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Archive for the ‘Short Story’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: STEVE COLEMAN-“Ritual” (Field Recordings, April 27, 2012).

This Field Recording was filmed at the Newport Jazz Festival [Steve Coleman And The Invention Of New Languages] is one of the few where the artist speaks over the music.

Coleman talks about the tradition of making vocal sounds with music.  He says that Jen Shyu was a classical singer before she started singing with them.  She is Taiwanese-American and after working with them making sounds (not necessarily words), sometimes she sings snippets of any of the languages she speaks, and sometimes not.

The Asian-American singer Jen Shyu speaks several languages, among them English, Spanish, Portuguese and various East Asian tongues from China, Taiwan and East Timor. But then she started performing with saxophonist Steve Coleman. None of her native tongues would serve for his knotty tunes; “doo-bop-a-da” scat singing wasn’t going to cut it, either. So she had to devise her own sound and fury — perhaps signifying nothing formally, but full of intense personal feeling.

This short piece is trumpet and sax and Jen’s voice and they all seem to be doing their own thing, but it all melds nicely.

Steve Coleman has long been known as an inventor of language — a composer who draws equally from rigorous examination of music theory, esoteric natural science and myth, and Charlie Parker. But you don’t have to speak his language to be entranced by it. There’s flow, and pulse, and delightful chord changes. And, yes, it’s a little disorienting, which seems like part of the point.

Coleman’s vision was on display when his band Five Elements played the Newport Jazz Festival last year. But we wanted to know more. So we brought him, Shyu and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson into the ruins of Fort Adams for a more intimate, stripped-down look at his music. We also asked him for a translation into the English language: “If anything, that’s what this music is…  It’s a lot of different influences, coming from different places — plus, whatever’s coming from inside you, which is the main thing.”

It’s pretty cool to hear what you know is nonsense but still feel it embued with meaning.

[READ: April 10, 2016] “Alone”

I have read a lot of stories by Yiyun Li and I have consistently enjoyed them all.  What I especially like about them is that while none of them are ever “exciting,” (since they are all about small human dramas), none off them are ever boring and none are ever quite the same)..

Most of the stories are an encounter between one to four people and they have something in common (or not) which brings them together.  It’s the commonalities that vary so greatly in each story–and those commonalities are virtually never the “interesting” or “dramatic” part of the story.

This story begins with Suchen, a young woman, sitting in a cafe.  The waitress has just asked her how she is dealing with the smoke.  There is no smoke so she just nods.  The man sitting next to her leans over and fills in that there have been wildfires in the north.

There is an older couple sitting at the table next to her as well.  She imagines what it would be like to be with someone you trusted until you were that age.  For the time being anyhow, that won’t be her as she and her husband Lei have recently separated–on pretty much mutual terms although Lei is the one who started the proceedings. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LEE FIELDS-“Still Hanging On” (Field Recordings, April 18, 2012).

This was another Field Recording from SXSW filmed on the patio of Joe’s Crab Shack [Lee Fields: Early Morning Soul].

Lee Fields is soul singer who I don’t know.  Evidently he toured in the 1970 sand resurfaced in the ’90s.  He’s got a great powerful voice, but you can tell he’s a bit wiped out.

It was Friday morning during South by Southwest, and Lee Fields was gassed. The veteran soul singer told us he’d given his all in a concert the night before, and you could tell that our early appointment at Joe’s Crab Shack in Austin, Texas, had left his voice gravelly and raw.

He has steadily put out funk-tinged blues and gospel records, crooning love songs and belting world-weary anthems with an expressive voice full of swagger and regret.

So on that March morning, Lee Fields reached deep, fought off the morning fog and gave a passionate, stripped-down performance of “Still Hanging On” with the help of guitarist Vince John. It was a rare peek at a legendary, impossibly gracious singer who proved that, after all these years and even with little sleep, he’s still got it.

Somehow the rawness and weariness of his voice makes it all the more poignant and impressive.

[READ: January 8, 2017] “The Weir”

This was a fascinating story that went in a few different directions.

It begins with a fifty-something year old man throwing tennis balls to his dogs.  He is on a large swath of land that abuts a river.  He is using this time with his dogs to think about his family.  His wife left him six weeks ago and he feels he is coping well (the dogs help).

