Archive for the ‘J.K. Rowling’ Category

curswedSOUNDTRACK: MAYA BEISER-Tiny Desk Concert #283 (June 29, 2013).

mayaMaya Beiser is an Israeli-born American cellist.  And the blurb tells us that:

Maya Beiser’s Twitter handle — @CelloGoddess — says it all. She’s a brilliant cellist with a stunning command of her instrument, and she’s tightly tied to technology. Beiser takes the sound of her cello and runs it through loop pedals, effects and other electronics to make her instrument shimmer, drone and groove.  Time Loops, her 2012 album, is one of that year’s hidden gems.

The music feels experimental in that she’s using an age old instrument (and age old tuning) mixed with technology.  But the two songs she plays here are simply beautiful and the technology only serves to make the songs all the more enticing.

I don’t know what these pieces are “meant” to sound like.  In fact, I don’t even know the composers.  But her version of these pieces (with the wonderful drones and echoes of what she is playing) are terrific.

Osvaldo Golijov: “Mariel” One of the fascinating things about this piece is that it is impossible to tell what she is looping (especially since we miss the very beginning to see if she clicks any pedals).  But is she looping what she has played or is there some other music being added in?  This is a mournful piece with some great sounds (looped) accompanying her.  It’s seven and half minutes of beautiful cello music.

She introduces the second piece “Just Ancient Loops” Mvt. 1 by saying that Michael Harrison wrote the piece for her.  She plays 6 minutes of the 25 minute epic piece, or what amounts to the first movement (called Genesis). She also tells us that it was written in “just intonation” which is an ancient way of tuning the cello, but it is natural for the instrument which is all about pure fifths.

It opens with some plucked bass notes which are immediately looped and run through much of the piece (how is she controlling the loops?  I can’t see her feet at all).  By the middle, the piece is in full swing with different cello sounds echoing and looping. It sounds full and fantastic and over all just really wonderful.

I typically enjoy cello music, but there is something especially cool about this performance.

[READ: September 2, 2016]. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I wasn’t all that excited about this book.  It was a play.  Did Rowling even write it?  (I actually still don’t understand the provenance of the story)?  And did I really want to read about a grown up Harry?

Well, first T. read it and then S. read it and they both said it was great.  So I read it.  And I flew through it (and stayed up too late reading it, too).  And, man was it enjoyable.  More than enjoyable.  I immediately got right back into the Potterverse and I loved seeing the famous characters grown up.

So, what’s this book about, exactly?

Well, without giving spoilers (to those few to whom it applies), the plot starts off 19 years after the action of the last book.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY-Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011).

I found out about Explosions in the Sky because of the events of 9/11.  Back when everyone was looking for albums to point fingers at in some kind of hysteria (that’s also how I found out about I am the World Trade Center who are not as exciting as Explosions…).

EITS make beautiful epic instrumental music (as well as the soundtrack for Friday Night Lights).  They play music in a similar vein to Mogwai, but they take their epic instrumentals in a different direction.  And this album is perhaps their most commercial to date (as commercial as you can be when you write 10 minute instrumentals).  And while “commercial” is not usually an adjective that I give as praise, for this album it is indeed.

Take Care, Take Care Take Care is a terrific album.  It ‘s not as visceral as past releases; rather, it seems like a more experienced band playing with their sound and tweaking it in subtle ways to make it less obviously dramatic but somehow more powerful.

On “Last Known Surroundings,” there are soaring guitars that give way to simple, pretty guitar riffs.  Martial drums propel the songs forward, even if they lead to unexpected places.  It’s soundtrack music that’s not background music.

Perhaps the biggest difference with this album and previous ones is that this album doesn’t quite live up to the band’s name.  There’s no major explosive crescendos.  There are noisy bits but they’re not climactic per se.   “Human Qualities” slows to a quiet drum beat and while you’d expect to come out of that with a cacophonous explosion, it doesn’t.  The explosion does come later, but only after it has worked up to it again.

“Trembling Hands” features “voices.”  Or maybe just one voice.  It’s on a loop that becomes more of a sound than a voice.  The song is only 3 minutes long, but it’s an intense 3 minutes–more great drum work on this one.

