Many years ago I bought a sketch pad from Aaron Brothers art store and began to record some of the unique features of the Arizona countryside on paper with pen and ink. The Strathmore 300 Series includes a very fine quality paper in the 11" x 14" size which is perfect for mobile sketching and outdoor impressions. One of the scenes captured in this manner I entitled "Arizona Landscape," painted with acrylics on a similar size Masonite panel which I had primed with acrylic gesso. Rather than using the smooth side, I opted to paint on the rough-textured side of the panel, allowing for a more painterly feel as if painting on the surface of a prepared canvas. While I liked the overall appearance of the finished result, I have to admit that the rough texture made the process of painting more difficult and time consuming in order to achieve the desired results. Blending colors and shading various areas can be performed with greater ease on smooth surfaces. Still it is fun to experiment a bit with various textures and to explore the full extension of possibilities when trying to capture what the eye sees or what the soul feels. Often in Arizona you gain the impression of entering into some secluded palace of breathtaking desert colors surrounded by rugged mountains, a place where singular beauty seems to capture the heart and make time stand still. This particular scene represents one of those moments where the observer may easily become transfixed by the evolving pattern of rocks, trees, rolling hills, distant mountains and mystical horizons along the edge of the Arizona landscape.
Accordion Impressions: Along a Country Road
An improvisation reflecting upon memories of a day hike along Possumtown Road in Piscataway Township, New Jersey in 1958 or 1959. My friend Bobby and I were Cub Scouts invited by the local Scoutmaster to attend a day hike with about 8 or 10 other Scouts along one of the country roads in rural New Jersey. We started out early in the morning on either a sunny Spring or Summer's day, traveling south to Cedar Avenue by crossing the railroad tracks of the Jersey Central and Erie Lackawanna lines and following the rural road to Possumtown Road where we began to travel eastwards along a two-lane country road heavily surrounded by densely wooded forests. It was a clear and breath-taking morning, dotted with wonderfully colorful scenes and crisp aromas of the country outdoors. We walked beneath a railroad overpass made of stone and steel and then continued our adventurous trek down this lovely country lane. Here and there were simple fields dotted with wildflowers, filled with butterflies, sometimes adjacent to crops and rows of tall corn bordered by tall weeds and the tangles of nature. We took great delight in the fabulous adventure of the day, enjoying the sights, sometimes slowing our pace to take in the abundant details spread so enchantingly before our impressionable eyes and senses. Across from an old stone house, someone had tied a small goat to a metal post. The little fellow greeted us with warm affection and we tarried just a moment to pet him and admire his quaint hideaway tucked next to the verdant wilderness. Somewhere down along the road, our leader asked us to pause and find a place to eat our lunches in the vicinity of a beautifully still pond strewn with rocks and green ferns. We took a well-deserved rest and enjoyed our hand-packed lunches, admiring the quiet stream and feeling the full nourishment of both the food and the spirit of the moment. When the time came to leave, we headed back the same way we had entered this lyrical domain, looking forward to begin our trek homewards and to share our adventures with our respective families. Today this area has been substantially changed, although Possumtown Road is still there in a four-lane version with a small length of the original two-lane design left in place. Now the vicinity is populated by light industrial buildings, commercial factories, parking lots and condominiums, all bordered by the fast-moving freeway known as Highway 287. There are some thickly wooded pockets of forest still situated along Possumtown Road, along with the remnants of a small pond and a nicely landscaped park. But the two-lane country road which we once traversed has been radically altered, probably no longer to be recognized through modern eyes.
Program notes: The opening theme begins at 00:14 and is quickly followed by a development section, continuing with still more development at 00:52 and the shift to stronger bass and a stirring sense of majesty at 01:26. The full master register sounds at 02:00 with a brief coda at 02:22. At 02:23 a quieter episode begins with the bassoon register, then the clarinet register at 02:44, leading to another quiet closing figure at 03:06. At 03:08 the violin register speaks, then the musette voice and a repeated development section. Further development takes place at 03:51, with the bassoon register bringing forth the lower notes in the treble section at 04:07 and a "walking bass" phrase displayed via the bass section. At 04:25 an introspective portion ascends to the fore, with the full master again introducing the original theme and development at 04:40. At 05:03 there is an impressionistic portrayal of climbing notes, as if one is reaching, walking, dreaming and marching all in continuous order. The ending portion begins at 05:21 with the closing chord heard at 05:31 until the final sounds fade away.
