Daniel Goode

Composer & Performer

Category: Review

“L’Amour de Loin” opera by Kaija Saariaho in HD screening

Gorgeous, beautiful, moving! Just to start with: the set by Robert LePage represents the sea with wall-to-wall horizontal strings of LED lights flecked with sprays of lighting changes. Glittering minimalism at its best. The characters play in between the rows of lights. The story makes the sea a central character. It separates and then unites the lovers.

I’m going to be able to cut corners on facts because of Alex Ross’s excellent review(s) in the New Yorker. I’m sure the NYTimes has good stuff to google also.

So Saariaho. She’s Finnish and 64. She’s so good it’s almost scary!  Most contemporary opera never gets to this level. And she’s the first woman opera composer at the Met since Dame Ethyl Smythe in 1903. I just learned that Smythe’s  opera was on a double-bill. But this is opera about a troubadour where the love story is actually moving, the physical encounter at the end though limited, is passionate and sexy. The death of the hero—this time, unlike so many opera deaths—from illness at sea is reasonable in Medieval times. She’s a “countess” (Susanna Phillips) and a fabulous, passionate creature who comes alive both to the fantasy of the hero from across the Mediterranean, and the real one in the flesh, The troubadour is a powerful baritone with a tenor upper range (Eric Owens). The Pilgrim is the only other character, genderless, but beautifully sung by Tamara Mumford. She’s the go-between for the lovers.

Yes, Wagner’s Tristan…, Yes, also Debussy’s Palleas…”  and also the neoclassical revivals of “antiquity” by Lully and Gluck and others. The chant-like chorus emerges importantly as a part of the feel of antiquity. But Saariaho is her own person. The libretto in French is syllabic (one note per syllable). That makes it declamatory. It’s delivered almost entirely in a double-gapped scale (larger than one step between consecutive scale notes, like the “harmonic minor” but with a second gap earlier in the scale).

I found this an over-used device that made the singing feel contricted by the scale, though the singers worked against it. And the wonderful mid-views and close-ups possible in the movie theater created so much drama, character and emotion that it hardly mattered in the end. The camera was active without being intrusive. The sound was excellent at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. This is an amazing medium for opera. What will it do to the Met live performances? Well, that’s their problem. They must reduce Met ticket prices at least.

I’m still bothered and always will be by the opera singer’s vibrato, especially in this case by the baritone. In the close-ups of the Pilgrim, you could see her lower jaw vibrating to create the vibrato. Less so with the lead soprano. Whenever a “straight” tone emerged, I was enlivened. A mixture is what one hopes for.

More has to be said of the cluster-y, drone-using orchestral harmony. Vocal pitches are almost always embedded someplace in the orchestra texture. Sometimes, as in the ending, a very persuasive bass tone underlies a tonal center. At other times the texture with filigrees of solo instruments takes over, and a kind of pan-everything pleasurable sound suffuses us.

Thumbnail Review No. 50

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Ostinato Hungarica: Ligeti played by Kigawa at LPR last night

All eighteen of his Etudes for Piano, composed between 1985 and 2001. A tour de force of composition, and of pianism by Taka Kigawa. Several of them played from memory. Most read from huge cardboard paste-ups. No page turns! The notes must be very small and the pianist, very good eyesight. I’ve been an admirer of Ligeti since the days of LPs. I have many. I should look at his notation. But Taka carries away the huge cardboard paste-ups after each of the three sets.

I’m amazed by what I’m hearing. Speechless, but I would like to say something. Rather bland words below. Add color!

Up the piano it went.

Down the piano it went.

In the middle of the piano it stayed. Then up, then down. To the top. To the bottom. Bam! Tonal? No, but something like it. (Schoenberg said there was no such thing as atonal.)

Fast, faster and fastest it went. Then faster. Loud, loudest. Terribly soft. Terrific activity then over, there’s another layer, low, softer, slowly ending underneath. That happened again in another etude. And again. Is there another way of listening to this? Should a “Schenker diagram” be forming in my head? N/A.

Dreamy slower, but never too slow. Suddenly come in some irregular accents. Dream is over. Louder, much. Regular accents, violent, but not for long. Nothing too long. This is Europe, not the U.S.