But his son was the real problem.  He was gone missing.  For years.  His wife had even said that it would be better if he were dead.

While in his thoughts, he sees a young woman hugging the cliffs on the edge of the river.  As he watches her he realizes that she is going to jump in (the river is extremely fast and dangerous).  He rushes to try to stop her, but she can’t hear anything with the noise of the river.

Without even realizing he did it, his jacket and shoes were off and he was jumping in.  The river is crazy and violent and he is tossed around.  Finally he catches up to her, but she is attacking him–whether on purpose or not he doesn’t know.  Eventually he is able to drag her to the shore.  The water was really cold.  The air is cold.  She is cold and he is cold.  She is breathing but not responsive.

He hauls her back to the car and wraps the dogs’ rug around her. The only thing she says is “not the hospital.”  So he brings her to his house.

It’s all really exciting. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AMADOU & MARIAM-“Wily Kataso,” (Field Recordings, April 11, 2012).

The story of Amadou & Mariam is fascinating.  I was really made aware of them in 2018, where I saw their Tiny Desk Concert and learned

Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia met when they were children in Mali’s Institute for the Young Blind. Both had lost their sight when they were young and they began performing together. Later, in the 1980s, they married and began a career together.

This Field Recording [Amadou And Mariam: Finding Mali In Harlem] is six years prior to the Tiny Desk and Amadou & Mariam are on a bench outside The Shrine in New York City.

One major gathering point for Africans and non-Africans alike in this neighborhood is The Shrine, a nightclub and restaurant whose clout belies its small size. So when Malian breakout superstars Amadou and Mariam happened to find themselves with an extra day in New York recently, we invited them up to The Shrine to sing a quick, unplugged set.

There’s not a lot in New York City that looks much like Bamako, the capital city of Mali, but there are pockets uptown where a West African might feel a little closer to home. With increasing numbers of immigrants to Harlem from countries like Mali, Senegal, Guinea, Gambia and beyond, jewelry shops sell the beautiful, bright gold twisted hoop earrings traditionally worn by Fulani women; men stride along the street wearing the elegant, flowing robes called grands boubous; and restaurants sell bissap, the sweet cold drink made from hibiscus flowers that’s beloved across the region.

Amadou plays a simply guitar melody and Amadou starts singing with a repeated refrain of “Baro bom baro negé ta na” which means something like: Away, away, Go home.

The song almost becomes a drone since the music is repeated almost constantly throughout.  There is one part near the end where Amadou plays something a little different on the guitar–a kind of solo–but that’s the only variation.

It was just their two powerful voices, Amadou’s blues-soaked guitar and an incredibly catchy melody that lit up The Shrine.

They are mesmerizing and their voices are wonderful.

[READ: January 10, 2017] “Of Window and Doors”

This story was depressing and brutally honest.

It is about Saeed and Nadia and how their (unnamed) city was constantly at war.  Neighborhoods fell to militants quite easily.  Nadia was living alone and Saeed was with his parents.  He continually tried to get her to move in–chastely of course–because it was so unsafe for her to be alone.  But she refused.  Until Saeed’s mother was killed.  Then she agreed to be with them.

The title refers to actual windows and doors.  Window were now the border through which death was likliest to come–windows could not stop ammunition and they turned into more shrapnel.  Many windows were broken, but it was winter and people needed to keep the cold out.

Saeed’s family did not want to give up the windows, so they covered them with bookcases and furniture to block out the light and visiblity and to make them less vulnerable.

Doors were something different.  Rumors began to spread that doors could take you elsewhere–to places far away.  Some people claimed to know others who had been through the doors. And that an ordinary door could becomes a special door at anytime.  But others believed that this was all superstition.

Saeed and Madia get word of a possible door through which they can escape.  The rest of the story concerns their attempts to escape without being captured by militants.

This story was well-written and powerful.  It made me really fear for what life would be like if our country ever turned into a lawless land like this.  It was really frightening and real.

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SOUNDTRACK: FILASTINE-“Btalla” and “Dance of the Garbagemen.” (Field Recordings, April 4, 2012).