Performed upon my vintage 1950's Scandalli accordion, a 4/5 reed instrument in LMMH configuration. The keyboard length is 17 inches. This accordion was given to me as a gift from friends around the year 2000.
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I call this "Painting with Reeds" because I love the evocative sounds of these vintage Italian reeds. In the same way an artist would paint with a full range of impressionistic colors or in an impressionistic style, I find that the reed voices of a good accordion are capable of creating an atmospheric environment readily descriptive of an event, a person, a time, a mood, a specific setting or a range of ideas.
Island Caves & A Giant Bird
The island survivors battle a giant bird (a prehistoric phororhacos), providing a thrilling moment when Herbert (Michael Callan) heroically jumps upon the large creature and subdues it, rescuing Elena (Beth Rogan), Lady Mary (Joan Greenwood), and Mr. Spilitt (Gary Merrill). Ray Harryhausen's special effects are superlative in this sequence, all orchestrated to coincide with the masterful score by composer Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann found an organ fugue written by composer J. L. Krebs and utilizes this thematic material to underscore the drama of contending with an otherworldly creature in such a marvelously tropical, fantastic environment. After winning the furious battle, the survivors speculate, "I wonder how many minutes it would take to cook in a slow oven?" The group manages to make a meal out of the bird and enjoys a fabulous repast in the relative safety and comfort of their lofty cave-home. Neb (Dan Jackson) humorously suggests that if it had not been for Herbert's heroic action, "Mr. Spilitt would have been in the inside cutting out instead of on the outside cutting in!"
A Hidden Cove & the Nautilus
After Herbert and Elena narrowly escape becoming permanently trapped in a giant beehive with enormous bees, they both fall through the upper reaches of a cavern and manage to discover a hidden grotto beneath. Here they both spot the strangely beautiful and mysterious submarine "Nautilus," the legendary craft commanded by Capt. Nemo. This is a highly evocative scene with neat atmosphere and very colorful set design. Ray Harryhausen reveals in his accompanying film documentary that the beautiful model of the Nautilus was actually about 8 to 10 feet long, just as impressive as the model featured by Disney for "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" released in 1954. As Herbert and Elena gingerly inspect the abandoned Nautilus, Elena worries that they will be discovered and urges Herbert to curtail his curiosity. Before they leave, we catch a glimpse of the rich interior of the Nautilus, the gold and burgundy color scheme contrasted with subdued portions of blue-gray, marvelous circular portholes, lovely draperies, a library of scholarly books, maps, candles, and an imposing pipe organ at the end of the room. This is one of the most beautiful sets I have ever seen in a Science Fiction/ Fantasy film.
Pirates and the First Appearance of Capt. Nemo (Herbert Lom)
When a sailing ship appears just off shore, some of the island survivors instinctively wish to signal their presence upon the island, but Capt. Harding (Michael Craig) wisely orders no signal to be given until they can determine what type of vessel this may be. Through the use of a telescope, Capt. Harding observes the skull & crossbones, revealing this ship to be commanded by a group of pirates. The survivors try to hide all indications of their presence on the island, but the pirates come ashore and accidentally discover signs of recent human activity. Lady Mary trips while bringing a rifle to Capt. Harding, sending a loud report from the lofty cave high above the sandy beach. Immediately a battle begins as the survivors defend their island against the approaching menace. The pirate crew notices the location of the cave and begins to blast away at "The Granite House" with volleys of cannon fire, seriously damaging the structure of the cave. Just as the pirates seem to be winning and enjoying a victory celebration, a huge explosion takes place under the water adjacent to the pirate ship, causing the vessel to sink in just a few minutes with the loss of all hands aboard. Although the island survivors are glad to see the pirates defeated, they are baffled as to the cause of their sudden demise. It is at this point that Capt. Nemo makes his first appearance to Herbert on the beach, emerging from the ocean in his unique underwater gear, looking like some otherworldly apparition unbeknownst to man. Herbert wisely tells Elena to flee as he alone faces this very strange sight. Capt. Nemo commands Herbert to "Put that down!", noting the small knife which the soldier bravely brandishes in his defense. "Very well, keep it if it gives you some comfort," relates Nemo in his marvelous accent and smoothly resonant tone of voice. The other island survivors appear and stand alongside Herbert, curious as to who this unusual apparition might be. Nemo introduces himself and knows each one of the islanders by name, speaking to Lady Mary, "I'm not quite the ogre I appear." Suddenly everything is made clear as the islanders realize that Capt. Nemo was on the island all along, secretly monitoring them and even helping when they faced numerous challenges. Nemo explains that, "Contact with my own species has always disappointed me. Solitude gives me freedom of mind and independence of action."
