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.

Music

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.

Anime

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.

Odds and ends

While the point of the Hololive phenomenon eludes me, I do like the video of marching VTubers that Pixy found. In particular, I enjoy the tune, “みっちりねこマーチ,” or “MitchiriNeko March,”1 by one Chiemi Takano (Joedown). It reminds me of the Kuricorder Quartet in a playful mood. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a recording of it in the USA. The video is based on an earlier one featuring cartoon cats.

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Today’s useful phrase: “platitudinal capacity.”

Though he hailed from the dusty plains of Oklahoma, Kendall himself was certainly no rube. He worked his way onto the faculty of Yale, where he profoundly influenced Bill Buckley among others. But while he had the intellect to work at the highest academic levels, he had neither the temperament nor the platitudinal capacity. Yale eventually paid him to forfeit his tenure.

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Years ago, when I finally had a computer at home with Photoshop, I thought that I would at last be able to make color prints of the pictures I take. Ha. Thanks to the machinations of printer manufacturers, the final destination for all my photography is digital files. The article focuses on HP, but I can state that Epson and Canon are no better. I print maybe a dozen pages a year, and those are rarely pictures.

(Via American Digest.)

Continue reading “Odds and ends”

Ancient noises

Here’s another hit tune, this time a gymel from the thirteenth century, “Edi Beo Thu, Hevene Quene,” in a thoroughly historically-uninformed arrangement. All the sounds are u-he’s Hive.

The original sounded something like this:

“Edi Beo Thu” was originally a vocal piece. It might be interesting to hear how a pair of Mikus handle Middle English, but I expect that the results would be unintelligible.

Dracula and friends

Update: Never mind. The show has been cancelled.

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The local orchid organization is holding its annual show and sale this Saturday at Botanica in Wichita. There may well be some Dracula orchids for sale and possibly in bloom for the holiday. Here’s the flyer. (The orchid pictured is a Paphiopedilum.)

Here’s Don Ross with “Dracula and Friends, Part One.”

Ross, unfortunately, will not be at Botanica, though he turns up occasionally at Winfield.

The hits just keep on coming

More popular tunes from the fourteenth century: the dances “Tristan’s Lament” and “La Rotta,” composed by Anonymous’ great rival, Traditional. I used to hammer these out on my dulcimer at Renaissance Faires and SCA events. The harp and cimbalom are both instances of Modartt’s Pianoteq. The rest of the sounds are from various soft synths and samplers.

I’ve played around with this pair in my DAW once before, back around 2004. The morbidly curious can find that very synthetic version here. Judge for yourself whether I’ve learned anything in the past fifteen years.

Back together, finally, sorta

Gentle Giant, the best prog rock band of them all, split in 1980 and never reunited — until now. Here’s a fan video of one of their later tunes compiled earlier this year which features an enormous number of GG enthusiasts, plus the Giants themselves. At last they’re back together, albeit only on the same screen.

Stomping strings

I’ve been experimenting with the trial version of Reason Studios’ Friktion, a physical-modeling synthesizer that emulates bowed instruments such as the violin. All the voices in the “Estampie” above except the percussion are instances of Friktion.

Compared to the Applied Acoustics String Studio, the bowed sounds are more natural, and it’s easier to figure which knobs to twiddle to get the sound you want. However, String Studio handles plucked strings better and is more generally useful.

While Friktion does get closer to a proper fiddle sound than most synthesizers and cheap sample sets, it’s not really convincing. It might work with a bit of reverb in a busy arrangement, but I wouldn’t want to use it solo or with just piano accompaniment. I probably will let the trial lapse and get one of Embertone’s violins instead.

Strange sights

I recently hooked my old turntable up to the computer and have been industriously digitizing ancient vinyl, from Rare Air to P.D.Q. Bach to Allan Holdsworth. The most recent batch included a collection of medieval dance tunes, the cover of which deserves to be in any collection of classic album art.

Right-click on the image below and open the link in a new window to see all the little details in the drawing.

Wondering what it sounds like? Here is “Nota,” a thirteenth-century “danse anglaise.”

Cheap stuff, free stuff, silly stuff

Adobe has transitioned from innovation to rent-seeking. Fortunately, there is are practical alternatives to Photoshop and InDesign: Affinity’s Photo and Publisher. You can buy them, and actually own them, and for excellent prices, too. Currently they are $25 each. There’s also Affinity Designer, a counterpart to Illustrator, for the same price. I haven’t had time to give them thorough workouts, but I have verified that most of the Topaz plugins I use work in Affinity Photo. The Affinity site is here.

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Cherry Audio has made their Voltage Modular Nucleus free for the downloading for a while. I already have VCV Rack and Reaktor Blocks, so I’ll probably give it a pass, but if you have a yen to experiment with modular sound synthesis, it might be worth checking out.

If you have a digital audio workstation such as Logic or Cubase, here are some freebies you might find useful.

• Native Instruments’ Analog Dreams is an “instrument” emulating old-fashioned subtractive synthesizers. It’s in my armory, and it sounds convincing. I haven’t used it much, but that’s because I have more virtual noisemakers than I will ever use.

Standard Guitar is an extended-range electric guitar that works well with pedal and amp emulations. (The site is in Japanese, but it’s not hard to figure out where to click.)

Shiny Guitar is an arch-top guitar, suitable for jazz, of course, and quite a bit else.

Both the above guitars run in Plogue’s sampler Sforzando, which is also free.

If you have NI’s Kontakt, there are several other free guitars to consider here.

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I wonder sometimes just how authoritative AllMusic is. The above is from the entry on Canned Heat’s second album. Strange — I don’t recall hearing the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus on “Amphetamine Annie.”

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I recently received the above invitation. Um, yeah. Right. Just wondering: how many of these “women of excellence” need to shave?

Continue reading “Cheap stuff, free stuff, silly stuff”