When I first saw the title of this Field Recording, [Filastine And The Cathedral Of Junk], I assumed it was going to be all found sounds.  So I was surpirsed that there was so much electronic music.

“Btalla” starts with some electronic drums and noises and Grey Filastine playing the hand drum–a very nice organic component. Its also surprising that the other musician is a cellist. She is almost lost in the din, but you can hear her slow notes throughout the piece–until he starts manipulating her sounds in very cool ways.

He’d say he was a radical before he’d say he was a musician — a laptop artist with a love of grit and noise. Grey Filastine, once based in Seattle but now a nomad loosely based in Barcelona, is a creative soul. He seems to also love a good party, a beat and a shopping cart wired for sound.

For the second piece, “Dance of the Garbagemen.”, it’s just him manipulating sounds and then using a shopping cart for added percussion.

With that in mind, we asked Filastine to perform at a junkyard in Austin — not just any junkyard, either, but a place called “The Cathedral of Junk.” It’s a home for more than 60 tons of unwanted consumer has-been items, transformed into art installations by Vince Hannemann.

With a song title like that and the location he’s in, it feels like something of a lost opportunity that he doesn’t use a lot more junk.  But it is fun to see him make music from and amid refuse (and art).

[READ: November 15, 2017] “Riddle”

This was yet another story that I felt was just kind of a big, What?  There’s a lot of action, but the story seems to stay in the mind of the protagonist who has other things to think about.

The whole story is told in this haze of confusion: “I must have been renting a place on H Street.”  “I was an architect.”  He talks about the area being slowly abandoned and his upstairs neighbor walking up a rickety outdoor staircase.  But all of these details seem irrelevant to the story.

He says he went drinking and came out of the bar only to see a “crippled old cowboy” walking the street.  He had seen the man before and he thought there weren’t many people like him left in town.  But then he heard a young boy, an urchin call out Hey Jack!  They seemed to experience pure joy talking to each other.  The narrator was quite taken with it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DRY THE RIVER-“Bible Belt” (Field Recordings, March 27, 2012).

The Field Recordings project was such a neat idea.  Kind of like the Tiny Desk, but not.  Many of them were planned ahead of time and some of t hem seem surreptitious.  It’s a wonder they didn’t do more or aren’t still doing them.

Since the whole NPR crew goes to SXSW, it just seems like these little songs would be easy to score.  I realize that they now do the South by Lullaby, but this is different (sort of).

This Field Recording [Dry The River: An Oasis Of Calm Amid The Feedback] is from a band I don’t know.  They were playing at SXSW and NPR got them to play on the secluded patio of Joe’s Crab Shack’s  overlooking the Colorado River (which is one thing that makes this cooler than a Tiny Desk).

“Bible Belt” is a gentle acoustic song with delightful harmonies–not unlike Fleet Foxes or Band of Horses.  Dry the River includes a violin which adds a slightly different quality.  But like those other bands, the song looks to soar:

Dry the River typically writes music with big, cathartic climaxes in mind: Songs on the band’s first full-length album, Shallow Bed, tend to start with miniaturized melodies that eventually burst into thunderous rock anthems.

You can feel like this song wants to be bigger, but they handle a quieter version nicely.

On this particular morning, Dry the River arrived in a more intimate formation, swapping electric guitars for acoustics and its full drum set for a single snare. While this performance of the gorgeous “Bible Belt” eases back on the loudness of the original, the band by no means lacks power. The result is a hushed, stirring performance that highlights the band’s many strengths.

My favorite part is the moment the band grows really quiet and you can hear some birds singing.  I’m very curious to hear just how big the original gets.

[READ: November 8, 2018] “Cattle Praise Song”

This is a story about genocide and cows.  The genocide is unavoidable but not explicit; the cows are the focus.

Starting in Rwanda, a seven-year old boy, Karekezi, watches his father with their herd of cows.  The cows are everything to them.  Karekezi even has a cow of his own: Intamati–all of the cows are named.  Every morning they look after the cows carefully–removing ticks or other insects, carefully inspecting them, calling them by their name and petting them–even worrying about a cow that takes too long to pee:

He’d hold her tail high and boldly lean forward–never mind that if the cow finally decided to urinate she might shower him.  Nobody dared to laugh.  Anyway, isn’t cow urine, amagana, considered to be a potent remedy?

