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Archive for the ‘Inventions’ Category

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: RHEOSTATICS-Fall Nationals, Night 6 of 10, The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (December 13, 2005).

This series contains the final Rheostatics live shows that are left to write about–except for their “final shows” and their “reunion shows (which I really hope to see some day).” This was the 6th night of their 10 night Fall Nationals run at the Horseshoe.  It was a free Tuesday night.

Note:  After the encore break Ford Pier plays a solo version of Diaphanous Heart and then Dave fortuitously jokes that the band just decided to break up.

As the show opens, Dave says they’d like to that Kat and Leeroy for playing with them tonight.  He then says that this is their fifth night, “lucky number 5.” But it clearly isn’t.

They open the set with a stretched out version of “Fat.”  Mike asks, does that stand for “File Allocation Table?”  Dave: “Of course is does.”  “Aliens” has an unusually heavy riffing opening but then the song is played fairly straight.  During the quiet part, Dave doesn’t play anything else but there’s some pretty twinkling keys from Ford.  The song ends with an unexpected guitar solo.  And as the band starts to play the next song, there’s more soloing–a solo unlike what Martin typically does.  I assumed it was a guest but apparently not.  And yet, it lasts for just a moments before the song becomes “Claire.”  Martin’s got some interesting guitar sounds going on for the lengthy solo.

Martin tries the opening of “Torque Torque” but it sounds wrong–naw it didn’t work.  Dave: “Bit of a clunker.”  The next try is fine although there’s a really ugly moment in the middle of the song where the chord is just wrong.  But they get past it pretty quickly.

Dave announces that that was from the film Whale Music, the soundtrack to which is available on zunior.com, a site that is making our musical available digitally.  “We also just released a recording called Calling Out the Chords Vol. 1 which is a recording of last years’ Fall Nationals.  It’s a 12 song souvenir of that event.”
Ford: “I’m astounded that this is volume one.  What do you need someone to take out a fistful of money and burn it in front of you before you get a goddamn clue?”
Dave: “I thought vol, 1 because you know those albums like Cruisin Vol 1.  No one every goes, ‘Wheres Vol. 2?”
Ford: “I felt that way about Kill Bill.  There’s more? Ew.  A martial arts movie with no martial artists?”

When they start “It,” Martin jumps a ahead to the dinosaurs verse and then says  “Is it the wrong verse?”  Dave tells him to go back and they more or less start over.  This time when he gets to the dinosaurs, he roars.   Next up is “Queer” which rocks.  Before the end coda, Ford take a lengthy jazzy piano solo.  It’s followed by “Pornography” which feels a little rushed. There’s some ugly static on the guitar.

When the song is over Ford asks who watched the Grey Cup.  “Everybody did, naturally.  And you all saw The Black Eyed Peas and enjoyed them very much.  And you know that woman Fergie?  She was one the voice of Charlie Brown’s little sister Sally in the Peanuts cartoons [this is true].  And now, when you watch the special and she says ‘My Sweet Babboo’ you’ll hear her saying ‘My humps, my humps’ and that’s just wrong.”
Dave: “Yeah, but what a band.  And what a great cup.”

After a nice “Sunshine at Night” Dave introduces Ford: “all the way from Edmonton, via Vancouver, via Eastern Europe, that’s Ford Pier on the keyboards.”

Then Dave thanks everyone who donated to Alpha and Huron Schools (Tim’s daughter goes to Alpha and my son goes to Huron, and they’re both co-op and they need it.  You gotta love a new toilet, right?  Everybody remembers their first toilet.  You probably had some pretty crude toilets in Caprino, eh Martin?”
Martin: “oh yea!  Toilet technology is catching up, but in the 70s it was primitive.  In my aunt’s bar, there was a hole and two porcelain footprints.  And it reeked.”

Martin starts tuning and then does a really awful chord–“whoa, I tuned it cool.”  Mike: that’s some serious positive reinforcement…  Shit, I slept in.  Cool.”

