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Archive for June, 2014

doubelSOUNDTRACK: JOSEPH CALLEJA-Tiny Desk Concert #344 (March 24, 2014).

Jcallejaoseph Calleja is an opera singer.  This puts me at a huge disadvantage in that I have nothing really to say about him.  I like some operas and have even been to one, but I have no real experience with the tenor voice.  And his is quite amazing.

So I’ll just include what NPR does.  Calleja is from Malta (although his English is perfect).  He is 36 and is one of opera’s biggest stars.  Evidently you can hear that his voice has matured since his early recordings.

The one thing I can include is that he makes a very funny joke in which he says that instead of playing the third song, they are going to do two hours of Dutch and Flemish operas.

What he really sings is : Tchaikovsky: “None But The Lonely Heart” ; Tosti: Ideale ; Puccini: E lucevan le stelle (from Tosca).

[READ: June 25, 2014] Double Happiness

I read this book several hours after reading Fleep and didn’t realize it was the same artist (I hadn’t noticed the name on Fleep).

There are some similarities in style between the two (Fleep looks a  little more “professional.”).  But Double Happiness had a lot more characters and a much more complicated plot.  Nevertheless, the main character bears a passing resemblance to the guy from Fleep (his head is a circle and his hair is much the same).

The main character is Tom, a Chinese American living in Boston.  He takes the bus to San Francisco (ugh that sounds awful) where he meets his “cousin” Jackson.  Jackson lives in San Francisco (they’re not really sure how they are related) in a rent-free establishment.  So Jackson tells Tom to absolutely stay with them while he’s in S.F. (it’s something to do with a business trip, but those details aren’t too important).

When they arrive at he flat, Tom meets Jenny, Jackson’s girlfriend, and her sister Ji Lian.  Everyone is super nice to him.  But soon they start laughing at his Chinese failings–he can’t use chopsticks very well and he doesn’t speak Cantonese or Mandarin or whatever they are speaking.  (It turns out to be Hokkien).  Tom has a minor breakdown as he explains that he has never fit in anywhere.  In Boston he was the only Chinese person in tiny suburb and now he can’t even fit in in a Chinese community. (more…)

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fleepSOUNDTRACK: THE HADEN TRIPLETS-Tiny Desk Concert #345 (March 31, 2014).

hadenThe Haden Triplets are the daughters of Charlie Haden.  Individually, they are Petra (from That Dog and a cool solo reproduction of The Who Sell Out), Rachel (from The Rentals and other projects) and Tanya Haden (from Let’s Go Sailing).

Here they eschew all of their alt leaning and focus on straightforward old-school country.  Their harmonies are gorgeous, and when accompanied by the upright bass and simple drums and Rachel’s (I think) violin, they create an impressively full sound.

I don’t have too much more to say about it.  It’s just very solid old school female harmonized country songs.  I didn’t know any of the songs, but they do four: “Single Girl, Married Girl,” “Voice From On High,” “Slowly,” and “Tiny Broken Heart.”  And they seem genuinely delighted to be playing there.  I imagine that Sarah would like this very much.

I only wish they had told us who was who.  And that this wasn’t edited so much.  I don’t know how long these performances are in total, but sometimes it feels like they edit too much out of these shows (do they have bandwidth problems?).

[READ: June 25, 2014] Fleep

A pile of interesting graphic novels came to my desk this week.  And the first one I felt compelled to read was Fleep.

As you can see by the cover, it promised to be a pretty stark book.  And indeed it was.

The story opens with a young man entering a phone book.  The drawing style very simple–some subtle shadings that belie the simplicity of the over all look (the main guy has a round head and round eyes, but doesn’t look “childish” and almost all of the book takes place in the same location from the same angle).

The next page is all dark but for his eyeballs as the guy (unnamed for much of the story), tries to figure out what happened to him. He soon realizes that he is in the phone booth and the phone booth is surrounded by concrete on all sides.  He picks up the phone and there is a dial tone, but he can’t seem to call anyone.  The phone book is in gibberish and the phone booth now says FLEEP where it once said PHONE.  He rifles through his pockets and finds some strange coins, a Russian phrasebook, a pen and a piece of paper with Russian writing (that he can’t read) on one side and numbers on the other.  (more…)

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orphan[BINGED: June 15-24, 2014] Orphan Black

Last year when Orphan Black came out, we taped a bunch of episodes, but it aired at an awkward time in our viewing schedule.  We watched the first episode but we picked a bad night (for me) to watch it because I dozed off and didn’t get absorbed in it.  Then the Tivo deleted an episode or two and that was the end of that.

