Thursday, January 31, 2013

Through the window

My favourite shot from January (among very little competition unfortunately), and also one that drew a lot of positive reactions on Flickr. It is typical for many of my shots: I was walking with our dog to the local supermarket, when I spotted this little scene behind a partially fogged-up office window. Minimal post-processing, mainly to add a frame (for the white Flickr background).

Camera: Canon IXUS 115 HS, 12 Megapixels, handheld
Exposure: 0.05 sec (1/20)
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 5 mm
ISO Speed: 1000
Post-processing: Picasa 3.0


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Electric Light Orchestra

One of the best and most successful rock bands of the seventies, the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), also had one of the best logos. This classic beauty was designed in 1976 by Kosh, and was first seen on their 1976 album A New World Record, and subsequently on most of the band's album covers in various forms. It is based on a 1946 Wurlitzer jukebox model 4008 speaker.

web site

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Poppy Lady

This is a gorgeous Art Deco illustration, either from around 1930 or a retro-version of more recent times - rather frustratingly, the site where I found it also does not give more information about its origin. Whatever the time period, the image is beautiful.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Fire and ice

The combination of an excellent photographer's eye for unusual opportunities and intelligent post-processing. Ice on a car gets transformed into a gorgeous abstract by my Flickr friend Lorraine Kerr (caeciliametella). As always, all rights retained by the creator.

Cellebroederspoort Kampen

Like the previous painting that I posted by Dutch artist Cornelis Springer (1817-1891) here, this art style is not really my taste, but the painting does represent a beautiful part of Kampen that is still there today, in walking distance of our home. And it has been in the local news recently, because it is the latest addition to the collection of the Kampen city museum. More on Springer in the wikipedia article linked to below.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Repost: Holocaust

A re-post from the artchives (original posting date 27 January 2010) - with the blog in its current form over four years old, I intend to dig up some of the older posts once in a while. I selected this one because today is holocaust remembrance day.

Few classical music works have touched me so much as Gorecki's third symphony from 1976, also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. Here, on international holocaust remembrance day, is the third movement by soprano Isabel Bayrakdaraian, and the Sinfonietta Cracovia, conducted by John Axelrod. Images were taken from "HOLOCAUST - A Music Memorial Film from Auschwitz". For the first time since its liberation, permission was granted for music to be heard in Auschwitz and a number of leading musicians were brought there to perform music for the film. Spine chilling.


Whirling dance

One of the better classical music album covers I have seen in recent months (the CD itself is great as well). Flute player Sharon Bezaly is depicted in a mysterious mood against a suitably oriental background, with good choice of font and use of Chinese characters (which are even correct). The cover photograph was taken by Mark Harrison, the overall design is by Andrew Barnett.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Balancing Stones by Michael Grab

Colorado-based artist Mike Grab creates stunning sculptures of balanced stones in nature, utilizing only gravityand his brilliant ability to find the natural balance of the stones. There is a real sense of artistry about his (unfortunately temporary) work, far beyond the considerable craftsmanship that is required. As always, all rights retained by the creator.

Unusual concertos [43]: Theremin

Before the purge of end 2008, one of the most popular topics of this blog was "Unusual concertos", classical concertos for all kinds of instruments and orchestra. I have decided to revive this, aiming for less familiar composers in general. In its original incarnation, I came to 40 different concertante instruments - aiming for 50+ this time.

The forty-third concerto deals with the theremin (image source), an instrument invented in 1928. The controlling section usually consists of two metal antennas which sense the position of the player's hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other, so it can be played without being touched. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker. Like its cousin the ondes mardenot, it has been used far more frequently in soundtracks than in serious classical music. I have no theremin concerto on CD in my collection - but I have high hopes that BIS will record the fairly recent theremin concerto by contemporary Finnish grandmaster Kalevi Aho one of these years. I did manage to find one concerto for the beast on YouTube. It is from 1942 by Anis Fuleihan, and it is played by Clara Rockmore and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra Conductor under Stokowski, available on a YouTube link.