The first few pages discuss the caring for and nurturing of these cows–the hand feeding, the fires to keep away flies; the special water only for the cows to drink.  And then the milking–a family event in which the best milkers milked and the others carried the bowls of milk like a priest with a chalice.  The young children drank hungrily from the fresh warm milk. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALISA WEILERSTEIN-“Prelude from Bach’s Suite No. 5” (Field Recordings, February 16, 2012).

One thing I love about the Field Recordings series is the wonderfully unexpected places they have the performers play.  Like this Field Recording [Alisa Weilerstein: Playing Bach With The Fishes] which is set at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Strategically positioned above a tank full of stingrays, Weilerstein unpacked her cello to serenade the sea creatures — and dozens of pleasantly surprised aquarium visitors — with music by Johann Sebastian Bach. She chose the Prelude from Bach’s Suite No. 5 for unaccompanied cello. The music’s tranquil power and meandering melodies became an extraordinary soundtrack to the majestic rays as they roamed through the water, rising occasionally to catch a note or two.

The music is sublime–sad and powerful but ever so fluid.  And the setting is just perfect–you can almost see the fish appreciate it.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “Four Fictions”

Breytenbach confounds me with his stories.  This is a collection of four really short pieces and while I enjoyed parts of some of them, overall they were a big huh?

Race
This appears to be a race through the sea?  On foot?  A tractor charges into the waves and a Jeep follows. The route will take them through the sea to Germany and back to Stockholm.  Their friend Sven is running in the race (he’s from Lapland).  When the race is over he still has to run through the house to the balcony.  When they gather for the results , how many drowned, etc, the story ends with another man removing his top hat and his hair looking sunken and dry.

What? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOUNTAIN MAN-“Sewee Sewee” (Field Recordings, February 2, 2012).

Until recently, had I posted this I would have said that Mountain Man features Amelia Meath from Sylvan Esso.  Now I can say that and I can say that Mountain Man, of whom Id never heard, has a new album out.  How about that.

I don’t know much about Mountain Man, but this song is quite pretty.  It opens with someone snarkily commenting “Mountain Man live from the dungeon, take one.”

The song is a beautiful two-minute ballad with wonderful harmonies sand quiet acoustic guitar.  But all focus is on their voices as they intertwine beautifully.

Amelia Meath is the only person I know from this band and I know of her as somewhat goofy, so it’s amazing to see her (looking so young) being very intense while she sings her parts.

The Vermont trio Mountain Man fit an awful lot of moony harmonies into this all-too-brief performance of “Sewee Sewee.” Mountain Man’s three members — Molly Erin Sarle, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig and Amelia Randall Meath — sang and stared sweetly into each other’s faces.

Then as soon as the song is over Amelia gets very silly again.  I assume it’s her who starts rapping Li’l Mama’s “My Lip Gloss” (“my lipgloss is popping, my lipgloss is cool”) as the camera goes dark.

This Field Recording [Mountain Man: A Choir of Angels] was the second one done at the Newport Folk Festival, and it’s clear they are having fun exploring the abandoned grounds.

As a gaggle of videographers, musicians, industry types and hangers-on stepped gingerly through tall brush to enter a dilapidated section of Fort Adams in Newport, R.I., you couldn’t blame us for feeling like unwitting participants in a horror movie. Standing amid hundred-year-old rubble as the 2011 Newport Folk Festival clattered merrily in the distance, we were either going to capture two breathtaking minutes of music or get eviscerated by maniacs as part of The Newport Witch Project. Thankfully, we made it out with the footage you see above.   If the scene above once seemed destined to devolve into a grisly horror movie, at least we had a choir of angels on hand to escort us into the afterlife.

I haven’t heard their new album but I wonder if their voices still sound amazing together after 8 years apart.

[READ: January 7, 2017] “Honey Bunny”

This is a story about a girl who has left (fled?) Colombia and is now doing and possibly selling cocaine in America.

She is apparently buying her supply from a guy named Paco.  Inexplicably, the coke is cut with all kinds of weird things–plant leaves, bug wings, rabbit fur?

All along she keeps eyeing an orange suitcase in her apartment. (more…)

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