Why do I think that this piano converts everything into 19th Century music? It’s not the pianist. He’s doing more than just his job. Still, I think: Chopin, Liszt (that other Hungarian). Debussy. But how can this be since the program notes by Taka Kigawa  tell us of the fantastic numerical and rhythmic facts about the pieces. Algorithms gone wild. Or maybe semi-wild—”poly” is just not strong enough a word for these rhythms. Super-Poly? Is my impression of the Romantic era because of the pedaling? and is that Ligeti’s or Kigawa? Seems right for the material. Not too much. Just enough. So, why? Should the touch be more “mechanical?” That seems wrong. So, why?

Poetic titles: L’escalier du diable, Vertige, A bout de souffle, White on White, Automne å Varsovie—is this last an in-joke about the Warsaw Autumn Festival, or composed for it?

I notice the pianist’s frequent use of the soft pedal—for all soft passages. Yes, I can hear the difference. I like the sound. Is it in the score? or is it the pianist’s decisions? (Should I ask him, I think afterwards. But there’s a line.)

I’m in the front row of tables. Across the table is the NY TImes music critic. I ask him if he’s going to write about it (I saw him scribbling in tiny red handwriting). He says: yes.

In Wednesday’s edition. I’ll get it. It’s a big crowd at LPR. They are enthusiastic. So am I. I try my “bravo” whistle at the end, but it doesn’t come out. Wet my fingers?

I’m weary. So much effort by these tours de force dazes me. Maybe I need a drink?… Oh, I already had a drink, Le Poisson Rouge requires it.

Do I like the music? That almost seems superfluous.

And I really don’t  know.

Maybe I’ll know in a week or two. Or more. If yes to like, could it be like a lot  Maybe admire is safe. Respect? No problem. But like? That’s the issue, isn’t it? To have on that desert island with you. And what about love, need? Another thumbnail for that. And another for the issues that lie behind this post.

Thumbnail Review No. 49

 

Tom Johnson’s Other Harmony

 In spite of my continuing series of “Thumbnail Reviews,” this is not a review. First because I haven’t finished Tom’s book yet, and second because I don’t do reviews in the journalistic meaning of the word. More like: reflections.

I’ve known Tom since he appeared in the downtown scene of new music in the ‘70s around when I did, and admired his music, his theoretical approach, and his important role as a music critic for the Village Voice; his “beat” being the very downtown scene we were part of. I’ve performed some of his music with my DownTown Ensemble, and Flexible Orchestra. And I visited him after he had become an ex-pat in Paris in 2005, and where he has lived since leaving New York in the ‘80s.  His habit for visitors was to offer to play you some of his “deductive music” and when he thought you had heard enough he would say something like: that’s enough deductive music for today—and stop.

So this important, and I hope, controversial (and index-less book), which goes “beyond tonal and atonal” music (that’s his subtitle) pits once more the music as a listened-to phenomenon against the theory of music: a tradition of quasi opposition that goes back to Greek and Roman times. The most interesting of these writers are the ones who are also important composers, like Olivier Messiaen, about whose theory Tom has much—very positive—to say.

I’ve been ambivalent about this opposition. Partly because on one side, I contributed to a “structuralist” approach through my minimalist pieces, and through the “systems group” which we briefly had in the late ‘70s in New York with artists from several media, including composer, Philip Corner. Tom doesn’t remember this group when I recently brought it up to him. But it was a fun and wonderful thing to have for its short life. The other side of the ambivalence comes out below.

My biggest question about the kind of structuralist approach that equates notes with numbers, is: Would any of this have happened if we didn’t have discrete entities like twelve pitches to our “Western” scale? And my answer to my self is: maybe we have to have discrete numbered entities because of who (or what) we are. We are counters, enumerators, makers of discrete intellectual things, alphabetizers, and so on. But is that what music should be doing? All counting, I thought, was in the service of music, not music in the service of counting. But then Tom and Charlie Morrow did counting pieces. And they were interesting, even fascinating. Whether or not they were “music” seemed beside the point. Even when “boring.”

“Equal and Complete” is one of the chapters of the book. In it he means that the system behind the notes should have equality and completeness. An example of equality might be the interval between notes of a chord, like a major 7th. Or, simply, our system of “equal temperament” whereby the distance between each note of the 12 in the octave is the same. Completeness is something like: what are all the four note chords made up of such-and-such group of notes in a scale.

