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Archive for the ‘John Cage’ Category

applesSOUNDTRACK: SO PERCUSSION-Tiny Desk Concert #205 (April 2, 2012).

So Percussion is a quartet who plays nothing but percussion.  When we think percussion we often think rhythm, but these guys (Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski and Jason Treuting) also provide great melody.

The band is inspired by John Cage.  He’s “their guy.”  They have written songs inspired by him and also perform his pieces.

Though audiences are still often puzzled or even infuriated by Cage, the composer brought essential joy and optimism to his work. Music is everywhere, Cage taught; frame sound, even the sounds of everyday life, and hear what is there. In the signature mix of serious play (or is that playful seriousness?) that So Percussion brought to this unusual Tiny Desk Concert, the group mixed a work by Cage (the first movement of his Living Room Music) with two pieces by Treuting: Life Is [ ] and 24 X 24, in which the text Quillen reads aloud comes from Cage’s own writings. Inasmuch as many of their instruments are quotidian tools, the sounds they create can be magical.

The first piece was written by the band’s Jason Treuting, called “Life Is [ ].”  It’s just under three minutes and is primarily wood blocks.  But there are also xylophones and bells (and many other things).

All four have mallets and are clacking on the wood blacks.  But each player has something else that makes a melody–tiny cymbals, the xylophone, bells that you tap with your hand–and they create a pretty melody (and the wood blocks provide interesting counterpoint rhythm).

Since John Cage is their guy they made a piece that celebrates the way he made music: “24 X 24.” Cage celebrated “time-based structures and task-based sound things.”  So this piece is flexible and malleable.  They are going to play an 8 minute version of the song which includes a spoken word of a Cage lecture [the entire lecture is reprinted at the bottom of the post].

The narrator counts down from 8, which is interesting.  Then he recites (including coughs and other noises) a piece by Cage about music and art.  While he is reciting, instruments include the melodica and harmonium, a musical saw, a coffee cup full of change (at one point instead of tapping the cup, he takes the change out and state each denomination out loud).  They also play the side of the desk, a cactus plant (that is pretty cool to see), even plucking the Emmy on the desk.

The final piece is a John Cage composition.  It is the first part of a longer piece called “Living Room Music.”  Back in the early 40s Cage wrote a piece called “Living Room Music” which was supposed to take place in a living room.  And this is our living room.  They play the first part   called “To Begin.” It’s just under a minute, but the sounds they get from a waste basket (like a bass drum), a package of paper towels, a stapler, the desk and the coffee mug is really cool.

Even people who don’t like John Cage have to appreciate what he was going for with this kind of music.

[READ: March 3, 2016] Johnny Boo & The Happy Apples

In this third book of the series, Johnny Boo, Squiggle and the Ice Cream Monster are back.

Johnny eats some ice cream and then shows off how strong it has made him. But when Squiggle accidentally “pops” Johnny’s muscle and it gets all floppy, there is much concern.  Things are even worse for Johnny when the ice cream monster (from the first book) comes and shows off his huge muscles that he got from eating apples.  If Squiggle laughs at Johnny’s floppy muscle you know there will be hurt feelings.  And there are.

Johnny runs off to find some happy apples to make his muscles strong, but he winds up eating apples from the ground, which makes his muscles super floppy (pretty hilarious looking). (more…)

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robotSOUNDTRACK: PAOLO ANGELI-Tiny Desk Concert #480 (October 20, 2015).

paoloPaolo Angeli is kind of a one-man band.  But not in a novelty sense.  Rather, he is an accomplished guitarist who decided to modify his guitar.  First a little and then a lot.

Angeli plays a Sardinian guitar which is several steps lower (and bigger) than a traditional guitar (and is bigger accordingly).  And he has added a whole bunch of strange gadgets and toys to alter and enhance the sound.

Notable additions: a set of electronic foot pedals that allow him to play little piano pads which hit the bass strings–he can play lead guitar notes and play complex bass patterns with his feet on the same strings.  He is somehow able to make the guitar sound like an electric and an acoustic at the same time.  There are propellers in the body which make a continuous buzzing sound on the strings.  There’ even a mobile phone for a drone.  I don’t think he uses it in this show, but he jokes that in concert he takes away peoples’ phones when they don’t turn them off and he uses them in his guitar.  He also plays the strings with a bow.

Anything else?  Yes.  Crossing the center of the guitar perpendicularly are another set of “strings.”  He seems to bang on these a few times for more dissonance, and maybe they are what the propeller is playing?  There’s also a set of strings that extend from the guitar head to the base about three inches above where one normally plucks the strings.  These extra strings are primary there for bowing, but they are quite loose and make some interesting scratching sounds on the final song.  There’s also a big spring attached to the bottom for percussion.

