Archive for the ‘Nano Note’ Category

Nano Note:
The Big Boys

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009


Last week, I finally got round to something that ought to have happened a lot sooner: I plugged a Nano dock into a right old-fashioned stereo receiver, the kind of amplifier that is connected to big speakers. And here’s the paradox: the Nano’s MP3 files are finally audible at low volumes.

I don’t really know what I’m talking about here. It could be that volumes that seem low coming from the big speakers are high coming from the Klipsch RoomGroove. (As it happens, the big speakers are by Klipsch, too). That seems unlikely, though, as the standard for ambient sound is the moment of distraction. From the very first, I’ve compared the RoomGroove sound to that of the superior table radios of the Fifties (made by Grundig, for example). It’s very good if you’re listening to it. But the big speakers are much better at playing music in the background. Doesn’t that seem odd?

Currently, the stereo systems in each of our three rooms are not connected. I plan to change that in the coming months, laying down a lot of wire and taking advantage of the right-of-way, so to speak, that was established in wiring the wireless boosters to the router. The interconnection of the amplifiers will probably spell the end of the RoomGrooves here. But I plan to change a lot of things in the coming months, so the RoomGrooves will probably be here for a while.

“Stereo system” — does anyone under 30 use that phrase? I can certainly remember a time when no one over 30 did.

Nano Note:
Beethoven in camera

Saturday, September 26th, 2009


For a long time, I’ve been wanting to put together a playlist of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, in order of publication (which is to say, in opus-number order). Now that I’ve done it, I want to make a few variants, and one of them, at least, is going to have to be structured in compositional order, or it won’t work any better than the publication order.

That’s because there are no piano sonatas with opus numbers that fall between 60 and 68 — the opus numbers of the Fourth and Sixth Symphonies. Nor can any fall between the numbers attached to the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, which are sequential (92 and 93). A playlist that lines up the symphonies and the sonatas in opus-number order is unlistenably imbalanced. Nearly a third of the sonatas precede the First Symphony. The Second Symphony follows the 18th Sonata (the “Hunt”). Three sonatas later, we reach the Third.  Only the 23rd Sonata, the “Appassionata,” falls between “Eroica” and the string of three symphonies that I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph. Four sonatas, including “Les Adieux” but also two shorter sonatas, fall between the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies. After that, there’s the massive chunk of the final five sonatas. On top of which: the Choral Symphony. End of playlist. From a programming standpoint, it’s a disaster.

So I’m going to do a little research — rather, I’m going to hope that a little research will break up these alternating masses of symphonic and solo music. Perhaps it won’t. In that case, I doubt I’ll listen to the sonata-symphony playlist more than once.

Meanwhile, I’m going to line up the sonatas with the string quartets and the piano trios, with perhaps the Piano Quartet (Opus 16) and the String Quintet (Opus 29) thrown in for good measure. Beyond that, my familiarity with Beethoven’s chamber music peters out. (I’m not including the popular Septet, Op 20, because, like Mozart’s Horn Quintet, K 407, it is entertaining concert music on a reduced scale, not true chamber music.

OMG! The violin sonatas! Of course I’ll throw them in, too. 

Nano Note:
Endless Summer

Sunday, September 13th, 2009


Chieli Minucci’s “Endless Summer” comes from an album of the same name that I bought at HMV one day, when there was still an HMV store where Best Buy is now. I had been spending a lot of time in the jazz section, building up a basic collection of classics. On this particular day, “Endless Summer” was playing on the shop’s sound system, and, despite long experience with the disappointments of buying music that’s playing in record stores, I had to have it. I had to have it even after the clerk told me that the rest of the album was “not as good.” And even though that turned out to be true, I have loved “Endless Summer” ever since. Why?

The answer must lie in the mystery of the harmonies. “Endless Summer,” part riff, part tune, never actually comes to an end, but keeps modulating into repetitions: it ought to be quite tedious. But it triggers a composite sense memory that lies very close to my sense of well-being: having spent a summer afternoon at the pool, I’ve showered and dressed and am about to go out for the evening, probably to a party at somebody else’s house. I am anywhere between sixteen and thirty years old, and I am probably in Houston. It could be 1977, when the easiest summer of my life. The sorrow of my mother’s illness and death was behind me, and the travails of law school lay unimaginably ahead. I had moved back to my parents’ house in Tanglewood, to help to take care of the place while my mother failed, and then to keep my father company in my desultory fashion. I was through with Houston in the way that you are through with high school after graduation. I had a lot to learn about enjoying life, but, at 29, I thought that I knew what I needed to know about having a good time. I would be in my fifties when I woke up from this delusion.

I have no desire to go back. It’s like the summer during which Kathleen and I spent alternate weekends at Fossil’s house in the Pines — great fun, but once was enough. Everything that was scintillating about 1977 is there in “Endless Summer,” even though the song hadn’t been written yet. Perhaps that’s the secret of its appeal: it carries no associations with the period, in the way that favorite pop songs do. (At the time, I was discovering Manhattan Transfer and August Darnell, and my favorite song was Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat” — music that stirs up more realistic and complicated memories of that summer.) It just reminds me of what it felt like to feel good.

If the parties never lived up to expectations — never nearly — “Endless Summer” does not remind me of that disappointment. It simply distills the pleasure of looking forward to something, such that now, when I hear the song, I feel the pleasure without actually looking forward to anything at all, except, perhaps, the possibility that, just this once, the song itself will be endless.

Nano Note:
Degl’orridi abissi

Saturday, August 8th, 2009


Right before the end of the opera that bears his name, Handel’s Xerxes — Serse, in Italian — sings an aria that I like a whole heck of a lot more than the very famous one with which he opens the so-called comedy. That would be “Ombra mai fu,” almost certainly the one number from Handel’s catalogue that’s up there with such Verdi hits as “La donna è mobile.” Everybody knows the tune, even if nobody has ever heard it sung. But, as I say, I like Xerxes’s last aria, “Crude furie degl’orridi abissi,” much better. The famous aria is wonderfully stately and all that, but “Crude furie” scores a perfect ten as a ridiculous temper tantrum. What could be more operatic than a comically-presented temper tantrum?

Mozart’s entry in this field, “Smanie implacabili,” from Così fan tutte, is the reigning masterpiece, and, as with Handel’s aria, the joke lies in the the orchestral commentary. Mozart scores Dorabella’s grandiotically despairing plea to the furies with a wallpaper of sweet Bronx cheers. Handel is a bit simpler: his violins mock Xerxes’s clueless tirade with cheekily swooping scales. Up and down they run, and they’d make you seasick if they didn’t have your eyes rolling. The eye-rolling is what I love about the aria; it gives me a clear and distinct idea of what Kathleen must be thinking while I storm about the apartment in search of a misplaced Book Review.

Although I know Così fan tutte as well as I know my own name, however, you mustn’t think that I’m a scholar of Handel operas. So not! But I came to listen to Serse and Rodelina a thousand years ago thanks to the Brian Priestman recordings on Westminster. As I recall, Canadian mezzo Maureen Forrester sang the title role in Serse, and I hope that I’ll be able to recapture her performance on CD (or MP3) one of these days. For the record, this marks the first time that I’ve ever thought that somebody did a better job than Anne-Sofie von Otter. But it’s early days; I only listened to the new recording for the first time yesterday.

I played “Crude furie” seven times in a row, steadily increasing the volume each time. There was nothing else in the world that I wanted to listen to while this state of play lasted.