So then the eternal question is: What is the purpose (and use) of music? Is it to exhibit or manifest a system or process or structure, OR to move, invite, satisfy, transport, or amuse the listener? Can it be both? Difficult, but yes, it can be.  I count my self in both camps, at least for several of my pieces. Though Tom is firmly in the former, some of his earlier compositions like the Shaggy Dog Operas are in both camps. In those, the system or process was kept discretely (other meaning of that word!) behind the surface sound. And they were comedic, theatrical.

What is true of this book is that Tom Johnson has thoroughly brought the discussion up to date. Will he compose captivating music now, from the “other harmony” he’s written about? Does it have to be captivating? I would hope yes. But that’s because I like as much to be happening as possible.

Thumbnail Review No. 45

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pina Bausch’s “Kontakthof”- a reaction not a review

Too long by a lot, yet magisterial, a spectacle, with twenty-three dancers on stage much of the time. Women in ballroom solid color dresses danced either in heels or barefoot. Men were in ugly charcoal black or grey suits over white shirts with ties. Music hall, tango-ish numbers on scratchy low fidelity recordings, in German, dancers often speaking, in English, sometimes screaming, insufferable repetition of “darling” by one, overuse of the same recorded songs became finally a good move, supplemented by the “Third Man” theme, and a music-hall kind of recording of Sibelius’s “Valse Triste.”

Yes, “kontakt,” lots of it: from curiosity, sensuality, hostility, mixtures of all, sometimes very fast transitions from one to the other, very heterosexual. Sense of discomfort, awkwardness was an affect of the dancers, a theme of the choreographer. A lot of this piece appeared in Wim Wenders wonderful documentary of the Tanztheater of Pina Bausch (who died in 2009). Typical of the company’s easy-going approach to time was a line-up of all the dancers sitting in a row facing the audience each telling some personal story softly in their own language while another took the mic from to each one of all twenty-two, letting each story fall where it may in the middle. “Heavenly length?” An issue worth pursuing. In spite of the speaking, singing, screaming, no attempt to have a sculpted vocal theater like Meredith Monk’s.

Big age range, it seems, in the dancers. Lots over forty and beyond.

The appropriation of everyday movements into dance is familiar to us, and I’m guessing this piece is from the ’70’s or so when this was happening here too. It must have been shocking to a staid German audience of the time. Yet even now, some images were frightening: a female dancer being felt, felt up, slapped, lifted, manipulated by a large group of the men dancers. With my binoculars I was able to see that it was not a smile on her face, but an open-mouthed crying. Not funny. Yet a lot of the piece was mildly parodistic, and just plain pleasant. Especially the large rings of dancers walking in time over the generous whole of the Howard Gilman Opera House at BAM.

Thumbnail Review #42

An Open Letter: To CEO, Laura Walker of WNYC

Laura Walker, CEO                                                            October 12, 2014
WNYC
160 Varick Street
NY NY 10012

A BIT OF ANTI-INTELLECTUAL MIDDLE-BROW CORPORATISM AT WNYC

~an open letter to CEO, Laura Walker of WNYC.

This letter is a protest at your cancelling the free-wheeling, exciting Socratic tria-logue of “Gabfest Radio” and its replacement with a DOA humdrum digest of free-market anecdotes called “Market Place Weekend.”

If this were not part of a pattern, I might not have noticed it. But it is: you like digest call-ins with pre-screened questions to humdrum programs like the “DR Show,” “ On Point,” the one mentioned above, and many others.

You don’t like: intellectually brilliant formats like your former show from California public radio, “To the Point”, or as I said, the—let me add younger generation of intellectuals demonstrated in Gabfest Radio.

You’re going to tell me that all those things I like are available on podcasts. Oh, phooey! You know that radio is Power and Community at a single click. That’s why you’re in radio, Ms. CEO Walker, and not just some obscure blogger out there in the ether.

I won’t go back and repeat my praise for the cancelled “To the Point” or start an extended analysis of the trenchant, raw, live interactional show, “Gabfest Radio.”

I’ll just mark this place. And put this up on my blog, danielgoode.com where anyone can comment. You are invited to do so, and I’ll be back on your case right away!

Daniel Goode
167 Spring Street #3
NY NY 10012

P.S. At this very moment I am in receipt of a fundraising letter from you. Very funny!

