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Archive for the ‘Béla Bartók’ Category

SOUNDTRACKOWEN PALLETT–Live at Massey Hall (December 1, 2015).

Owen Pallett founded the band Final Fantasy (which was pretty much him anyhow).  Since 2010 he has been recording under his own name.  His music is orchestral and complex, but also distinctly weird.  He loves to explore sounds, but he also knows hot to throw in some catchy melodies as well.

He says he has plays Massey Hall before but this is the first time as a solo performer. He wants to take advantage of the beautiful-sounding room and comfortable seats.

The songs he plays are a mix of new ones and Final Fantasy songs as well.

On “That’s When the Audience Died” (Final Fantasy), he picks out a complicated pizzicato on the violin and loops it (he mutters, I hope that worked) and then he launches a great melody over the top.  He has a great singing voice as well.  The lyrics are consistently clever and interesting.  The end of the song is amazing with the sounds he ekes out of his violin.

He says he took violin lessons but wasn’t it to it because the violin leaves a mark on your neck.  He quit it because it ruined all his “sexual dreams,” and he switched to guitar and piano.  He was always really into composing–he loved Béla Bartók and György Sándor Ligeti–he wanted to make music you see in Stanley Kubrick film.

There’s beautiful looping with the pizzicato as he play’s the solos live.

“This Lambs Sells Condos” (Final Fantasy) is really quite funny if you know the story behind it, which I didn’t.  But here it is

This song is a comic interpretation of Brad J. Lamb, a figure in the Canadian real estate business (who used to live in the same building as Owen Pallett’s boyfriend), with allusions to elements of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game:

This snarky look at Lamb:

When he was a young man, he conjured up a firemare
Burnt off both his eyebrows and half a head of hair
And then as an apprentice, he took a drowish mistress
Who bestowed upon his youthfulness a sense of champagne chic
His seduction, his seduction to the world of construction
Now his mind will start to wander when he’s not at his computer
And his massive genitals refuse to cooperate
No amount of therapy can hope to save his marriage

Before he did Final Fantasy he played bad country music in bad country bars–because he had a violin.

“Tryst with Mephistopheles” rocks with a band (Matthew Smith and Robbie Gordon) and even some synths.  The drums really propel the song forward.

When he created Final Fantasy he had a guitar, a violin, a bed and some books.  He borrowed a looping pedal and got good with it.  He wanted to be the best violin looper.

“The Riverbed” is with a string quartet and has a fast ripping opening melody–dark and very cool.

He says now that he’s making a record in which he’s not thinking about how to play it live.  He’s just trying to make sounds–not thinking about performance or how to tour it.

So he’s playing new songs in traditional formal.  He conducts the orchestra and sings “On a Path.”  if t his is the “traditional format,” I’m very curious to hear what the non-traditional way is.  It has a fantastic vocal melody and is incredibly catchy.

The final song is “This is the Dream of Win and Regine” (yes of Arcade Fire).  It’s an older Final Fantasy song and has some great references to Montreal:

Montreal might eat its young, but Montreal wont break us.

There’s some great thumping beats throughout until the great dramatic ending.

Pallett had been on my radar, but I’m sold after seeing this show.

[READ: July 3, 2018] “The First World”

This story is bookended in an interesting way.  It starts with the narrator saying that his marriage had come to an end.  An unexpected consequence was that a series of men confided in him about their marriages past or present–not old friends, they stayed quiet, but people he’d had at arm’s length.  A contractor, the dermatologist etc.  People felt free to say wheat they wanted.

And then it was over, the men disappeared for about a decade during which time the narrator remarried.  And then Arty resurfaced.

Arty ran into him on Ninth Avenue and insisted they grab a drink.   He said there was something he’d like the narrator’s opinion on.

Arty had to talk about Gladys, the former nanny of his two girls. Gladys was is nanny for seven years, gave the girls all kinds of love and then left when the kids were old enough not to need her anymore. She got a new job in Chelsea for a younger child.

It was while working for this new family that Gladys lost her husband, Roy.  He had died while in the hospital and they were billing her for one hundred and ten grand.  She didn’t want to fight it because she was waiting for her green card.

Arty’s wife had cut off ties with Gladys (and didn’t want to talk to Arty either).   Not long after the divorce, Gladys rang him up and asked for $500, explaining what had happened to Roy.

She had agreed to a payment plan for the $110,000, but times had been tough.  She asked Arty for $500.

The bulk of the story is Arty’s impassioned telling of Gladys’ story.  How everything seemed to go wrong for her.  She moved back to Trinidad bit was not welcomed with opened arms.  She tried to find work but was unable.  And so regularly, she asked Arty for another loan, a loan that he knew he would never see.