Martin says the next song is about a rock musician with a special haircut, a pompadour.  It’s a great version of  “Sweet, Rich, Beautiful and Mine” and it’s followed by a particularly intense version of “The Land is Wild.”  Written by “Dave Augustino Bidini.”  Dave really screams during the “it didn’t have to be” part.  And he has now added the final verse about Fogarty’s death.

There’s a huge reaction when “Here Comes the Image” begins and it features Augustino on the rums and Wojewoda on the synths.

Out of the blue Dave asks, what was your favorite Triumph album, hammer or anvil?  Then Dave says that the band Anvil were from Etobicoke and were originally called Lips.

Dave says the next song is dedicated to Ford’s shirt (someone in the crowd shouts we love you Ford Pier).  It’s “P.I.N.” and this time it ends with them chanting “I love my humps, my lovely lady lumps.”

Dave says that “Mumbletypeg” is one of those jump up and down songs, just like the last one.  They end the set with “Satan Is The Whistler: which totally rocks.  Martin ends it with his robot voice and then go to an encore break.

After the break, Ford comes out to sing a solo song on guitar. It’s his song “Diaphonous Hairshirt” which I’d never heard before.  It’s catchy but also a little odd, with some interesting vocal lines. Then he goes back to the synth and plays some pretty intro music.  Dave says he wants to tell everyone the band wants to break up.  Mike: “And then we can get on with our lives.”  (They would officially break up in January).

Martin starts counting 1, 2, 3, and keeps going up to 18.  Dave says “if my kids heard you do that they’d think you were a god.  How did he remember so many numbers in order?”  They play “Fan Letter To Michael Jackson,” but instead of the “Michael” chant, Dave shouts Autobahn!  Then during the slow part, Dave sings “fun fun fun in the autobahn.”  He continues, “Always defer to the Germans.  Always defer to krautrock when you’re looking for a good rock n roll slogan.”  Martin starts singing “It feels good to be alive” with a German accent.

The end the night with Part 2 of “The Ballad of Wendel Clark” It segues perfectly into Stompin’ Tom’s “Bridge Came Tumbling Down.”  Before continuing Dave chastises, “Stop looking at your camera, sir” and then they end “Wendel” and say good night.

That’s nearly two hours of free music.

[READ: July 21, 2017] Science Comics: Flying Machines

I really enjoyed this book about Flying Machines. When I heard the title (without the subtitle) I assumed it was just going to be a book about various flying machines.  I didn’t realize it was going to be a story of the Wright Brothers (and their competition).

And even better is that the story is told by their sister Katharine Wright.  We get a brief bio of her in the beginning and then a longer (but still brief) sketch of her at the end.  Katharine was the youngest child in the family and when their mother died (when Katharine was 14) she took over the family work.  She was also her father’s secretary as well as Orville and Wilbur’s “public relations director”–she dealt with kings and queens for them.

The story begins with Katharine trying to teach flight to an unruly classroom of kids (including one who needs to go to the bathroom).  And then she flashes back.  I love the way Brooks does this flashback, with Katharine as a kind of blue and white ghost look where she observes the other panels in full color.  The inspiration for her brothers wanting to fly was their father’s bringing home a hélicoptère–a small wooden “bat” that spun and flew.  It was designed by Alphonse Pénaud, he never made one big enough for people to fly, but inspired many.

The Wrights were from Ohio but they drove to Kitty Hawk to test their planes because the place was flatter and windier.

The book shows all of the people who tried to master flight (and the names of their ships) (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY-The Dark (2017).

The Enfield Tennis Academy is one of the major locations in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  So, of course, a band that names itself after it must be listened to.

This is the second release by the band (which states “The Enfield Tennis Academy is TR.”

The Dark is described as

This EP is a collection of remixes and covers of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”, from the 1984 album “Born in the U.S.A.” It is not ironic. “Dancing in the Dark” is © Bruce Springsteen and Columbia.