Waves of Noise at the Climate Change March, Sept. 21st

But first, my favorite signs around me as we marched, leisurely, I have to say, pleasantly, were:

“There is no PLAN-et B”
“Shower together—Save water”
“Extinction is forever”
“Their greed crushes our spirit” (a sad looking young man in a baseball cap wore this T-shirt)
“Save the Humans” (spoken by a bunch of endangered animals, pictured)

We were still about a couple hundred yards from the head of the march at Columbus Circle at 1 PM when a mighty noise was scheduled to happen. Later I learned why it started a little early: there was to be a minute of silence before the giant noise made by everyone. And as surely as people can hardly be silent for long, that minute was cut short, so the big noise started about a minute or so before 1 PM. But it was a wonderful sound wafting over Columbus Circle to where we stood south of the front-most part of the marchers.

Later, when we had joined, and more than once, and mysteriously—why did it happen? a large mostly vocal noise swept up from behind us. We joined, and it subsided. It was thrilling each time. Ann and I had loud metal rattles from India, and a couple of mouth whistles. Some drums with a “sol-do” (up) tonality were happening near us, fun to play along with. We got quite tired by 42nd St. and took the subway home. Struck up conversations with others on the subway that never would have happened on a normal day.

I heard that at Wall Street civil disobedience today (the day after), the “people’s mike” technique was used to forward information to the protesters. (That’s this fabulous innovation of Occupy Wall Street in which succeeding rows or clumps of people repeat the message to the next group and on and on as necessary to reach the whole crowd.)

The estimate was of 311,000 people at the Sunday march.

Thumbnail Review #41

Gustav Mahler: After Nine

Two young composers influenced by Mahler’s 9th Symphony were performed:  by the Argento Chamber Ensemble, playing Matthew Ricketts’s After Nine: Fantasia on Mahler; and by the JACK Quartet, playing Taylor Brook’s Arrithmia——as a prelude to the Argento’s September 15th performance of the Mahler Symphony No. 9 (see my Thumb Nail Review #39.)

The latter of the two scarcely seemed serious. The composer wrote: “What does Mahler have to do with a string quartet written in 2012? It may be the result of an ‘anything goes’ attitude on my part.” Yes, anything goes; and anything went…He claims the “melodic quotations promote a clear connection to Mahler’s symphony…” I couldn’t hear them, though maybe the recurring mi-re-do stood in for that (if you remember that the first movement is mostly mi-re, and very little do till the the last note). In any case the JACK Quartet hacked through the piece with great vigor, though it seemed to very little artistic effect from the composer.

The Ricketts piece was a sensitive timbral study that moved from pitch level to pitch level, staying, expanding, then moving on. I’m thinking that there is newish style of creating tonal puddles based on this format. Each puddle gives way to the next. Then the piece ends. In Mr. Ricketts’s case, the penultimate moment was a passionate, but quickly disappearing climactic moment, re-orchestrated, from the Mahler first movement. It couldn’t stay long, or it would have been Mahler. Just a swipe at it.

I’m ambivalent about putting these two young composers with short pieces before the gigantic Mahler symphony. A little unfair. At the end of the evening my head was filled to overflowing with “ear worms” from its four movements. Usually it’s days, if not weeks for these ear worms to subside. Not much room for anything else. These things rise up from the unconscious, or someplace in there, just to the level of singability, but of course can’t be sung, because the underlying pulsing harmony can only be thought. I’m not sure I like this ear worm thing, but I know I can’t control it. It has to die down at its own rate, and something else must replace it.

Now a little poem on varied repetition: Iterative, re-iterative, iteravia, via, vi…. Another meaning to repetition in music is this continuous varied-repetition of long, well-formed melodic sentences. (One of my mentors in composition idly mentioned, the great length of a musical sentence in Mahler, which surprised me coming from a indomitable modernist.) Well-formed, by the way, includes ellipses, contractions, interruptions as part of a whole sentence, not some abstract symmetrical balancing.