Go here

Friday, January 25, 2013

Goettingen: the song that made history

The linked BBC article reveals a remarkable piece of history: how the improved French-German relations of the past fifty years can be traced down in a way to a single song by the French chansonniere Barbara (image credit). Do click the link to read it all - I found it fascinating.

web site

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Brasilia Juscelino Kubitschek bridge

The Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge is a steel and concrete bridge that crosses Lake Paranoa in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, famous for its modern architecture. It was completed in 2002, and the bridge has a total length of 1200 m. It was designed by architect Alexandre Chan and structural engineer Mario Vila Verde - its mean feature is the three 60 m tall asymmetrical steel arches that crisscross diagonally in a unique fashion. More on this bridge in the wikipedia article linked to below.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Winter works

A fitting post for the season: a page on my new web site dedicated completely to my nine best/most popular winter shots. The second one has featured on many other web sites in overviews of winter photography, and the ninth one has been used last year by several Dutch press agencies to cover stories about the possibility of an Elfstedentocht.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Losing my religion

It is hard to believe that it is 22 years ago that this song was all over the screen thanks to MTV. I still think this is one of their very best, and the cover for the 45rpm version is not too shabby either. Threatening, with a great visual echo of the album in the banner containing the group's name and the song title. More about R.E.M. on the linked wikipedia page.

Monday, January 21, 2013


This type of upside down reflection photographs can be stunning if done right - and I have not seen them done much better than here by my Flickr friend jenny downing. A Budapest shot unlike any other, pure art.

Artist resume in 500 letters

Triggered by a Hyperallergic article, I checked out the on-line service set up by you simply type in a few personal details, your main art medium, and three characteristic themes, and the computer spews out a resume in 500 letters that could fool a curator. This is what it produced for me (medium photography, themes abstraction, everyday, and minimalism):

Hennie Schaper (Enschede, Netherlands) is an artist who mainly works with photography. By applying abstraction, Schaper often creates work using creative game tactics, but these are never permissive. Play is a serious matter: during the game, different rules apply than in everyday life and even everyday objects undergo transubstantiation. 

His photos are characterised by the use of everyday objects in an atmosphere of middleclass mentality in which recognition plays an important role. With a subtle minimalistic approach, he creates intense personal moments masterfully created by means of rules and omissions, acceptance and refusal, luring the viewer round and round in circles. 

His works doesn’t reference recognisable form. The results are deconstructed to the extent that meaning is shifted and possible interpretation becomes multifaceted. By taking daily life as subject matter while commenting on the everyday aesthetic of middle class values, he creates work in which a fascination with the clarity of content and an uncompromising attitude towards conceptual and minimal art can be found. The work is aloof and systematic and a cool and neutral imagery is used.

His practice provides a useful set of allegorical tools for manoeuvring with a pseudo-minimalist approach in the world of photography: these meticulously planned works resound and resonate with images culled from the fantastical realm of imagination. Hennie Schaper currently lives and works in Kampen.

Pretty impressive, right? Try it, just for fun! Image above was created by me via the on-line web site Wordle.

web site

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Repost: Creativity necklace

A re-post from the artchives (original posting date 1 November 2009) - with the blog in its current form over four years old, I intend to dig up some of the older posts once in a while. This one is undergoing an unexpected increase in popularity currently, being by far the most viewed post of the last month.

The former chemistry PhD student in me loves this necklace - and all scientific connotations aside, it is a pretty design as well. The charms dangling on this sterling silver necklace represent the three major neurotransmitters (the brain chemicals responsible for mood and emotion) critical to creativity. From left to right: serotonin (happiness, satisfaction), dopamine (love, passion, pleasure), and acetylcholine (learning, memory, dreaming).

web site

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Strauss' symphonic poems

Between 1986 and 1999 I built up a considerable collection of classical music CD's (exceeding 2000 CD's in total). For various reasons I have played them a lot less in the past decade, but I am embarking on a rediscovery tour that I intend to share in this blog. In the eighteenth installment, I re-examine the ten symphonic poems by Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949), one of the leading figures of the late romantic period.

Aus Italien op.16 (1886)
My version: Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/Kosler (Naxos, 1990, 42 min)
Aus Italien (From Italy) is the first published tone poem in four parts by Strauss, inspired by a trip through Italy. The opening pastoral Auf der Campagna (In the Campagna) shows the sunny Roman countryside. In Roms Ruinen (At the ruins of Rome) is set in the ancient Roman Forum and recalls the grandeur of days gone by, but its musical material does not justify its length of 12 minutes. Am Strande von Sorrent (On the beach at Sorrento) is a nocturnal adagio with beautiful orchestral colours, easily the best part of the work. After this, the finale Neapolitanisches Volksleben (Scenes from Neapolitan life), quoting the local song Funiculi Funicula, is simply disappointing. In the end, a very uneven first foray into the realm of symphonic poems, but its strong points still lift it to the "Good to have" verdict.