And that is literally what this is. Five tracks that rethink “Dancing in the Dark” each one called “Dancing in the Dark.”

Track 1 opens with someone doing a kind of Elvis impersonation (or is it actually Bruce?) of the first line of the song: I get up in the evening…”  It then gets echoed and looped on itself until it is inaudible.  After a minute a guitar comes in strumming music backwards, I believe.  The big takeaway is the rolling “I” repeated over and over.  After 1:30 there’s a rather pretty sax solo. which may be from the song, I don’t know it that well.

Track 2 is an ambient piece with electronic claps and a kind of slow almost pixelated pipe organ version of the main melody of the song.  There’s some of those 80s processed “ahhhhs” added to the end.  It would eerily make you think of the song without knowing exactly why.

Track 3 is a noisy track.  Electronic drums played very rapidly and then some glitchy guitars playing the melody in triple time.  It is the least recognizable of the five pieces.

Track 4 is a fingers-on-chalkboard electronic screech with what I assume is the song played in reverse.  It’s a tough minute before the noise clicks away and we’re left with the backwards vocals.  If you didn’t know it was “Dancer in the Dark” you might not recognize the melody but if you do, you can kind of hear it.

Track 5 plays the original song in the middle ear. But in the left ear is another song (as if the radio was staticky and in the right ear is another even louder song.  But Bruce is squarely in the middle.  It’s pretty disconcerting.  Ultimately, the left ear gives way to people talking and the right ear reveals itself to be “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”  It fades and for about ten seconds during which you can hear pretty much only the Bruce song, but then it all falls apart into glitchy noise.

The longest track is 2:15; the rest are about 2 minutes.  No one will say this disc is enjoyable, but it is kind of ugly fun.

[READ: January 30, 2017] Liō ‘s Astonishing Tales from the Haunted Crypt of Unknown Horrors

I have observed before about the maddening publication life of Liō books.  It’s going on four years since a new collection has been published.

But at the same time there are a number of books that cover the same territory.  Like this one.

This book collects “Liō” (which I take to mean Happiness is a Warm Cephalopod) and Silent But Deadly.  But what puts this book head and shoulders above the others (and just about any other collection of any series) is that it is almost completely annotated.

I didn’t compare the two books to see if all of the strips were indeed included.  But I’ll assume that claim is true.

Tatulli doesn’t comment on every strip but he does on a lot of them.  Like the very first one (in which he criticizes his–admittedly horrible-looking–spider.

He has at least three comments about what a genius Charles Schulz was.  Including the first time he tried to draw Lucy and Charlie: “I wanted to use the retro 1950s Peanuts look, but it was a bitch to reproduce…Schulz just make it look so simple.”

He’s also very critical of his drawing style of Mary Worth: “I won’t even tell you how embarrassingly long it took to make this lousy copy.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY-“My Missing Eye” (2017).

The Enfield Tennis Academy is one of the major locations in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  So, of course, a band that names itself after it must be listened to.

This is the first release by the band (which states “The Enfield Tennis Academy is TR.”

The bandcamp site describes this song as

“Garbage thrown together on a free trial of Reason. Song’s about missing a fucking eye. Real music soon.”

This is two minutes of noisy instrumental metal math rock.  There’s a lot of different sounds in this two minute song.

It opens with some staccato pummeling sounds–the guitars are interesting in that they sound like they are chords yet ringing out at the same time.  The middle is a really fast pummeling section that reminds me of Ministry.  Those opens stringed chords come back late in the song, and they sound really cool.

I’m curious to see what TETA’s “real music” is going to sound like.

[READ: July 20, 2017] Reheated Liō

I have really enjoyed the Liō books (going forward, I’m leaving off that line over the o, because it’s a real pain).

The strip has been going on for some 12 years now, which is pretty amazing.  And yet, there don’t seem to be any new or recent collections out.

