Behold the Cave of the Thousand Buddhas Jan12

Behold the Cave of the Thousand Buddhas...

If I were fortunate enough to be able to travel to China, I would make the Mogao Caves near the city of Dunhuang a primary stop as the artifacts housed within these sandstone cliffs rival that of the Great Wall, the Forbidden City or the famous Terracotta Warriors. Impressive yet understated on the outside, these caverns carved within the cliffs near the edge of the Gobi Desert hide an unrivaled collection of Buddhist art, including over 2,400 sculptures and miles of murals spanning a period of 1,000 years, from the North Wei to the Yuan Dynasty. Once inside these modest-looking caves, you’ll discover a temple-like architecture filled with amazing statuary and wall murals that make this more than a cave with prehistoric wall paintings. According to legend, these caves were created in 366 C.E, when a traveling monk named Lè Zūn was inspired to build the first cave after experiencing a vision of a thousand Buddhas bathed in golden light. Later, he was joined by another monk, and the cave numbers grew. The caves were first used as a place for meditation, to serve the monasteries in the area. Since Dunhuang was a major trade route that linked China to the Mediterranean, travelers often came through the area, commissioning caves (all created by the monks) as offerings for safety and prosperity. The caves then lay dormant for nearly 600 years, when the Mongols invaded the area making travel to the area unsafe. Much later in 1900, interest was revived when Wang Yuanlu, a Taoist priest and self-appointed guardian of the caves, decided to do some restoration and discovered thousands of Buddhist scrolls in one of the caves. Discovery of these manuscripts brought much attention from Europe and archeological world. If the statuary and murals contained...

Dynamics: The Heart of Sound Jan05

Dynamics: The Heart of Sound...

Most people are familiar with the basic elements of music, that of pitch, rhythm, and tone quality. As a musician matures, they must learn other important factors. The most important of these is dynamics. For the sake of the layman, dynamics in music are the variations in loud and soft. Student musicians sometimes fail to recognize the importance of these qualities. This may be a result of listening to a lot of popular music on radio. In addition to the fact that many pop performers use very little difference in dynamics, it is reinforced by the use of equipment in radio stations to level the dynamic contrast to make it easier to match various recordings to a constant volume level. This can be demonstrated by comparing a popular recording to a “classical” recording with a high degree of dynamic variation, such as Holst’s The Planets Suite. Dynamics really come in two ways. The first, more well-known way, is the overall level of a passage of music. These may be marked f (forte or loud), p (piano or soft), modified slightly with an m (mezzo or moderate) in front, or compounded by multiple indications like ff (fortissimo). Changes are made by indicating a new level for a sudden change, or with the description crescendo or decrescendo to indicate a gradual change. Usually when people talk about dynamics, it’s this type that they mean. Unlike many other things in the notation of music, the levels are entirely relative. Forte is not assigned a specific decibel level, and varies depending on the style of music, the type of ensemble, the importance of the passage, and ultimately the artistic intent of the composer or conductor or performer. The issue is further complicated by large variations in the intent...

It’s All About Color, part two Jan05

It’s All About Color, part two...

Now that we’ve talked a little about color theory and how we get the various colors from mixing primary color, let’s talk about additive and subtractive color. Subtractive color is what you see when you are looking at anything in print. From newspapers to books to those tempting invitations you receive for some event, every printed piece uses  subtractive color. So do artists, house painters, and virtually anyone coloring a tangible surface. In contrast, everything you see on the screen, be it computer monitor, television or a projected slide show presentation, uses the Additive color. We view these colors every day, but most of us have no idea how they are created. First let’s talk about Additive color. In Additive color, color mixing is done with light. In the early 1800’s Sir Thomas Young proposed that he could make most colors in the visible spectrum by just mixing red, green and blue light, what we now refer to as RGB color. When red and blue are mixed, they create magenta, when red and green are mixed, they create yellow, and when blue and green are mixed, they create cyan. When all six colors combine, they create white, or a lack of color. This is how your television sees every visible color. The screen contains thousands of little light dots that emit red, blue and green light to create the colors for the images we see. Now let’s talk about subtractive color. In order for the human eye to see color on a tangible surface, the object’s surface must give off or reflect light when struck by white light. A color will either absorb or reflect the light (the amount depending on each hue), allowing the eye to see that specific color. Something that reflects...

