Archive for the ‘Laurie Anderson’ Category

425 SOUNDTRACK: JULIA HOLTER-Tiny Desk Concert #524 (April 22, 2016).

Jjuliahulia Holter also has a theatrical style although her touchstone would be someone more like Regina Spektor (I found a similar style in their delivery).

“Sea Calls me Home” has a cabaret style in her delivery and songs structure.  She plays piano with a small band of upright bass, violin and drum.  I really like the sound (and solo) of the violin later on in the song.

“In the Green Wild” has a very jazzy feel with the upright bass playing a jazz line and the drums playing a jazzy rushed sound.  The violin plays some random high almost dissonant notes that work very well.  For the beginning, Julia doesn’t play piano, she sing-speaks kind of like Laurie Anderson—including the unusual intonation and emphases.  The rest of the band sings backing vocals that are higher and ethereal.  About half way in, she begins playing piano and the song settles sown a bit. The way she sings is unusual and a little unsettling—she looks up at the ceiling more or less the whole time.  Her piano notes are simple and I like the way she plays without looking at the keys.

After that song she speaks briefly.  Her personality is pretty nonexistent–she doesn’t smile or even seem to look at anyone. She sounds rather bored as she says okay we’ll play another song.  Thanks for listening.  That turned me off of her music a bit.

The final song, “Betsy on the Roof,” is the longest, about six minutes long.  It sounds similar to the first one–theatrical and somewhat operatic.  There’s a story in the song, but my favorite part is the middle where she sings a scale up to the roof and then the band rocks out.  The end of the song is fascinating as she sings her nice melody and plays atonal tones on the piano.  I enjoyed t he theatricality of this music a lot, but I would have preferred not to see her performance.

[READ: June 10, 2016] “Waiting for the Miracle”

This is the story of Vadik and his arrival in New York from Moscow.  It was a snowy day as he landed at J.F.K.  Despite the snow blanketing the skyline, it was still exciting. as he descended.  He had just received his work Visa authorizing his stay in the U.S. for three years.  He was staring work in Avenel, NJ.

His friend Sergey, who lives in Staten Island, came to pick him up.  All that Vadik wanted to do was explore the city–walk aimlessly and see what happened, but Sergey wanted to take him to his house.  And Sergey’s wife Vica wanted to see him too–in their past Vadik and Vica had been an item although and Sergey stole her away.  Vica made dinner for him and so he agreed to go to the Island.

On the way to the house, the most improbable thing is that Sergey is listening to a Leonard Cohen CD and singing along.  (Vadik likes Sergey and admits that he is still handsome, but his voice is terrible and has always been terrible.  And it’s especially bad especially for Leonard Cohen.  I say this is improbable because Cohen’s music appears later in the story  too. (more…)

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basoonSOUNDTRACK: THE MUSIC TAPES-Tiny Desk Concert #182 (December 20, 2011).

musictaopesJulian Koster released an album in 2008 called The Singing Saw at Christmastime.  It was a complete CD of Christmas songs played on the saw.  That should tell you that Koster is an unusual fellow. But that doesn’t prepare you for what he unleashes during his Tiny Desk Concert with The Music Tapes.

Koster has a very high-pitched voice (I have a recording of him doing “I’ve Got My Love to Keep me Warm,” which is almost unbearable.  His singing is really close to the fine line of unique and bad (and I imagine for many it crosses the line). He’s also got a fascinating way of looking at things and of storytelling.  So this Tiny Desk show winds up being quite long (20 minutes) with quite a lot of different things going on.

First he tells a lengthy story about his great grandpa.  And how his great grandpa told him that baby trees can walk.  But they are tethered to the ground by an umbilical cord. And when we cut them down, we sever the cord.  And a Christmas tree is adorned and worshiped for two weeks and then set free to roam the earth.  It is a warm and strange and delightful.

