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Archive for the ‘Thomas Edison’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: WHITEHORSE-Live at Massey Hall (December 8, 2017).

I saw Whitehorse open for Barenaked Ladies a few years ago and they blew me away.  I really want to see them again.

When I saw them it was just the two of them and the magic of their interplay was what really impressed me the most.  For this special Massey Hall show, they have a full band.  But as Melissa McClelland explains:

This is the first time playing the Massey stage with a full band.  We wanted to … finally invite some friends on stage with us and play music.

Those friends include John Obereian on drums, Ryan Gavel on bass, guitar and backing vocals and on keys and bongos and guitar, the second best singer in this band Gregory MacDonald.  He replies, “Thanks to the second best guitar player in the band.”  I have seen MacDonald on tour with Sloan a bunch of times and he is awesome.

As to why they are a duo, she says

we knew that Whitehorse was always going to be just the two of us and that everyone would know that we are equal partners in the band.  But we didn’t want it to be a folk duo so we started brainstorming and bought looping pedals and a kick drum and a stomp box and we  found new arrangements and once we got it we were like Yeah!

The show opens with hand clapping from the band and the audience and then Melissa’s slinky bass intro to “Baby Whats Wrong.  Then comes Luke Doucet’s echoing Western guitar. Their voices are wonderful together and I love when Doucet sings in that weird telephone microphone.  He also plays a ripping guitar solo.

Luke introduces “Tame as the Wild Ones” by saying they needed to write a sexy song so “Melissa kicked me out and said she’d do it alone.  I go to the bar to get drunk and when I come home, she plays me this song.  And nine months later our son Jimmy was born.”  I love the way the bridge (or is it a chorus) builds and settles–that melody is just gorgeous.

“Pink Kimono” has a simple rocking riff and the two singers singing at the same time.   Doucet’s soloing is on fire in this song.

“Die Alone” is a showstopper.  A slow moody piece in which Melissa sings over a wash of synths.  The music so much build as just unfold as first Luke sings with her and then the band kicks in.  Wow can Melissa belt out a song.

“Downtown” is a celebration of how you can put hundreds of thousands of people in a city and for the most part everyone gets along.  It s got a great throbbing bass and some cool guitar scratching and riffs from Doucet.  It’s a bummer that they interrupt the awesome middle solo section with an interview, even if it is quite interesting.

After Melissa lays out how they wanted the band to sound, Luke says that when people ask him about what it’s like to do Whitehorse, he says

we were solo artists first but we had been involved with each others albums as singer or producer  or touring musician.

So in order to be successful

you have to hang out together for five or six years and play in each others bands and make eight albums together and then you have to go on tour as freelance/hired gun musicians working for Blue Rodeo or Sarah McLachlan and then you have to live together for five or six years and listen to music together and fight and then you have to get married and once you’ve done all these things and listened to 10,000 hours of music and dissected Tom Waits entire catalog and argued about which is the best Beatles record and had fights on stage about who is speeding up or slowing down and once you’ve done all those things together then start a band.

It certainly worked for them.  The only bad thing about this show is that it’s only 30 minutes.

[READ: January 24, 2019] Hits & Misses

It has been a while since Simon Rich published a collection of his stories.  This one was pretty enjoyable.  Overall, not as much fun as some of his previous collections, but still a lot to laugh at.  Rich tends to write what he knows, which is often a very good sign.  However, sometimes what he knows is limited to writing and filming, which tends to miss the everyman silliness of his earlier pieces.

Having said that there are still some hilarious pieces that anyone can enjoy and some pieces about writers that are very funny.

A few of these pieces appeared in the New Yorker, and I indicate as much, with a link to my longer review.

“The Baby.”  This was a highlight.  A sonogram reveals that their baby is holding a pen–he is going to be a writer!  But when word gets out that the baby is already getting a reputation AND representation, well, that baby’s writer father is pretty damned jealous.  Wonderful absurdity based on reality taken to its extremes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKTHE KING’S SINGERS-Tiny Desk Concert #768 (July 23, 2018).

There are so many a capella groups in existence.  Some are collegiate (there are three alone here at Princeton) and others move beyond that.  The Nassoons started in 1941.  The Footnotes started in 1959.  The Tigerlilies, (the all-female group) started in 1971.

So when this blurb talks about The King’s Singers being fifty years old, well, that’s not so impressive in some respects.  But anything that has lasted that long is still pretty impressive.  As is the fact that  they have 150 recordings out.

Fifty years ago, a group of six guys walked on a London stage to perform for the first time as The King’s Singers. They were choral scholars and graduates from King’s College, part of England’s venerable Cambridge University.

