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Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

slowreadSOUNDTRACK: DIRTY THREE-Tiny Desk Concert #245 (October 15, 2012).

dirty-3For a Murakami collection I should really have picked a jazz Tiny Desk Concert.  But none jumped out at my on my list.  So I decided to do something that might be jazzy in spirit, even if it is nothing like jazz at all.

Dirty Three are a three-piece band which consists of violinist Warren Ellis (who works closely with Nick Cave), drummer Jim White (who I had the pleasure of seeing live with Xylouris White), and guitarist Mick Turner (who has released a string of gorgeous instrumental solo albums and worked a lot with Will Oldham).

I’ve liked Dirty Three for years, although I kind of lost touch with them back around 2000.  So it was fun to see that they are still working.  (They’ve released all of 3 albums since 2000).

Jim White plays an eccentric but very cool style of drum–it always feels improvised and random, and maybe it is, but it’s never “wrong.”  Turner is the only one who is keeping the song, shall we say, “stable.”  He’s got the rhythm and melody both with his strumming.  And Ellis is all over the place with melody lines and bowing.

For this Tiny Desk, they play three songs.  Their music is ostensibly instrumental although Warren Ellis is not above shouting and yelling and keening when appropriate.

The first two songs are from their 2012 album and the last one is from Ocean Songs.

“Rain Song” opens with Ellis strumming the violin while Turner plays slightly different chords.  Then Ellis takes off on a series of spiralling violin rolls.  As always, White is back there waving his arms around with the loosest grip on drumsticks I’ve ever seen.  He plays brushes on this song but the drums are far from quiet.  Meanwhile Ellis is soloing away, yelling where appropriate and doing high kicks when White hits the cymbals.   As the song comes to an end, White is going nuts on the drums and Ellis takes off his jacket (revealing a wonderful purple shirt) .  He starts screaming wildly as he physically gets into his violin playing.

“The Pier” is about realizing that it’s the rest of the world that is driving you crazy.  It’s about “trying to undermine Facebook and realize a new way of communicating with people beyond the internet.”  It’ about… are you ready Mick?  Okay.  “The Pier” is a slower song with some plucked violin.  Ellis climbs up on the desk and dances around as he plays.  This one feels a but more controlled but in no way staid.

For “Last Horse in the Sand,” white switches to mallets and adds a tambourine to his cymbal.  It’s really interesting to watch White play around with things–moving his gear around as he plays.  He switches sticks and seems to be not even paying attention, but without ever really losing momentum or timing.  For this song, Ellis and Turner are the mellow ones while White is just all over the place with his amazing drumming.

I haven’t said anything about Turner because he is really the grounding of the band, while the other two are taking flights of fancy.

This is a wild and untamed set and it’s a lot of fun.  It’s also amusing to watch the audience witnessing this seeming chaos.

[READ: December 16, 2016] Slow Reader Vol. 1

Madras Press had released 16 small books, which I enjoyed reading quite a lot.  I have posted about some and will post about more in the new year.  But word is that they have given up on the small books and have switched their attention to a new magazine/journal called Slow Reader.  The first issue came out this month and it collects stories, essays, poems, illustrations, and other things that center around novelist Haruki Murakami.

Support this small press!  You can order this issue directly (and name your price, although I think the asking price is $6).

From an article elsewhere I’ve learned that future issues will cluster around M.F.K. Fisher, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Patricia Highsmith.

This issue contains essays, fiction and illustrations, some dating back as far as 2000.

CHIP KIDD-cover illustration (wind-up bird)
Chip Kidd is awesome

GRANT SNIDER-Murakami Bingo Board
This bingo is hilariously apt–covering most of the bases of Murakami’s writing: cats, jazz, running, and even a Chip Kidd cover.

JESSE BALL-Sheep Man
A line drawing of a sheep standing upright with the caption “The sheep man’s peculiar tail was never visible to me.”

HARRIET LEE-MERRION-Diner illustration
A nice line drawing of a corner diner

KAREN MURPHY-Sputnik and two moon illustrations
Two simple drawings of Sputnik and two moons.

BEIDI GUO-Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World map
A cool map of the locations of the novel.

