2022: Music

Most of my recent music purchases fill gaps in my classical library, e.g., more of Rossini’s “Peches de Vieillesse,” Dohnanyi’s “Variations on a Nursery Song,” etc., but I did buy a few non-classical CDs. The latter were all “good, but…” recordings.

Liquid Tension Experiment 3 is similar to the first two, even though it was recorded over twenty years after its immediate predecessor. LTE’s version of “Rhapsody in Blue” works better than I expected and is worth hearing if you’ve ever wondered what a virtuosic progressive rock quartet can do with Gershwin’s approximation of the blues. The rest of the album is very good — Petrucci et al are superb musicians — but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.

Ozric Tentacles’ Space for the Earth is more neo-psychedelic guitar- and synth-driven space rock. Ed Wynne has been doing this sort of stuff for about forty years now, and this one is much the same as its many predecessors. It’s quite listenable — Wynne belongs high on any list of underrated guitarists — and you don’t need trendy chemical amusement aid to enjoy it, but their earlier recordings are livelier and more of a group effort.

The reconstituted Gryphon’s Get Out of My Father’s Car is much like Reinvention: mostly progressive folk, but expect anything from Renaissance-style dances to moderately-hard rock, with lots of flutes and recorders, bassoons and krumhorns, harpsichords and fiddles and golf umbrellas, all expertly played.1 When the the players keep their mouths shut, it’s very good. Unfortunately, there are vocals on a few of the tunes.

I picked up a bunch of the later P.D.Q. Bach recordings on the Telarc label. Peter Schickele is a second-rate comedian2 but a first-rate musician, and when he shuts up and lets the music make the jokes he’s often clever and ingenious. Overall, these are more polished and better recorded than the old Verve LPs, but less interesting. My favorite of the later works is “The Short-Tempered Clavier: Preludes and Fugues in all the Major and Minor Keys Except for the Really Hard Ones (S. easy as 3.14159265),” in which the themes and fugue subjects are all over-familiar melodies such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Shave and a Haircut.” One of the fugues combines the “B-A-C-H” motif with “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” Suggestion for a piano recital: open with a suite of incidental music to Dudley Do-Right, and follow it with “The Short-Tempered Clavier.”

(Gee, it seems that everyone I listen to is getting old and tired. I suppose I should find energetic new artists to follow, but I no longer have the patience to wade through all crap out there to find what’s good. (This is not a call for recommendations, thank you.) There’s also the fact that human nature changed again at the turn of the century,3 and the culture has become not just stupid but alien.)

Debussy’s greatest hits, arranged for motorbike and schoolgirl

What sort of music do you associate with motorcycles? Something fast and furious, like Steppenwolf or The Rodeo Carburettor? Something with fiery guitar, like Joe Satriani or Jan Cyrka?

How about Debussy? The first music heard in the extended Honda commercial Super Cub is his thundering first “Arabesque.” Later in the first episode, when the protagonist goes on her first night ride, she putts along to the pounding beat of “Clair de lune.” Over the course of the twelve episodes there is more Debussy, plus additional piano music by composers from Beethoven to Schumann.1

Against my better judgement, I’ve taken out a membership at Crunchyroll again. While most current shows look like isekai drivel, there are some recent offerings that might be worth my time. Atomic Fungus liked Super Cub, so I started with that.

High school student Koguma states at the beginning of the first episode that “I have no parents. No money, either. Nor do I have any hobbies, anyone I can call a friend, or any goals for the future.” One day, after struggling up a long slope on her bicycle once too often, she stops by a motorcycle shop, where she purchases a Honda Super Cub for a suspiciously low price. One of her classmates turns out to be a Cub enthusiast, and suddenly the emotionally withdrawn Koguma has a friend. Over the course of the series Koguma learns how to ride and maintain her bike, finds a summer job, solves various problems associated with riding a motorcycle, and gradually becomes a more competent and sociable individual.

