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SOUNDTRACK: SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE–“Briel” (Field Recordings, March 26, 2014).

There have been many fun Field Recordings, but this one [Welcome to Yo-Yo’s Playhouse] is surely the most fun. The countless members of Silk Road Ensemble were taken to ACME Studio, a theatrical props warehouse in Brooklyn.  They were given pretty much free reign to put on costumes, to bring out mannequins, to do whatever they wanted and that makes this session seem even bigger than it already is (and it’s already pretty big).

That’s all not to mention that the Silk Road Ensemble is a pretty amazing group of musicians:

cellist Yo-Yo Ma and some of the world’s premiere instrumentalists and composers, including members of Brooklyn Rider, Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man, Iranian kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, Spanish bagpiper Cristina Pato, American percussionist Shane Shanahan and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh from Syria.

As we’ve had the opportunity to forge those bonds over time [many of these performers have done Tiny Desk Concerts], we’ve gotten to know the warm, generous-spirited personalities that come along with these immense talents. We thought that setting them loose in a props house, where they could pick and choose among the curiosities for little elements to bring into the camera frame, would bring those aspects of their personalities into sharper focus. What we wound up with was a magical afternoon of play in all senses of the word — not just having the chance to record these virtuosos and their instruments in a spirited performance of John Zorn’s Briel, here arranged by Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz, but also to capture them (and us) having an immense amount of fun.

I had no idea this was a John Zorn piece.  It sounded like a Hebrew composition and now I understand why.  But in the best world music tradition, this piece is arranged for musicians from all over the world–percussion, strings, brass and reed.  There’s a bagpipe solo, a kamancheh solo and a field of percussion.  The song is just way too short.

But to watch Yo-Yo Ma play the cello while holding a mannequin that looks like George Harrison is just one of the many highlights.

[READ: April 2018] Loner

Everything about the look of this book appealed to me.  The title, the crappy cover, the backwards type, the size, it all just seemed like a light, funny story.

Perhaps something about it should have read “creepy” too.

David Federman is a New Jersey native.  He went to Garret Hobart High School (named for New Jersey’s only vice president) He’s smart (he was accepted in to Harvard) but dull and, as we get to know him, pretty unlikable.  He imagines that Harvard will be a place where he (and other geeks like him) will flourish and kick ass.

He’s not wrong in thinking that–everyone he meets  seems to want to change.  But no one wants to change by hanging out with David.

David winds up in a freshman group that he hates–the Matthews Marauders (who are anything but).  In fact, nothing is going very well until he sees Veronica Wells.  She is everything he desires–a sophisticated New Yorker with money, intelligence and beauty. (more…)

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bothfleshSOUNDTRACK: SIGUR RÓS-Von brigði [Recycle Bin] (1998).

recycleAfter releasing their first album, Sigur Rós was approached by Icelandic musicians to remix the album. And thus came Recycle Bin.  I realized too late that I really just don’t like remix albums all that much–they’re mostly just faster drums plopped on top of existing songs.  And such is the case here.  Despite the interesting musical pedigrees of the remixers, there’s nothing anywhere near as interesting as on Von itself.  There are ten tracks, but only 5 songs.

”Syndir Guðs” gets two remixes:

Biogen keeps the bass but adds some more drumlike sounds.

Múm removes the bass, adds some wild drums and trippy textures and reduces the 7 minutes to 5.  It is quite pretty but very far from the original.

“Leit að lífi” gets three remixes

Plasmic takes a spacey 3 minute wordless noodle and turns it into a heavy fast dance song with speedy drums, big bass notes and with spacey sounds.

Thor brings in some fast skittery drums and keeps the spacey sounds (which sound sped up).  And of course bigger bass noises.

Sigur Rós recycle their own song into a dance song by adding funky bass and drums.

“Myrkur” gets two remixes.  the original is a fast-paced groovy track.

Ilo begins it as a spacey non-musical sounding piece.  After two minutes they add a beat of very mechanical-sounding drums.  It’s probably the most interesting remix here.

