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Archive for the ‘Steven Millhauser’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: WILD BEASTS-A Simple Beautiful Truth” (Field Recordings, October 23, 2014).

I don’t know if there was an initial mission statement for Field Recordings, but I feel like this one fits my model of Field Recordings perfectly.  For this Field Recording [A ‘Beautiful Truth’ In A Beautiful Bar], NPR brought a band into Grand Central Station to play a song.

Of course, they can’t have the band play in the middle of Grand Central Station (well they could and that would be awesome–but not if they want a lush version of the song, which they do).  So they had them play in The Cambell Apartment, a bar tucked into Grand Central Station. What?

You can be 10 feet from The Campbell Apartment, a bar tucked into the corner of New York’s Grand Central Station, and not have any idea it’s there. The office of a member of the New York Central Railroad’s Board Of Directors in the 1920s (and later a storage closet and a jail), the room is intimate in spite of its 25-foot ceilings and the enormous leaded-glass window that faces Vanderbilt Avenue.

The band Wild Beasts does not in any way live up to their name.  There’s hardly anything wild or beastly about them.  They play a kind of new wave, almost old-time music (Roxy Music-ish): “The band’s sound — from the street-urchin-inspired lyrics of its early songs to the new-wave synths woven through its latest album, Present Tense — arrived fully intact via time machine.”

“A Simple Beautiful Truth” has a delicate synth line and loud electronic drums.  It wouldn’t make sense in Grand Central Station.  I’m not entirely sure it make seen here, but the band’s overall vibe does make sense in this old-timey bar.

[READ: October 10, 2017] “A Report on Our Recent Troubles”

This story is indeed written as a report.  The recent troubles are a euphemism for the rampant suicide that has struck a village.

But because the story is written as a report, it has a formal, detached tone that really allows for much thinking about suicide.  The suicide is so rampant that families have moved away, leaving those who remain to deal with their shattered existence.

The town was once pleasant–connected to the city and culture and yet with a rural sensibility.

They the undersigned are reluctant to look for one thing that changed everything but they can’t help but note that when Richard And Suzanne Lory killed themselves, things seemed to change.  Each in their early fifties, happily married and with lots of friends.  They killed themselves and left no note. An investigation turned up no scandal.

Two weeks later a 74-year-old retired high school math teacher killed himself.  He had been diagnosed with cancer of the liver.  This was less scandalous and almost understandable. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKTHE KING’S SINGERS-Tiny Desk Concert #768 (July 23, 2018).

There are so many a capella groups in existence.  Some are collegiate (there are three alone here at Princeton) and others move beyond that.  The Nassoons started in 1941.  The Footnotes started in 1959.  The Tigerlilies, (the all-female group) started in 1971.

So when this blurb talks about The King’s Singers being fifty years old, well, that’s not so impressive in some respects.  But anything that has lasted that long is still pretty impressive.  As is the fact that  they have 150 recordings out.

Fifty years ago, a group of six guys walked on a London stage to perform for the first time as The King’s Singers. They were choral scholars and graduates from King’s College, part of England’s venerable Cambridge University.

The group quickly earned a reputation for its precise and warm close-harmony singing, which is as strong as ever today. There have been more than 150 King’s Singers recordings, Grammy and Emmy awards, and countless concerts and television appearances. New singers, of course, have cycled through over five decades, but the six-man vocal setup has remained constant: two countertenors, one tenor, two baritones and a bass. Also unchanged is the group’s penchant for singing just about every style of music.

So it is no surprise that the current iteration of The King’s Singers — in the midst of their 50th-anniversary tour — brings a diverse set list to the Tiny Desk, including a Beatles tune and a bawdy madrigal from the 1500s.

Notice the glistening top end on Lennon and McCartney’s “I’ll Follow the Sun,” courtesy of countertenors Timothy Wayne-Wright and Patrick Dunachie.

I also enjoyed hearing the occasional bass notes from Jonathan Howard.  It’s fascinating to see how the tenors like Julian Gregory take various parts of the song, sharing the lines.

“Shenandoah,” the traditional American song, sports a velvety carpet of accompaniment for baritone Christopher Bruerton’s lead. The blend of light and color shifts beautifully in Bob Chilcott’s diaphanous arrangement.

Christopher Gabbitas’ introduction (and plug for their album) is quite amusing.  The way the five singers start with “ooohs” in harmony is really striking.  In addition to the lead, the gorgeous high notes of the countertenors are absolutely striking in this song.

“Horizons,” with its cinematic hissing, humming and other special effects, tells a tragic story of the San people of Southern Africa.