So Lio is strip about a boy named Lio.  Lio is a dark, dark kid.  He has a pet squid, he loves monsters and he’s delighted by chaos.  Over the years his character hasn’t changed much but Tatulli has given him some surprising tenderness, which is a nice trait. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SKINNY LISTER-Tiny Desk Concert #286 (July 8, 2013).

I had never heard of Skinny Lister.  And that’s kind of a surprise because their music fits right in with the group folk rock of bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers–they could be huge!.  Back in 2013, they were a newish band and Bob Boilen explains where he first heard them.

I was coming back to my hotel during SXSW 2013 in hopes of grabbing a short nap when I saw Lorna Thomas winning the hearts of a gathering crowd with her flirtatious, cheer-me-up style of singing and dancing. Then my eyes and ears found a punkish band with accordion, upright bass, guitars, and vocals from Dan Heptinstall. I couldn’t leave, I never napped, and I fell head over clicking heels for their reels and jigs and whatever else they tossed our way.

When it was done, I shook their hands, gave them high-fives and hugs, and handed them my card. Months later, they showed up at my desk early in the day bearing lots of beer, some mysterious alcohol in an even-more-mysterious jug, and an assortment of instruments. After watching this Tiny Desk Concert, when you’re ready for more and you can’t find Skinny Lister playing your local pub, you can check out its debut album, Forge & Flagon — it’ll tide you over until the band makes it back to your town.

As the set opens, Lorna Thomas has a giant flagon of that mysterious liquid.  She explains, that it is a flagon and that she learned the proper technique of drinking it over the shoulder.  Which she demonstrates to us.  Although she can’t “play” it.  But that’s where their album title The Forge & Flagon comes from.  They play three songs which really showcases their range.

“Trawlerman” is a rollicking fun song with lots of bawdy singing.  It’s a party atmosphere with a really fun rowdy chorus of “haul away haul away.”  After the song, Lorna drinks from a bottle of beer (which is almost empty).  remember this is like 10AM.

“Colours” drops the tempo down a bit.  It is a mellow but pretty song.  It’s a song about the sun coming out–something that doesn’t happen very often [in England] but when it does we have to cherish it and then write songs about it. The accordion player (it’s actually a melodeon) switches to a mandolin.  The song builds to a fun conclusion with the mandolin shouting “here we go!” as the end takes off on a chorus of “flash before us.”

“Rollin’ Over” continues that wild rollicking vibe.  I love that it starts with raucous guitar playing and then a cool melodeon riff to start out,  This is a fast peppy song with an infectious chorus.

I fins it interesting that the guys are dressed kind of town—sleeveless shirts and sleeveless denim jackets (the bassist is covered in tattoos) and yet Lorna is in a very pretty dress.  As the concert ends, she takes a swig from the jug straight on and says “that’s the other way to do it.”

I was trying to figure out just who was in this band.  But there were personnel changes aright around this show.  The only people I’m pretty sure of are

  • Dan Heptinstall – lead vocals, guitar, and stomp box (July 2009–present)
  • Max Thomas – melodeon, mandolin and vocals (July 2009–present)
  • Lorna Thomas – vocals (July 2009–present)
    • Then I’m sorta sure:
  • Sam “Mule” Brace – guitar, concertina, vocals
  • Michael Camino – double bass and vocals

Then, according to the Wikipedia site in the fall after this show they added a drummer, but honestly I’m not sure they need it, as their guitar playing is already percussive (what with that stomp box and all)

[READ: April 17, 2016] The Oopsatorium

I love Shaun Tan. His works are funny and often absurd.  And his drawing style is consistently fantastic,

When I saw this book at work, I was immediately struck by the great name.  And when I saw that underneath the title it said Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, I assumed that this was going to be a hilarious collection of failed inventions.

And it is, sort of.

Tan has created a book which melds truth and fiction.  The Powerhouse Museum is real.  The inventions in the book are actually in the museum, (there are photos of a dozen or so cool contraptions).  However, Mintox, a strikingly original but spectacularly unsuccessful inventor and author of the never published Eat, Pray, Invent, is fictional. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MATT ULERY’S LOOM-Tiny Desk Concert #312 (October 19, 2013).

