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Archive for the ‘Alessandro Baricco’ Category

[WATCHED: December 29, 2014] The Legend of 1900

1900After really enjoying Novocento, I wanted to see what they would do with a film of the book.  I was especially curious how they took the sixty-some page monologue and turned it into a 2 hour film.

The film was written by Giuseppe Tornatore who directed Cinema Paradiso.  It was filmed entirely in Italy (which explains how they got the New York scenes to look so old world) and yet it was written entirely in English (apparently before Novocento was translated).  It starred Tim Roth as Nineteenhundred (not Novocento, like in the book) and a bunch of other people I didn’t know.

The movie was, as I say, written by Tornatore, based on the book. He kept virtually the entire book the same for the movie.  But he added a bookend section to give the narrator someone to talk to.  And this is how the film was stretched out to two hours.

The new parts are certainly interesting.  Max, Nineteenhundred’s only real friend and fellow shipboard musician, is selling his trumpet at a pawn shop.  This part confused me because the pawn shop owner is British, but I thought the ship was docked in New York.  But whatever.  He plays his trumpet one last time and the melody he plays is the same one that the shop keeper then plays on a phonograph. (more…)

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barbariabnsSOUNDTRACK: ULTRA LOUNGE: CHRISTMAS COCKTAILS Part Three: Yule Tide Cheer Through the Year (2005).

xmastails3The final part of the Ultra Lounge Christmas set certainly sees them running out of steam.  There’s far fewer songs and the total running time is nearly 20 minutes shorter.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great tracks here.

CARMEN McRAE-“Baby It’s Cold Outside” a fun opening with some talking before the song between Carmen and Sammy Davis Jr.  Davis is really silly through the song (and she seems to be laughing him).  BING CROSBY-“Frosty The Snowman” wonderful.  LENA HORNE-“Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” a trippy opening in which Horne was “in the milky way.” Then the song kicks in—a fun version overall. Strangely she switches “bad or good” into “good or bad.”  JOHNNY MERCER-“Jingle Bells” a fun hopping version with plenty of swing.  There’s even extra lines (“there’s nothing new about jingle bells”).

WAYNE NEWTON-“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” Female vocalists again (I thought Newton was a singer?), but nevertheless, it’s a fun version.  NANCY WILSON-“That’s What I Want For Christmas” a pretty song, that I didn’t know before.  I really dig Nancy Wilson.  DEAN MARTIN-“Winter Wonderland” delightful, I do love the Deano.  BILLY MAY-“Do You Believe In Santa Claus?” – Billy May’s deep dark rather scary voice presents this weird song.  It’s funny and a little spooky what  with the crazy way it ends.

PEGGY LEE-“White Christmas” this version is too for me.  AL MARTINO-“Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer” this is a nice version, though.  RAY ANTHONY-“A Marshmallow World” a lovely version of this fun song.  LOU RAWLS-“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” Rawls has finally won me over.  I like this song by him.  JULIE LONDON-“I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” slow and jazzy but too slow for me.  NAT KING COLE-“Buon Natale (Means Merry Christmas To You)” a fun song quaint and cute and one you don’t hear very often.  JUNE CHRISTY-“Sorry To See You Go” I don’t know this song, it’s more of a New Year’s song. Swet and bouncy. Although not my favorite ending to the discs.

So that’s the Ultra Lounge mixes, easily my favorite way to spend a holly day.

[READ: December 24, 2014] The Barbarians

This was the final Baricco book I planned to read this year and it’s a good way to end the year–reflecting on the past but planning to move forward.

It’s nonfiction so I didn’t really know what to expect.  But I certainly didn’t expect the story in the beginning of the book.  Baricco explains that he really wanted this book to be translated into English (especially for the American market where he felt it would be particularly on target) but he couldn’t find anyone to publish it.  And he didn’t want to go self publishing.  He ultimately found a friend in New York, owner of Eataly who agreed to foot the cost.  They did the work and then Random House distributed it.

So Stephen Sartarelli translated it.  The book is a fun and interesting look at the barbarians who are ruining our culture and destroying our soul.  But Baricco is very careful to point out that just because they are ruining things, it doesn’t mean that they are making things worse or doing it maliciously.  He uses several specific instances in which the barbarians have changed something held sacred and made it, if not better, then different and often more enjoyable.

