Tuesday, July 29, 2008
In the print version was an analysis of the rules of animal cannibalism in children's books, as when Richard Scarry's pig enjoy bacon for breakfast.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
...the aged Utmiutsol is simple, natural, unified--overly unified, sometimes, which is his fault. The young Uremifasolasiututut is singular, brilliant, composed, clever--sometimes too clever, which is perhaps his listener's fault. One has but one overture, beautiful to be sure, but repeated at the beginning of each work; the other more overtures than works, and each might pass for a masterpiece.
Nature led Utmiutsol in Melody's ways; study and experience discovered for Uremifasolasiututut the source of Harmony. Who knew declamation, and who recitative, as the elder did? and who made for us such sprightly ariettas, such voluptuous airs, and symphonies of such character as the youth? Utmiutsol alone understood dialogue. Before Uremifasolasiututut, no one had distinguished the delicate nuances which separate the tender from the voluptuous, the voluptuous from the impassioned, the impassioned from the lascivious....
Monday, July 14, 2008
This was just a couple hours ago, right off the main drag in Santa Fe (St. Francis and E. Alameda, for those keeping score).
You could hear boulders rolling over in the flood and feel the bridge shaking. The SF River was going pretty good, but it was child's play compared to the arroyo (above) draining in from the north, which was easily running 1,000 cfs.
Well, I'm off to run the Grand Canyon for 18 days, and the Colorado won't look much different from the Santa Fe tonight. Hold down the fort, Odious! In the meantime, if you're bored enough, you can entertain yourselves at my photo website. Enjoy!
Friday, July 11, 2008
Three things of fascination from Temperament by Stuart Isacoff:
The era opened with a new musical rage captivating the royal courts: Pantaleon Hebenstreit and his amazing giant hammered dulcimers. An itinerant musician and onetime dancing master, Hebenstreit's career had been going nowhere until he hit on the idea of building his nine-foot instruments with two hundred strings stretched over two sound boards, and of mastering a virtuoso technique for playing htem with two sticks. The effect had audiences spellbound.... When Hebestreit ended a long, contented life in 1750 at the court of Dresden, his salary was almost double that of Johann Sebastian Bach. His fame was so great that the early parlor piano became known as a "pantalon."Someone really needs to revive those.
Diderot described Rameau in his wild romp of a novel, The Indiscreet Jewels (in which a magical ring compels the private parts of various women to reveal their secret histories).Has this been translated? Odious? Feel like brushing up our French?
Technology and art continued to progress hand in hand. By the end of the eighteenth century, German scientist Johann Heinrich Lambert would propose an instrument by which people could enjoy music through their teeth, so as not to awake others who are sleeping.Words fail.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
The Russians now were ready to attack:
But oh, ye goddesses of war and glory!
How shall I spell the name of each Cossacque
Who were immortal, could one tell their story?
Alas! what to their memory can lack?
Achilles' self was not more grim and gory
Than thousands of this new and polish'd nation,
Whose names want nothing but — pronunciation.
Still I'll record a few, if but to increase
Our euphony: there was Strongenoff, and Strokonoff,
Meknop, Serge Lwow, Arséniew of modern Greece,
And Tschitsshakoff, and Roguenoff, and Chokenoff,
And others of twelve consonants apiece;
And more might be found out, if I could poke enough
Into gazettes; but Fame (capricious strumpet),
It seems, has got an ear as well as trumpet,
And cannot tune those discords of narration,
Which may be names at Moscow, into rhyme;
Yet there were several worth commemoration,
As e'er was virgin of a nuptial chime;
Soft words, too, fitted for the peroration
Of Londonderry drawling against time,
Ending in "ischskin," "ousckin," "iffskchy," "ouski":
Of whom we can insert but Rousamouski,
Scherematoff and Chrematoff, Koklophti,
Koclobski, Kourakin, and Mouskin Pouskin,
All proper men of weapons, as e'er scoff'd high
Against a foe, or ran a sabre through skin:
Little cared they for Mahomet or Mufti,
Unless to make their kettle-drums a new skin
Out of their hides, if parchment had grown dear,
And no more handy substitute been near.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
and charm the birds right off the trees.