Don Juan op.20 (1888)
My version: Cleveland Orchestra/Maazel (CBS, 1979, 16 min)
My version: Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Berglund (RCA, 1991, 17 min)
His first major success as a composer, and deservedly so. Right from the tumultuous start, this composition is filled with melodic highlights (first and foremost the recurring main Don Juan theme and that love theme led by the oboe) and fascinating orchestral colours, with a flamboyance never heard before. And after all the action, it ends not with a bang, but with a whisper, like Don Juan himself. Brilliant. An astonishing work for a composer who at the time was only 24. Definitely a candidate for the honour of best symphonic poem of all time.

Macbeth op.23 (1888)
My version: Wiener Philharmoniker/Maazel (DG, 1983, 19 min)
An early effort: the first version dates from 1886 and is often quoted as his first tone poem. There is very little of Strauss as we know it here, nor is there much of the story of Macbeth to be honest - it could have been an average product of any second rate bombastic romantic composer instead. It definitely outstays its welcome by more than 10 minutes for me - although the final minute is actually quite good. Still, only for completionists, really.

Tod und Verklaerung op.24 (1889)
My version: Cleveland Orchestra/Maazel (CBS, 1979, 23 min)
Death and transfiguration, specifically of an artist, is the theme of this solemn tone poem, which shows more influence by Wagner than usual. It has moments of fascinating beauty (perhaps most in the transfiguration theme, which Strauss would quote 60 years later in his Four last songs), but also moments that seem too spectacular and brilliant for the subject. Yet, Strauss himself said to his daughter-in-law on his deathbed: "It's a funny thing Alice, dying is just the way I composed it in Tod und Verklaerung."

Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche op.28 (1895)
My version: Cleveland Orchestra/Maazel (CBS, 1979, 15 min)
My version: Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Berglund (RCA, 1991, 15 min)
The merry pranks of Till Eulenspiegel was originally meant to be an opera, and some of that comes back in the tone poem, which has more contrast in mood than usual. The themes are highly melodic and recognizable, and often intrinsically playful as fitting for the subject of the eternal prankster. The music takes us through his various pranks, his trial and execution - after which he still has the last laugh. This is film music before film was invented - I keep wondering why Disney did not include it in Fantasia. Without a doubt, this is one of the most important pieces in the history of the symphonic poem.

Also sprach Zarathustra op.30 (1896)
My version: Wiener Philharmoniker/Maazel (DG, 1983, 34 min)
Everybody knows the first 2 minutes of Thus spake Zarathustra, nobody the last 32 minutes. A bit of an exaggeration of course, but also not that far from the truth. The fabulous opening Sunrise fanfare has become as iconic as the starting notes of Beethoven's fifth symphony, appearing in movies, TV series and commercials all around the world. The eight parts that follow are loosely based on chapters of Nietsche's treatise of the same name - of all of Strauss' tone poems, this is the one that is the least programmatic. And definitely one of the very best.

Don Quixote op.35 (1897)
My version: Scottish National Orchestra/N.Jarvi with Raphael Wallfisch (Chandos, 1988, 44 min)
A unique specimen among the Strauss tone poems: set in theme and variations form, and with the main subjects (Don Quixote and Sancho Panza) represented by one instrument each throughout (cello and viola). Excerpts from the Cervantes story are translated into music in the best Strauss tradition, sometimes witty (pizzicati suggesting the hero dripping wet after his boat sinks), sometimes hilarious (flutter-tongued woodwind representing the army of sheep he attacks), sometimes touching (DQ's death). Only the lack of really memorable melodic lines holds my appreciation back a little.

Ein Heldenleben op.40 (1898)
My version: Berliner Philharmoniker/von Karajan (EMI, 1975, 45 min)
The title translates as a hero's life - but with Strauss portraying himself as the hero, this work's premise does seem a bit too smug. The sections of the continuous composition are clearly marked, ranging from the hero and his wife, to his critics, his works for war and peace, and finally his retirement from the world. The most remarkable parts are the fitting musical description of his wife (represented by solo violin), in his own words "a very complex woman", and the hero's work for peace, which includes 30 themes from previous compositions in the space of 5 minutes - on the negative side we have the hero's works of war which is mainly noisy and far too long. Overall: competent but a tad uninspired.

