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Archive for the ‘David Foster Wallace’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MELLOTRON VARIATIONS-Tiny Desk Concert #953 (March 3, 2020).

Most Tiny Desk Concerts list the musicians and what instrument they play.  So I got a kick out of this lineup:

John Medeski: Mellotron; Jonathan Kirkscey: Mellotron; Robby Grant: Mellotron; Pat Sansone: Mellotron.  [that’s the lineup left to right].

Indeed, Mellotron Variations are four guys standing behind Mellotrons making a universe of sounds.

The Mellotron was a magical 1960s invention that predates sampling. It’s a keyboard instrument, with each piano key triggering a tape loop — the sound could be a string ensemble, a flamenco guitar, a saxophone and so much more. Think about the flute sounds on The Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever” and you get the idea.

We’ve never had an original Mellotron at the Tiny Desk until now. Much like a Hammond organ, it’s big, heavy and fragile. When they fired it up, with all its mechanical gears turning tape loops and moving play heads, the 15-year-old geek in me blissed out.

Pat Sansone introduces the band and gives a fascinating history of the Mellotron and how it works.  Each of the 35 keys plays a magnetic tape like on a reel to reel player (I remotely understand that and it is cool to see the mechanism at work).  The modern ones, still made by Mellotron are all digital.

When Mellotron Variations keyboardist Robby Grant and I began discussing an all-Mellotron Tiny Desk, we quickly realized that having four of these beasts wouldn’t fit behind my desk. So Robby Grant, Pat Sansone (Wilco) and Jonathan Kirkscey performed on the portable — and still incredible-sounding — 21st-century version of the instrument. At the same time, John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood) tackled the original beast.

The band plays three songs.  The first, “Agent Cha Cha” sounds like a trippy spy movie.  It’s really fun watching Medeski play the original machine and seeing him kind of forcibly make the sounds do what he wants–I guess he is literally slowing down the tape that’s playing?

Robby Grant seems to handle all of the drums and percussion.  It’s then fun to watch as Sansone holds down one key to get a 60’s cartoon melody mid song.

Jonathan Kirkscey and Robby Grant play some real spacey, synthy sounds as they segue into the next song.

“Dulcimer Bill” opens with some dulcimer sounds.  It is trippy and spacey sounding for a bit and then Sansone plays what S. immediately recognized as the opening to The Beatles’ “Bungalow Bill.”  I assume Sansone has simply sampled the guitar as he plays it with one key.  The end of the song sounds so incredibly 70s (Pink Floyd all over the place)

The sonic landscape they produce as Mellotron Variations is ingenious and impressive. It’s a score with the audience as collective filmmaker, each one of us capable of creating imagery in our heads to this music of mystery and sometimes comedy. In the words of my teenaged self, “it was a trip.”

The trip concluded with “Pulsar.”  The song opens with industrial space sounds from Kirkscey while Medeski plays flute loops. Grant adds the drums while Sansone plays a kind of harpsichord in space.

[READ: March 30, 2020] “Futures”

This is a story about tennis.

It reminded me a lot of David Foster Wallace’s essay about Roger Federer.  Not because it was like it in any way, but because the one character felt about Federer the way Wallace did.

But that aspect is somewhat minimal in terms of the plot.

The story Toby lives with his father.  Toby was supposed to become an professional tennis player, but he was never quite good enough.  But Toby’s father insisted upon hosting a young Asian tennis player every year–in part to bet upon his success (Toby’s father was a gambler) but also to have a tennis pro around to help Toby get better. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHIANNON GIDDENS-Tiny Desk Concert #890 (September 16, 2019).

I have been aware of Rhiannon Giddens for some time.  I knew she played the banjo, but I didn’t know much else about her.  I saw her (as part of an ensemble) at the Newport Folk Festival.

For some reason I was sure that she had performed a Tiny Desk Concert before, but evidently not.  Maybe I watched this when it came out?  That doesn’t seem right either.