This book was originally written as a series of newspaper articles in 2006 (not sure exactly when).  He says it was fun to see feedback as he was writing each installment (each “chapter” is about four pages). (more…)

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novocSOUNDTRACK: BUKKENE BRUSE-The Loveliest Rose (2002).

bruseI’m not entirely sure how I came to own this disc.  But I’m so glad I do.  This is a Christmas album from one of Norway’s traditional ensembles (pronounced: BUH-kayna BREW-sah).  They have been around since the 1990s and have toured extensively around the world.  This is their only Christmas album.  It was recorded in an Oslo church.

The album features four players on some great traditional instruments: Arve Moen Bergset – vocals, violin & Hardingfele; Annbjørg Lien – Hardingfele & nyckelharpa; Steinar Ofsdal – flute; Bjørn Ole Rasch – pipe organ.

The album is a wonderful collection of music.  I prefer the instrumentals, although Bergset does have a lovely singing voice.  What I found most interesting is that the sound of the music conveyed many non-Norwegian feelings.  I heard some Irish sounding traditional music and even some Native American (the flute in the final song).

The pipe organ sounds amazing and the fiddle, especially on “Father Fiddled on Christmas Eve” is fantastic.

Nine of the songs are traditional, the rest are written by the band, aside from St. Sunniva, the opening of which comes from ELP’s “Karn Evil 9, 3rd impression (I kid you not–it is quite stripped down here).

I really love this non-traditional traditional Christmas album.  I’m including the track listing mostly because I wanted to have all of this Norwegian in a post.

  1.   A Child Is Born in Bethlehem «Eit barn er født i Betlehem» (3:18) [great flute and a surprisingly catchy hallelujah]
  2.   Lullaby for Julie «Lullámus» (3:15) [great sound of the Hardanger fiddle which has two drone strings]
  3.   Spirit of the Grove «Haugebonden» (5:14) [a gorgeous melody]
  4.   Christmas Eve «Juleftan» (3:38) [unusual fiddle sounds and an unusual and captivating melody]
  5.   My Heart is with Jesus «Mit Hjerte Altid Vanker» (6:32) [the pipe organ really elevates this song]
  6.   St. Sunniva «St. Sunniva» (3:44) [organ and fiddle together in this Irish sounding song]
  7.   A Little Child So Pleasant/In the Sweet Christmas Time «Et lidet barn saa lystelig / I denne søde juletid» (7:20) [beautiful flute and solo violin]
  8.  Father Fiddled on Christmas Eve «Så spela far juleftan» (3:02) [that cool, unusual fiddle is back]
  9.  The Loveliest Rose has Been Found «Den fagraste rosa er funni» (2:35) [the voice is really great on this one]
  10.  Christmas Gangar «Romjulsgangar» (3:22) [beautiful fiddle and flute dance with some unusual sounds from both instruments]
  11. For Such Generous Gifts «For saadan’ mildheds gaver» (2:53) [a New Year’s tune that is rather haunting, I must say]

[READ: December 14, 2014] Novocento

In continuing with my obsessive reading of all things Baricco, I had to interlibrary loan this book from Johns Hopkins.

Novocento is confusingly titled because that is the Italian title as well and although it is a number (which could be translated) in this book it actually refers to a person, which would not get translated–so look carefully for the English edition (done by Oberon) and wonderfully translated by Ann Goldtsein).  It was designed as a play (and this edition is the play).  However, it is a one man monologue (with music ion the performance), so it doesn’t “read” like a play.

The book is 56 pages long.  They have also made a movie out of it (called The Legend of 1900, not just 1900 which is a different movie).  Amazingly the movie is 170 minutes (Italian version) and 120 minutes (international).  That must be a lot of music.

The story is simple, Novocento, as he is called, was born on a ship–an ocean liner that transported people primarily from Europe to America in the early 20th century.  His parents were undoubtedly lower class and left him on the piano aboard the boat (we don’t hear their story at all).  One of the crew finds him and names him Danny Boodman T.D. Lemon Novocento.  Danny Boodman is the man who found him, T.D. Lemon was on the side of the box he was left in and Novocento was the year. (more…)

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withoutSOUNDTRACK: GOJIRA-L’Enfant Sauvage (2012).

gojiraGojira is a French heavy heavy metal band, and this album was highly recommended back in 2012 (I didn’t realize it wasn’t their debut–they have quite a few records out already).  This album is quite heavy, but it has a lot of diverse elements to keep it interesting.