DINA AVILA–Murakami Tasting Menu at Nodoguro in Portland, OR
I don’t really get if the menu items are related to the stories but it’s a neat idea that there are foods named after his works. But why are so many called IQ84?

EUGENIA BURCHI–IQ84 menus
A drawing of foods with what I think are character names (I haven’t read the novel yet).

FABIO VALESINI-train illustrations taken from the book trailer for Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
No idea what the original context is, but it’s a neat, clean drawing of a train station.

JEFFREY BROWN-“In Conversation” What Jeffrey Brown Thinks About
The first piece is an amusing cartoon in which Brown scores a job at an indie bookstore by mentioning Murakami.  The little blurb says that it is an only slightly exaggerated account. There’s also a later picture by Brown of Murakami’s face posted on a bulletin board (with a lost cat flier), that’s really great.

DANIEL HANDLER-“I Love Murakami”
Handler begins his piece by apologizing to dozens of authors before saying that Murakami is our greatest living practitioner of fiction.  He mentions a few books but heaps a ton of praise on Wind Up Bird Chronicles and mentions his excitement at  finally getting Norwegian Wood in English (it had been untranslated for many years).  He wrote this essay in 2000.

YOKO OGAWA-“On Murakami’s “The Last Lawn of the Afternoon” [Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder]
Ogawa writes about a house in her neighborhood which has a lawn that she finds unsettling–it’s perfectly manicured and a pale, cool shade of green.  She is reminded of the Murakami story in which a boy mows a woman’s lawn and she asks him an unexpected question.  Ogawa imagines a woman in that home asking the same kinds of questions.

ETGAR KERET-“What Do We Have in Our Pockets?”
This was inspired by Murakami’s story “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning.”  This story is about a man whose pockets are always bulging with unusual items.  People often say to him, “What the fuck do you have in your pockets?”  And his answer is that he carries things that he imagines the perfect woman needing–a stamp or a toothpick.  It is a wonderfully charming story.

RIVKA GALCHEN-“The Monkey Did It”
Of all of the items in this collection, this is  the only piece I’d read before.  I remembered parts of it (particularly the excerpts from “A Shinagawa Monkey,” and her talking about Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki.  I also recalled her saying that she liked his short stories better than his novels, but that she was perhaps wrong in thinking that.  The one thing I didn’t pick up on last time was that in the beginning of the essay she writes about Toricelli’s Trumpet or Gabriel’s Horn–an item with finite volume but infinite surface area.  She says this perfect describes Murakami’s work.  And I love that she ties it to translator Philip Gabriel who is a gentle and modest translator–perfect for the watery novel.

TESS GALLAGHER-“Murakami and Carver Meet at Sky House”
Before he had written any substantial works, Murakami translated Raymond Carver’s works into Japanese.  Ray was excited and bemused that Haruki and his wife Yoko would travel from Japan to meet with him.  This essay tells us that the following poem came about as Ray tried to imagine how his poems could possibly be appreciated in Japan.  Murakami told him how both the Japanese and American people of the 1980s were experiencing humiliation at being unable to make a decent living.  Gallagher says that if they were to meet today Ray would be awkward about Haruki’s stature.  But he would have loved knowing that Murakami had translated everything he had written.

RAYMOND CARVER-“The Projectile”
This poem is wonderful. It begins with Carver speaking about his meeting with Murakami and then flashing back to when he was 16 and was hit with an ice ball.  It was thrown from someone in the street through a small crack in the window of the car he was riding in–a chance in a million.

RICHARD POWERS-“The Global Distributed Self-Mirroring Subterranean Neurological Soul-Sharing Picture Show”
This is the most abstract and “intellectual” of the essays here.  It speaks of a team of neuroscientists discovering a lucky accident–that neurons in the brain fire when someone else makes a motion that we recognize.  Similarly, in Murakami–representation is the beginning of reality.  He speaks of the parallel narratives in Hard Boiled Wonderland.  He wonders at the universality of dreams and ideas in Murakami.  “But if his own stories are steeped in the endless weirdness hiding just inside everyday life, how then to account for Murakami’s astonishing popularity throughout the world?”

