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Archive for the ‘Translation’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-I’m in Your Mind Fuzz (2014).

Even though this record came soon after Oddments, this has been considered the first major release by KGATLW (maybe that’s because it was the earliest recording that was still in print (until the reissues).  This album is a major step forward in their psychedelic garage rock sound.

The first four songs are more or less a continuous suite.  Not really, but all four songs contain the same breakneck drum pace and rumbling bass line and each one segues into the next.

“I’m in Your Mind” has a simple guitar riff, lots of wickedly distorted harmonica and a catchy vocal line.  It segues into “I’m Not in Your Mind” which is a three-minute jam based around a guitar solo.  The tone has changed slightly, but only slightly.  The solo features the main melody from “The Streets of Cairo or The Little Country Maid” (which we in the States think of as the Egyptian song or the snake charmer song because it was in every cartoon from the 1950s). The end of the song features a bass rumble which segues into the intro to the classic KGATLW song “Cellophane” (where the lyrics are nearly all nonsense singing and the word “cellophane”–catchy as anything).  The quartet returns to the opening song with the reprise called “I’m in Your Mind Fuzz.”   The same guitar melody and tempo resume with a similar-sounding chorus.

A click opens the next song, “Empty,” which halts the fast-paced bass and drums and grows much slower.  With a new rhythm and a more staccato delivery, this song maintains the fuzzy sound and distorted vocals and adds, I believe, a flute.  It’s followed by the wonderful “Hot Water.”  It’s an uptempo song with muted delivery in the vocals and guitars.   It’s also got the simple chanted chorus of “Hot Water” all surrounding this cool 70s sounding melody.

“Am I in Heaven” begins as a folkie acoustic song.  It’s pretty gentle for about 45 seconds until it turns into a screaming and thumping rocker with all kinds of wailing—guitars, vocals, harmonica.  Then at 3 minutes it returns briefly to that original folkie melody until, once again, the loud rocking just overtakes the whole thing with psychedelic soloing.

“Slow Jam 1” slows things down a lot. “I need to slow my mind down” is the lyrical opening.   It is slow and hazy for a few gentle minutes.  “Satan Speeds Up” sounds like it might be an old lost psychedelic/metal song–a cool vibrato guitar riff and flutes play this excellent opening.  The verses are gentle–falsetto singing as the band chills out around it.

“Her and I (Slow Jam 2)” returns to that acoustic mellow sound, this time with some extra fuzzy notes sprinkled around the song.  After about a minute and a half (of the 8 minute song), the tempo picks up and there’s a cool guitar solo which returns a couple of times by the end adding harmonica and wah wah guitar.

This is a very cool album that really shows what KGATLW is all about.  At least until their next release.

[READ: February 18, 2019] “White Out”

This issue of Harper’s had two stories and I didn’t really enjoy either one.

This first one was written in Korean and was translated by Deborah Smith.  What I didn’t like about it was that I wasn’t sure if these nine short pieces were sections of a big story or individual (somewhat) connected stories.  Either way the blocks of text were all quite short and not always complete.

Frost
This tells us that she was born on a day of frost but her father chose seol, snow, as one of the characters for his daughter’s name.  I found that pretty interesting and would have liked to know more about that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOUNTAIN MAN-Tiny Desk Concert #824 (February 13, 2019).

I had only heard of Mountain Man from an earlier Field Recordings Session on NPR–back in 2012!  Since then the individuals have all gone to different successes but they have reconvened for a new album and this Tiny Desk Concert.  We’ll also be seeing them at Newport Folk Festival this summer.

Mountain Man is endearing.  And they are so quiet.

Mountain Man is the perfect band for a Tiny Desk concert. These three women make the most intimate music; and behind the desk, the voices of Amelia Meath, Molly Erin Sarlé and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig were the stars. Adorned by only light, rhythmic acoustic guitar, they sing songs that conjure a simpler life: dogs, friends, moonlight, sunlight, skinny dipping, beach towels and sand.

These dear friends have known each other for more than ten years, since their college days in Vermont. They released their first album in 2010 called Made The Harbor and only recently had a follow-up with the pleasantly surprising, 2018 fall release of Magic Ship.

They play three songs.  “Rang Tang Ring Toon” has a two note guitar melody from Alexandra Sauser-Monnig.  While she plays, she sings the first verse.  Then the other two join in (that’s Molly Sarlé on the really high notes).  It’s a very simple guitar melody–so simple that when she plays a kind of solo (also very simple) it really jolts you out of the gentle melody.