So I’ll stop thinking about it and write about this Tiny Desk Concert instead.

There is an intensity to Rhiannon Giddens I could feel from the moment she arrived at the Tiny Desk, and her songs reflect that spirit.

Giddens is a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops (and Our Native Daughters, who played at Newport), an old-timey string band.  But for this Tiny Desk Concert, she is accompanied by upright bass (Jason Sypher) and a whole bunch of other instruments played by Francesco Turrisi.

Giddens and Turrisi had recently collaborated on an album which World Cafe Live describes:

While Rhiannon’s work has focused on the influence of African traditions on what we think of as American music, Francesco is an expert in the often unacknowledged influence of Arabic and Middle Eastern music on what we think of as European sound. They found common ground in their quest to dispel false cultural narratives and turned it into gorgeous music on a new collaborative album called there is no Other.

For the first song, Turrisi plays banjo (although this one looks different from a typical banjo) while Giddens sings and Sypher adds deep slow resonating bass notes.

“Ten Thousand Voices,” the first song in the set, was inspired by Rhiannon reading about the sub-Saharan slave trade.

The combination of Giddens’ lyrics with Turrisi’s middle-eastern sounding banjo is wonderfully compelling.

She explains that the second song, “At the Purchaser’s Option”

was inspired by the American slave trade and a New England newspaper ad in the late 1700s of a young woman “for sale” and her 9-month old baby who was “at the purchaser’s option.” Rhiannon Giddens’ thoughts of this young woman and how her life and her child were not under her control.

That is a pretty intense introduction and inspiration for a song.

Despite its weightiness, Rhiannon Giddens’ music is entertaining, and her voice, the melodies, and her accompaniment are engaging. But it is music infused with lessons and deep purpose — something all too rare in popular music in my opinion.

Turrisi switches to piano which really changes the texture of the music. Sypher plucks the strings on this songs which gives it a bit more of a “song” feel than a “composition” feel.  The chorus is also memorable both for the melody and the powerful lyrics.

My favorite track is the third one, “I’m On My Way.”

Rhiannon picks up a replica of an 1858 banjo for “I’m On My Way,” which she says helps her access her ancestors. “So much beauty and so much horribleness wrapped up together seems to be our story,” she says.

While Turrisi is certainly an excellent banjo player, it’s great to hear Giddens play as well.  Especially this fascinating fretless banjo.  Turrisi plays the frame drum–different from an Irish bodhran in that it seems to have snares in it.  The plucked bass along with the addition of percussion and the great banjo melody are just fantastic. When Sypher switches to bowing, for a solo, it adds a whole new dimension–especially when he slides all the way up the neck to get the highest note possible.

T final song is the gospel tune, “He Will See You Through.”  Giddens puts down the banjo again (awww).

For her closing number, she focuses on the beauty. “You can call it whatever you want, ‘gravity,’ ‘God,’ whatever. There’s a force that I believe in, and that’s what I focus on.”

[READ: July 3, 2019] “Stuart”

I love the way that this story unfolded.  It begins in one location and moves only a few blocks by the end.  But the kicker is that it starts with one character and ends with someone else.  It read kind of like an early David Foster Wallace story.

The story opens by telling us about two Greek immigrants working at a hot dog truck.  They are described in vivid (rather unflattering) detail.  While they get their food ready, three teenage boys walk up.  They are pretty much identical except for the color of their shirts  She describes them vividly as well.

They have man-sized hands sprouting from elongated, spindly limbs like the extremities of flamingos, and their feet are so huge they might be prehensile.  There’s nothing in the backside of their immense, baggy jeans.

They boys order hot dogs and ask for them quickly “before they fucking catch up with us, eh?” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DEBO BAND-“Ney Ney Weleba” (Field Recordings, May 16, 2012).

This is yet another Field Recording [Debo Band: Ethiopian Funk On A Muggy Afternoon] filmed during SXSW at the patio of Joe’s Crab Shack.