The series it most resembles is laid-back Yurucamp, with girls doing outdoorsy things, and featuring an introverted central character. There are significant differences, though. Yurucamp‘s Rin is a fundamentally healthy person who enjoys solitude, while Koguma’s isolation at the beginning of Super Cub is nearly pathological. The art and character designs in Yurucamp are more cartoony and the characters themselves more boisterous than their counterparts in Super Cub. And there is no Debussy in Yurucamp. Still, if you enjoyed watching Rin and the Outdoor Activities Club, Super Cub is worth checking out.

I can’t give the show an unreserved recommendation. In the tenth episode, after a snowfall Koguma and her fellow Cub enthusiast frolic on their motorbikes on a snowy field, taking lots of spills. Perhaps it’s not as dangerous as it looks, but it seems like an excellent way to break arms and collar bones. Immediately after that, another girl falls into a stream in freezing weather and calls Koguma for help. Rather than summon emergency services, Koguma carries the barely-conscious girl to her apartment on her motorbike and revives her there. The girl survives and her family is grateful to Koguma, but Koguma’s heroics nearly killed the poor girl.2 If you watch Super Cub, I suggest you stop at the middle of the tenth episode and skip to the twelfth.

Continue reading “Debussy’s greatest hits, arranged for motorbike and schoolgirl”

Faster, louder

When the weather is crummy and I can’t get out on my bike, I get my daily exercise on a stationary bicycle. Furiously pedaling nowhere is every bit as exciting as it sounds, and there is no convenient place to put a book on the cycle, so I crank up the wireless headphones and listen to loud and fast music as I pedal. I’ve compiled a playlist with frenzied tunes by artists from Deep Purple to Onmyouza to Brave Combo, but sometimes I want to hear something different. Therefore, I assemble speedy medleys of traditional tunes. Here’s one I finished (i.e., got tired of fiddling with) this week. It’s a collection of Klezmer/Israeli tunes, arranged without the slightest concern for authenticity. Subtle it ain’t, but it is loud.

For the morbidly curious, the tunes are “Khosid Dance,” “Flaskadriga,” “Sha Shtil,” “Lechayim” and “Ot Azoy Neyt a Shayder.” This is probably not how they’re supposed to sound.

Happenings fifty years time ago

Kim Du Toit came across this graphic and offered this challenge: “Your job, should you choose it (and you should), is to pick your five (and only five) favorites.” Let’s see… Something/Anything?, Machine Head, Trilogy, Foxtrot, Blue Öyster Cult. That wasn’t too hard. With a few exceptions, most of the recordings listed are not my favorites by those artists, or are from musicians I have little enthusiasm for.

There was plenty other listenable music in 1972. It was right in the middle of the golden age of progressive rock, after all, and not just in the Anglosphere. These also are fifty years old:

Back Door, Back Door
Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso; Darwin!
Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, Striking It Rich
Gentle Giant, Three Friends; Octopus
The Groundhogs, Hogwash
Hot Tuna, Burgers
Il Balletto di Bronzo, Ys
Jo Jo Gunne, Jo Jo Gunne
John Renbourn, Faro Annie
Khan, Space Shanty
Le Orme, Uomo di pezza
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band et al, Will the Circle Be Unbroken
Premiata Forneria Marconi, Storia di un minuto; Per un amico
Procol Harum, In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
Randy Newman, Sail Away
Richard Thomson, Henry the Human Fly
Ry Cooder, Into the Purple Valley
Steeleye Span, Below the Salt
Strawbs, Grave New World
Wishbone Ash, Argus

And let’s not forget Ashley Hutchings and Flied Egg.

I would have a much harder time picking just five from these.

Continue reading “Happenings fifty years time ago”

Rusting away

I gather that youngsters have not heard of Neil Young. He was a musician popular about fifty years ago, noted for having the thinnest tenor of any professional singer. He ranks third on the list of the most whiny vocalists in rock, surpassed only by Kurt Cobain and Thom “Creep” Yorke. He wrote one listenable song, but Petrus Ratajczyk did it better.