At the same time, they do rely on a couple of guitar effects which make the album weirdly samey (no idea if they do it on other albums too).  The two biggest offenders in this “repeated” scenario are the seeming over-reliance on the open high e string to add contrast to the heavy chugging chords.  It’s a cool effect once or twice but they do it a lot (especially in the song “The Axe” where it happens way too much and which is then followed by “Liquid Fire” where they do it again).  The other thing they do is this weird scraping sound.  It happens in the first few notes as the disc opens (in “Explosia”).  It’s a really cool sound and quite distinctive.  When you do a weird sound like that a lot in one song, it feels like maybe too much, but then to do it in several other songs, it feels like a crutch.

Which is a shame because the rest of the album is really interesting–the vocals are growly but audible and there’s occasionally really cool backing harmony vocals (“Liquid Fire”) and some really unusual different parts to songs.

So “Explosia” opens really heavy with a crazy riff and pounding drums (and that weird scraping sound).  I love that at 2:30 it switches from bludgeoning to slower (but still heavy) and that as the song fades out with another heavy section there are slow guitar notes that remind me of a Western.  It’s really cool. “L’Enfant Sauvage” uses that open high E string in an interesting riff (by doing more than just letting the string ring out).  (The scraping sound appears here too, but in limited quantity). I like the way the song’s volume just drops for the last thirty seconds or so.

“The Axe” opens with a pummeling drum and guitar sound.  “Liquid Fire” alternates between heavy guitars and that open high E sound.  “The Wild Healer” is a simple, pretty instrumental.  It is 2 minutes long and the main riff is simple one (again all on one string).  There’s an interesting solo that plays along behind the main riff which is quite pretty–but it all ends very abruptly.

“Planned Obsolescence” jumps right in with some pummeling guitars (an a scrape sound).  It slows down a bit, but towards the end the pummeling double bass drums resume until the really slow sweet guitar section that comes in around 3:45.  “Mouth of Kala” has a heavy riff which is a cool change (even if the riff is fairly simple).  But there’s some nice melodies that alternate with the heavy stuff.  I also really like the way the song ends with a very different riff and sound than the beginning.  (And the backing vocals are really cool too).

“The Gift of Guilt” has an interesting open E string riff (which is similar to Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper,” although they do something very different with it.  This song is just littered with odd effects, like a big heavy “bowh” sound and some high-pitched guitar pyrotechnics.  But I love the way it alternates parts (the growly vocals work really well here, too) and then ends so melodically.

“Pain is a Master” opens with a slow guitar riff and whispered voices, it’s a great change of pace for the disc.  Once the slow part ends, the guitars and drums pound furiously and we get some more odd effects–a siren sound (from the guitar) alternating with the ubiquitous scrape.  But the middle parts are really quite different, slower, slightly more menacing.  “Born in Winter” opens and closes with a slow and atmospheric section (delicate vocals even).  In the middle it gets heavier (and has some really fast drumming).

“The Fall” has an Alice in Chains vibe in one section and then a more cookie monster type vocal on another.  The scraping sound returns for a final showing. I really like the way the album just sort of disintegrated into random sounds as it ends.

So overall I really enjoyed this album. It’s probably nitpicky to complain about the overuse of certain sounds, especially since they are cool.  But they have so much creativity on the disc, that to hear the same things a few times just seems redundant.  Nevertheless the album rocks and is a really enjoyable metal album.  I was supposed to see them open for Mastadon earlier in the month but something came up and I had to eat the tickets (who knew you couldn’t even give away Mastadon/Gojira tickets, come on!).

[READ: November 21, 2014] Without Blood

I’ve been enjoying Baricco so much that I decided to grab this book while I was in the library too. I had already read this book a couple of years ago, or actually, I had read the version that appeared in the New Yorker.  The Wikipedia entry says that the New Yorker version is a”revised form” of the novel.  I didn’t know what that meant exactly.  But basically I gather it means that Ann Goldstein (who translated the New Yorker version) has re-translated the story (or that they edited it for the magazine the first time).

The New Yorker version is really long for a New Yorker story (it is practically the whole novel), so it’s understandable why things were a little shorter for the magazine.  But she hasn’t changed very much for the book.  There’s a lot of little modifications–tenses of verbs (in flashback situations), word phrases are altered, additional details seems to have been added and there is at least one small section in this novel that was not in the New Yorker version.

This “new” section is about a woman who is sitting in the cafe with them.  She asks the waiter about the two main characters and we learn a little about her past as well (it’s not relevant to the story and I can see why it was omitted, but it does flesh out the scene).  I am not willing to do a page by page comparison of the two (even though that is something I tend to do). But suffice it to say that the stories are virtually identical, although I found it more satisfying reading the novel version.

