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Archive for the ‘Bryce Dessner’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SUFJAN STEVENS, BRYCE DESSNER, NICO MUHLY-“Mercury” (Field Recordings, June 8, 2017).

I love Sufjan’s Steven’s voice.  And this song, from the Planetarium project is just beautiful.  [Watch Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly And Bryce Dessner Play ‘Planetarium’ Track ‘Mercury’]  It opens with just the simple repeating piano melody and Stevens’ singing.  Eventually a guitar is added, playing complimentary melody.

Steven’s voice remains pure and powerful in this live recording. The viola from Nadia Sirota adds a lovely counterpoint to this song and leads it into the middle part which is minor keys and stings.

“Mercury” is the closing track off Planetarium, a song cycle about the planets by Stevens, Dessner, Muhly and James McAlister. The work was originally composed on commission for the Dutch concert hall Muziekgebouw Eindhoven, and first performed there in 2012. Five turns around the sun later, Planetarium will arrive in recorded form on June 9 via 4AD. “Mercury” is one of the most intimate songs on the record, a quality that’s emphasized by its spot just after the 15-minute, ambient, electronic epic, “Earth.” Where the record’s other songs foreground synthesizers and spastic electric drum samples reminiscent of 2010’s The Age of Adz, “Mercury” largely rests on Muhly’s gentle piano work and Stevens’ beautiful vocal. Where once, in the original live performances, the song swelled to a cinematic rush on the order of Illinois, it’s now spare and elegant. Its warm intimacy is all the more apparent in the group’s live performance, which features Dessner of The National lightly doubling on guitar Stevens’ wordless refrain at the song’s close. Like many of the pieces on the record, its lyrics are a constellation of the cosmic, the personal and the mythological. The song, named for the messenger god, is a perfect musical setting for the feeling of having something dear carried away from you. “All that I’ve known to be of life / and I am gentle,” Stevens sings. “

I love hearing his voice live, because it’s so perfect on record and while this is in no way imperfect, it lets us see a bit of humanity.  Even if this recording isn’t in a field or even an unconventional space, it’s still quite lovely.

[READ: January 3, 2015] “Little Man”

I feel like it takes a lot if chutzpah to recreate a story that is familiar to everyone.  This is the story of Rumpelstiltskin as told from the point of view of the little man himself.

But the twist on it is that Rumpelstiltskin isn’t a strange psycho bent on stealing children.  Rather, he is a lonely man, with no hope of finding love or having a child of his own.  Indeed, the first section is taken up with the man’s desire to have a child and his belief that having a child is not like ordering a pizza, which is how many couples seems to take it.

The story is written in second person (you), so it is meant to be even more intimate. (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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marathon SOUNDTRACK: EIGHTH BLACKBIRD-Tiny Desk Concert #528 (May 2, 2016).

8thEighth Blackbird is described as a “new music ensemble” from Chicago.  That means they play classical music that is new and “different.”  The sextet says that looking at each other–being able to communicate–is essential for playing these complex pieces, which calls for an interesting arrangement behind the Tiny Desk.

The first piece is actually two pieces called “Wave the Sea” and “Brushy Fork” from a suite called Murder Ballads by Bryce Dessner (better known as being in The National) .  The piece opens with a flute solo by newest member Nathalie Joachim, and then some complex series of notes and timings from the rest of the band–this is cerebral music that you must really pay attention to.

“Pulse,” from Robert Honstein’s three-movement Conduit is a much more gentle piece, far less frenetic and more mellow. It opens with Matthew Duvall’s vibraphone, Yvonne Lam’s violin, Lisa Kaplan’s piano and Michael J. Maccaferri’s clarinet which all seem to get added in one at a time until it is all just one consistent piece.  Nicholas Photinos’ cello offers some low end while the flute seems to float above the whole piece.  The song seems like it could just keep going forever as a very slow, beautiful round.

The final piece is by David Lang (an artist they have played for many years).  “learn to fly” returns to that frenetic tempo of the first piece .  Opening with wild syncopated piano notes (it looks impossible to play) and added to by the flute, clarinet and cello.  And just when you think the whole piece will remain in this style of complex syncopation, a violin solo bursts forth and soars for a few bars before returning to the melody.

I don’t listen to a lot of classical music, but I really enjoyed this Concert a lot.

[READ: March 1, 2016] Marathon

While overall I have really enjoyed the First Second books that I’ve read, this one I found really confusing and not exactly enjoyable.

The story begins in 490 BC.  Unbelievably it says the temperature is 106 degrees Fahrenheit (but sure, why not).  A man is running from Athens to Sparta (distance 153 miles).  Then there’s the confusing title: Athens: Twelve Years ago. Which I assume means 12 years before 490 BC–where we see some young boys racing.  Eucles won the race.  It is shocking to everyone that he is the son of a slave.  The slave defeated the Kings “own bastard son Phillipus.”   And so the King cuts off Phillipus’ head.

When he fails a test shortly thereafter, Eucles’ parents are executed.

Yup it’s that kind of story.

The king is Hippias.  He is exiled soon after the events of 12 years ago. (more…)

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