Then he and a second member of the group play “The First Noel” on two saws.  It’s weird ad wonderful.  At the end of the song he has his saw bow, and Bob says he didn’t know a saw could bow.  Julian says they do and in fact that singing saws sing by themselves but we encourage them by petting them and placing them in our laps.

I don’t enjoy everything Koster does, so the second song “Freeing Song For Reindeer,” a banjo based piece about a tired old reindeer transporting Santa is slow and kind of sad and not my thing.

But then he tells a story of growing up with all kinds of culture and Holiday traditions which leads into a version of Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus Blood.”  I enjoy the original and didn’t know what to expect here.  They begin with a tape loop of an old man singing the song (possibly the one Bryars used, but I don’t know).  And then Koster starts playing the banjo with a bow.  And then a second guy does the same. Then the percussionist stars playing the toy piano and the noises build.  He switches from piano to trumpet and plays along.  Meanwhile the second banjo player switches back to the saw for the end. It’s really quite a lovely performance.

“Takeshi And Elijah” is another slow and keening banjo based song.  It’s pretty long, I don’t really like it, but by the end, as it builds with trumpet and toy piano, he ends the song sith a puppet Santa doing a tap dance as percussion.  It’s a great ending to an okay song.

The final song is “Zat You, Santa Claus?”  It’s played on bowed banjo and sousaphone.  It’s a fun and crazy rendition.   It’s one of the weirdest Tiny Desk shows and certainly the weirdest Christmas set.

[READ: December 5, 2015] The Bassoon King

I really liked Rain Wilson in The Office, but I haven’t seen him in much else (I forgot he was in Six Feet Under and Galaxy Quest) . I wanted to like Backstrom, but it got cancelled before we even watched an episode.

So why did I check out this memoir of an actor I like a little bit?  Well, primarily for the title.  The Bassoon King had an absurd ring that I really gravitated towards.  When I saw there was an introduction by Dwight Kurt Schrute, I knew this would be a good book.

The introduction (by Dwight) is very funny.  I love Dwight and I love thinking to myself “FALSE!” whenever I disagree with someone.  Dwight wondered why anyone would read a biography of a young semi-famous actor.  “Fact. NO. ONE. CARES.”  But then says he doesn’t care either because he is making a lot of dollars per word for this thing.

Rainn begins his memoir by making fun of his big head (especially when he was a baby).  It’s pretty funny.  And then he describes his hippie family and his weird name.  His mom changed her named from Patricia to Shay in 1965.  She wanted to name Rainn “Thucydides.”  But his dad always liked Rainer Maria Rilke.  Now, they lived pretty close to Mt Rainier, so they went for Rainn (“Tack an extra letter on there for no apparent reason”). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COLIN STETSON-New History Warfare, Vol. 2: Judges [CST075] (2011).

When you learn that Stetson played saxophone for Tom Waits, it makes perfect sense.  The middle of the second song, “Judges” sounds like the instrumental break for any of Waits’ newer songs.  Of course, once Stetson starts really wailing you realize that Stetson doesn’t need Waits’ lyrics to tell a story. With just one big-assed bass saxophone, Steston can say quite a lot.  He plays with circular breathing, meaning that he doesn’t have to stop to take a breath, he breathes in through his nose and out through his mouth at the same time (this is of course impossible).  The bass saxophone weighs some 20 pounds and is massive and Stetson makes it sound like everything from an oil tanker to a field of runaway horses.  Oh, and he also has pretty melodies and songs that sound longing.

This disc is part two of a trilogy, but this is the first of his records that I bought (thanks to a release via the folks at Constellation–I wonder if they will redistribute Pt 1).  There is a story that runs through these discs, although honestly, I’m not entirely sure what it is.  But that doesn’t matter to me, what matters is Steston’s amazing skills.