As Season 2 was amping up, the press about the show was a little ridiculous, but everything made the show sound so good that we decided to give it a try again.  Of course, it started before the Fall season shows ended, but SyFy kindly aired a marathon of Season 1.  By the time we had time to watch it, we had 17 episodes in our queue.  And that was an awesome way to watch this show–no delays between episodes, just one show a night until we were totally hooked.

Sure, some of the details of the show are confusing and sure there’s some weird sciencey mumbo-jumbo, but when the characters are this intriguing, and the actual story grows more compelling, you can forgive confusion (especially since a surprising number of those questions were answered in the Season 2 finale).  The acting is superb and each clone’s storyline is detailed and rich.  Even the characters that were despicable have become enjoyable (how many murderers are we going to root for on this show?). (more…)

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flinchSOUNDTRACK: HAUSCHKA-“Improvisation,” “Random Gifts” and “Mt. Hood” in the NPR studios (2010).

hausckaHauschka is German composer Volker Bertelmann and he plays the prepared piano.  What that means is that he places things on and in the piano to alter the sound of it.  (Nothing he does creates any permanent damage).

Mostly he creates percussive sounds with things like bottle caps,Tic Tac boxes and skewers.  And while it sounds simple, it is really quite ingenious.

This Vimeo link shows him talking to Guy Raz at NPR about the random materials that Raz has given him and then demonstrating how they change the sound of things.  Then he plays the “Random Gifts.”

The Youtube Video below shows another improv piece from the same day using different items.

This Vimeo link to him playing “Mt. Hood” shows off his use of ping pong balls.

All of his songs are fairly simple and fairly slow, primarily because the preparations add resonances and percussion that would overwhelm if he played faster.  Thus his pieces are often moody and reflective

Hauschka has a new album out as of this month called Abandoned City.  Every track on the new CD is named after a city that has been abandoned, that is vacant.  And his spare oftentimes eerie music goes very well with that theme.

There’s lots more videos of him on YouTube which are worth checking out.

[READ: June 23, 2014] Flinch

I was grabbed by the cover of this graphic novel.  The book is so short that I was really surprised to see that it was actually a collection of short stories.  As you can tell from the subtitle, this work is going to be dark and more than a little creepy.  And it is.  And while there are some similar visual styles, it’s interesting to see just how different these 13 stories can be.  Most of the stories use very few words, relying instead on the power of the visuals.  And it works pretty well.

I didn’t think any of them were especially creepy or dark, although the first one is kinda gross.  I enjoyed them for what they were, short stories that revel in the darker side of life.  I hadn’t heard of most of the artists.  The only one I knew was Shaun Tan. (more…)

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nycSOUNDTRACK: TOM BROUSSEAU-Tiny Desk Concert #347 (April 12, 2014)

brousseauI only know of Tom Brousseau from NPR–both All Songs Considered and WNYC’s Soundcheck have played him a lot.  Of course, I had no idea what he looked like (an didn’t expect what he does look like either).  His voice is a little high-pitched (the Tiny Desk site says people think he’s a woman, although I don’t really hear that), but it’s very compelling.  Mostly you listen to Brousseau for the storytelling lyrics.

“Cradle Your Device” is a very funny song about how technology can interfere with your romantic life.  The second song “Stuck on the Roof Again,” tells a true story about the octogenarian newspaper columnist Marilyn Hagerty, who got stuck on the roof of her home in Grand Forks, N.D., after a heavy snowstorm.  He introduces the song with a lengthy story about Hagerty and her food critic reviews (of The Olive Garden of all things) which have suddenly gained her fame.  There are some pretty harmonies by his accompanist Sean Watkins

Brousseau is a charming and earnest storyteller, and it’s fun to hear what he has to say as much as what he has to sing.  The third song is “Today is a Bright New Day.”  He says it’s early in the morning for him to hit the high notes, and he does struggle some.  But he gives a great performance nonetheless of this pretty, earnest song.

I’m not sure if I’d want to hear a lot more of him, but I enjoyed this set quite a lot–maybe a live record is the way to go.

[READ: June 18, 2014] NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette

I found this book at work and couldn’t pass up reading it.  The fact that it’s small and has few words meant I read it in about 20 minutes.  But don’t let the brevity fool you, there’s a lot of useful information for novice New Yorkers, tourists and maybe even some old school New Yorkers (although they won’t admit it).  The audience seems to be primarily those who have just moved to the City, although as I say, tourists will find it useful, too.

