Friday, January 17, 2020

Places I'm Visiting: Lake Tahoe

Went skiing last weekend for the first time in years. Comes back right away--like riding a bike, as they say. Good to get a physical workout, and the scenery is beautiful at Lake Tahoe. This is my favorite photo from the short trip. I'm thinking it might make a good negative for a cyanotype print, which would look something like the digital facsimile below.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Books I'm Reeading 21st Century Violinists and The Young T. E. Lawrence

Having recently read Violin Virtuosos a volume that followed 21st-Century Violinists (String Letter publishing, 1999), I received this book, the earlier of the two, as a thoughtful Christmas present. Like the later book, this one is a collection of interviews with prominent violinists that originally appeared in Strings Magazine. There also appears to be a 21st-Century Violinists Volume 2--which I haven't seen or read--presumably in the same format, a collection of interviews from the magazine (although I can't find this in a search; perhaps the book mentioned on the back of the first volume became Violin Virtuosos, the book I read first?).

This volume includes talks with Corey Cerovsek, Sarah Chang, Pamela Frank, Nigel Kennedy, Midori, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Elmar Oliveira, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Gil Shaham, Isaac Stern, and Maxim Vengerov. As before, some of these names are very familiar--Stern, Chang, Kennedy, Mutter, Midori, Salerno-Sonnenberg, Shaham, and Vengerov--all of which I've heard live except for Stern, Kennedy, and Vengerov. Cerovsek, Frank, and Oliveira were entirely new to me. I see that all three were in the news when this book was published and they were actively recording at the time, but they seem to have faded away.

Oliveira has recorded some obscure works that look interesting (I just ordered a used copy of his recording of Finnish Composer Einojuhani Rautavaara's Violin Concerto). Pamela Frank seems to have done a lot of chamber music with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, and Edgar Meyer, so I imagine she's good, but she's not been on my radar at all. Corey Cerovsek doesn't seem to be very active at the moment, judging from a search of recordings. Part of the fun of these books is reading the views of known performers when they were much younger, talking about performing and recording, but just as much fun is being introduced to new performers to explore. These books will be of interest to any serious classical music lover with a particular interest in the violin.

On this last day of the year, I see that I read 14 books in 2019. I finished 13 in 2018 and pledged to read more this year. So, I achieved that goal, barely. That said, I feel like I did quite well, considering that, having taken a full-time job on July 1 for the first time in 19 years, I had considerably less free time in 2019 than in 2018. Still, I'd like to do more reading in 2020 if I can manage it.

After writing the above, I realized that I missed one--so, I actually finished 15 books in 2019: I also read Anthony Sattin's The Young T. E. Lawrence (W. W. Norton & Company, 2014), and I read it mostly in one sitting. 

The title is a trifle misleading. The book doesn't really deal with the young T. E. Lawrence. You might say it deals with the younger-than-we-usually-hear-about T. E. Lawrence. The book starts with a scene in 1914, when Lawrence was already 26, before jumping back to 1909 (when he was 21) and then briefly to the 1903-1908 period (15-20), but most of the book concerns the years from 1909 to 1914. That said, in very readable prose, Sattin paints a vivid picture of a younger Lawrence already exhibiting many of the character traits that led him to pursuits that prepared him for his later role in the Arab Revolt--traits that also brought him to the attention of people who facilitated early travels and archeological digs that likewise prepared him for his later, better known activities in the Middle East. The man Lowell Thomas sensationalized as Lawrence of Arabia is already clearly present here. A very enjoyable read. Highly recommended. 

Music I'm Listening To: The Santa Rosa Symphony plays the Mozart Requiem

Some (belatedly posted) photos from the SRS Symphony concert December 11. Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong led the orchestra in Haydn's Symphony No. 39, Records from a Vanishing City, by Jessie Montgomery, and Mozart's Requiem. The maestro conducted from the keyboard, playing a replica of a period-correct pianoforte.

Lecce-Chong chose a more recent version of the Requiem, edited by Robert D. Levin, rather than the familiar one completed shortly after Mozart's death y Süssmeyer. In particular, the replacement of the simple two-chord Amen with a short fugue was interesting.

Rain: Another 1.4 Inches

Since last reporting, we've had rain on and off, but mostly on December 29. As of the morning of December 31, we've had 1.40 inches of new precipitation. That brings our total to 9.85 inches so far for the 2019-2020 rain year, which will go through the end of September 2020. That puts us about three inches behind normal rainfall for the end of the calendar year.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Books I'm Reading: The Jazz of Physics

Yet another book about physics that I read with interest but found hard to process. Stephen Alexander's The Jazz of Physics (Basic Books, 2016) is well written and engaging, but I never got the feeling that I was reading a focused argument aimed at supporting the thesis suggested by the subtitle (The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe). The book seemed more diffuse than that.

The Jazz of Physics claims to shed light on difficult issues in physics by taking a serious look at the idea that music (broadly defined—in fact, here thought of as vibration) is at the core of the structure of the universe. One of those books that I immediately want to read over again from cover to cover in an effort to really understand, but I suspect I'll never get back to this one as there are so many other books to read.

These paragraphs are intended more as a record of my having read The Jazz of Physics than as something that might properly be called a review. Having said that, anyone with an interest in physics and music would probably enjoy reading this book.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Rain: More and More on the Way (December 12, 2019)

Since last reporting, it's been raining on and off for several days and the forecast is mostly for rain in the next ten days or so, with a short break this coming weekend. As of the morning of December 12, there was another 3.30 inches in the rain gauge. That brings our total at my location so far this rain year to 7.20 inches, which is somewhat below normal, but we've caught up a great deal.

[Update: Rain on and off  since writing the above has added another 1.25 inches to our total (as of noon on December 24). That brings us to 8.45 inches.]

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Music I'm Listening To: Leif Ove Andsnes Plays Mozart with the San Francisco Symphony

Conductor and soloist after the Mozart
I attended the November 22 San Francisco Symphony concert at Davies Symphony Hall, which featured guest conductor Manfred Honeck and soloist Leif Ove Andsnes playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22, and, after intermission, Bruckner's Symphony No. 4.

Mozart's piano sonatas, particularly the later ones, are fairly familiar to me, but No. 22 is one I don't know well at all. Looking through my LPs and CDs, I see that I don't own a single recording of it, so, it was interesting to gain a little familiarity. What stood out to me were the several sections of "group solos," to use an oxymoron—in particular, sections played mostly by the woodwinds. The program notes point out that this was the first of the Mozart piano sonatas scored to include clarinets, and, listening to the piece, you get the feeling the composer was having fun seeing what the clarinet might do in a piano concerto. The San Francisco woodwind section is always very strong and they stood out again here. In another section, only the principal cello, principal viola, the concertmaster, and the principal second violin seemed to be accompanying the piano, as if a mini piano quintet had been inserted into the middle of things. As an encore, Andsnes played what he described as some "Norwegian country dances," I think it was, without revealing anything more (probably Grieg). Not my kind of thing, but pleasant enough.

Honeck's reading of the Bruckner seemed a little uneven to me, with the first movement somehow lacking coherence, but everything came together after that. This performance was marked particularly by an unusual emphasis on the dynamics. The loudest parts were very loud indeed, the softest parts very, very soft. Again, very enjoyable ,and the horns deserve high praise, but the best performance I've ever heard of this remains the only other I've ever heard live—same place, same orchestra, but led by Herbert Blomstedt in a concert of April 11, 2014.

At I'm Making: Recent Collages (September-November 2019)

I've been lazy recently about posting new collage work, but, at the same time, with a new job, I've had less free time, too. I've been working at a slower pace. Here are two fairly recent pieces:

Untitled Collage No. 216 (Santa Rosa). September 5, 2019. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, found paper, fragment of bark cloth, collage. Image size: 20.0 x 11.3cm (7.9 x 4.4 inches). Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Untitled Collage No. 217 (Santa Rosa). September 24, 2019. Image size: 15.0 x 13.5cm (5.9 x 5.3 inches). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Music I'm Listening To: New (Old) Classical LPs

Having recently upgraded my sound system, I'm having SO much fun combing the used record and thrift stores for interesting LPs. It's a great time to be a classical music fan and interested in LPs. You can find some astounding things for a dollar or two. Here are some recent acquisitions--median price $2.

I love the size and impact of the LP cover--so much more room than a CD booklet for showcasing the talents of graphic designers. I know the trend in high-end audio now is FLAC and other digital formats, but from a visual perspective, that's no fun at all. I enjoy the cover art almost as much as the music.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Serendipitous Art: Green on green (November 27, 2019)

This abstract composition in shades of green, found on the side of some sort of electrical access box, looked like art to me. Serendipitous art.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Rain: Finally some rain

We had our first rain of the 2019-2020 rain year today--the first real rain since back in April. The rain year runs from October to end-September, so the brief shower we had in September counts as part of last year's precipitation and it wasn't much to speak of anyway; I didn't even record it.

I had to be in all day today, so I haven't yet been able to look at the rain gauge to see how much rain we got, but I'm guessing the brief but intense shower with high winds we had at about 4:00PM probably brought us no more than a quarter inch. Still, it's a start, and there is more rain in the forecast next week.

[Update: I checked the rain gauge and was surprised to find a full 1.50 inches in it. We had rather more rain than I thought! It must have rained while I was sleeping.]

[Update: By Tuesday morning (December 3) we had had 3.90 inches of rain and it's still raining on and off....]

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Music I'm Listening To: Alexander Barantschik with Ton Koopman and the San Francisco Symphony

Conductor Ton Koopman and soloist Alexander Barantschik
Had a fun time recently at Davies Symphony Hall hearing SF Symphony concertmaster Alexander Barantschik play Bach's Violin Concerto No. 1. Also on the program were Chaos, by Jean-Féry Rebel, and Haydn's Symphony No. 100 "The Military". Guest conductor Ton Koopman led the musicians with his usual always-smiling demeanor. 
The Haydn symphony gets its nickname from a trumpet fanfare it includes and from a couple of entries by bass drum, cymbals, and triangle in imitation of Turkish Janissary bands, reflecting an influential fad in Vienna in the 1780s. On both entrances the percussionists marched in from somewhere offstage as if in a military parade, much to the surprise and delight of the audience. After the concert, on the way to an after-concert dinner, I found myself meeting Mr. Koopman himself on a street corner—like me, waiting for the lights to change. I imagine he was walking back to his hotel or a meal of his own. I told him how much I enjoyed the concert and said "Is that the normal way of doing that?" referring to the entry of the percussion section. He said "That's MY way of doing it!" with a big smile. 
Rebel (1666-1747) is a composer I'd never heard of. Chaos was rather interesting and remarkably modern sounding, considering it was written in 1737 or 1738. The piece starts out, quite appropriately, with a chaotic "chord" that the composer describes by saying "I have risked opening with all the notes sounding together, or rather, all the notes in an octave played as a single sound" to quote the quote in the program notes. That's the sort of thing I'd expect a 20th century composer to do....
I enjoyed the Bach violin concerto as well. This was the second time I'd heard Barantschik as a soloist, having heard him play the less-well known of the two Mendelssohn violin concertos a couple of years back at Green Music Center when the SF Symphony was doing concerts here in Sonoma County. All in all, a pleasant diversion.

Food I'm Eating: Brining Olives (November 2019)

Olives! For the first time in several years I've been able to get my hands on some healthy, ripe olives for brining. It's a pretty easy process, although a bit tedious at the outset because you have to break the skin of each and every berry. That means scoring each olive with a knife blade before soaking them in brine. I use 1/4 cup of kosher salt to a quart of water and change the brine every two to three days. It takes about six weeks for the bitterness of the just-picked olives to disappear. Towards the end, I add vinegar, garlic, and rosemary to the brine to finish them off. These should be ready for Christmas. I started them on November 10.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Music I'm Listening to: Jacob Nissly and The San Francisco Symphony

After the concert: The composer, conductor, and soloist
I attended the October 18 performance of the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall. I had intended to write about it sooner, but, with the fire scare and blackouts that began on October 23, I've been unable to until today. Guest conductor Cristian Măcelaru led the orchestra in a world premiere performance of Losing Earth, a percussion concerto commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony from composer Adam Schoenberg.  After intermission, the orchestra played Lili Boulanger's D'un Matin de Printemps, of 1918, a San Francisco Symphony first performance. That was followed by Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (orchestrated by Ravel). The Symphony's own Jacob Nissly was soloist in Losing Earth.

Two pieces entirely unfamiliar, one quite the opposite. It always astounds me that soloists can, without a score, remember their part when playing a concerto on one instrument, much less on an array of percussion instruments. Nissly must have played more than a dozen instruments, mostly on the stage, but he entered with his instruments strapped to his body, as if playing in a marching band. As always, it's hard to say much about an unfamiliar piece with any precision. It takes multiple hearings to really get to know a piece of music, but I enjoyed the varied textures of the Schoenberg piece, some of which were quite striking, notably the sound of the rotating cymbals that rather dramatically ended the piece. Likewise the short, impressionist tone poem by Boulanger, whose story I had never heard before.

Pictures at an Exhibition, is, of course, very familiar, but I had never heard it live before. It's one of those pieces of music that is as much fun to watch as it to listen to, as all sections of the orchestra have a lot to do throughout and have moments where they are featured as well. As always, the San Francisco Symphony woodwinds were strong but Mark Inoue and the trumpets were particularly brilliant, I thought. Coincidentally, the Santa Rosa Symphony concert I will attend tonight, while it features a banjo concerto, also includes Ravel's orchestrated version of Pictures at an Exhibition.

Books I'm Reading: The Battle of Britain: Dowding and the First Victory, 1940

John Ray's The Battle of Britain: Dowding and the First Victory, 1940 (1994) is not about the Battle of Britain per se but about its leading figure, Hugh Dowding, Commander in Chief of Fighter Command, and issues of command and leadership in the RAF during the battle.

Although he had essentially won the battle by the end of September 1940, thwarting Hitler's plans to bring Britain to the negotiating table by achieving air superiority over Britain and then threatening an invasion, Dowding was dismissed from his position by November 1940 for failing to respond to changing circumstances. While Ray takes a mostly chronological approach, details of the actual fighting become mostly peripheral with the author instead focusing on how members of the RAF command structure, including the Air Ministry and Churchill's War Cabinet, interacted. Much of the interpersonal drama and the differences of opinion about strategy and tactics appear to have had their roots in the experiences of the lead actors during the previous world war, many of whom had been WWI fighter pilots.

The discussion revolves around disagreements about how best to counter German bomber raids over London, other major cities, and the air bases that hosted the Hurricanes and Spitfires that were, in fact, mostly successful in breaking up German daylight attacks. Dowding was perceived as a stubborn supporter of using no more than one or two squadrons together in a group, while others pushed for use of much larger groupings, or "big wings" of fighters. This controversy was news to me, but, apparently it has been much discussed by historians of the battle over the years, and this book assumes the reader already knows at least the outlines of the background history. The author appears to present new evidence objectively to argue that Dowding was not treated as badly as some sources have argued and that ultimately he was pushed out not so much because of the Big Wing controversy as because Churchill—at first a staunch supporter of Dowding—was eventually persuaded that new ideas were required at Fighter Command, especially new ideas for countering the night bombing the Germans had turned to, causing many civilian casualties. An interesting read, although it might be disappointing to a reader expecting the book to be an account of the battle itself. I read this book, sometimes by candlelight, during the blackouts associated with the wildfires here in Sonoma County in late October 2019.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Wines I'm Making: 2019 Cabernet pressed, 2018 Sangiovese and Cabernet bottled

On October 21, I took advantage of an unexpected day off to press the 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc, ending up with 11.5 gallons of pressed wine, which will eventually translate into about 55 bottles of finished wine. This year's Sangiovese had already been pressed for rosé (five gallons, or 25 bottles).

I also finally got the 2018 Sangiovese and Cabernet bottled.
2018 was unusual in that I made no rosé from the Sangiovese (I was so busy that, by the time I got to pressing the grapes last year, they had already taken on too much color to be a rosé, so I let them develop into a full-on red). This will be an opportunity to see how these grapes do as a red wine. We ended up with 29 bottles of 2018 Cabernet, 17 bottles of 2018 Sangiovese, a very small yield. 2019 was the biggest in many years because of a combination of factors. Our neighbor removed small trees shading the vines the year before and they got better light and air as a result. That and a new method of sulfur spraying (dusting rather than spraying) prevented nearly all mildew loss. We also suffered comparatively little damage from critters.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 215 (Santa Rosa)

My pace of working has slowed greatly this year. I've made about one new collage a month in 2019, while I was making about one a week the year before. Quality is, of course, more important than quantity, but the more you make, the more you evolve, and it felt good to be working at what felt like a steady and sustainable pace. Changes in my work schedule and a certain feeling that I needed a break have been factors, but did have some new work to show during Art Trails this year, which ended last weekend.

This is a piece from April, but one I haven't posted here before. Untitled Collage No. 215 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, graphite, collage. Image size 28.3 x 36.9cm (10.9 x 14.8in). Matted to 20 x 24 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Wines Im Making: Harvest 2019

We picked our grapes this year on Saturday, October 5, which is a pretty typical date. We usually harvest in the first week of October. We took in 77.42 pounds of Sangiovese and 155.54 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc, which is rather more than usual because this year we suffered very little damage from raccoons and other critters, losing only seven or eight clusters of low-hanging fruit, and losing virtually nothing to mildew--a first. It made a huge difference to dust the grapes with sulfur rather than spraying them. It is a far easier method and it works much better. That will be the plan in the future. These are perhaps the healthiest-looking grapes we've ever harvested.

The Cabernet must tested at 23.25 brix and a pH of 3.38, which is close to ideal. The Sangiovese tested at 20.25 brix and a pH of 3.7, a trifle low on the brix side, but we usually make rosé from these grapes, so that's well within the range I'm looking for. I added 230 grams of corn sugar to bump up the brix about a degree, as I did last year. After 18 hours on the skins, I pressed the grapes, (the grapes were crushed at about 4PM on the 5th, pressed at about noon on the 6th). Ten gallons of must yielded five gallons of pressed juice. On the evening of the 6th, I added yeast, this year using the Prise de Mousse variety again, as I did last year, although I've usually used the Epernay II yeast in the past. The yeast doesn't seem to alter the flavor that much. I've had good results with both. The grapes were so healthy looking I did not add sulfite to the Sangiovese must. I lightly sulfited the Cabernet, as that must will soak for a couple of days before it starts to undergo fermentation. So far, off to a good start. Next task--bottle and label last year's wise.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Books I'm reading: Violin Virtuosos

I picked up this slim (120-page) volume at a recent San Francisco Symphony performance, in the Symphony store. Violin Virtuosos (Back Stage Books, 2000) is a collection of short essays about 11 top violinists: Joshua Bell, Leila Josefowicz, Joseph Silverstein, Jorja Fleezanis, Victoria Mullova, Mark Kaplan, Chee-Yun, Christian Tetzlaff, Hilary Hahn, Vadim Repin, and Kung-wha Chung. Quite a range. Some of these are mostly solo performers, a couple are concertmasters. Some are younger, some are older. Some are men, some are women. I have heard a number of them perform live: Bell, Josefowicz, Chee-Yun, Tetzlaff, Hahn, and Chung. I've met several of them at after-concert signings (Bell, Josfowicz, Chee-Yun, Hahn, and Chung). I've even had dinner with one of them—Kyung Wha Chung, in Tokyo, years ago. Others I had never even heard of (Fleezanis and Kaplan). So, it was a rounded introduction to a cast of some of the best living violinists.

As this was published in 2000, much has changed since the essays were written. Hilary Hahn, for example, was only 21 at the time and had just released only her third CD (today her discography includes more than 20 discs). Josefowicz was relatively new to the scene. Bell, on the cover, looks like a little boy. These are interesting snapshots and interesting for the variety of experience of the various artists discussed. I especially enjoyed the little blurbs for each violinist that tells not only what kind of instrument they play but even what brand of strings they use. Violin Virtuosos is brief, but worth the small amount of time it takes to read.

Music I'm Listening To: Start of the 2019-2020 Season

After the performance, a tired MTT
I attended the September 13 performance of the San Francisco Symphony, my first concert of the 2019-2020 season. MTT conducted Mahler's Symphony No. 6. It was the only piece on the program, played straight through without intermission. It must have been exhausting for the performers.

As I've noted here before, I generally don't care for MTT as a conductor, as, in my experience, he often seems aloof and unengaged in the music. Mahler has been the exception. This is the second time I've heard him conduct a live performance of one of the Mahler Symphonies, having heard him at the helm for Symphony No. 5 in March last year. That was a breathtaking performance.

While I enjoyed this latest concert, it wasn't quite as exciting. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I thought the third movement a little uncertain in places and thought the tempo variations in the second were a bit too exaggerated. That said, the orchestra members played well (as they virtually always do), the first movement seemed perfect and the finale was fun to watch.

I've always wondered how they do the hammer blows toward the end of the piece. A large wooden structure with a small platform on top was built high behind the percussion session for this performance making it accessible from the front row of the balcony seats behind the stage (which were empty, which is unusual). A member of the percussion team appeared for each of the blows above the wooden platform wielding a large wooden sledgehammer. He looked rather menacing and a bit surreal. It must be hard to time the blow, given how heavy the hammer seemed, but he got it right. As in the case of the March performance. The orchestra was seated in the antiphonal arrangement.

The Santa Rosa Symphony season opens tomorrow, October 5. I'll be doing backstage photography for the symphony again this year. Garrick Ohlsson will be playing the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 and Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra is also on the program.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Wines I'm Making: Harvest 2019—Not Quite Yet

Thinking our backyard grapes might be ready to harvest, I did my first full testing of their ripeness today. A sample from the Cabernet vines showed brix at 23.5, which is very close to ideal (24 brix is where I normally like to pick), but with the pH a bit on the low side (pH 3.34). PH squared x brix = 262, which, according to Jeff Cox's From Vines to Wines (Storey Books, 1999), means they are ready for picking (the goal by this measure is 260 for a red wine), but the seeds in many of the grapes are still a touch green and another week on the vines will be perfect, I suspect. The problem is the raccoons—or whatever it is that steals grapes in the night. Ideal ripeness has to be balanced against potential animal losses. Happily, this year, almost none of the grapes will be lost to mildew, so I feel like waiting another week is the way to go. Thus, harvest 2019 is projected for October 5.

The Sangiovese, from which we normally make rosé (and last year used to make a little sparking wine, even), tested at only 19 brix and a pH of 3.31—on the low side (pH squared x brix = 208, again, within the acceptable range, according to Cox's measure (for whites and rosé 200 is the goal), but I think we can get a little more ripeness). I like to pick the Sangiovese for rosé at 22 brix. Although 19 brix would probably be just right for sparkling wine, I'm not equipped with enough of the right kind of bottles to make the whole Sangiovese harvest into sparkling wine, so I will wait to pick the Sangiovese as well. Today, I will check the integrity of the nets and make sure the electric fence is working and hope the animals are deterred as much as possible....

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Art Trails 2019

ART TRAILS 2019: Art Trails is approaching. I'll be showing new work again this year in my home during the two middle weekends of October from 10:00AM to 5:00PM all four days. If you're in the area, come by and see what I've been up to. This year, I'm studio No. 18. Preview show opening is this Friday, September 27 from 6:00PM to 9:00PM at The Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA. Otober 12-13 and October 19-20.

Wines I'm Maknig: 2019 Grapes Coming Along Nicely

Until about four days ago, the grapes in our little backyard vineyard were in perfect condition, with no losses. The new method of spraying with sulfur has been a great success. There is virtually no mildew on the grapes at all this year--a first. We had had no animal damage either until a few nights ago when I began to notice clusters stripped of fruit here and there. This happens every year, despite the netting and the electric fence around the grapes. Single-grape testing has suggested the Cabernet is already at about 23 brix and the Sangiovese at about 21 brix, both close to being ready to harvest. If the critter damage begins to accelerate, I may be forced to harvest sooner rather than later. Ideally, I'd like to let the fruit hang another ten days or so. We'll see....

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 214 (Santa Rosa)

After an intense period of collage-making that lasted almost five years, from the middle of 2014 to the end of 2018, I've been in a lull lately, my time taken up by practicalities such as making a living, and with the urge to create collages somewhat dampened by a feeling that it's time for something new. A period of work on cyanotypes ended (for the time being--I will get back to cyanotype) in frustration; cyanotype is a trickier process than one is often led to believe.

That said, I've not been entirely inactive in 2019. Here is Untitled Collage No. 215 (Santa Rosa), made back in February. I'd neglected to post it here. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, found paper (handwritten music), collage. 27.8 x 37.3cm (10.8 x 14.8in). Matted to 20 x 24 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

With the 2019 Art Trails open studio event looming (October 12–13 and 19–20), I've been working a bit again in the past few weeks. More to come soon....

To see more of my collage work and some of my abstract photography, visit my website at:

Friday, September 6, 2019

Books I'm Reading: Freedom Evolves

Daniel Dennett's Freedom Evolves (Penguin, 2003) is an engaging if rather challenging read. It's the sort of book you need to read several times to really absorb the arguments--that view more a reflection of defects in my intellect, I imagine, than defects in the author's arguments or the clarity of the writing.

Dennett looks at questions of free will and determinism, asking whether free will can exist in a deterministic world. His answer is essentially yes. He suggests human beings are unique in having evolved minds that give us free will and make us moral beings (without any need for religion, by the way).

Among the more interesting notions presented is the idea that it's possible to imagine a completely deterministic world that has randomness built into it. A lot to consider here, but too much  undigested (by me) to write much of a review. This is mostly intended as a note to myself that I attempted this one.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Wines I'm Making: Grapes Netted (August 12, 2019)

This year, I treated the grapes against mildew by dusting them with sulfur rather than wetting the sulfur powder and spraying them. Now, weeks after applying sulfur dust, I can report that dusting seems to work much better than spraying. Usually, by this time of the season, the grapes that are most shaded in our little vineyard are already showing some damage from mildew. In bad years, I've lost as much as 20% of the Sangiovese to mildew. Right now there is virtually no mildew on the grapes, which is wonderful. Removal of the trees behind the vineyard that were in my neighbor's yard has helped and this year I did not put up the reed fencing on the back fence that we usually have there, so I think they are getting more light and air as well, which helps against the mildew. In any case, the grapes are looking very good.

