Archive for the ‘Philip Pullman’ Category

[LISTENED TO: April 2016] The Scarecrow and His Servant 

I was looking for a story that C. and I could listen to in the mornings when I drove him to school.  I didn’t want it to be too long (our commute was only 15 minutes), but I wanted it to be really enjoyable.

I know Pullman from the His Dark Materials series which I loved.  But I didn’t know much else by him.  This story seemed unusual, to say the least, but it was a perfect length–about 3 hours–for morning drives.

The audio book was read by Graeme Malcolm, and he did an amazing job–he had a great variety of voices at his disposal and he really made the story come to life.

The story is really quite unusual.  It begins with the history of the titular scarecrow.  How a man made him–and gave him a lovely turnip for a head–dressed him smartly and tucked a piece of paper, to show ownership, into his jacket pocket.  Pretty much straightaway, he is stolen, and then stolen again and then one more time until he is very far from home standing in a field.

And then he is struck by lightning and comes to life! (more…)

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compassSOUNDTRACK: CAROLINE ROSE-Tiny Desk Concert #465 (August 24, 2015).

carolineCaroline Rose is a rocking country gal.  Rose’s music is inspired by rockabilly, fast country and traveling from town to town in a van.  She plays electric guitar and the rest of her band includes a bass drum and slide guitar.  The slide guitar kind of dominates the songs though, so they all sound kind of samey to me.

“Yip Yip Yow” is a fast rockabilly type of song with some silly lyrics.  It’s a fun song.  “I’ve Got Soul” This song is bouncy and rocking although I can’t help thinking of the old adage that if you have to say it you probably don’t have it

“I Will Not Be Afraid” is a more inspirational song with a real honky-tonk feel.  The guys ware wearing T-shirts that say “fuck fear” but they had to cover them up for broadcast (which is why they are wearing jackets).

Of all of the recent rocking country gals I’ve been hearing, I like her best.

[READ: March 15, 2016] The Golden Compass Graphic Novel

I loved The Golden Compass when I read it about a decade ago.  I thought it was really smart, really subversive and really engaging.

What you might notice about this graphic novel is that it was translated.  The Golden Compass was written in English.  This graphic novel was written in French (as Les Royaumes du Nord #1) by Stephanie Melchoir and then translated back in to English by Annie Eaton, which is a weird process.  The art was done by Clément Oubrerie.

The original book was quite large (about 400 pages).  This graphic novel is about 8o pages.  And, as you might guess, quite a large chunk of it is pictures.  So it has been reduced pretty drastically.

One of the great things about the book was the subtlety and evocative descriptions.  You can see where I’m going next–this condensed version is…lacking. (more…)

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rainbowSOUNDTRACK: MARTIN TIELLI-Steamers, Victoria BC (September 1, 1999).

steamersOf all of the three main Rheostatics, Martin Tielli has released the most music outside of the band.  He had a band called Nick Buzz who has released three albums and then he has released three solo albums under his own name. His first came out in 2001.  And this tour was something of a preview for that album.

He called “Farmer in the City” (a song with this title, originally sung by Scott Walker was released on the 2001 album).  This was the second night of the tour (Torfino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island was the first date).

What is most amazing about this show (aside from the fact that the audio quality is outstanding) is that there are a number of songs here that never made it onto any albums.

Also interesting is that even though the show sounds great, Martin was having trouble with his monitor all night. He keeps asking if the crowd can hear him, and saying that he could barely hear himself at all.  And yet his voice sounds fantastic.

The show begins with an intro loop—Martin playing his guitar in waves and crescendos. It’s interesting and unexpected.  “Farmer in the City” is probably my least favorite Martin song—and I find it interminably slow and spare on the record.  Although each live rendition reveals something new in it.

The songs that are heard only on this bootleg include:  “Elkdog” (a description of horses as seen by people for the first time) it’s a rocking and fairly conventional song.  The next is “Indian Arrow” which is as song about his dad being killed by an arrow. It’s a simple rock song (and I just learned was actually recorded very early on a Rheos demo).  “Dear Darling” is a slow song with lots of dramatic singing—very Tielli.  “Redwing Blackbird” is another fairly conventional song but with great harmonies.

“Don’t You Forget It” is a loud, vulgar, sexual song which is dedicated to Vivian (happy birthday).  It’s even got a kind of funk metal middle section.  And “All My Life” is a funky song too.

Although Martin is not very chatty, his band is.  The rest of the band includes Mike Keith on guitar Andrew Routledge on bass and Max Arnason on drums (Mike introduces them as Bob Loblaw on bass and Basic Max on drums).  He also says that during their three days in Torfino, Andrew became a certified surfboard mechanic to which Andrew replies that Mike became a driftwood sculptor (len Tukwila).