When a jazz band (or really any band) is named after a person, it’s always fun to try to guess who that person is in the band.  The first song “Coriander”  starts out with some trumpet notes and a kind of intro melody that’s played by both the sax and the trumpet.  And then about a minute and a half in, the keyboards take over, with a great cool 70s jazz/funk sound (the keys sound is my favorite part of this band).  And then of course behind all of this is the constancy of the drummer and the upright bass.  So, which one is Ulery?

I never would have guessed that he’s he bassist.  For his job in this band is basically to hold everything together.  The horns are doing their own thing, the drummer is doing all kinds of cool syncopated jazz beats. And the keys are just soloing like mad.  I don’t know if it’s because the bass isn’t very loud in the mix (it’s really isn’t), but his presence is almost not really there.  At the 4 minute mark of “Coriander,” the whole band drops away and the keys pick up a cool riff and then the horns chime in and eventually the bass comes back in.  I think he’s just not loud enough because watching him, it sure looks like he’s doing a lot more than what I hear.  And yet he’s never flashy.  As I say, he’s the ground, not the star.

When he speaks he’s rather quiet as well.  He says he loves NPR and gives a shout-out to his local Chicago station WBEZ.

Then they launch into the second song “My Favorite Stranger”  in which the keyboardist has now switched to accordion (a pretty pearly white and red affair).  I really like when the bass clarinet takes over the melody for a bit.  The accordion acts like drone with the trumpet taking most of the leads (although I love when the bass clarinet gets to run those same leads as well).

And for some background on Ulery:

The Chicago bassist Matt Ulery writes beautiful music in an unpretentious way. It’s intricate stuff, with interlocking parts and segmented structures. It often borrows from Eastern European scales, orchestral tone colors, folky textures. (On his backpack, he sports a SXSW patch from when he toured with a rock band called In Tall Buildings.) But it doesn’t sound like calculus class, as in some other ambitious works of modern jazz. It never seems to stray too far away from pretty melody over undulating rhythms, and that deceptive simplicity sets it apart.

Last year Ulery put out a grand two-disc set of music you might call “chamber jazz.” By A Little Light had strings, orchestral horns and singers — the whole nine yards. But he has also long done lavish on a smaller scale with a band called Loom. A rejiggered quintet lineup (note: Matt Ulery, bass; Marquis Hill, trumpet; Geof Bradfield, bass clarinet; Rob Clearfield, keyboards/accordion; Jon Dietemyer, drums) produced this year’s Wake An Echo, which the band brought to our office during a brief summer tour.

[READ: December 14, 2014] Tetris

I really enjoyed Box Brown’s take on Andre the Giant.  I really wasn’t sure what a book about Tetris could contain.  I mean, I love the game, but what’s there to say about it?  Well, it turns out, quite a lot–250 pages worth, in fact.

Beyond the game itself, Brown talks a bit about the history of video game development, including a bit of the history of Nintendo. But then he gets into what happened when people started to get addicted to those little falling blocks.  Who knew that Tetris had such a convoluted history?

The book starts off (in Brown’s wonderfully simple drawing style) with a picture of Alexey Pajitnov, the creator of Tetris and his friend Vladimir Pokhilo.  Alexey says he has been thinking about the pentomino puzzle. (more…)

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 socks kronosSOUNDTRACK: KRONOS QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #322 (November 25, 2013).

2013 was the 40th anniversary of Kronos Quartet.  I first heard of them about eight years after they started with their cool arrangement of “Purple Haze.”  And then I learned that they were like a sponge, soaking up and playing music from all over the world: In just one year they released albums with tango, songs by South African composers, Polish composers, jazz musicians and so much more.

I have many of their releases, although I realized I more or less stopped listening to new stuff from them around the turn of the century (since when they have released some 16 albums!).

