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SOUNDTRACK: THIRD COAST PERCUSSION-Tiny Desk Concert #747 (May 29, 2018).

I have always been taken with percussion.  I especially love vibes and marimba.  But I love it even more when bands make music using unusual items.  Third Coast Percussion does both of those.  And the songs are beautiful as well.

The quartet of gentlemen who form the Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion [will] play their sophisticated, modern marimbas and vibraphones, but be on the lookout for the subtleties of tuned cowbells and 3/4″ galvanized steel pipes, like those found at the local hardware store. Add to that a glockenspiel, a MIDI synth, a melodica, a drum kit, children’s deskbells, crotales, a Thai gong and a singing bowl, and you’ve got significant noise-making potential behind Bob Boilen’s desk.

They play three beautiful pieces.  And the blurb sums them up quite well:

The mesmerizing opening number, “Niagara,” written by the group, is from the band’s latest album, the aqua-centric Paddle to the Sea. This water is fast-moving, with pulsing, repeating patterns in the vibraphone, punctuated by drum beats and a bed of low synth.

David Skidmore behind the drum kit is also playing the synth while Sean Connors has the main up and down melody on the marimba. The other two (Robert Dillon and Peter Martin) are playing the same glockenspiel until Rob starts with some drum hits (while David behind the kit plays accents of that main drum beat).  There is just so much going on!

There’s a wonderful moment about half way in when the marimba starts playing a slightly different melody and it’s really quite enchanting.  I am quite taken with the song.

The Third Coasters follow with another from the album, their own arrangement of a slowly rippling ode to the Amazon River by Philip Glass. Beginning with droplets on the glockenspiel and evocative bowing of both vibraphone and crotales (small bronze discs), the music flows softly, taking its time to fan out in all its quiet beauty.

The group busts out the children’s desk bells on the second song, a cover pf Philip Glass’ “Amazon River.”  Sean plays them while also hitting the glockenspiel.  David is bowing the crotales (which he later hits with mallets) while also playing a melodica.  Rob plays a four mallet marimba while Peter plays a four mallet glockenspiel melody.  Sean gets to hit the Thai gong before it almost stops and then he goes behind the marimba to join Rob with three mallets.  Meanwhile for thee second half of the song, David is hitting some small bell-like instrument and Peter has the singing bowl.  As the song ends, David gets to conclude with the Thai gong.

The final song is completely intense.

Torched and Wrecked is, as David Skidmore mentions, something that once happened to his band mate Sean Connors’ automobile. It’s also a butt-kicking ride that includes those steel conduit pipes, which the band cuts to specific lengths to get the desired pitches. Skidmore wrote the piece, but it’s Connors who appears to achieve a kind of cathartic glee pounding on the metal tubes.

There’s no funky instruments om this, but the song is great.  David (2 mallets) goes behind the marimba with Rob (4 mallets).  Peter is at the glockenspiel (4 mallets) and yes Sean has the metal tubes.  The song is fast and intense and I get lost with just who is playing what sounds by the end.  It’s really cool.

It’s also fun to see them all pop up at the end when they all finish at the same time.

[READ: January 14, 2018] “Six More Considerations”

Lydia Davis writes short, short pieces.  Flash fiction, they call them. Sometimes I think they are great. Other times they just irritate me.

This group falls into the irritation camp.

Anyhow, the six stories are

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING CRIMSON-The Elements Of King Crimson – 2015 Tour Box (2015).

The Elements box set has become a tour staple since the band reformed in 2014.  This is the second set and it contains another fascinating cross section of music from throughout Crimson’s existence.

In addition to the music, these sets contain a booklet that is chock full of pictures and usually an essay that gives context to what you’re about to hear.

It also includes the seven Principles of King Crimson

  1. May King Crimson bring joy to us all. Including me.
  2. If you don’t want to play a part, that’s fine!
  3. Give it to someone else – there’s enough of us.All the music is new, whenever it was written.
  4. If you don’t know your note, hit C#.
  5. If you don’t the time, play in 5. Or 7.
  6. If you don’t know what to play, get more gear.
  7. If you still don’t know what to play, play nothing.

Of the four boxes, I think this is my favorite–although the second disc of 2017 is pretty awesome.  I really enjoy the first half of the first disc.  It’s all instrumental (even tracks that have words are instrumental versions).  It’s a great collection of  sometimes pretty, sometimes not, 70s prog rock.