“Be Comfortable, Creature” has a beautiful delicate guitar opening that drifts into a kind of solo.  After 3 minutes it settles into the main riff, a winding guitar line that send you on a journey.  “Postcard from 1952” is a great song. It begins as quiet intertwining guitars and slowly builds and builds into a gorgeous rocking conclusion.  7 minutes of steady growth with a nice epilogue at the end.

The final song, “Let Me Back In” also has kind of spooky voices that appears throughout the song (distorted and repeated).  But you know this song is a winner from the get go (even if the opening chord structure is a bit like Duran Duran’s “Come Undone.”)  It’s a slow builder, a cool, moody ten minute piece.  When you get to the beautiful descending guitar riff that shoots out after about 2 minutes, it’s an ecstatic moment–air guitars are mandatory.

And let’s talk packaging.  The album comes in a gate-fold type of cardboard.  If you open it up all the way it can be folded into a little house (with windows and a door and a chimney).  That’s pretty cool, guys.

If I have one compliant about the album it’s that the quiets are really quiet and he louds are really loud.  That makes this a very difficult album to listen to say, at work, or basically anywhere where other people will be blown away by your speakers.  The middle of “Human Qualities” for instance, is really quiet, you feel like you need to turn it up to hear the drum beat–there’s too much volume fiddling (listening in the car by yourself negates any reason for this complaint, of course).

Keep it up, guys.

More “controversy” from the band

[READ: September 10, 2011] New Yorker essays

Ten years ago, The New Yorker published several short essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  They were all written directly in the aftermath of the attacks and they were moving and powerful.  I was going to wait until today to re-read them and post about them, but for various reasons, I decided to do it on May 12.

Now, ten years later, The New Yorker has published several more essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  I note that none of the authors are the same (that might have been interesting) although Zadie Smith does quote from John Updike’s piece of ten years ago.

The strange thing to me about these pieces is that ten years seems to have hindered the writers’ ability to focus on the incident and to talk about What It Means.  In this collection of essays, we have a few that talk about an individual and how his life has changed since 9/11.  These are pretty powerful, although it’s odd that they would talk about another person and not themselves. We have a couple of essays that talk about the writer him or herself, but these seem kind of unfocused.  And then we have ones that talk about the state oft he world; honestly, what can you say about that.

It’s possible that I’m jaded or in a bad mood and that’s why I didn’t appreciate these essays.  Or perhaps I’m just facing the futility of things.

This is not to say that I think that writing about 9/11 is easy (you’ll notice I’m not doing it).  Indeed, I think talking about it in any kind of meaningful, non-strident, non-cliched way is nigh impossible.

But these writers do give it a try.  And I am grateful for that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ODDS-Bedbugs (1993).

This CD features the minor “novelty” hit “Heterosexual Man” (the video featured some of the Kids in the Hall in it).

This disc feels like a big step forward from their first disc.  It isn’t radically different, but it feels more accomplished and maybe more confident.

The bluesy tracks feel bluesier (“Car Crash Love”), the rocking tracks feel more rocking (“The Little Death”) and the acoustic songs feels more substantial (“What I Don’t Want”/”Fingertips”) with really nice harmonies.

And of course, there’s “Heterosexual Man” a great, funny rocker with a fantastic sing-along chorus.  Odds are still doing poppy, slightly alternative rock, but they’ve simply gotten better at it.

[READ: September 13 2010] Light Boxes

I received this book from the Penguin Mini at BEA.  It’s been sitting on my shelf tempting me since then and I decided that I would give it a read (even though I am anxious to start the two books that are next on my list).  Well, it was certainly a good book to read first as it is even shorter (and faster) than its tiny size suggests (it’s 150 pages).

I’d never heard of Shane Jones before (he’s a poet and this is his first novel), but the premise sounded so intriguing: a small town is experiencing perpetual February (going on some 900 days now).  It is cold and dark and depressing and for many, sunlight is but a distant memory.

And plotwise, the story is interesting: a spirit/god/being (let’s call him February) is playing tricks on the townsfolk to keep them in this state of February.  He convinces them that someone in town (let’s call him February) is causing the perpetual cold.  He also seems to be inspiring the town’s children to go missing.  And all of this is a punishment for men’s attempts at flight: kites, balloons, even birds are now verboten (and the priests enforce the rule). (more…)

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ccliveCity and Colour is the solo project of Alexisonfire singer Dallas Green (get it?).  I was really impressed by Dallas’ voice within the noisy metalcore of AOF.  And I wondered what his solo stuff would sound like without the dissonance of the rest of the band.  I saw this disc was available from Maplemusic and it was considerably cheaper than on Amazon.  A live record isn’t always the best venue to check out an artist but in this case, I figured his solo stuff probably translated fine live as well.  (Still haven’t actually heard a solo record so I can’t say).  The set is also not entirely solo, as he calls out an accompanist for a few tracks (the DVD gives more information about who he is).

In AOF, Dallas’s voice is strong and powerful and yet totally catchy.  His voice is the reason that I like AOF so much.  So I was a  little disappointed in the live release because he seems to be holding back.  As I said, I haven’t heard the original discs, so I don’t know how it compares.  But on some of the songs, he seems too restrained.

The songs are all very catchy, and the between-song banter is fun (it was excised from the CD but is available on the DVD) .  But as I said for some of the songs it’s almost as if he’s inhaling rather than exhaling when he sings.  I guess I find it weird for a punk rocker to be so restrained.  Despite that, several songs do stand out as excellent.  “Comin’ Home” (there are two versions on the disc), “Save Your Scissors” (the second version on the disc is especially fun because the crowd sings along).  And lyrically Green is very interesting.  “Comin’ Home” has some nice name-checking of cities around North America (poor fans in Lincoln, Nebraska, though).

Despite my reservations about his singing, his voice still sounds great.  I’m interested in checking out a studio release to see how it compares.

[READ: December 18, 2008] The Tales of Beedle the Bard

There’s two funny stories about this book:

1) At my library, we received a notice from Scholastic Books that this book COULD NOT be put out before the release date of December 4.  We had to sign a release form promising it would not go out any sooner.  We all laughed about that because, while we knew that Book 7 of the Harry Potter series was going to be HUGE (and we had the same release form to sign for that book) we also knew that this was, at best, an esoteric addendum to the series for die-hard fans only.  (As of this writing our copies haven’t even arrived yet, and there are only eleven holds in our entire system). (more…)

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hp.jpgSOUNDTRACK: THE DECEMBERISTS-Castaways and Cutouts (2002) & Her Majesty (2003) & Picaresque (2005) & 5 Songs (2003) & Billy Liar [single] (2004) & The Tain (2004).

The Decemberists were, in fact, the soundtrack for this book. The last 250 pages were accompanied by the entire Decemberists catalog [excepting The Crane Wife, which was out in the car]. Whether or not it was a good choice, I feel that it certainly set a mood for the book.

I feel that the Decemberists have been part of my cultural landscape for many years. Their name seemed to pop up from time to time in a way that said I should check them out. And yet I resisted. No real reason why; I just did. And then when Picaresque came out and was so widely applauded, I thought I would need to hear for myself what this band was about. I was immediately smitten: by the tunes, by his voice, by the subject matter. Everything. Such an odd band, yet so smart, so literate, so edifying. They are truly one of the great storytelling bands.


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I have learned that there is no way I am going to finish Zadie Smith’s On Beauty before Harry Potter comes out Saturday.  I don’t want to make it sound like I am a crazed HP fan, because although I do really enjoy the books, I’m not dressing up or going to release parties or anything.  However,  I think the series is really tremendous, and I love that it has gotten so many young people (who are now not so young) into reading.  Plus, I just read somewhere that the release of the last HP book is really one of the defining cultural moments of our age.  Not since “Who Shot JR?” has a media storm brewed about fictional characters.  And, certainly I can think of nothing in literature that has caused such excitement.  The article went on to say that as of right now, we can go into the final HP book not knowing how it will end, and in a few days, no other readers will have that blank slate.  No doubt within hours of the release of the new HP we will know who died and how, and it will truly ruin one of the few surprises we get to be excited about, culturally and fictionally.  Sure, if we know who dies in the book before we finish, it won’t be the end of the world; however, just knowing that you could read the book without knowing the result is pretty darn cool.  So, Zadie, I am enjoying your book immensely, but you have to go on a HP hiatus, because, although I don’t know how your book ends either, no one is likely to spoil it for me within the next few days.  So, I am imposing media blackout and book blackout….what a bad time to work in a library!  I’ll have to wear a button that says, “I haven’t finished Harry Potter yet, Don’t Give It Away.”  Hey, that’s not a bad idea…

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