There are certainly things to love about living in Santa Fe. For instance, one can spend the afternoon here, at Nambe Lake in the Pecos Wilderness,
and a couple hours later be enjoying this:
"And just what the **** is that?" Well may you ask, reader! That, in our case, was the U.S. premier, no less, of Kenneth Branagh's film adaption of Mozart's Magic Flute. (Well, strictly speaking it was the other U.S. screening, immediately after the true premier, the true premier being aimed at an audience more easily parted with large sums of money than your host.) The thing's been out in Europe since late 2006, but we New Worlders have hitherto been denied its charms. Pity, because it's quite something. See for yourself: the following highlights reel gives a pretty good taste, though it may be a little spoiler-fraught.
If spoilers don't bother you at all, you can see the opera's climax here, as well as much more on YouTube. Or you can visit the official site (Warning: sound. Lots of sound), which has a ton of ridiculously entertaining Zauberflötery and affiliated nonsense, if you have a fast connection and lots of patience with Flash animation.
It should be evident by now that Branagh did not bowdlerize the opera's sheer harebrained looniness, not in the least. Indeed, he positively delights in it, and puts the might of modern film technique, with quite a bit of CGI, behind driving that looniness. This is the Magic Flute that you imagine when you put on a good recording immediately after seven shots of tequila. (Er, yes, I have taken part in experiments along those lines; indeed my first exposure to the opera, via the Bergman film, was very much in that vein.) Often the effect is wonderful; sometimes it's more than a little obnoxious. But it's a remarkable achievement to have filmed a watchable, English language Zauberflöte while leaving the score whole, entire and in its traditional sequence. Large applause is due to writer Stephen Fry, who adapted the libretto into wonderfully successful, natural and fun English doggerel. That adaptation also included enough cuts and streamlining of the spoken dialogue to tame the piece's running time and allow the musical numbers to flow with uninterrupted momentum.
The biggest stumbling block in any Magic Flute production is, of course, what the heck to do about all the Freemasonry stuff. For all the film's surreality and goofiness, Branagh and company actually hit on a pretty good solution by putting the drama into a World War I-ish setting. Whereas in most productions the Realm of Night seems like a pretty genial sort of fairy kingdom, Tamino finds himself in a bizarre, dark, upside-down and dangerous wartime world (and we get the Queen of the Night in a leather trench coat, moonlit, riding a Mark IV tank: much to like there!). In contrast, Sarastro and his guys are running a hospital for the wounded and shell-shocked and a refuge for the displaced. René Pape gives an excellent performance as Sarastro, portraying him not as the usual moralizing patriarch full of blowhardish occult wisdom, but as a younger and more charming man who learned wisdom from charitable service, who's still capable of playing a joke and flashing a wink. His dedication to "peace and the brotherhood of man" and all that rot therefore comes across as being a lot more practical and honest than we get from most Sarastros. Tamino and Pamina's trials are not just hoops of abstruse symbolism through which they must jump, but are intended to actually achieve some good for a world at war. The result is still plenty hokey, but it's a lot easier to take it seriously and rejoice in the lovers' triumph than it is to respect the cult initiation the is the finale of traditional productions.
For all its virtues, the film does partake of the vices of early 21st Century cinema. For all the possible imaginations that CGI can bring to life, it does have a tendency to take over the show, an inmate in charge of the asylum. Branagh yields to the temptation towards gimcrackery just a little to often, thereby trivializing some passages that needn't be trivial, even in such a bagatelle of a plot. In particular, his treatment of all the Queen of the Night's coloratura passages leaves a lot of inspiration to be desired. But there are some brilliant shots in here too, for instance the passage with the Armed Men in the Act II finale: as the tenors and basses intone their creepy, marmoreal parallel octaves, we see first blackness, then a slow zoom out divulging a human iris spread across the screen. The iris grows to an eye, then two, then three, then many with chanting mouths interspersed, everything else shrouded in sackcloth, until the screen is full of singing anthropomorphic sandbags forming the wall of a trench.
Why do we like The Magic Flute? Seriously, why? It's not an easy liking to justify, particularly to someone who doesn't agree. The plot is sprawling and incoherent, it's undeniably silly, it has genuine continuity problems, and it's loaded to the gills with hideous symbolism which may well have no internal consistency, and even if it does, who cares? The thing's a mess for critics. And yet it endures, eternally popular in a repertoire which has cast off many weightier works, consistently numbered among the four great operas of one of humanity's three or four greatest composers. Why?