There’s a true kinship that happens in this trio. Things get quiet, sometimes funny and playful or, at moments, awkward, especially when they talk about “savory oatmeal.”

It’s Alexandra who talks about the savory oatmeal (with wild mushrooms, fried garlic, poached egg and chives).  It was delicious–although Molly says, “I had a different thing.”

For “Moon,” Molly plays guitar.  Her playing is more strumming.  She sings very high and the others join in.  One fascinating thing about most of these songs is the nonsense syllables they sing.  Obviously the first song (just the title alone), but even this one has a refrain of:  “Dai dai dai dai dai dai dai dai.”

For the last song Amelia Meath (yes, of Sylan Esso) sings a capella.  Before the song she says she’d like to dedicate it to “all my NPR crushes–anyone who works at NPR who has looked me in the eye and asked me questions about myself.” The song starts with all of them humming.  Then Amelia sings and they accompany her with their hums until they all sing amazing harmonies.  It’s all so quiet and sweet, you just want to lean in to hear them better.

In the eight years between Mountain Man records, Amelia Meath went on to create Sylvan Esso with Nick Sanborn. Molly Sarlé, meanwhile, was in a meditation center in California — at a cliffside trailer in Big Sur — and worked on her own, beautiful solo album, which is due out soon. And Alexandra Sauser-Monnig worked with Hiss Golden Messenger, released her own music under the name ASM and has a new record coming as well.  There’s a tour about to happen, and hopefully they won’t vanish after that for another eight years. There’s no other band like them.

[READ: February 12, 2019] “The Confession”

The confession in this story is a rape.

The narrator is the rapist.  He can’t reveal his name or the rural village where it happened because his father is a feared and respected man and he doens’t want to bring shame on him.

The summer this happened, the boy says his father didn’t want him to be idle, so he was sent to the countryside for hard work with the villagers.  The villagers were illiterate and there was no electricity.  He was bored out of his mind.  The only entertainment was the story that the boys all told about a girl from the area who had been rejected by her clan because of her sexual behavior.

One afternoon he went with one of the older men to the plains to gather grass for the animals.  The man treated the boy with deference because of the boys father, but he did show him how to do the work efficiently.

Then they both saw off in the distance, a young woman crossing the plains.  They both imagined it was the girl from the stories.  So immediately the man ran up to the girl.  She didn’t react to the man–she was too tried to resigned to her fate,  He threatened to hit the her if she screamed and then he tore of the girl’s harem pants.  He then presented the girl to the boy like a gift. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAU NOAH-Tiny Desk Concert #823 (February 11, 2019).

Lua Noah is a Spanish singer/guitarist with a fascinating story.  She sings mostly in Spanish (with subtitles!).

Lau Noah’s journey as a songwriter and guitarist occurred by happenstance. She was born in Reus, Spain barely a few hours drive from Barcelona. She speaks and now sings in Catalan, Spanish, English and sometimes Hebrew. She’d played piano growing up (never guitar) and left Spain for New York City five years ago while in her late teens.

On a visit to Montreal in 2016, Lau hoped to go to a Patrick Watson concert with friends. But the performance sold out and she was left alone in an apartment while her friends went to the show. Then a snowstorm ensued. The apartment had two guitars and, with nothing else to do, she picked one up and began to play. She wrote her first song, “Pequitas,” which means “Little Freckles.”

Her songs are quite short.  “El Jardinero (The Gardener)” is barely 2 minutes long.  She plays complex chords but not in an elaborate way–just making lovely sounds in beautiful patterns.  The speed of her singing is somewhat at odds with the gentle playing, but it all works, as if she needs to get these passionate words out.

There’s a magical aura that surrounds Lau Noah as she sits behind my desk and embraces her guitar with one foot propped unnaturally high on a stool. As melodies pour from the strings, she sings these words in Spanish: “On the verge of the soul, there is a red petal, attached to the skins of mortals.” A few lines later in the song she continues, “a fragile petal that drinks the water of the most cruel stories: children who have never heard a fairytale, lovers who love, dressed in regret.” This is the sort of poetic tale that captured my heart amongst the thousands of entries I watched during the Tiny Desk Contest in 2018. Her song she submitted for the contest is called “La Realidad.”

I love the way in “La Realidad (The Reality)” she returns to a part where she plays a low note that rises and falls while everything else stays the same as she sings.

She says thats she is from Catalonia and was always afraid to sing in Catalan, so she sang mostly in English.  She is very happy to sing the next song “L’Adéu (The Goodbye)” in Catalan.  It has a beautiful melody and sounds very differrent from the other two songs.