MARY MORRIS-“The Interpreter”
I loved this story.  An American business woman is giving a series of lectures in Japan.  She is assigned a translator who goes with her nearly everywhere.  She is a little annoyed that he is always there, but he is very respectful of her and only speaks when spoken to.  She assumes he is translating her speeches correctly, but during one, the audience laughs where there was nothing funny.  She doesn’t want to disrespect him, but she can’t imagine what he said to them.  In the next one, they are practically doubled over with laughter at what he says.  Finally she has to confront him about it.  He reveals astonishing insights into her personal life.  And the next day he is called away–just as she has begun to feel close to him.

In the author’s note, she says that the she was at an writer’s meeting in Princeton (where she teaches) and Murakami was there eating with them. He was by himself, and she talked to him because she was a fan of his work.  She relates a story of holding up a sign for him when he ran the New York City Marathon.  She says that the part about the translator and his family (which I didn’t mention) is from an actual translator she met in Japan.

AIMEE BENDER-“Spelunking with Murakami”
Bender speaks of trusting Murakami.  She says when the cat started speaking in one of his books, she began to mistrust him.  Nevertheless, she says, she loves a lot of writers but only trusts a few of them.  She’s not trusting Murakami’s honesty or his ability to make her smarter.  Rather, she trusts him like a man with a torch in a cave–someone who is willing to explore–and to be in front leading the way.

SUMANTH PRABHAKER-Editor’s Note
Prabhaker would like to ask the world’s philosophers why some things seem to happen to us in a random fashion.

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: LUCIUS-Tiny Desk Concert #261 (January 7, 2013).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

luciusThis Tiny Desk Concert has a wonderful blurb:

We brought Lucius to the Tiny Desk because I fell in love with one joyous, catchy song: “Don’t Just Sit There.” That’s all I had to go on — I’d never seen the group live — and though I expected fun, we also got fabulous. Not only are Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig a winning singing duo, but their charisma and charm helps turn good pop songwriting into an endearing performance.

The two singers are dressed identically–although they don’t really look much alike, they appear almost identical up there (and I’m not sure who is who).  The three men in the band: Danny Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri fill out the group with guitars and drums and are also dressed identically–in crisp white shirts and suspenders.

“Go Home” starts out slow with a rattling slide guitar and simple percussion.  The two women sing slowly over the bassline.  It’s a pretty, nice song.  And then the chorus kicks in and while the song doesn’t really get all that much bigger, their voices soar incredibly, in close harmony. It is a remarkable change in texture in the song and they instantly won me over.

It segues into “Don’t Just Sit There” which is a beautiful song with a slightly faster quiet section.  But again, the chorus “did you find love” just soars with their great harmonies.  I can see why Bob fell for them.

“Turn It Around” starts out with an “aha ha” and claps and a more poppy singing style.  And I find that while I like Lucius overall there are parts that I really don’t.  Like the beginning to this.  And yet, once again, when they get to that chorus “looking through the wrong end,” the song is super catchy and wonderful and I find myself singing that part a lot.  Even with the minimal backing guitar and drums, it sounds great.

After the third song, they get high-fives and Bob asks if they want to do another.  Usually, they edit out this type of thing, but it’s really fun to watch the band discuss what song they should play as they sort their percussion parts out.  I loved watching them go through Bob’s box of interesting percussion instruments until they found good ones.

When they finally get around to the song, “Genevieve,” it is a bouncy percussion-filled fun song.  Of the four, it’s my least favorite but that’s because it doesn’t really soar like the other ones do.  But it’s still fun.

[READ: December 21, 2016] “Circumstances Of Hatred”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

There’s a fantastic plot point in this story that I don’t want to spoil.  And that makes it really hard to talk about the story.

But I really enjoyed it a lot.  And I can reveal the basic setup.

It had been 17 years since Nicholas was in his grandfather’s house.  And now that his grandfather was dead, Nicholas was willed the man’s property.  So he and his new wife Ann leave their current place in Victoria and head out to Halifax to make a new life in their new house.

Ann hated Halifax–the cold, the gray, the wilted produce.  And she hated the house. (more…)

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clarkSOUNDTRACK: JOHN CONGLETON AND THE NIGHTY NITE-Tiny Desk Concert #550 (July 22, 2016).

congleton John Congleton is a music producer (and a really good one at that–he’s had his hands on great albums both obscure and really poplar). But he is also a musician.  And a pretty weird one at that.  Here, as the blurb says, “he creates haunting tension with just acoustic guitar, brilliant electronics from Jordan Geiger, and words passionately sung.”