I was not familiar with Debo Band.  They are led by Ethiopian-American saxophonist Danny Mekonnen and fronted by magnetic singer Bruck Tesfaye.  The group infuses its dance-friendly songs with the Ethiopian pop and funk music of the 1960s and ’70s.

Compared to a dark club full of dancing fans, a muggy Austin afternoon with the sun peeking out over our isolated spot at Joe’s Crab Shack isn’t the ideal setting for a Debo Band performance. But once the group began digging into “Ney Ney Weleba” — a classic song by Alemayehu Eshete — it didn’t take long to get caught up in Debo Band’s deep, infectious groove.

This is a bizarre song to write about because there are just so many elements and so many things going on.  Lead accordion, violin, horns and lyrics in Amharic.  But with guitar, bass and drums and a rocking beat.

This vibrant 11-member group collects its influences like trading cards: It finds common ground in jazz, classic soul, psychedelic rock and New Orleans party bands, playing with song forms, manipulating rhythms and finding space for improvisation.

Plus, the fact that the band is signed to Sub Pop — a label more known for indie-rock and pop — represents something of a statement. Debo Band is a rock group first and foremost, and one that can bring joyful intensity to listeners who might not otherwise naturally gravitate to this music. It’s a winning cross-cultural stew of sounds that grabs you instantly, and ought to have you bobbing along and sweaty in no time.

The whole song lurches along with a really fun beat, and then there’s a trumpet solo and a very psychedelic echoing guitar solo.  It ends with a rocking jam from the two saxes and then a re-visitation of the opening.

I have no idea what the song is about but I like it.

[READ: November 2008] “It All Gets Quite Tricky”

I thought I had read everything that David Foster Wallace had published in Harper’s but as I was going through back issues, I found this little thing.  It’s basically correspondence between Wallace and some students.

These letters were written about in the David Foster Wallace Reader.

Anne Fadiman’s Afterword about the State Fair (which these letters reference) in the book is my favorite because she talks about using the essay in her classes. She focuses on just one section (the one about food) and asks them to really parse out its structure and content.  She also says that one student got to write to DFW each semester and that he would answer their questions for him.  His letters always ended with, “Tally Ho, David Wallace.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GOLDEN DAWN ARKESTRA-Tiny Desk Concert #761 (June 29, 2018).

They came marching in from off stage in robes and masks, with instruments and face paint, in more colors than have ever been in one place.

And they began the first song with a cacophony of keyboards and percussion before playing the discofied funk of “Children of the Sun.”

There’s horns from “Malika” (Sarah Malika Boudissa–Baritone Sax, Vocals), and “Zumbi” (Chris Richards–Trombone, Vocals) who set the melody going while the percussion from “Lost In Face” (Rob Kidd–Drums–who does indeed have a mask covering his face) and “Oso the Great” (Alex Marrero-Percussion) keeps things moving.

There’s a slowdown in the middle with just bass “Shabuki” (Greg Rhoades-Bass), and keys from the leader himself “Zapot Mgawi” (Topaz McGarrigle-Vocals, Organ, Synth).

Throughout the songs you can hear some wah wah guitar from “Yeshua Villon” (Josh Perdue-Guitar) and vibes–a persistent instrument which sounds otherworldly and perfect.  They come from “Isis of Devices” (Laura Scarborough-Vocals, Vibraphone).  Behind her, dancing throughout the song is “Rosietoes” (Christinah Rose Barnett-Vocals, Tambourine).

So what do we know about this band?

The blurb says:

It was a late night at an unfamiliar club in Austin, Texas when the spirit, sound, lights and costumes of the Golden Dawn Arkestra put a huge, dreamy smile on my face. It took more than three years to get ten of the players and performers in this band (there are often even more) to my desk. I tried to transform the bright daylight of the NPR office with some of my handy, previously used holiday laser lights. But honestly, it wasn’t until their psychedelic jazz kicked in that the office transformation felt real. Band leader, Topaz squawked through his megaphone to join them on their journey, while singing “Children of the Sun.”