She has even stayed with Arty when he pays for her ticket to visit her grown up son.

The narrator wants to get out of the conversation, but Arty has bought yet another round. The narrator has an amusing aside about how he lost his wallet and paid for his round with cash from his back pocket.

The story is bookended with the narrator returning home. The way the whole piece ends with him imagining his wallet being returned shows how differently two people can live and ponders what their attitudes have to do with it.

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melvin1-cover_SOUNDTRACK: DEBASHISH BHATTACHARYA-Tiny Desk Concert #319 (November 12, 2013).

I like how the blurb for this Concert begins:

You’ve probably never seen or heard an instrument like this. The Hindustani slide guitar is the creation of Debashish Bhattacharya, whose creation pairs his first love — a Hawaiian lap steel guitar, a gift from his father when he was only 3 — and the sounds of India. You can see the similarities to a lap steel guitar, as Bhattacharya lays the guitar across his legs, sliding a metal bar to create the fluid, almost vocal melodies. The additional strings (and lack of frets) allow him to slide easily between notes, in the process creating a sound that resonates and drones while remaining attuned to his Calcutta home.

It’s a pretty cool instrument and does evoke Indian sounds without necessarily sounding entirely Indian.

His music incorporates a good deal of North Indian (Hindustani) classical music, but you can also hear the blues pouring out from this stunning creation. I first met Bhattacharya 17 years ago when he was touring with other great slide guitarists, Bob Brozman and Martin Simpson. In those 17 years, his music has become even more astonishing, and his instrument refined even further. This trio includes his daughter (Anandi Bhattacharya) on vocals and his brother (Subhasis Bhattacharjee) on tabla.

He plays two lengthy pieces.  It’s clear that the three of them are totally in synch with each other.  He often plays off of his daughter as she sings and he follows her (or vice versa).  He is constantly kepimg an eye om her to see what will happen next.  It’s cool watching him play the drones throughout as well.

“Raaga Khamaj” She sings beautifully.  I love the way the little finger taps can create such a great expressive sound on the tabla, but then he really wails later.  Two thirds of the way through the song almost stops entirely and then he switches to a really funky riff–its a great transition.  At times he’s almost scratching the strings making even more interesting sounds.

There is some tuning between songs and then “O My Beloved!/Pillusion” begins.  It’s more mellow overall, goalmouth the middle has an absolutely wild guitar solo which has him sliding his slide all over the place.  It’s pretty wild

The current album and some of what’s played here today can be found on two different records, the first with guitarist John McLaughlin and Dobro master Jerry Douglas (titled Beyond the Ragasphere) and the second with his brother and daughter (titled Madeira: If Music Could Intoxicate). These are brilliant recordings — and a good place to start exploring more from this unique artist after his intoxicating Tiny Desk Concert is done causing your jaw to drop.

I really enjoyed this set a lot and would love to check out his studio records to see what those sound like.

[READ: January 19, 2016] Melvin Monster Volume 1

February starts children’s month here.  Partially it’s because we can all use the good messages and kindness that children’s books offer.  But also because some of the books that I’m going to post about have been sitting in queue for over a year.  So let them see the light of day.

Last year I really enjoyed the Moomin books which Drawn & Quarterly reprinted.  Another artist that D+Q has reprinted is John Stanley.  And they have made the appropriately titled The John Stanley Collection.  This collection is somewhat confusingly labelled because there are collections of different characters (Nancy, Tubby, Melvin) each with multiple volumes, and it seems like maybe they are supposed to go in a certain order.  And really it’s not that hard to figure out once you know the way it works, but it’s a but of puzzle if you see only a few books on the shelf at the library.

These books were originally printed as comic books.  The title page says “Collected from the first three issues of the Dell comic book series”  And D+Q has retained that look perfectly.  Even the paper that they have used for this beautiful book looks like comic book paper (although it is very heavy stock).

So the premise of this strip is that Melvin Monster is a nice, good boy.  But he is raised by literal monsters.  Melvin wants to do what normal human kids do, but his parents Baddy and Mummy want him to be more disrespectful and monstrous.

The characters are Melvin Monster, Baddy (his father), Mummy (his mom) and Cleopatra their pet crocodile who wants to eat Melvin.  There are a few other recurring characters as well, like the witch and

Even though these books were first, I read them second.  And I have to say I enjoyed the long form of these stories a bit more than the short stories of the later issues.  Although interestingly the very first strips are short and don’t establish the character at all. They are just thrown right on to the page.  Well, it does actually establish that Melvin is a disappointment to his Baddy because he wants to go to school (his father played hooky for 8 years straight).

The next strip sees him going to school and other monsters trying to beat him up for wanting to go.  That’s when his demon guardian Damon shows up, although he calls him Medwick rather than Melvin–this mixed up identity results in some good jokes later on.  Ultimately Melvin winds up accidentally blowing up the school which makes his parents very proud.