There are two components to this book: Tips and Etiquette. I have worked in NYC so I am certainly familiar with the City, but I found some of the tips (especially subway tips about unfamiliar areas) to be very helpful.  Even simple things like mnemonic devices for streets in the Village or recognizing buildings or bridges (Manhattan made of metal; Brooklyn built from bricks) were quick and easy devices.  And he lets us know that even if NYC is much safer than in days of old, we should still be aware of some common scams.

But the bulk of the book is about etiquette.  It is designed for people n New York, but at least 80% of the etiquette is useful anywhere.

The more specifically New York based items are things that remind you that New Yorkers are often in a hurry–oftentimes they are not being rude, they are simply commuting and need to get where they are going.  So, you should a) be decisive and b) be assertive.  People are probably waiting behind you and they will certainly try to go around you if you are too slow.  So order your food quickly and move up a line quickly.  The one etiquette thing I liked best was his comments about not looking at your phone while you are on the streets. Not only are you distracted and might bump into someone, but you might miss your soulmate. (more…)

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over easySOUNDTRACK: ANDREW HEWITT-“A Boy Held Up with String” (2014).

Yhewittesterday I mentioned the soundtrack to The Double.  The score was composed by Andrew Hewitt, and this is one of the more popular pieces from the film.

It opens with some fast violin runs that seems to be racing each other, until about twenty seconds in the piano takes over the runs, but with a high note that keeps the pieces grounded (in the air somewhat).

The end of the song is primarily the piano with violin swirling around on top of the melody.

It actually feels like an introduction to something epic, but as with most scores, 75 seconds is all you’re going to get out of this cool, dramatic piece.

You can hear it here.

[READ: June 5, 2014] Over Easy

I saw this book at work and more or less ignored it.  Then a few days later I saw a review of it in somewhere and decided to read it.

This is a graphic novel about a young artist making ends meet at a diner in Oakland, California in the 1970s.  The back of the book says this is a fictionalized memoir (which I hate because, well, let’s just call it fiction, huh?).

Margaret is an art student.  As the story opens, she is in a diner, the only one there, when a guy named Lazlo starts talking to her. He is funny, cleverly dressed and probably high.  (He claims his full name is Lazlo Meringue).  Margaret is broke and knows that most waitresses hate poor students, but Lazlo is willing to take one of her drawings in exchange a meal.  And a friendship is born.

A flashback shows us that Margaret grew up in San Diego.  When she graduated high school, she didn’t want to do anything, but was forced to go to college–so she chose Art school at San Diego State.  Then she moved to Oakland, and got mired in the art scene.  In which punks were starting to push out the hippies.  And the center of it all was the Imperial Cafe (the diner in the first scene).

She says that you can discern the various culture who came into the cafe by the drugs they took: Professional crowd (cocaine); punks (speed); hippies (pot).  And since she could no longer afford school, she felt that she could do worse than working at the Imperial.  Lazlo says she has to tell him a joke or a dream and if he likes it, she’s hired.  Her joke is quite vulgar and she is welcomed as Madge.  Her first job is washing dishes and scrubbing out all the shit.  It is backbreaking and strangely satisfying. (more…)

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doubleSOUNDTRACK: KIM JUNG MI-“The Sun” (1973).

kjmsunThis song, along with a few other unexpected tracks accompany the score for The Double which was composed by Andrew Hewitt.  Kim Jung Mi is a South Korean singer (singing in Korean) and this track is hers from the 1970s.

Interestingly, the melody is conventionally Western (played on acoustic guitars), but as I said the vocals are all in Korean.  The song has a 70s folk (with orchestra) feel, and while there are a lot of Westernisms about the song, it still sounds “foreign.”

The song is pretty and eventually builds to adding some strings.  However at nearly 7 minutes without a lot of change (lots of La La Las, maybe like “Hey Jude”?), it’s a bit (well, a lot) too long.

[READ: June 13, 2014] The Double

I saw this book at work and immediately grabbed it because I love Richard Ayoade (Moss on The IT Crowd).  I didn’t even know what this was, I just had to see it.  Then I saw that it was that it a play and I was intrigued, especially when I saw that Chris O’Dowd (also from The IT Crowd) was in it.

Then I read the introductions by Korine and Ayoade and learned that this is actually a film.  When I looked online I saw that it opened in limited release last week.  Holy cow!  The film stars Jessee Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska and also features Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor and J Mascis (as a janitor).

The story is based on Dostoevsky’s short story “The Double” (so you know it’s not especially cheery).  And, although I assumed it would still be funny (given Ayoade’s credentials), it is not as funny (at least in print) as one might expect.  The other weird thing was that I kept picturing Moss as the lead character (some lines seem very Moss-like), so should I ever see this it will be weird to hear the lines coming from Eisenberg. (more…)

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