These songs are interesting because Congleton plays a very traditional sounding acoustic guitar.  His songs are typical folk chords.  But the lyrics are pretty dark and confrontational and those keyboards are often really creepy or disturbing (appropriate for the lyrics)

The first song, “Just Lay Still” is a rollicking  track with the guitar playing quickly and the keyboards playing off-kilter and deliberately creepy chords.   Lyrically, the song is about the subject that Congleton seems to be exploring on all of these songs–what it is like to be human.  “I love you like a lion loves its kill / I will touch you like a doctor, just lay still.  Let the implements molest you in your sleep / You belong to me…  We’ve got you surrounded (creepy chord).  We’ve got you surrounded.”

Congleton says “Your Temporary Custodian” is a devotional song about indifference.” It opens with crazy siren-like sounds over Congleton’s acoustic guitar. The blurb notes that the song addresses “what it means to face the fact that we are flesh-and-blood ‘temporary custodians’ in vessels that will inevitably return to the earth and decay.”  It’s got lyrics like:  “You phenomenal nominal nominal nominal nothing” and “we will not be saved / we went looking for the sublime / we found only the inane”  and “what an extraordinary thing it is to be this ordinary thing.”

Before the final song he thanks everyone (he’s very polite given his lyrics) and then jokes, as taxpayers we expect a full tour [of the NPR building].  “Animal Rites” is also a fast song with more great lyrics: “I’d love to hold you but I need to hold my own.”   Or “Biology kicks virtues’ ass every time” or my favorite: “When you’re crazy at 20 you’re sex to be had / when you’re crazy at 50 you’re not sexy, you’re sad.”  And then the crux of the matter: “You’re with an animal / you’re with a warm body, carbon contents, atoms and proteins.”  This song is much longer than the other two.  It has two parts separated by a solo is a bunch of noise and mayhem from the keyboards.  The second half slows down but eventually comes back to the main thrust of the song.

These songs were definitely unusual, and strangely catchy.  I’m curious to hear what this album sounds like (assuming he produced it himself–I expect impeccable work.

[READ: November 30, 2016] Clark

One of the things that I admire about Brendan Connell as an author is the astonishing depth and detail work he puts into his books.  Connell is an amazing polymath, with books that fully bring to life such diverse topics as food, religion, philosophy, violence, sex and now, Italian cinema.

Clark is the story of Eric Clark a devoted actor who rarely refused a role.  We watch his introduction to the world of film, his embrace of said world (and its embrace of him) and his subsequent decline.  This book also shows an amazing amount of detail about the Italian film industry–a topic I know nothing about.  Now I realize that Clark and his films are made up, but I have to assume that everything else that Connell says about the industry, its ability to make movies quickly and for 10% of the price of American films is all correct.  And if it isn’t, then he’s done an even more remarkable job of making it all up. (more…)

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sandwalkerSOUNDTRACK: SACKVILLE-Low Ebb EP (1996).

lowebb Sackville was a Montreal based folk group who released one album through Constellation Records, and a couple of other releases on other labels.  When they broke up, most of the members of the band went on to play with other bands, many of whom were later released on Constellation.

The focus of the band is really singer/guitarist Gabe Levine whose voice shows a lot of folk, rock and avant garde influences.  His voice sounds at once familiar and also strangely unique.

And this EP was their first release.

The first song is “Messengers.” I love the way the violin cuts through the slow verses to add a great melody to the chorus (including some raw scratching sounds before the verse starts again).  There’s a hint of Mike Doughty in his delivery too. “Donkey Song” opens with some quiet verses and violins has a loud clamorous chorus—super fun and stomping with a nice side guitar riff.  “William” has a standard American folk song melody but the way he sings it is very Social Distortion (through a tinny modulator).  The fiddle gives it more of country sound, but still kind of alt

“Showcase Showdown”  opens with a cool slide guitar and very different vocal style delivered by Kurt Newman.  And the chorus is fund and perhaps a little silly in three-four  dance rhythm “your eyes scare us more than the mirrors on the dance floor.” It’s the most fun song on the disc.  “Low Ebb” continues with the more rocking sound with big brash guitar and crashing cymbals.  It also features some quiet but cool backing vocals—a kind of scream that acts as a drone.   “Thomas” opens with a slide guitar and quiet vocals, the chorus is a major highlight with the vocal duet playing against the loud crunching stop-start guitars.  “This Thing I Want, I Know Not What” is a straight ahead folk song with a lead violin and a pretty melody.  “Cheap” has a quiet melody ending with some slide guitars and violin.

