Monday, April 25, 2016

Monday Music, ear-stretching edition

Reverse your morality, listen to bands
That play only music you can't stand.
--Brave Combo, "Do Something Different"

I make a point of listening to music that I don't like.  I should clarify; I don't go around all the time listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks, because there is a difference between music that I don't like, and music that is bad.  There is a lot of music out there, in all sorts of genres, that is generally regarded as good or great, but that has never really clicked for me.

The works of Wagner, or Prince, or Phillip Glass, or Ornette Coleman get wonderful reviews, but generally, I don't like them.  It's not a matter of genre--I'm an opera nut, I like good pop, I'm a fan (to the Real Doctor's chagrin) of American minimalism, and plenty of post-bop Jazz.  There's got to be some reason that such folks are held in such critical esteem--something they alone can communicate, in some dialect of the language that I yet don't have an ear for.  I figure that it must be worthwhile to get that message.

So, if I have the time and the space between my ears, if something comes around on the radio that is good but that I don't like, I try to give it a listen.  Sometimes it doesn't work, despite my best efforts.  I remember driving the length of the Sacramento Valley one night listening to Die Walkure and just not getting it at all.  Some other folks report feeling deep insight into human relations and duty to family and honor when listening to this piece.  I felt tedium, the perfect musical equivalent of driving the straight, flat, barren stretch of I-5 on a moonless night.

I think I started feeling strongly about some music in my teens.  Decades on, there are pieces I love so much that hearing them causes a physical reaction.  There are pieces that I've studied, and played, that I appreciate more and more every year.  But I'm never going to hear the Goldberg Variations for the first time, and have it knock me on my ass, ever again.  That only happens once and it happened over thirty years ago.

Nonetheless, I keep listening, and once in a while I come upon a treasure--I get to re-live that feeling, the emotional wallop, of hearing something great for the first time.  It's why I keep listening, both for something I haven't heard, and to good music I don't like.  Yesterday I had to drive to Portland and back, a six hour round trip.  The folks who run the show at Sirius Radio's opera channel decided they should play a vintage performance of Donizetti's Lucia Di Lammermoor, with Sutherland and Bonynge.  It's classic stuff, critically acclaimed; it's also been proven by experience to leave me unmoved and bored.  I never really loved Sutherland's voice or the whole Donizetti schtick.  What the heck, though, I decided to give it a listen. Well, I got it, to the point where I wanted to stop the car and applaud at the end of the mad scene.  Whooooo-ah, that's some singing there.  And now I want to hear it again.

So I'll keep listening to music I don't like.  Maybe I can't say that I don't like Walkure.  Maybe I should say that I don't like it yet.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wednesday Wordage inadvertent truth edition

The New York Times has succumbed to definition drift, it seems, losing track of the true definition of a word and instead going by what it thinks the word means.  So doing, it has given us a truth for the ages:
Mr. Trump voted for himself midmorning in New York City, which he called “a great honor” as he entered his apartment building. In the interview later, Mr. Trump described the experience of seeing his name on the ballot, saying he was moved by the enormity of what it means. “It does sort of hit you,” he said.
Just so we're clear,
  1. 1
    the great or extreme scale, seriousness, or extent of something perceived as bad or morally wrong.
    "a thorough search disclosed the full enormity of the crime"
    • 2
      a grave crime or sin.
      "the enormities of the regime"
      synonyms:wickednessevil, vileness, basenessdepravity

    Saturday, April 16, 2016

    Friday Flora, Jacob and Esau Edition

    Friday Flora Jacob and Esau Edition

    Here is the Friday Flora, the fragrant popcorn flower, Plagiobothrys figuratus.  Doesn't look like much, but it almost gave me a heart attack.

    It is growing in the middle of one of our pastures, between the barn and the east shelter.  That pasture is a problem for us:  it is the low point of the entire field, and sits on a lens of pure clay, so it becomes a vernal pool.  We've done a lot of work to drain it, including cutting in drains and perf-pipe and so on.  It's better than it was, but that just means that the puddles that the water goes over the tops of the feet rather than over the tops of my boots.  The situation is made worse by the fact that the last two years, we've had to run heavy tractors over that pasture during the wet season, in order to get fencing put in and build shelters.  It's not generally the best idea to do such construction work in February, but that was when the contractors were available.

    Now, though, the pasture is drying out, and is merely muddy, rather than wet.  The popcorn flower's plant grows while inundated, and blooms as the last water disappears.  Our rutted, soggy pasture is now sprinkled with these cheerful little blooms.