Since my original recap is basically how I would summarize it this time as well, I am including it here almost verbatim.  But in the spirit of the updated version of the novel, I am modifying this post from the original in small details–see if you can spot the differences. (more…)

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silkSOUNDTRACK: STARS-Heart (2003).

stars I found out about Stars with their second album but I like their debut quite a lot too.  There’s a few songs that i don’t love, but overall the album is really solid.

The opening synths belie the beautiful guitar (and nice bass work) of “What the Snowman Learned About Love.”  Singer Torq’s voice is low and muted while other singer Amy Milan has gorgeous  harmony vocals.  “Elevator Love Later” features’ Milan on lead (for some verses)–the album really comes to life with this song.  It’s got a great chorus and a cool bass line that elevates the song above typical pop fare.

“Heart” has a melancholy piano riff (something Stars excel at) and some wonderfully poignant lyrics: “Sometimes the TV is like a lover, singing softly as you fall asleep.”  And yet it, once again, has a really catchy chorus (with lots of “All rights”).  “Woods” is mildly orchestral and has a plaintive vocal line and a sampled spoken word section (which I can’t identify).

“Death to Death” is one of my favorite Stars songs.  A slinky discoey song with Torq’s cool verses and Milan’s sultry “I am destroyer I am lover” chorus.  I love the sound of the next song (synthy flutes and the very clear guitar) that play throughout “The Vanishing” even though I don’t love the song.

“Romantic Comedy” surprises with its baritone guitar sound (instead of the sprightly synths), but the chorus is once again super catchy.  There’s some great lyrics in this song as well: “You’re not bad, but you were just badly raised,” and the chorus “don’t walk away then turn and say I love you anyway.”  “Time Can Never Kill the True Heart” is a beautiful song with a lovely sentiment.  “Look Up” is a pretty Amy Milan sung song.  I love the way the chorus’ words don’t pause for breath even though the song itself is not very fast.  “Life Effect” is pretty song sung by Torq (I really like when the guitars come to the fore even though I think of Stars primarily as a synth band).

stars other“Don’t Be Afraid to Sing” is the final song on the album,.  It’s a simple ballad, and once again the bass line is great–nothing fancy but it’s a great melody behind the guitars and vocals.  It’s got a great ending of an album sentiment: “We all come to an end / And we all end together.”

There’s a “bonus” track on my version of the album (cleverly hidden about 20 seconds after the previous song).  It has a with a great hidden bonus track title–“The Comeback.”  It actually sounds perfect with the album–an instance where a bonus doesn’t really feel tacked on.  It’s a nice addition if you can’t get enough of the band.

Incidentally, the American version has the reddish cover above, while the original cover is this black and white one down here.

[READ: November 17, 2014] Silk

I enjoyed Mr Gwyn so much that I wanted to read more by Baricco.  And when I saw that many of his books are so short, it  was easy to grab them and devour them.

I didn’t know anything about Silk–somehow I missed it when it came out.  It was even made into a movie, so it must have been a big important book (and it was a huge best seller).  So imagine my surprise to see that the book is 91 pages and that each chapter is basically one page (sometimes half a page).   And Baricco creates this beautiful, taut story that is really compelling, in what is really only about 70 pages of text.

I’ve admired Baricco’s ability to write gorgeous novellas, and this must be where it all started (his earlier books are somewhat longer than this).  The fact that none of his stories are about similar things is also pretty amazing.

This story is about a Frenchman who makes his fortune buying silkworm eggs and the lengths and distances he is willing to travel for them.  But it is also about something much more poignant. (more…)

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gwynSOUNDTRACK: STARS-No One is Lost Tour EP (2014).

stars epStars are back with a new album and this downloadable 5 song EP.  There’s something about Stars’ aggressive pop sensibilities that I just love.  It’s the dual vocals, the big choruses and I’m sure to a certain degree it’s the darkness in the lyrics that compliment the poppy music so much.

The EP has five songs, “No One is Lost” and “From The Night” are from their new album.  “Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It” is from their previous album The North.  There’s also two exclusive tracks: “Blue Is The Colour” and “From The Night” (A Tribe Called Red Remix).

