13 February, 2009

Anchors Aweigh

I was pleasantly surprised this Wednesday when I found out that I had been professionally recommended by the board to become a Civil Engineer Corps officer in the United States Navy. It capped off nearly a year long process of putting together an application, getting back in shape, and long periods of waiting for all of the paper to make its way through the system. I should receive a final selection letter anywhere from a few weeks to a few months from now. That letter will give me the magical date upon which I'm to report to Newport, Rhode Island for the fun 12 weeks of Officer Candidate School. After OCS it's off to Port Hueneme, California for 15 weeks of Civil Engineer Corps Officer School. After CECOS it's off to the real Navy and whatever challenges it has in store for me. It feels great and I'm eager to get the ball rolling.
That being said, it's time to bring the short and sporadic life of the blog to a close. Things will be quite busy for the near future and I think I'll pursue other avenues to vent any ramblings in the future. I hope my massive readership will forgive me for throwing in the towel. I've had a blast writing this stuff, though I'm nowhere near regular enough to warrant continued blogdom. Thanks to those who took the time to read and respond, it's been fun!
God bless each and every one of you and please keep the fine men and women of the Navy in your prayers as I prepare to join their ranks.
For those who might be at all interested in what I'm getting into, check out the following links:
http://www.navfac.navy.mil/ - Naval Facilities Command website
http://www.cec.navy.mil/ - Civil Engineer Corps Accession website
http://www.seabee.navy.mil/ - Naval Construction Force website
Pushed to the Limit - a fun multi-part overview of Officer Candidate School

30 January, 2009

The Pork, The Parks, The Politics

This is how fat cat Democrats line their own nests.

What will a double-budget for the National Parks do to ‘stimulate’ the economy? Nothing. But it will enrich Democrats, give them more power, and help get votes.

It’s PORK!!!

Nothing else.

Against all better judgment I’m going to go in an obviously imprudent direction and tackle the world of politics as it relates to the current stimulus plan. Masochist that I am, I often enter the world of Rush Limbaugh on my way to and from lunch as a means of taking the pulse of the Right Wing in our country. I laughed as I heard him complain about the cost of the inauguration ceremonies during a time of economic distress, as if he would complain so loudly given a newly-minted Republican president with the ability to draw such a huge throng to the National Mall. Every once in a while I think the guy has a point, though by and large I just yell at the radio and worry about a large segment of our country who look to Rush as the epitome of sanity (I feel the same distress when I check out lefty blogs as well – the curse of being a “spineless” moderate). I was moved to tackle this post when I heard Rush yesterday complaining about the presence of nearly 2 billion dollars in the House stimulus bill for the National Parks Service.

The quote at the top of this post, which is reflective of the comments I heard from Rush, came from the comments section of this newspaper article detailing the beef some Republicans have against the money in the bill. Apparently the Democratic ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee happens to have a son who lobbies on behalf of the NPS. It has been made clear that the son does not lobby his father directly (makes you wonder why ethicists haven’t pointed out the massive conflict of interest inherent in having Jesus lobby Dad on our behalf), though this has done little to keep the opposition from crying “Pork!” on the whole business. Apparently the commenter feels that this 2 billion dollars would only serve to enrich Democrats, though he offers no mechanism for how this scenario would come about. In reality, the NPS has a maintenance backlog which runs as high as 9 billion dollars according to some estimates. It is hoped that this stimulus money would take a large bite out of that backlog while improving the quality and attractiveness of park facilities and putting large chunks of money into the design and construction industry accomplishing those projects. While you could argue that a lot of design professionals fall to the left of the political spectrum, it would seem that the lion’s share of this stimulus money would go to the construction companies and contractors working on park infrastructure projects – not necessarily a hotbed of liberal advocacy.

It is this thought process which has led me to lament the emergence of “pork” as the new taboo of American politics. While I understand the problems posed by conflicts of interest in appropriating taxpayer funds, I don’t think that the presence of a possible conflict of interest should preempt an honest investigation into the merits of the appropriations being discussed. Rather than bothering to find out what the NPS would do with an extra 2 billion dollars, the opposition simply tarred the whole pot with the pork label, conveniently allowing them to ignore actual issues while painting Democrats as purveyors of nepotism. They ignore the fact that it wasn’t even the father who introduced the earmark and somehow insinuate that both the father and the son are getting some sort of underhanded benefit from the whole mess. Why is it so awful that the son was successful at his job? It is his job to scrape together as much funding as possible for the NPS seeing as how their annual operating budget has not been enough to prevent the accumulation of a 9 billion dollar maintenance backlog. When he is successful at carving out a chunk of the American Bailout Pie Rush gets his panties in a bunch because Daddy happens to be a congressman on the Appropriations Committee. I mean, come on, it’s not as if anyone else in the country cares what the hell happens to our National Parks – right? Not to mention the fact that the son is a federal employee, meaning his compensation is regulated by federal executive compensation rules. He is not going to mysteriously end up with millions of dollars in his bank account to share with Daddy.