Dirty-Bix adds big, slow drums.  It keeps the same melody and vocals as the original but totally changes the rhythm and texture of the song, (removing the guitar completely).

The remaining three songs get one remix each.

The original “18 Sekúndur Fyrir Sólarupprás” is 18 seconds of silence.  Curver turns it into “180 Sekúndur Fyrir Sólarupprás” and makes a muffled drum beat and some other samples from the album, I think.  It constantly sounds like it is glitching apart until the end where it practically disintegrates–an interesting remix of silence.

“Hún Jörð” 7 min Hassbræður increases the drums and adds a more buzzsaw guitar sound and makes the vocals stand out a bit more.

“Von” has delicate strings and Jónsi voice.  The remix by Gusgus adds low end bass and drums making it a thumping rather than soaring track.

I prefer the original, but I much prefer their next album to the first one.

[READ: end of October to early November 2013]  original articles that comprise Both Flesh and Not

As I mentioned last week, I decided to compare the articles in Both Flesh and Not with the original publications to see what the differences were.  I had done this before with A Supposedly Fun Thing… and that was interesting and enlightening (about the editing process).

This time around the book has a lot more information than the original articles did.  Although as I come to understand it, the original DFW submitted article is likely what is being printed in the book with all of the editing done by the magazine (presumably with DFW’s approval).  So basically, if you had read the original articles and figured you didn’t need the book, this is what you’re missing.

Quite a lot of the changes are word choice changes (this seems to belie the idea that DFW approved the changes as they are often one word changes).  Most of the changes are dropped footnotes (at least in one article) or whole sections chopped out (in others).

For the most part the changes were that the book version added things that were left out or more likely removed from the article.  If the addition in the book is more than a sentence, I only include the first few words as I assume most readers have the book and can find it for themselves.  The way to read the construct below is that most of the time the first quote is from the original article.  The second quote is how it appears in Both Flesh and Not.  At the end of each bullet, I have put in parentheses the page in BFAN where you’ll find it.  I don’t include the page number of the article.  And when I specifically mention a footnote (FN 1, for example), I am referring to the book as many times the articles drop footnotes and they are not always in sync.

Note: I tried most of the time to put quotes around the text, but man is that labor intensive, so if I forgot, it’s not meant to be anything significant. (more…)

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lou_reed-620x412 SOUNDTRACK: LOU REED-Metal Machine Music (1975).

mmmfrom Wikipedia:

Metal Machine Music is generally considered to be either a joke, a grudging fulfillment of a contractual obligation, or an early example of noise music. The album features no songs or even recognizably structured compositions, eschewing melody and rhythm for an hour of over-modulated feedback and guitar effects, intricately mixed at varying speeds by Reed himself. In the album’s liner notes he claimed to have invented heavy metal and asserted that Metal Machine Music was the ultimate conclusion of that genre.

I don’t know how many people have actually listened to this album all the way through.  There are four 16-minute tracks.  Each one is, on the surface, exactly the same: feedback and more feedback.  In truth, the album is a bit more complicated than that.

There is a guitar in the left speaker and a guitar in the right speaker and each one is feedbacking in very different ways.  Indeed, if you listen to only one speaker at a time, you get a very different experience (I haven’t done that with the whole album, although that’s only because I really only found out about that recently, I did for a few minutes and it was pretty fascinating).

And fascinating is what this release is.  It was unlistenable in 1975, there is no question.  Just as something like Slayer would have been unlistenable in 1975.  But twenty years later, when Sonic Youth was riding high, Metal Machine Music seemed a lot less outrageous (indeed, their 1998 release Silver Sessions was essentially the same structure of feedback).

And now MMM seems very forward thinking.  Whether or not it was a joke or some kind of payback to the label or whatever (liner notes suggest he just really enjoyed enveloping himself in feedback), it’s a remarkable record.  If you can actually sit through it, there are some really interesting moments in it.  There are times when the squall and noise turns eerily beautiful, when the ringing notes take on chime-like status.

