Kickstarter and The Goldberg Variations

What does Kickstarter have to do with a work for harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach?  Quite a bit, actually.  In May of 2011, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to fund a new recording of The Goldberg Variations by renowned pianist Kimiko Ishizaka in conjunction with a new edition of the score.  What sets this project apart is that both the score and the recordings are to be in the public domain — which means they will be available free of charge to anyone who wishes to download them.  This Kickstarter project came to fruition on May 28, 2012, with the release of both the score and the recordings.  Download them here or here.

These recordings were made on a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial CEUS grand piano. and were recorded at the Teldex Studio in Berlin, Germany.

I downloaded them earlier today and have been listening to them on my Windows Media Player all afternoon.  I also burned them to a CD to share with my friend.  Because they are in the public domain, I am free to do that.  I could also download them to my MP3 player, phone, or upload them to the Cloud.  Because they are on my computer, I could also upload them to my Rhapsody music library and play them through my Rhapsody app on my Kindle Fire.

Why is this worthy of a blog post?  In the first place.  I like Bach.  I like solo piano.  The Goldberg Variations are both.  In the second place, Ms. Ishizaka has produced a crisp, informed rendition of the Variations.  In the third place, the sound quality of the recording is excellent, with no extraneous sound to distract the listener.  It’s pure piano — performed on an instrument that is more than equal to the task.  Kudos are also due to Bösendorfer for making this top quality instrument available for the project.

Bach was a product of his time, and part of his time was the tracker organ, which Bach both played and wrote for.  The tracker organ is to the modern electronic linkage organs as an old, purely mechanical, manual typewriter is to the modern computer keyboard.  It required muscles to play a tracker organ.  It also requires a precise attack to ensure that each note sounds.  That, to me, is the essence of Bach on the keyboard:  A firm, precise attack and a clean, precise technique, the ability of the performer to play each individual note as an individual note,  be it whole note, grace note or trill, regardless of whether those notes are played on the piano, the harpsicord, or the organ.  I like my Bach keyboard works celery crisp, with each note struck cleanly and clearly.   I can’t stand mushy Bach.

But, by the same token, I don’t want robotics and I don’t want schmaltz.  At one extreme is a mechanical sounding, clockwork performance like a music box, devoid of dynamics.  At the other end is schmaltz, with overdone dynamics and surging tempi which are out of character for Baroque music.  Ms. Ishizaka does neither.  Her tempi are steady, and her dynamics remain true to the Baroque interpretation of the term. The aria is pensive and quiet, as are some of the less elaborate, slower variations, delicate in places, yet full of depth and expression.  The more elaborate, more up-tempo variations have a restrained exuberance, rippling and sparkling like a brook in the midday sun.

At the same time, Ms. Ishizaka has also overcome the hurdle that lies in the path of anyone attempting to perform a piece of music on an instrument it was not intended to be played on.   While the harpsichord and piano are both keyboard instruments, they operate in different ways and require different techniques to meet the demands of the music.  In this set of recordings, I think Ms. Ishizaka has achieved the best of both worlds:  a fully viable transplant of harpsichord music to the piano.

This is one instance where you are getting something — a high quality something —  for nothing.  It’s a rare opportunity.  Take it.

Here’s a sample:

Summer City Sunset

Now and again, I participate in an on-going series of writer’s exercises hosted by a blog called The Mag.  I decided to participate in this one