All of that and I’m not even a huge supporter of an extra 2 billion dollars for the NPS! I think its effectiveness as a stimulus is dubious at best and while I would love to see the National Parks infrastructure improved, I’m not sure it’s the best use of stimulus dollars in the current situation. However, let’s make those judgments based on the issues and not as a response to some sort of sinister inside baseball on the part of the evil Democrats.

15 January, 2009

New Orleans Drops Acid

I brought this up in a comment below from my Corbusier post and wanted to give the visual. The picture you have just seen is a proposed house designed by Rotterdam based MVRDV for Brad Pitt's Make it Right Foundation. I want to unequivocally state that I have a lot of respect for any organization trying to improve the lives of the inhabitants of New Orleans before I completely trash this particular effort (if you can call it an effort).

That being said, I'm at a loss for why this would ever be considered as an option for a fabric type of architectural building. What I mean is that there would be multiple iterations of this project, possibly on the same street. What could certainly pass as the folly of a single eccentric has no place as a valid or informed response to the society, culture, and environment of New Orleans. And yet there are still people out there who are absolutely bumfuzzled by the idea that people don't immediately fall in love with the pure genius of the deconstructivist dystopianism of the thing.
As a postscript I will say that the houses actually under construction aren't nearly this bad, though I'm still less than enthused with the effort to dialogue with traditional New Orleans history and forms. More to come...

23 December, 2008

Merry Christmas!

See you in the new year cats and kittens, have a wonderful time with family and friends!

Le Corbusier, Mixing the Kool-Aid

I want to share what I believe to be the central theme from Le Corbusier's Towards a New Architecture (1924):

A great epoch has begun.
There exists a new spirit.
Industry, overwhelming us like a flood which rolls on toward its destined ends, has furnished us with new tools adapted to this new epoch, animated by this new spirit.
Economic law inevitably governs our acts and our thoughts.
The problem of the house is a problem of the epoch.
The equilibrium of society today depends upon it.
Architecture has for its first duty, in this period of renewal, that of bringing about a revision of values, a revision of the constituent elements of the house.
Mass production is based on analysis and experiment.
Industry on the grand scale must occupy itself with building and establish the elements of the house on a mass-production basis.
We must create the mass-production spirit,
The spirit of constructing mass-production houses.
The spirit of living in mass-production houses.
The spirit of conceiving mass-production houses.
If we eliminate from our hearts and minds all dead concepts in regard to the house, and look at the question from a critical and objective point of view, we shall arrive at the "House-Machine," the mass-production house, healthy (and morally so too) and beautiful in the same way that the working tools and instruments which accompany our existence are beautiful.
Beautiful also with all the animation that the artist's sensibility can add to severe and pure functioning elements.

Just read it a few times and realize that there is a significant body of architectural education that rests primarily upon this foundation. And yet there are those who would still insist that the state of architectural education in this country is not cultic in its abhorrence of anything daring to remember the past. I'll be working on a few posts based on this manifesto from Le Corbusier and I thought I would throw it out there prior to analyzing it to death.

19 December, 2008

One Perspective on the Big 3

While I'm no fan of needless simplification of complex, nuanced situations, this particular bit of imagery was still pretty funny. I don't necessarily endorse the message, but I applaud the messenger for quality satire.

Idiot's Guide to Architecture

An interesting piece from across the pond. It would seem that many of those in charge of urban planning policy in the UK are a little peeved that the public prefers "pastiche". If people don't like your ideas, define the opposition out of the game.

12 December, 2008

Chesterton on Christmas

Thanks to the Holy Whapping crew for posting a passage from Chesterton about the lure of Christmas. Check it out.