Howard introduces this song by saying that somewhere in a cave in South Africa there is a San bushman painting of a Dutch or English ship dating back to early 1700s.  It celebrates the incredible powers of observation of the now virtually extinct San people.  The people the San saw as gods because of their stature and opulence were soon to become their executioners.  This is what the South African born writer and composer Peter Louis van Dijk writes in this song which celebrates their humility and their oneness with the environment.  It also laments the demise of these people at the hands so-called progress.

This song really toys with my idea of what a “traditional” a capella group might do.  There are hand clasps, hissing sounds, snaps and other vocal sound effects.  Sung initially by baritone Christopher Gabbitas, everyone eventually takes a turn doing vocals and vocal/hand percussion.

The rhythmic and risqué “Dessus le marché d’Arras” channels a bustling 16th-century French marketplace.

This madrigal takes them back to the 1500s.  It’s a pop song written by from the renaissance era written by Orlande de Lassus in which a Spanish soldier in the Northern French town of Arras asks a woman how much….  And they walk off, hand in hand. The madrigal doesn’t say what she is selling, and The King’s Singers don’t want to say (as it is being broadcast).

The singers intertwine their voices beautifully.  It’s a fast spirited number and a lot of fun (even if you can;t tell what they are saying).

The King’s Singers remains a vocal juggernaut, playing 150 concerts in this anniversary year. With its power, finesse and silky blend, the group is like some close-harmony Ferrari that can purr and growl, leaving you amazed at the splendor of the human voice.

[READ: October 11, 2017] “The Wizard of West Orange”

I have enjoyed most of Millhauser’s stories.  This one irritated me though. The fact that it won me over is a testament to the quality of the story, but I was really annoyed by the style.

This is a diary.  And I hate the way it is written.   I get that a diary can be truncated, but why did he chose to make this such a tough read; “A quiet day in library; this morning overheard a few words in courtyard.”  Ugh so frustrating.  And the whole story–all 12 pages of it is written in that halting style with limited articles.  Man is it annoying.

It starts out on Oct 14 1889 and was written by the librarian who works with Thomas Edison–whom he refers to exclusively as The Wizard.  The first few entries are pretty dull–The Wizard is secretive going about his business.  I was afraid this was just going to be one of those imaginings of what someone who worked with Edison’s job was like or blah blah blah.  And it is much like that.  A book comes in and one of the scientists looks for it.  The Wizard is working on his phonograph and his talking doll.

There are two main characters beside the narrator.  There is Earnshaw who is very much devoted to the idea of motion photography–he’s thinking about something with sprockets in it.  And there is also Kirstenmacher whose time is devoted to the kinescope.

It gets interesting when the entries reference a wired glove.  And Kirstenmacher determines that the librarian is fascinated by the inventions, in particular the kinescope

Turns out that Kirstenmacher has invited both Earnshaw and the narrator to test out this new device–the wired glove has a silk lining and little metal points throughout.  When the librarian puts the glove in, and Kirstenmacher turns the wax cylinder, the librarian feels weight in her hands, tickling sensations.  It is amazing.

And as the entries go on, the details of the experience grow.  Eventually it becomes a full body suit and the feelings are uncanny.

Earnshaw meanwhile hates the experiments–he wants nothing to do with that infernal machine but Kirstenmacher won’t let him quit.

“Today at a little past two, Earnshaw entered library.”  ugh

Kirstenmacher has high hopes that in twenty years it may be possible to create tactile sensations by stimulating the corresponding centers of the brain. Until then we must conquer the skin directly.

The Wizard filed a caveat with the patent office for the haptograph–protecting his invention while acknowledging its incompleteness.  He announces to the paper that he hopes to have it presentable in six months.

Kirstenmacher says that if three more men are put on the job, and ten times current funds diverted to research, the haptograph might be ready for public in three years.

