Like (almost) all my posts this month, this one is pre-seeded before departure, although chances are I will be spending a lot of time in this spot right now. The tourist and expat hub Xin tian di is 5 minutes walking from our home. I quite like this rather abstract shot I took of a fountain in that spot last October.

Camera: Canon PowerShot Pro1 8 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.013 sec (1/80)
Aperture: f/3.5
Focal Length: 27.6 mm
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Friday, April 24, 2009

The art of karaoke

The typical Western reaction to the word karaoke is to imagine drunk Western and Japanese business men blurting out their awful rendition of My way in a Tokyo bar. And I must admit, if you substitute Singaporean for Japanese, and Malaysia for Tokyo, I've been there and done that. However, in Asia, and especially in China, karaoke is first and foremost entertainment for family or friends. In classy establishments like Shanghai's Cashbox Partyworld, you can rent plenty of small rooms for 2-6 persons, in which you can practice the art of karaoke in front of friends or family. These roome are equipped with sound systems (two microphones and speakers) as well as a video screen, on which you can make a selection of tens of thousands of songs - you get to hear the instrumental parts, and the screen shows you the lyrics.
The art of karaoke is to choose songs that bring out the best of your abilities as a singer - assuming that you are a not specially gifted amateur in this respect, like most of us. Perhaps surprisingly, it is usually not a good idea to choose your favourite songs, as you may find that many of these are very difficult to perform. In my experience, three types of songs are suitable for a good karaoke performance: straightforward rock songs, ballads of the singer/song writer type, and fun songs.
Good examples of the first category are Shaking all over (Johnny Kidd and the Pirates), Back in the USSR (Beatles), Born to be wild (Steppenwolf), Crazy little thing called love (Queen) and New year's day (U2). If you know the lyrics to these by heart, you can also give a bit of a stage act, rather than looking at the screen all the time. My personal favourite of the three categories.
For the ballads, rock ballads are surprisingly difficult for amateurs, whereas the singer/song writer type ballads are relatively easy to do. Think of songs like Vincent (Don McLean), Streets of London (Raplh McTell) and At 17 (Janis Ian). Many of these songs tend to be on the sad side, so their use in what is meant to be a fun outing for a group should of course be limited. On the other hand, singing Anne Murray's You needed me ("our" song) together with my wife was a very touching moment.
The fun songs indeed can be a source of amusement for all. An example from our most recent session was Barry Manilow's Copacabana (at the copa), and a mandarin song that requires a frequent yelling of Jambo!
Karaoke family or friends style is fun - try it someday!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shanghai Marriott

The modern architecture of Shanghai is one of the most remarkable in the world. Most emphasis is on the new eastern district (PuDong), where some of the highest structures of the world have been erected or are planned (the stunning Shanghai Tower is scheduled for the next decade). For today's post, I draw attention to a modern landmark in the older part of the town (PuXi). The 2003 Marriott hotel is at 283 m the highest point of PuXi, and dwarves the surrounding buildings. More on this building can be found in the wikipedia link below.

Just do it

Although the Special Designs category so far has focused on things for use, there is no reason why I would limit it to that. So here we have another type of special design: one of the most striking and effective logo's of all time. The Nike logo, also known as the “Swoosh”, was created in 1971 by Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State University. It represents the wing of the renowned statue of the Greek Goddess of victory, Nike. Simple and perfect. More about this design in the following web page.

(relabeled in a category started later: creative logos)

web site

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Svendsen, the other Norwegian

Yes, Norway did have other composers, although most people will only know Grieg. The best of the rest is without doubt his contemporary Johan Svendsen (1840-1911), whose education in Leipzig resulted in a more Central European sound. No fjords evocation in his music, but his compositions are well worthwhile. Especially his two surviving symphonies from 1865-1874 (his wife burned the only copy of the third), which get a very good performance in this Naxos disc by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Bjarte Engeset. Highly recommended for lovers of romantic music outside the mainstream composers.

Amazon

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The river

The French Fauvism movement, originating from impressionism but with wilder colours, never appealed to me to the same extent as the contemporary German expressionists. However, this 1910 painting by Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958), who in spite of his name was French and not Belgian, is a really excellent piece of work that deserves to be wider known than it is. More on de Vlaminck in the wikipedia article linked to below.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Entangled ad

Well, here is a rare contribution to the blog this month posted from Shanghai, rather than pre-prepared before I left. I came across this highly creative advertisement today and this situation (entangled electricity lines) is so common in the streets of Shanghai, that I had to post it. I found it in one of my favourite blogs, Oddee, which continuously produces new lists of interesting things, in this case creative ads in unusual places. The link to that particular list is given below.

web site

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Oresund bridge

In several ways, this bridge/tunnel combination opened in July 2000 is one of the most remarkable in the world. Linking Denmark and Sweden across the Oresund Strait, it is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe as well as the longest border crossing bridge in the world. The total length is almost 8 km (about half of it undersea), with a clearance of upto 57 m. More on this bridge in the wikipedia article linked to below.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A dozen explored

Sometimes photographs enter Flickr Explorer days after they were oringnally uploaded - in this case, my twelfth shot to make it, it took about 2 weeks. I caught this jackdaw resting inside an electricity pilon - a beautiful contrast between the free flowing forms of nature and the rigid manmade geometry. Postprocessing was pretty severe here, going for high contrast and black and white to emphasize the line play.