Not all of the effects are necessarily pleasant. The buzzing of the propellers is kind of harsh and the giant spring makes some crazy noises.  But his guitar playing is rally very pretty.

Oh and he sings too.

Well, not on the first song, the 12 minute “Mascaratu.”  Although he does whistle (it’s unclear if the deep breaths that he takes are meant to be a part of the song or not).  It opens with beautiful acoustic (fairly traditional) soloing, including some nice harmonics.  And then he flicks a switch and suddenly it sounds electronic.  And you can see and hear the foot pedals at work.  And then he turns on the propeller and starts using the bow.  About 4 minutes in he starts playing chords and the song comes fully alive.  By 7 minutes, he is playing the foot pedals and a lovely acoustic melody which he then trades off for a fast bowing solo.  The song proceeds in different directions and then ends with a lovely bowed solo.

He jokes that “Corsicana” is “Tom Waits vacationing in Sardinia, singing a traditional song in his own way.”  He places a damper/washer type thing under the strings which makes all of the notes sound flat and dead and metallic–yes like Tom Waits.  The bass line is even a bit like Les Claypool.  After an interesting certainly Waitsian solo, he sings what I assume are traditional lyrics (in a traditionally high tenor).  It’s about 7 minutes long.

He asks if there is time for a short song, which proves to be the 8 minute “Brida.”  For this song he uses many items to create a “prepared guitar.” He says that a “prepared guitar comes from the prepared piano which comes from John Cage.”  He wedges all kinds of little things (like binder clips) into the strings.  The song begins as a kind of noisy, chaotic solo.  In the middle of the song he plays some really fast acoustic chords.  Then it’s back to the bow–it’s cool to watch him bowing while the bass pedals are tapping away.  Then he added the buzzing propeller sound and starts hitting the piece of wood at the bottom for percussion.  This includes hitting the big spring for that weird sound and slowly slowly bowing those top strings making a creepy sound.

Angeli is a pretty ingenious player and he is a lot of fun to watch up close–he flips switches, and turns pedals and plays barefoot.  But not everything he does sounds pretty.  And some of the sections seemed to go on a bit long.   I thought I would be fascinated by everything he did but there were times when I couldn’t tell if he was playing something or just showing off the things his guitar could do.

But he is personable and funny and certainly a likable guy.

[READ: March 11, 2016] Little Robot

I love Ben Hatke.  His drawing style is wonderfully cartoonish and cute but with the ability to go a little dark and mildly scary on a dime. He also loves to draw strange-looking aliens and creatures.  Or in this case, robots.

One thing that I thought was especially cool about this book was that there are hardly any words in it.  And there doesn’t need to be.  I kind of wish it was all done without words, but that might turn it into a different kind of story, so I think it was  good choice to include dialogue, but to keep it minimal.

The story opens on a dark night as a truck drives across a bridge.  It hits a bump and a box falls out.  The box bounces over the bridge and lands in the river.

The next morning a little girls wakes up in a trailer park.  She climbs out the window and runs off.  There’s a moment when she seems to be afraid of the kids by the school bus (and the neighbor–there’s clearly a back story here that I wonder what it’s all about–I love that about his stories–there’s stories behind them).  And then she runs down to the water. (more…)

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jan2016SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS THILE & MICHAEL DAVES-Tiny Desk Concert #133 (June 13, 2011).

After seeing Avi Avital play an amazing show last week, it seemed only thilefitting to mention a show with an other amazing mandolin player. Chris Thile does some incredible work on that tiny instrument.  I’d love to see a duel between the two of them—it would be mind blowing.

Thile has played with many many different musicians, both in bands (Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek) and as duos and trios.  And this duet with guitarist Michael Daves is fantastic.

Daves plays a folkie electric guitar and sings.  They share lead and harmony vocal duties (with Thile usually going higher).  And while Thile’s mandolin solos are incredible, Daves is no slouch on the guitar either–his fingering may be just as fast as Thile’s.

The two have a great rapport (and play a super long set!).  The duo met and were going to record one song, but it turned into more than a dozen.  And they play 6 of them during this show.

“Sleep With One Eye Open” feature Daves on lead vocal.  It’s upbeat and bouncy folk with a country twang attached.  (I love that Thile’s mandolin is just as loud as Dave’s guitar).  And I love watching Thile bounce around while playing.

They duet on vocals for “Rabbit in the Log” which is about the inherent cuteness and tastiness of rabbits.  Thile’s fingerwork is mind blowing until you hear the solo that Daves does.  And how does a song that’s so fast end so sweetly?

“Bury Me Beneath The Willow” is slower song with Thile on lead vocals.  it shows that their whole act isn’t about speed.