The berries are just beginning to turn color. I finished netting them against the raccoons yesterday. The next task will be to water them for the first time this season. I typically water at the end of July, the end of August and the end of September, although, I suspect they could be completely dry farmed now. That said, the Sangiovese shows signs of water stress well before the Cabernet. They need a little drink. There's a complication this year. I put down weed cloth under the vines this spring for the first time, to try to make the job of weeding the vineyard easier. It's worked very well, but, now, when I turn on the irrigation, the water mostly beads up on top of the cloth. I'm not confident it's getting into the soil. I'll probably have to go out and cut holes where the drippers drip.

Music I'm Listening to: Reorganizing a CD Collection (August 2019)

This is what happens when you start to reorganize your CD collection. For quite a while I've been thinking about how best to organize a CD collection that is mostly classical, but one spanning from Gregorian chant to contemporary music by living composers and including not only classical but also world music, Japanese pop music, rock, blues, and jazz.

I've decided on the following: First, the classical--these chronologically roughly by death date of composer, divided by composer and within each composer by type of music, with chamber music, concertos, and symphonies each getting a separate section. Within classical, I've recognized sections for organ music, for guitar music, and for strongly national music. For example, I have a section that's mostly late 19th and early 20th century French music, with works by Debussy, Ravel, Frank, Poulenc, Milhaud, Satie and the like. I have a Spanish music section as well.

Then, at the end of the chronological classical section, I've grouped all classical CDs that are collections by artist or some other criteria (by instrument, or period--anything that's a mixture of pieces). Following these are three sections of classical vocal music--one for full operas and opera aria collections, one for art songs, and then one for choral music. Within art songs (and sections generally), I've made sections for individual artists if I have a significant number of CDs featuring one artist. In art songs, for example, Elly Ameling gets her own section. I have a Radu Lupu section, a Kyung-wha Chung section, a Melvyn Tan section, etc. Following the vocal music, I have my world music section. This includes everything from the Nenes (an Okinawan vocal group) to Mary O'hara (Irish harp), to gamelan music, and flamenco. Flamenco gets its own section. 

Next I have a jazz section (within this a Monk section and a Jackie McLean section), then a blues section (divided roughly into modern Chicago-style blues and Delta blues), and then the pop music, with the pop divided into Western pop and Japanese pop. It's now much easier to find things. I'm revisiting my entire CD and LP collection....

This seems to work. How do you organize your CDS or LPs?

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Books I'm Reading: Godforsaken Grapes

The grapes author Jason Wilson discusses in his Godforsaken Grapes (Abrams Press, 2018) have not been forsaken by god, but by people. Wilson attempts to introduce the reader to some of the more interesting obscure varieties from around the world, but he has room to discuss only a small number. There are said to be as many as 10,000 known grape varieties in the world (although that may actually mean 10,000 known grape names, as many of the common, long-cultivated and widely distributed varieties have numerous synonyms: Pinot Noir apparently has more than 300 used around the world). In contrast, the back-cover blurb of the book suggests there are 1,400 grape varieties in the world, but that number seems far too low. Precisely how many there are probably is impossible to know and any number offered up will depend on choices about what constitutes a distinct variety; the wine grape vine (mostly Vitis vinifera) is notoriously prone to mutation, and where you draw boundaries will necessarily affect the number you end up with.

However many varieties there are, about two dozen of them account for nearly all of the wine made in the world. I would guess that Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Gamay, Grenache, Carignan, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and Zinfandel, among red grapes, and Airén, Trebbiano, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewürtraminer, Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Viognier, and the Muscat family among whites would account for most of it.

These grapes have dominated the world of wine for different reasons. Some have been cultivated for many centuries and have persisted because of their inherent quality—grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling, for example. Others have been widely planted and persisted more because of habit or convenience (they happen to do well in a particular set of difficult conditions) or because they can be consumed in vast quantities in making base wines for distillation—Airén and Trebbiano come to mind. According to online sources, there are about 840,000 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in the world (the world's most commonly planted wine grape), accounting for about 5% of all grapes planted for wine production. The grape varieties Wilson discusses sometimes exist in a single vineyard of no more than a few acres and nowhere else on Earth. Increasingly, rare varieties and the wine they make, are gaining attention among younger, less tradition-bound sommeliers, Wilson tells us, which has encouraged at least some growers to identify, preserve, and expand plantings of obscure varieties, some on the verge of extinction.