The next strip continues right where the previous one left off, with Melvin sailing through the air after the explosion.  He winds up in Human Being Land where everybody treats him very badly–and he thinks it’s so nice that they want him to feel at home.

The next book focuses on the door in the cellar. His parents get mad at him and send him to the cellar.  They never go there, but milkmen and mailmen love it so much they have never come out.   When Melvin is down there he opens a secret door.  The path leads him to the subway which is pretty funny.  Incidentally in this book it is called Humanbeansville.  Through his good intentions, he breaks up a crime ring and flies home

I enjoyed that the following story introduces us to Little Horror but also continues with Baddy’s adventures in the basement hole.

Some funny scenes include him being captured by a zoo, where a specialist on monsters comes to investigate him.

In the third book Melvin gets in more trouble and Damon is there to rescue him (with a little pain as of course) from a quicksand trap.

He also manages to not die from the witch’s apples–one good one spoils the bad ones.  And then there is short strip about him breaking a window, which is deemed a good bad deed.

The final long story is a weird one about the giant rat who lives in their walls and has opened up a 4 star French restaurant (I kid you not).

There’s a few more short ones and then the final strip is about a rock that has been teetering in place for centuries.  Of course, Melvin bumps into it and then has to think fast.

I’m not sure how people reacted to these strips when they first came out–if they were considered “bad” or whatever, but it’s funny how sweet and innocent the bad behavior ultimately is.

For ease of searching, I include: Bela Bartok

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 doubledownSOUNDTRACK: JAKE SCHEPPS’ EXPEDITION QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #187 (January 19, 2012).

jakeJake Schepps’ Expedition Quartet is a somewhat unusual string quartet in that the instruments are violin and upright bass (normal) but also guitar and banjo.  And so the songs have a classical feel–melodies repeated in a fugue style, but with the prominence of the banjo, it feels more like a folk song.  The violin takes on a kind of fiddle sound.  And that’s interesting enough, but it’s the story of the music that they are playing which makes it even more fascinating:

About 100 years ago, Béla Bartók was traipsing through his native Hungary (Romania and Slovakia, too) with a bulky Edison phonograph, documenting folk songs and dances. There’s a priceless photo of the young composer, his contraption perched on an outside windowsill with a woman singing into the horn while anxious villagers stare at the camera. By 1918, Bartók had amassed almost 9,000 folk tunes. He made transcriptions of some; others he arranged for piano, while elements of still others found their way into his orchestra pieces and chamber music.

This was the country music of Eastern Europe, and its off-kilter rhythms and pungent melodies continue to captivate music lovers and musicians like Colorado-based banjo player Jake Schepps, who has recorded an entire album of Bartok’s folk-inspired music.

For this concert, with fellow members of Expedition Quartet — violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller, guitarist Grant Gordy and bass player Ian Hutchison, they played a Bartók hoe-down of sorts.

They play three pieces:

“Romanian Folk Dances: ‘Stick Game'”  Bartók (arr. Flinner).  This is a quieter piece with moments of bounce.  Indeed, Schepps doesn’t feel like the leader of this group because everyone shares the spotlight.  The guitar takes a lengthy solo–its got a very jazzy feel (which is a little weird on an acoustic guitar).  The violin takes a pizzicato solo, which is neat.  When Schepps finally does do a solo it’s not a showoffy banjo solo, it just fits in well with what everyone else is playing.

“For Children (Hungarian Folk Tunes): ‘Stars, Stars Brightly Shine'” Bartók (arr. Schepps).  This is a slower tune and it is much shorter as well—it doesn’t really lend itself to soloing.  Although the violin takes on the lead melody and it sounds mournful and beautiful.

“Mikrokosmos No. 78 / ‘Cousin Sally Brown'” Bartók / traditional (arr. Schepps).  Before this track, when someone tells Schepps that No 78 is his favorite of the Mikrokosmos, he says that he prefers 79.  The bassist says that 79 has gotten too commercial.  The end of the song has a tag of “Cousin Sally” a rollicking traditional dance number.  The four seems to play somewhat at odds with each other briefly and when they all rejoin for the end—it’s pretty great.

[READ: December 27, 2013] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down

I keep expecting the quality of the jokes in the Wimpy Kid books to decline.  But rather, this book was not only hilarious, but it worked really well as a book, too.

What I mean is that, I know that the Wimpy Kid series is online and that Kinney does a new story every day (or at least he did , I don’t know if he still does).  These books had always been taken from the online site (and I assume they still are).  But somehow, this book has jokes that circle back to jokes earlier in the book.  There’s at least a half a dozen callbacks which makes this book more than just a collection of diary entries…it’s a perfectly contained unit with a satisfying ending.