There are evidently a couple of overdubs on this disc, but for the most part it is just him and his saxophone (and 24 microphones).  The microphones were placed all over the room, on the instrument itself (to pick up the clacking of the keys) and even on his throat (when he makes those “voices muffled by a pillow” sound, that’s the throat mike picking up voice–singing while he is playing (which is impossible)).

The album features a couple of spoken word sections by Laurie Anderson, whose clipped, non-inflected voice gives this otherworldy music an even more otherworldy feel.  And there’s two songs sung by Shara Worden.  Other than that, it’s just the man himself.

Prepare to be amazed by this man’s talent.  But also prepare to be a little frightened by what you hear.  This is not timid music by any stretch.  There’s some scary stuff on this record, especially if you listen in the dark.  More especially if you listen loud (which you absolutely must do to hear all the nuances).  On first listen, this may sound like a noisy jazz record, but the more you get into it, the more amazing it becomes.

[READ: October 11, 2011] Moby Dick-in Pictures

Matt Kish has accomplished an amazing thing.  He has drawn a picture a day (more or less) to accompany every page of the 552 page paperback version of Moby-Dick.  He takes a small passage from each page and renders an image for it.  One thing this book is not is an illustrated version of Moby-Dick.  It doesn’t purport to be.  You won’t get the whole story from this book.  It’s not a cheat sheet for high school students.  If you haven’t readMoby-Dick, this will give you a taste for the story–almost like a preview for a movie.  And hopefully it will compel people to read the original.  If you have read Moby-Dick, this is a wonderful companion.  Not only will the pictures give you fascinating insights into the story (and into Kish, of course), but seeing sentences excised from the book to stand alone makes you aware of the book in ways you just aren’t when you’re reading it as a novel.

Kish admits he is not an artist, which while not false modesty, is certainly selling himself short.  He has an awesome style of illustration.  I am especially excited by his vast pictures with small details (lots of pages where there are small circles with lines in them or, for instance, the details on Queequeg’s face) and when he uses bold lines to create vast, weighty iconic pictures.  Here’s one example of his awesome use of multiple straight lines.  I mean, it’s gorgeous.

But I also love the whole conceit that an artistic shortcoming for him has turned out to be an absolute boon.  Kish says he cannot render the human form and so he made the conscious decision to make the seamen more like avatars than people.  It’s daring and a little odd, but it works wonders.  I admit that I was a little less than excited by the very first page of the book–I was disconcerted by Ishmael and his utter lack of features. (I actually like the way he is rendered later in the book better–call it an artistic growth).  But by the time her gets to Queequeg, or the  gorgeous Tashtego  it’s obvious that his decision was genius.  Just take a look at the marvel that is is Ahab (left).  First off, the colors are amazing.  As are the details of the whale in the corners.  But look at him–he’s a metal machine–shiny and tough–part ship, part whale.  Look at the awesome shading and detailing of the blue “coat” that he’s wearing.  He’s even got the badge of Moby-Dick on his belt!  And then there’s the pegleg–the most beautifully drawn pegleg ever.  It’s really stunning.

Now you’re also noticing that there’s all kinds of diagrams behind Ahab.  Kish used to work at a bookstore and he hated seeing old pages of books thrown away (he has since become a librarian, which makes sense–although as I librarian I learned that librarians are actually quite cavalier about throwing away old books once they are beyond use).  So he brought these pages home.  And, given the density of the layers of meaning in Moby-Dick, he decided to draw his pictures on these old pages.  So on virtually every page you can see something in the background.  Most of the time they are these circuital diagrams, which are wonderful. But there are several drawings where the found pages are pages of text from books.  And I have to say if these were serendipitous findings then he has amazing fortune.  Some of the pages tie in so perfectly it is wonderful.

Like the page that is headed “Cetology” and is from what, a textbook on whales?  Or several other pages that I wish I had taken notes on, because they were really wonderfully chosen.  He even has a drawing on a title page of Moby-Dick. I have to ask, did he really find that or did he buy it for the project? (more…)

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