“Billy In The Lowground”  Thile says that Billy, “through no fault of his own ended up in the lowground.”  It’s an instrumental so we just have to imagine what Billy did.  It’s another place for them to show off their skills.

“It Takes One to Know One” is a more bluesy than bluegrass song with Daves on lead vocals.  It’s alike a slow blues song with Daves’ country twang vocals.  Thile’s slide solo is amazing—never seen anything quite like that on the mandolin (well, until Avi did something similar).

When their set should be over, Thile says they’ll do “one more for good measure.”  “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” is an incredibly fast song.  They duet on vocals but Daves really shines on the super fast guitar solos.

The more I see Chris Thile the more I’m impressed by him.  I can’t wait to see who he teams up with next.

[READ: February 23, 2016] “There are Other Forces at Work”

John Darnielle, singer and guitarist for the Mountain Goats is also a fiction writer.  And here is a great essay about John Cage.

Darnielle opens the essay by saying that on the day that Nixon resigned, Darnielle was 7, but he cheered anyone since he was taught that Nixon was the bad guy.  And on that day, John Cage gave the first public reading of “Empty Word” a piece of unaccompanied voice in which he read from Thoreau’s journals and reduced the journals first to single words then to syllables and eventually to letters–drawing them out slower and slower.

This piece caused riots.

Then Darnielle gets to the meat of the matter.  He has gone to Halberstadt because The John Cage Project has been performing Cages’ “ORGAN2/ASLSP” there since 2000.  And it plans to run until 2640.  Perhaps you have heard of this piece and its preposterous length.

There is a piano version of ASLSP (which stands for As Slow as Possible).  Darnielle tries to imagine playing each note on a piano until it rang its length out (about 30 seconds). But an organ can play for as long a performer can hold the note.   The only instruction Cage gave for the piece: “all eight pieces are to be played.  However, any one of them may be repeated, though not necessarily, and as in ASLSP, the repetition may be placed anywhere in the series.”   In other words you can play it for as long as you like

Here’s a 4 minute version

It is being performed in Halberstadt because the modern twelve note keyboard was in vented in Halberstadt in 1361.  That was 639 years before 2000 and thus the entire piece will last until 2640 which is 639 years from 2000 (there’s nice symmetry for an asymmetrical piece).  As such, since they were mathematical about it, they determined that one of the 8 parts would last 71 years.  That’s 71 years of an organ playing a single note.

When Darnielle arrives it is for one of the changing of the chords.  This discordant chord had been playing since 2012.  Before he arrived, he tried to imagine what it would be like, and he is both underwhelmed but also moved by the simplicity of it.  He says its not pretty or unpretty, it’s just sort of there–a kind of background drone.  It’s also much quieter than he imagined.  The chord is being played by sandbags–there is no keyboard.

The note change (and Darnielle’s visit) was on October 5, 2013.  The next change is in 7 years.  Here’s a list of planned chord changes (note they do not go until 2640)

The piece started with a 17-month rest on September 5, 2001, Cage’s 89th birthday. The first sound appeared on February 5, 2003. Subsequent dates for note changes include:

  • July 5, 2004
  • July 5, 2005
  • January 5, 2006
  • May 5, 2006
  • July 5, 2008
  • November 5, 2008
  • February 5, 2009
  • July 5, 2010
  • February 5, 2011
  • August 5, 2011
  • July 5, 2012
  • October 5, 2013
  • September 5, 2020

Beyond the sound of the chord there are things to see.  An engraved metal panel attached to an iron rail at eye level–these were paid for by people as a funding for this project and they were allowed to write what they liked.

Darnielle was quite moved by the thing although he is concerned because they play the notes of the new chord one at a time–one note builds on the others.  He says the piece is supposed to be just the one chord and that’s it.  (Realistically it allowed the three people who were invited to begin the chord to each have a moment in the spotlight).  Then he realizes that in the course of 639 years (if you were to compress it to a reasonable length) that will seem like a blip or a grave note.

Darnielle notes that Cage can still cause people’s ire to rise, just if you look at all of the YouTube comments on his piece “4’33′”(the silence piece).  People are outraged by it, still.

I really enjoyed Darnielle’s look at this fascinating event.  I really like Cage for his daring.

Here’s a person’s recording of the event

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ny15SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Halifax, NS (August 27, 2004).

haliRheostatics are reuniting for 3 shows at the Art Gallery of Ontario in a few weeks.  And I am going to see them!

So it’s time to listen to a few shows from eleven years ago.  This show doesn’t even mention a club, but that’s ok.  It’s a fun gig in Nova Scotia.  The quality of the recording is not great–it was recorded in the audience and you can hear a lot of audience chatter (and consequently the band is not as clear as could be).