Did Mahler have (“suffer” from) ear worms? How would we know?The simplicity of the melodic phrases—the parts of his long melodies— seems to force him into a paroxysm of increasing intensities of varied repetitions in the melodies and their orchestral counterpoints. Because of the simplicity of the original, and the obsessional nature of the composer? Were his putative ear worms vernacular borrowings or originals that sound inspired by vernacularities? Whatever you think about this, you have to create a special category of the archetype Repetition to account for Mahler’s underlying insistence on a musical gesture—call them themes, melodies, motives, or sentences. It’s not like Bruckner’s or Wagner’s iterative-ness. Nor Terry Riley’s nor Steve Reich’s, nor my own. Something special! It digs into you. It’s another kind of trance. I can imagine hating it because you believe that restraint is an essential part of art. But the only restraint necessary is that required by the instruments playing, and, historically, this has changed, partly because of Mahler’s composing. And every new generation of composers.

(Just to correct: the Argento string section: was 4,4,3,2,1)

Thumbnail Review #40

Mahler’s 9th Rules – Even in a Chamber Version!

So, it was reduced forces like 2 horns instead of 4, 1 trumpet, 2 clarinets, 1 flute, etc., no lower brass, and strings: 3,3,3,2,1. No harp? It’s impossible without harp to do the 9th! But so cleverly, the piano and yes, that was an accordion, did amazing things to sound like all those missing instruments—the piano as harp was my favorite, but also its “lower brass” explosions were tasty. It was the Argento Chamber Ensemble conducted by Michel Galante. My friend and collaborator, Stephanie Griffin led the viola section and tipped me off to this September 15th New York premiere (of the chamber version)—seems to me it was a first—at the Advent Lutheran Church, Broadway and 93rd where they have a free Monday music series.

What worked amazingly was the completely adequate volume in the loud sections. It was overpowering where required. I sat close to minimize excess church reverb, but the direct sound was satisfyingly loud. (An aside: the emotional climax driven, formally clinched pushing-through (Durchbruch, or breakthrough—Adorno) must, of course, leverage the sheer phenomenon of acoustic volume, Must! Mahler is all about how to do climaxes right, and then what should follow.)

What didn’t work in the chamber orchestra version was interesting. Not the missing instruments: and especially not-missing were all those piquant solos in Mahler’s full orchestra original, no problemo! No, rather it was the counterpoint—I really mean something more generic even than counterpoint, the counterbalancing of competing rhythmic channels—among the five string groups, especially the upper three. So much information, expressional verve, sheer thrill is in the way these bodies play against and with each other within the generous harmonic framework of the whole. But strings merged as one body all too often, and especially in loud tutti sections.

But the symphony as a successful artifact was all there, and wove its amazing web. And we thank Klaus Simon, a theorist commissioned by Universal Edition, Mahler’s publisher, for this brilliant feat. And for Michel Galante’s directing these fabulous musicians. A free concert on the Upper West Side is a dangerous demographic act if you want to attract people as young as these performers were. Yes, dangerous, because it was, movingly, a geriatric crowd with lots of walkers and wheelchairs in the aisles… We love our culture, and many of us, our Mahler! I’m thinking of images of those young string players biting down and into those forte attacks in those crucial places, because expression is a function of the gestures’ placement in music’s time experience, and in feeling’s time.

I loved the lilting regularity of the opening Andante, first movement. I once touted this quality of the piece to Ann as being the perfect long, long theme for “meditative walking” (yes: the meaning of the best andantes for me is meditative walking). But when I took her to a full orchestra performance, the conductor made so many stretchings, speedups and slowdowns of these opening bars and pages, that I had to look at her helpslessly and say, oh: I guess not. Anyway, Michel Galante understood the movement’s beginning in the right way for me. The unfolding of the long, long theme and its varied repetitions was hypnotic because of the regularity, and much more cumulatively affecting than those other ways of doing it.

Only the viciously contrapuntal Rondo Burleske third movement didn’t work that well. The fast clip meant that the final stretto section had to be too fast to hear much detail, becoming an exciting mess of sound, only, instead of a hilariously thrilling combining of all the ideas at once in a headlong race to the end.

Another review on the two new pieces by young composers influenced by Mahler’s 9th will come in another thumb nail review..

