Friday, August 24, 2012

Photographing light in slow motion: the line in the video which puts it in perspective is that at this time scale, watching a bullet move through that coke bottle would be a year-long movie.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lists of six most meaningful songs are making the rounds on the Internet, and it makes pretty nice fodder for a neglected blog:

What was the first song you ever bought?

Sigh. Do we have to? I suppose this is meaningful in that it reveals what influences surrounded you at a period of life probably marked by extreme cluelessness and impressionability. My first personal music purchase was The Best of Simon and Garfunkel. Grrrrrr. Could have been much, much worse, I suppose.

What song always gets you dancing?

As any acquaintance will testify, very few powers on earth get me dancing. If I stick to the literal question, the closest answer is probably Balkan music. But if we take it in the sense of a song that consistently rouses the blood, I'll take Tom Russell's Tonight We Ride (with Gallo de Cielo a very close second).

What song takes you back to your childhood?

Bill Staines' Sweet Wyoming Home: we had a cassette dubbed from LP that got a lot of play on long car rides across the west (I may still have it). Plus, I was in fact a child with a sweet Wyoming home. Those early Bill Staines recordings always call up the feeling of bundling up in the shotgun seat (no boosters or such in those more enlightened times), wrapped in a blanket in the cold before dawn, frozen sage, the invisible loom of the Tetons, and off across the basins and ranges as the sun came up. I can't find an online version that's really satisfactory, but this cover by someone named Windy Bill comes the closest for me, despite imperfect sound.

Runner up: Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. They were the hold music on my mother's office phone system for years, and I still have them memorized. Music doesn't get any better than the Brandenburgs, so whoever set up that phone system, I owe you a beer!

What is your perfect love song?

Some possibly apocryphal person said that the three categories of song in existence are "I want a girl," "I love my girl," and "I lost my girl." Sadly, an awful lot of songs classified as love-y fall under categories 1 and 3. But a "perfect" love song really ought to be in the second group. And personally I'd prefer it to be genial rather than overwrought, happily enamored but in it for the long haul. It really doesn't get any better than the ironically titled I Don't Love You Much Do I? with Guy Clark and Emmylou Harris.

Incidentally, this also holds largely true in opera arias and duets, where simple "I love you" music uncomplicated by other matters is unexpectedly rare. But there's always the Pa-pa-pa-pa duet from The Magic Flute.

If we open it up to "lost my girl" numbers, Bucking Horse Moon is a damn fine song.

What song would you want at your funeral?

Let's not screw around here, what I want at my funeral is the Eastern Orthodox funeral service. For bonus tracks, I'll take any resurrectional music from Holy Week and Pascha. I especially like the Lamentations for Holy Friday, though unabbreviated versions that don't omit much of the best stuff are not to be found on the Internet.

Time for an encore. One last song that makes you, you.

I love Eurasian folk music, and there's no sound that captures open expanses, mountains and basins, weather and seasons, longing for travel and love of place, like Tuvan music. Sevek Aldyn-Ool singing kargyraa is a perfect example. I've always been very fond of Eshten Charlyyry Berge (It's Hard to be Parted From a Friend) by Huun Huur Tu as well.

English Civil War reenactor dispenses some Cavalier justice

Monday, August 20, 2012


....two splendid boletes, the consolation prize of a lousy season, in an undisclosed location in northern New Mexico. Nice big ones too! The larger one on the right had some wormy spots but was mostly good, while the one on the left was immaculate.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Operas so far....

We actually went to opening night this year, as it happened to be Mrs. Peculiar's birthday. Tosca was on offer, and it was a decent workmanlike Tosca. The tenor, Brian Jagde, stepped in late in the game after the scheduled performer found himself afoul of New Mexico allergies; he was quite good, if not quite stunning. The same goes for Amanda Echalaz, the soprano. Raymond Aceto was sadly rather underpowered as Scarpia, a disappointment as much of Tosca's appeal is to delight in Scarpia's black villainy. The productions main characteristic was that vertical objects like the church dome and the heights of Castel Sant'Angelo were turned horizontal. I suppose what this achieved was to make the audience disoriented and therefore more willing to suspend disbelief, and to exhort them to contemplate death by falling. But it wasn't really distracting, and aside from a clumsy scene change the whole thing chugged along nicely. We're thinking of going back in standing room for one of the last performances, which will have the estimable Thomas Hampson stepping in as Scarpia.

Last night was The Pearl Fishers by Bizet, which turned out to be an exceedingly silly opera. I've never been a huge fan of Carmen, alas, so I was happy to hear something else from Bizet. It's pretty much a paint-by-numbers grand opera: love triangle; decent, loyal baritone in a bad position; virgin soprano priestess who turns out to be remarkably easy; bass oppressor; and an ardent tenor with the foresight and self-control of an ungulate during the rut.

The famous baritone/tenor duet proved indeed to be the opera's highlight. Bizet apparently knew it too, inasmuch as he later quotes it whenever he wants to evoke some easy poignancy. But there were certainly some other good bits. The tenor had a very nice aria in Act II, the love duet wasn't bad, and there was a good thunderstorm with angry mob. And the end, in which the entire village is burned so the feckless tenor and soprano can escape, was entertainingly amoral. Bizet's orientalist touches were unfortunately pretty weak in this one, and it generally felt like the plot wasn't enough to carry a full-scale opera; it would have done better condensed to a one-act offering in the fashion of Les Indes Galantes*.

The soprano, Nicole Cabell, was excellent and held the evening together, with the added benefit that she looked her part, beautiful and dusky with no suspension of disbelief required. Tenor Eric Cutler also cut a fine figure. Wayne Tigges, the wicked bass, was a bit wasted on the small role; I really wanted to see his character take charge and start dishing it out, but it's not that kind of opera. The set was a rather spare subcontinental temple, complete with stone Buddha foot, but with the odd addition of a giant picture frame. This worked nicely to frame a dumbshow flashback during the big duet, but failed to be very meaningful otherwise.

Lest I sound too negative, it's always worth remembering that the sheer amount of human genius required to compose and stage even a merely adequate opera is staggeringly high. I can't muster much reverence for The Pearl Fishers, but a night of fine singing, an excellent orchestra (always the case in Santa Fe) and melodrama is a pleasure never to be sneezed at. I'm looking forward to some odder offerings in the next couple week: Strauss' Arabella and Rossini's obscurity Maometto Secondo.

* Speaking of which, I regret to say that I don't think we'll be seeing this production at the Santa Fe Opera, adjacent to Tesuque Pueblo, anytime soon:

Monday, August 06, 2012

Teasing a cat* with a laser pointer is patented. Pay up, folks!

* Or "any other animal with a chase instinct"; I guess that encompasses babies.