Their final album 2067 is out in just a few months from this show, and they play a few songs from it: “Marginalized” and “The Tarleks.”  Later, Martin describes “Aliens” as “The Tarleks Part 1.” They also play “I Dig Music” a fun jazzy number.  There’s a drum break in the middle and drummer MPW says that he was trying to play the intro from Rush’s “Lakeside Park.”

There’s a wild middle section in “Satan is the Whistler.”

This show has lots of banter, and there’s a discussion about an audience member mocking The Headpins.  And later when a fan says his friend was kicked out, Dave gets mad at the bouncers and seems genuinely concerned for the friend and offers to go get him.

After they play “My First Rock Show” they ask MPW about his first rock show.  The discussion devolves into a discussion of John Cage’s smell (Old man vegan smell).

For “Take Me in Your hand” a fellow named Reid does guest vocals.

During the encore they play a version of happy birthday to someone whose birthday it is which is followed by a scorching version of “Rock Death America.”

As the encore winds down Dave says “dim the lights, chill the ham,” which I assume is a nod to fellow Canadians Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet and their 1991 album. Martin (I assume) also starts playing around with a voice modulator as the song ends.

If the audio was better this would be an amazing show.

[READ: July 20, 2015] “So You’re Just What, Gone?”

I’ve enjoyed most of Taylor’s stories, even though his protagonists tend to be unpleasant.  But this story felt entirely too insubstantial for me to get beyond the grossness of it.

Charity is a high school student.  She is flying with her mother to visit her grandmother.  She doesn’t want to go and doesn’t want to be with her mom.  She’s pleased when she and her mom are separated on the plane (five plus hours of freedom!).

She winds up sitting next to a guy who tries to be chatty with her.  She wants none of it, but when she wakes up mid-flight to find that she has been sleeping on the guy’s shoulder, she feels a little bad and actually talks to him.  When Mark asks her if she gets bored and then says she is pretty, you know things are creepy.

When Mark he grabs her inner thigh and squeezes it and then gives her his business card, well, you just know the guy is a shit. (more…)

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blackSOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH-SYR 4: Goodbye 20th Century (1999).

syr4This SYR recording consists of Sonic Youth’s interpretations of 20th century composers’ works.  Some of the composers are obscure, but a few are more or less household names: John Cage, Yoko Ono, maybe Steve Reich.  I knew a few of these composers from Kronos Quartet, but for the most part the pieces are all new to me.  Since I don’t know the original pieces I have no idea how faithful they are.

The most fascinating thing about the disc is the CD-ROM video of “Piano Piece #13 (Carpenter’s Piece)” which shows the band performing.  The “song” is literally the band nailing the keys of a piano down.

There are a number of guests on the CD, including the first (I think) performance by Coco Haley Gordon Moore (on the 17 second “Voice Piece for Soprano”).  And, the liner notes are all in English.

This is the longest SYR disc (at over an hour and a half) and it is a fascinating mix of noises and sounds and screams and spoken bits (okay okay okay okay okay okay okay).

This is not for everyone, not even the average Sonic Youth fan.  There’s absolutely nothing in the way of “songs” here.  The abstractness of the disc is palpable.  And, clearly, just knowing that one of the pieces is a bunch of people nailing keys of a piano, you get a fair idea of the breadth of “music” that the disc covers.

[RE-READ August 19th] J.O.I. Filmography

Before reading this week’s section, I had noticed that many people on Infinite Summer (and elsewhere) have discussed James’ films and how they relate to incidents in the overall story.  So, I decided to go back and re-read his filmography Endnote, just to see what else I could learn.

In general, with more background, the Endnote is much more interesting. The first batch of films are more amusing to read about just to see the emphasis on pain and disfigurement.  We also see that he had been using students and teachers from E.T.A. in his films for a while.

We have had an in-depth look at some of these earlier films: The Medusa v. The Odalisque; Homo Duplex, The Joke, The ONANtiad (which the endnote describes as unfunny).  But the ones we haven’t seen show distinct commentary about the state of the country since the Reconfiguration (it’s clear that J.O.I. was against it).  The American Century As Seen Through a Brick deals with anti-O.N.A.N. riots; The Universe Lashes Out is about the evacuation of New Hampshire during the Reconfiguration; Poultry in Motion concerns the toxification of Thanksgiving Turkeys; and No Troy is about miscalibrated Waste Displacement Units that crashed into Troy, NY (which was mentioned in the scene about people looking for entertainment outside of their living rooms).

[Unrelated to the story, on page 990 of my paperback IJ (with forward by Dave Eggers) every italicized word contains a superscript 1 after it (indicating, what? more footnotes?) It is an astonishingly weird glitch/typo and I can’t believe that it wasn’t spotted before going to print as it makes the titles actually harder to read.] (more…)

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