The group quickly earned a reputation for its precise and warm close-harmony singing, which is as strong as ever today. There have been more than 150 King’s Singers recordings, Grammy and Emmy awards, and countless concerts and television appearances. New singers, of course, have cycled through over five decades, but the six-man vocal setup has remained constant: two countertenors, one tenor, two baritones and a bass. Also unchanged is the group’s penchant for singing just about every style of music.

So it is no surprise that the current iteration of The King’s Singers — in the midst of their 50th-anniversary tour — brings a diverse set list to the Tiny Desk, including a Beatles tune and a bawdy madrigal from the 1500s.

Notice the glistening top end on Lennon and McCartney’s “I’ll Follow the Sun,” courtesy of countertenors Timothy Wayne-Wright and Patrick Dunachie.

I also enjoyed hearing the occasional bass notes from Jonathan Howard.  It’s fascinating to see how the tenors like Julian Gregory take various parts of the song, sharing the lines.

“Shenandoah,” the traditional American song, sports a velvety carpet of accompaniment for baritone Christopher Bruerton’s lead. The blend of light and color shifts beautifully in Bob Chilcott’s diaphanous arrangement.

Christopher Gabbitas’ introduction (and plug for their album) is quite amusing.  The way the five singers start with “ooohs” in harmony is really striking.  In addition to the lead, the gorgeous high notes of the countertenors are absolutely striking in this song.

“Horizons,” with its cinematic hissing, humming and other special effects, tells a tragic story of the San people of Southern Africa.

Howard introduces this song by saying that somewhere in a cave in South Africa there is a San bushman painting of a Dutch or English ship dating back to early 1700s.  It celebrates the incredible powers of observation of the now virtually extinct San people.  The people the San saw as gods because of their stature and opulence were soon to become their executioners.  This is what the South African born writer and composer Peter Louis van Dijk writes in this song which celebrates their humility and their oneness with the environment.  It also laments the demise of these people at the hands so-called progress.

This song really toys with my idea of what a “traditional” a capella group might do.  There are hand clasps, hissing sounds, snaps and other vocal sound effects.  Sung initially by baritone Christopher Gabbitas, everyone eventually takes a turn doing vocals and vocal/hand percussion.

The rhythmic and risqué “Dessus le marché d’Arras” channels a bustling 16th-century French marketplace.

This madrigal takes them back to the 1500s.  It’s a pop song written by from the renaissance era written by Orlande de Lassus in which a Spanish soldier in the Northern French town of Arras asks a woman how much….  And they walk off, hand in hand. The madrigal doesn’t say what she is selling, and The King’s Singers don’t want to say (as it is being broadcast).

The singers intertwine their voices beautifully.  It’s a fast spirited number and a lot of fun (even if you can;t tell what they are saying).

The King’s Singers remains a vocal juggernaut, playing 150 concerts in this anniversary year. With its power, finesse and silky blend, the group is like some close-harmony Ferrari that can purr and growl, leaving you amazed at the splendor of the human voice.

[READ: October 11, 2017] “The Wizard of West Orange”

I have enjoyed most of Millhauser’s stories.  This one irritated me though. The fact that it won me over is a testament to the quality of the story, but I was really annoyed by the style.

This is a diary.  And I hate the way it is written.   I get that a diary can be truncated, but why did he chose to make this such a tough read; “A quiet day in library; this morning overheard a few words in courtyard.”  Ugh so frustrating.  And the whole story–all 12 pages of it is written in that halting style with limited articles.  Man is it annoying.

It starts out on Oct 14 1889 and was written by the librarian who works with Thomas Edison–whom he refers to exclusively as The Wizard.  The first few entries are pretty dull–The Wizard is secretive going about his business.  I was afraid this was just going to be one of those imaginings of what someone who worked with Edison’s job was like or blah blah blah.  And it is much like that.  A book comes in and one of the scientists looks for it.  The Wizard is working on his phonograph and his talking doll.

There are two main characters beside the narrator.  There is Earnshaw who is very much devoted to the idea of motion photography–he’s thinking about something with sprockets in it.  And there is also Kirstenmacher whose time is devoted to the kinescope.

It gets interesting when the entries reference a wired glove.  And Kirstenmacher determines that the librarian is fascinated by the inventions, in particular the kinescope

Turns out that Kirstenmacher has invited both Earnshaw and the narrator to test out this new device–the wired glove has a silk lining and little metal points throughout.  When the librarian puts the glove in, and Kirstenmacher turns the wax cylinder, the librarian feels weight in her hands, tickling sensations.  It is amazing.

And as the entries go on, the details of the experience grow.  Eventually it becomes a full body suit and the feelings are uncanny.

Earnshaw meanwhile hates the experiments–he wants nothing to do with that infernal machine but Kirstenmacher won’t let him quit.

