Archive for the ‘NPR/PRI/PBS’ Category


SOUNDTRACK: MAX RICHTER-“Dream 3 (In The Midst Of My Life)” from Sleep– NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 17, 2018).

This piece is remarkable.  And the except provided here (all 8 minutes of it) is but a teeny fraction of the entire 8 hour work.

I had heard about this piece on Echoes a few months ago and was very interested in it, but figured there was no way I’d hear it.  I never imagined anyone would hear it quite like this:

Right at the start of the 2018 SXSW Music Festival, Max Richter’s eight-hour composition Sleep was performed overnight to an audience tucked into 150 beds. They — the audience, not the tireless group of musicians who performed the piece — slept, dreamed and sometimes snored through this trance-inducing experience.

Richter has described this piece: “Really, what I wanted to do is provide a landscape or a musical place where people could fall asleep.”

In the video here, you’ll see Richter himself on keyboards and electronics, along with the ACME string ensemble and soprano vocalist Grace Davidson.

What I loved about the story of this piece is not that it is a piece to sleep to exactly but that it is based around the neuroscience of sleep.  He says, “Sleep is an attempt to see how that space when your conscious mind is on holiday can be a place for music to live.”

It’s wonderful and I would love to sleep to it some night.

[READ: April 13, 2016] “Old Wounds”

I thought that I had read more by Edna O’Brien but it appears that I’ve read hardly anything by her.

This story was an interesting look at Irish stubborness and the way families can hate each other over small things (or even big things).

The narrator explains that her family had a falling out and for several years there was no communication at all between them.  Even when they attended funerals they did not acknowledge each other.

Finally all of the older people had died off and it was just her and her cousin Edward (both past middle age) they met and put aside the hostilities. They even visited the family graveyard together.  The graveyard was on an island a short boat ride from Edward’s house. (more…)


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Becca Mancari plays a pretty acosutic guitar melody while Blake’s effects-laden pedal steel guitar soars and echoes around her.

I don’t know the original, but according to the blurb, “Mancari removes the clicking pulse of the studio version to underline the song’s lonely atmospherics.”

The song is simple–one that speaks to a relationship: “‘I can’t face myself,’ Mancari repeats the line like a broken admission spoken through a pinhole camera, a whispered truth so potent it can’t be looked right in the eye. “

At 2:41, the guitarist hits a great effect that turns the soaring pedal steel guitar into a buzzy rocking guitar solo while Becca strums on.  It’s a great interlude that really sells this song.

I also love that the final 30 seconds is just the sound of the guitar(s) fading out.

There are moments in this video where the Nashville-based singer-songwriter turns away from the many faces of the Life Underground installation by Hervé Cohen, which is part of the SXSW Art Program and supported by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States. What’s being projected onto the screens in the room are interviews with subway passengers from around the world who share their stories and dreams. The installation’s notion is that empathy often comes by just asking a few questions, which, maybe for “Dirty Dishes,” is just too damn hard right now.

[READ: April 12, 2016] “The Tiger’s Wife”

Téa Obreht took the literary world by storm with her debut novel The Tiger’s Wife.  I’ve had a copy of it on my bedside I guess now for 8 years.  I’ve been meaning to read it but other things always jump in first.

So finally I got around to reading this excerpt from the novel.

The excerpt is, I assume, the first few sections of the novel since they are numbered and begin with 1.

The first part is called The Tiger and it talks all about the titular tiger.  The tiger was in a zoo (or a circus) in 1941 when the Germans began bombing the city for three straight days.

The tiger should have died in the concussion and rubble, but he managed to escape and wandered to the village. (more…)

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I did not enjoy this Lullaby at all.  Prass’ voice is very conventionally poppy and the synth sounds were really cheesy.  I would without question turn this off it was on the radio.

Evidently the original has “a laid-back disco cool and bouncing bassline groove” but then Prass

shows up to her South X Lullaby session with keyboardist Jacob Ungerleider, slows down the tempo just a mood lighting dimmer and turns the song’s breezy funk into the soft murmurs of late-night devotion.

Still doesn’t make me like it.

This version of “Short Court Style” was filmed in an interactive art installation by Caitlin Pickall called FEAST, which is part of the SXSW Art Program and was created as part of the Laboratory Artist Residency program in Spokane, Wash. Prass and Ungerlieder sit at a dinner table set with plates and towers of wine glasses, onto which images and patterns are projected. The projections are triggered by the movements of guests at the table, so the experience changes every time someone sits down.

[READ: March 15, 2018] “No More Maybe”

This story looks at immigrants in the land of trump’s america.  But it also looks at how in-laws can drive us crazy.

The narrator’s in-laws have come to visit them because she is pregnant.

Her mother-in-law has been very busy taking advantage of all that America has to offer (cheaply): blueberries, the clean air, the stars, and English-language classes (which are expensive in China).

She is puzzled by them being free: “America is a capitalist country….  What about so-called ‘invisible hand’s” (She learned about that phrase two days earlier).  The woman is confident (she is a volleyball coach) and is not shy about expressing herself. (more…)

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I feel like I was pretty lucky to see Mal Blum just days before they went to SXSW and made a Lullaby.