Pop Culture and Why I'm Sad

If I never have to work in an office with community music again I’ll be very happy. Today the office decided to take a break from the classic rock staples (I actually like a lot of classic rock, but every man has their tipping point. Upon hearing Stairway 4 times in one day I’m ready for Zeppelin to pull a Hindenburg) and we ventured, hipsters that we are, into the land of today’s hits on XM.

My God, what a complete load of crap. I swear that 8 out of 10 pop stars must be tone deaf. You know how I know this? Their producers got so tired of listening to the awful vocals that they immediately unloaded all of the reverb, manipulation, and digitalization they could muster from their considerable arsenal and successfully migrated the singer to a musicality just shy of Wall-E. As awful as this sounds, some poor soul had the gargantuan misfortune of producing said crap, necessitating long hours of listening to the original, unadulterated version of what passes for vocal skill. By the way, the other 2 out of 10 songs were ballads sung by angry white dudes who need some Cloraseptic or a cough drop something fierce. Come on buddy, you’re telling your girl that you love her in poetry that isn’t exactly Shakespeare; I’m reasonably certain she doesn’t want you yelling at her while you do so.

Speaking of those Shakespearian lyric masterpieces, apparently if you can’t figure out how to complete a musical phrase with enough words, just throw a Na, na, na! or a Hey! or a Hey! Na! in there to make it all good. I also noted that the emotional depth of our haunting lyrics was unlikely to drown a small insect. Case in point:

Girl I know, mistakes were made between us two
And we show our ass that night even said some things weren't true
I can't go and haven't seen my girl since then
why cant it be the way it were
cause you were my homie lover, and friend

I wanna make up right na na na
I wanna make up right na na na
Wish we never broke up right na na na
we need to link up right na na na

Hey, that verse doesn’t seem quite right. Surely he did not intend to say “…the way it were”, unless of course he desperately needed a word to rhyme with “lover” in the next line. He obviously felt he couldn’t get away with a random “Er?” seeing as how he’s already been pretty liberal with the "Na, na, na’s". As it turns out, there may just be some confusion as to the lyrics in this case. Two other founts of lyrical knowledge on the web construct the same verse thusly:

Girl I know, mistakes were made between us two/too,
& we sure, our ass that I even said somethings weren't true,
why'd you go? I haven't seen my girl since then,
why can't it be the way it were,
cause you were my homie-love-girlfriend...

Girl I know (know, know)
Mistakes were made between us two
And we show (show)
Our acts that night, even said some things werent true.
Why'd you go? (go)
I havent seen my girl since then (then)
Why cant it be that way it was?
Cause you were my homie, lover, and friend

I feel that further commentary would only lessen the golden humor to be mined from these three paragons of 21st century American courtship literature. While I’m smiling on the outside, I am, much like the Joker of Batman fame, crying on the inside. Won’t you join me for a weep?

02 December, 2008

Palin and the Bartlet Psychosis

I’m going back to the old standby of The West Wing as a means of belatedly critiquing the political landscape during our recent election. Thankfully, the circus has left town and I was hesitant to even drag the tired subject back up to the surface of my mind, but I think there is an interesting discussion to be had around these issues. As the Republican Party begins the herculean task of reconstituting itself I feel compelled to vent my fear of a looming Palinocracy within the party walls. A few scenes from The West Wing came to mind and I’ll share them here:

Let's go ahead and say the Republicans nominate Ritchie.

They will.

First of all, I'd stop for a moment and say, you know, 'why?' I mean they got some serious guys in the field. Kalmbach, Daniel, Wesley?

Democrats had a lot serious guys in the field, and they nominated you.

That's true.

[moves a chess piece] Check.

[responds with a move] You think the strike against me is nobody likes the smartest kid in the class.

I don't know, sir. Being a smartest kid in the class is a pretty good pitch, it's not a strike unless you watch it as it sails by.

I don't do that.


And I'm not a snob.

I don't believe you are.

If a guy is a good neighbor, if he puts in a day, if every once in a while he laughs, if every once in a while he thinks about somebody else and, above all else, if he can find his way to compassion and, and tolerance, then he's my brother, I don't give a damn if he didn't get past finger-painting. What I can't stomach are people who're out to convince people that the educated are soft and privileged and out to make them feel like they're less, then, you know, 'he may be educated, but I'm plain-spoken, just like you!' Especially when we know that education can be a silver bullet, it can be the silver bullet, Toby! For crime, poverty, unemployment, drugs, hate...

Who are you trying to convince?

I'm saying I don't watch the pitch go by.

Bartlet pours himself coffee at his desk.