2013: A Year of Accomplishments...

As the new year approaches, it has been a tradition to look back over the year’s accomplishments and struggles, and give credit to those around me who have made the year a success. I am proud to view Musebreak’s launch and its continuing publications as a success. In July we began Musebreak as a way for artists to help spread the message about the value of art to those not in the field. A handful of people banded together and decided to write about art, music and literature, and possibly make a difference in some way. I would like to commend the people of Musebreak for this year’s effort. You have done a fantastic job! In six month’s time, we’ve published 56 articles. I would like to especially thank Patrick and Fiona for their consistent efforts in getting out articles each week. For a volunteer force, I’m extremely proud of their effort to bring something of interest each week. I would also like to thank all of the others who have contributed with either articles or interviews as they could. I know it’s not easy to take time out of busy schedules to volunteer your time. Finally I would like to thank Musebreak’s audience, the readers who stop in each week to learn something new. Musebreak would be nothing without either. Since our launch in July our viewing numbers have grown. We now regularly receive over 4000 page hits per weekly publication. I count that a success, considering we are a small organization and I hope to see us grow in the years to come. I have made requests for more writers and interviewees and have yet to have much response, but I’m hoping in the months to come, people will realize that talking...

It’s All About Color Dec22

It’s All About Color...

Color plays a major role in art. It can set a mood. It can change the hierarchy of a composition; pushing the subject into the foreground or gently allowing it to fade off into the distance. Color can create harmony or conflict, depending on the artist’s choice of palette. It can give subconscious meaning to an element. Yet the most interesting observable fact that happens with color is its ability to perceptually change, depending on its environment. An artist has control over texture and line work; they can set the stage with composition and pattern, but the one uncontrollable factor in a work of art, is color. In studying color theory, an artist learns that color has perceptual changes depending on the visible light and surrounding color. We learn that even though we may have chosen specific colors for our piece, when and where the artwork is viewed changes the overall effect we may have been trying to achieve; that a work of art will appear different in sunlight as opposed to fluorescent or incandescent lighting. It will change depending on the wall color or physical space that it resides in. And at some point, an artist has to give up stringent control and allow the art to take on a life of its own. If you’ve ever done any home decorating, you’ll have experienced this phenomenon. A color chosen in a store from a swatch of fabric or a paint card does not look the same when placed in your home. It might appear duller or more vibrant depending on its surroundings.  It might not feel like the same color at all.  A friend of mine painted her house a sedate shade of beige, only to be stunned to see that in early...

Introducing Salvatore Ventura...

After moving from Europe to the Bay Area, Salvatore Ventura soon discovered his love for photography. Over the past decade he has explored various photography styles ranging from natural landscapes to personal portraits, and documented several local events. While working in high tech startups, Salvatore takes on photography assignments to keep in balance with his artistic side. We spoke with Salvatore about his experiences in the field of photography: What is it about photography that first gained your attention? Salvatore: I think it’s the mix between dream and reality that can be achieved within a picture. It’s powerful and sophisticated, yet so simple at once. What type of training/schooling did you receive to learn how to do this? Salvatore: I am mostly self-trained. I did read plenty, and still do, on technique, lighting, composition and colors, and of course, decoding works of great photographers. What type of equipment do you use? Salvatore: I started photography in the digital world, beginning my exploration with a point-and-shoot, and then evolving into a DSLR. I currently work with a Nikon D600. Do you use any digital post-processing? Salvatore:  Yes. Mainly around sharpening, color balance and cropping. Then of course there are special effects, to add a more distinctive accent on some shots, but it all depends. Some cases call for deeper edits. You only have female models in your current portfolio. Is that by choice? Salvatore: There are generally more female models than male, so it is easier  to work with them. But I have planned projects with male models, just haven’t had a chance to work on them yet. What is your favorite subject to photograph? Salvatore: People. Working on projects with models is by far my favorite. Travel photography, and landscapes are next. Do you...

Writers Journey: Sensationalism...