Well, amazingly, the Quartet is still the same original players (except for the cellist–the cello is like Kronos’ drummer as they seem to replace her every couple of years).

They play three pieces here and the three range the gamut from dark and broody to rather sweet to quirky.  In other words, typical Kronos.

For more info:

The musicians —  David Harrington (violin) and longtime members John Sherba (violin) and Hank Dutt (viola) and new (as of 2013) cellist Sunny Yang — could reminisce over more than 800 new works and arrangements they’ve commissioned in 40 years. But instead, the new-music train pushes ever onward to new territories. They remain a living, breathing world-heritage site for music.

Now in the midst of its 40th-anniversary tour, Kronos brings to this Tiny Desk Concert a new arrangement, a work from a new album and, for Kronos, something of a chestnut, a piece the group recorded a whopping five years ago.

“”Aheym” (Yiddish for “homeward”) was written for Kronos by Bryce Dessner; a member of the Brooklyn rock band The National, he studied composition at Yale. The music thrives on nervous energy, pulsating with strumming and spiccato (bouncing the bow on strings) while building to a tremendous fever.”

I love this piece. It is intense and dramatic with its 4-3-3 bowing from all four members.  There’s an interesting cello melody with pizzicato strings from the rest.  The overall melody seems somewhat circular with different instruments taking on different leads.  But this song also plays with some interesting bowing techniques.  In addition to the spiccato (about 4 minutes in), the players drag the bow for momentary scraping and scratching sounds.

Another wonderfully dramatic moment comes at 7 minutes where each musician takes a turn bowing his or her note while the violin plays a super fast series of notes.  The song builds and build in dramatic until it gets to about nine and  half minutes and it reaches its powerful ending.

“Lullaby,” opens with plucked cello notes and strummed viola.  “It is a traditional song with Afro-Persian roots (from the group’s Eastern-flavored 2009 album Floodplain), [and] is woven from different cloth altogether. Colorful tones that lay between our Western pitches are threaded through the music, anchored by a gorgeous solo from violist Dutt; his contribution takes on the warm and weathered sound of a grandmother singing to a child.”  It is slow and moody and beautiful.

Harrington introduces the final piece by saying it’s by a performer that no one had heard of–including, until recently, even himself.

“Kronos caps off the concert with another hairpin turn, this time to a fresh arrangement of “Last Kind Words,” a little-known blues song from around 1930, recorded by singer and guitarist Geeshie Wiley. In Jacob Garchik’s exuberant arrangement (which Kronos premiered this fall), interlocking strums and plucks provide a kind of rhythm section, while Harrington’s violin stands in for the now-forgotten blues singer.”

There’s lots of plucked notes from everyone–including plucked bent note on the viola which gives it a real “early” guitar sound.  While I don’t know what Geeshie sounded like, so I can’t compare the violin to her vocal, the whole thing sounds great together.  In fact the whole thing is unlike any string quartet I’ve heard–so different and wonderful.

I’m going to have to bust out so Kronos CDs.

[READ: September 10, 2016] There’s a Monster in My Socks

I’ve been quite puzzled about the publication history of the Liō books.  And this just adds another layer of confusion.  This book covers the exact same time period as Happiness is a Squishy Cephalopod which was published in 2007.  The difference is that Cephalopod placed all of the strips in order, while this one seems to move things around quite a bit (the thinner format also means that it can’t quite handle the single panel strips very well.   But more egregious is that this volume (remember, the one printed after the previous one) prints the Sunday color strips in black and white.

The book also leaves some of the strips out.  It covers the date range from May 15, 2006 – Feb 16, 2007 (Cephaolopod went to May 23), but while it has the Feb 14 strip, it does not have the Feb 15 strip.  Weird.

So, basically this is an inferior version of the same book, but the publishers presumably wanted the books in this more friendly size (or some other nefarious reason).

I’ll include the review of Cephalopod below.

And, here’s the current list of existing Liō books. It’s a shame that there are years and years of strips thus far uncollected. (more…)

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