Abbey told me this story once. She said you were at a party once where you were bending the guy's ear. You were telling him that Ellie had mastered her multiplication tables and she was in third grade reading at a fifth-grade level and she loved books and she scored two goals for her soccer team the week before, you were going on and on... And what made that story remarkable was that the party you were at was in Stockholm and the man you were talking to was King Gustav, who two hours earlier had given you the Nobel Prize in economics. [laughs] I mean, my god, you just won the Nobel Prize and all you wanted to talk about to the King of Sweden was Ellie's multiplication tables!

[approaches to sit across from him] What's your point?

You're a good father, you don't have to act like it. You're the President, you don't have to act like it. You're a good man, you don't have to act like it. You're not just folks, you're not plain-spoken... Do not, do not, do not act like it!

I don't want to be killed.

Then make this election about smart, and not... Make it about engaged, and not. Qualified, and not.
Make it about a heavyweight. You're a heavyweight. And you've been holding me up for too many rounds.

Toby lays down his king on the board to retire. Bartlet stands and turns to walk out.

Pick your king up. We're not done playing yet.
Later in the same season President Bartlet runs into Governor Ritchie at a play that both men are attending to support Catholic Charities.

Mr. President.


You enjoying the play?

I am. How about you?

We just got here. We were at the Yankee game. We were, you know, hung up in traffic.

Yeah, I know. Listen, politics aside, and I don't want to make a big deal out of it, but you probably insulted the church, and you can head it off at the pass if you speak to the Cardinal tonight.

Well, I didn't mean to insult anybody.


And it's a baseball game. It's how ordinary Americans...

Yeah. [beat] No, I don't understand that. The center fielder for the Yankees is an accomplished classical guitarist. People who like baseball can't like books?

Are you taking this personally?

No. Something horrible happened about an hour ago.

The two find a place to sit across each other.

C.J. Cregg was getting threats so we put an agent on her. He's a good guy. He was on my detail for a while, and he was in Rosslyn. He walked in the middle of an armed robbery, and was shot and killed after detaining one of the suspects.

Oh. Crime. Boy, I don't know.

[sighs] We should have a great debate, Rob. We owe it to everyone. When I was running as a governor, I didn't know anything. I made them start Bartlet college in my dining room. Two hours every morning on foreign affairs and the military. You can do that.

How many different ways you think you're gonna find to call me dumb?

I wasn't, Rob. But you've turned being un-engaged into a Zen-like thing, and you shouldn't enjoy it so much is all, and if it appears at times as if I don't like you, that's the reason why.

You're what my friends call a superior sumbitch. You're an academic elitist and a snob. You're, uh, Hollywood, you're weak, you're liberal, and you can't be trusted. And if it appears from time to time as if I don't like you, well, those are just a few of the many reasons why.

Music plays inside the theater.

They're playing my song.

Bartlet stands and heads to the stairs, but he turns to Ritchie before reaching them.

In the future, if you're wondering, "Crime. Boy, I don't know" is when I decided to kick your ass.

I certainly hope that the Republican Party chooses not to head down the Ritchie path with a coronation of the same Sarah Palin we observed in this election cycle. I don’t have a problem with ignorance, but I have a big problem with flaunting ignorance as a virtue, as if being intellectually engaged in world affairs was somehow a mark of elitism rather than prudence. Even David, who was certainly “unengaged” at the time of his anointing, was elevated because of humility, not because he saw his lack of gravitas as a blessed diamond to show the world.

01 December, 2008

On Humanist Fashion

The Steampunk post generated some chatter, so I’m working on some variations on a theme by Clark, opus No. 2 in the return to blogdom.

Playing the worthy role of perpetual thorn in my neo-traditionalist backside, Clark has skillfully baited his hook by referring to humanist design elements as mere fashion. I will, of course, rise to the bait and hilarity will ensue as Clark proceeds to beat me with his puritanical stick. For some odd reason we enjoy this little Kabuki dance so here we go…

Just about everyone has heard the axioms by now:

A) “Form follows function.”

B) “Form and function are one.”

C) “Function follows form.”
(for the Gehry-ites out there)

Surprisingly enough, I tend to think more along the lines of Option A. While every aspiring architect loves to spout off about how their design is oh, so critical and every single piece only adds to the function of the whole, it tends to reduce the design to such a level as to be clinical in its sterility. Being trained as a Bauhaus modernist made me strive long and hard to achieve that perfect synthesis of form and function that just made you melt it was so sexy. Unfortunately, as I encountered more and more of these masterpieces “in the wild” I realized that the livability of the spaces was compromised by the puritanical desire of the designer for unadulterated functional forms. They lost their sexiness in a heartbeat as soon as a lowly human worked up enough courage to actually inhabit the space and try to put all of their stuff, their cultural detritus, into the environment. I didn’t so much see “Machines for Living” as “Living for Machines”.

I have no problem admitting that form follows function. In fact, I revel in it. It’s the form that contains all of the bits and pieces that make the thing fun. Take the somewhat nonsensical problem of identifying linens in the household. I have never in my life owned a monogrammed towel, nor do I have any desire to do so. Just for the sake of argument, however, let’s assume that my wife and I had the irrational and admittedly effete desire to differentiate our identical bath towels. The puritanical American streak would tell me to grab a Sharpie and put our initials on the seam, supremely functional and utterly artless. If I were a suburbanite yuppie I would get the monogrammed towels from Pottery Barn and my attractive towels would match entirely too many other suburbanite yuppie towels. For me personally, if I had to have a way to tell some towels apart, I would hop on Adobe Illustrator and bang out a family crest to use on anything I wanted. I’d buy some nice quality towels and have them embroidered with the family crest and our initials underneath. Yeah, it’s completely goofball, but it sure would be fun and I’d have a connection to my towel that I wouldn’t get by using any other method. There would be a symbolism to the function that would provide satisfaction beyond the function. And now you know exactly why I DON’T have monogrammed towels.

Let’s look at a more plausible conundrum for me. I have the desire to eventually get into brewing my own beer. In fact, I’ve already identified some of the styles that I like the most and I even have some names picked out for my versions. I’d love to brew a good Helles Lager, and when I do it will be called Dante’s Nine Helles. I’ll probably end up kegging the beer and trying to get some good tap handles to use for it. Once again, the puritanical approach would be to hook a picnic tap right onto the keg, cheap and effective. The fun for me, however, would be designing the logo for the custom tap handle or the cool label to put on the bottles. None of this would change the flavor of the beer one iota, but it would greatly impact my appreciation of the beer and hopefully that of everyone else who got to experience the imagery along with the taste.

There is so much more art for me in putting those personal touches onto the things which impact my life on a regular basis. They are almost always decorative, meaning that there are invariably cheaper and simpler methods to perform the same task with similar results. While it may be fashion, I would not rid my life of it for any reason, and I have no doubt that many fashions will still manage to long outlast me. I love the old English apothecary logos as examples of decorative art that are still classy and effective hundreds of years after their creation. I would venture to say that this sort of “fashion” never really becomes “unfashionable”. If it’s good design it will last, even if it isn’t directly tied to function.

That’s the long way for me to get back around to the idea that fashion (or decoration) doesn’t necessarily put an expiration date on aesthetic appeal, as I still find the Parthenon to be incredibly appealing as a structure. I find that decoration often enhances the appreciation of a thing, and that to me is incredibly important for things I come into constant contact with. It’s exactly why I would get more satisfaction out of an artfully designed keyboard, no matter what style, than the mass produced crap I type on every day. It isn’t all about the function or how the form enhances the function, for me it’s about how I perceive the thing as it performs its function.

14 November, 2008


I’m back to the blog (at least temporarily) to throw out some more ramblings now that Darling Daughter #3 has arrived healthy and beautiful. I’ve missed being able to throw the odd, occasional thoughts into written form and hopefully a few new readers and old friends will stop by and take a look.

I’ll give a tip of my hat to Tim over at Old World Swine for prompting me to briefly explore the Rube Goldberg-esque subculture known as Steampunk. While I was aware of its existence on the fringes of my mind, I also knew that as a genuine subculture it was bound to have leanings toward the absurd end of the human experience. Think of it as the positivist, pseudo-conservative counterpart to the dystopian realm of Cyberpunk. While both are amusing and more than a little frightening in their purest forms as complete lifestyle options, Steampunk has managed to find a soft spot in my heart when it comes to the wide world of design. (All images courtesy of http://www.datamancer.com/)