And unlike the aforementioned SY album in which they just turned up their amps and left, it sounds like Reed was actually hanging around and manipulating the sound.  You can hear times when new notes/strumming comes in and changes the mood.  And of course, Reed had to edit it for the album.

One of the more interesting moments comes right at the end of the disc.  On the vinyl release, he made a locked groove so the final rotation would keep repeating over and over until you had to get up and manually lift the needle (as if the album wasn’t difficult enough).  On the CD, they repeat that section for about a minute.  And that little repeated section is noteworthy for the rough distorted guitar and chiming feedback that all sounds very cool.

All of this is not to say that this album is enjoyable.  It’s really not.  It’s brutal and harsh and best handled in small doses (even Reed admits that in the notes).  But it is noteworthy and fascinating.  And it may have inspired as many feedback based bands as the Velvet Underground inspired droning bands.

[READ: November 2, 2013] “I loved Lou Reed more than you”

I was sad at the passing of Lou Reed, although I’ve never been a huge fan.  But of all of the eulogies, I knew that Neal Pollack would write the best one.

Neal Pollock is a wonderfully pompous “character” (who is the main character in most of the writing of his that I have read).  This article—while much briefer than most of Pollack’s short pieces—is an honest eulogy of Reed, but is also a hilariously over the top profession of fandom.

When Pollock heard the news of Reed’s death, he was polishing the acetate of his producer’s cut of Metal Machine Music.  He wept, mostly for himself but also “on behalf of all cultured people everywhere.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SANDRO PERRI-Impossible Spaces [CST085] (2011).

This album has become one of my favorite releases of the year.  I simply can’t stop listening to it.  And the funny thing is that on first listen I thought it was too treacly, too “sweet,” especially for Constellation Records (home to the over-the-top Godspeed You Black Emperor amongst other wonderful bands).  But after a listen or two, I heard all of the genius that is present in this record–so many different layers of music, and so many interesting instrumental choices. Indeed, it does come off as sweet, but there’s really nothing wrong with that.

This album gives me a happy pick me up without being cloying in any way.  That’s a great accomplishment.

“Changes” opens kind of all over the place, with some noisey guitars and really high bass notes.  But once the shk shk of the shakers comes in, the sing settles into a great groove (and there’s a cool bassline that really holds the song together).  After about 3 minutes, it turns into a cool light funk jam, with retro keyboards, buzzed out guitar solos and some funky drums.  It’s unlike anything you’ll hear anywhere else.  “Love & Light” is one of the shorter pieces at just under 4 minutes.  It’s different from the other tracks, in that Perri’s vocals seem to be the dominant motif, rather than the cool music.  I like the song, but it’s probably my least favorite here.  “How Will I?” uses a similar multi-tracked vocal style but it has some wonderful flute moments (yes flute) that make the song bubbly and happy.  The song kind of drifts around the ether in a kind of jazzy world until about 5 minutes in, when the bassier notes anchor the song with great contrasting notes.  And the electronic ending is as cool as it is disconcerting.

“Futureactive Kid (Part 1)” is a shuffling minor key number that’s just over 3 minutes, it features a cool bass clarinet and backwards guitars to propel the song.  The backwards guitar solo segues into the uplifting (literally, the keyboards just go higher and higher into space. “Futureactive Kid (Part 2)” features fretless bass, a flute solo and My Bloody Valentine-esque sound effects (although radically simplified from MBV’s standards).  It fades out only to introduce my favorite song in forever–“Wolfman.”  I can’t get enough of this song.  It’s a simple structure, but at ten minutes long, it deviates in amazingly complex ways.  It has so many cool aspects that I love–I love the chord changes at the end of each verse.  I totally love the guitar solo that goes up and down the scale for an impossibly long run–well over 100 notes by my count.  I also love that the end of each section features a different guitar style playing the simple chord progression–from acoustic to loud solo to full band playing those same notes–so by the end of the ten minutes you ‘re not sure what to expect.   By the time the flute solo comes in at nearly 7 minutes, I’m totally committed to the song and wherever it’s going to take me.  So when it gets a bit of an electronic ending, I’m ready to go there with it.  Oh and lyrically the song is just as curious as the music.