Thumbnail Review #39

Beauty, a Thumb-nail Review

I’m more convinced than ever, and long before today’s text from NASA (below), that we are hard-wired for finding beauty “in nature,” including, of course, the cosmos. Repeating patterns and symmetries bent by the complex processes of “nature” (including ours) is what we see all the time, even when we are just seeing our own retina. It just keeps happening. Of course it’s not the only kind of beauty we find, but it’s a start. And it’s as true of sound as it is of sight. Morton Feldman’s title, “Crippled Symmetries” puts an odd spin on it, but that piece and others of his testifies to the connection I’m making. Once, looking down from an airline on snow patterns scattered on a rectangular grid of Mid-Western farmland, I thought of the term: “collage of processes” to describe what I was seeing. That’s also a way of describing some kinds of composing. (Fractals is another part of what we see and hear. Let’s leave them for another time.)

“Explanation: Beautiful emission nebula NGC 6164 was created by a rare, hot, luminous O-type star, some 40 times as massive as the Sun. Seen at the center of the cosmic cloud, the star is a mere 3 to 4 million years old. In another three to four million years the massive star will end its life in a supernova explosion. Spanning around 4 light-years, the nebula itself has a bipolar symmetry. That makes it similar in appearance to more common and familiar planetary nebulae – the gaseous shrouds surrounding dying sun-like stars. Also like many planetary nebulae, NGC 6164 has been found to have an extensive, faint halo, revealed in this deep telescopic image of the region. Expanding into the surrounding interstellar medium, the material in the halo is likely from an earlier active phase of the O star. The gorgeous skyscape is a composite of extensive narrow-band image data…” [My emphases.]
http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ for May 22nd, 2014.

The passage from NASA goes on to talk about “glowing atomic hydrogen gas in red and oxygen in blue hues” Glowing red and blue hues is an invitation to beauty.

Thumb-nail Review #38

Chou Wen-Chung in His 91st Year, at Merkin Concert Hall Last Night

February 21, 2014 10:16:31 PM EST

With only three pieces on the program it wasn’t exactly a Retrospective. Nor was it a Recital (as in ‘here’s what I do’). Better than either of these, it was an Event!

Student of Varése after he arrived from China in 1946; his copyist and editor, he completed Varése’s Nocturnal, orchestrated his Etude Pour Espace—Chou is also his literary executor and lives with his wife, Yi-an, in Varése’s house on Sullivan Street in the Village along with some of Varése s cherished instruments. And as you might expect, he was influenced by Varése’s aesthetic. But with a new self-imposed task: to make a personal synthesis of “East and West.”

Cursive for flute and piano was beautifully played by Jayn Rosenfeld (flute) and Christopher Oldfather (pianist, with coloristic inside plucks, et al). Cursive hand-writing which is no longer taught or readable by young people, was Chou’s bridge to the calligraphies of Asia. I resolved then and there to practice my own cursive which is now deficient from over-use of the computer. The piece was quite atonal on first listen.

Twilight Colors for a luscious sextet of three winds and three strings, was the first piece on the program, played vividly by Boston Musica Viva, and conducted by Richard Pittman. Right away I felt a difference in the role of rhythm. A dotted rhythm, a triplet was not a Western “authority figure” driving the music motivically. Rather, it was more like a loving receptacle of a sound, of a tone, of several tones. There was room for a breath of contemplation, time slowed down. Different from Cage’s ‘let the sounds be themselves,’ but equal in setting itself apart from the European grammar of connection. 

Echoes from the Gorge was the last piece on the program, played brilliantly by the percussion quartet,Talujon, on a large array of quite standard Western percussion instruments. A glorious noise piece in many movements. Often in the silence between movements the wooden chimes, charmingly, had a few more soft sounds left to say. I was thinking while listening: all these instruments, didn’t they come from “the East?” I watched one player repeatedly strike the giant tam-tam near its rim with three small-headed mallets, eliciting nothing but high piercing frequencies, not the low bonging we expect from a big gong. Just then there was a huge noisy climax of “ear-cleaning” zinging tutti tremolos. 

Since color was a theme of the concert, I must report that all but two of the players wore the standard ho-hum uniform of black. Only Jayn Rosenfeld in a pale purple blouse, and Christopher Oldfather in a mauve shirt, begged to differ. 

It was a small, but loving audience. Chou Wen-chung came up on stage to receive the applause and a bouquet. Small, dapper, charming, with a full head of grey-flecked hair—when I introduced myself later, he graciously thanked me for coming to the concert. 

Thumb-nail Review #36