Camera: Canon PowerShot Pro1 8 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.002 sec (1/500)
Aperture: f/4.0
Focal Length: 10.6 mm
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0

Flickr

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bruce Weber

American fashion photographer Bruce Weber (born 1946) is one of the most renowned in the business, having been involved in advertising campaigns for Calvin Klein, Pirelli, Abercrombie & Fitch, Revlon, Gianni Versace, and Ralph Lauren, as well as magazines like Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, Elle, Life, and Rolling Stone. A good example of his style is this shot of Natalie Portman. More on him in the wikipedia article linked to below.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

And God granted it

The Mexican band Acaponeta is not well known yet outside their own country, but with this release (their third album) things may change for them. Inspired by the likes of Camel and Caravan, this is modern progressive rock of high quality. The instrumental passages show very accomplished playing, whilst the addition of native American flutes and Mexican percussion creates a suitable exotic ambiance. The singing is adequate even though the voice of lead singer Jose Alvares requires some getting used to, and personally I would have preferred the lyrics to be in Spanish. The title song is a fascinating almost over the top religious anthem, with a church choir and a majestic organ reminiscent of Rick Wakeman. The highlight of the album though is the seven part suite Quetzacoatl - 22 minutes of sumptuous prog rock with all the changes in moods that such a lengthy composition requires. Highly recommended.

The idea of this little game is to create an album cover for an imaginary artist/group (and an imaginary review), 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 Acaponeta.
[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 Voltaire: I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: 'O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.' And God granted it.
[3] The illustration: pick a suitable one from my Flickr collection. My picture, Oultet, can be found here on Flickr. The on-line editing was done with the programme On-line image editor, the font settings selected were High Tower Text 40 Black and Forte 80 Black, 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.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Air Orient

A great and very apt vintage poster to celebrate my upcoming reunion with my wife in Shanghai. Here we go... I guess this one dates back to around 1930-1940. The designer is Paul Colin.

I do not expect to give this blog any attention the coming month, but there will be a number of posts that I have prepared and pre-published.

Vintage Posters

Eleven in Explore

And just before I leave, I scored my 11th photograph in Flickr's Explore list, the daily selection of 500 most interesting shots. Like the previous one, it is unused material from my archives (2007) for want of good new shots. This is a reflection shot, turned upside down, with some post processing in Picasa, and then a lomo-like treatment in Picnik to create the effect of an impresssionist painting.

Camera: Konica Minolta KD-400Z 4 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.007 sec (1/137)
Aperture: f/4.7
Focal Length: 8 mm
Iso speed: 100
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0, Picnik Lomo effect

Flickr

Jack the Dripper

It is surprising how much undiluted hate comes up when American artist Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) is discussed on general message boards. Although he is widely recognised as one of the leading exponents of abstract expressionism, discussion more often than not boils down to his signature method of painting by dripping paint on a horizontal canvas - the controversial style he used in the years 1947-1950 that earned him the nickname Jack the Dripper, first introduced in a Time Magazine article. The usual scournful response in discussions is something like "dripping oil on canvas? I could do that!". Sure bud - but you would not turn out a masterpiece.

What many people do not seem to get is that technique is contributing perhaps less than 1% to a real great work of art. It is the unique combination of shapes and colours that is the determining factor. Any art student with a few years formal training can reproduce an existing van Gogh to a level that it is hard to distinguish from the real thing at first sight. But ask the same students to produce a new masterpiece in the style of van Gogh, and they are lost. The exceptions to the rule (like notorious Vermeer forger Han van Meegeren ) had the potential to become great artists themselvse had they been more lucky.

I like a lot of Pollock's work. Of course, you do not have to like Pollock. Taste is something very personal, and there are plenty well-known and highly respected painters whom I personally do not particularly like for example. But to dismiss him as a non-artist for using his dripping technique is simply ridiculous.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Museum of Bad Art

When I saw todays' featured article in Wikipedia, on the Massachusets Museum of Bad Art, I immediately thought of an April Fool's prank. It turns out to be real though. I love the many details on the wikipedia page, including the theft of the above painting: the museum offered a reward of $6.50 for the return of it. Well worth reading the whole entry - fun stuff.

web site