To chronicle all known grape varieties would require a project of encyclopedic proportions.* Wilson is necessarily selective even among the narrowed-down choice presented by grapes that might be considered obscure and forgotten. Any reasonably serious wine drinker will immediately be able to draw up a quick mental list of obscure varieties that don't even get a mention—and not all the grapes he discusses will be unfamiliar to readers with even a casual interest in wine. For example, there is a chapter on Grüner Veltliner, which has become quite trendy in the US of late and is not especially obscure in the areas where it is widely grown, most importantly in Austria and Hungary;  but choices had to be made. Here and in several other places in the book Wilson takes the opportunity to point out how confusing and insane grape naming can be by noting that there is also a Roter Veltliner, a Frühroter Veltliner, and a Brauner Veltliner—none of which are related to Grüner Veltliner at all. And remember those 300-plus synonyms for Pinot Noir.

That said, each of the sections introduces grape varieties that mostly are obscure—Altesse, Diolinoire, Hondarrabi Zuri, Juhfark, Ramisco, Timorasso, and the like—in a kind of travelogue style through accounts of visits to some of the growers and winemakers that nurture such rarities. Along the way, there is a fair amount of discussion about the economics of producing these varieties, particularly about how a comparatively recent obsession with the rare among well-heeled wine drinkers and sommeliers has supported the revival of more than a few. More often than not, however, a respect for place and tradition and a sense of duty to future generations seems to motivate the growers who work to keep little-known wine grape varieties from slipping into oblivion. Reading this book left me grateful, as many of them sound well worth exploring. Recommended.

*One of the most comprehensive attempts, the 1,242-page Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavours, by Jose Vouillamoz, Jancis Robinson, and Julia Harding, as the title suggests, covers less than 1,400.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Organic Fertilizer Bounty

Thanks to an amazing homemade organic fertilizer I learned about from a neighbor (who attributes it to a farmer in Wyoming with a YouTube video), our garden this year is producing an overwhelming amount of food. Summer squash, zucchini, Japanese turnips, green beans, bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, cayenne peppers, Fresno peppers, Italian horn peppers, lemon cucumbers, peaches..... Soon eggplant and tomatoes will start coming as well.

Very easy to make this fertilizer, which has only three ingredients: Alfalfa pellets, blackstrap molasses, and fish emulsion. Feed stores generally have the pellets. A big bag will last all year. Any good garden store will have the fish emulsion (should be marked 5-1-1 or very close to that). The molasses (unsulphured) is available online. The one-gallon jug of the molasses and the fish emulsion I bought are not even half empty and I started this regimen in April.

Put one pound of the pellets in the bottom of a five-gallon bucket (I've found that a one-liter measure filled to the brim with pellets is about a pound). Put about a gallon of water in and let the pellets soak up the water and swell up. There should be enough water that you're left with a soupy mixture with liquid, not mush. After a few hours, or overnight, add 150ml each of the fish emulsion and the blackstrap molasses (about 2l3 of a cup maybe. Measurements don't have to be exact). Stir well and let sit for a couple of hours.

This I dilute again for use, putting one gallon of the mixture into a five-gallon watering can--so, diluting 1:4. It sounds more complicated than it is. Once you've done it a couple of times, it's quite easy. Apply once or twice a week. As plants start to flower and produce fruit, I add an organic guano-based 0-4-3 fertilizer to the mix called HDK (25ml/five gallons) easily available from the cannabis hydroponics stores if you live in a cannabis-legal state. This all-organic mixture works wonders!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Wines I'm Making: Grapes Sulfur Dusted, June 2019

For the first time in the 16 years I've been making wine from our backyard grapes, this year I'm treating the vines against mildew using a duster rather than a sprayer. It consumes more sulfur powder than the sprayer, but being lightweight, it's much easier and faster to use than the sprayer. The question is whether the fine sulfur dust works as well to prevent mildew.

Actually, spraying the grapes has never been as effective as I would like. Using the sprayer, the sulfur doesn't stick very well; most of it runs off. The powder seems to adhere better, but it's so fine it's hard to tell. So far, everything looks good, helped by the very cool spring and early summer we had this year (with one, short, extremely hot three-day period an exception). Mildew likes things warm and damp. Late rain kept things comparatively damp, but it was never especially warm and damp. We'll see how the sulfur dusting performs as the season progresses. This was the second dusting so far this year.

[Now, weeks later (mid-August), I can report that dusting with the sulfur seems to work much better than the spraying. Usually, by this time of the season, the grapes that are most shaded in our little vineyard are already showing some damage from mildew. In bad years, I've lost as much as 20% of the Sangiovese to mildew. Right now there is virtually no mildew on the grapes, which is wonderful.]
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