Continue reading “Rusting away”

Two weeks early

Here’s an old shape-note hymn, “Star in the East” or “Brightest and Best,” from William Walker’s The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. It’s actually an Epiphany hymn, but since “We Three Kings” is inescapable at this time of year, I figured I can post it for the Christmas season.

Southern Harmony is an interesting historical document, by the way. While it contains much worthwhile music, it also has such curiosities as “The Romish Lady.”

There was a Romish Lady brought up in Popery,
Her mother always taught her the priest she must obey;
O pardon me, dear mother, I humbly pray thee now
For unto these false idols I can no longer bow.

Assisted by her handmaid, a Bible she conceal’d,
And there she gain’d instructions, till God his love reveal’d;
No more she prostrates herself to pictures deck’d with gold.
But soon she was betray’d….

Betrayed by her mother, she is thrown into a dungeon by priests, brought before the Pope and condemned to be burnt to death. Such was the state of ecumenism in the 19th-century United States.

Boo, boo

A couple years ago I posted a Halloween playlist focusing on eccentric music most people have never heard. This year I’m trying something a little different. Here’s some seasonally-appropriate piano music, some of which you may know and some of which may be strange to you.

Charles-Valentin Alkan was allegedly the only pianist of their generation whom Liszt found intimidating. A reclusive eccentric, he wrote uncompromisingly difficult music that only in recent years has begun to enter the repertoire. Here’s Marc-André Hamelin with the finale to Alkan’s “Symphony” for solo piano, which has been characterized as a “ride through Hell.”

Raymond Lewenthal, who kick-started the Alkan revival fifty-odd years ago with his Alkan recordings, plays the entire symphony here. It includes a funeral march followed by a macabre minuet. A couple more pieces: “Les diablotins,” featuring tone clusters long before Henry Cowell was born; “Scherzetto.”

Liszt’s various “Mephisto” waltzes are too obvious to mention. Instead, here’s his set of variations on “Dies Irae,” “Totentanz.”

Bonus: from Liszt’s late, experimental works, the “Czardas Macabre.”

Possibly the finest Halloween music ever composed is Ravel’s “Gaspard de la nuit.” Here’s Martha Argerich. (When Argerich was a student, her teacher at one point thought she had been slacking off and therefore assigned her “Gaspard.” Argerich didn’t know that it was nearly impossible and learned it in a week.)

(This brings back non-treasured memories. Early one morning many years ago, the jackass in the apartment next to mine set the building on fire in a bungled suicide attempt. Fortunately, I was awake and the fire alarm worked, and everyone got out of the building safely. The firemen had the blaze under control before the flames reached my place, and I was able to retrieve most of my possessions later. However, there was much smoke and water damage (I boasted that I had the largest collection of dirty books in town, none of which were pornography). One of the casualties was Argerich’s early Ravel record, including “Gaspard,” which had been on the turntable when the fire started.)

So you don’t like piano music, but you want to hear something beyond “Monster Mash”? Lee Hartsfeld has you covered. He’s recorded and restored ancient 78 rpm records of Halloweenish music and made them available to download here and here. And here. The selection is amazing — the first batch includes Leopold Godowsky playing Edward MacDowell and Zez Confrey playing Zez Confrey. There’s Cole Porter and Paul Whiteman, jazz and ragtime and novelty tunes and much more, some terrific, some ridiculous. It’s worth a download or three.

Nine octaves

Does your Fazioli seem tame? Do you feel limited by your Imperial Bösendorfer? Try a 108-key grand piano from Stuart and Sons in New South Wales.


If you want the extended range but don’t have an extra $300,0001 handy, Modartt’s New York Steinway D goes down an extra octave to a very low A, and up a fourth to a high F. The additional notes aren’t particularly musical — the low ones are mushy and metallic, the high ones have barely any perceptible pitch — but they might occasionally be useful for musical eccentrics, and a virtual grand piano is a lot cheaper than the real thing.