House At Dusk, 1935, Edward Hopper

July has been baked until it was done in the brown stone oven of the city.  Now, August is being broiled.  There is no escape from the dungeon of the dog days when you are shackled to a job you hate by a chain that will only reach from Friday afternoon to Monday morning and no further.  When you are not corked inside that bottle of a office, sweat-greasy and shuffling with fans, you are stewing in a stifling walk-up with barely floor enough for a single bed, a chair, a little table pocked with water rings like squid scars on the hide of Moby Dick.  By the door a sink with a dripping faucet is stuck onto the wall beneath a tired mirror.  The tepid water it produces tastes of radiators; the water pressure is so low, the tap turned all the way can manage only splutters.  If there was so much as a ghost of wind, you could wet a handkerchief (eventually) and lay it on your face, but the air is helpless.  Pinned beneath the reek of car exhaust and vulcanizing rubber, it cannot move an inch.  You yearn for ice cream knowing it would be milk mush before you could even get it home.  Even the thought of it melts in moments in your mind.   Too hot to listen to the radio; you cannot bear the interruptions of the DJ telling you how hot it is.  You already know it is too hot to read, too hot even to consider thinking.  The street below is a no-man’s land of asphalt.  The windows gasp for air in the brownstone across the street.  There is a park two blocks away, dense with dusty trees wilting in the heat, dense with people wilting underneath them on the dusty, threadbare grass.  It is not worth four flights of stairs in both directions to scrabble for a patch of shade.  Soon the arc lamp of the sun will slowly fade to black and heavy woolen darkness, moth-holed with street lights, will settle on the city.  But, it will not be worth the effort to get up and turn the light on.  The single bulb has brownout palsy and has sickened to a flicker.  You wonder if eventually the super, getting furiouser and furiouser with every flight he has to climb, will come pounding after unpaid rent, pass key himself inside and find that there is nothing to collect from but a greasy puddle by the chair next to the slack-jawed window.   The thought would make you smile if you had energy enough to move your mouth.

One Thing And Another

A video about an owl and a cat that’s too good not to share.

And some more fun and games with the new camera — in addition to these, I’ve put my maiden attempts to shoot videos up on my Tumblr blog.  (As astonishing as it may seem, yes, I have a Texas accent.) 

This magnolia blossom was about 15 feet off the ground, both zoomed and cropped.

And English lavender in bloom.

Rememberances of Summers Past

A blog friend had a post in which she mentioned the sounds of cicadas in the summertime — it evoked so many childhood memories of lazy summer afternoons.  Girl Scout Camp with big canvas tents pitched on wooden platforms, shaded by big old cottonwood trees. (BTW, the Spanish word for “cottonwood tree” is “alamo.”)  Lying down in our tents after lunch, for our obligatory siesta during the heat of the day.  The endless skeeeeeeing of the cicadas that pulsed slowly, rhythmically, it’s volume rising and falling in undulating waves of sound.  Although we were 600 miles inland, the hot breeze sieving through the tree leaves made a sound that, if you closed your eyes, might be surf on a pebbly beach, the spishing of the waves as the sea exhales them up onto the beach, only to inhale them again in a long, sucking sizzle.

Those were the days of metal swing-sets that came in pieces, in a box too long to be taken home in the trunk of a car, even the cavernous trunk of our 1957 Rocket 88 Oldsmobile sedan (ours was baby blue).  It had to be delivered to your house by truck, and the delivery guy carried a pair of shears to cut the metal bands that held the box together.  Dads put them together in the back yard from a sheet of instructions impaled to the grass with a long screwdriver to keep it from blowing away. It was put together with carriage bolts and chrome coated acorn nuts that came in paper sacks and were poured out into coffee cans, so they wouldn’t get lost in the grass.  Those swing sets were made out of painted steel — steel pipe frame, and sheet steel seats.  Ours had two swings and a swing glider on it.  The swing glider in the picture has plastic seats, but those were all metal.  The foot bars and handle bars were just 3/8ths inch diameter steel rods welded on to the steel pipe uprights.  Along about 11 o’clock in the morning, the metal seats would be so hot from being in the sun that you had to run water on them out of the hose (hosepipe) to cool them off enough to be able to sit on them without burning the backs of your legs.  (The regulation uniform of those long summer days was cotton shorts, a sleeveless cotton top, and bare feet.)