There are a number of covers as well-Joni Mitchell’s “River” (which is on the Nick Buzz album, too) Three Bruce Cockburn songs, the mellow “Thoughts n a Rainy Afternoon” (I prefer the original) and then a blistering take on his “Arrows of Light” (I love this version a lot) which segues into “Joy will Find a Way.”

They even do a cover of the Suzanne Vega song “Tombstone.”  Actually, the backing band plays it while Martin goes for a smoke.  It sounds nothing like the original, as their version is loud and rocking.  When Martin comes back from his smoke break he says it didn’t sound like a Suzanne Vega song (I had to look it up by the lyrics).  The other cover is Neil Young’s “Barstool Blues,” which is a rather unusual Neil Young cover I would think.

After a few songs Mike the guitarist says that they were eating some tasty spicy black bean chips which he’s going to pass around for everyone to share… But don’t take them all ”you guys with the hat you take everything.”

They also do a Nick Buzz song “That’s What You Get for Having Fun,” which is a rocking song that sounds great.

He throws in some Rheos songs too.  Their versions of “Digital Beach” and “California Dreamlne” sound great. Martin is in fine voice and although it is somehow different than with the Rheos it still sounds fantastic.  “Shaved Head,” is more dramatic.  A quieter take on the song with no guitar solo.

But when he plays “Record Body Count” he messes up the lyrics so bad that he stops and says “I fucked up my own song.” He refuses to play the end and when someone says he’s being pretentious, he says he’s not he just can’t play it.

The final two songs are just him on his guitar.  He plays “Self Serve Gas Station” which sounds great.  After this he says he doesn’t know what to play.  Someone shouts out “Claire” and he says that he didn’t write that (of course he didn’t write the other covers either, but that’s a funny answer).  For the final song he plays “Christopher” which is truly fantastic.

This is a fantastic show, with lots of dramatic songs, a bunch of real rockers and some rare treats.  It’s a great starting point to listen to Martin solo, and a must listen for any Rheos fan and you can get it (and all these live shows) from the Rheostaticslive site.

[READ: July 27, 2015] Inside the Rainbow

I grabbed this book because I am intrigued by Russian and Soviet art.  I don’t always like it, but I find it utterly fascinating (I wish I could read Cyrillic too, which I think is such a cool looking language).  This book collects illustrations–covers and interior pages from Russian children’s books.

The Soviet Union was formed in 1922 and Joseph Stalin was head of the Union.  A nutshell history of the titular terrible times is: Stalin launched a period of industrialization and collectivization that resulted in the rapid transformation of the USSR from an agrarian society into an industrial power. However, the economic changes coincided with the imprisonment of millions of people in Gulag labor camps.  The initial upheaval in agriculture disrupted food production and contributed to the catastrophic Soviet famine of 1932–33, known as the Holodomor in Ukraine.

The images in this book do not date to the Socialist propaganda style (the striking graphic images of red black and white), rather, these are a more pastoral style.  All of the images come from the Raduga (Rainbow) publishing house. (more…)

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harper septSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Junta (1989).

juntaI’ve been listening to a lot of live Phish as of late and thought it would be interesting to see if there was truth to the adage that Phish is great live but not so great in the studio.  So here is their first official album.  It was released as a double album, and when it was reissued on CD some bonus material was added.  Incidentally, I just found out that the album if pronounced “juhnta” and not “hoonta” because of the engineer they worked with.

The album starts with “Fee” which is a fun song (the lyrics are wonderfully weird) and they don’t play it all that much so it’s a treat to listen to.  I enjoy the way the verses sound compressed and distant but the choruses are nice and full.  There’s also some funny and interesting sound effects (some of which accentuate the action) throughout the song. This sound effects and noises processing has been with Phish from the beginning and they kept it up through many of their earlier, less mature albums. “You Enjoy Myself” is a live favorite so it’s fun to hear it in this version.  As with a lot of their earlier records, this song sounds a little stiff, especially if you’ve heard the wild live versions. It’s not bad at all, indeed, it has a perfectionist quality to it—the time changes are perfect, the solos are flawless.  Indeed, it’s quite an achievement (and in this more polished version it sounds more like Yes than their live versions ever did).  Interestingly when we finally get to the lyrical section (about 5 minutes in) it’s quite a bit slower than they play live.

“Esther” sounds much more theatrical here.  The music is gorgeous and there are lots of effects and backing vocals which bring a bit more menace to the song than the live version possesses. This also had a very prog rock sensibility to it.  “Golgi Apparatus” has a lot more in the way of backing vocals than the live version.  And “Foam” has some changes: the bass is especially loud and funky and yet the pace is so much slower than I’m used to.  The odd thing is the kind of stiff way that the lead vocals enunciate everything.  And the deep voice (Mike?) is quite amusing at the end of the song.  “Dinner and a Movie” is a fun and silly song and this version is especially enjoyable because of the backing voices and chatter and laughter which illustrate the dinner (and presumably the movie).

“Divided Sky” has a beautiful melody and it’s nice to hear it played so pretty and simply here.  But again the remarkable thing is how much slower the song is here.  “David Bowie” also sounds great (there’s all kinds of weird sounds effects in the background of the (very long) soloing section—I have no idea why or what they might be).  The solo sounds like it was maybe done in one take as there’s a couple spots where it’s not “right,” (whether flubs or intentional is hard to say) but it still sounds terrific.  In fact a number of tracks have some little flubs which makes it seem like they either didn’t mind or tried for a more live feel.

“Fluffhead” sounds solid and like the live versions.  What I never realized until I actually paid attention is that the bulk of the music (the extended jam session) is called “Fluff’s Travels.”  “Flulfhead is only 3 and a half minutes, while “Fluff’s Travels” is over 11 minutes (it opens with the beginning of the guitar solo–the catchy riff that starts the lengthy jam).  “Contact” is a delightfully silly song about tires and cars that I’ve always enjoyed and find myself singing often because the melody is so simple.

What’s funny is that the end of “Contact” kind of bleeds into “Union Federal” which is listed as a live song (and clocks in at over 25 minutes long).  This “Union Federal” is an improvisational jam (or an Oh Kee Pah Ceremony—where the guys would get together with instruments (and other things) and jam for a time.  This song is weird with many layers—and is rather typical of one of Phish’s weirder jazz –flavored improv sections (meaning that there is a lot of dissonance and noise).  It’s quite jarring especially after all of the melodies and prettiness of the album proper.  And I can see a lot of people not being happy about its inclusion.  “Sanity” on the other hand is a fun song.  In the intro, they keep claiming the song is by Jimmy Buffett. They are clearly very silly in this setting, especially at the end of the song.  The final track is a live version of “Icculus” the song which is pretty much all buildup.  In the intro they quote U2 “This is red rocks, this is the edge.”  But the “joke” of this version is that Trey keeps postponing the name of the person who wrote the name of the Helping Friendly Book–stalling in any way he can.  As the song gets louder and louder and more absurd, the guys are even more frenetic.  It takes over 3 and a half minutes to get to the proper lyrics of the song.   And then the song itself is about 15 seconds.  Absurd nonsense.  But very amusing.

So this is quite a solid debut album, and the amount of songs that they still play live shows how fond everyone is of it.

[READ: October 2, 2013]  “Wrong Answer”

I didn’t hate Algebra.  I rather like solving puzzles so I enjoyed solving for x.  Algebra II I recall being more daunting and less fun with lots of formulae to memorize.  And, unlike everything promised, I have never used any of it in my adult life (geometry and angles, sure, but not logarithms).  According to this article the new United States CORE curriculum (which I know my son is dealing with already in 3rd grade) says that high school graduates must have Algebra II.

The reasons for this intensification in the studying of math are many (starting around the time of Ronald Reagan) but the current push comes from Arne Duncane, the U.S. secretary of education.  He believes that “algebra is a key, maybe the key to success in college.  Students who have completed Algebra II in high school are twice as likely to earn degree as those who didn’t.”  Whether or not that is true, those of us who earned a degree in nonmathematical  subjects certainly were not aided by this class.  But Nicholson Baker explains that the reason this might be true is that for most colleges, Algebra II is a prerequisite.  Ergo: if you don’t take Algebra II you can’t get into college because colleges require Algebra II.  That, for those who may not have taken logic–a far more useful course than Algebra II in daily life–is called a tautological fallacy.  [Indeed, I maintain that all high school students should have to take a course in logic because they would then be able to see through all of the builshit that politicians spill and claim to be logic.  Like the current (as I type this) government shutdown in which Republicans are claiming they didn’t want to shut down the government when they in fact signed papers saying they were going to shut down the government).]

The real problem with Duncan’s postulate that everyone should take Algebra II (“airplane mechanics do complex measurements and work with proportions and ratios…X-ray technicians calculate time exposures to capture the cleanest possible image.  Most factory workers need to understand Algebra II or even some trigonometry to operate complex manufacturing electronic equipment”) is that even if that were true (I don’t have any idea of it is or not), most people do not do those kinds of jobs.  And even if they did know higher math, they would still be salesmen, graphic artists, librarians, preschool teachers, custodians and many many other jobs that in no way require math. (more…)

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