The eight-minute instrumental version of “Epitaph” (Steven Wilson 2015 instrumental mix) is gorgeous.  Even though I like the words just fine, there’s something really thrilling about removing them on this song.  “Catfood” is (somewhat obviously) a rather goofy lyric, so hearing this complex song without words is also a treat.  “Bolero – The Peacock’s Tale” is listed as a Tony Levin overdub.  I don’t know exactly what that means, as it is taken from the Lizard recording sessions, but the song is lovely.

In addition to longer, complete songs, the Elements sets feature short snippets.  Like the two-minute extract of “Islands” (with oboe).  Or the four-minute jazzy “A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls” which is clearly the foundation for “Lark’s Tongues in Aspic.”

Although the set is largely chronological, there’s an excerpt from the 2014 tour rehearsals in which Fripp discusses how the band knows all of their parts.  They give a mellow example of how he and Jakko will play “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (Part II)” which is followed by the full 6 minute version from 1974.  It’s followed by an 11 minute live version of “Fracture” from 1974 (the previous box’s version was from 1973).

There’s a “guitar extract” of “One More Red Nightmare” (less than a minute long)  from 1974 followed by a full performance of the song from 2014 which doesn’t feel like a jump of forty years in any way.

The disc jumps to the 1980s era with an extended remix of “Elephant Talk” followed by 1981’s “Absent Lovers.”

1983’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part III/Sleepless” is staggeringly good.

Disc Two suffers a bit in comparison, which I find surprising as I really like the later era of King Crimson–the more metal sounding stuff is really intense.

I enjoyed the first part–the late 1990s; work.  “Jurassic THRAK” sounds huge, and 2014’s drum solo “The Hell Hounds of Krim” works fine as a connector to the next four songs which highlight the late 90’s abrasive guitars.  It’s about 20 minutes of noisy coolness. “VROOOM,” “Coda: Marine 475” and “ProjeKction” (Performed by ProjeKct Four) all showcase that complicated music really delightfully.

Then things start to slow down somewhat. “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic – Part IV/the construKction of light” suffers in my mind because of the smallness of the band.  With only four members playing, the song doesn’t feel like a huge organism, it feels more like two guitarists playing next to each other.  Mind you, it sounds amazing if you can get away from the fact that it doesn’t feel terribly “full.”  Of course, I may be just spoiled from the great versions of LTIA I’ve seen with the 7-piece band.

Things really slow down and chill out for “Sus-Tayn-Z” (Performed by ProjeKct X), “Power to Believe,” “Ex Uno Patres” and the nine minute exceedingly mellow (with vocals) “The Light of Day.”  I do not love this style of Crimson.  It works as a palette cleanser between heavy songs, but too much is too much.

The “Ba Ba Boom Boom” drum solo and “ATTAKcATHRAK” ramp things up with the kind of noise that segues nicely into the blistering 2014 version of “21st Century Schizoid Man.”

This box set once again demonstrates that King Crimson is a multi-headed beast, liable to go in any direction at any time.

[READ: January 6, 2018] Heroes of the Frontier

Somehow I missed that Eggers had written this book. I saw it in the bookstore recently and immediately grabbed it and devoured it.

I was worried that it was going to be a woman-moves-off-the-grid-and-life-gets-better story, but it’s not that at all.  It’s far more complicated and a bit more unsettling.

Josie is a dentist in Ohio.  But as we meet her, she and her children are riding in a crappy rented RV through the highways of Alaska.

Josie has a large sum of cash with her.  She had been sued by a patient for a sum she could not afford.  Rather than trying to raise th e money to save her practice or giving it over to woman, she sold her practice in total to a dentist friend.  So now, she has the cash and, temporarily, no future.

She was also in a terrible relationship.  Her children’s father, Carl, had taken off on them.  He was always aloof and a loser, but this disappearance to Florida was something else entirely.

She took her kids, Paul (8) and Ana (5) and got outta Dodge.  The children are an interesting pair.  Paul is nurturing and worrying, especially about his sister. He looks after her more closely than their mother ever does.  Ana, meanwhile, is a disaster–she seems to have a natural gift for how to break something–she can find the weak point of any structure or situation and cause havoc wherever she goes–and Paul is happy to fix the situation.

Why Alaska?  Because she has a stepsister (sort of) who lives in Homer.  Sam is independent and successful (which Josie was as well, although she was unhappy). (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: September 2017] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy complete radio series

The history of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is almost as convoluted as the story itself.

Douglas Adams (with help from John Lloyd) wrote the radio story in 1977.  It aired in 1978.  A second season aired in 1980.

Adams wrote the novel based on the radio series in 1979.  And then the second book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in 1980.