Some folks would anchor the legs of the swing set frame by setting them in concrete, because if you swung too high (especially the older, larger kids), you would generate enough centrifugal force that the back legs of the frame would start jumping up off the ground at the apogee of your upswing (Newtonian physics in action!).  Our folks didn’t set ours in concrete, though because we’d run the hose to cool down the seats and get the ground wet underneath, and if my mom and dad didn’t pick it up and move it to a different spot every so often, we’d gouge a trough in the grass under our feet.

My mom worked, and we stayed with a neighbor lady, after school until our mom got home and all day during the summer.  She had three girls, the oldest a year older than me.  They had a set of anodized aluminum tumblers that were all different colors.  Hers were the kind that had a slight flare at the rim.  On hot summer afternoons, we’d pack a tumbler full of ice cubes and then fill it with the Kool-Aide flavor du jour.  Those aluminum tumblers would get so cold it was hard to hold them in your hand for very long.  We always had to drink it outside because the tumblers would leave rings of condensation on whatever you set them down on.  We liked to sit out on the front porch to drink our Kool-Aid — we’d all set our tumblers down on the cement, and when we judged that a condensation ring had formed,  on the count of “One, two, three, move!” everybody moved their tumbler to a different place and watched to see whose wet ring would evaporate first, like it was a contest.

Speaking of long hot summer days, today’s high was 101F/38C with 12% humidity.  It’s currently 83F/28C right now, which is 11:15 pm.  Tomorrow, I’ve got to go get groceries.  Thank goodness it’s only supposed to get up to 98F.  I may wait until after dark to go.

Two For My Bro and One For Me

Her name is Sevara Nazarkhan.  She’s Uzbeki (Uzbekistan).  The first two are for my bro, who plays, taught, and repairs violins.   I thought he and his wife (who concertizes, and teaches violin at the college level) would get a kick out of the technique used by the musician on the right.   Doesn’t sound like a perfectly ordinary Western violin, but that’s obviously what it is.  The third one is for me.  I think she has a fabulous voice. She does “jazz” and more modern stuff, but I don’t like it nearly as much as the traditional music she does with the accompaniment played on traditional instruments.

A people’s traditional music is a brilliant jewel in the crown of its cultural heritage and so much of that cultural heritage is being lost, gobbled up by “modern” culture.  Thank goodness people like her are making recordings of their musical traditions.  Music, by its very nature is ephemeral, a thing of the moment, one of those you have to be there.  A sound recording of a piece of music is not the same as hearing it live, watching it be born out of the musicians’ talent, skill and soul, no more than a photograph is the same as the moment in time it captures, the brief, glancing glimpse of what the world was like in that place, at that time.   They’re like a sight or sound sensation captured in a bottle that can be shared with someone in a different time and place, that can be taken out and enjoyed again and again.

And, yeah.  I like the “weird stuff.”  I must have been Middle Eastern in another life.   Those camel-walking rhythms stoke me up bigtime, and I love the flexibility of their voices, the way they glide from pitch to pitch and “bend” the notes like hot licks on a dobro or a realio trulio bluegrass fiddle

Three of Sevara Nazarkhan’s CD’s are available on Amazon, and payday is Wednesday. I’ll very likely do what I always do, cull out the songs I like best and burn them on a blank CD, and upload them to my Rhapsody library.

And here’s one more for me.

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch

While browsing YouTube for the videos in the previous post, I ran across this little “slice of life” video.

It was filmed around Marfa and Alpine, Texas.  From where I live up in the Panhandle, it’s about a 5 hour drive (295 miles/474.75 km) southwest to get to Alpine.  This is the “Big Bend” country, named after the big northward bend in the Rio Grande, the river that forms the border between the state of Texas and the country of Mexico.  The land and vegetation there look a lot like what  it does up here, only up here, it’s even flatter.  Just imagine the horizon without all those low hills.  Just board flat.   Sam Elliot grew up around Marfa, and his natural accent is pretty typical for this part of the Lone Star State.  The vowels are a little rounder down there than they are up here, but the rhythm of the speech is the same, and there’s that drawl. The tail end still gets shaved off the “I” diphthong, and “Howdy” still comes out “hoddy.”   The drive east to Alpine gives you a feel for the distances out here — just miles and miles and miles of road heading off toward the horizon in both directions.  Out here, when we talk about traveling, we don’t talk about distances.  We talk about time. How long you have to drive to get where you’re going.  Alpine is closer to the Davis Mountains than Marfa is, and the land has some vertical to it. They’re not very big mountains, or very tall, but that’s about “as mountain” as it gets in Texas.

