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Archive for the ‘Jeopardy!’ Category

ny2010SOUNDTRACK: ALT-J-Tiny Desk Concert #258 (December 17, 2012).

altjAlt-J is a peculiar band—lead singer Joe Newman’s voice is really unusual—and quit divisive as I understand.  But even the music is peculiar: “The band’s songs are wrapped in enigmatic textures, with swift shifts in arrangements inside every song and an oddness to the drums…that curious rhythm at the foundation of the songs reveals not a hint of cymbals.”

I can’t say I noticed that they were necessarily more spare at the Tiny Desk concert, but the blurb notes, “[Drummer] Thom Green plays mostly with a mounted tambourine and cowbell for the sorts of things a hi-hat would accomplish — that tick tick sound, with the snap of the sound coming from a small-bodied 10″ snare called a popcorn snare. The sparseness that happens in the absence of crashing cymbals leaves a lot of space in the music.”

I happen to really like the music behind this voice and I also find his voice… intriguing.  At first I wasn’t sure, but I feel like once I got sucked into the music, I enjoyed it all the more.

“Tessellate” has some great basslines and interesting keyboards.  Newman sings and plays an electric guitar in the most delicate way imaginable.  After the first song, there’s some amusement as he asks someone in the audience for the guitar (we don’t see it but there’s some chuckles about the person missing her big chance).

Newman switches to acoustic for “Something Good” (which I think of as the Matador song).  He plays this guitar a lot louder than the electric.  But once again the melody is quite unusual–very catchy and unexpected (and he can sing in quite a deep voice compared to his rather high normal singing voice.   And speaking of high voices the keyboardist does some really impressive falsetto notes in this and the first song.

Then they pass the bass over and the audience member gets “another chance.”  Bob jokes that they may ask her to play it next.  For the final song “Matilda,” the bassist switches to guitar and Newman is back on the electric.  His voice is so strange on this song.  It’s almost like he is singing internally to himself rather than externally to the room.  I love the drum rhythms that play under the song.

I didn’t realize there were no cymbals, but that does make a lot of sense as there are no “exclamations” to the rhythm, just a steady, interesting beat.  When their album came out in 2012 I wasn’t sure about them, but I think they’ve won me over.

As the Concert ends, they are very gracious.  When Bob says “Thanks for doing this,” he replies, “Thanks for having us. It’s the first time we’ve really played in an office.”  Which is a funny thing to say out loud.

[READ: January 23, 2017] “Who is Alex Trebek?”

I was looking through all of the pieces that Simon Rich has published in the New Yorker.  Most of them have been collected in his various books, but there were a couple that hadn’t.  This is one of them.

In his book Last Girlfriend on Earth, he has a short piece called “When Alex Trebek’s Ex-Wife Appeared on Jeopardy!”  This story is written in the same style–consider it a companion piece.

The focus this time is on Trebek himself.  And I really like the amusing way Rich sets it up: (more…)

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dfwreadSOUNDTRACK: CHRISTIAN SCOTT aTUNDE ADJUAH-Tiny Desk Concert #477 (October 9, 2015).

aacsChristian Scott aTunde Adjuah and his septet play what he calls stretch music: “the particular type of jazz fusion he’s up to: something more seamless than a simple collision of genre signifiers.”

They note that even his appearance stretches traditional jazz: “You may note that he showed up in a Joy Division sleeveless T-shirt and gold chain.” It’s sleek and clearly modern, awash in guitar riffs, but also bold and emotionally naked.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (not sure how to abbreviate that) is a trumpeter and he can hit some loud powerful and long –held notes.   It’s funny that when he bends over the trumpet grows quieter—those ic really are direction-based.

For the first song “TWIN” he does some impressive soloing over a simple and cool beat—piano and delicate guitar riffs (there’s also an upright bass and drummer).   After his lengthy solo there’s a flute solo that also works perfectly (if less dramatically) with the background music.  (Christian plays tambourine during her solo).  He says that this song is about being a twin.  His brother, Kyle Scott is a film director and for whom Christians scores the music.  Christian also explains that he comes from an African-American and Native-American background and that this song has rhythms as a sort of history of his family that touches on Mali, Senegal Gambia and The Ivory Coast and makes its way to the Caribbean, Cuba and into New Orleans.