She re-tunes her guitar for “La Belleza (The Beauty)” which has a very different fingerpicking style–faster and a bit more intense.  The melody rises and falls both from her fingers and from her voice.  It’s a mesmerizing song.

Before she played her final song, “Red Bird,” (in English) she quoted Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, from his novel Don Quixote: “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies,” Lau said, reading from her notes. “Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams is madness. And maddest of all: to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

She sounds just as lovely singing in English as she does in her other languages.

[READ: February 11, 2019] One Day a Dot

I don’t normally post about children’s picture books.  But this one has two things going for it.  It’s published by First Second and it’s pretty awesome.

This is, as the cover says, “the story of you, the universe, and everything.”  All in 40 pages.

It begins: One day a dot appeared.  And it was so excited to be there that it burst.

And that is the children’s version explanation of the big bang. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JÜRGEN MARCUS-“Ein Festival der Liebe” (1973).

Schlager (see the end of the book entry below) has become a catch-all term for (European) inoffensive pop music.  But apparently in the 1970s it had a slightly different and more specific connotation/sound.  The more I dove into this explanation, the more confusing it became.  Until someone posted a link to this song.

It’s easy to see how people reacted against the music back when it was super popular–it is so safe and inoffensive as to be totally offensive to any one with artistic sensibility.  But now that pop music has become something so radically different, often aggressive and vulgar and very electronic, this kind of bland, fun sing along is actually charming and kind of appealing.

The chorus is easy to sing along to, you can clap along without anything complicated going on and it’s all happy and sweet (even the ahhs in the backing vocals are super happy).  The music is soft, even the little piano “riff” in the middle is obvious.  I love that the song gets a little “risky” in the end third with a “drum solo” and Jürgen singing a kind of tarzan yell, but it’s all returned safely to th end.

The video is spectacular with Jürgen’s brown suit, big hair and even bigger collars.   It’s quintessential warming cheese.  It’s the school of music that ABBA came from as well.  It’s Eurovision!

And I find it quite a relief from the pop schlager of today.  This song was given example of contemporary German schlager:  Helene Fischer “Atemlos durch die Nacht”.  Her delivery is inoffensive by the music is so contemporary and dancefloor that it doesn’t feel anywhere near as delightful as the 1970s song,

[READ: February 9, 2019] How to Be German

I saw this book at work–the German side–and it looked like it might be funny.  I wished I could read more than the very little German that I know.  And then I flipped the book over and discovered it was bilingual!  Jawohl!

This manual is a very funny book about being German.  It was written by a British ex-pat who moved to Germany many hears ago and has settled down in the country he now calls home.  The book gently pokes fun at German habits but also makes fun of his own British habits and cultural components.

I studied German for one year which makes me in no way qualified to judge the quality of the humor or the accuracy of the cultural jokes.  The book does a very good job of cluing the unfamiliar in on what he’s talking about.  Although there are about a dozen exceptions where no context is given to the ideas that he’s talking about, which is quite frustrating, obviously.

I’m not going to go through all 50 of these ideas, but there are some that are particularly good and some that I found especially funny. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEW ORDER-“Ceremony” (live) (1981).

Recently, Peter Hook was in Philly to play some New Order music with his band The Light.  I wonder how much different that show sounded from this one.

New Order formed out of the ashes of Joy Division in 1980.

Their first single, “Ceremony,” was actually written with Joy Division prior to Curtis’ suicide. It popped up as a single in advance of New Order’s 1981 debut album, Movement, which is about to receive the deluxe-reissue treatment; to commemorate the occasion, the band is circulating a little-seen performance of “Ceremony,” recorded live at Manchester’s CoManCHE Student Union.

Imagine having been at that show in 1981?

The music sounds amazing here–the guitar sound is perfect, the bass and drums are spot on.  But the vocals are terrible.  Practically inaudible.  I realize that he’s mostly speak/singing at this time, but you really can’t really hear him at all on the first verse.  It’s a little better on the second verse, but it’s the instrumental break that’s the real high point.

You can read about the re-release here.

[READ: January 23, 2019] “Cream”

The first line of this story sounds like it could describe most of Murakami’s stories:

So I’m telling a friend of mine about a strange incident that took place back when I was eighteen.  I don’t recall exactly why I brought it up.  It just happened to come up as we were talking.

Murakami is all about the strange incident.

He gives some details about himself at the time–finished high school, not yet in college–when he received an invitation to a piano recital.  The invitation came from a girl who was a year behind him in school but who went to the same piano teacher. They once played a piece together but she was clearly much better.  He’d stopped playing and obviously she had gone on to give a recital .

The recital hall was at the top of a mountain in Kobe.  He took a train and then a bus and then had a short walk to get to the venue.  It was a weird, inconvenient place for a concert venue.  He brought flowers to show his appreciation. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HAROLD LÓPEZ-NUSSA-Tiny Desk Concert #812 (December 14, 2018).

This was the final Tiny Desk Concert of the year and it featured a pretty traditional jazz trio (piano, bass, drums) from Cuba.  There have been a number of Cuban musicians on Tiny Desk, but I always defer to the blurb:

Cuba is known as much for their pianists as their percussionists — you’ll see why with this performance.

They play three songs.  The first is “Elegua” which opens

with some help from a recording of famed Afro-Cuban folkloric singer Lázaro Ros. Ros is both a musical and spiritual guide for this performance; the trio dug deep into the ritual music of santeria for inspiration with “Eleguá,” a tribute to one of the Afro-Cuban deities.

After about two minutes, Harold plays a nifty staccato riff on the piano while the bass plays a cool  related melody.  The song runs about six minutes and mid way through Ros returns to recite over the music.

When the song is over, Harold introduces his “brothers.”  His literal brother Ruy on drums and his brother from an other mother and father Gastón on bass.

(Special mention should be made of Harold’s brother, Ruy López-Nussa, on drums, and bassist Gastón Joya, who both fill the spaces between the beats while elegantly leaving breathing room within the performances.)

Joya is a treat to watch as he has a contented smile on his face for much of the set.  But it’s Ruy who is the most fun.  With his suit and bow tie and the unconventional way he holds the sticks he is fascinating to watch.  He looks like he is trying to be funny, the way he is playing.  Maybe he is just having fun but his playing is spectacular.

“Preludio (to José Juan)” is shorter–quiet and pretty.  It opens with a lovely melody on the piano.  There’s brushes on the drums and a quiet, subtle bass solo on the middle.  The song is much shorter and the closing minute is just beautiful.

“Hialeah” has the recognizable piano riffs — called guajeos — that we can recognize as originating with Cuban dance music, but the trio deftly melds that rhythm to a complex jazz exploration, without compromising its dance able pulse.

The melodies are recognizable, and yet he is basically riffing with them.  The piece opens with frenetic finger work on the piano with some complex drumming.  The rhythm is playing a dancey melody with some wild soloing on his right hand.  By around 14 minute into the set, he is an amazing blur pf speed and melody.  After a brief one second pause they come back with a phenomenal little drum display.

[READ: January 11, 2019] “All Rivers”

I have really come to enjoy Amos Oz’s stories–they are never about what I think they will be about.

This one was surprising for the way it was constructed as well.

The narrator, Eliezer is fondly remembering a woman ,Tova, who has a profound impact on his life. He says the name Tova was simple and popular and, he felt, didn’t suit her, a young poetess.  He doesn’t remember the color of her eyes, although he does remember the color of her trousers–dark blue/gray and tattered coarse material.

As he is describing her he interrupts himself.  He explains that he wants to be systematic and do things in order, but that he keeps getting ahead of himself  Every time he thinks about her, everything rushes to be first. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“Stray Dog” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

This song seems to eschew the whole Scandinavian prog-rock joke entirely.  It’s a pretty conventional bluesy song and it’s the shortest one.  There’s really nothing un-Phishy about this song excpet for possibly some of the synth sounds.

This might be the least interesting song of the set, but it sets up for some good upbeat jamming.

[READ: December 2, 2018] “Literary Customs”

I enjoy Zambra’s works, both fiction and non-fiction.  This, like many of his pieces, was translated by Megan McDowell and it is a treat to read.

Zambra talks about how he always takes books with him when he travels. He takes two or three books that he feels safer having around: “I can forget my medicine or the cloth for cleaning my glasses, but i never forget these novels.”  He also brings a book he hasn’t read–a large tome that he thinks will captivate him, but which usually never does.

We shouldn’t travel with books because they take up some much space–better to bring a second pair of shoes–you’re more likely to need a second pair of shoes.  Plus, since books are more expensive in Chile, every trip Chileans take is an opportunity for shopping–an anxious tour of bookstores.  And yet oftentimes no purchases are made, because there is so much to buy it feels not like you are getting something but that you are now more aware of what you don’t have.

And then there is the guilt that you won’t even read them.  But that doesn’t stop him.

On this trip to Mexico he started off well, reading what he bought, but he soon began “collecting” again.

Then there’s always the trip home–the suitcase is a mini library and the only way to make room is to leave pounds worth of clothes at the airport–sometimes you must walk around terribly dressed but draped in the very best literature.

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