Sensationalism is a modern American phenomenon these days.  We should take care to notice that goals of any positive value are worthy of respect and admiration.  This is not just a warning for writers, but for anyone with a career goal.  If a student wishes to graduate from college and enter a career as a teacher’s assistant, earning an income of thirty thousand to fifty thousand a year, this is a worthy goal.  So long as that student keeps their expenses in under their wage, this person can be said to have attained success.  They earn more than they spend, and they provide a service to humanity. However, one will often encounter mental hiccups in their most basic endeavors because of an obsession with sensationalism in America today.  If you are not a Forbes CEO, or a national best-selling author, you may encounter many blank stares among family and friends, and even your college faculty.  I recently sat through an unfortunate session at a local college where students were encouraged to earn a hundred thousand a year, find two houses, have three cars, and this was considered ‘making it.’  And I realized that this ideal is extremely sensationalized let alone economically and environmentally unsustainable.  Two houses.  Three cars.  Everyone should have it.  So the theory goes . . . Nowhere does this apply more than to the working artist.  A writer is automatically successful because they finish a final draft.  That’s it.  That draft may never see publication, but the success is still there.  Looking at history, this is how now-famous writers like Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters were initially successful.  They wrote stories for their families, for each other, and those stories were taken by their families to publishing houses which accepted...

The Gift of Art Nov24

The Gift of Art

Thanksgiving is near and after its festive celebration with the family, comes the horrible onslaught of pressure to buy gifts for the Christmas holiday. Ads on television, radio and the web tell us of the savings we’ll have if we buy wares from this store or that. “Spend, spend, spend!” is the holiday jingle that echoes like an earworm in my head and it makes me wonder, if my generation is the last to recall a time when gifts for the holidays were hand-made instead of purchased; a custom that seems to have slowly died away. Holidays were a simpler time. People purchased art or crafts for their loved ones if they didn’t make the items themselves. Craft fairs were abundant after Thanksgiving, people selling one-of-a-kind, hand-made items. I recall spending afternoons, walking the fair, eating holiday cookies and drinking eggnog or cider and looking for special gifts for family and friends. Now, there’s hardly a craft fair to be found; another custom that has gradually become extinct. People don’t want hand-made items. They want electronics and designer names; products that are mass-produced in countries where slave-labor is cheap and the profit margins are high. They’re not interested in one-of-a-kind items, lovingly created especially for them. Or are they? Is this just an illusion created by marketeers to get people to shop ‘til they drop each year? Every time I’ve ever given my art or a hand-crafted item, I’ve had great response. Not only was the receiver delighted with the item, but those around asked if they could have one as well. The holidays have, and will always be a time when I make gifts for those I love. As an artist, this is a no-brainer. But if I weren’t talented in this area,...

Photography: Is it an art form? Nov17

Photography: Is it an art form?...

As the paintbrush or clump of clay is to an artist, so is the camera to a photographer; a tool (or medium) used to create a possible work of art. It might not be as ancient a tool as brush and paint, but with the right knowledge, the camera can be used to sketch the artist’s vision or express an emotion that the artist intended to share. “I have discovered photography. Now I can kill myself. I have nothing else to learn”. — Pablo Picasso How does photography become fine art?  It’s done in much the same way that a painting or a sculpture does. Photographers display the same basic elements of art and design (as discussed in our Understanding Art as Art article) in their photographs, that any other art form does. The photographer uses his or her knowledge of composition; of line, shape, value, color and texture to create a work of art. The photograph evokes a feeling, conveys a message, and takes the image one-step beyond the typical scenic shot of the amateur. Just capturing a beautiful photo isn’t enough to be considered fine art. Taking a beautiful photograph that speaks to the spirit is the key. How well the artist, or in this case the photographer, captured your attention with his or her unique interpretation of the subject at hand is a large part of the criteria. Where Photo Journalism tells a story and Commercial Photography sells a product, Fine Art Photography speaks to your soul. Great photographers like Ansel Adams, Manuel Bravo and Mary Ellen Mark not only captured the essence of their subjects, but used light and shadow, texture and juxtaposition to create mood, a feeling of emotion in their work.  James Nachtwey captured poignant images of war...

It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas Nov10

It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas...

