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Archive for the ‘Violence’ Category

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: 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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SOUNDTRACK: DANIEL HOPE-three pieces (Field Recordings, August 21, 2013).

The only thing I like more than a Field Recording set outside, is one set in an unlikely building, like the way this Field Recording [Daniel Hope’s Earth And Sky Expedition] is set in the American Museum of Natural History.

When Daniel Hope was a boy, the only thing he loved as much as his violin was his telescope. Gazing into the night sky, he pondered the vastness of space. Now a grown man, Hope still has a penchant for wonder and discovery — especially when it comes to music.

In his latest album, Spheres, Hope returns to the spirit of those early astronomical adventures. His idea, he says, is “to bring together music and time, including works by composers from different centuries who might perhaps not always be found in the same galaxy.” The unifying factor is the big question: Is there anything out there?

What better place to play with that ancient query than the Rose Center for Earth and Space at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. We invited Hope and jazz bassist-composer Ben Allison into the “performance crater” in the Hall of Planet Earth.

As if the Hall isn’t interactive enough — with its glowing orbs and 4.3 billion-year-old zircon crystal — we wrangled afternoon museum-goers to participate in our own Earth and sky expedition. Equipped with small flashlights, they became the twinkling stars surrounding Hope and Allison in the darkened room.

The music seems to live and breathe in the space, as each of the three pieces (spanning four centuries) reverberates a unique voice. “Imitation of the Bells,” with its rippling arpeggios and tolling bass line, comes from the long forgotten Johann Paul von Westhoff, a German violin master who crisscrossed Europe a generation before J.S. Bach. In “Berlin by Overnight,” from contemporary Max Richter, Hope’s violin asteroids whiz past while Allison’s bass propels through outer space. And finally, the otherworldly beauty that is Bach’s “Air on a G String” floats in a safe, gentle stasis.

It’s neat watching the little kids swing their flashlights around while the older kids watch on, bored, from the balcony during “Imitation of the Bells.”  Hope’s violin is flying in a flurry of activity while the bass keeps things grounded.

I’m not sure that I have heard many violin pieces performed with a bass accompaniment.  The bass doesn’t add a lit of melody to the violin work, but it adds a very cool feeling of grounding and rhythm especially in “Berlin by Overnight.”  The piece feels very contemporary with a cool, fast, Glassian kind of repetitiveness.  And the bass adds occasional notes (that feel like rock bass notes, he plucks so hard) to keep the pace going.

The bass is much more pronounced on the familiar J.S. Bach: Air on a G String.  I feel an imperceptible sitting up straight once the first notes ring out of the violin.  But I keep coming back to the bass.  The violin melody is so pretty and so familiar that it’s interesting to listen to the way the bass plays off those notes.

[READ: February 9, 2018] “The Botch”

I have not enjoyed Means’ stories in the past.  They’re usually pretty violent and just not my thing.

This one was a bit more enjoyable until the end.  The only problem with it per se was that it was about a bank robbery and I feel like there’s not much you can say about a bank robbery that hasn’t been said in films and stories already.

But there’s some interesting tweaks.  It is set around the Great Depression–tommy guns and wise guys.  And the mastermind behind the scheme has thought out everything ahead of time.  There is a repeated refrain of “the idea is” which I kind of liked.  Although for some reason it bugged me when it was switched to just “idea being,” which I know is how it would be said, but it bristled. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AMIR ELSAFFAR & TWO RIVERS-“Hemayoun” (Field Recordings, July 3, 2013.

I was pretty excited to see the start of this Field Recording [Amir ElSaffar & Two Rivers: Golden Sound In A Gleaming Space] because it begins with hammered dulcimer and oud.  I have never seen these two instruments used in jazz before.

But once the band starts the jazz pushes out he Middle eastern instruments somewhat.

The oud is certainly drowned out by the horns, but you can hear it plucking away.  And the hammered dulcimer is hardly used at all.

I had never heard of the participants although apparently

The session had the feeling of a reunion. ElSaffar — a trumpeter and santur (hammered dulcimer) player who was born near Chicago to an Iraqi father and an American mother, and who grew up immersed in both cultures — had recently moved from New York to Cairo to pursue his work with Arab classical music. But this group with Ole Mathisen on saxophone, Zafer Tawil playing oud, Carlo De Rosa on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums shifted into Two Rivers gear immediately.

At 3:49 when the sax solo starts the minimal oud is used more to keep the beat than anything.  At 5:10 the trumpet returns playing a riff with the sax.  By around 7 minutes its all trumpet and drums (some good improv) with the bassist adding rhythm but playing very hard and being barely heard.  At around 8 minutes there’s a minimal oud solo that runs through to the end of this song.  This is particularly cool, although I kind of wish the other guys didn’t drop out entirely–I’d like to see the oud share the stage with the traditional jazz instruments.

I love that the music has non-Western instrumentation but I feel like it is underutilized.  But maybe that’s not the point

 ElSaffar has found a beautiful and singular way of pairing the sibling spirits of jazz and the classical maqam system of the Arab world, with their shared spheres of improvisation, deep knowledge of tradition and urge to keep innovating. Two rivers, but they lead to the same ocean.