Virtual noisemakers

Possibly of interest to those who make music with their computers or might want to do so: IK Multimedia is currently running a “group buy” of much of their software. If you purchase one of the eligible items, after you install and authorize it you can then download at least eleven thirteen twenty-four more software packages of equal or lesser price for free. I stretched my budget a bit to participate, but it will be a while before I know the new toys well enough to discuss. The “MODO” Bass, at least, I’m pretty sure I’ll use.

I got curious about the music software I most frequently use and noticed something odd. IK Multimedia is an Italian company. Applied Acoustic Systems is Canadian. Arturia is French, as is Modartt. Native Instruments and u-he are both German. My digital audio workstation is Logic, an Apple product, but Logic originally was developed by the German company C-Lab/Emagic, from whom I initially purchased it over twenty years ago. There are a lot of other music software developers, and it’s possible that there are some significant makers from the USA that I’ve overlooked. However, the synths and samplers I usually load in my DAW are all from foreign lands.

End of the year drivel

Gee, what a thrill it’s been. Not every generation has the privilege of living the prologue to a dystopian novel.

A year ago, I didn’t think I could possibly ever have a lower opinion of the intelligentsia; I was wrong. To all the petty tyrants and their toadies, all the experts, all the journalists and pundits, all the criminals in office, all the profiteering oligarchs, all the sanctimonious scolds and everyone else who has made this such a remarkable year, I have one thing to say: go to hell.

Enough of that. On to the stuff that mattered in 2020.


The non-classical album I found most interesting this year was Atomic Ape’s Swarm (2014). The tunes range from quasi-surf to near-Klezmer, plus a quirky Django Reinhardt cover; if I had to name a genre, it would be the conveniently vague “cinematic.”

Gryphon’s Reinvention (2018) was a pleasant surprise but ultimately a disappointment. Three of the original quartet reformed a few years ago and drafted another trio of musicians to fill out the ensemble. However, the missing fourth member, Richard Harvey, was the best composer of the bunch, and he is missed. Reinvention is pleasant music, nicely arranged and well-performed, but the melodies don’t remain in my ears after listening. There’s nothing comparable to “Midnight Mushrumps,” “Estampie” or “Ethelion.”

Otherwise, I mostly listened to classical keyboard music: Bach’s forty-eight, Beethoven’s thirty-two, Alkan, Debussy, Szymanowski and Scott Joplin.

There was no Winfield this year, and no concerts worth attending in the area. There were frequent outdoor luncheon performances of lukewarm jazz during the warmer part of the year at the coffeehouse on the corner, which I did not appreciate.


I didn’t watch anything released this year, and watched very little overall. I did sample several episodes of Irresponsible Captain Tylor, which I’d been meaning to investigate for years. Amiable flake Justy Ueki Tylor joins the space force seeking the easy life, and through a bizarre sequence of events gets command of a battleship. It’s not clear whether he’s a genius or an idiot (probably the latter), but he survives and prospers by being luckier than Milfeulle Sakuraba. It’s a funny show, but Tylor remains a flake, and I lost interest.

Other arts

Nothing worth mentioning.

I’ll write about books later.

A bit early for the Holy Day

Here are some Christmas carols that might not be over-familiar. The tunes are mostly Czech and Bohemian, plus a couple Polish and Hungarian. Ideally, I should wait until December 25 before posting them, but by then most people will be tired of Christmas music.

Quem Pastores Laudavere
Nesem Van Noviny
Menyböl ar Angyal
Lulajze Jezuniu
Dziasiaj w Betlejem
Pochvalen Bud’, Jezis Kristus

For the morbidly curious: The fiddle is the budget version of Embertone’s Joshua Bell Violin, and the harp is Modartt’s Concert Harp. For what I paid for it (I got it on sale for half-price), the fiddle’s pretty good, but it’s a bit awkward to work with and it’s sometimes difficult to get the sounds I want. I’m looking at this alternative, but that will have to wait until I can budget it.