Topaz told me that the band’s inspiration for both the name and the spirit of the musicians is loosely based on the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The organization, devoted to the study of the occult and paranormal activities, has been around since the 19th century.

Both of Topaz’s parents were heavily into spiritual movements and what happens here falls somewhere between high art and a circus, with music that feels connected to Sun Ra’s jazz, the extended musical adventures of The Doors and the surprise elements of Parliament-Funkadelic. You can dance and/or trance, or sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Before “The Wolf” he apologizes for an outbreak of cold on their planet.  But he wants to remind us that we are all human beings from the same planet and that we are all from stardust and vibrations. Together we can change the planet.

We would like there to be more light and love in the universe.  We must all stand together.  This is our fight song for that.

It moves quickly with the horns playing away and t he percussion flying.

The final song “Masakayli” opens with bongos from “Oso the Great” and clapping from everyone (including the audience).  The horn melody sounds a lot the theme from S.W.A.T. (there’s nothing wrong with that).  I feel like the guitar was kind of quiet through the other songs, but you can really hear “Yeshua Villon” on this one, especially the guitar solo.

This song ends with the jamming circus atmosphere that really takes off with a trippy keyboard solo from Topaz as “Rosietoes” plays with a light up hula hoop and “Zumbi” parades through the audience trying to get everyone hyped up.

It’s a tremendous spectacle and should bring a smile to your face.  Next time these guys are in town, I’m there.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “Always Another Word”

These are the same remarks that were included in Five Dials Issue Number 10.

But since it has been some time since I posted them and since I am being a completist here, and since it has been nine years since Infinite Summer, I’ll cover these four in somewhat more details

Michael Pietsch
speaks about being DFW’s editor. He says that Dave loved to communicate through letters and “the phone messages left on the office answering machine hours after everyone had departed.”  He says he loved Dave’s letters and tore into them hungrily.  He gives examples of some communiques about cuts and edits of Infinite Jest.

I cut this and have now come back an hour later and put it back

Michael, have mercy.  Pending and almost Horacianly persuasive rationale on your part, my canines are bared on this one.

He continues that David’s love affair with English was a great romance of our time.  How he was so excited to be selected to the American Heritage Dictionary‘s Usage panel. But that was surpassed by his own mother’s excitement about it,

Michael thinks he may have tried to use every word in the dictionary at least once.  When he, Michael, suggested a book that opened with the word “picric,” David’s instant response was “I already used that!.”

Zadie Smith
addresses the critics of BIWHM who thought the book was an ironic look at misogyny. She felt it was more like a gift.  And the result of two gifts.  A MacArthur Genius grant and a talent so great it confused people.  His literary preoccupation was the moment the ego disappears and you’re able offer your love as a gift without expectation of reward.

She says that she taught students to read BIWHM alongside Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.

The most impassioned recommendation he gave her was Brain Moore’s Catholics, a novella about a priest who is no longer capable of prayer. Don’t think of David as a God-botherer–think of it as ultimate value.

You get to decide what you worship, but nine time out of ten it turns out to be ourselves.

For David, Love was the ultimate value, the absurd, the impossible thing worth praying for.

George Saunders
speaks of reading BIWHM and finding that it did strange things to his mind and body.  He says it was like if you were standing outdoors and all of your clothes were stripped away and you had super-sensitive skin and you were susceptible to the weather whatever it might be–on a sunny day you would feel hotter; a blizzard would sting.

The reading woke him up, made him feel more vulnerable, more alive.  And yet the writer of these works was one of the sweetest, most generous dearest people he’d ever known.

He met Dave at the home of mutual friend in Syracuse.  While he feared that Dave would be engaged in a conversation about Camus, and he would feel humiliated, Dave was wearing a Mighty Mouse T-shirt and talked about George and his family, asking all about them.

Saunders says that in time the grief of his passing will be replaced by a deepening awareness of what a treasure we have in the existing work.  The disaster of his loss will fade and be replaced by the realization of what a miracle it was that he ever existed in the first place.   But for now there is just grief.

For now, keep alive the lesson of his work:

Mostly we’re asleep but we can wake up. And waking up is not only possible, it is our birthright and our nature and, as Dave showed us, we can help one another do it.

Don DeLillo
says that Dave’s works tends to reconcile what is difficult and consequential with what is youthful, unstudied and often funny.  There are sentences that shoot rays of energy in seven directions.

It’s hard to believe that in September, he will be dead ten years.

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY-The Dark (2017).

The Enfield Tennis Academy is one of the major locations in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  So, of course, a band that names itself after it must be listened to.

This is the second release by the band (which states “The Enfield Tennis Academy is TR.”

The Dark is described as

This EP is a collection of remixes and covers of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”, from the 1984 album “Born in the U.S.A.” It is not ironic. “Dancing in the Dark” is © Bruce Springsteen and Columbia.

And that is literally what this is. Five tracks that rethink “Dancing in the Dark” each one called “Dancing in the Dark.”

Track 1 opens with someone doing a kind of Elvis impersonation (or is it actually Bruce?) of the first line of the song: I get up in the evening…”  It then gets echoed and looped on itself until it is inaudible.  After a minute a guitar comes in strumming music backwards, I believe.  The big takeaway is the rolling “I” repeated over and over.  After 1:30 there’s a rather pretty sax solo. which may be from the song, I don’t know it that well.

Track 2 is an ambient piece with electronic claps and a kind of slow almost pixelated pipe organ version of the main melody of the song.  There’s some of those 80s processed “ahhhhs” added to the end.  It would eerily make you think of the song without knowing exactly why.

Track 3 is a noisy track.  Electronic drums played very rapidly and then some glitchy guitars playing the melody in triple time.  It is the least recognizable of the five pieces.

Track 4 is a fingers-on-chalkboard electronic screech with what I assume is the song played in reverse.  It’s a tough minute before the noise clicks away and we’re left with the backwards vocals.  If you didn’t know it was “Dancer in the Dark” you might not recognize the melody but if you do, you can kind of hear it.

Track 5 plays the original song in the middle ear. But in the left ear is another song (as if the radio was staticky and in the right ear is another even louder song.  But Bruce is squarely in the middle.  It’s pretty disconcerting.  Ultimately, the left ear gives way to people talking and the right ear reveals itself to be “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”  It fades and for about ten seconds during which you can hear pretty much only the Bruce song, but then it all falls apart into glitchy noise.

The longest track is 2:15; the rest are about 2 minutes.  No one will say this disc is enjoyable, but it is kind of ugly fun.

[READ: January 30, 2017] Liō ‘s Astonishing Tales from the Haunted Crypt of Unknown Horrors

I have observed before about the maddening publication life of Liō books.  It’s going on four years since a new collection has been published.

But at the same time there are a number of books that cover the same territory.  Like this one.

This book collects “Liō” (which I take to mean Happiness is a Warm Cephalopod) and Silent But Deadly.  But what puts this book head and shoulders above the others (and just about any other collection of any series) is that it is almost completely annotated.

I didn’t compare the two books to see if all of the strips were indeed included.  But I’ll assume that claim is true.

Tatulli doesn’t comment on every strip but he does on a lot of them.  Like the very first one (in which he criticizes his–admittedly horrible-looking–spider.

He has at least three comments about what a genius Charles Schulz was.  Including the first time he tried to draw Lucy and Charlie: “I wanted to use the retro 1950s Peanuts look, but it was a bitch to reproduce…Schulz just make it look so simple.”

He’s also very critical of his drawing style of Mary Worth: “I won’t even tell you how embarrassingly long it took to make this lousy copy.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY-“My Missing Eye” (2017).

The Enfield Tennis Academy is one of the major locations in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  So, of course, a band that names itself after it must be listened to.

This is the first release by the band (which states “The Enfield Tennis Academy is TR.”