    If you live in Douglas County and talk with ecologists, or look for information on popcorn flowers in Douglas County, you will hear and see much about the rough popcorn flower, Plagiobothrys hirtus.  It is downright famous, and rightly so; it is one of the most critically endangered flora in the world, and it grows only in three sites, all in the drainage of the North Umpqua river in Douglas County Oregon--nowhere else in the world.  When I talked with the NRCS and USDA people about starting the fencing project, they always mentioned that we'd have to do a pro forma ecological survey, and that it would find nothing but it's obligatory because of the rough popcorn flower.  That was a couple of years ago.

    A few evenings ago I was out doing the evening chores and in the dimming light I see this little flower, which jiggled a couple of loose neurons and brought up the name "popcorn flower."  It being 2016, I whipped out my iPhone and Googled "popcorn flower Douglas County Oregon" and the great Google coughed up a slew of pictures and information, all about P hirtus.  Here, for comparison, is a picture of the flower of P hirtus:

    When you're doing chores, and light is dimming, and you've got a lot to get done, and you're unaware of the existence of any other Plagiobothrys species because one is hogging all the bandwidth, it is easy to come to the conclusion that you've just found the mother of all white elephants--an endangered species in one of your pastures right in the middle of your farm that you're trying to develop.  It took some pretty focused effort later that night to reveal that there are other species of popcorn flower in Douglas County.  Also, they look nearly identical to the rough popcorn flower, but they are as common as dirt and can be found from here to Illinois.

    So, here we have P figuratus, in all its diminutive and unendangered glory.  How can I be sure?  One source mentions that absolutely certain identification depends upon microscopic examination of the scisson scars on the 1.5 milimeter seeds, but the quick-and-dirty way is to look at the stems.  P hirtus is a hairy plant, while its brother P figuratus is smooth.  

    When I went out the next morning to do the chores,  I was immensely relieved to see smooth stems holding up those cute flowers.  Now I just go on my way, doing chores and enjoying the sight of these charming little flowers, enjoying their company as I do with the buttercups and clover and the rest.  Every once in a while, I will even step on one, accidentally.

    Monday, April 11, 2016

    Monday Musical Offering--post-recital detox edition

    Classical music is pretty thin on the ground here in Mayberry-on-Umpqua.  There is a youth orchestra, which symbolizes a parental investment in something that is not felt to be worth attention continued into adulthood; the same organization will occasionally sponsor a concert at the community college.  There's a community concert series, which brings in a lot of pop/classical crossover stuff that I don't really care for.  There's a concert chorale, which brings Handel's Messiah around every year, plus one other concert, which needs to include some pop.  There's a local winery that brings in some very good musicians from Eugene every now and then for some chamber music.  That's pretty much it.

    The Real Doctor and I went to a recital last weekend at the winery: a graduate piano student at the U of O, from Russia, playing some standards--Beethoven's 1st sonata, Chopin's 2nd sonata, and the first set of Impromptus by Schubert.  I don't like to slag on people, so I'll say that it was the best piano recital I'd been to in years, and there were one or two interesting ideas.  I will note that the guy played like he was trying to fill a concert hall rather than a tasting room, and that there was very little in the way of tenderness.  It was a highly testosterone-driven bit of music making, and it left me feeling, in sympathy with the poor piano, a bit pummeled.  There were also more than a few memory lapses, one quite severe, that left me feeling terribly anxious.  And the piano itself isn't wonderful--a Pearl River upright, with a tone that left the Real Doctor and me feeling a bit on edge.  

    I was sort of hoping for a concert experience that would provide a nice break from the frenzy of the last few months.  Instead, I've spent what music-time I've had in the last week listening to Radu Lupu and Mitsuko Uchida and others, trying to re-find a musical center.  

    Oh well.  I can look forward to August, when the Douglas County Fair will be hosting Cheap Trick.  

    Saturday, April 2, 2016

    Tuesday Tool Shoveling $#!+ edition

    The tool of Tuesday, reported a few days late, is the five-tined manure fork.

    I spent a lot of time this week cleaning up--sorting through the desk, through the piles of mail, through my parents' mail, magazines, newspapers, all the thousands of leaves of paper that arrive and stack up in a household over the course of a couple of months of inattention.  Another set of piles occupied more time, as I worked my way through a great deal of laundry.  It's all a lot of work, and profoundly unsatisfying, especially now that the weather has turned nice and I can glance out the window and see green fields and blue skies and black and brown lambs frolicking between the two.  It is completely occupying for a whole day, and at the end one doesn't feel as though one has accomplished much of anything.  Very much a Red-Queen race.

    Tuesday I took a break from paper-pushing, and mucked out the doe's portion of the barn.  Yes, it's hard labor, and yes, it is also a Red Queen race, but for whatever reason, shoveling out real manure leaves you with more of a feeling of having gotten something done.