Then one day the machine is destroyed.   The Wizard doesn’t seem all that upset but the librarian is distraught.

~~~~~

Just this weekend we visited the Thomas Edison National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service) in West Orange and it was pretty awesome.  Totally worth a visit.

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SOUNDTRACK: PALEHOUND-A Place I’ll Always Go (2017).

Ellen Kempner’s voice is a bit louder in the mix so you can really hear the words despite the fact that she is still singing mostly in a whisper.

It’s a logical step from her previous album and every thing sounds a bit bigger and a bit better.

“Hunter’s Gun” is slow and a little creepy with the echo on her vocals and her whispered lyrics.  There’s also some great weird effects floating around in the background–especially by the end as the echo more or less takes over.

“Carnations” starts simply enough with a quiet chugging riff.  But the chorus is a wonderful–louder guitar with the guitar and vocals doing the same catchy melody.  It also has some great lyrics

They’re still in love with their ex
And I’m not feeling my best
This is a bad combination

‘Cause I’ve been dreaming I might
Just up and bail on this plight
And maybe go on vacation

Pack up my shit in the dark
And if the car doesn’t start
It spares us both conversations

“Room” is slower more acoustic-feeling.  It’s a sweetly romantic song with the lovely chorus line “She keeps me…  at night.”

“If You Met Her” starts out kind of sinister musically, but it has a really catchy chorus as well  It’s a wonderful song about breakup and new love perfectly summed up with this ending line

I’m with someone new
And I know that you would love her if you met her

The set up of rocker followed by slower song continues with  “Silver Toaster,” a loose, acoustic song that reminds of a snarky/simple Nirvana song (with a banjo solo!)

“Turning 21” has a big shoegaze guitar sound and a wonderfully catchy melody in the bridge.

“Flowing Over” mixes some good guitar lines and a rocking mid bridge section but its the oh oh oh oh section and the way it changes throughout the song that is the major hook.

“Backseat” opens with pulsing keys.  It’s a dark mediation that segues into the beautiful guitar of “Feeling Fruit, ” a pedestrian-seeming lyric that is much deeper and quite moving.

“At Night I’m Alright With You.” is a quiet moody song with a real Twin Peaks vibe.

These two releases are great but to really get to see how amazing Ellen is, check her out live.

[READ: January 23, 2018] “A Change in Fashion”

When I read this recently it sounded really familiar.  Clearly I had read it back in 2006 and it was so striking that I remembered it 12 years later.

And indeed, it is a memorable story, even if it’s not especially profound or funny–it’s mildly amusing and thoughtful.

Basically, this is an account of the way fashions changed after the Age of Revelation.  Girls and women were happily showing off their thongs but it was as if, after a half a century of reckless exposure, a weariness had overcome women…a disenchantment to invite a bold male gaze.

At first girls were opposed to it–it reminded them of old photographs in boring albums.  But soon it became stylish to wear dresses that brushed the floor–wearing lambskin gloves and rising collars. (more…)

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octSOUNDTRACK: ENORMODOME-“The Way We Burn” (Tiny Desk Contest Fan Favorite 2016).

enormo Last week, a Tiny Desk Contest winner was announced. This week, All Songs Considered posted ten runners up that they especially liked.  Last year, Enormodome made it to the top ten runner ups, but sadly, they did not this year.

However they did make a fan favorite vote and I like the song, so there.  Last year their concept was awesome—they played in the office of the mayor of Flagstaff (where they are based).  This year, they took their desk outside and set it on fire.

Enormodome is just two guys, a guitarist and drummer and they get a big rocking sound out of their tiny set up.  They’ve got a fuzzy guitar and lots of high hats to keep the song from ever sounding spare.  And both guys sing–often in harmony–so the songs stay interesting.

The song is a kind of heavy classic rock—a big catchy riff, and a wonderful chorus.

Beyond the flaming desk, the video is fun to watch–there’s circus performers everywhere and lots and lot so fire!   Which makes sense given the title of the song.

Check it out:

[READ: February 21, 2016] “Late”

I really enjoyed this story.  I thought I’d read a lot more by Millhauser, but I see that I’ve only ever read a few short pieces by him.  Well, after this I’ll have to read more.

Because Valeria is always later, the narrator tells her to arrive at a restaurant an hour earlier than he wants to eat.  He figures, if she’s 35 minutes late for a 6 o’clock dinner, she will actually be 25 minutes early for a 7PM dinner, which is when he wants to eat anyhow.

However, he doesn’t want her to arrive on time and wonder where he is, so he arrives at the restaurant a little before 6 to secure a window table with a view of the front door.

He orders a coffee and tells the waiter that he is awaiting somebody. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_12_16_13Nelson.inddSOUNDTRACK: MOON HOOCH-Tiny Desk Concert #371 (July 7, 2014).

moonhoochI like to do things in an orderly fashion when I write about them, but when it comes to Moon Hooch, order simply must go out the window.

I’ve been enjoying Moon Hooch a lot lately, cranking their CD, watching them play improv live pieces on the side of the road (on YouTube) and now in this Tiny Desk Concert.

So Moon Hooch is three guys–two sax and a drummer.  And they play loud and fast and furious with crazy tempo changes, incredible stop on a dime pauses and some amazingly noisy solos.  In this Concert, the guys (saxophonists Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen and drummer James Muschler) play three songs that all sort of meld together: “Tubes,” “Number 9” and “Bari 3.”