Without the band, Mal sings more quietly which certainly lets you hear the words more clearly–and Mal is a gifted lyricist.  But Mal also writes catchy tunes.

I love that the verses are quiet and muted, but there’s loud strumming in between.

And as the song nears the end, the intensity ratchets up for a line of “why can;t they see me?”  …before the quiet conclusion: “I was right there.”

Mal performs in front of the Future of Secrets art installation.

The Future of Secrets was conceived by Sarah W. Newman in collaboration with Jessica Yurkofsky, Rachel Kalmar and metaLAB at Harvard. The installation, which is part of the SXSW Art Program, asks those attending to anonymously type a secret into a laptop and in exchange someone else’s secret is given to you. Those secrets are then projected on a wall, which is the backdrop for this video.

“‘See Me’ is an unreleased song that will be on our next record (sometime next year),” Blum tells NPR. “It’s about the disparity between how one sees oneself, or the struggle of being seen as we are, versus how others view us, which can result in an unintentional hidden self or a perpetual feeling of invisibility. Being transgender informed the song, but it’s not exclusively about that.”

[READ: September 10, 2017] “An Education”

This is a short piece about two girls in school  I assume it is set in Hungary as it is translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix.

The narrator said she was always a hard-working child filled with self-discipline.  But her parents never understood that she did it all for herself–not for them or to make anyone else happy.  Her father was the school principal and was absolutely proud of her–she was hardworking and punctilious like he was.

Her mother, on the other hand, was clearly more loving to her sister Blanka–when she lost her temper with Blanka “there was something frenzied and indiscriminate about the way she pummeled her.”  Her father tried to push her very hard to make her learn more.  Her father was far more proud of the narrator than Blanka, but “no one was ever as proud of me as Blanka [was].” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PRINE-Tiny Desk Concert #717 (March 12, 2018).

For all of the legendary status of John Prine, I don’t really know that much about him.  I also think I don’t really know much of his music.  I didn’t know any of the four songs he played here.

I enjoyed all four songs.  The melodies were great, the lyrics were thoughtful and his voice, although wizened, convey the sentiments perfectly.

The blurb sums up things really well

An American treasure came to the Tiny Desk and even premiered a new song. John Prine is a truly legendary songwriter. For more than 45 years the 71-year-old artist has written some of the most powerful lyrics in the American music canon, including “Sam Stone,” “Angel From Montgomery,” “Hello In There” and countless others.

John Prine’s new songs are equally powerful and he opens this Tiny Desk concert with “Caravan of Fools,” a track he wrote with Pat McLaughlin and Dan Auerbach. Prine adds a disclaimer to the song saying, “any likeness to the current administration is purely accidental.”

I thought the song was great (albeit short) with these pointed lyrics:

The dark and distant drumming
The pounding of the hooves
The silence of everything that moves
Late in night you see them
Decked out in shiny jewels
The coming of the caravan of fools

That song, and his second tune, the sweet tearjerker “Summer’s End,” are from John Prine’s first album of new songs in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness.

He introduces this song by saying that.  This one is a pretty song.  It might drive you to tears.  He wrote this with Pat McLaughlin.  We usually write on Tuesdays in Nashville because that’s the day they serve meatloaf.  I love meatloaf.  We try to write a song before they serve the meatloaf.  And then eat it and record it.

For this Tiny Desk Concert John Prine also reaches back to his great “kiss-off” song from 1991 [“an old song from the 90s (whoo)…  a song from the school of kiss off 101”] called “All the Best,” and then plays “Souvenirs,” a song intended for his debut full-length but released the following year on his 1972 album Diamonds in the Rough. It’s just one of the many sentimental ballads Prine has gifted us.

He says he wrote it in 1968…when he was about 3.

Over the years, his voice has become gruffer and deeper, due in part to his battle with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck, all of which makes this song about memories slipping by feel all the more powerful and sad.

“Broken hearts and dirty windows
Make life difficult to see
That’s why last night and this mornin’
Always look the same to me
I hate reading old love letters
For they always bring me tears
I can’t forgive the way they rob me
Of my sweetheart’s souvenirs”

The musicians include John Prine, Jason Wilber, David Jacques and Kenneth Blevins.


[READ: December 11, 2017] X

I really enjoyed Klosterman’s last essay book, although I found pretty much every section was a little too long.  So this book, which is a collection of essays is perfect because the pieces have already been edited for length.

I wasn’t even aware of this book when my brother-in-law Ben sent it to me with a comment about how much he enjoyed the Nickelback essay.

Because I had been reading Grantland and a few other sources, I have actually read a number of these pieces already, but most of them were far off enough that I enjoyed reading them again.

This book is primarily a look at popular culture.  But narrowly defined by sports and music (and some movies).  I have never read any of Klosterman’s fiction, but I love his entertainment essays. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KUINKA-Tiny Desk Concert #716 (March 9, 2018).

