Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Jim Ottaviani’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LYDIA AINSWORTH-“Afterglow” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 23, 2017).

I was unfamiliar with Lydia Ainsworth, but I was instantly struck by the setting of her lullaby.

We asked Lydia Ainsworth to perform in Raum Industries’ Optic Obscura installation. Surrounded by dim, long-hanging optical fibers that look like an infinity room of cat’s whiskers, she sings a stripped-down version of the slow-burning “Afterglow,” accompanied only by an upright bass and light percussion.

I’m not sure what the original song sounds like, but this version is moody and intense.  The upright bass opens the song as Lydia’s whispered, sensual vocals come forth.  She has a beautiful voice and it is especially haunting in this setting.  It reminds me a bit of someone else although I can’t decide who.

The starkness of the silence when she stops singing is intense.  And I really like the way the song ends, not abruptly exactly, but rather unexpectedly.

[READ: March 21, 2016] T-Minus

Jim Ottaviani did the amazing graphic novel Feynman, and in the blurb about him in that book, it said that he also wrote T-Minus.  Coincidentally I had just brought T-Minus home for Clark and I to read.  He read it quickly and said it was very good.  It took me a little longer to read (I’m sure he didn’t read all the details) because Ottaviani jam packs this book with interesting facts.

As the title says, this is about the race to get a man to the moon.  It begins 12 years before the actual date occurred.  And it toggles back and forth between the United States and the Soviet Union.

On the margins of many pages there are drawings of all of the various attempts each country had to get a rocket into the air.  The drawings show the design and then at the bottom it states the duration of the flight, the date and some other details.  The USSR’s first rocket (1957) lasted all of 20 seconds before exploding.  The U.S’s first rocket lasted about 7 seconds.

We meet a handful of people who were instrumental in the design and origination of these rockets.  (Ottaviani explains that many of these people are composites of real people involved–if he wanted to include everyone, there would be 400 people in every panel). (more…)

Read Full Post »

feynman SOUNDTRACK: LARA ST. JOHN-Tiny Desk Concert #529 (May 9, 2016).

laraWhen Lara St. John released her first CD it made ripples because of the way she appeared on it (presumably topless).  But if that was a stunt to get people to listen, it was a good one because the music on it was phenomenal (and the disc sold very well).  St. John is masterful on the violin and has released a dozen or so CDs of herself playing.

I have never seen her play before and it is a marvel watching her fingers  fly (and slide) all over the neck of the violin (including some absurdly high and fast notes).

The first piece is “Czardashian Rhapsody.”  It is an amazing mashup of two songs by Martin Kennedy: Czardas, the most familiar Hungarian melody for violin and Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, the most familiar Hungarian melody for piano.  He merged them into a real barnstormer.  It’s 6 minutes of switching back and forth between the familiar melodies and very gypsy-esque sections (and some very long held notes).

The song is 6 minutes of musical acrobatics.

Although this is billed as St. John’s show, much recognition must go to her pianist Matt Herskowitz who is also magnificent.

St. John clearly has a sense of humor since she named her new album Shiksa.  She says the album actually has ten different titles because every culture has a word for “big Canadian chicks” like herself.

The second piece is “Sari Siroun Yar” by Serouj Kradjian.  She says it was the first song she heard when she went to Armenia in the lat 1980s.  It is a bittersweet Armenian troubadour song.  While this song is much more mellow than the first, it still showcases some amazing playing on both musicians’ parts.  The opening notes she plays high on the fret board which gives the violin a very different sound–almost breathy.  And the main melody is quite lovely.

The final song is once again a wild one.  “Oltenian Hora” is one that St. John arranged herself.  It plays off a catalog of violin tricks, St. John explains, practiced by traditional Romanian gypsy fiddlers: rapid-fire whistles, bird calls and slithery harmonics, all in a variety of off-kilter rhythms.  I’ve never seen some of the things she does on the violin (those bird calls are amazing).  And by the end she is bowing so hard the bow seems about to break.  It is way intense and really awesome.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a violinist get out of breath from playing so hard before, but she deserves all of the applause.