Dramatic Events & Exotic Atmosphere
During the storm sequence over the Pacific Ocean, the rapidly descending balloon is pushed further westward toward an unknown island. We catch a brief glimpse of some rocks in the distance as one of the crew announces the sound of waves crashing against the shore. The group remains in a precarious position above the churning waters below, as rain continues to lash the balloon amid furious winds and the threat of impending disaster. Capt. Harding falls from the rigging and hits the water, followed by Herbert and then Mr. Spilitt who says he will swim all the way to shore. Neb and Sgt. Pencroft are the only two left holding onto the balloon's rigging as they are finally dragged up onto the sandy beach. The following scene opens upon a magnificent beach as the survivors begin to search for Capt. Harding. The matte painting is sensational in this beautiful portrait of a tropical island, with fluttering seagulls waving about and huge volcanic mountains in the distance. The atmospheric flavor breathes with incredible color, splendid detail and verdant tropical majesty. Full credit for the masterfully created scenes in this film would have to include William C. Andrews (Art Direction), Francisco Prosper (Construction Coordinator, Art Department, uncredited), Ray Harryhausen (Creator of Visual Effects), Vic Margutti (Special Photographic Effects, uncredited), Wilkie Cooper (Cinematography), Cy Endfield (Director), Charles H. Schneer (Producer), and Bernard Herrmann (Music, with the London Symphony Orchestra).
Making a Home on the Island & Exploration of the Landscape
In order to restore stamina for the crew after finding Capt. Harding, Mr. Spilitt cooks up a batch of giant oyster stew "seasoned with seaweed." There is some speculation amongst the survivors as to their exact location, perhaps Figi or New Zealand. Capt. Harding narrates the evolving story via his detailed observations delivered through the accompanying voice-over. "The landscape everywhere was a mixture of the strange and the beautiful." Volcanoes stand surrounded by tropical palm trees and sandy beaches, all of it "a riot of wonderful hues and fantastic colors." The Captain relates that there is "no evidence that man had ever set foot here before." Towards an exploration of the interior of the island, a stream and a magnificent waterfall appear in the midst of a lush tropical forest, again the results of spectacular matte painting. The survivors manage to battle a giant crab and win the fight when the creature falls into a hot geyser along the beach. We catch glimpses of a realistic volcano in the distance, which Capt. Harding orders the crew to scale in order to better observe their present location. In managing to climb to the summit of the volcano, Mr. Spilitt finds a pleasant surprise. "Giant mice!" he exclaims upon finding a herd of wild goats, all of which are dutifully pressed into service. Looking into the mouth of the volcano, one can perfectly visualize both the splendor and the terror of this genuinely awe-inspiring phenomenon.
There are windswept days in the Arizona Desert where seemingly every color of the spectrum may be examined upon close inspection. This particular area is just north of McKellips Road and Crismon Road in East Mesa, an area where Usery Mountain Regional Park stands adjacent to Tonto National Forest. After a period of seasonal rain, it is amazing to see how green this area becomes, bursting with lime-green, yellow-green, emerald green and dozens of other varieties of spectacular hues. When the desert is dry, one notices the rust-colors, the tans, the yellow ochres, the bleached greys, faded green hues and ashen rocks. The wildlife also exhibits great variety of color, from flashy iridescent hummingbirds to motley colored songbirds and rustic desert quail. Once I visited a Park nearby and witnessed Harris hawks sailing high overhead, looking like noble black falcons on a cerulean blue sky. I am reminded of a phrase coined by American artist Wolf Kahn, a gifted painter and fantastic landscape artist. Kahn once told a group of Drew University art students that he was intrigued by "the tangles of nature," those outdoor spectacles we notice when we truly study and observe the natural environment which surrounds us. The Arizona Desert is indeed such an environment, filled with tangles and colorful spectacles stretching from the desert floor all the way to the blue-grey, purple and lavender mountain peaks.