“Tubes” opens up as the picture shows with the baritone sax stuffed with some kind of tube.  I have no idea what it does to the sound (their sounds are so unusual anyhow), but it’s a very funny visual to see him waving this massive thing around while it’s attached with a yellow caution tape.  Especially since the song actually starts with the other sax making crazy skronking noises (this ain’t easy listening music, that’s for sure).  Indeed, when the lead sax is not playing a catchy melody he is wailing and skronking around.

“Number 9” was their first single and the song that introduced me to the band.  The extenda-tubes are gone, and the song sounds super tight and in control, with enough jam elements to keep it interesting.  Drummer Muschler also take a brief solo–it’ nothing too flashy (he’s got a very spare kit), but it really shows off his speed and dexterity which can get lost behind the flash of the saxes, especially when the saxes come back in and the solo wails away.

The final song is their new single.  I love their choreographed playing and the amazing stops and stars that the music has.   This song also features some of the quieter sections before launching into that heavy low sax riffage.

It’s definitely more fun to watch these guys, so check it out here.

[READ: June 13, 2014] “Coming Soon”

Stephen Millhauser seems to get a lot of stories published in the New Yorker.  His last one was in May of 2013 (this one was in December).  I’m starting to think there’s some unfairness in their selections sometimes.

But that’s not meant to reflect on this story at all because it was a fun, meta-story and the crazy related picture (echoes of a small house) was surprisingly apt.

In the story, Levinson has moved from the city to an up and coming town.  His friends in the city made fun of him–talking about the burbs and commodification and what not, yet they all went out to visit him to the weekends.  This particular town (not a sprawling suburb) was being developed quickly, and he relished the newness.   In fact he was almost defensive of how much he loved his new town.

Levinson is 42, dating casually until the right girl comes around.  But he is not settling down at all–he still works hard and he enjoys working in his yard and wandering the town.  He knows his neighbors and everyone is friendly.  It’s perfect. (more…)

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38SOUNDTRACK: SAN FERMIN-“Crueler Kind” (2013).
sanfermin-91f624c3b893c51669028614cc4bbf4973704a7c-s1

This was the final song that NPR played in their summer new music collection.  It was a band that Bob didn’t know, but he liked the song and then saw them live and put the song here.

It opens very simply, quietly with beautiful harmonies over a simple synth.  After about 45 seconds, the drums and horns (!) kick in and the backing harmony vocals take on more of a choral sound (AHHHH!) that punctuates rather than accompanies the vocals.

The main riff stems from that horn—a bass saxophone?  And yet during the verses, everything resorts to that pretty, mellow sound.

It’s a very interesting mix of musics, and it reminds me of some of the more experimental bands of the 1990s.  I’ll bet they would be fun to see live.  And I’d like to hear more from this album.

[READ: June 20, 2013] McSweeney’s #38

And with this book, I have now read all of the McSweeney’s issues (except that Mammoth Treasury which I will get to, probably by the end of the year).  This one was a great collection of fiction and non-fiction, it also had an inserted comic.  The book itself was paperback, with a nice, textured cover and a cool design for the numbers. In looking for a picture I learned that it came in two colors (the yellow that I received and a black cover with white lines).

It continues with the later issues’ less frivolous style (in that there’s nothing weird about the book) and throughout, the quality of the work is great.  I really enjoyed this book.  It opens with letters and contains color pictures, too.

Letters (more…)

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CV1_TNY_05_27_13Juan.inddSOUNDTRACK: CHANCE THE RAPPER-“Juice” & “NaNa”(2013).

chancetherapper-acidrapNPR has raved about Chance the Rapper, both at SXSW and now with Acidrap as one of their favorite albums of 2013.

Chance the Rapper has a couple of different vocals styles (kind of Jamaican, kind of falsetto, also a deeper voice) and his lyrics are crazily all over the place.

I have no idea what “Juice” is about (I’m not hip to the slang, man), and of the two I like that one less.  “NaNa” is just crazy fun–it’s got a great bass riff–weird and all over the place, like slow funk.  He sounds more Jamaican here, and the lyrics are just nutty

In terms of rap, his style is quite different–fun and weird (there’s a lot of laughing during “Juice”).  The chorus of “NaNa” is a kind of whine and taunt.  And various things keep interrupting the song (is that part of the video or the song?  I don’t know).  And by the end, the song keeps telling him (or us) to shut up.

It has a feel like Childish Gambino, which i like. And I like that he’s doing something different.  I suspect with a few listens this could be a great mixtape.  You can get the whole thing for free at his website.

[READ: June 9, 2013] “Thirteen Wives”

I’ve read a number of Millhauser stories before, although I don’t recall if I generally like him or not.  (hmm, it seems that I do).

This story seemed more like an exercise or a challenge—can I write about 13 different women and given them all different characteristics.  For indeed, that is what the story is.  The narrator explains that he has 13 wives and they are all equal in his eyes.  After some perfunctory explanation about how this works, he sets out to describe them all.

And then we get the 13 one-dimensional women that he has married and the one defining characteristic about her (the one who is always in sync with him, the one who is submissive, the one who is bitchy, etc).

And really that’s all there is to it. (more…)

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