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Archive for the ‘Miguel de Cervantes’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LAU NOAH-Tiny Desk Concert #823 (February 11, 2019).

Lua Noah is a Spanish singer/guitarist with a fascinating story.  She sings mostly in Spanish (with subtitles!).

Lau Noah’s journey as a songwriter and guitarist occurred by happenstance. She was born in Reus, Spain barely a few hours drive from Barcelona. She speaks and now sings in Catalan, Spanish, English and sometimes Hebrew. She’d played piano growing up (never guitar) and left Spain for New York City five years ago while in her late teens.

On a visit to Montreal in 2016, Lau hoped to go to a Patrick Watson concert with friends. But the performance sold out and she was left alone in an apartment while her friends went to the show. Then a snowstorm ensued. The apartment had two guitars and, with nothing else to do, she picked one up and began to play. She wrote her first song, “Pequitas,” which means “Little Freckles.”

Her songs are quite short.  “El Jardinero (The Gardener)” is barely 2 minutes long.  She plays complex chords but not in an elaborate way–just making lovely sounds in beautiful patterns.  The speed of her singing is somewhat at odds with the gentle playing, but it all works, as if she needs to get these passionate words out.

There’s a magical aura that surrounds Lau Noah as she sits behind my desk and embraces her guitar with one foot propped unnaturally high on a stool. As melodies pour from the strings, she sings these words in Spanish: “On the verge of the soul, there is a red petal, attached to the skins of mortals.” A few lines later in the song she continues, “a fragile petal that drinks the water of the most cruel stories: children who have never heard a fairytale, lovers who love, dressed in regret.” This is the sort of poetic tale that captured my heart amongst the thousands of entries I watched during the Tiny Desk Contest in 2018. Her song she submitted for the contest is called “La Realidad.”

I love the way in “La Realidad (The Reality)” she returns to a part where she plays a low note that rises and falls while everything else stays the same as she sings.

She says thats she is from Catalonia and was always afraid to sing in Catalan, so she sang mostly in English.  She is very happy to sing the next song “L’Adéu (The Goodbye)” in Catalan.  It has a beautiful melody and sounds very differrent from the other two songs.

She re-tunes her guitar for “La Belleza (The Beauty)” which has a very different fingerpicking style–faster and a bit more intense.  The melody rises and falls both from her fingers and from her voice.  It’s a mesmerizing song.

Before she played her final song, “Red Bird,” (in English) she quoted Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, from his novel Don Quixote: “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies,” Lau said, reading from her notes. “Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams is madness. And maddest of all: to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

She sounds just as lovely singing in English as she does in her other languages.

[READ: February 11, 2019] One Day a Dot

I don’t normally post about children’s picture books.  But this one has two things going for it.  It’s published by First Second and it’s pretty awesome.

This is, as the cover says, “the story of you, the universe, and everything.”  All in 40 pages.

It begins: One day a dot appeared.  And it was so excited to be there that it burst.

And that is the children’s version explanation of the big bang. (more…)

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conchitaSOUNDTRACK: VOIVOD: Rrröööaaarrr (1986).

roarI have always loved this album because of its name (preposterous and complete with umlauts).  It also has the classic Voivod song “Fuck Off and Die.”  Interestingly, a band that Voivod liked, Venom, released a song “F.O.A.D.” the previous year.

But man, is this album hard to listen to.  The production seems even worse than on their debut.  And the songs seem faster and a bit harder to understand.  Perhaps it was my mood when I re-listened, but songs like “Ripping Headaches” seemed more portentous than fun.  And “Slaughter in the Grave” is just light years behind the kind of songs they would write as soon as the next album.

I like to think of these first two Voivod albums as part of a pair.  The cover art is kind of similar.  But starting with the next album, the cover art would jump ahead in detail and quality.  All of Voivod’s art (and apparently the entire concept of The Voivod (you’ll have to look that up) was by Away.  He has released a coffee table book (which you can’t get anymore) but a lot of his art is online at his website.

Not many people think too highly of Rrröööaaarrr, and it is safe to say that compared to their next several albums, this one might be best ignored.

[READ: August 29, 2013] Hi, This is Conchita

This is another book that crossed my desk.  I recognized…the translator of all people (Hi, Edith Grossman) but not the author.  I couldn’t remember why I recognized her name and then I realized she had translated Don Quixote, which is supposed to be an excellent version.

I also liked the cover and the packaging of the book (sometimes that’s all it takes) and since I left the book I was reading back at home, I brought this with me to lunch.

Imagine my surprise when the first story opens with a man calling a phone sex line (in graphic detail).  I flipped through the story (which I thought was a bunch of short stories) but is actually a very long story called “Hi, this is Conchita.”  In this story, each “chapter” is a phone call and each chapter title is the phone number and time of the call. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COLIN STETSON: “Horn of Plenty” (interview, NPR’s All Things Considered) (2011).

I’ll be mentioning some recordings by Stetson shortly, but as an introduction to this man and his bass saxophone, this ten minute piece from NPR is absolutely essential.  I had listened to his recent album and NPR has two concerts from him that are downloadable.  I enjoyed the music, but after listening to this interview it gave me so much more appreciation for what the man is doing.

For a lot of classical and jazz, knowing what the author “meant” can help.  Knowing that The Moldau is a river makes Bedřich Smetana’s piece all the more interesting and moving.  Similarly, knowing that “Judges” is about horses… well, holy crap yes it is.

More importantly, knowing how he does what he does–circular breathing: taking air in through your nose while breathing out through your mouth (try it…it’s not possible) allows Stetson to essentially never have to stop playing.  (Tenacious D has a very funny version of this called “Inward Singing,” although it lacks the gravitas of Stetson.)

Also, the bass saxophone weighs twenty pounds nad is almost as tall as him.  The picture is preposterous.  Who even thinks of making music with such a thing.  And yet he does.  Unsettling music, sure, but music nonetheless.   Listen to this interview and be amazed.

[READ: 2010-2011 and beyond] Natasha Wimmer

Many readers don’t read anything that was written in a different language.  And those of us who do probably give little thought to the translator.  Until recently I didn’t give much thought about them either.  Often I assumed that if I didn’t like a book, it was the author not the translator.  And that could be true, but it may also not be so easy a judgment.

Natasha Wimmer has translated many of Roberto Bolaño’s English publications (she has not translated them all–see below–and, she has also translated other writers).  But she has famously translated The Savage Detectives which rocketed her to prominence, and then she managed his unwieldy 2666.  She has also recently translated Between Parentheses, the book I am currently reading.

Between Parentheses is a collection of newspaper columns, essays and pseudo-fictions.  It is a far cry from the convoluted masterwork that is 2666 and yet Wimmer has made this collection of essays utterly readable (I’ll review the book proper when I finish it).  Again, obviously the work is Bolaño’s and he deserves the credit.  But as I’m reading these newspaper articles, I am aware that they were written in Spanish.  And yet the word choices that Wimmer uses, from idioms to real seventy-five-cent words make the essays flow, give them real impact and really convey the kind of writer that Bolaño was.  Let’s take just one example picked not at random but because it uses a real seventy-five-cent word and it mentions David Foster Wallace (can I go a week without mentioning him?).  In “All Subjects with Fresán”, Bolaño states that he and Rodrigo Fresán spend much of their time talking about various subjects;  he lists 30.  Number 22 is “David Lynch and the prolixity of David Foster Wallace.”  I have no idea what word Bolaño used in Spanish (he has an amazing vocabulary, so I’m sure it was a Spanish 75 cent word) but how many translations would have used the word prolixity?  [Okay I had to look it up, he uses “palabrerío” which Collins translated as “verbiage, hot air.”  How much more outstanding is “prolixity”!–Oh, and as if Bolaño wasn’t prone to palabrerío himself]. (more…)

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