[READ: October 22, 2017] “The Sinking of the Houston”

O’Neill has a way with making stories amusing despite the tension underneath.

It begins with a defense of sleep. The narrator says when he became a parent of young children, he became an opportunist of sleep: “I found myself capable of taking a nap just about anywhere, even when standing in a subway car or riding an escalator.”  But when the boys grew up into “urban doofuses neurologically unequipped to perceive the risk incidental to their teenage lives,” sleep became much harder to get.  He would lie awake until they were all home, and then every sound in the house would be meaningful.

Then comes the phenomenon of Dad Chair, a black leatherette armchair which he has designated as his haven.

It has worked pretty well except when the boys disrupt the peace.

The middle son asks if he’s heard of Duvaliers, the dedicators of Haiti.  The dad says he knows all about them–they were horrible.  When the boy tries to tell him more details, he retorts: “I lived through it ! I don’t want to discuss it!”  The boy logically says you didn’t exactly live through it.

Another son asks where East Timor is.  They all want to talk about atrocities.  But he has a new philosophy–Cest la Vie–it works pretty well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BAUHAUS-“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” (1979).

This was Bauhaus’ first single–a nine minute ode to being undead.  It’s considered the foundation of Goth music.

“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” starts with noises and feedback–echoing guitar scratches and atmospherics.

After about a minute and a half the simple three note bass line begins–slow and menacing.

Another minute later the vocals begin–Peter Murphy’s low voice reciting the lyrics.

White on white translucent black capes
Back on the rack
Bela Lugosi’s dead
The bats have left the bell tower
The victims have been bled
Red velvet lines the black box
Bela Lugosi’s dead
Undead undead undead

The guitars are primarily high notes as the chords change and for a brief moment in the chorus, the three-note melody goes up in stead of down.

The remainder of the lyrics:

The virginal brides file past his tomb
Strewn with time’s dead flowers
Bereft in deathly bloom
Alone in a darkened room
The count
Bela Lugosi’s dead
Undead undead undead

Around five-minutes the song quiets down to just drums and echoing scratched guitars.  Around seven minutes, Murphy starts wailing “Bela’s undead.”  The last minute or so returns to the beginning with echoed guitars sounds and scratches.

Lo-fi creepiness.

[READ: October 29, 2018] “Uncle Tuggs”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. comes Ghost Box II.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

The Ghost Box returns, like a mummy or a batman, to once again make your pupils dilate and the hair on your arms stand straight up—it’s another collection of individually bound scary stories, edited and introduced by comedian and spooky specialist Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, Patton Oswalt will be reviewing a book a day on his Facebook page.

Much respect to Oswalt, but I will not be following his order.  So there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE EBENE QUARTET-“Felix Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 6 in F Minor Allegro assai” (Field Recordings, January 25, 2013).

I don’t quite understand why this Field Recording [The Ebene Quartet Powers Through Mendelssohn] sounds so great–it is rich and full with resonant bass notes.  Is it the recording or the quartet itself?

The title suggests it is the players.

The Paris-based Quatuor Ebene — the “Ebony Quartet” — has risen fast in the musical world with two separate artistic identities. In recent years, audiences have gotten to know the “other” Ebenes — the sophisticated cover band that plays everything from “Miserlou” (the Pulp Fiction theme) to jazz to “Someday My Prince Will Come” (yes, the one from Disney’s Snow White).

But when violinists Pierre Colombet and Gabriel Le Magadure, violist Mathieu Herzog and cellist Raphaël Merlin play classical music — whether Beethoven’s transcendent Op. 131 quartet or, as on their latest recording, works by brother-and-sister composers Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn — you realize the depth and beauty of vibrantly intense performances.

Felix Mendelssohn completed his String Quartet No. 6 in F Minor just two months before his own death, and very shortly after the death of his beloved sister Fanny. Even though this second movement, marked Allegro assai, is architecturally the “light” section in this piece, it’s full of dark colors, tense and moody and shaded with grey and black. The music provides rich counterpoint to the setting, the bright and spacious powerHouse Arena, a bookstore, gallery and performance space in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood.

We thought that the setting would appeal to the quartet’s double identities, given powerHouse’s signature mix of art titles and whimsical children’s selections, including a board book with a cute little piglet that clearly fascinated Raphaël to no end. And our idea worked: The shoot was bookended, so to speak, by the quartet browsing and buying. Maybe our idea worked a little too well? No matter — once the quartet got down to playing, the results were magical.

I have enjoyed Felix Mendelssohn’s music before, but this recording is outstanding.

[READ: October 20, 2017] “Strangler Bob”

I don’t enjoy prison stories.

This one is a little different, I suppose.  It concerns a guy remembering his days in prison.  He was eighteen and hadn’t been in too much trouble when his malicious mischief landed him a sentence of forty-one days.

His cellmate was an older guy, late forties, who was in the cell for doing “something juicy.”  The narrator would eventually learn that his roommate is Strangler Bob, and that his own nickname is Dink.

He befriended a guy his own age named Donald Dundun, who liked to stroll the catwalks and climb the bars spreadeagling himself against the jambs .suspended in the air. (more…)

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