A whole lot of notes

Back in the 19th century, virtuoso pianists took themes from popular operas and arranged them into fantasies to showcase their pianistic prowess and dazzle audiences. These operatic paraphrases fell out of favor in the austere 20th century, and nowadays the only one you might hear is Liszt’s “Réminiscences de Don Juan,” based on themes from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It’s a shame. They may not be great music, but they can be fun.

In this 21st century, something similar is evolving in Japan. Here’s a piece based on Yuki Kajiura’s music for Madoka Magica, arranged and performed by “Animenz.”

Here’s a more ambitious piece, based on themes from Gunbuster, performed by Yui Morishita, a.k.a. “Pianeet.” (It’s not clear whether it’s his own arrangement, but I suspect that it is.)

And another theme from Madoka, arranged and performed by Morishita.

Morishita is particularly interesting. Besides playing anime music, he is also an Alkan specialist. The reclusive Charles-Valentin Morhange, who changed his name to “Alkan,” was of the same generation as Liszt and Chopin and wrote notoriously difficult piano music. Morishita has recorded three CDs thus far of Alkan’s music. I’d like to embed here the video of his rendition of Alkan’s “Le chemin de fer,”1 which has particularly good sound and shows the finger gymnastics from several angles, but for no obvious reason I can’t.

You can find more of Morishita performing both anime tunes and Alkan on YouTube. I think he just might have the chops to make proper Lisztian paraphrases of anime themes that any fan of piano music will enjoy, and I hope he does. I’d really like to hear a good “Noir” or “Cowboy Bebop” fantasy.

For those who are interested in extreme piano, there is an Alkan Society. Unfortunately, it’s based in Great Britain, and its events are a wee bit inconvenient for Kansans to attend.

Here’s a recent article on Jewish comedian-musicians, which oddly spends quite a bit of time discussing Alkan.


Who am I?

You are Johann Sebastian Bach. The smartest person you know, you don’t suffer incompetence easily and are more than willing to tackle difficult projects yourself rather than trust them to others. Highly intellectual, you crave order, discipline and structure – let’s be honest, you probably have your picture next to “perfectionist” in the dictionary. Unfortunately, your brilliance is likely to go largely unappreciated by those around you, and you’re going to have to wait for future generations to recognize your genius.

Yeah, right. Who do you think you are?

(Via Robbo.)


… and now for something completely different. Alkan didn’t just compose for piano.

As-tu déjeuné, Jaco? (The French counterpart of “Polly want a cracker?”)
Et de quoi?

Too much culture

Here’s a month’s accumulation of video timewasters.

One of my Christmas gifts was Eight Days a Week, an account of the early years of that band from Liverpool. It reminded me of the story of a certain other band. Bonus: Neil Innes vs. the Beatles.

A biography of one of the great British eccentrics. (Here’s an uninterrupted performance of one of the musical numbers.)

For those with certain, um, unusual tastes, here’s a documentary on the Shmenge Brothers.

It looks like Batman Ninja will be, at the very least, a good-looking movie, but what interests me is the writer, one Kazuki Nakashima.

And now for some high culture:

And finally, the only version I can tolerate of a certain overly-popular baroque piece, performed by the idiosyncratic Jun Togawa.2

Wrong notes

Nicholas Slominsky’s Lexicon of Musical Invective, a compendium of harshly negative reviews of composers from Beethoven to Varèse, is fun to browse. Years ago I based a little name-that-composer quiz on entries in the book. That quiz is long gone, along with the rest of my first weblog3, so I’ve compiled a new one. See if you can identify the composers and works from the following excerpts. In a few cases, the critic speaking is also noteworthy.

I’ll post the answers sometime next week.

1. Crashing Siberias, volcano hell, Krakatoa, sea-bottom crawlers.
Composer, composition

2. ____ was abominable. Not a trace of coherent melodies. It would kill a cat and would turn rocks into scrambled eggs from fear of these hideous discords.
Composer, composition, critic

3. It is mathematical music evolved from an unimaginative brain … How it ever came to be known as The Tenth Symphony is a mystery to us.
Composer, composition

4. The overabundance of dissonances and the incompetence in handling vocal parts in ____ reach the point where the listener can not be sure of the composer’s intentions and is unable to distinguish intentional wrong notes from the wrong notes of the performers.
Composer, composition

5. The ____ is filthy and vile. It suggests Chinese orchestral performances as described by enterprising and self-sacrificing travelers. This may be a specimen of the School of the Future for aught I know. If it is, the future will throw the works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven into the rubbish bin.
Composer, composition

6. If the reader were so rash as to purchase any of ____’s compositions, he would find that they each and all consist of unmeaning bunches of notes, apparently representing the composer promenading the keyboard in his boots. Some can be played better with the elbows, other with the flat of the hand. None requires fingers to perform nor ears to listen to.

7. ____ sometimes sounds like a plague of insects in the Amazon valley, sometimes like a miniature of the Day of Judgment … and for a change goes lachrymose.
Composer, composition

8. It must be admitted that to the larger part of our public, ____ is still an incomprehensible terror.

9. If it were possible to imagine His Satanic Majesty writing an opera, ____ would be the sort of work he might be expected to turn out. After hearing it, we seem to have been assisting at some unholy rites, weirdly fascinating, but painful.
Composer, composition

10. As a kind of drug, no doubt ____’s music has a certain significance, but it is wholly superfluous. We already have cocaine, morphine, hashish, heroin, anhalonium, and innumerable similar productions, to say nothing of alcohol. Surely that is enough. On the other hand, we have only one music. Why must we degrade an art into a spiritual narcotic? Why is it more artistic to use eight horns and five trumpets than to use eight brandies and five double whiskies?

11. Cunning must be the coinnoiseur, indeed, who, while listening to his music, can form the slightest idea when wrong notes are played — its difficulties to the eye being doubled by the composer’s eccentricity of notation.

12. To hear a whole program of ____’s works is like watching some midget or pygmy doing clever, but very small, things within a limited scope. Moreover, the almost reptilian cold-bloodedness, which one suspects of having been consciously cultivated, of most of ____’s music is almost repulsive when heard in bulk; even its beauties are like the markings on snakes and lizards.

13. ____ always sounds to me like the upsetting of bags of nails, with here and there an also dropped hammer.
Composer, critic

14. ____’s symphonic poem ____ is not just filled with wrong notes, in the sense of Strauss’s Don Quixote; it is a fifty-minute-long protracted wrong note. This is to be take literally. What else may hide behind these cacaphonies is quite impossible to find out.
Composer, composition

15. The ____ has pretty sonority, but one does not find in it the least musical idea, properly speaking; it resembles a piece of music as the palette used by an artist in his work resembles a picture. ____ did not create a style; he cultivated an absence of style, logic, and common sense.
Composer, composition, critic

16. There is only one thing for a man like ____ to do if he desires to escape oblivion, and that is to plunge into the grossest materialism in music and seek to puzzle or shock you, because he cannot touch your heart.

17. ____ had not much to say in his Fifth Symphony and occupied a wondrous time in saying it. His manner is ponderous, his matter imponderable.

18. … I shall hot criticize this music; quite to the contrary, I will say that this is wonderful barbaric music, the best barbaric music in the world. But when I am asked whether this music gives me pleasure or an artistic satisfaction, whether it makes a deep impression, I must categorically say: “No!”
Composer, composition

19. The Paleozoic Crawl, turned into tone with all the resources of the modern orchestra, clamored for attention at the Philadelphia Orchestra concert when ____ was given its first airing on this side of the vast Atlantic. It was the primitive run riot, almost formless and without definite tonality, save for insistently beating rhythms that made the tom-tom melodies of the gentle Congo tribes seem super-sophisticated in comparison … Without description or program, the work might have suggested a New Year’s Eve rally of moonshine addicts and the simple pastimes of early youth and maidens, circumspectly attired in a fig leaf apiece.
Composer, composition

20. The ____ threads all the foul ditches and sewers of human despair; it is as unclean as music well can be.
Composer, composition

21. I can compare ____ by ____ to nothing but the caperings and gibberings of a big baboon, over-excited by a dose of alcoholic stimulus.
Composer, composition

22. … if the crude expression be permissible, I should say that what was at the back of ____’s mind was an alarm of fire at the Zoo, with the beasts and birds all making appropriate noises — the lion roaring, the hyena howling, the monkeys chattering, the parrots squealing, with the curses of the distracted attendants cutting through them all.
Composer, composition

23. Again I see his curious asymmetrical face, the pointed fawn ears, the projecting cheek bones — the man is a wraith from the East; his music was heard long ago in the hill temples of Borneo; was made as a symphony to welcome the head-hunters with their ghastly spoils of war!

24. ____’s violin concerto sounds, in its brutal genius, in its abolition of all formal limits, like a rhapsody of nihilism.

25. (the amoeba weeps)

Update: The answers are here.

That other Christmas song

Petrus T. Ratajczyk isn’t available to record the tune I think of as “Santa Wears Jackboots,” and Vince Furnier’s version is mere schlock rock, so I thought I’d see how Hatsune Miku would do it. Nota bene: it gets loud.

Technical stuff for the curious: The guitars are the AAS Strum GS-2. The rest, except for Miku, are components of NI Komplete, run through various NI and Logic plugins.

Update: “Pay attention to the “I(Nice)” function.”

G, D, A, E, sometimes A, E, A, E

Over the years I’ve watched my young friend Roger Netherton develop from a talented youngster to a first-rate fiddler. I’ve mentioned him numerous times, e.g., here, here, here and here; you can find additional mentions by searching here for “Roger.” He focuses on old-time music, but that’s not his only interest. He taught himself Japanese well enough that he was able to skip the first year of Japanese language class at college and start with the second year. He later spent a semester at a college in Japan. He did the translations for my notes on installing Hatsune Miku, which is the most-visited page on my website. Here he plays a melody from the anime Someday’s Dreamers, accompanying himself on piano.

Roger is finally ready to record an album. His Go Fund Me page is here. If you like old-time fiddle, you might want to check it out.

Hoary old tune

While cleaning house a few days ago, I unearthed the first piece of music I ever wrote. It’s a piano rag, written half a lifetime ago for the first music theory class I was able to fit into my schedule.1 I was curious to see how it sounded after all these years. I could barely play it when I wrote it, and I’m way out of practice these days, so I transcribed it into Logic and let the computer play it.

It’s not as bad as I feared, but not as good as I hoped. Don’t look for the score on my sheet music page. I didn’t really know what I was doing then2, and it shows. The title is “Hairy Toes.” Please don’t ask me to explain that, or what I had in mind in the penultimate section.

Update: Uploaded a recording with a different virtual piano.

Greetings from East Feffy Foofy

A long time ago, back before the last ice age, I came across a short piece called something like “In Space with Runyon Jones” in a collection of science fiction stories. It was a series of vignettes in which the young Jones encounters a variety of aliens while traveling in spaceships, which the editor of the anthology had gleaned from a novel by Norman Corwin. I was curious to read the rest of the book, but it was long out of print by then, and has never been reprinted. I never found it in any library or used book store.

A few years ago, I remembered the story and thought that perhaps it might be possible to locate a copy of the book online. While searching, I found that Corwin’s story had first been a radio play, “Odyssey of Runyon Jones,” broadcast in 1941. It’s available here. Once you accustom your ears to the low-fidelity sound, it’s entertaining listening. Runyon’s dog Pootzy has been hit by a car and killed, and Runyon wants him back. He braves bureaucracy, meets Father Time and Mother Nature, and eventually finds his way to Curgatory and a trick ending.

Ten years later, Corwin turned the radio play into the novel Dog in the Sky, of which I eventually located an affordable copy. In addition to expanding the episodes in the play, he introduced a sub-plot involving a Mr. B.L.Z. Bubb, a bureaucrat very interested in Runyon’s quest, and adds details of Runyon’s adventures as he travels from planet to planet. The Bubb business is never very interesting and it eventually fizzles out, but the aliens Runyon meets are what caught my attention in the excerpts I read years ago, and are what might make the book worth reprinting someday. There are quite a variety of them, including an interplanetary perfume salesman, a lonely robot, a very important businessman from Venus, and a spooky cat/woman. And a certain 62Kru:

62Kru returned to his monologue as though nothing had happened. “Love is science. Science is love. That is all the protons and isotopes know, and all they need to know. The beta ray hankers for the gamma, both are enamored of the delta, and all in turn adore the lambda.
You see, friend, we Hankerites deplore the fact that the galaxies are rushing away from each other. This is because of a misunderstanding which occurred some billions of years ago. We aim to rectify, restore and reunite the estranged universe, to bind all together under the harmonious love of the true Hruh, whose throne is everywhere and anywhere. Blasphemers and atheists have tried to prove that Hruh is really nothing but
but the true Hankerite is unshakable in his faith, resolute in his virtue, confident in the supremacy and inviolability of love, and we have already killed several million disbelievers to prove this.


Something else I stumbled across at Archive.org: the A.M. Yankovic/W. Carlos version of “Peter and the Wolf.” It’s not the best example of either’s work, but it has its moments. The recording is probably still under copyright, so it may disappear from the site at any moment.

(My favorite version is the that by the Royal Ballet School, with Anthony Dowell as narrator and Grandfather. It starts here.)

Frank and Miku, happy together

So, Frank Zappa’s kids are thinking of presenting holograms of him in concert, just like Hatsune Miku? Holograms of Miku are fine, since she’s computer-generated anyway, but re-animating Frank seems ghoulish to me. I doubt that he’ll ever dance as well as Miku, either, no matter how skillfully his hologram is programmed.

Speaking of Miku: While it’s not difficult to make songs with Vocaloids on your computer, it’s not so easy to perform with Miku live, in real time. Yamaha is making it a little easier with a new “keytar.”

There was also a Miku guitar stompbox released a few years ago.

And now for something completely different: The Lord of the Rings Silent Movie. (Via the Local Malcontent.)

Carp time

This past weekend was the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield. Never believe anything the weatherman says. He promised clear skies and highs in the lower 90°s. Yeah, right. Here’s what I heard at Stage One Saturday afternoon, when The Outside Track were scheduled to perform:

I decided not to bring the real camera along, which turned out to be a good call, given the weather. So, no pictures this year. I did bring my little sound recorder. Here’s a bit of what goes on all night long at Carp Camp. The tunes are “Planxty Fanny Po[w]er,” featuring Amanda Roberts, this year’s hammered dulcimer winner, and “Liberty,” with an unconventional bluegrass instrument toward the end. The sound is mediocre and the recorder cut the second tune short (grr), but it should give you some idea of what it’s like there.

In a week or two, there should be videos with better sound quality on YouTube and elsewhere.

Other highlights of my visit to the camp included everyone joining in on the theme to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and a couple of guys singing Randy Newman’s “Political Science.”

Update: a brief video of the Friday evening contra dance, shot with my toy camera. It’s not great quality, and it shows why I ordinarily use that camera only for snapshots.

There should be plenty of better videos at YouTube soon.

Chromium Steel Wind Chimes

It occurred to me that the ideal instrument for playing “minimalist”3 music like Terry Riley’s “In C” would be wind chimes. I spent a few lunch hours recently compiling my own set of wind chime music. It uses five instances of the AAS Chromaphone, covering five octaves. See what you make of it.

Update: Uploaded a slightly tweaked and, I hope, much better-sounding recording. What sounds good on headphones at the office sometimes sounds pretty awful on the speakers at home.

Update II: Let’s drive this into the ground. Here’s a similar piece for heavily corroded wind chimes, featuring three instances of u-he’s ACE and too much percussion. (You might want to turn the volume down.)

I have a notion for one more exercise along these lines, and then it will be back to real music.

Name that tune

Here’s a pop quiz for a Monday afternoon. How many riffs can you identify?

If you found that easy, try some classical standards, or Yes songs, or Black Sabbath or Mahavishnu.

When Tatsuya Yoshida isn’t compiling medleys, he plays a Japanese version of zeuhl. Here’s a concert by Koenji Hyakkei, one of his many projects.


I’ve become quite fond of songwriter and composer 伊藤真澄, a.k.a. Masumi Itou (or Ito, Itoh or Itō), though her singing voice does take some getting used to. Tunes she’s written include the ending themes for Flip Flappers4 and Humanity Has Declined and the openings to Magical Nyan Nyan Taruto5 and Azumanga Daioh. A quick search on YouTube will turn up many more. I recently found some of her recordings on Amazon.jp. Her album Harmonies of Heaven is mostly of her own compositions, but she does include the traditional tune “故郷の空,” above. It sounds oddly familiar.

Odds and ends, music edition

Non-traditional koto technique

I got curious about how affordable a koto would be, should I ever make enough room in my place to keep one and find time to practice. Not very, it turns out; prices range from $1,250 to $7,000 (sale price) at one source.

However, if you cross over to the Asian mainland, you can find similar instruments at more affordable prices. Chinese guzhengs start at $380. Here’s a Vocaloid tune played on a guzheng.6

There are also the Korean gayageum and the Vietnamese dan tranh.

If you can’t afford real instruments, there are always virtual ones, such as the Korean noisemakers that are available for free here, courtesy of Seoul National University.

Should you want to build your own koto, the traditional source for wood is Paulownia tomentosa, an attractive, adaptable and invasive tree.

Here’s something to bring to the next jam session:

Need an orchestra, but can’t afford to pay for pro-quality sample sets, let alone the real thing? Here’s a useful freebie. (If the complete instrument crashes your DAW, download just the sections you need. I’ve found the percussion to be particularly handy.)

What were the big hits in past decades around the world? You can get an idea with Radiooooo.

Those interested in early music might find this online compendium of the Cantigas de Santa Maria of interest.

If you are interested in microtunings, you might find this scala-to-TUN converter handy.

Linda Ronstadt, Frank Zappa, and the Remington Electric Razor (Via Dustbury):


It’s a real conflict for me when I go to a concert and find out somebody in the audience is a Republican or fundamental Christian. It can cloud my enjoyment. I’d rather not know.

Linda will be relieved to learn that I have formally disaffiliated myself from the Stupid and Utterly Useless Party, and describe myself politically as a Contemptuous Independent.

Idiot dance tune, for 17th-century idiots

Advisory: Survivors of the Society for Creative Anachronism might find this post traumatic.

Here is a set of variations on possibly the most annoying tune ever notated, “Nonesuch,” from John Playford’s 1651 The English Dancing Master. It’s arranged here for virtual guitar, bass and drums.7. For the morbidly curious, the guitar is the AAS Strum GS-2 and the bass the String Studio VS-2. The drums are Logic’s Ultrabeat, augmented with percussion from the VSCO2 orchestra. As always, I’m not completely happy with this, but I want to move on to fresh disasters.

(Right-click on the tune title to download the .mp3.)

Stopping by for a moment

I’m alive again after an unpleasant two weeks. I’ve got a lot of cleaning and catching up to do, so I’ll continue to be scarce here.


A few things that caught my eye or ear recently:

Progress versus progress

I have a little list of words and phrases that tell me everything I need to know about the people who use them. So does J Greely.

Science, Roger Bacon and Robert Grosseteste.

Are the New York Disco Villains the Bonzo Dog Band reborn? (Via the Professor.)

Mozart and Chagall.

The Magic Flute – Chagall Animation from 59 Productions on Vimeo.

Mozart and Tonari no Seki-kun. (Via Wonderduck.)

There’s a live-action version of Tonari no Seki-kun. You don’t need to know Japanese to follow the story.

Bonus link: Vulcanologist Erik Klemetti counts down his list of the ten most dangerous volcanoes. If you’re thinking of investing in European real estate, forget Naples.

3-D music for 2-D girls and tanks

I recently found a recording of the music from Girls und Panzer by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. The OST to the anime in its various forms was probably generated in a digital audio workstation with sample libraries. It’s quite listenable, but virtual orchestras can’t compare to well-recorded real instruments played by real, living musicians. The bass drum alone makes the upgrade worthwhile, particularly if you have powerful speakers or good headphones.8 The only disappointment with the TSO CDs is that they’re missing “Yuki no Shingun.” 9

Incidentally, I ordered the CDs from Amazon.co.jp on a Sunday, and they arrived the following Tuesday. If you want the quickest delivery from Amazon, forget Amazon Prime. Order overseas.

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