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Archive for the ‘Sinclair Lewis’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JAMBINAI-Différance (2012).

I am fairly stunned that I never posted about Jambinai at the Olympics in Korea in 2018.  Their performance of “Time of Extinction” blew me away and before the song was even over I was looking them up to find out more about them.

Jambinai blend traditional Korean instruments with rock instruments.  But not in a “we rock and want to bring in a flute” way.   The three main members met at Korea’s National University of Arts while studying traditioanl Korean music.  They wanted to play traditional music in an innovative way but in a way  that was very different from K-pop.  So their band consists of
Kim Bo-mi– haegeum;
Lee Il-woo – electric guitar, piri, taepyeongso, vocals
Sim Eun-yong – geomungo.

I had to look up what some of these instruments were, and here’s what I’ve got:

Geomungo (also spelled komungo or kŏmun’go) or hyeongeum (literally “black zither”) is a traditional Korean stringed musical instrument of the zither family of instruments with both bridges and frets.   It is generally played while seated on the floor. The strings are plucked with a short bamboo stick called suldae, which is held between the index and middle fingers of the right hand, while the left-hand presses on the strings. The most typical tuning of the open strings for the traditional Korean music is D#/Eb, G#/Ab, C, A#/Bb, A#/Bb, and A#/Bb an octave lower than the central tone.

In the video from the Olympics, the band is surrounded by dozens of geomungo players.

Haegeum (Hangul: 해금) is a traditional Korean string instrument, resembling a fiddle. It has a rodlike neck, a hollow wooden soundbox, and two silk strings, and is held vertically on the knee of the performer and played with a bow. It is one of the most widely used instruments in Korean music. Its range of expression is various despite having only two strings, with sounds ranging from sorrowful and sad to humorous.

Taepyeongso (lit. “big peace wind instrument”; also called hojokhojeok 호적 號笛/胡笛, nallari, or saenap, 嗩吶) is a Korean double reed wind instrument in the shawm or oboe family, probably descended from the Persian zurna and closely related to the Chinese suona. It has a conical wooden body with a metal mouthpiece and cup-shaped metal bell. It originated during the Goryeo period (918 – 1392).   The loud and piercing sound it produces has kept it confined mostly to Korean folk music (especially “farmer’s band music”) and to marching bands, the latter performed for royalty in the genre known as daechwita. It is, however, also used sparingly in other genres, including Confucian, Buddhist and Shamanist ritual musics and neo-traditional/fusion music.

Piri is a Korean double reed instrument, used in both the folk and classical (court) music of Korea. It is made of bamboo. Its large reed and cylindrical bore gives it a sound mellower than that of many other types of oboe.

Jambinai released this album in 2012 but reissued it in 2016 when they released their second album a Hermitage.

This nine-song (mostly) instrumental post-rock album is just astounding with the sounds they produce.

1. Time Of Extinction (2:56) opens with some quick riffage on the Geomungo.  After 20 second the roaring guitars and drums crash in.  Before a minute is up, the guitar falls back and a wondrous haegeum solo takes over amid the background rumbling.  It’s followed by some staccato thumps and full-on blasts of noise.  The taepyeongso mixes with feedback to create a wall of discord before it all crashes to a close.

