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…