“From the Night” has simple, keyboard note-driven verses which are obliterated by the dancey and even discoey chorus.  Surprisingly at the 4 minute point, it adds a third fast part which segues back into the catchy chorus.  “No One is Lost” opens with Amy Milan speaking French before the keyboards wash in.  It has a slightly faster pace than their usual fare.  But despite the bouncy music in the chorus, we get the twisted lyric: “put your hands up coz everybody dies” (that’s Stars in a nutshell).

“Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It” is less dancey (perhaps less discoey sounding is more accurate).  It’s got a real Stars feel to it (when Milan comes in at the chorus it is really angelic), and showcases Stars’ previous album very well.

The two new songs include the Tribe Called Red remix of “From the Night.”  I’m not that big a fan of remixes, but this one is pretty good.  I like the way they stripped the big chorus of the music and left it spare–which makes their catchy vocals seem kind of sinister.  I actually expected a bit more of Tribe’s signature sound put into the song, but that’s not really what remixes are all about, so I guess it’s no real surprise they didn’t.

“Blue is the Colour” is a dark sounding song as well, until the chorus comes in with some poppy keyboards and slinky guitars.  It’s very electronic sounding which I love in contrast to Torquil’s mellow vocals.  But at 6 minutes long, this song has many sections up its sleeve, and the twist at 4 minutes really turns the song into something else, with an almost epic feel.

It’s a great sample of Stars more recent work.  This link takes you to WXPN from which you can download the EP from NoiseTrade.

[READ: November 5, 2014] Mr. Gwyn

I loved this book.  It has been one of my absolute favorite books in years.

The premise is fairly simple.  A successful writer (Mr. Gwyn) has had three books published to much acclaim and financial success.  But one day he wakes up and decides that he is done writing. He crafts a list of 50 things he will never do again, and one of them is write a book which he publishes in the newspaper.  His agent thinks it is a great marketing scheme, but Gwyn is quite serious.

Gwyn then disappears from society for a while.  Only his agent is able to fin him (Gwyn and the agent are very close).

After a series of small incidents, Gwyn’s agent tracks him down at the laundromat.  He has sent his new employee, a young woman named Rebecca, to give him a phone through which they can talk.  Rebecca is respectful and Gwyn is fascinated by her.  Over the next few months, he and his agent only communicate via Rebecca.

One day, in order to avoid a rain storm, Gwyn ducks into an art gallery.  He has never really understood art.  But he becomes fascinated with the portraits there.  And he decides that his new “job” is that he is going to create portraits with words.  He calls his new occupation, “copyist.”  Obviously his agent freaks out about his–no one even knows what “copyist” means.  But Gwyn is determined.

He spends the next few months getting ready–he rents a studio, buys furniture and specially ordered light bulbs.  And then he is ready to work.  But who will he his first portrait be? He finally settles on Rebecca–someone he knows a little and feels comfortable enough to ask to pose for him.  And this is where the story became fantastic. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHOENIX in Studio at KEXP (2009).

For this in-studio  performance, two members of Phoenix showed up to play a stripped down acoustic performance.

They play four songs (and all of the songs are quite short, as well).  Three songs from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (“Listzomania” “1901” and “Armistice”) and a cover of Air’s “Playground Love.”  Given how different Phoenix and Air sound (even if they are both French), it’ an impressive change of style for the set.

This stripped down version really shows what a great voice the singer has.  And these songs, while not quite as catchy as the originals, still sound fantastic.  There’s also a brief chat with the DJ about their then recent appearance on Saturday Night Live.

If you like Phoenix, this is a great show to download.

[READ: September 1, 2012]  An Iliad

Since I really enjoyed the two Baricco stories that I’ve read so far, I decided to try something else from him. An Iliad is a fascinating book from conception to execution.

Baricco wanted to read Homer’s Iliad aloud on the radio.  But when he investigated the project further he found that a) it was way too long and b) it wasn’t really well suited to contemporary audiences.  So (and he gives details about exactly how he modified it), he decided to remove sections of the original, restructure it and try to give it a more contemporary feel.

But he also tried to keep as much of the original as he could.  So, rather than rewriting the book, he worked with a prose translation (poetry being way too convoluted for his project) and used his  translation of that translation  (which for us gets further translated into English, yipes, although the translation is again a very good job by Ann Goldstein) to create his Iliad.  One of the major excisions he did for the book was to remove all of the sections with the gods.  They are alluded to, but he removed the gods (and all supernatural aspects) from the book reasoning that the mortals reference what the gods say and do so anyway, so he simply took away the duplication.  Plus, the gods aren’t really relevant to contemporary listeners. (more…)

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