2. Grace Kelly (3:20) opens with some fast acoustic sounding guitars before the whole song barrels forth with crashing noises and a taepyeongso solo.  That’s all in the first minute.  After which a quiet guitar and a vocal melody takes over.  I love that the vocal is buried under some effects so you can’t even really tell what language she’s singing in.  After a minute or so of this “rest,” the song just takes off again–forcing its way to the end with vocals moans that sound a bit like Robert Plant.  The ending crashing chords are pretty spectacular.
3. Glow Upon Closed Eyes (6:26) A quieter song, it starts with fading in and out noises and what may be reversed guitar sounds.  After a minute or so the geomungo comes in with some big notes that give the noises some context.  It stays relatively quiet for 5 minutes and then the end of the song bursts firth with martial drums and big guitars.
4. Paramita Pt. 1 (4:15)  The first part opens with rumbling noises and a slow riff on the geomungo.  Nearly the whole song works at this sort of tension building exercise with a brief moment of splashing cymbals and faster notes that slow once again.
5. Paramita Pt. 2 (4:21)  Part 2 slows things down a lot–just a geomungo thump and some sporadic notes on the haegeum.  It feels menacing and suspenseful–punctuated by deep bass notes that resound and linger.   The song unexpectedly explodes about two minutes in with a wall of noise punctuated by cymbals.
6. Hand Of Redemption (4:34) is a sonic blast of hardcore.  Screamed vocals are buried amid a wall of fast thumping drums and guitars.  After two minutes the taepyeongso and piri start adding noise and the thumping grows more mechanical.  The final minute takes away the industriaial sound but leaves all the high squealing notes punctuated by walls of bass and drums.   The end of the song thumps and feedback in to the next track.
7. Empty Pupil Pt. 1 (5:10) Continues with that feedback.  The feedback goes through several iterations as quiet chords are played and then allowed to feedback some more.  The rest of the song is full of other mechanical sounds–who even knows what–that fill in to a kind of noise drone.  The song ends with quiet guitar lines (I wonder if the song endings deliberate segue or if they were just stopped at the wrong time)
8. Empty Pupil Pt. 2 (4:39)  Part 2 further explores the quiet guitar with some cool creaking sounds from the geomungo before it starts playing a riff that ends with a big crash each time.   It picks up the tempo as the haegeum is introduced along with some acoustic guitar strumming but there is no climax to this song it just ends and fades.
9. Connection (9:37)  The final song is the one epic track on the disc.  It opens with a haegeum playing a quiet two note melody before some deep slow bass notes accompany it.  There’s also I think a vocal line (it’s hard to tell).  About four minutes in the haegeum starts playing a riff that is reminiscent of Sigur Rós.  It builds in beauty an intensity until the final notes fade out.
It’s a great way to end a great album.

Stream it on their bandcamp site.

[READ: June 4, 2019] “Stonehenge”

The June 10th issue of the New Yorker features five essays by authors whom I have enjoyed.  They were gathered under the headline “Another Country.”

I enjoyed Min jin Lee’s Free Food for Millionaires quite a lot.  I had no idea that she was not born in America.  She came to New York from Seoul when she was seven, and her essay is fascinating for a couple of reasons.

First, she says that every day in the 1970s and 1980s it took her two hours to get from her home in Queens to the Bronx High School of Science.  She spent most of that commuter time reading Sinclair Lewis novels about America: Main Street, Babbitt, Dodsworth, Arrowsmith.

On weekends she worked with her family in their father’s store in Manhattan’ Koreatown.  The store was burgled several times and everyone in their family had been mugged at some point.

She notes that Sinclair Lewis wrote about white Midwesterners who struggled against materialism, corporate greed, fascism and narrow thinking.  She found it calming to read about these big ideas since her family life was so hectic.   The books also made her feel like she’d traveled even though she never did. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOSEPH-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 29, 2017).

 Every year, NPR goes to the Newport Folk Festival so we don’t have to.  A little while afterwards, they post some streams of the shows (you used to be able to download them, but now it’s just a stream).  Here’s a link to the Joseph set; stream it while it’s still active.

Joseph is a band of three sisters and their sound is a little like Indigo Girls–if there were three of them.

When Natalie, Meegan and Allison Closner shout together to the heavens, accompanied only by Natalie’s acoustic guitar, it’s a joyful noise that intrinsically celebrates their bond.

So yes, Joseph is all about harmonies.  They play six songs from their recent album I’m Okay, No You’re Not which is a pretty great release (with a few songs that go a little too commercial).  For the most part, it is just one guitar and three voices.

Their first song “Stay Awake” starts off quietly with one of the sisters (Natalie, I assume) singing and plucking a spare melody on the guitar.  And then about a minute and fifteen second in, all three sisters sing and suddenly the song is magical.

 “Canyon” has a number of amazing moments, but especially when they sing along with one of the sisters taking lead and the other two doing some great harmonies.  When the lead sings “I wanna feel it,” all three singers soar to the rafters in a gorgeous harmony (around 7:25 of this set).

They get applause for “S.O.S.” before playing it.  This is their poppiest song and the one that verges closest to a sound I don’t like (especially for them).  But it’s hard to deny it when they sound so good live.