It’s a solid E.P. with even better music on their full lengths.

[READ: June 25, 2016] Last of the Sandwalkers

This is a fascinating book that proves to be an amazing look at beetles and insects and a somewhat interesting adventure story.

I actually found myself a little confused by the story when it started because while I knew it wasn’t going to be realistic (the beetles are leaving their civilization to discover the world) it was also very rooted in real insect knowledge.  And then it got a little out-there so the level of reality in the story wavered from time to time and I found myself getting pulled out of the story to try to puzzle things together.

Which was a shame.  Another shame is that it doesn’t tell you that there are notes at the back of the book (do most people flip to the end to discover this?  Because I didn’t).  And the notes are one of the best parts of the book.  But more on that later.

The protagonist of the story is Lucy.  She is in charge of a small team who have decided to leave their home to go exploring.  Her team includes Professor Bombardier; Raef, a lighting bug (with a secret); Mossy, a giant beetle with a big horn and Professor Owen who has huge mandibles. They also run into Ma’Dog, an old storyteller who is rather cantankerous.

The story begins with Lucy’s diary as the teams sets out from Coleopolis.  They quickly discover Old Coleopolis which was destroyed by coconuts falling from a tree.  It was said that the city was destroyed 1,000 years ago by the god Scarabus, although Lucy can’t believe how not-overgrown it looks after 1,000 years.  It all seems very suspicious. (more…)

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dfwreadSOUNDTRACK: CHRISTIAN SCOTT aTUNDE ADJUAH-Tiny Desk Concert #477 (October 9, 2015).

aacsChristian Scott aTunde Adjuah and his septet play what he calls stretch music: “the particular type of jazz fusion he’s up to: something more seamless than a simple collision of genre signifiers.”

They note that even his appearance stretches traditional jazz: “You may note that he showed up in a Joy Division sleeveless T-shirt and gold chain.” It’s sleek and clearly modern, awash in guitar riffs, but also bold and emotionally naked.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (not sure how to abbreviate that) is a trumpeter and he can hit some loud powerful and long –held notes.   It’s funny that when he bends over the trumpet grows quieter—those ic really are direction-based.

For the first song “TWIN” he does some impressive soloing over a simple and cool beat—piano and delicate guitar riffs (there’s also an upright bass and drummer).   After his lengthy solo there’s a flute solo that also works perfectly (if less dramatically) with the background music.  (Christian plays tambourine during her solo).  He says that this song is about being a twin.  His brother, Kyle Scott is a film director and for whom Christians scores the music.  Christian also explains that he comes from an African-American and Native-American background and that this song has rhythms as a sort of history of his family that touches on Mali, Senegal Gambia and The Ivory Coast and makes its way to the Caribbean, Cuba and into New Orleans.

He’s pleased to play the Tiny Desk Concert for an audience that appreciates “Music that has nutritional value.”

For the second song, “West of the West” he brings on a young alto-saxophonist who plays with his drummer in a different band. The song opens with a rocking electric guitar solo and then the jazzy band kicks in behind it.  The instrumental features a couple of solos by the saxophonist, the pianist and the bassist.

“K.K.P.D.” is a dramatic song for which he gives a lengthy back story.  Many years ago in his home of New Orleans, he was stopped by New Orleans police late at night for no reason other than to harass and intimidate him.  he was coming back from a gig.  He resisted and was in a serious situation and was seriously threatened—the story is long and very affecting, especially given how articulate (I know, terrible word, but true) and calm he is about retelling this horrifying story.  His pride almost made him do something ill-advised, but instead he channeled that pent-up frustration into a piece of music whose long-form title is “Ku Klux Police Department.”

He adds that we see things on TV about inner cities or the ninth ward and we believe them to be true.  Like that the neighborhood is happy that the police are clearing out the youth there.  We begin to think that the narrative is true, although the people who live there can tell you otherwise.  Despite the title and the origin, the is song is designed to reach a consensus to move forward –not to build derision or hate.  He says that we have to start working on that now, because if it doesn’t start now then our children will continue to inherit this situation.

It opens with a noisy guitar wash and fast drums.  It’s quite noisy and chaotic although it resolves very nicely into an almost sweet piano-based song with slow horns.  The middle of the song ramps up with some intense soloing from Christian.  I love how that segues into a very different section with an electronic drum and delicate piano.  Chritsian’s next solo is much more optimistic.  The final section is just wonderfully catchy.

When he introduces the band, he points out just how young some of his newest members are: Drummer Corey Fonville (another new member) used a djembe as a bass drum, and also brought a MIDI pad so he could emulate the sound of a drum machine; Lawrence Fields, piano; Kris Funn, bass; Dominic Minix , guitar (21 years old); Braxton Cook, saxophone (24 years-old) and Elena Pinderhughes, flute: 20 years old!

I don’t listen to a ton of jazz, but I really liked this Tiny Desk Concert a lot.

[READ: July-October 2016] The David Foster Wallace Reader

I’ve had this book since Sarah bought it for me for Christmas in 2014.  I haven’t been in a huge hurry to read it because I have read almost everything in it already.  And some of that I have even read recently.  But this summer I decided to read some of my bigger books, so this was a good time as any.

One of the fascinating things about reading this book is the excerpting in the fiction section.  I have never really read excerpts from DFWs longer books before.  And once you decontextualize the parts, you can really appreciate them for themselves rather than as a means to the end of the story.  This is especially true of the excerpts from Broom of the System and Infinite Jest.  But also just reading some of these sections as a short story makes for an interesting experience.

It was also very interesting to read the non-fiction all together like that.  These pieces come from difference anthologies, but they have thematic similarities  So, placing them together like that allows for really comparing the stories.

And of course, the selling point for most DFW fans is the teaching materials in the center of the book–an opportunity to look into the man’s mind at work shaping younger minds.

I have written about virtually everything in this book already (title links refer back to previous posts), so mostly these are thoughts about the pieces themselves and not a part of a whole. (more…)

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humanSOUNDTRACK: ROOMFUL OF TEETH-Tiny Desk Concert #404 (November 10, 2014).

teethRoomful of Teeth is an acapella group (with a drum on the first song).  The singers  all tend to sing notes (or words) in a rather unsettling style.  As the blurb says, “Mix a bit of yodeling with Tuvan throat singing, add in a pinch of Sardinian cantu a tenore, fold in compositions from cutting-edge composers and you have the vocal group Roomful of Teeth. This eight-voice ensemble, which includes the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw, is gleefully dismantling the traditional definition of ensemble singing right before our ears (and teeth!)…. The agility of the voices and multicolored blend they achieve are extraordinary.”

And that’s all so accurate.  Everything is kind of unsettling and strangely beautiful. But definitely unsettling.

The first song was written by Australian Wally Gunn and is called “The Fence Is Gone.”  There are so many different sections.  It reminds me a lot of the middle of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother.  With singers having an almost atonal operatic movement.  But in between lyrics, the vocalists are largely singing going “oh ha” or just “bah bah.”  It’s really fascinating.  And the more I listen to it the more I wonder how they know just what (somewhat unusual) note to sing.  The blurb adds: “verses emerge from an infrastructure of “oh-ha” syllables and a simple drum pulse, ending with women’s voices, tight in harmony, like a chord from a Casio keyboard.”  That Casio remark is pretty spot on.

Before the second song, one of the men says that the “women are going to so do a song.”  The men leave and Rinde Eckert’s “Cesca’s View”  begins with a kind of yodeling (really good yodeling). After which the three remaining women sing a beautify low melody very hymn-like.  Then the yodeling comes back (with some beautiful high notes at the end).  Then they all come together to do the the yodelling melody very pretty harmonies.  The blurb adds “In Rinde Eckert’s “Cesca’s View,” imagine a lonely cowgirl on some windswept plain. Estelí Gomez gets her yodel on, beautifully, while the three other women vocalize in close, barbershop-style harmony. It literally ends on a high note.”  When the four are singing together, it’s really pretty.

The final song was written by the founder of the group, Brad Wells.  “Otherwise” features some very intense bass notes from the men and high notes from the women.  The blurb says “Warm, rounded tones in male voices contrast with a steely sheen from the women and a high drone like a Tibetan singing bowl. The harmonies take a tangy, almost Bulgarian turn, then we get something truly otherworldly. A pulsing, slightly creepy Sardinian “bim-bom” vocalise buzzes like a gigantic cicada.”   The Bulgarian comment is really spot in as the women absolutely sound like the Bulgarian choirs.  And that “bim bim bom” section is so alien and otherworldly.  I love when they throw in some  little “hey ya” mixed in.  But the most amazing thing has to be “Dashon Burton’s operatic baritone [which] soars above it all.”  His voice is really intense.

At first I didn’t really like their music, but after a few listens I could really appreciate what they were doing.

[READ: May 1, 2016] Human Body Theater

Maris Wicks is the illustrator for another First Second non-fiction book I loved called Primates.  I thought her drawings were perfect (and also really cute).  And she has done it again. Never have brains and bowels and viruses and allergies been so adorable!

But despite the cuteness of the drawings (and the title), this is a real, genuine nonfiction book about the human body.

Wicks covers just about everything you might want to know about how our bodies work.  It is geared toward children (she does discuss reproduction, but in very basic terms), but it is full of so many details that I think many adults will find they learn things from this book.  I know I sure did. (more…)

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feynman SOUNDTRACK: LARA ST. JOHN-Tiny Desk Concert #529 (May 9, 2016).

laraWhen Lara St. John released her first CD it made ripples because of the way she appeared on it (presumably topless).  But if that was a stunt to get people to listen, it was a good one because the music on it was phenomenal (and the disc sold very well).  St. John is masterful on the violin and has released a dozen or so CDs of herself playing.

I have never seen her play before and it is a marvel watching her fingers  fly (and slide) all over the neck of the violin (including some absurdly high and fast notes).

The first piece is “Czardashian Rhapsody.”  It is an amazing mashup of two songs by Martin Kennedy: Czardas, the most familiar Hungarian melody for violin and Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, the most familiar Hungarian melody for piano.  He merged them into a real barnstormer.  It’s 6 minutes of switching back and forth between the familiar melodies and very gypsy-esque sections (and some very long held notes).

The song is 6 minutes of musical acrobatics.

Although this is billed as St. John’s show, much recognition must go to her pianist Matt Herskowitz who is also magnificent.

St. John clearly has a sense of humor since she named her new album Shiksa.  She says the album actually has ten different titles because every culture has a word for “big Canadian chicks” like herself.

The second piece is “Sari Siroun Yar” by Serouj Kradjian.  She says it was the first song she heard when she went to Armenia in the lat 1980s.  It is a bittersweet Armenian troubadour song.  While this song is much more mellow than the first, it still showcases some amazing playing on both musicians’ parts.  The opening notes she plays high on the fret board which gives the violin a very different sound–almost breathy.  And the main melody is quite lovely.

The final song is once again a wild one.  “Oltenian Hora” is one that St. John arranged herself.  It plays off a catalog of violin tricks, St. John explains, practiced by traditional Romanian gypsy fiddlers: rapid-fire whistles, bird calls and slithery harmonics, all in a variety of off-kilter rhythms.  I’ve never seen some of the things she does on the violin (those bird calls are amazing).  And by the end she is bowing so hard the bow seems about to break.  It is way intense and really awesome.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a violinist get out of breath from playing so hard before, but she deserves all of the applause.

[READ: March 15, 2016] Feynman

This is a graphic novel biography of Richard Feynman.  Ottaviani worked as a nuclear engineer, programmer and reference librarian, so you can trust him.

I have respected Richard Feynman for years.  I have a few of his books, although I can’t say I have read them intensely.  I knew that he was considered an amazing professor–making really intense subjects easier for the layman to understand.  And many of his lectures are available as audiobooks.

But there was so much about him that I didn’t know.  And this biography (which runs nearly 300 pages and is jam packed with information) covers nearly all of it.  Including excerpts from his own publications and attaching a massive bibliography for more works by and about Feynman. (more…)

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