(more…)

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tny 5.26.08 cvr.inddSOUNDTRACK: PACIFICA QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #383 (August 18, 2014).

pacificaIn this Tiny Desk Concert, the Pacifica Quartet explore the world of a single composer, Dmitri Shostakovich.  They will play three movements from different Shostakovich quartets

The quartet consists of Simin Ganatra and Sibbi Bernhardsson on violins, Masumi Per Rostad on viola and Brandon Vamos on cello.

I’m going to quote a ton from the NPR blurb because they know from what they speak.  But I’m going to chime in that these pieces are really cool.  I like Shostakovich, but haven’t really devoted a lot of time to him. His music seems at times playful and at other times very dark.

In the first piece I love how that three note motif recurs in different places and then the piece turns into a delicate pizzicato section.

The second piece is so light-hearted as it starts–pastoral and lovely.  But there hangs a slightly menacing version of that pastoral riff.  I especially enjoyed watching the cellist bow aggressively.  It goes a little crazy towards the end but somehow remains upbeat.

The final piece plays off of the notes of Shostakovich’s initials (they explain all about this in the intro and what the S and H are in terms of musical notes).  It’s amazing to think that these different parts play with those four notes in a different way.  It’s an intense piece and reminds me a bit of Psycho.

From the blurb [with my comments in brackets]:

With the arguable exception of Béla Bartók’s six string quartets, it’s generally accepted that the 15 by Dmitri Shostakovich are the strongest body of quartets since Beethoven….  The Shostakovich quartets are intense, like page-turning thrillers, as they pull you into his world. They are dark and introspective, witty and sarcastic, and stained with the Soviet-era violence and hardship the composer lived through.

Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp minor, Op. 108 (1960) Allegretto
Eerie pizzicato and piercing stabs in the violins help color the twitchy, even sinister, opening movement of the Seventh Quartet. Stalin might have been dead since 1953, but hard-line Soviet politics (including the violent suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising) were still in place. The music’s lightness and transparency create a crepuscular feel.

Quartet No. 3 in F major, Op. 73 (1946) Allegretto
The Third Quartet’s first movement looks back to a slightly more pleasant time before World War II. At one point Shostakovich considered a subtitle: “Calm unawareness of the future cataclysm.” The jaunty opening theme, like Haydn after a few beers [now that is a hilarious line], is among the most lighthearted in the 15 quartets. But the mood sobers with an intense double fugue before returning to the opening music and a flashy final page.

Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Op. 110 (1960) Allegro molto
The Eighth Quartet is Shostakovich’s most popular — and one of his most hair-raising. He dedicated it to victims of fascism and war while at the same time creating his own epitaph. The entire quartet is built on a foundation of four notes that spell out his first initial and the first three letters of his last name [watch in the beginning of the piece as they demonstrate these notes]. The second movement juxtaposes violent energy with a tweaked version of a Jewish folk theme from an earlier work.

[READ: February 27, 2016] “The Full Glass”

I never understand how the New Yorker selects what it will publish each week.  Sometimes authors can go for years without a piece and sometimes they can go just a couple of months.  Such is the case with 2008 where there have been many duplicate authors in the span of a few months.  Updike’s last story in the magazine was in January of 2008–that’s barely five months.

Anyway, this story is written from the point of view of a man turning eighty.

He talks about retiring from his job as a wood floor re finisher in Connecticut.  He’s admitting he is his age and is taking a ton of pills every day and what not.

And he reflects on a many things in his life.  Like the bliss of a cold glass of water.  He hates the thought of drinking 8 glasses a day, but a cold glass at night is wonderful [I concur]. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 13, 2016] Avi Avital

aviA few months ago I wrote about Avi Avtal’s Tiny Desk concert.  I had never heard of him, but his mandolin playing was amazing.  And then about three days later I saw that he was going to be playing in Princeton.  Well, I immediately got tickets.

And today we saw him and he was even more amazing in person.

In the Tiny Desk show, he played solo.  But in this show (and tour) he played with two people accompanying him: Ksenija Sidorova on accordion and Itamar Doari on percussion.

The only complaint I had about the show was that there was no progamme, so I had to look up everything online to know what we had just seen.  Fortunately I was able to find a setlist, because I never would have remembered what he told us.

Anyhow, in this show, titled Between Worlds Avital and company explore the borders between folk and classical music.  What that means is that they play music from classical composers, but also some very traditional folks songs from around the world.

Mandolin doesn’t seem like the instrument of choice for classical music, but Avital, who has been playing since he was little is amazing at the instrument–playing incredibly fast and clear and managing all of those Bach notes like nobody’s business. (more…)

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