Sinfonia Domestica op.53 (1903)
My version: Berliner Philharmoniker/von Karajan (EMI, 1974, 44 min)
Of all his symphonic poems, this is the one that was hardest to evaluate for me. I have been playing it non-stop five times in a row, and still the jury has trouble coming up with the final verdict. The four movements of this composition that is meant to describe the daily life of a young family have conventional names (Bewegt/Scherzo/Adagio/ Finale) which one could encounter on a regular late romantic symphony. The program itself is wafer thin, the descriptions are there in principle, from early notes (see the wiki link for details), but not really convincing - in the end I think I like this piece better as a symphony without program, rather than a symphonic poem.

Eine Alpensinfonie op.64 (1915)
My version: Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra/Mehta (Decca, 1976, 48 min)
Strauss' final symphonic poem, his longest, and perhaps his most ambitious, covering the climbing of a mountain, starting and ending at night. Strauss includes the typical parts of such a trip, the climbing  the waterfall, the alpine pasture, struggling through thicket and undergrowth, the glacier, the summit, the view, the change in weather, the descent, the storm and finally the sunset. It is an amazing tour de force, in which he utilizes all colours available in the enlarged symphony orchestra - and more. Majestic and essential - even if in the end, I prefer some of the more condensed symphonic poems of 20-30 years before.

Summarizing recommendation, based on my own taste:
Hors concours: Don Juan.
Essential: Till Eulenspiegel's lustige Streiche, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote, Eine Alpensinfonie.
Important: Tod und Verklaerung, Sinfonia Domestica.
Good to have: Aus Italien, Ein Heldenleben.
Not required: Macbeth.
Avoid: None.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Dali's portrait

More photoshop brilliance taken from the advanced photoshop contest section of Worth1000. Here is a shot created by their member solipsism for the The best of Worth B contest - coming in at 13th place for the best of Worth1000. It is a marvelous creation, looking completely natural, and yet including the portrait of the famous painter as well. All rights retained by the creator.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Source of light

My Flickr friend sannesu keeps on posting these gorgeous colourful abstracts, and I am blogging just a few of the ones I faved. This is my favourite of recent weeks, a stunning symphony of shapes and colours. As usual, all rights retained by the creator.

Links [29]

Once more an overview of interesting links on topics related to the blog, that I encountered recently, but that will probably not make the blog as separate entries. The picture above is by myself.

10 Biggest Art Disasters of 2012.
10 Pivotal Moments for Digital Art in 2012.
30 Culture Greats Who Died in 2012.
The Tallest 20 Buildings Completed in 2012.
The Best Nature Pictures of 2012.
The Real-Life Stories Behind 10 Famous Love Songs.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Vanity Fair January 1929

A beautiful stylized Art Deco cover of Vanity Fair from the late twenties. It was created by illustrator Symeon Shimin. Lovely contrast of the blue and red, and the shapes of the sensual dancer versus the nature backdrop.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

And so it goes

In recent months I have been exploring the cross-over genre between jazz and pop, where a large number of promising female vocalists are active - looking for new names beyond the likes of Norah Jones and Katie Melua, and preferably shifting a bit more to jazz than pop. One of the best I found is Sara Gazarek, and here she is with a brilliant rendition of the Billy Joel ballad And so it goes, far better than the original.


Monday, January 14, 2013

La Cressonnee

A joyous poster for the French liquor La Cressonnee. Originally, this was an absinthe, but after the ban on that drink, the recipe was changed to a liquor flavoured with aniseed and water cress - the one shown in this poster.

Vintage Posters

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ugly noise

I spotted this beauty a few days ago on a music blog. Ugly Noise is the eleventh studio album by the thrash metal band Flotsam and Jetsam, released by the end of last year. The cover is very fitting for the album's title, and it is a pity that I could not find any further information on its design. The way the band's name is included, as a faux brand name of the worn down piano, is simply brilliant.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Holly in the North Sea

I spotted this shot by fellow Flickrite tomrayner last week in the new IMO group, and immediately fell in love with it. It helps of course that the subject is a spaniel (be it a springer rather than a cocker), but it is easily the best dog shot I have seen for a very long time. Focus is spot on, composition is excellent with strong triangles, colours are marvelous, and there is a positive sense of joy in this picture. As usual, all rights retained by the creator.