Then they made the TV show.

Apparently Adams considered writing a third radio series to be based on Life, the Universe and Everything in 1993, but the project did not begin until after his death in 2001.  The third, fourth and fifth radio series were based on Life, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless which were transmitted in 2004 and 2005.

It’s interesting and a little disconcerting how different the radio play is from the story of the book. There are a lot of similarities of course, but some very large differences.

The first series obviously leaves a lot out from the book, since the book wasn’t written yet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROBIN OLSON-Tiny Desk Concert #724 (April 1, 2018).

Because the blurb is perfect, I am including it in it’s entirety.

“Not all pianists are created in equal temperament,” Robin Olson told a small but enthusiastic audience behind NPR Music’s storied Tiny Desk. The pianist, hailed as an “avant-garde gewandhaus” by Berlin’s Staubzeitung, is as celebrated for his cryptic maxims as he is for his inscrutable music.

Olson’s trademark style — shooting clusters of shimmering chords and solitary, pearlescent pitches into reverberant space — has led him to exalted concert halls and to work with a broad array of stars such as Yuja Wang, Aretha Franklin, Chick Corea and Emanuel Ax.

Drawing from the seminal Plink technique, cultivated among the Schlammstadt School of composers in the 1950s, Olson is regarded as a leading technician of the more expansive Neo-Plink style. “Intervals have coincident partials,” Olson explains. “They create a form of dissonance, called ‘beats,’ by which pitches are set for optimum harmonicity.”

From a bulging briefcase, Olson pulls out any number tools to alter specific pitches, as in his opening piece, “A 440.” He threads ribbons of felt between piano strings to mimic the muted cries of the Asian dung beetle in “The Temperament,” from his 2014 collection Infinite Chasms.

Olson surprised everyone at the Tiny Desk by debuting a new piece, “Tuning the Bass,” wherein his inventive command of the instrument’s lower register highlighted spaces between keening dark octaves.

He may be considered a challenging artist, but Olson, through the essential humanity of his performance, reveals the efforts of almost any other living pianist to be little more than a joke.

Set List

  • “A 440”
  • “The Temperament”
  • “Tuning the Bass”

I only wish I had seen this before the Editor’s Note revealed that it was an (excellent) April Fool’s joke.

[READ: December 27, 2017] Secret Coders: Robots & Repeats

Secret Coders 3 ended with a puzzle.  And I guessed wrong!  How embarrassing.  I see what I did wrong, but I still would have failed. I have a hard time with binary, too.

Anyhow, this book reveals some pretty amazing details about the ongoing story.

After selecting the correct door, the gang finds a floating triangle thing.  We learn that Professor Bee is not actually from this planet (okay now things are getting pretty weird, I must admit).   But he dismisses that (what??) so the kids can code some more using a construct made of “solidified light” which is pretty cool, although perhaps not as cool as an alien. (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: NEIL YOUNG-Harvest (1971).

I like loud rocking songs and I dislike most country.  So really I shouldn’t like Neil Young’s Harvest (at least compared to his more rocking albums).

But Neil is Neil and while I would never say he can do no wrong (he definitely can), I give him the benefit of the doubt.  And on this album he delivers.  Plus, it’s really not a country album at all.

I think what I particularly like about Harvest is the looseness of it, which I see signified primarily by Neil’s harmonica which is never off, but which is never perfect either.  Plus, and I’m sure this has a lot to do with it–I’ve heard these songs a lot and they have really sunk in.

“Out on the Weekend” is the opening track and it was one of the songs I knew least well–which is odd certainly for an opening song.  There’s slide guitar and harmonica.  But it’s followed by “Harvest,” which is so simple and so notable–bass, a gentle acoustic guitar and basically a snare drum play that simple up and down melody as Neil sings “dream up, dream up, let me fill your cup with the promise of a man.”  It’s those steel guitar lines that seems to fade in from nowhere that really rather make the song.

“A Man Needs a Maid” is one of those weird songs that is so odd to me–the song is literally about him getting a maid (but much more): “keep my house clean fix my meals and go away.”  Neil sounds like he is singing from a mile away as he plays the melody on the piano.  And then after the first verse all kind of orchestration fills in–bells and strings and the song gets really really big.  By the time the song comes around again, the chorus is swallowed by the strings and bells.  It feels much longer than its 4 minutes.  I sort of hate it but kind of like its oddness at the same time.

And then comes the wonder that is “Heart of Gold,” another simple melody with soft bass notes and that harmonica.  Incredibly catchy and undeniably great.