“City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, Dressed in holiday style. In the air, there’s a feeling of Christmas Children laughing, people passing, Meeting smile after smile, And on every street corner you’ll hear…” -“Silver Bells” by Livingston and Evans   We’re barely past Hallowe’en and already it has started: Christmas! The first trick-or-treater had yet to ring a doorbell, and yet the candy prices had been slashed and moved back to some obscure aisle to make room for the red, green, gold, silver ornamentations of Christmastime in every store. Most people don’t understand marketing, and fail to grasp that every retail establishment must promote themselves early and heavily as a good place to spend those Christmas greenbacks, even before anyone is even thinking about spending the first penny on it. It’s a cut-throat business, and the next two months will determine who is having a going-out-of-business sale in January and who isn’t. This is the dark side of Christmas. (Well, one of them.) And since a big part of getting shoppers in the Christmas mood is playing Christmas music over the intercom, the music is tragically linked to this commercial overload. It doesn’t help matters that the majority of recorded Christmas music is highly saccharine. Even the edgiest of musical acts cleans up their performance when they do a Christmas tune. It doesn’t have to be that way. Like many people of my generation (and the generation before that), I grew up listening to Bing Crosby’s album Merry Christmas, and I can honestly say that I never hear a single track from that album that it doesn’t give me a good feeling. Over the years, I’ve accumulated several other albums that I always enjoy hearing, sometimes even in the middle of summer. I love listening to...

Album Review: Diane Birch’s Speak a Little Louder...

The sophomore album from singer/songwriter Diane Birch was released just last week, and presents an artist who is still defining herself. Her first album, Bible Belt, brought inevitable comparisons to Carole King. This time she downplays her keyboard chops and focuses on songwriting and arranging. She has mentioned that she incorporates many influences in her music, particularly in this new collection. That much is obvious from even a single listening. Her singing is edgier this time around, making her sound like the second coming of Stevie Nicks. As you would expect, there’s some Fleetwood Mac sounds here as well. Also, keep an ear open for Sinead O’Connor, The Cranberries, Alanis Morrisette, Heart, the Motels, and even a disco number ala Diana Ross. They’re not fully fledged style copies, but the influence is present. The version of this album you’ll find in the CD racks at your store is shorter than the full-length version available online by five songs. I’d recommend getting the 16 track version, since some of the best cuts are among those left off of the short version. The title track is a very moody number with heavy synthesizer beds. Lyrically it’s a little weak, but the hook is memorable. The two tracks that really highlight Diane’s Stevie styles are “Tell Me Tomorrow” and “Love & War”, the former being a solo Stevie style song and the latter one more in the Fleetwood Mac mold. “Pretty in Pain” is the disco number, and works well. If you enjoyed Diane’s earlier work, you’ll want to take note of “Superstars”, which is a solid hypnotic song, and “Truer than Blue”, which is the only track that is just her voice and piano. Although Diane is too young to remember it first hand, there is...

Ensembles: the Brass Quintet Oct27

Ensembles: the Brass Quintet...

There are many varieties of small ensembles (sometimes referred to as chamber ensembles) for classical instruments; but perhaps the most popular one for wind players (brass and woodwind) is the brass quintet. This is for several reasons. For one thing, since three fifths of the group is made up of common jazz/pop instruments, these groups frequently play popular music in addition to the more mainstream classical literature. Another reason is its flexibility in performance settings. The group is small enough that it can perform intimate indoor concerts, but the nature of the instruments is such that it can perform equally as effectively outdoors with no acoustic support like band-shells and the like. The standard instrumentation for a brass quintet is two trumpets, a French horn, a trombone, and a tuba. In more advanced groups, the trumpets will sometimes switch off to piccolo trumpet (a trumpet pitched an octave higher than a regular trumpet) or flugelhorn (a trumpet relative with conical tubing that gives it a mellower sound). Some groups will use cornets in the place of trumpets, particularly if their repertoire includes a lot of Americana style music. Other variations will use a euphonium or baritone horn in the place of the trombone, or switch out the French horn with another trombone, or replace the tuba with a bass trombone. These alternations are relatively rare. It may surprise some brass quintet fans how recent the creation of this ensemble is. There were two groups that formed around the same time, in the 1940s, that established this type of ensemble. They were the New York Brass Quintet and the Chicago Brass Quintet. Of the two, the Chicago group is arguably the most influential, due to tuba player Arnold Jacobs being the teacher of Chuck Daellenbach...