This next video was filmed a little closer to home, on the Renderbrook Spade Ranch outside of Colorado City, Tx.  It’s only 2 hours southeast of my home on the range.  You might like to turn the volume up and listen to the cowboys talking Texan.

There toward the end of the video is an example of a cutting horse in action.  The purpose of the exercise is to “cut out” (select and isolate) a cow from the rest of the herd whenever necessary.  A good cutting horse has “cow sense” — the ability to anticipate a cow’s moves and keep it from rejoining the herd.  The cowboy only has to indicate which cow he wants and then hang on; the horse does the rest with only very minimal, if any, guidance from the cowboy.   A  cutting horse is the cowboy equivalent of a sheep dog.

(The joke is, the cowboy and the “city fellah” are standing out by the corral looking out across a featureless pasture that stretches off to the horizon. Says the city fellah, “Why would anybody want to live out here. There’s nothing out here but miles and miles of nothing!” To which the cowboy replies, “Yeah, but it’s Texas nothin’.”)

Looking west toward the Caprock Escarpment

This next video was filmed on the Pitchfork Ranch in Dickens County.  That’s only two counties over, a little more than an hour’s drive (63 miles/101 km) away.  Still, it’s already down off the Caprock so there’s a little vertical to the landscape, what you might call gently rolling hills.   The edge of the Caprock is next door, over in Crosby County, about 20 miles west of where this was filmed. And some more of the same:

So, that’s what the people in my world sound like, and what some of them look like and do for a living, and what some of the country looks like.   But I can’t show you videos of ranch life without putting in a plug for The National Ranching Heritage Center located just east of the campus of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Tx.   The NRHC is both a museum and a heritage park that contains period houses and ranch buildings that were relocated to the park from their original locations elsewhere in Texas. I’m already planning to take my new camera on a photographic expedition to the NRHC next week.  Like Tuesday maybe. Now that I’ve got a camera that can handle it, watch this space for a WOL’s eye view of my habitat.

The Compleat Reader

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know that I am a serious reader — like hours at a time.  This being the electronic age, I’ve graduated to a Kindle Fire, and I am very pleased with it.  I have a Rhapsody app, a SomaFM app, and ebooks, ebooks, ebooks.  Just found out there is a free Sky FM app for the Kindle, too.  Recently, I got one of those laptop tables on wheels (for a better price than this — but I had to assemble it myself). I already had a plug strip with a 12 foot cord, which I mounted to the bottom of the table.   I have my Kindle in a shell, which allows it to be propped up.  (My Kindle carrying case has a zippered pocket for my earbuds and wand and is large enough to hold the Kindle when it’s in the shell.)  I’m all set.  Plug the plug strip in, roll the table to a comfy chair with footstool, plug the Kindle charger into the plug strip and into the Kindle, settle back in my chair, select a music app and tune it in, insert my earbuds, select my ebook, and I’m ready to go.

That’s my stylus at the bottom center above. Using a stylus keeps the screen free of fingerprints. ** (Bread machine bread seems to be crumbier than store-bought bread, but that’s OK.  I love the coarser texture of it.  I had a slice with peach jam and a slice with peanut butter. )

**Note:  Lap kitty is an optional accessory.

A Poetry Attack

This poem came out of a dream image I woke up with this morning.  The dream it came from had nothing to do with Greece, ancient or otherwise, but that one image stayed with me, a naked man with long dark hair that fell in corkscrew ringlets halfway down his back, standing but leaning forward, reaching out for something with his left hand.  The image stayed with me after I awoke, reminded me of figures on ancient Greek pottery, and the line “I dreamed that you were Greek/Achaean” popped into my head, so I took it and ran with it just to see where it would go.  Here’s where it went.