The final song “Impossible Spaces” is a beautiful, quiet guitar song which is actually easy to sing along to.  It quiet a departure from the rest of the record, but it ties things together very nicely.  I have listened to this record so much lately, I just can’t get enough of it.

You can stream the whole thing here.

[READ: May 10, 2012] Conversations with David Foster Wallace

This is a book that collects interviews with David Foster Wallace.  Although DFW was reticent about d0ing interviews (as the introduction states), he did do quite a lot of them–often at the same haunts.  This book contains 22 interviews that span from 1987-2008.

The conversations are in chronological order, which is really a treat because you get to see DFW’s opinion (and his addiction to nicotine) evolve over the years.  You also get to see the topics that he was really focused on at one time and whether or not they stayed with him until the final interview.  DFW was outspoken about certain things, especially entertainment, which is unsurprising.  But he was also a big advocate of truth, honesty, realness.  It’s amazing seeing him when he lets his guard down. Although his honesty is there for all to see in his work, he is better known for his difficulty with language or his humor.  So seeing him without the multiple revision is quite enlightening.

The first pieces, “David Foster Wallace: A Profile” published after his first novel The Broom of the System launched Viking’s paperback imprint actually looks into his classroom a little bit and shows him interacting with a student (I wonder if she knows she is in this book?).  It seems sweet and almost naive compared to what is to come next.  And, for anyone who is familiar with him from later in, it’s a wonderful look behind the scenes.  There’s also a number of pieces from The Wall Street Journal.  Like the second piece in the book, the worryingly named, “A Whiz Kid and His Wacky First Novel.”  It’s not a bad piece at all, but man, headlines can be delicate matters. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SWANS-My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky (2010).

Three minutes of noise and pounding drums.  Monotone bass notes that hit as hard as the drums. An air of foreboding.  Yes, Swans are back.

The opening track of their new album is called “No Words/No Thoughts.”  The first part, the four minutes of instrumental, is clearly the No Words.  When M. Gira’s voice finally comes in, he’s not much happier than he was for his last Swans album.

The sounds of Swans are back, but the really big difference is that the menace is tempered somewhat.  I’m almost tempted to call it better production values. Early Swans was really scary…slow, ponderous and heavy.  And while those same qualities are here, it’s not quite as ponderous or heavy, and the pace is rather brisk on this first song.

But after this cacophony, we get the two minute a cappella “Liars.”  The music is only humming background vocals, but it is no less intense, especially when Gira’s sonorous voice reads a spoken section.  It’s very catchy (practically a first for Swans), but no less spooky.

“Jim” has some more cool harmonized backing vocals: a whole bunch of “Na Nas” which again, does not lessen the intensity of the song.  Although for old school Swans style, it’s track 4, “My Birth” with its creepy piano opening and bludgeoning noise for four minutes that shows that Swans are reaching back.

“You Fucking People Make Me Sick” opens with a Jew’s harp and then features guest vocals from Devandra Banhart and a child singing call and response.  While not as scary as some other tracks, it’s very creepy and not quite Devandra’s usually hippie fare.  It’s really good.  Especially the end instrumental part with dissonant piano and horns (!)

“Inside Madeline” is another song with 4 minutes of instrumental introduction before settling down into a relatively quiet song (more horns) that is far less sinister than most of these tracks.  “Eden Prison” has a wonderful circle high pitched guitar swinging around the background of the clattering noise.  It’s 6 minutes let up only briefly but the really convey claustrophobia.

The disc ends with the quiet “Little Mouth.”  It’s a slow ballad with whistling (!) and acoustic guitars in the background.  There’s a beautiful guitar solo which ends with Gira’s a cappella voice ending the disc.

I keep referencing Swans early music.  It’s true that their later stuff was far less scary and intense (“Can’t Find My Way Home” was a beautiful ballad which should have gotten more airplay than the original).  But this disc is certainly a call back to Swans’ roots.  Another thing is that Jarboe is not present on the disc (a first since their early days).

It’s a great return of a New York institution.