He’s pleased to play the Tiny Desk Concert for an audience that appreciates “Music that has nutritional value.”

For the second song, “West of the West” he brings on a young alto-saxophonist who plays with his drummer in a different band. The song opens with a rocking electric guitar solo and then the jazzy band kicks in behind it.  The instrumental features a couple of solos by the saxophonist, the pianist and the bassist.

“K.K.P.D.” is a dramatic song for which he gives a lengthy back story.  Many years ago in his home of New Orleans, he was stopped by New Orleans police late at night for no reason other than to harass and intimidate him.  he was coming back from a gig.  He resisted and was in a serious situation and was seriously threatened—the story is long and very affecting, especially given how articulate (I know, terrible word, but true) and calm he is about retelling this horrifying story.  His pride almost made him do something ill-advised, but instead he channeled that pent-up frustration into a piece of music whose long-form title is “Ku Klux Police Department.”

He adds that we see things on TV about inner cities or the ninth ward and we believe them to be true.  Like that the neighborhood is happy that the police are clearing out the youth there.  We begin to think that the narrative is true, although the people who live there can tell you otherwise.  Despite the title and the origin, the is song is designed to reach a consensus to move forward –not to build derision or hate.  He says that we have to start working on that now, because if it doesn’t start now then our children will continue to inherit this situation.

It opens with a noisy guitar wash and fast drums.  It’s quite noisy and chaotic although it resolves very nicely into an almost sweet piano-based song with slow horns.  The middle of the song ramps up with some intense soloing from Christian.  I love how that segues into a very different section with an electronic drum and delicate piano.  Chritsian’s next solo is much more optimistic.  The final section is just wonderfully catchy.

When he introduces the band, he points out just how young some of his newest members are: Drummer Corey Fonville (another new member) used a djembe as a bass drum, and also brought a MIDI pad so he could emulate the sound of a drum machine; Lawrence Fields, piano; Kris Funn, bass; Dominic Minix , guitar (21 years old); Braxton Cook, saxophone (24 years-old) and Elena Pinderhughes, flute: 20 years old!

I don’t listen to a ton of jazz, but I really liked this Tiny Desk Concert a lot.

[READ: July-October 2016] The David Foster Wallace Reader

I’ve had this book since Sarah bought it for me for Christmas in 2014.  I haven’t been in a huge hurry to read it because I have read almost everything in it already.  And some of that I have even read recently.  But this summer I decided to read some of my bigger books, so this was a good time as any.

One of the fascinating things about reading this book is the excerpting in the fiction section.  I have never really read excerpts from DFWs longer books before.  And once you decontextualize the parts, you can really appreciate them for themselves rather than as a means to the end of the story.  This is especially true of the excerpts from Broom of the System and Infinite Jest.  But also just reading some of these sections as a short story makes for an interesting experience.

It was also very interesting to read the non-fiction all together like that.  These pieces come from difference anthologies, but they have thematic similarities  So, placing them together like that allows for really comparing the stories.

And of course, the selling point for most DFW fans is the teaching materials in the center of the book–an opportunity to look into the man’s mind at work shaping younger minds.

I have written about virtually everything in this book already (title links refer back to previous posts), so mostly these are thoughts about the pieces themselves and not a part of a whole. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: January 12, 2012] Girl with Curious Hair

I saw a placeholder on Amazon for this audio book in early 2011.  And then I promptly forgot all about it.  My friend George just asked if anyone had heard it yet, so I decided to check it out.  I downloaded it through Audible.com.

And here’s my two cents about Audible.  Although it was free (for a 30 day trial), it was a lot of work.  The entire book (14 hours) downloaded in two files.  Each was about 7 hours with no breaks or chapters of any kind–just two huge 7 hour files.  Okay, I often download stuff and bring it into Audacity to make my own chapter breaks.  But you can’t import this file into Audacity because it is its own proprietary format and doesn’t want you to put it in MP3 format.  So, I had to burn it to CD (but not in MP3, only in WAV) and then put the CDs back in to iTunes to import them as MP3.  From there I could import them into Audacity and put tracks where I wanted.  That’s a lot of work to save $29.

I’m also going to say that I didn’t want a membership to Audacity because it costs $15/mo and the savings aren’t really that good anyhow.  Even kids books are about $10 each.  Oh, and just see how many hoops they have you go through to try and cancel.   Heavens to Betsy.

And but so on to the actual audiobook.

The book was read by Robert Petkoff (who is Reader A below) and Joshua Swanson (who is reader B below).  I don’t know anything about them, but their websites will give you more info about them.

I found the readings to be simply wonderful.  They were impassioned and articulate and dealt with some of DFW’s tongue twisting word choices with ease.  They also handle DFW’s dialect and accents with ease.  And while Swanson has a much much broader range of voices to play around with (his women voices are far superior to Petkoff’s), Petkoff also pulls of some amazing voices, especially in “John Billy.”  I never questioned what was happening.

Some of these stories are challenging and I admit I found them difficult to read.  But the audio versions seemed to really clarify things.  (There are all kinds of reasons why this could be so, but I’m not going to delve into that, for there lies madness).  Nevertheless, this was a great way to hear these stories.  Especially the ones that had heavy dialect.

“Little Expressionless Animals” [Petkoff] (90 minutes)
Petkoff sounds uncannily like Kyle McLachlan–no bad thing.  Although Petkoff doesn’t work too hard trying to do different voices, he puts in enough distinction to make the characters distinguishable.  (We have been listening to a lot of kid’s audio books, and the narrators of those are amazing with the kind of vocal acrobatics they can do!).  Petkoff is more subtle, but it is also effective–it’s not just a straight voice, which I think might get confusing especially in the dialogue scenes.

There is a hint of Alex Trebek’s voice when doing Alex Trebek, but he’s definitely not trying to mimic the voices of the celebrities.  For the most part, the voices are slight variations of the main narrator.  Indeed, during the later Faye and Julie dialogue section, he does slight differences between their voices to help distinguish the characters.  Which is quite helpful in the story.

This story works very well in audio book format.

One of the things that I loved about this story this time was really piecing together all of the various compnents.  Inclduing things like the revealtion of why Julie does poorly on the subject of animals.  It’s quite obvious when the story ends, but through the whole story you keep wondering, what is it about the animals?  I’m aslo intrigued at the number of gay characters in the book.

And, of course, this story has a major obsession with pop culture, especially TV.  And knowing (from interviews) that DFW sais he would just get sucked in to watching TV all day if it wa svailable, his tone (as is Petkoff’s) is perfect when dealing with the TV issues.

“Luckily the Account Representative Knew CPR” [Petkoff] (18 minutes)
Petkoff sounds slightly differnt than in “LEA.”  Since thist story has no dialogue, there’s not a lot of differentiation in the story.  His deadpan delivery is perfect for all of the details in the story. Although at the end, his “Help”s are quite empassioned, letting you know there’s a little bit more going on.

“Girl with Curious Hair” [Swanson] (50 minutes)
Swanson’s voice is of a much higher timbre, and it’s kind of fun to have two different voices in this book.  This story benefits quite well from an audio format.

The story is deliebrately flat and, I have to admit, is not terribly easy to read.  Swanson handles the flatness very well, he reads it incredibly deadpan and yet he puts enough inflection in it to keep it from being monotone.  I have to assume it wasn’t easy to read this.  I think that he has really made this disturbing character quite real.

Obsevrations about the story.  Hearing this story out loud was more shocking than reading it.  The explicit sex is pretty shocking for DFW and the revelation about what happened to Sick Puppy when he was a kid is prodoundly distrubing, especially when it is read in this non-inflected voice.  It was uncomforatble and very effetcive.

There were times when I wondered about the believability of the charcter.  The use of the word negro, the utter flatness of him. I realize that he is quite damaged, but at times it seemed like maybe this story was too much.  Which is a bit of a surprise, as I find DFW’s charcatersto be very real.

“Lyndon”  [Swanson] [1 hr 45 min]
I didn’t really enjoy “Lyndon” when I read the story.  It’s a little long and had many different things going on.  I kept wondering about Lyndon himself.  About what made DFW write a story based around Lyndon Johnson, around jhis life and politics.

But hearing this story read aloud, with the Swanson’s various voices and accents and newspaper stories all differentiated really brought this to life.  I felt like it was so much more vibrant and alive and passionate in this audio version.  I read in my post that i found the ending quite moving when I read the story, but it felt even more so, with Lady Bird’s quiet, dignified delivery, here.

Observations on the story.  How odd that he chose to make this story that is about a real, and quite famous and well studied person.  I don’t know a thing about Lyndon, so I have no idea how much of this is true (the few LBJ quiotes I looked up seem faked).  I don’t think I spent enough time thinking about the main character when I read the story.  Boyd is so fully realized and amazing that Lyndon is really superflous.  This is awonderfully emotive story.  And Swanson really does an amazing job.

“John Billy” [Petkoff] (1hr 10 min)
I thought “John Billy” was a real challenge to read.  The dialect is pretty crazy.  And the story is not exactly easy to begin with.  But much like Swanson in “Lyndon,” Petkoff’s voices are outstanding here.  The main voice of John Billy is great–he handles the accent and the crazy word choices that John Billy has with ease.  The story flows perfectly.  It’s really impressive.

And while the voice of Glory Joy isn’t wonderful (Petkoff’s women are just softer versions of his voice), he more than makes up for it with the amazing transformation of Simple Ranger.  In the reading, it is clear that Simple Ranger “grows younger” from a quiet, hard to hear older to a youthful loud charcater.  And Petkoff takes that literally so you can really hear him change into a man with a “curious plus haunting voice that was not…of his gravelly, gray-lunged voice somehow, his own, somehow.”  And then, later in the story Ranger’s voice changes again when he “whispered, the big sharp clear new Ranger in a smooth new clear young voice.”   But nothing prepared me for the voice of T Rex Minogue. It is stunning.  It’s an amazingly processed voice that is as malevolent as it is “mechanical.”  It’ s masterful.

As for the story itself, the whole saga of C.Nunn Jr is bizarre and wonderful, a crazy hyperbole of a story.  It also seems crazily over the top hearing it aloud (like in “GwCH”).  The whole story’s end with C Nunn’s eyes is preposterous (what is it with people’s eyes in this book?).  And yet it feels like the nonsense is there as a balance for the heaviness.

The story is funny and silly but by the end it gets incredibly dark and thoughtful.  It’s a challenge to listen to, especially the end, but I think it benefits from an audio version.

“Here and There” [Swanson] (55 min)
I found this story somehow more confusing while listening than when reading.  There’s so much back and forth with voices and the whole conceit that this is some kind of fiction therpay doesn’t really translate easily here.  I also found some of the more academic sections to be kind of dull in his reading.  It’s a challenge to read aloud and keep interesting, I’m sure, but I found this story to be the least successful of the collection.

“My Appearnce” [Petkoff] (58 minutes)
This is written in frist person from a woman.  Petkoff, who has quite a deep voice conveys a woman very well.  This is a great reading for this story.  He does “versions” of David Letterman and Paul Schaffer.  They are not impersonantions by any means, but he has the tone down perfectly.   The male voices whispering in her ear are done in a very simple whisepred voice.  Very effective.

This is a great story and the audio is also wonderful.

“Say Never” [Petkoff and Swanson] (42 minutes)
Petkoff does a very good job with the accents in this story.  Labov’s heavy Jewish accent is very impressive.  And although Mrs Tebof is not very different from Labov, it is different enough to convey the accent and the tone.   He also does Lenny’s voice, which is the bulk of the story.

Swanson also comes in this story as well, doing the voices of Mikey and Louis (two very distinct voices, even if they are both a little Hollywood Gangster from the 40s).  I would have been interesting to hear them interact more in the book somehow.

I was struck by this story more in the listening than the reading.  There’s something about hearing people say these things that makes them more shocking.  Especially the note that he sends to his family (talking about his wife’s lack of sex drive–gasp!).  This is another one of DFW’s stories that ends before something big happens.  It’s funny how many of his stories seem like preludes.

“Everything is Green” [Petkoff] (3 minutes)
It’s also amazing that this whole story is only 3 minutes and thirty seconds long.  Petkoff reads this story in a perfect DFW deadpan style.  He even does May Flys voice with a (slight) accent.

“Westward the Course of Empire Takes it Way”  [Swanson] (6 hours)
Swanson does an amazing job with this difficult story.  There are nearly a dozen charaters in here and he manages to keep them all separate and distinct.  It’s really great.  This is especially true late in the story, when they are in the car on the way to Collison.  He has six people in the car and he manages to make sthem all unique:  J.D. is dark and gravelly while DeHaven has a kind of Midwestern Stoner tone.  Tom Sternberg is neurotic and aggressive at the same time.  D.L. is snotty and presumptuous (although it may be Swanson’s weakest voice, it really conveys the character well).  Magda is exhausted.  And Mark is a solid late teenager.

Let’s not froget the pissed off Fertilizer salesman, the Avis clerk and the bartender.  And the narrator of course.

This story is also fairly complex and hard to follow (when reading).  There so much going on what with the narrator’s interruptions and the metafiction.

What I really noticed this time is how the parts that are not metafictional, the actual narrative of the story is really good, really strong and emotional.  Not to say that the more meta- sections of it are bad, they just don’t have the same kind of impact.  Of course, the whole point of the story is to play around with meta-fiction, so I’m not entirely sure how successful it is in that regard.

Nevertheless, it’s a fascinting look at youth in America.  And I have to say that it really works as a foreshdaowing of issues that he would explore more in his later stories and IJ.

Some things I notice din this listen.  DFW uses the word “plus” instead of “and” a lot.  It’s a fascinating word choice, and one that I think virtually no one uses.  Sometimes it’s effective and other times it’s very clunky.  I never noticed it while reading but it’s very obvious when listening.

I just read my review of the short story collection, which I think was kind of brief.  I feel like I got a lot more out of the book this time around. Of course this is my second reading so that makes sense as well.  It’s also interesting how I enjoyed some stories more and other stories less.

Overall though, this is an excellent audio book.

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SOUNDTRACK: BBC Sessions (various).

Many many bands that I like have recorded tracks for the BBC.  And after several sessions, they tend to get released as BBC Live or BBC Sessions discs.  In the last few years, I’ve gotten discs from the Cocteau Twins, Tindersticks, The Beautiful South, Belle and Sebastian and Therapy?  One of the first ones I’d every gotten was The Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow.

I’ve always loved these releases.  The recordings are “live,” even though they’re not in front of an audience.  For the most part they don’t vary greatly from the originals (that’s not always the case, mind you, but most of the time it’s true.)

What makes these releases so great is that by the time the bands do these recordings for the BBC, the original album has been out a while and the band has toured a bit.  So, they know the song backwards at this point, and they usually record a version that’s faithful to the original but a little more playful.  I always thought that the Hatful of Hollow versions of songs were better than the originals.  It was many years before I understood why there were two “official” releases of the same songs.

There are so many BBC recordings out there (this is an incomplete list).  If you like a British band, chances are they recorded some sessions.  And I don’t know if the BBC is hard pressed for money or what, but they seem to be releasing them by the handful lately.  The biggest problem of course is that most of them are not available in the States (at least for a reasonable price).  And that’s a drag.  So find them used and enjoy!

[READ: May 19, 2010] Girl with Curious Hair

This is DFW’s first collection of short stories.  I clearly bought this copy soon after finishing Infinite Jest.  I was delighted to find as a bookmark an old stub from a sub shop that I used to go to all the time when I worked in Cambridge, Ma.  I wonder if that sub shop is still open.  It was in Brighton, was more or less on my way to work, had a predominance of Irish products and had delicious subs that were almost cheaper than buying the stuff yourself.  I had checked off a few stories in the table of contents (most of the shorter ones) but that stub brought back more memories than the stories did.  I didn’t even recognize the ones that I had apparently read.

And the stories are pretty memorable.  So I wonder if I didn’t read them at all.

The first story is “Little Expressionless Animals” (or, the Jeopardy! story).  In fact, if I may back up, the whole collection is really rife with pop culture, especially television references.  In David Lipsky’s book, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself , DFW states matter-of-factly that he has an obsession with TV and pop culture, so this shouldn’t be surprising.  But for me it was disconcerting to have the pop culture not incidental or as a set dressing, but absolutely central to the stories. (more…)

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