I dreamed that you were Greek
Apollo Citharoedus
In a kylix.
Clean limbed and beardless,
With terra cotta skin,
Dark, sea-seeing eyes,
And dark hair
Falling to your waist
In raven corkscrews.

And would I watch for days
Upon some rocky promontory,
Wind ruffled
In my yellow chiton,
Skrying the line
Between sky and sea,
For you to wade ashore,
Sun-bronzed and sandaled,
Onto the white sand beach?

And would your dark eyes
Rifle through the rocks
With longing?
And would your heart
Surge forth like breakers
And your wave wet feet
Take wing
To see a yellow chiton
Scrambling down the rocky path
To the beach below?

Poem © 2012 The Owl Underground.  Do not copy without permission.

It ended up a tiny bit stilted and slightly overheated in parts, but I like it.   It reads aloud well; poetry is meant to be read aloud.  Now I’m going to go all English major on you.

Aoide is the Greek muse of song, the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne (“memory”).  Originally, there were only three muses:  Melete or Practice, Mneme or Memory and Aoide or Song.  (Eventually, their ranks were enlarged and codified. ending up with the well-known nine muses and those pursuits they inspire.)  I tried the title first with Erato, the muse of love poetry, who is known by her cithara and crown of roses.  But I liked the sound of “Aoide” (ay-OY-dee) better and “Erato” looks too much like “errata” and I didn’t want that echo.  I kept her crown of roses, though.  “Apollo Kitharoedus” is a deliberate evocation of Apollo as the god of music and poetry, inventor of the kithera.  Apollo is traditionally depicted as a kouros, a beardless, athletic youth.   A kylix is a shallow bowl-shaped drinking cup, footed, with handles, frequently decorated with an image in the bottom of the bowl, revealed when the cup is emptied.  I first used “on a krater,” which is a large vessel for mixing wine with water, but that is too much like “crater” and I didn’t want that echo either.  I wanted the image to evoke the painted decorations on ancient Grecian classical pottery.

I like the image of “Windruffled/In my yellow chiton” — the Greeks used other colors, but I asked my mind for a color to go with “chiton” and “yellow” came out.  I also like the image of “Skrying the line/Between sky and sea.”  — I think it works better than “skrying the horizon,” because then “Between sky and sea” wouldn’t work, and I’d have had to come up with two more lines to keep the 10-line stanza going.  I didn’t want anything about a ship to come into it, because I wanted just the discrete image of someone watching and waiting not for the sight of a ship, or a ship approaching, but for “you” to actually step onto the shore, to “be there.”    I first had the next line “Barefoot and sun-bronzed” Then I changed it to “Sandaled and sun-bronzed” for the alliteration, and then to “Sun-bronzed and sandaled” because that sounded the best.  The bit, “And would your heart/Surge forth like breakers/And your wave wet feet/Take wing” is a bit overheated and Victorian, but I like the imagery all the same.  Another thing I like is the ambiguity.  It is a poem about love, but what kind of love?   The poem is not the song Aoide sings.  The title is really only another image that plays into the whole ancient Greek metaphor.   It’s a poem about a dream that could have been a song Aoide might have sung, so the “I” of the poem is not necessarily female.  Both sexes wore the chiton, the principal difference being its hem length.  So, who is the “I” waiting on the shore?

Sunday Funnies

The comic strip is Get Fuzzy.  The cat is Bucky and the dog is Satchel.  Bucky has been on a week long binge of inventing things — a “hang key” which is a set of keys on a clothes hanger, a combination cellphone blender, etc., all of which started with this:

Get Fuzzy © 2012 Darby Conley