[READ: February 15, 2011] “Truncat”

This story is set in the same world as Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, although it does not take place in The Magic Kingdom at all.  Rather, it is set in Toronto and is considered a quasi-sequel to the book even though none of the characters are the same either.  Although all of the elements of that novel are in place: deadheading, whuffie, and apparent age among other things.

Interestingly, this story gives more details about the world than Down and Out did.  Or at least it spells it out more clearly.  So we get:

Adrian’s father was apparent 22, hardly older-seeming than Adrian himself, though his real age was closer to 122.

It doesn’t explain everything, but it spells things out pretty clearly. (more…)

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actsSOUNDTRACKTINDERSTICKS-What is a Man (2000).

manThis is a soundtrack to a TV mini-series called The Sins (which I know nothing about).  The song (for there is only one) is a cover of a Four Tops song (which I do not know).  The “B-side” is an instrumental version of said song.

And, sadly, that’s all that comes on this disc.  It’s a good song, yes, but at a combined total of about 5 minutes, it’s rather skimpy as a disc (Hey that’s what singles used to be back in the day).  Normally I don’t encourage the downloading of tracks (I’m more of a physical medium kind of guy), but I think if you’re looking for this for this particular song, you’re much better off just downloading it.  I don’t think it’s available on any other discs.

[READ: October 24, 2009] “The Balloon”

[UPDATE: November 25, 2009]  For the new review of the story, click here.

I just received a copy of Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts and have learned that the version of “The Balloon” that I read and which I linked to below is NOT the entire story.

Aside from a couple of inexplicable word changes (!) the version online leaves out the final four paragraphs.  And, with Barthelme’s prose being so dense, that’s quite a lot of information.

This changes my reading of the story quite a lot as there is now a DIFFERENT ENDING!  So I have to more or less disown this review.  But I will leave it up for posterity.  I’ll include a new review when I finish the short story collection.

[original review commences here]

David Foster Wallace in a Salon.com interview, said that this was “which is the first story I ever read that made me want to be a writer.”  I have recently read a few Barthelme pieces (that were in Harper’s) and I found them to be weird, kind of interesting, but nothing inspirational.

But, heck, why not see what got DFW going?

So this story was, in fact, very cool. It was written before the pieces that were in Harper’s, and, as with most artists who end up in a weird and out-there place, he started off in a reasonably normal place.  In other words, this story is actually something of a story with a beginning and sort of an end.  There’s no plot, per se, but the story does lead somewhere. (more…)

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dfwshelfSOUNDTRACKFLEET FOXES-Sun Giant EP (2008).

sungiantMy friend Jarrett introduced me to the Fleet Foxes with their self-titled CD.  I recently picked up the Sun Giant EP and it is just as good as the main CD.  It opens with a beautiful a capella introduction to “Sun Giant” in multipart harmony that melds into a nice folksy song.

The remaining 4 songs all contain these harmonies, although some rock harder than others (within their style of orchestral folk).  Orchestral folk implies a “bigness” that the band never really strives for.  In fact, some songs sounds downright pastoral.

“English House” is great for so many reasons: the fantastic guitar lines, the breaks in the song proper, just everything.  But the track “Mykonos” is probably my favorite Fleet Foxes song of all.  It has such a wonderfully catchy pre-chorus and then an even more fantastic post-chorus.  Simply amazing (even if I don’t know what they’re saying).

The EP is a great introduction to this fantastic band.

[READ: Mid-September 2009] uncollected essays

I don’t normally like to have a bunch of things appear in one post.  But this post is going to be about those small, uncollected pieces that aren’t really long enough to warrant their own entry (letters, interviews, etc).  I tracked down most of these pieces from The Howling Fantods, but I also got a few from The Joy of Sox.  You’ll notice that many of these pieces are stored at http://theknowe.net/dfw and yet I can’t figure out how to access the files there directly, so Howling Fantods links are what we get.

The text in bold comes from The Howling Fantods site (I hope they don’t mind that I swiped it).  The text underneath is my review/opinion/idea. (more…)

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