Writers Journey: Support and Freedom...

We live in an age where we are expected to earn revenue on what we produce.  This expectation was brought about by the Age of Enlightenment and furthered by the Industrial Revolution.  If we are successful novelists, for example, we must churn out a New York Times bestseller every year or two.  Culturally, we are told a myth that insists that we earn money from our art. This ‘Hollywood fantasy’ of earning money per project is actually very new and flies in the face of thousands of years in which artists lived under another kind of system:  namely support from a patron.  I don’t advocate that we go back to having patrons, which is what you might call feudalistic even on a good day, but I do want to point out that it’s easy to mistake one thing for another and this is where we can accidentally confuse having money and being paid for our art with true freedom to make the art that must be made. The biggest misconception an artist faces is the definition of the word resource.  If you want something, say quality light and space to paint in, that doesn’t mean you need money to get it.  It means you need a resource (space and light) and your first inclination may well be to pay for studio space for it.  Stop right there!  What you really need is space and light.  In our consumerist mentality, we will often equate this with real estate.  But space and light is not the same thing as a studio situated downtown.  Space and light may be had in a breakfast nook, or outside at a park, or on the back lawn.  One of your friends may have space and light that they’ll willingly share...

Ragtime Oct20

Ragtime

Jazz is often thought of as “America’s Music”, but everything comes from someplace. If any genre of music can be thought of as the primary predecessor of jazz, it would probably be ragtime. Ragtime arose from black music traditions of the late 19th century, mostly as a blending of American march traditions with the polyrhythmic dance traditions of black music. It’s earliest form would probably be black bands that would do their own take on marches. The thing that really caused ragtime to take off was the fact that it was the first time this music was made available as piano sheet music, which allowed people from all across the country, regardless of background, to enjoy it as well. Another strong point was the rise of the player pianos, which allowed noted ragtime composers to record and distribute their actual performances. Ragtime is not like march time or waltz time, which had specific meter patterns that they followed. It was more stylistic. In piano ragtime, the left hand would play strong bass notes on the first and third beats of the measure, and higher-voiced chords on two and four. The right hand handled the melody for the most part, but the stressed notes would fall in-between the beats that were provided by the left hand. This actually had the effect of making the beats more pronounced, and encouraged movement and dancing to the listener. Composer Ernest Hogan is usually credited with coining the term “ragtime”, which gets its name from the “ragged” rhythms of the syncopated melodies. His sheet music for “All Coons Look Alike to Me” is regarded as the first big hit in ragtime sheet music sales, and inspired a ragtime subgenre known as “coon music”. (Hogan later regretted using the racial...

Musebreak: A Vision

When I contemplated the idea for Musebreak, I envisioned an online magazine dedicated to bringing the world information about The Arts. A place where everyday people could take a break from their everyday world and learn about the muse that inspires us all. What we deal with as artists, where we come up with our creative ideas, where our challenges lie. I believe that as creatives, we are obligated to explain our choices and talk about what drives us to do what we do, so we can break down the barriers holding us in an awe-inspired isolation; an enigma to the rest of the world. I envisioned Musebreak as an outlet for this purpose; a way to share creativity to those who have not found theirs. Most creatives tend to hang with other creatives, because they share a common bond and draw inspiration from the symbiotic relationship. They feel understood. There’s no need to explain behaviors that don’t necessarily conform to the norm. Unfortunately, that leaves the rest of the world shaking their heads and wondering why this type of person does what they do. My vision for Musebreak would enlighten those not privy to the artistic world—I had no idea what a challenge this would be. Being 100% volunteer, getting writers to volunteer their time has been a struggle. It is here that I have to sing the praises to the writers who have chosen to help me in this quest. Their weekly contributions are done without any type of feedback or pay. The only thing I can offer is to promote whatever artistic venture they are involved in and a space to write, free of strict deadlines or strict editorial constraints. I also feel the need to apologize for my attempts at...