Harvest is more of a folk album with slide guitar (and orchestration), but a song like “Ready for the Country” certainly leans toward country (or is it mocking country?).  It’s got a good beat and is kind of fun, with a lighthearted joshing about the country.

“Old Man” is a another slow classic.  When the harmony vocals come in later in the song it’s really wonderful.  I never knew that James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt sang backing vocals on this song and that that’s Taylor on the banjo.  “There’s a World” is a ponderous song from the get go–almost as if it left off from “Maid,” with strings and kettle drums.  After a verse a harp swipes away the song and plays a delicate melody which is just as quickly wiped away as this song which seems so big comes to a rather quick ending–only 3 minutes in total.

“Alabama” introduces a fuzzy electric guitar with what seems like it should be a classic riff but which …isn’t.  It doesn’t quite resolve into anything and the chorus is almost satisfying–it starts really big with a chorus of “Alabama!” but it also doesn’t exactly resolve into anything.  I think I keep thinking it’s other songs, and yet it is distinctly its own.

“Needle and Damage Done” is just great.  A terrific riff and a poignant song simple and brief (2 minutes!) but really powerful.

“Words (Between the Lines of Age)” is nearly 7 minutes it’s the longest by far on the record.  It builds slowly with a big chorus.   There’s a great instrumental section with a nice piano melody.  The song ends with a very Neil Young guitar solo as well.  Pretty great stuff.

I’m not gushing about the album only because it is a classic and all classics have flaws.  But I could listen to this any day, even “Man Needs a Maid.”

[READ: July 1, 2016] Harvest

I have often thought I should read this series.  Of course, the last time I thought about it, there were 50-some books in the series and that seemed like way too many.  Well as of June 2017, there are 120 books in the series, which is an insane series to jump into.  But at work, four of the books came across my desk and if that’s not an invitation to read something, I don’t now what is.  So I’ve decided to read these four and we’ll see if that leads to more.

This story gives a lot of history of Neil himself and a lot of context of the albums surrounding this one.

Inglis starts by talking about how when Harvest Moon came out in 1992, it was a call-back to Harvest and it was highly regarded, even though Harvest itself wasn’t at the time.  Even Neil himself seemed to recoil from the unexpected success of Harvest by playing every kind of music but folk/country for decades.

In fact, Harvest was panned when it came out–described as superficial and without meaning.  It was deemed pleasant rather than passionate.  It also worked to define Neil Young as a melancholy songwriter full of catchy tunes, smiling with prairie straw n his mouth.  Meanwhile other fans dismiss this picture entirely, preferring the gritty songwriter from Tonight’s the Night. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRIAN WILSON-What I Really Want for Christmas (2005).

I was never really a fan of The Beach Boys. I mean, sure I liked some of their songs, but to this day I don’t even own Pet Sounds.  Shocking right?

So I was flabbergasted to find out how much I liked this Christmas album.   It’s partly his voice, but also the backing vocals and the wonderful arrangements that really make this disc special.  I also really love that he wrote some originals to go with the traditional carols (and his own earlier songs).

“The Man with All the Toys” Brian updates his own song for this record.
“What I Really Want for Christmas” I really like this new song, written by Brian and co-written by Bernie Taupin.
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” I love the way this is sort of undersung, almost casual and fun for a religious song.
“O Holy Night” I love this song in general, but the production on this is terrific.
“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” I love hearing the bass harmonica on this song.  And of course that they sing about figgy pudding.  The backing vocal notes and flute are also quite lovely.

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” I love that he doesn’t try to falsetto this song up–his voice is great at the tone he chose.  “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” More bass harmonica and great backing vocals.  “The First Noel” Sung slowly and beautifully with (again) great backing harmonies.

“Christmasey” Written with Jimmy Webb this is my favorite “new” Christmas song.  The music is great and the lyrics are wonderful.  “It didn’t snow but we all agree its so Christmasey.”   “Little Saint Nick” I just like that his voice is deeper–I like this version better than the original even though it’s almost exactly the same.

“Deck the Halls” Guitar and “Wooweeooo” backing vocals make this a fun version of this song.  “Auld Lang Syne” is delightful in this a capella version.

“On Christmas Day” This is fun song with a really catchy chorus.  “Joy to the World” Some great backing vocals on this song and a cool vocal melody at the end of each verse.  “Silent Night” is one final a capella number.

Maybe I should check out this Pet Sounds after all.

[READ: December 18, 2017] “Chemistry”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection. (more…)

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