The bandcamp site describes this song as

“Garbage thrown together on a free trial of Reason. Song’s about missing a fucking eye. Real music soon.”

This is two minutes of noisy instrumental metal math rock.  There’s a lot of different sounds in this two minute song.

It opens with some staccato pummeling sounds–the guitars are interesting in that they sound like they are chords yet ringing out at the same time.  The middle is a really fast pummeling section that reminds me of Ministry.  Those opens stringed chords come back late in the song, and they sound really cool.

I’m curious to see what TETA’s “real music” is going to sound like.

[READ: July 20, 2017] Reheated Liō

I have really enjoyed the Liō books (going forward, I’m leaving off that line over the o, because it’s a real pain).

The strip has been going on for some 12 years now, which is pretty amazing.  And yet, there don’t seem to be any new or recent collections out.

So Lio is strip about a boy named Lio.  Lio is a dark, dark kid.  He has a pet squid, he loves monsters and he’s delighted by chaos.  Over the years his character hasn’t changed much but Tatulli has given him some surprising tenderness, which is a nice trait. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Railway Club Vancouver (March 16, 1988).

This is a “very good sounding show considering it is from 1988. This has a mix of unreleased songs, Greatest Hits songs, Melville songs and even a couple that would end up on Whale Music.”

Like the 1987 show here, this is also their last night in Vancouver. It’s hard to believe that previous show was the same band, as just a few months later (Nov-Mar), the sets are radically different.

It opens with the end of “Lyin’s Wrong,” and then moves into a fun version of Stompin’ Tom’s “Bridge Came Tumbling Down,” and then one of my favorite unreleased songs: “Woodstuck.”

The opening is to the tune of Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done”

I called on Crosby and I called on Nash / I asked them if they want to buy some hash / Oh the deal is done / Hanging out with Stephen Stills, I asked him if he wants to buy some pills / Oh the deal is done.

And then the main body is a rocking bluesy number with the chorus: “You can’t go back to Woodstock baby, you were just two years old.   You weren’t even born” and a big chant of “BAD KARMA!”

Things slow down with a version of “Triangles on the Walls.”

During the banter, Dave Clark talks about going up Grouse Mountain in his jeans and he says he was automatically a “Wofuh”–as soon as you get into the skis you’re going to start saying “Woah… fuck.”

A great sounding “Dope Fiends” is followed by “Green Sprouts” which is “the silliest song of all… about the worms of New Jersey.”  “What’s Going On” has an accordion!  And “Italian Song” has them singing in over the top Italian with an almost ska beat and melody.

There’s a goofy, slap funk cover of “Take the Money and Run.”  It’s fast and rocking, but they leave out the signature five claps after some verses.  Nevertheless there are some great harmonies at the end.

They play an unreleased song “Sue’s Mining Town” which is a bit of a rocker, and then one from Greatest Hits (released the previous year) called “Churches and Schools.”  The set ends with a slow and pretty “Higher and Higher.”

This is the only place you can hear “Italian Song” and “Sue’s Mining Town” and one of the few places you can hear “Woodstuck” (except for this video)

[READ:August 28, 2016] Tennis Lessons

I’ve enjoyed some stories by Dyer but I was actually reading this because he reviews the new David Foster Wallace collection String Theory: David Foster Wallace on Tennis.

But it turns out that this is not so much a book review as a delightfully funny discussion of Dyer’s own tennis playing and how he also wanted to write a book about tennis–but never did.

Dyer proves to be a funny protagonist. In 2008, (age 50) he was about to sell his novel to a new publisher and he imagined writing a book about taking up tennis at age 50. Dyer is British and the popularity and success of Andy Murray was making tennis very popular in Britain again.  It seems like a great idea.

And then Dyer is honest with us:

as a perennial bottom feeder for whom writing has always doubled as a way of getting free shit, I as also hoping that a top-notch coach might be willing to give e free lessons in return for the massive exposure guaranteed by inclusion in the book.

(more…)

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