Kuinka are a happy band.  Smiles are on all four members’ faces as they play their three songs.

Miranda Zickler says that they spend all of their time in the van listening to NPR, so this is pretty exciting for them.

The blurb says:

Last year I came across Kuinka (coo-WINK-uh), a band from Seattle… Kuinka’s live performance knocked me out even more than the creative video they’d submitted for the contest.

Since then, Brothers Zach (guitar) and Nathan (mandolin) Hamer, along with Miranda Zickler (keys) and Jillian Walker (cello), have come to D.C. for an official performance at the Tiny Desk, bringing with them their great harmonies and unique blend of energetic, string-band music with a dose of synth.

I’m not sure what the band sounds like normally–if they typically play electronic drums or what, but as the blurb notes

The songs are performed here on relatively tiny instruments, including a ukulele, a drum pad, a small synth, a mandolin and a banjo, along with an electric guitar. But the performance is fleshed out beautifully with rousing vocal harmonies.

All three tracks performed here are from Kuinka’s 2017 EP Stay Up Late, and each one has its own charm.

“Curious Hands” has lead vocals by Miranda.  There’s a cello, keys and Nathan playing a small acoustic six string guitar (or ukulele?).  He gets a pretty big (largely percussive) sound out of that little thing.  But it’s the harmonies that are really spectacular.  I feel like the electronic drums are a little too electronic for this largely folk band but whatever.

For “Spaces,” Zach switches from electronic drums to electric guitar.  He also sings lead with an unexpected twang.  Nathan has switched to mandolin which gives the whole song a kind of Americana vibe.  The electronic drums sound they chose is awful, but there’s a really cool synth sound between verses that prevents this from being overtly in one genre.

Miranda “explains” the name of the band: Kuinka is like kuinka-dink but it doesn’t have anything to do with that, it’s just a coincidence [that’s our ‘bit’].

The blurb’s recommendation to stay until “Mistakenly Brave” is a good one as it is the most rousing song.  They revert back to previous instruments, although Miranda plays banjo.  The harmonies are terrific (much better than the solo vocals, honestly).  It’s got that whole The Head and the Heart vibe going on.  Big soaring vocals and a cool break that leads to a rollicking coda.  Mid way through, Zach switches back to electric guitar to add some oomph.

[READ: April 20, 2016] Endpoint

John Updike died in January 2009 after decades of writing for the New Yorker and elsewhere.  As the news settled in the magazine ran this tribute to him in the March 16 issue.

Rather than running a story, they published a ten-poem sequence called “Endpoint,” (I didn’t even know he wrote poetry).  Most of these poems were written in 2008, while presumably, he knew he was dying from lung cancer.

Endpoint (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RED BARAAT-“100+ BPM” (Live in front of the Brooklyn Public Library) (June 2, 2014).

Continuing with the fun that is Red Baraat, I stumbled upon this recording from the NPR studios.

As part of the Make Music New York Festival, NPR commissioned new music from Red Baraat and Sunny Jain created “100+ BPM.”  And as the blurb informs us:

“We put out a call and they came — by the hundreds. When we invited wind, brass and percussion players to join us yesterday in Brooklyn to perform a world premiere by Red Baraat‘s Sunny Jain for the annual Make Music New York festival, we were hoping that lots of different kinds of musicians would join us. And boy, did they ever.

On this absolutely gorgeous Saturday afternoon, about 350 musicians assembled on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library to play Jain’s 100+ BPM. Young, older, professional drumlines, community marching bands, seasoned jazz players, Indian wedding band musicians, Brazilian samba drummers and scads of amateur players came out to play. It was just incredible.

I don’t know how they managed to record the music so perfectly, but it sounds fantastic.  You can really hear the different instruments (well, except maybe the poor violins and that piccolo) as they zoom in on one section or another.

The whole group plays along perfectly.  And there’s even some great sax solos (how did they decide who got to solo?) an excellent trombone solo and lots and lots of drums and percussion.

I love that after the wild soloing everybody joins back in for that great melody once again.

At 6:15, the song stops (and you get to see how psyched Sunny is).  Then after a short pause he starts clapping and selects which group of instruments will keep the beat going.  First it’s drums, then percussion, then the tubas and then the brass comes into play a new staccato riff that is fun and catchy and easy to speed up. Which it does.

He drops out the drums and selective instruments until it’s just the tuba and percussion.  Then the drums come back in and he starts picking up the tempo of that riff again.  Faster and faster do they get to 100BPM? According to this excellent free BPM counter, they make it to 106/107 BPM during the main part.

Then after a breather it’s time to keep going, faster and faster until they reach 126 BPM by the end and Sunny gives an exultant leap to end the song.

What an excellent way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

[READ: February 26, 2018] “Pardon the Intrusion”

Lydia Davis stories are usually really short–a paragraph or two or three.

This one is very different.

It is a series of posts–requests and thanks for various items.  And that’s it.

It’s hard to tell if a story can be constructed from these requests–at times it seems like you can follow a narrative.  But mostly it just seems to be people requesting goods and services. (more…)

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