Archive for the ‘Daniel Mason’ Category


SOUNDTRACK: SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE-“Saidi Swing” (Field Recordings, March 26, 2014).

I really enjoyed the Silk Road Ensemble’s Field Recording, so I was delighted to see that they did a second recording from the same session [A Field Recording Bonus Track: The Silk Road Swings].  I have no idea how they cleared everyone out and cleaned up the place for this video (how long did these four guys have to hang around?), but it was worth it.

What I find so magical about this piece is that it is four percussionists and yet they make such beautiful music.

They’re playing a piece written by Shane Shanahan called Saidi Swing. While it’s inspired by a traditional rhythm from Upper Egypt called saidi (which goes “dum tek dum dum tek” in its simplest incarnation, for those of you who want to find its seeds sprinkled through this piece), Shanahan uses that pattern just as a launching point. And with such fantastic collaborators — from left to right, Sandeep Das playing the Indian tabla, Shanahan playing the riq, or tambourine, Mark Suter on daff frame drum and Joseph Gramley playing the goblet-shaped dumbek — Shanahan can really let his imagination take flight.

The piece begins with the four drummers playing together.  Then comes the individual moments

First comes a solo by Sandeep Das playing the Indian tabla. I love that it’s mostly finger tapping–the tabla is a fascinating instrument.

Up next is Joseph Gramley playing the goblet-shaped dumbek.  To start his solo, he plays the side of the drum which rings out almost like a tambourine before returning to the proper method of playing.

The third solo comes from Mark Suter on daff frame drum (I assumed it was a bodhran, I wonder what the difference is…ah, the daf has metal rings inside of it and can be made of fish skin (!)).  Suter bangs it for a big open sound but then he rubs his fingers along the skin to create even more fascinating sounds.  It’s awesome.

Then they return to the main rhythm.  All four play loud then quiet and then it’s time for each of them to get a very brief (2 seconds, maybe) solo in order left to right.

Then it’s time for Shane Shanahan playing the riq, or tambourine, to get a solo.  It’s the most conventional instrument except it seems quite different from the one that we see in folk bands.  He does some pretty nifty tricks with it too.

In the last part they each play a solo that’s about a second.  Again, left to right, which sounds cool and probably sounds even better in person.

World music percussion is really fascinating and I’m glad it gets showcased in this way here.

[READ: February 7, 2018] “The Ecstasy of Alfred Russel Wallace”

I never understand why people write fictionalized accounts of true stories.  There must be a reason for doing it–maybe you can’t write a five-page biography and have it get published anywhere?  I don’t know.

This is the true (I assume) account of Alfred Russel Wallace.

Wallace was a student of nature–it filled whim with an ecstasy that sometimes felt like lust.  He was not one for theory–he was all about the search.

He collected specimens and he wrote letters home to his mother about his joyful expeditions.  He traveled endlessly, exhaustively.  Even when wracked with malaria he continued. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GORDI-Tiny Desk Concert #740 (May 7, 2018).

I had an idea of what Gordi sounded like (a much more rocking band, who was I thinking of?)  Rather, Gordi is Sophie Payten a woman with a piano (and a harmonium and a guitar).  Gordi has a lovely deep voice (dusky and evocative) that is not afraid to break.

The blurb says her voice

usually gets enshrouded somehow: It often sounds like it’s echoing down a stairwell, or else she’s bathed it in vocal effects a la Imogen Heap or Gordi’s occasional tourmate, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. But Payten’s voice is an expressive and powerful instrument on its own, as her debut appearance behind the Tiny Desk demonstrates.

Aside from a bit of looping — in the strangely infectious notes that open “Heaven I Know,” from last year’s terrific Reservoir — Gordi here keeps her voice both unadorned and centered within warm, cool arrangements that include piano, acoustic guitar, pedal steel, a harmonium named Barbara, a saxophone played by Yellow Ostrich’s Alex Schaaf, and more. The effect here is rawer than on Reservoir, but that’s part of the point: These songs stand up to being stripped down, every time.

“Heaven I Know” is really pretty with a staggering sense of loss.  She met her backing badn while they were playing with The Tallest Man on Earth.  She plays piano, there an electric guitar and some kind of synths in the back.  And the drums (played by Zach Hanson) crescendo as needed.  The song runs a little long but it’s quite pretty.

For “Can We Work It Out” guitarist Alex Schaaf switches to saxophone.  Gordi pulls out the harmonium.  She says she bought the harmonium on the Australian version of Craigslist called Gumtree.  She bought it from an Indian lady named Barbara so the harmonium’s now called Barbara.

For the final song, “On My Side” she’s on guitar and Ben Les switches from keys to pedal steel.  The song is a little faster with some great harmonies from the drummer.

This is really lovely stuff.