For “Planets” they ask if anybody wants to sing and they give the audience a mildly complicated melody to sing.  I can’t really tell if the audience is any good at it, but the sisters seem to like it.  And “I Don’t Mind” has a terrific melody even without the harmonies, but when they come in it’s even better.

They describe “Sweet Dreams” as like a lullaby that they used to say to their mom ” Sweet dreams, I love you, good night.”  But this song is anything but a lullaby.  The melody is sophisticated and their voices are powerful.  It’s quite something,.

They have time for two more.  We’ll sing one from our old record and…maybe our single.  That single, “White Flag” finds a stellar balance of pop and folk.  It hits just the right edges of pop to make the song insanely catchy but with an almost aggressive folksiness that is undeniable.  And live it’s almost breathtaking.

Their voices are just amazing.

[READ: June 20, 2017] “I Have Fallen in Love with American Names”

Earlier this month I posted a piece from Roth about names.  I assume that this excerpt comes from the same source.

Roth’s parents were born in New Jersey at the start of the twentieth century.  They were at home in America even though “they had no delusions and knew themselves to be socially stigmatized and regarded as repellent alien outsiders.”  And that is the culture that Philip grew up in.

Butt the writers who shaped his sense of country were born in America some thirty to sixty years before him.  They were mostly small town Midwesterners and Southerners.  None were Jews.

What shaped those writers was not mass immigration from the Old Country and the threat of anti-Semetic violence, but the overtaking of farms and villages  values by business culture.

He says what attracted him to writers like Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Ring Lardner, Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Wolfe and Erskine Caldwell was his own ignorance of everything North South and West of Newark, New Jersey.  And the way that America from 1941 to 1945 was unified: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAPANDROIDS-“Fire’s Highway” (2012).

I regret dismissing the suggestions of the NPR folks the other day.  As the more I dig into their suggestions, the more I like–seems their selections are better than their descriptions of said selections.  Take this description of the Japandoids’ album: “snarling punk meets the fist-in-the-air anthemics of Born to Run-era Springsteen and his modern-day equivalents in The Gaslight Anthem.”  I’ve never really liked Springsteen (I know, a Jersey boy, too).  I think it’s more about production (and saxophone) than anything else.  So, comparing bands to him is never a sell for me (even if it may be true).  To me, this sounds much more like a low-key Arcade Fire (with literally no pretensions to anything–I mean, there’s only 2 Japandroids).  Granted, Arcade Fire owe a lot to Springsteen too, but they do something different with his sound, which is why I like them.  [I’m not going to be able to argue my way out of this].

Anyhow, this song is a four minutes of punky guitars and a stupidly catchy chorus.  The fact that it’s only two guys makes it all the more remarkable that it sounds like a full band.  And perhaps, the biggest difference for me is the singer’s voice which feels very early 90s alt rock/punk.  Whatever it is, I’m a fan and will certainly be listening to more of this album.

[READ: June 14, 2012] “The Clockwork Condition”

Like most young men of a certain bent, I loved A Clockwork Orange.  I’ve watched it dozens of times and I’ve read the book.  What I especially like about the story is that my feelings about it change as I get older—which, while not the point exactly, is certainly a theme in the story–how age makes things seem different.  The most important thing I learned from this article is that there was an epilogue in the British version of the book that was not available in the American version (or the film).  And it seems to be pretty important.  What a strange thing to leave out.

Incidentally, Burgess wrote the book in 1962 and the film came out in 1973, which is why he was wrote this in 1973.  He says he was asked about Issues that arose from the film.  And he talks a lot about them.

But he also gives a lot of background.  The title of the book comes from the expression “as queer as a clockwork orange” which is Cockney slang for something so weird it subverts nature.  It was a perfect title for an idea he was going to write about—how people suggested using aversion therapy to change juvenile delinquent behavior.

So this article goes on for a pretty long time, raising all kinds of questions.  It’s really articulate and fascinating and really makes me want to re-read the anti-authoritarian novels I read in high school: 1984, It Can’t Happen Here, Brave New World.   He even talks about B.F. Skinner, who proposed that aversion therapy (which is what Alex gets in the book/movie) was wrong and that positive reinforcement was always more effective.  Skinner worked with animals (Burgess jokes about that) and the whole “you get more flies with honey” attitude works better for training animals he says.  The same is true for people.  Besides, aversion therapy removes freewill. (more…)

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