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SOUNDTRACKJAN VOGLER AND ALESSIO BAX-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #128 (December 16, 2020).

This is the third of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. This was my favorite. The first was just piano the second was a quartet of strings.  But this one, a combination of the two, was the most exciting.  I love the way the cello (Vogler) played off of the piano (Bax).

For this Tiny Desk (home) concert, we pay a visit to the doctor’s office. Actually, the venue is called Rare Violins of New York and it’s something of a second home to cellist Jan Vogler, who pops in frequently to have the experts give his 1708 Stradivarius cello a thorough checkup. If your multi-million-dollar fiddle has a cough or the sniffles, or even needs a full-blown restoration, Rare Violins, which sits just a block away from Carnegie Hall, can help. The firm also has a lovely music room, kitted out with a fine piano – something Vogler lacks at his place.  With help from the fine pianist Alessio Bax, Vogler makes a convincing case for Beethoven as one of the great heroes of the cello. Beethoven, whose 250th birthday falls this week, wrote five cello sonatas, plus other works for the instrument, which, before his time, was primarily relegated to beefing up the bass line in various chamber music situations.

Beethoven, in essence, liberated the cello. Listen to how it dances and struts in the opening scherzo from the Sonata in A, Op. 69.

“Cello Sonata in A, Op. 69: II. Scherzo” starts with a piano and the cello quickly jumps back in.  The song builds and swells and then quiets down to a pretty piano and cello melody.

Like Jonathan Biss, these two are very chatty. They are mostly chatty with each other, but they do direct their answers to the camera sometimes too.

Up next is a short piece from the beginning of his career “12 Variations on a Theme from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus: Variation XI: Adagio.”   In this piece the cello “sings sweetly.”  Vogler says that Beethoven was friendly with a fantastic cellist and he may have inspired the composer to write more pieces for the cello.

Although the piece starts with a lovely piano intro and has several moments of just piano, the cello adds so much to it.

Before the final song the two talk about how the pandemic has changed them and what they are looking forward to doing when it is over.

And finally there’s the opening to Beethoven’s last cello sonata, which Bax — whose role is far more than just an accompanist here — says is compact with emotion, yet “stretches the boundaries” for the instrument.

“Cello Sonata in D, Op. 102: I. Allegro con brio” feels like a call and response–two instruments in conversation.  And they had a lot to say.

[READ: December 20, 2020] The Disaster Tourist

In continuing with my around-the-world reading, I picked up this novel that was originally written in Korean (translated by Lizzie Buehler).

This story sounded really weird and interesting.

Yona works for a company called Jungle which specializes in offering vacations in areas that have suffered a disaster.

On a disaster trip, travellers reactions usually went through these stages

shock; sympathy and compassion, maybe discomfortable gratefulness at their own lives; a sense of responsibility that they’d learned a lesson and maybe a feeling of superiority for having survived where others didn’t.

For instance, a tsunami had hit Jinhae–in an instant everything was underwater.  Yona travelled there because Jungle currently didn’t offer any tours there.  But they would soon.  Yona would give donations and offer condolences to the community.  Then she would create a vacation package that involved viewing the aftermath along with volunteer work.

Yona had worked at Jungle for over ten years.  She was something of a star.  But apparently, her star was starting to fade because she had all of sudden been asked to handle some customer service phone calls–never a good sign.

Things got even worse when a supervisor named Kim got on the elevator with her.  He said:

Johnson is asking me to send my greetings to you.
Who?
Johnson.  My Johnson. Kim pointed to his crotch.

At this point I had to wonder.  Is this level of harassment something that happens in Korea?  Is this  shocking incident for any reader?  Is this a hyper real fiction in which everything is just a bit beyond reality?  I don’t know.

Then Kim grabs her bottom and put his hand in her blouse.  The gesture suggested that Kim didn’t care if he was caught.

Yona was upset, but not because of the sexual assault. Because Kim was known to only target has-beens. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GARCIA PEOPLES-Hear Here Presents (2020).

Sometimes it takes a band you like to introduce you to something you didn’t know about.

Like Hear Here Presents, a non-profit studio in Wisconsin that records bands in a small setting with great audio quality.  And there are some fantastic bands (and yes, many many more that I haven’t heard of) on their page.

The band just released their session from this live show on bandcamp.

Back in January, Garcia Peoples went into the studio at Hear Here Presents for a session.

I’m not sure how long the sessions usually are, but this one runs about 35 minutes and consists of two songs.

Up first is what they are calling “Hear Here Jam.”  It’s 12 plus minutes of  a jamming instrumental.   It’s impression how tight these guys are that they can improv for 12 minutes and not only not step on each others toes, but actually make a composition that sounds interesting.

There’s a raging guitar section at around three minutes and an impressive build to a peak around 8 minutes before finishing up a few minutes later.  Having the three guitar of Tom Malach, Danny Arakaki, and Derek Spaldo allows for terrific interplay and a depth of sound.

That depth of sound is really evident on the second song, which opens with the introduction to “One Step Beyond.”  Of course, before they start that, there’s some tuning to be done, with some snippets of recognizable riffs:  Close Encounters of the Third Kind, “Hey Joe,” “Sweet Child of Mine.”

But once everyone is ready, it’s down to business.  It’s fun picking out which guitars are playing what in the complex intro to “One Step.”  It’s impressive the way the three guitars can keep the looping melody original and changing while bassist Andy Cush more or less take a lead role.

It’s also important to keep an eye (or an ear) on drummer Cesar Arakaki because he can keep a beat and keep it from being dull as well.

Then after nine and a half minutes of intro, the band shifts gears into the rocking “Feel So Great,” a terrific song with a fantastic musical bridge.  Ringing guitars and a super cool bass line propel the song before the chill chorus.

Not content to let a short, catchy song end their set, they proceed to stretch of “Feel So Good” starting around 15 minutes.  Multi-instrumentalist Pat Gubler trades his keyboard for flute as the psychedelia commences.  After some raging guitar work up until about twenty minutes, the band slows things down to ring to a close.

The only thing disappointing about this set is that when the song is over, you can hear them talking and someone says, “we can do another one,: just as the audio cuts out.  What else did they play????

[READ: September 24, 2020] We All Die Naked [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

[In 1896] Svante Arrhenius first calculated the increase in Earth’s surface temperature caused by increases in industrial carbon production — what we now know as the greenhouse effect. …  As far as I know, James Blish is the first science-fiction writer to imagine an apocalypse caused by climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions.  It’s a biting satire, simultaneously bleak and gregarious, that catches the characters on the brink of catastrophe through climate change.

To me, this story felt a little preachy.  But then, I’m reading it after fifty years of this kind of story already existing.  I imagine it was pretty impactful back in the era of Silent Spring (if sci-fi ever had an impact on anything).  And, indeed, it’s still pretty impactful given how many things he gets right.

The protagonist, Alexei-Aub Kehoe Salvia Sun-Moon-Lake Stewart, Sa. D., is forty and set in his ways.  He is the General President of Local 802 of the International Brotherhood of Sanitation Engineers.

Blish was eerily prescient to 2020 in one aspect of the story

Adjusting his mask–no matter how new a mask was, it seemed to let in more free radicals from the ambient air every day–he put the thought aside and prepared to enjoy his stroll and his lunch.

But some things are more grim.  The roads around Times Square, Wall Street and Rockefeller Center are all canals. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JESCA HOOP-Tiny Desk Concert #965 (April 3, 2020).

I really liked the Tiny Desk Concert that features Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop.  So much so that I bought the CD and it made me want to see both of them live.

Jesca Hoop last appeared at the Tiny Desk as a duet with Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) in the spring of 2016. They sang songs from their collaborative record Love Letters For Fire.

This time it is just Jesca and I have realized that I liked her more as an accompanist rather than a lead singer.  Actually, that’s not exactly right.  Her voice is lovely.  I just find the songs a little meandering.

This time around, Jesca Hoop came to the Tiny Desk with just her guitars, her lovely voice, and brilliant poetic songs. She has a magical way with words, and she opened her set with “Pegasi,” a beautiful song about the wild ride that is love, from her 2017 album Memories Are Now.

“Pegasi” is nice to watch her play the fairly complex guitar melodies–she uses all of the neck.  The utterly amazing thing about “Pegasi” though comes at the end of the song when she sings an amazing note (high and long) that represents a dying star.

She wanted to sing it today so it could live on Tiny Desk.

The two songs that follow are from her latest album, Stonechild, the album that captured my heart in 2019, and the reason I reached out to invite her to perform at my desk.

“All Time Low” is a song, she says, for the “existential underdog.”  She switches guitars (to an electric) and once again, most of the melody takes place on the high notes of the guitar.  Her melodies are fascinating.  And the lyrics are interesting too:

“Michael on the outside, always looking in
A dog in the fight but his dog never wins
If he works that much harder, his ship might come in
He gives it the old heave-ho.”

After the song, she says, I’m going to tune my guitar, but I’m not going to talk so it doesn’t take as long. If you were at my show, I’d be talking the whole time and it would take a long time.

And for her final tune, she plays “Shoulder Charge.” It’s a song that features a word that Jesca stumbled upon online: “sonder,” which you won’t find in the dictionary. She tells the NPR crowd “sonder” is the realization “that every person that you come across is living a life as rich and complex as your own.” And that realization takes you out of the center of things, something that is at the heart of “Shoulder Charge” and quite a potent moment in this deeply reflective and personal Tiny Desk concert.

This word, sonder, came to my attention back in 2016 when Kishi Bashi first discovered it and named his album Sonderlust for it.

The song is like the others, slow and quite with a pretty melody that doesn’t really go anywhere.

I found that after three listens, I started to enjoy the songs more, so maybe she just writes songs that you need to hear a few times to really appreciate.

[READ: March 2020] Ducks, Newburyport

I heard about this book because the folks on the David Foster Wallace newsgroup were discussing it.  I knew nothing about it but when I read someone describe the book like this:

1 Woman’s internal monologue.  8 Sentences. 1040 pages

I was instantly intrigued.

Then my friend Daryl said that he was really enjoying it, so I knew I had to check it out.

That one line  is technically (almost) accurate but not really accurate.

The story (well, 95% of it) is told through one woman’s stream of consciousness interior monologue.  She is a mother living in Ohio.  She has four children and she is overwhelmed by them.  Actually she is overwhelmed by a lot and she can’t stop thinking about these things.

She used to teach at a small college but felt that the job was terrible and that she was not cut out for it.  So now she bakes at home and sells her goods locally.  She specializes in tarte tatin.  This is why she spends so much time with her thoughts–she works alone at home.  Her husband travels for work.  Whether she is actually making money for the family is a valid but moot question.

So for most of the book not much happens, exactly.  We just see her mind as she thinks of all the things going on around her.  I assume she’s reading the internet (news items come and go in a flash).  She is quite funny in her assessment of the world (how much she hates trump).  While I was reading this and more and more stupid things happened in the real world, I couldn’t help but imagine her reaction to them).  She’s not a total liberal (she didn’t trust Hillary), but she is no conservative either (having lived in Massachusetts and New York).  In fact, she feels she does not fit in locally at all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JENN GRANT-Live at Massey Hall (June 23, 2017).

I don’t know Jenn Grant, although her music sounds somewhat familiar.  She’s from PEI originally but her family moved to Nova Scotia when she was ten.  She recently moved back to Nova Scotia with her husband, where they live by the ocean and the woods.

For this show, she is joined by Daniel Ledwell, Michael Belyea and Tavo Dies de Bonilla.  On a couple of songs, she has Julie Fader and Kim Harris for backing vocals (this is Fader’s second appearance in the series).

Years ago shed opened for BNL at Massey Hall, but she wasn’t present. This time she’s very aware of things like the large but intimate feeling of the place.  During soundcheck she felt she never sounded better

“Paradise” is a slow keyboard song with electronic drums.  It’s moody in a Twin Peaks kind of way.  Although it picks up for the chorus.  The drum sounds in the middle of the song sound like when my phone speaker is over powered, it’s unsettling.

“I am a River” is interrupted by her speaking about her new record.  It’s interesting that her music is quite electronic since she is so inspired by nature.  Although this song does have more organic elements like piano and such.

She introduces “The Fighter” by saying “This is a song from an album that we made once.”  She plays electric guitar and that creates more drama and texture in the song.  This has a great overall sound.

“I’ve Got Your Fire” starts with piano.  This song sounds familiar–I wonder if I know it or if it just sounds like a Jane Siberry song.  It’s very pretty.

“No One’s Gonna Love You (Quite Like I Do)” is mellow song, also quite pretty.  “Galaxies” is a bit higher energy and she says it’s “fun to perform for an audience.”  It’s got a cool retro keyboard sound.  Dreamer ends he show quietly with delightful backing vocals.  I like the way the song slowly builds.

[READ: January 25, 2018] “Fourteen Feet of Water in My House”

This story sets everything up right from the get go:

My hometown flooded.  Prediction, as usual, failed us.

And so, when the narrator wakes up with a river in his house, he is quite pleased to see that his boat, kept in the backyard, was banging on his second storey window.  He is barely awake but he jumps into the boat headfirst.

“This is real… Dad’s house is ruined…. Boat seems fine though…. People probably stranded … ”

The rest of the story is his adventure saving people. (more…)

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