Well, because it's a heck of a lot of fun, and that's a justification that not many opera's can make without qualifications. That and the music, and these things of course go hand in hand. The Magic Flute is a brilliant composer at the very top of his game, a man for whom the barrier between artistic imagination and technical execution has all but dissolved. The music sparkles and flows and leaps and dances from scene to scene, always at the right pace, almost always leaving us craving more (not praise which can be lavished freely on the da Ponte operas). It's Mozart's least repetitive opera, and many of it's finest moments are gone as soon as we begin to feel them. It has the most ensemble singing, always great fun in Mozart's hands. I'd say it's his most rhythmically vigorous opera, probably because it was in German; it has a Teutonic delight and vim that even his best Italian works don't quite match. And above all, it doesn't force us to take it too seriously. I have always maintained that Papageno is the opera's true main character, and Mozart's ability to impart upon a contemptible, petty, trivial buffoon of a birdcatcher music of such good humour, honest humanity and ultimately tenderness and redemption is the great mark of his unique genius. In Mozart, even the most trifling bagatelles are lit with divine sparks.
What truly makes Branagh's movie worthwhile is that he usual stays out of the way of all these virtues of the opera. He keeps the weight of each scene balanced in its correct proportion. He doesn't shy away from the silliness, which would be well-nigh impossible and would destroy the work if it were achieved. He doesn't bother to explain the many (probably unexplainable) inconsistencies in the libretto, but like Mozart he lets them stand because they're beside the point. Like a good stage production, the film doesn't try to wholly redefine the work through some contrivance, but instead gives it a venue in which to shine. I can enjoy the movie without it infecting my imagination of the opera; I will not, God be praised, be imagining tanks and sandbags every time I put on my recording. It adds to my imagination of the piece without subverting it, and that's an achievement in any performance of opera.
Here's hoping it will be available on U.S.-playable DVD soon!
Monday, July 07, 2008
I passage I like, which goes well with my last post:
...given the preciousness of arable land, I think we have to take a look at the rules governing the conversion of farmland in the same way that if you want to build on wetlands, you have to meet a very high burden. I know that’s not a conservative idea, but if we reach a population of 10 billion, we will really regret all the houses we are putting up on some of the finest land in the world.And something I didn't know:
We can only grow animals in this kind of confinement with antibiotics, but when we start using them in these amounts, we’re suddenly breeding lethal microbes. Look at the staph infection that killed 19,000 Americans two years ago—more than died from AIDS that year. That microbe has been traced to pig farms in Europe and Canada. We haven’t traced it to pig farms here because the industry won’t let us study it, but presumably it’s happening here as well because we swap pigs with Canada all the time.19,000 people?! Seriously? A quick Google search does find that number elsewhere. Where's the media hype over this one? I'm glad we're still working on our Delta, Colorado pig.
Saturday, July 05, 2008
Environmentalists, to their surprise, found that timber and mining were easier on the countryside.Link. Nice to see that some environmentalists are finally noticing. Perhaps tourist economies are not in fact the answer to everything. Who could have guessed?
"Now that Plum Creek is getting out of the timber business, we're kind of missing the loggers," said Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit that studies land management in the West. "A clear-cut will grow back, but a subdivision of trophy homes, that's going to be that way forever."
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Sorry for the lack of posts, but this is where I've been for the past month: boating in Dinosaur National Monument. I've got lots of pictures to work on, and only a couple weeks in town before I head to the Grand Canyon, so don't expect much.
It was a great season to spend time in Dinosaur, which is truly the great undiscovered gem of the National Park system, as well as a spectacular and highly underused corner of Utah and Colorado. Perhaps the fact that most of the Monument is accessible only by river has something to do with it; that and the misleading name. Most of Dinosaur's strata are too old to bear any Dinosaurs. The Yampa and Green River canyons and their geology are the reason to go. And after a humdinger winter and a late, cold spring in the West the place was greener and more full of wildflowers than I've ever seen it in over a decade of boating. As Steve mentioned, we did get snowed on, at ~5,000 feet in mid-June! The snow that got us at river level was heavy, sopping, camera-killing stuff, but here's a picture of the first dusting on the rims at 6:30 that morning:
Oh, fine, here are a couple more. The previous two were of Lodore Canyon on the Green; the Yampa deserves at least as much attention. Stormy weather at Harding Hole: