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Archive for the ‘Translation’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JOYCE DiDONATO-Tiny Desk Concert #936 (January 15, 2020).

I was sure that Joyce DiDonato had performed a Tiny Desk Concert before, but I actually knew her from a gorgeous NPR Field Recording from 2015.

the last time we filmed the down-to-earth diva, she insisted on singing an opera aria at the Stonewall Inn, the iconic gay tavern in Greenwich Village.

DiDonato is an opera singer and her voice is amazing–she can soar and growl and everything in between.  But this Tiny Desk is not what you’d expect.  For although DiDonato sings in her beautiful operatic voice, the music the band is playing is anything but.

When opera star Joyce DiDonato told us she wanted to sing centuries-old Italian love songs at the Tiny Desk we weren’t surprised. But when she said she was bringing a jazz band to back her up, we did a double take. But that’s Joyce, always taking risks.  On paper, the idea of jazzing up old classical songs seems iffy. At the least it could come across as mannered and at worst, an anachronistic muddle. But DiDonato somehow makes it all sound indispensable, with her blend of rigor, wit and a sense of spontaneity.

The first song is by Alessandro Parisotti.  “Se tu m’ami” sets the stage for what this show is going to be like.  Gorgeous jazz with DiDonato’s impressive voice.

The musical formula for these unorthodox arrangements makes room for typical jazz solos while DiDonato molds her phrases to the flexible rhythms and inserts old-school trills and flamboyant roulades.

A cool trumpet solo from Charlie Porter takes a cool trumpet solo while DiDonato admires his skill.

After three minutes they segue seamlessly into Salvator Rosa’s “Star vicino.”  This one features a piano solo from Craig Terry which he begins with a line from “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”  The song also features a muted trumpet solo with a few drum breaks for Jason Haaheim

My favorite moment in the set comes just before 6 minutes where she sings a beautiful lilting melody and then hits a growly note that I was sure was the trumpet until Porter played the same note on his muted trumpet.  It was very cool and kind funny.  Especially when she says

there’s no soprano in the world who could get away with that

Less than a minute later she runs through her enormous vocal range from low to very high to soaring.  It’s amazing.

She says that in the classical world, the standard is perfection–rarely achieved.  Young singers try so hard to get it perfect that they lose the “grease” as the jazz players say.  So this project was designed to put the swing back in these old love songs.

The third song she says is by anonymous, but it is credited to Giuseppe Torelli. “Tu lo sai” is a love song that says, “you have no idea how much I love you.  No matter how much you scorn me, I still love you,”  She says they giving this the Chet Baker treatment.  I’m not exactly sure what that means, but there is some wonderful trumpet work in this song.

It has a slow opening with piano and voice.  The other instruments slowly come in and there is a wonderful moment during Porter’s trumpet solo where she picks up the note from him and runs with it.

Bassist Chuck Israels (who has played with everyone from Billie Holiday to the Kronos Quartet) never solos but he keeps the whole enterprise running perfectly.

For the final song Francesco Conti’s “Quella fiamma” they bring out Antoine Plante on the bandoneon.  She says, “Yea we’re going to South America in a minute.”

Porter uses a different kind of mute which creates a unique sound.  Then the bandoneon comes in and the South American flair is complete.  There’s an incredible moment at the end of the song where Joyce just trills away–showcasing so much of what she can do.

As the blurb says, despite how great the band is

the star of the show is the continually amazing DiDonato, whose voice is certainly one of the great wonders of her generation. The flexibility of the instrument, the colors she conjures and her fine-tuned dynamic range are a few of the reasons she’s still at the peak of her powers. She looks and sounds like she’s having the time of her life.

I see that she sings in Princeton pretty often.  Next time she;s in town I will make sure to check her out.

[READ: December 20, 2019] The Raven’s Children

This story was fascinating in the way it started as a very real story, suddenly added magical realism and then turned into an utterly fantastical story.  And yet it all works perfectly well as an allegory of the oppressive regime under Stalin.

Not bad for a book with talking animals.

This book was translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and she brings this story to life.

Shura is a young boy living in Leningrad.  He lives with his mama and papa as well as his older sister and a little brother.  They live in an apartment building and he and his sister are lucky enough to have a room to themselves.  The amusing set up is that they have to walk through a wardrobe that their father set up to separate the rooms (he removed the back but you can’t tell from the front).  This weird construction actually saves them later in the story.

Shura’s friend is named Valya.  His parents don’t want him hanging out with Valya, but they like to do the same things, so he disobeys.  Today they are putting pennies on a railroad track.  They had been doing this for long enough that they can tell how heavy a train is by the way the resulting items come out.

On this occasion the train that went by seemed to be full of people.  People crammed into each car.  As it sailed past, a piece of paper sailed out.  Valya grabbed it. Neither of the boys could read very well but they could see some numbers on it.  Shura was sure that the paper was important and he desperately wanted it. But he didn’t know how to get it from Valya without making him want it more.

They walked home and by the time they got to Shura’s place, they were physically fighting.  Shura manged to snatch the paper and Valya threw a rock at him.  The rock smashed a window of an older lady’s apartment in their building.  Shura knew he was in trouble for the window.  But it was Valya’s fault.  Of course, he wasn’t supposed to be playing with Valya. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JORDAN RAKEI-Tiny Desk Concert #935 (January 13. 2020).

I’ve never heard of Jordan Rakei.  I didn’t enjoy the first song of this Tint Desk, but that probably because I don’t really like “soulful R&B artists.”  But the other songs are a bit more jazzy and fluid and I enjoyed them more.

It also seems like Tiny Desk sets that I don’t enjoy are longer than the ones I like.  This one is four songs in 17 minutes–how do artists I’ve never heard of get more screen time than artists that Bob and Robin love?

The blurb is really glowing about the band and musically they are really tight.

The band opened with “Say Something,” from the group’s 2019 album, Origin. It’s a song that encourages people to take action and speak up for themselves.

It’s got a simple riff on the bass (Jonathan Harvey) and the guitar (Imraan Paleker).  The main feature of this song seems to be the backing vocalists: Linda Diaz, Sam Wills and Opal Hoyt who dominate the song.  I think this song just overstays its welcome since the “say something” refrain is sung about a hundred times.

They followed with “Mind’s Eye,” a commentary on technology that questions whether advancements are always a good idea.

I enjoyed the opening looping synth riffage (presumably from Jordan).  Then it kicks in with a vaguely Latin rhythm with percussion from Ernesto Marichales and a cool drum pattern of rim shots from Jim Macrae.  I liked this song a lot more.  bothe because of the really interesting middle section with cool bass lines and swirling synths and guitar as Rakei switches to piano.

This song is jazzy and it segues into the even jazzier “Talk To Me,” from the group’s 2016 debut album, Cloak.  I guess I prefer the clean piano sound and more sparing backing vocals on these two middle songs.   The end is fun with just about everyone playing some kind of percussion instrument.  Jordan sings something although i don’t know if it’s in another language or is just interesting sounds.

The final song “Speak,” was inspired by the TV show The Handmaid’s Tale, it imagines a world where nuclear war has left half the women infertile, as technology runs amok.

For this track it’s just him on piano.  I thought i would enjoy him solo a bit more than with the band, but I don’t find this song all that interesting, so bring the percussion back!

[READ: January 18, 2020] “Protocol”

This was a strange story and I didn’t really understand what was happening for the most part.

The coolest part of the story is that it was a translation and translator David Short managed to write passages with a heavy British accent even though it was originally written in Czech.  I can’t imagine what was happening in the original that would give a sentence like

An’ on top o’ that being a purveyor of love, ‘aving everyone ‘ang on till his death…

Of course, I have no idea why the character would have a heavy accent–it was never alluded to.  In fact, I don’t know why any of this story was the way it was. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ORQUESTA AKOKÁN-“Mambo Rapidito” (2019).

Since this story is about something shameful in Cuba, I thought I’d tie it to something that is wonderful in Cuba: Orquesta Akokán

Orquesta Akokán is a band comprised of Cuban musicians and “Latin music freaks” from New York.   They play the kind of Cuban music that filled New York nightclubs in the 1940s and 1950s.  As their website explains:

Robust, time-tested musical architectures of son cubano and mambo are honored and modernized through a synthesis of the rich compositional styles of Havana, New York, and beyond.

This song begins with a descending piano riff that quickly gives way to horn hits and a cowbell that doesn’t stop for the whole three minutes.

The main melody comes in as a swinging, wholly danceable riff with shouted refrains of “baile!”

Then lead vocalist José “Pepito” Gómez shows where the rapidito comes in as he sings an insanely fast vocal part ( I wouldn’t even guess what he’s saying).

The song is fun and swinging and should make everyone want to baile!

Then comes an awesome flute solo.  There’s a cool swinging instrumental sections in the middle before the call and response of the backing vocalists and Pepito.

Then a wild and cacophonous piano solo sprinkles the end of the song.  It is a ton of fun.  The NPR blurb says that

when globalFEST decided to host this year’s edition at New York’s Copacabana nightclub — a venue with a history that stretches back nearly 80 years and boasts a long association with Latin music — the festival’s organizers decided that Akokán had to be the first group they invited this time around.

Mambo!

[READ: December 23, 2019] Guantánamo Kid

This is a story of injustice.

Injustice at the hands of Americans.

Americans should be humiliated and outraged by this injustice.

Injustice that is utterly horrific to behold–and I suspect that this graphic novel holds back a lot of the really unpleasant details to make it readable.

This is the story of Mohammed El-Gharani, an innocent kid who was sent to Guantánamo Bay for seven years.

At the age of 14, Mohammed El-Gharani made money in the streets of Medina, Saudi Arabia.  His family was from Chad and, as such, he was treated like an outsider in Saudi Arabia.  He wasn’t allowed to go to school and the locals treated him badly.  He and his friend knew this was no way to make a living.

One day his friend told him that if he went to Pakistan he could learn how to fix computers.  He even knew people there who would put him up while he studied. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL PEART-September 12, 1952-January 7, 2020.

When I was in high school, Rush was my favorite band, hands down.  I listened to them all the time.  I made tapes of all of their songs in alphabetical order and would listen to them straight through.

I still loved them in college, but a little less so as my tastes broadened.  But every new release was something special.

It’s frankly astonishing that I didn’t seem them live until 1990.  There were shows somewhat nearby when I was in college, but I never wanted to travel too far on a school night (nerd!).

For a band I loved so much, it’s also odd that I’ve only seen them live 5 times.  However, their live shows are pretty consistent.  They play the same set every night of a tour (as I found out when I saw them two nights apart), and there wasn’t much that set each show apart–although They did start making their shows more and more fun as the years went on, though).

One constant was always Neil Peart’s drum solo. It too was similar every night.  Although I suspect that there was a lot more going on than I was a ware of.  It was also easy to forget just how incredible these solos were.  Sure it was fun when he started adding synth pads and playing music instead of just drums, but even before that his drumming was, of course, amazing.

It was easy to lose sight of that because I had always taken it for granted.

I am happy to have seen Rush on their final tour.  I am sad to hear of Neil’s passing.  I would have been devastated had it happened twenty years ago, but now I am more devastated for his family.

So here’s two (of dozens) memorials.  The first one is from the CBC.  They included a mashup of some of Neil’s best drum solos:

But what better way to remember the drum master than with a supercut of his drum solos? From a 2004 performance of “Der Trommler” in Frankfurt, Germany, to a 2011 performance on The Late Show With David Letterman, to his first-ever recorded drum solo (in 1974 in Cleveland, Ohio), dive into nearly five minutes of Peart’s epic drum solos, below.

The best Neil Peart drum solos of all time.

I was only going to include this link, because it was a good summary, then I saw that Pitchfork ranked five of Neil’s best drum solos (an impossible task, really).  But it is nice to have them all in one place.

You can find that link here.

Starting in the 1980s Neil’s solos were given a name (which shows that they were pretty much the same every night).  Although as I understand it, the framework was the same but the actual hits were improvised each night.

Even after all of these years and hearing these drum solos hundreds of times, watching them still blows my mind.

  • “The Rhythm Method”
  • “O Baterista”
  • “Der Trommler”
  • “De Slagwerker,”
  • “Moto Perpetuo”
  • “Here It Is!”, “Drumbastica,” “The Percussor – (I) Binary Love Theme / (II) Steambanger’s Ball”

[READ: January 2020] Canada 1867-2017

In this book, Paul Taillefer looks at the most historically significant event from each tear of Canadian history.  And he tries to convey that event in about a page.  Can you imagine learning the history of your country and trying to condense every year into three paragraphs?

And then do it again in French?  For this book is also bilingual.

I can’t read French, but i can tell that the French is not a direct translation of the English (or vice versa).

For instance in 1869, the final sentence is:

This, in turn, signaled the start of the Red River Rebellion which would not end until the Battle of Batoche in 1885.

Neither Batoche nor 1885 appears in the entire French write up.  So that’s interesting, I suppose.  I wonder if the content is very different for French-reading audiences. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WEYES BLOOD–Tiny Desk Concert #926 (December 11, 2019).

The new Weyes Blood album has been on many people’s best of the of year lists. I hadn’t heard any of it but I’d read that it was lovely.

When I first listened to this Tiny Desk Concert, I really didn’t think much of it–couldn’t imagine what made this simple folk music so special.

But on a second (and third and fourth) listen, I heard a lot of the components that made it quite a beautiful set.

Nataile Mering sings and plays acoustic guitar.  Her voice reminds me a lot of Aimee Mann.

The blurb says that this set is

simple and restrained — a strummed guitar, two-part harmonies, a brushed beat — but still managed to re-create the majesty and wonder of the band’s latest release, Titanic Rising, one of 2019’s loftiest and most layered albums.

The music here is simple and straightforward–“rooted in ’70s folk-pop traditions, with mystical themes of rambling on to find meaning and purpose.”

“Andromeda,” an astral ode to love, set the tone with the acoustic guitar.  After a minute and a half there is a really cool otherworldly-sounding guitar solo from Stephen Heath.  It is just a slide on an electric guitar but it sounds very cool amid the folky quiet.  There is a very traditional organ sound from Walt McClements  filling in the spaces, but I think what really makes the song transcend folk are the fantastic backing vocals from bassist Eliana Athayde.  Whether it’s oohs and ahhs or harmonies, her contributions are monumental.

“Wild Time” is next and Athayde’s oohs are there supporting Mering’s gentle leads.  Like the previous song the acoustic guitar sets the pace with the keys filling in the gas and Andres Renteria’s drums keeping pace.  This time the standout sound from Heath’s guitar is a buzzing e-bow–an otherworldly insect buzzing around the song.  Near the end, Heath turns that buzz into a proper guitar solo and there’s a brief moment where I think Althayde and Mering are singing different lines at the same time.  The end of the song rings of early Pink Floyd with the piano sound and Heaths now noisy scratchy e-bow filed soloing.

The final song, “Picture Me Better,” is “a heartbreaking remembrance of a friend who died by suicide while Mering was working on the album.”  It’s the quietest song of the bunch.  Renteria leaves and it’s just acoustic guitar and keys with gentle electric guitar notes and Mering’s voice.  This time Athayde’s backing vocals add an otherworldly quality as we get lost in this song of loss and yearning.

It’s quite a lovely set, and if this is stripped down, I do wonder what a full-on, layered album must sound like.

[READ: December 16, 2019] “Sevastopol”

This was a story about writing stories.

The narrator, Nadia, receives a postcard from Klaus.  The postcard is of Sevastopol, although Klaus has never been there–he probably got it from a site like easterneuropeanjunk.com.

Klaus had rented a theater space in São Paulo (the story was written in Portuguese and translated by Zoë Perry) and called Nadia to insist that she come and help him fix it up.

They had met at the museum where she works.  He led a drama workshop and since staff could take classes for free she decided to check it out.  Klaus had directed a play which ran in a local theater.  Nadia hadn’t seen it, but her friend said it was awful.  Nevertheless, Nadia liked Klaus. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“History Never Repeats” (1995).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

I was not aware of this recording at all.  It is, indeed, the Split Enz song.  It was recording during a Pearl Jam show on March 24, 1995 in Auckland, New Zealand.   It must be during a quiet middle section, because it’s just Eddie with Neil Finn & Tim Finn live at the Mount Smart Stadium.

It is a bare-bones version with just voices and one electric guitar.  Neil Finn plays guitar and sings the first verse.  Eddie takes the second verse.  Tim Finn sings the third verse.  All three share  backing vocals and the chorus.

It’s a rare treat to hear an old recording like this, especially one of a song they’ve not played since.

[READ: December 13, 2019] “The Infinite”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

I really like César Aira’s stories.  He’s a fascinating guy and insanely prolific.

He has written nearly a hundred books.  Most of his novels are quite short, so I’ve never really thought of him as writing actual short stories.  This one comes from his collection The Musical Brain: And Other Stories which was translated by Chris Andrews.

The unnamed narrator says that as a kid he played some extremely strange games.  I love this line, “They sound made up when I explain them, and I did, in fact, make them up myself.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GURR-“Christmas One and Only” (2018).

I really enjoyed Gurr when I saw them live this year.  I wanted to see what their studio music sounded like and I found this release called the Christmas Business EP.  Two songs that feature Eddie Argos from Art Brut.

This second song has a poppier riff (More guitar than bass) and a happier vocals style with the Gurr women singing “Christmas coming into town all the kids are frantically screaming / Christmas coming into town its all about love, oh this is the season.”

Even the hard-hearted Eddie Argos finds his Grinch heart melting this year.

It begins with him saying “Sat around the Christmas tree sorry about my misery” and this rather amusing line: “My favorite thing about Christmas time used to be finishing everybody’s glasses of wine.”

But after some cheerful lines from Gurr, he has a change of heart:

“I never liked Christmas, but since I met you I want to grab it with both fists and give it a big kiss.”

There’s also this very nice ending sentiment

“good or bad this year is nobody’s business / I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.”

Thank you Eddie.

This short song (also less than 3 minutes) ends with this amusing comment:

Die hard is a Christmas film and so is Die Hard 2 / I want to drink some Glühwein and watch them both with you.

Cheers!

Check it out here.

[READ: December 1, 2019] “Torre Del Mirador”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story (translated by Margaret Jull Costa) seemed very familiar and I have to wonder if I’ve read it anywhere before.  I loved it for how weird and engaging it was.

One morning, the narrator is awoken by a phone call.  The caller tells him that he was close to having a nervous breakdown and he needed to talk to someone.  The narrator is annoyed at being woken up and assumes it is a prank from one of his friends.  But the caller tries to clarify.  He says that his wife was making his life miserable–always telling him how ugly he was.  She said she hated his face.  He got so fed up that he left her. He rented the apartment across from their villa and has been spying on her ever since.  He tells the narrator that he picked his number at random. (more…)

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