The aesthetic amalgamation of quality materials with classic forms and motifs applied to thoroughly modern devices inspires (at least for me) a markedly more sober appreciation for the very real power inherent in our array of electronic gadgetry. Take your typical, ubiquitous laptop computer, deployed by scores of over-caffeinated college chaps and lasses at the local bookstore. As a piece of industrial design, I personally feel that most models embody the definition of mediocre. Even the Apples of the laptop world, with their strict minimalism, are noteworthy more for their projection of the tabula rasa rather than the Portal to All Knowledge. When you think of exactly what it is that the machine allows you to accomplish, you realize its enormous worth as one of the most powerful leveraging devices in acquiring the vast wealth of accumulated human knowledge, experience, and history. In the not-so-distant past the laptop computer would certainly have portrayed this power in an entirely different way, ornamented and carefully crafted to announce to the world its place as The Key to the wonders of the ancients, the galleries of the Louvre, or the arcane mastery of Galileo or Einstein.

It is that rare sense of awe that I find exhibited in the fancies of Steampunk design. While often terribly overwrought, the best examples still show that spark of realization that there is eternal value inherent in the most disposable of techie widgets. In another post at Tim’s blog he shows a Steampunk inspired thumb drive – Why shouldn’t this disposable piece of junk acknowledge in its physicality the very real and awesome ability to contain more information than the Library of Alexandria? The humble laptop should proudly reflect its position as the modern Oracle, minus the arduous journey and temple virgins of course…

27 March, 2008

Starck and the Death of Design

Straight from the mouth of the mass producing mule. I don't think this needs much commentary right now, I need to ponder for a bit. Only one question: sincere or set-up?

26 March, 2008

Holy Cows

The guys at the Shrine had me laughing out loud again. Check out their post about Two Holy Cows (it helps to read the piece they link to first). I just about lost it reading the Jesuit one.

Bush's War

When I first saw the promo for the PBS series Bush’s War, I was ambivalent about the whole thing. The marketing was such that it appeared to be a pretty lopsided romp through the last few years with the distinct flavor of leftist agitprop. I was pleasantly surprised to encounter an exceptionally well done documentary that was both disturbing and hopeful at the same time. I was disturbed by the President’s unwillingness to listen to moderating voices from his own government and even within his own staff and pleasantly surprised that there were those in government who performed their respective jobs admirably and competently, whether listened to or not.

What I came away with was not a total disappointment in the American government, but a clear disappointment in an insular executive that refused to listen to the voices of knowledge and experience in key positions. The sooner Americans, especially conservatives, realize that Iraq has been a public policy disaster resulting from the administrations refusal to listen to the guys in the field (politics be damned) the better off we’ll be. This was not a failure for conservatism or a victory for liberalism; this was a simple case of bullheaded hubris perpetrated in the main by the trio of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. To put my own conclusion slightly more bluntly, if the next president goes in with the mantra of either stubbornly perpetuating current policy or stubbornly reversing current policy without first listening to the people whose job it is to know something about a given topic, we’ll forever be caught in the endless political dance of platforms and platitudes over reason, knowledge, and prudent judgment based therein.

Check out the documentary and the huge archive on the website and draw your own conclusions, I’d love to hear what you think afterwards.

Pagan Holy Days

Well, you learn something new every day. I found a pretty cool little post from Mark Shea with a nice synopsis of early Christian feast dates and their relation, or non-relation, to pagan feast dates. While I've never been one to be bothered by the adoption and sanctification of certain pagan and local customs, as a history buff it's nice to have the record set straight on the supposedly pagan origins of Christmas.

13 March, 2008

Unsolicited Musical Advice

Continuing the theme of what I perceive to be underappreciated artistic ventures I want to make a few musical recommendations for those who either love classical music or are interested in hearing more of it.

First up is the wonderful CD I mentioned in the previous post which contains several great pieces from Ottorino Respighi – Ancient Airs and Dances Suites I and III, The Birds, and Three Botticelli Pictures. The always inspired Orpheus Chamber Orchestra does a wonderful job with each piece and the sound engineering is impeccable. This is an extremely clean recording with a certain transparency that allows you to hear every single line and instrument with perfect clarity. You won’t find the typical Respighi bombast on this disc, just immaculate renderings of some of his more intimate compositions. Of course it is even more impressive when you know that the Orpheus operates sans conductor, no small feat given the number of musicians involved with this recording. If you’re a fan of early music, definitely give this disc a try to see how one composer moved the past firmly into the present.