“Today at a little past two, Earnshaw entered library.”  ugh

Kirstenmacher has high hopes that in twenty years it may be possible to create tactile sensations by stimulating the corresponding centers of the brain. Until then we must conquer the skin directly.

The Wizard filed a caveat with the patent office for the haptograph–protecting his invention while acknowledging its incompleteness.  He announces to the paper that he hopes to have it presentable in six months.

Kirstenmacher says that if three more men are put on the job, and ten times current funds diverted to research, the haptograph might be ready for public in three years.

Then one day the machine is destroyed.   The Wizard doesn’t seem all that upset but the librarian is distraught.

~~~~~

Just this weekend we visited the Thomas Edison National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service) in West Orange and it was pretty awesome.  Totally worth a visit.

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SOUNDTRACK: CHILLY GONZALES & KAISER QUARTETT-Live at Massey Hall (February 5, 2016).

Years earlier, Chilly Gonzales had signed a record deal in Toronto but it didn’t go well “because I wasn’t prepared for what the job of being a true musician was.  I didn’t really have a narrative.  I couldn’t draw people in and guide them.  I thought the music would be enough.”

He went to Europe–Berlin–taking the name Chilly Gonzales and creating this persona.  He wanted reassuring satisfying elements and surprising, uncomfortable elements.  He wanted to  take a page out of the rappers playbook–embodying superficiality and depth ant the same time ridiculousness and seriousness at the same time.

Toronto was like the place where lighting hit the lab and turned him into a supervillain.  The failure of the label is his origin story.

They play primarily instrumental compositions, but ones that are very different and unlike anything else I’ve heard.

“Green’s Leaves” is a staccato piece with great melodies from the Quartett and lovey piano sprinkled throughout.  It’s a short piece with a lot of beauty.

He tells the audience he thinks of the Kaiser Quartett (Adam Zolynski-violin; Jansen Folkers-violin; Ingmar Süberkrüb-viola; Martin Bentz cello) as the world’s most expensive sampler.  He tries to use them in ways that string quartets might not be used.

“Sample This” is a simple request to rappers or producers to feel free to sample this piece of music (and of course call my lawyer beforehand).   He says you don’t have to have a rapper to make rap music–it is an attitude.  He says, “see if you can rap along in your mind.  Imagine what a rapper might say over this.”

This song moves along prettily at a rapid pace.  As it reaches the middle it slows down to a gentle piano with pulsing low notes from the strings and just as it feels like it has hit the end, Joe Elory (I wish it was filmed better) gets up and thuds the drums for one loud beat as the song resumes and picks up the pace.

The fact that he ends the song with quiet piano melody and a rapper pose and says “bitch” is really quite funny.

He says that a sampler can contain the history of all recorded music.  The Quartet plays  a bar of “Eleanor Rigby” which he introduces as “Elizabeth Ridley by the Rolling Stones.” Then they play Joseph Haydn–the song we all know– but says he wants the gansta version–put it into a minor key.  Then they play the opening of Schoenberg’s “The Rites of Spring.”  When Schoenberg played it, it caused a riot.  The dissonance is something.  He jokes that that was the verse now here comes the catchy part (it’s the same).  Is this offensive to you?  Or is this offensive that I’m wasting so much time playing this terrible music “hashtag fuckscheonberg.”

He mashed all the above together to make “Advantage Points.”  The loud and quiet parts balance nicely and its really quite catchy.

“Supervillain” has lots of high notes on the piano before the strings kick in.  And then its a rap (!).  The lyrics are good but the flow is only okay.  It’s funny but not comic.  When it’s over he affirms: “So you like rap music when it is over a waltz beat.”

“Knight moves” is a fast piano piece that builds to some really fun rollicking piano and even adds (minimal) drums by the end.  As it moves along he starts playing very very fast and heavy, including more or less pounding on the low notes for a low rumble.

“Smothered Mate” has a kind of action movie vibe.  There’s also percussion for the whole piece.  Unfortunately, he speaks over it for the end:

In the pre-Drake era there were not a lot of reasons to think that Toronto was on the musical map.  But Charlie Parker and Neil Young  showed this hall had glamour you dint get in a lot Canadian venues.

[READ: June 19, 2018] “Edison Labs, 1891”

This story goes in a direction I never expected and the anachronism of the humor is terrific.

Thomas Edison is working in his lab when his assistant, Jed, confesses that he screwed up again–he used centiliters instead of milliliters.  Which leads to a beaker exploding.

Edison believes that this boy is an idiot–useful only as a subject for medical experimentation.

Except for one other possibility.

He asked Jed to stand there in one spot.

Then he pulled over his new contraption, an apparatus made of metal and glass. (more…)

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