[READ: October 10, 2017] Death of the Pugilist

Okay, so this is a boxing story.  That means that there is going to be a fight and the guy he is writing about is either going to win or lose.

That’s the attitude I took when I started this story–I don’t care for sports stories in general and feel that they have to work very hard to be more than just win or lose.

This story is a little different because each section starts with a question.

Who was Burke? His beginnings. (more…)

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harpjuneSOUNDTRACK: KING TUFF-“Black Moon Spell” and “Eyes of the Muse” (2014).

tuffI first heard King Tuff on WXPN.  A few weeks later I heard two of his songs on NPR Music.  I’m including both of these because they’re from the same album and yet they are so very different.

“Black Moon Spell” has a stupid, great, heavy riff–it’s all distortion and garage rock.  And when the first verse starts, Tuff’s voice sounds very 60’s–whispered and trippy.  It’s a great contrast to the rocking riff that repeats in the chorus.  The second verse and the chorus sound pretty much the same, but they are so catchy it’s hard not to rock out to it all.  There’s a cool guitar solo and, perhaps most unexpected, female backing vocals as the chorus repeats in the outro.

It has a real classic rock sensibility but with modern elements.

“Eyes of the Muse” is also full of classic rock sensibilities but in a very different way.  This song is anything but heavy–it has jangly chords, and a pretty guitar riff.  The vocals are also higher pitched with a very sixties folky style.  And when the Boston-style guitars burst forth about half way through, you’d swear you’d heard it all before, and yet it is still different enough to be really enjoyable.

Ty Segall plays drums of “Black Moon Spell” and I can compare this record to him or to Mikal Cronin–simple familiar elements done in a novel and exciting way.  I’d definitely like to hear more from this record.

[READ: November 17, 2014] “The Second Doctor Service”

I didn’t think I’d read anything by Mason before, but I had.  I didn’t really like his previous story in Harper’s,(which was sort of a parody of Herodotus).  This one was written in an old style as well (although not a parody this time–if indeed the first one was supposed to be one).

Anyhow, this one opens like an old story (with county names given in this format: K— and S—).  At first I thought we didn’t really need a story pretending to be old like this, but Mason really mastered the style.  Not to mention a story with this content works much better as an old one (before “modern” science).

Essentially, the author is writing a letter to the Journal, in response to Dr Slayer’s study “On the So-called Cumberland Were-wolf.”  He has not encountered a were-wolf but he hopes that anyone reading the Journal might be familiar with his own unusual plight.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DESCENDENTS-Everything Sucks (1996).

My three-year old daughter brought this CD out of the shelf of CDs in my house.  I have no idea why she did; she didn’t say.  But I decided to listen to it as I haven’t in many, many years.

The Descendents have been around for a long time and their early records were mostly 1 or 2 minute blasts of punk.  This disc (their first after a nine-year hiatus) doesn’t deviate too much from that track record.  Although the best song on the disc, “I’m the One” actually has a verse-chorus structure and feels like it’s a full length pop song (when in fact its only 2:15).

“I’m the One” more or less set the stage for the kind of pop punk that Epitaph records (who released this record) would bring to prominence with Bad Religion and Rancid (and the rise of emo).  This record offers a fun mix of ludicrously short songs (35 seconds for “Coffee Mug” and 20 seconds for “Eunuch Boy”) and slightly longer songs.  Six of the songs are under two minutes.  And it’s amazing to hear just how much song you can pack into two minutes.

I haven’t really listened to much punk in the last few years, so this is strangely nostalgic even though it doesn’t really sounded dated.  In fact, the slower songs (the 2:30 “When I Get Old”) has a real Bad Religion feel to it–and they never go out of time.  Interestingly they feel a lot longer than 2 minutes after a whole bunch of 90 second songs.

Even after all these years, “I’m the One” stands up as a great song–funny and catchy, and I’m glad to have heard it again.

[READ: February 17, 2011] “The Miraculous Discovery of Psammetichus I”

Following right after Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bible!, is this short story which “fleshes out” The Histories of Herodotus.  In fact Part I of the story is, I assume, an excerpt from Herodotus.

There are Ten Parts, and each part is designed to add more to the simple history that Herodotus gave us.   Indeed, Psammetichus I was a real King of Egypt.

Herodotus tells us that Psammetichus I was curious whether the Egyptians were the most ancient race.  So he took two children, isolated them and made sure no one spoke to them.  They were fed and cared for just not spoken to.  Finally, the children began saying a word over and over, which the wise men determined was a Phrygian word.  This obviously meant that the Phrygians were an older civilization.

The rest of the story is different examples of studies that Psammetichus I did to determine things.  Many of them are kind of funny (absurd, obviously, and sad but sort of funny): raising two children with birds or apes etc.  After a few sections, one of Psammetichus I’s queens (he had twenty-three who were all infertile (!)) asks why he’s so curious. (more…)

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