Continuing with Respighi, I heartily recommend his Church Windows symphonic suite to those who love both The Church and her music. Respighi employs the old church modes in each movement of Church Windows, giving them that unique quality that many will only hear when listening to chant. It is a rare opportunity to hear the same chord structures and progressions so densely and powerfully orchestrated. Two of the movements, St. Michael the Archangel and St. Gregory the Great, are prime examples of the wall shaking amounts of sound Respighi conjures with his compositions. Have a seat on the couch, turn it up, and enjoy. There is a particularly gripping moment in St. Gregory the Great involving a full pipe organ that never fails to give me goosebumps. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra does a wonderful job and once again the sound engineering is impressive. There is a lot of dynamic range on this CD and never once does it feel clipped or compressed. While I’m a much bigger fan of The NY Philharmonic versions of the Roman Trilogy, the version of Roman Festivals on this disc is certainly impressive on account of the remarkable pace with which Lopez-Cobos drives the orchestra.

Finally, I want to throw some choral music into the mix with a great CD of pieces by Eric Whitacre. The guy is a master of chord structure and progression, weaving a dense tapestry of human voices with a nearly timeless quality. It is surprisingly difficult to place this music in time - Whitacre himself is a very young contemporary composer with the capability of producing oddly anachronistic pieces no matter where you place them in musical history. All I know is that the works are astonishingly beautiful. Two of my favorites are Water Night and Lux Aurumque.

Happy Listening!

12 March, 2008

The Genius of Geoff Hunt

If you were to ask me a year ago about my tastes in art and music I would have instantly replied that I favored the medieval and renaissance periods - Fra Angelico, Raphael, Palestrina, Monteverdi and Gabrielli. In fact I still do to a great extent, just like a fan of Tolkien must aknowledge the great debt owed to Norse and Saxon mythologies. As I listened to more and more music I became enamored with Ottorino Respighi, the romantic era genius of orchestration and employer on many occasions of the old medieval modes in his beautiful works. He is often criticized for being somewhat bombastic and overly sentimental, a fault which can easily be forgiven after listening to the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra perform his Ancient Airs and Dances – brilliant orchestrations of timeless tunes that encapsulate the old within the new with flawless tact and ease. It is this honoring of the old, this retelling of great tales nearly forgotten that in a roundabout way lead me to the artist Geoff Hunt.

I’ve been reading Patrick O’Brian lately and have fallen in love with the style and fantastically dry offbeat humor the author injects into his stories of the British Royal Navy of the 18th and 19th centuries. I was also drawn to the lovely images found on the covers and discovered that they were all painted by the maritime artist Geoff Hunt. After much gazing I realized that I had stumbled upon a new love in my life, that of maritime art and the wonderful romantic images it provides - much akin to my discovery of Respighi through the love of ancient music. These are superb technical achievements requiring a knowledge and love of the subjects rarely found in other contemporary mediums. It is refreshing to know that works such as this are still being produced in our abstraction-crazed culture. Just thought you might like to take a look at a few of Mr. Hunt’s works. More (including other artists) can be found at Art Marine. I think I know where future Christmas gifts may be coming from…

13 February, 2008

Schedules, Storks, and other Sundries

Just a quick note for the loyal fans:

I've got one or two weeks more of purgatorial workload after which I'll be able to get back into consistent bloggage. I think my lenten penance is simply going to be keeping my head above water at work, a feat requiring way too much sacrifice of family time for my tastes.

In more joyous news our family discovered this weekend that Bundle O' Joy #3 will be arriving around 9 months from now! Since we're well stocked with baby names it appears we'll either be welcoming little Aidan Matthew or Mackenzie Abigail into the world.

God bless you and your families this lenten season!

21 January, 2008

I Know What I Want, and I Want it Now

Tim over at Old World Swine hasa wonderful post on the artless nature of disposable crap. He makes some good points that many people ignore in our short-sighted culture. There is an effective, yet forgotten virtue known as generational building that is in danger of following the Dodo into oblivion.

Quality is expensive, which is exactly why quality should be attained over time, or even generations. Even if I can't afford to build an entire solid masonry house with a lifespan of hundreds of years for the grandchildren of my grandchildren, I could possibly build a good foundation now. Maybe throw up some cheap studs for a room or two. Next year I could replace a couple of walls with masonry. Maybe five or ten years down the road I can put a slate roof on it. Maybe after 50 years of this type of effort I could have a house that will easily stand for 500 years or more. Is it worth it? Probably not, I'll just go and buy the bargain basement starter home with the 20-30 year lifespan and move up the housing ladder as necessary. The grandkids will be fine...