After seeing Avi Avital play an amazing show last week, it seemed only fitting to mention a show with an other amazing mandolin player. Chris Thile does some incredible work on that tiny instrument. I’d love to see a duel between the two of them—it would be mind blowing.
Thile has played with many many different musicians, both in bands (Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek) and as duos and trios. And this duet with guitarist Michael Daves is fantastic.
Daves plays a folkie electric guitar and sings. They share lead and harmony vocal duties (with Thile usually going higher). And while Thile’s mandolin solos are incredible, Daves is no slouch on the guitar either–his fingering may be just as fast as Thile’s.
The two have a great rapport (and play a super long set!). The duo met and were going to record one song, but it turned into more than a dozen. And they play 6 of them during this show.
“Sleep With One Eye Open” feature Daves on lead vocal. It’s upbeat and bouncy folk with a country twang attached. (I love that Thile’s mandolin is just as loud as Dave’s guitar). And I love watching Thile bounce around while playing.
They duet on vocals for “Rabbit in the Log” which is about the inherent cuteness and tastiness of rabbits. Thile’s fingerwork is mind blowing until you hear the solo that Daves does. And how does a song that’s so fast end so sweetly?
“Bury Me Beneath The Willow” is slower song with Thile on lead vocals. it shows that their whole act isn’t about speed.
“Billy In The Lowground” Thile says that Billy, “through no fault of his own ended up in the lowground.” It’s an instrumental so we just have to imagine what Billy did. It’s another place for them to show off their skills.
“It Takes One to Know One” is a more bluesy than bluegrass song with Daves on lead vocals. It’s alike a slow blues song with Daves’ country twang vocals. Thile’s slide solo is amazing—never seen anything quite like that on the mandolin (well, until Avi did something similar).
When their set should be over, Thile says they’ll do “one more for good measure.” “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” is an incredibly fast song. They duet on vocals but Daves really shines on the super fast guitar solos.
The more I see Chris Thile the more I’m impressed by him. I can’t wait to see who he teams up with next.
[READ: February 23, 2016] “There are Other Forces at Work”
John Darnielle, singer and guitarist for the Mountain Goats is also a fiction writer. And here is a great essay about John Cage.
Darnielle opens the essay by saying that on the day that Nixon resigned, Darnielle was 7, but he cheered anyone since he was taught that Nixon was the bad guy. And on that day, John Cage gave the first public reading of “Empty Word” a piece of unaccompanied voice in which he read from Thoreau’s journals and reduced the journals first to single words then to syllables and eventually to letters–drawing them out slower and slower.
This piece caused riots.
Then Darnielle gets to the meat of the matter. He has gone to Halberstadt because The John Cage Project has been performing Cages’ “ORGAN2/ASLSP” there since 2000. And it plans to run until 2640. Perhaps you have heard of this piece and its preposterous length.
There is a piano version of ASLSP (which stands for As Slow as Possible). Darnielle tries to imagine playing each note on a piano until it rang its length out (about 30 seconds). But an organ can play for as long a performer can hold the note. The only instruction Cage gave for the piece: “all eight pieces are to be played. However, any one of them may be repeated, though not necessarily, and as in ASLSP, the repetition may be placed anywhere in the series.” In other words you can play it for as long as you like
Here’s a 4 minute version
It is being performed in Halberstadt because the modern twelve note keyboard was in vented in Halberstadt in 1361. That was 639 years before 2000 and thus the entire piece will last until 2640 which is 639 years from 2000 (there’s nice symmetry for an asymmetrical piece). As such, since they were mathematical about it, they determined that one of the 8 parts would last 71 years. That’s 71 years of an organ playing a single note.
When Darnielle arrives it is for one of the changing of the chords. This discordant chord had been playing since 2012. Before he arrived, he tried to imagine what it would be like, and he is both underwhelmed but also moved by the simplicity of it. He says its not pretty or unpretty, it’s just sort of there–a kind of background drone. It’s also much quieter than he imagined. The chord is being played by sandbags–there is no keyboard.
The note change (and Darnielle’s visit) was on October 5, 2013. The next change is in 7 years. Here’s a list of planned chord changes (note they do not go until 2640)
The piece started with a 17-month rest on September 5, 2001, Cage’s 89th birthday. The first sound appeared on February 5, 2003. Subsequent dates for note changes include:
- July 5, 2004
- July 5, 2005
- January 5, 2006
- May 5, 2006
- July 5, 2008
- November 5, 2008
- February 5, 2009
- July 5, 2010
- February 5, 2011
- August 5, 2011
- July 5, 2012
- October 5, 2013
- September 5, 2020
Beyond the sound of the chord there are things to see. An engraved metal panel attached to an iron rail at eye level–these were paid for by people as a funding for this project and they were allowed to write what they liked.
Darnielle was quite moved by the thing although he is concerned because they play the notes of the new chord one at a time–one note builds on the others. He says the piece is supposed to be just the one chord and that’s it. (Realistically it allowed the three people who were invited to begin the chord to each have a moment in the spotlight). Then he realizes that in the course of 639 years (if you were to compress it to a reasonable length) that will seem like a blip or a grave note.
Darnielle notes that Cage can still cause people’s ire to rise, just if you look at all of the YouTube comments on his piece “4’33′”(the silence piece). People are outraged by it, still.
I really enjoyed Darnielle’s look at this fascinating event. I really like Cage for his daring.
Here’s a person’s recording of the event