[READ: March 15, 2016] Feynman

This is a graphic novel biography of Richard Feynman.  Ottaviani worked as a nuclear engineer, programmer and reference librarian, so you can trust him.

I have respected Richard Feynman for years.  I have a few of his books, although I can’t say I have read them intensely.  I knew that he was considered an amazing professor–making really intense subjects easier for the layman to understand.  And many of his lectures are available as audiobooks.

But there was so much about him that I didn’t know.  And this biography (which runs nearly 300 pages and is jam packed with information) covers nearly all of it.  Including excerpts from his own publications and attaching a massive bibliography for more works by and about Feynman. (more…)

Read Full Post »

primatesSOUNDTRACK: OTIS TAYLOR-Tiny Desk Concert #120 (April 13, 2011).

otisOtis Taylor is a big, burly, bearded man who plays the banjo. His band consists of fiddle, drums and electric guitar and bass.

The songs are bluesy without being like the blues, and they are folky without really being like folk music.  And the way he plays the banjo is unlike any typical banjo song I’d heard before.

The blurb explains what makes his songs sound so different:  He plays a style of music he calls trance blues.

Taylor’s music is trance-inducing, and he achieves that effect by playing songs that are modal: Sometimes, they sit on one chord for the entire song. Taylor says that by doing that, by eliminating chord changes, you also eliminate reference points, so songs can run as long as 10 or even 15 minutes in length.

And it’s true.  The basic melody of he first song, “Ten Million Slaves” (which is only 4 minutes) stays the same throughout the song.  It’s the fiddle (played by Anne Harris) that throws the new notes and riffs into the song that keep it so interesting,

He does throw in a simple but affecting solo at the end of “Ten Million Slaves” but it’s more fun to watch him rock out the end of the song.  That song also appeared in Public Enemies, the Michael Mann movie.

He calls his music trance blues music, came from Mali and Mississippi Hill Country.

The main riff of “Ran So Hard The Sun Went Down” is instantly familiar and a little dark.  I love the middle jam section where it just seems to gets bigger and bigger (I guess that’s the trance).

For the third song, “Talking About It Blues,” Taylor switches to acoustic guitar.  This is a fairly simple blues song, but I love the guitar riff that punctuates the verses.  The verse is simple enough “my daddy cut down a tree, make a guitar for me.”  This song features a lengthy solo by J.P. Johnson.

The drums (by Larry Thompson “Bryant Gumball of the drummers,”) and bass (by new bassist Todd Edmunds) are really simple but they sound great and really punctuate the song.

It’s a short song that segues into the final song, “Think I Won’t” which has a heavy five note riff to open with.  I love that it takes him forver to end this song.  Saying one more time even though they do more than one more time.

I don’t really like blues songs that much.  But this band is really tight and the addition of the fiddle really makes these songs stand out. Plus after those cool droning blues songs I was hooked.

[READ: December 15, 2015] Primates

I had been planning to post magazine stories this week.  Then I learned that it is First Second’s ten-year anniversary and they are trying to promote it with the cool hashtag #10yearsof01.   Since I’ve read a bunch of First Second books in the last couple of months, I’m going to give them a deserved shout out by posting a few in a row and including that hashtag.

This is a non-fiction graphic novel from First Second and it is outstanding.  In a wonderfully kid-friendly style, it talks about the incredible work done by Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas.  And the man behind their success, Leonard Leakey.

The story opens on Jane Goodall.  After visiting a friend in Kenya, she spoke to Dr Leakey (who tells of his childhood growing up in Kenya).  Through their meeting, Leakey gained funding and sent Goodall to Gombe to study chimpanzees in 1957.  She soon discovered them using tools and eating meat.   Her work caused them to, as the book puts it, “redefine tools, redefine Man or accept chimpanzees as human.”

Then she went further and learned so much more about chimpanzees, using techniques that were not exactly scientifically approved (sifting through dung, setting up places for them to eat) but wound up being amazingly effective.

Jane married Hugo, her photographer and then they were visited by Dian Fossey. (more…)

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: