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Archive for the ‘Illusion’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KOKOKO!-Tiny Desk Concert #911 (November 15, 2019).

KOKOKO! are a visually arresting band.  The band dresses entirely in yellow jumpsuits and they play…garbage.

KOKOKO! are sonic warriors. They seized control of the Tiny Desk, shouting their arrival through a megaphone, while electronic sirens begin to blare. There’s a sense of danger in their sonic presence that left no doubt that something momentous was about to happen. And it did!

Makara Bianko was the guy shouting through the megaphone, walking all around the room.  Then after the siren, he sat at the drums (which are held together with duct tape and electrical tape) and started singing lead vocals on “Likolo”

Dido Oweke on the “guitar” starts the simple riff.  It’s possible that it has one string and the bottom of the guitar is definitely an old can.

Backed by a bank of electronics, including a drum machine, this band from the Democratic Republic of the Congo redefines the norm of what music is and how music is made. Wearing yellow jumpsuits that are both utilitarian and resemble Congolese worker attire, this band from Kinshasa feel as though they’re venting frustrations through rhythm. And all the while they’re making dance music, all from their debut LP, Fongola, that feels unifying — more party than politics.

“Tongos’a” starts with an electronic drum pattern from Débruit on the synth (he’s making a lot of the noise and twisting knobs and chanting along) and a simple bass line from Boms Bomolo.  Everybody chants along to the chorus.

Starting “Malembe” Débruit sings an echoing opening call as he starts electronic drums and Love Lokombe plays some analog drums.

Each song is arresting and catchy as the next (although “Malembe” feels a little long.

The only bad thing about this Tiny Desk is that you can’t really get a good look at the instruments.  I mean, it’s clear that Love Lokombe is playing a rack of glass bottles.  But he’s also hitting some kind of metal scraps.  And at the end of “Malembe” Makara Bianko picks up a board with a can attached to it  There’s a guitar string, I guess, which he strums rapidly.  I guess he can change the pitch by moving the ca,  He gets a pretty cool melody sound out of it.  It’s such a cool instrument and I want to see more!

There’s a nice story about the band in this NPR piece at Goats and Soda.

[READ: March 1, 2020] “Waiting for the End of the World”

In the great tradition of authors I like writing long form non-fiction for Harper’s, Lauren Groff heads to a Prepper’s Camp to learn how to deal with TEOTWAWKI.

The camp was started in 2014 by Rick and “Prepper Jane” Austin.

Groff acknowledges that she is not he usual prepper.

I am a vegetarian agnostic feminist in a creative field who sits to the left of most American socialists: I want immediate and radial action to halt climate change, free Medicare and free public higher education for all, abortion pills offered for pennies in pharmacies and gas stations, the eradication of billionaires; the destruction capitalism; and the rocketing of all the planet’s firearms into the sun.

Amen. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE GLENN MILLER ORCHESTRA-In The Nutcracker Mood (2012).

Glenn Miller disappeared just before Christmas on December 15, 1944. His Orchestra, in the too-short run under his personal leadership, had officially recorded only one Christmas song (“Jingle Bells”, October 20, 1941).

Year later, the orchestra has recorded three Christmas albums.

A list of desirable players was compiled. There were a few requisites — musicians had to be working currently; only alumni of the Glenn Miller Orchestra would be recruited; each individual had to have recognized and outstanding talent; each veteran had to be able to take a leave-of-absence from his current “gig”; and, of course, be available to come to New York City to record.  The average age of this band is about 50. The length of time each player performed with the Glenn Miller Orchestra ranges from as little as 6 months to well over 10 years. The cumulative experience of this band recreating the authentic Miller “sound” is well over 100 years!

The first recording, “In The Christmas Mood”, was released in 1991. It was so successful that a second recording, “In The Christmas Mood II,” was produced and later released in 1993.

Almost all of the musicians performing on all three of these recordings, are the same. The only differences are the pianist for the first recording, and trombonist, Larry O’Brien, the then leader of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, was unable to make the second recording due to being on tour. Larry is noticeably back on this recording as evidenced by his beautiful trombone solo on Toyland.

My parents loved Glenn Miller and I grew up listening to him.  So when I saw this, I knew I had to get it–combining Glenn and the Nutcracker!

“Miniature Overture” a fun overture that puts the swing in things.
“March” I don’t know if Brian Setzer put the swing into this song before they did, but it has Glenn all over it.
“Dance of the Fairy Dragee” doesn’t differ too much for the original at least until the middle when the jazzy drums kick in.  The end totally swings.
“Russian Dance”  fast and peppy and wonderful with a big band flourish at the end.
“Arabian Dance” I love that the more Arabian sound comes from a muted trumpet.
“Chinese Dance” There’s some extra big band solos thrown into this one–cheating a bit I think.
“Dance of the Mirlitons” Some nice swinging in this dance too of course.
“Waltz of the Flowers”  This song is usually pretty sedate, but they big up the band.   The main part is still a pretty waltz, though.

“Jolly Old St. Nicholas”  The band’s singers enter on this song.  I have to admit I never really liked the Miller songs with words.  But this sounds pretty accurate to me.
“Toyland” A slow romantic ballad that I don;t recognize from elsewhere.  I could see Lawrence Welk and his bubbles doing this song.
“Ode to Joy”  You don’t hear jazzy versions of this too often, but they have the Glenn Miller sound perfectly for this swinging Classic.

“A String of Carols; Here We Come a-Caroling, Up On the House Top, a Child Is Born in Bethlehem, Deck the Halls”  The swingers are back with this nice medley of carols.

“Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” I love that they threw in a few bars of In the Mood into this song.
“Old Fashioned Christmas Tree” and “March of the Toys” I’m not sure if they are from something or just goo old swinging fun.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” returns the vocals to the end of the disc.  I fitting end for the Christmas holiday.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra:
Saxes: Ralph Olson Lead Clarinet, Alto Saxophone & Flute; Lee Lachman Clarinet, Alto Saxophone & Piccolo; Mark Vinci Clarinet & Tenor Saxophone; Frank Perowsky Clarinet & Tenor Saxophone; Richy Barz Bass Clarinet, Alto Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone
Trumpets: Tom Snelson; Ken Brader; John Hoffman; Dale Thompson
Trombones: Larry O’Brien; Eric Culver; Randy Purcell; Dennis Good
Piano: Tony Monte
Bass: Lanny Fields
Guitar: Jay Patten
Drums: Danny D’Imperio
The Moonlight Serenaders: Annette Sanders, Arlene Martell, Al Dana, Paul Evans, Kevin DiSimone

[READ: April 25, 2017] The Art of Wordless Storytelling

This book is a companion to an exhibition of Wiesner’s art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Wiesner has created some of the most beautiful children’s pictures books ever.  And most of them have no words at all.  His books include Free Fall (1988), Hurricane (1992), Tuesday (1991), June 29, 1999 (1992), Sector 7 (1999), The Three Pigs (2001), Flotsam (2006), Art & Max (2010), Mr Wuffles! (2013) and Fish Girl (2016).

This book taught me that all of his art is done in watercolor and done in such a way that he adds layer upon layer of color to create intense depth of color and shade–I’d always known his art was great but had no idea why.  But then I read that when most books are created they print all of the colors at the same time, effectively muting his work.  So all of the subtlety in his work is lost when it comes out in book form.  His original drawings and paintings sound breathtaking.

In addition to seventy some plates of paintings, this book contains a few essays and Q&A with Wiesner. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 28, 2015] Spencers: Theatre of Illusion

Back in October of 2012 we saw Spencers: Theatre of Illusion.  I saw that they were coming around again, and even though we had seen the show, I remember enjoying it and thought it would be fun to see them again since the kids were a little older now.

I also assumed that the show would be different.  I mean, it had been nearly 2 and a half years.  Sadly, many of the magic acts were exactly the same.  But on the positive side, they were still pretty awesome, and there was a bunch of new material as well.

In my previous write up I said that the pacing was too slow.  I’m sure it wasn’t faster but it didn’t feel slow this time.  That may have been the audience–the room was full of super excited kids and there was plenty of laughter and applause–it worked very well with his leisurely storytelling style (I may have also been anxious last time since our kids were younger and I wanted them to be excited all the way though).

He started off , like last time, by doing a seemingly easy but very cool illusion of tearing today’s newspaper in half. He made some jokes about the paper and then proceeded to rip it up and then reunite the whole page.   It’s pretty cool. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 9, 2013] The Big Apple Circus

bigappC.s Cub Scout pack got tickets to the Big Apple Circus again this year and we decided to go.  Once again the Circus came right on the heels of Chinese acrobats, so I didn’t think I would be impressed, but once again, the circus did a very good job.  I’ll get my one gripe out of the way first.  Our seats were awful.  Not the circus’ fault obviously, but they claim that there are no bad seats.  And while ours weren’t bad (we were to the back right of the circus floor), all of the action is played to the front, so we missed a lot of the most dramatic poses, we missed the backdrops that they put up and clearly missed the overall feel of the show.  And given how many seats were empty in the good section, I was a little bummed.  Because the show itself was spectacular.

The signature character of grandma was gone, replaced by a funny clown couple (Acrobuffos), who did a lot of grandma’s interactions with the crowd, but as more of a jealous couple routine.  They were quite funny and I’m impressed that the woman had some kind of playballs in her pants making her rear enormous–and she was able to actually bounce on them.

I also didn’t realize when we went that there was a story/theme of the history of the circus or the history of New York, or some kind of history (Legendarium!).  Including a penny farthing bicycle!  So there were stories about circuses of old and some story about Broadway and arrowheads.  The ringmaster was decent but nothing special.  But again, you go for the acts, not the ringmaster. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 13, 2012] Spencers: Theatre of Illusion

This past summer, we purchased some subscriptions to many performances coming up at Raritan Valley Community College   Last year I was impressed by the quality of the performances our little community college attracted, and again, this year, the stars are coming out!

We started off our series with this show, a family entertainment (although honestly going until 9 was a little long for T.  It did say that it was recommended for slightly older kids, although this wasn’t so much content as the pacing and lateness of the show).

The Spencers have a fascinating back story (told in the programme and during the show).  Kevin Spencer always wanted to be a magician.  Doug Hennig was a huge inspiration.  At some point in his career he was in a car accident and it changed the nature of his show (although we never learn what the act used to be like). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 15, 2012] The Big Apple Circus

When I was a kid, we went to the Ringling Bros. Circus a few times. (I still have the program).  I had never been to the Big Apple Circus.  When we saw that it was in Bridgewater a few years ago we went (Tabitha was a baby and fell asleep after the intermission).  The year after that, the kids both enjoyed the show.  We missed last year due to a scheduling conflict.

When we heard that this was going to be grandma’s last year of the show, we decided we had to go.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Big Apple Circus, the one constant every year is “Grandma:” an old clown lady who meanders into the ring, causes mischief and is generally very funny.  Grandma, played by Barry Lubin, is leaving the show because “Mr. Lubin will spirit Grandma away to Sweden, where he moved last January to live with his partner, Ann Hageus” (NY Times).

I assumed there would be a huge send off to Grandma, but it was a surprisingly low-key show for her.  She had some great bits and was very entertaining (as always) but there was no major farewell.  Oh well.

The big surprise for our show was that Dr Oz was the surprise host.  And he handed out really stinky paper rulers (I can’t get over how badly they smelled) so that we could all measure our waists to see if we were fat or not.  Okay, first of all most of us don’t need to measure to see if we’re fat.  Second, this is a circus–not a single foodstuff out there is good for you.  Was I really going to measure my waist while holding my kids’ cotton candy.  No, I was just going to feel like a fat schlub.  Yaay!  Fun for the whole family.

My biggest victory of the night was when Dr Oz came into the crowd and his publicist asked if I (we) wanted to meet him and I was able to curtly say “No” and watch her look of surprise.  I have better things to do than to meet a TV doctor, thank you very much.

Like watch a circus. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: QUEENSRŸCHE-The Warning (1984).

Queensrÿche fulfilled the promise of their debut EP with this album.  It takes the blueprint of the EP and expands it wonderfully.  They introduce some cool low vocal chants to compliment Tate’s soaring alto (like on “En Force”), they also introduce some wonderful effects and riffs and scales (also on “En Force”).

There’s also some really great, odd “keyboard” bits thrown in as kind of sound effects or jarring moments (“Deliverance”).  “Deliverance” also has great backing vocals, and I love the way the “Deliver Us” part of the song is quite different from the soaring of the rest of the vocals.  The back and forth of “No Sanctuary” also showcases the bands skills very well.

The band even shows signs that they’re not sticking to standard heavy metal.  On “N.M. 156” there’s some sci-fi chanting and the really cool section of the song in which Tate sings “Forgotten…Lost…Memories” and the “Lost” part is a completely unexpected note.   They were taking chances from the beginning.

“The Lady Wore Black” is updated with the stunning “Take Hold of the Flame,” a slightly more progressive version of that first song.  “Before the Storm” was the first song I heard from this album and it has always been my favorite on the record (this is one of those few albums where the better songs aren’t front loaded).  “We watch the sun rise and hope it won’t be our last” (they were always happy guys).

“Child of Fire” opens with a wonderful riff and the compelling, “the souls that are damned by the pain that you bring send you higher.”  The song settles down into a slow part and Tate growls “Damn you and the pain they must feel” and you can tell he means it (whatever else the song is about).

All this time I don’t think I ever realized that “Roads to Madness” was nine minutes long.  It is definitely foreshadowing the kind of epic work they would do later.  And it closes out the album in a cathartic blast.  It’s wonderfully pure metal from the mid-80s.

[READ: October 20, 2011] Celebrations of Curious Characters

I had never heard of Ricky Jay before getting this book, but apparently he is a reasonably well know radio personality (on KCRW), he is also an actor on Deadwood, and he’s a magician.  This book is a collection of his KCRW radio show broadcasts along with accompanying pictures from his vast collection of obscure ephemera.

There are forty-five entries in the book–each one is a page long (it’s an oversized book and they are two columns each).  Each essay is Jay’s take on a particular subject or, as the title says, curious character.  Jay is a collector of esoteric information, especially that related to magic and, for lack of a better word, freakish behavior.   One of the most enjoyable parts of the book are the pictures that accompany each entry.  The pictures come from Jay’s collection and each picture’s provenance is given in the back of the book.  So we get pictures like “The little Count Boruwlaski, engraving by A. van Assed ([London]) Borowlaski [sic], 1788). or Lithograph of Chung Ling Soo (Birmingham: J. Upton, c. 1912) or Frontispiece portrait from George Devol, Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi (Cincinnati: Devol & Haines, 1887).  Some of these photos you can see on his website.  Or you can enjoy this picture of a chicken firing a gun that is not in the book (it comes from his site). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SUFJAN STEVENS-“Too Much” (2010).

NPR hosts a free online version of this song from Sufjan’s new album The Age of ADZ. I’ve been a fan of Sufjan’s orchestral pop for quite some time now. Although I’m less thrilled by his overly electronic experiments.  This song is an electronic meisterbrew, over-filled with all kinds of swells and electronica.

It still has Sufjan’s wonderful voice underneath it, and it retains many elements of Sufjan’s style, but it doesn’t make me all that excited to hear the rest of the album.   Of course, in the past, Sufjan has made many esoteric long-form electronic noodles (this one is over 6 minutes) as sort of supplements to the real deal.

So maybe this is an experiment?  We shall see.

[READ: October 22, 2010] “The Hofzinser Club”

Michael Chabon is another of the 1999 New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 authors.  I enjoyed Kavalier & Klay, but I read it long enough ago that I didn’t recognize this as an excerpt from it (clearly I will have to read it again).

This excerpt is from Josef Kavalier’s early attempts at magic.  We see Josef’s patience and unabashed desire to become a great magician (he has even written a musical based on Houdini).  He begins studying under Bernard Kornblum, who is a respected magician and a member of the prestigious Hofzinser Club.  This Club is (mixed metaphor alert), the brass ring that Josef imagines and hopes will accept him some day.

Josef’s younger brother Thomas is even more excited at the prospect of Josef’s fame, and he tries to think of amazing stunts that will shorten Josef’s wait until he is honored by the Club.  He suggests jumping from a plane while tied to a chair.  Young Josef of course wonders how he would even get a plane.  But spurred on by his brother’s excitement, Josef hatches a plan that’s within his reach. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: New Moon Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2010).

Back in the 90s, it seemed like every week there was a new soundtrack featuring an unreleased song from some great alt rock band.  This meant huge sales for soundtracks, even if for the most part they weren’t solid start to finish.  In fact, mostly you got three great new songs, three pieces of rubbish, one great song by a band you’d never heard before and two or three okay tracks.

The inclusion of a new Death Cab for Cutie song was the big news about this soundtrack.  And overall, the reviews were positive.  And I’m pleased to say there aren’t really any horrible songs here.  (I have no idea how the soundtrack fits in with the movie as I haven’t seen it and probably never will).

But as with that old soundtrack formula: we get a few good songs by reasonably well-known bands: Death Cab for Cutie, Thom Yorke, Bon Iver & St, Vincent, Muse, Grizzly Bear.  And then there’s a whole bunch of good rock songs.  The disc plays as something of a sampler of downcast, mellow alt rock. In fact, the back half of the disc sounds like a pretty decent alt rock radio station from the last decade or so.

Some of the tracks even sound like 90s alt tracks (Hurricane Bells, that song is 16 years old right?  And Sea Wolf, you’re channeling Peter Murphy, I know.)  The final two tracks are okay.  The Editors is kind of a Nick Cave via Joy Division sorta spoken word ballad.  And I admit I’m a little disappointed in the Lykke Li track–they got hyped beyond their ability.  The final track is a piano score, which is fine.

The biggest surprise to me is how much that Death Cab for Cutie songs sounds like a Rush song.  I’ve never considered that the bands sound anything alike before, and yet from the moment the song opens, that could be Geddy Lee singing, and that whole guitar structure is very Rush-like.  Maybe they should do a cover of it.

[READ: April 20, 2010] Maps and Legends

This is a collection of 17 non-fiction pieces by Michael Chabon.  The pieces cover everything from book reviews, essays about reading and writing, comic book and comic book artists and golems.

The opening essay is about the modern short story and it sets the tone for the entire book.  Interestingly, this essay talks about the state of entertainment and how “Entertainment has a bad name.  Serious people learn to mistrust and revile it.  The word wears spandex, pasties, a leisure suit studded with blinking lights. (13).  This very topic is at the heart of the David Lipsky/David Foster Wallace book (and in fact Chabon is mentioned in that book as well.)  Ah, serendipity. (more…)

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LoveLettersSMSOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH-SYR 7: J’accuse Ted Hughes/Agnès B Musique (2008).

syr7The first side of the disc (for it was only released on vinyl) is a ballsy blast of music.  Ballsy because it was the opening track of their live set at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2000.  And who opens up their set at a festival that features bands like Super Furry Animals, Sigur Rós, and Stereolab (basically a who’s who in awesome Brit-rock) with this 22 minute shriek of noise?

The set was so derisively received that the cover of the NME (hilariously reproduced on the cover of the LP) stated “Goodbye 20th Century, Goodbye Talent.”

The noise is palpable: squeals and squalls and all manner of feedback.  Kim even gets a strange little spoken word section in the middle.  I would think fans might have enjoyed it for 5, maybe even 10 minutes, but by 23 it’s pretty numbing.  The rest of the set included instrumentals from the not yet released NYC Ghosts and Flowers.  It almost seems like the set was payback for the invitation.

The B-side is an 18 minute “soundtrack” of sorts.  Agnes B. is a French clothing designer and yet somehow the music feels like it could be for some scary kids’ movie.  It has a number of creepy elements to it.  I kept picturing people sneaking around a little cottage.

The liner notes are written in Arpitan, a steadily-declining-in-use language spoken mostly in Italy and Switzerland.

Not for the faint of heart (or the vinylphobic).

[READ: August 31, 2009] Four Letter Word

I read about this book in The Walrus and then I ordered it from Amazon.ca as it doesn’t seem to be available in the US.

The book is a collection of “love letters.”  What is so very interesting about the collection is the varied nature of the letters themselves.  It’s not just: “I love you XOXO” (of course).   There are letters to mothers, stepmothers, mountains, and the Earth itself.  There are letters of love, lust, anger and respect.

I was most attracted to the book by the great list of authors, some of whom I read religiously and many others whom I just really like (and of course a bunch who I’ve never heard of).

It’s hard to review a collection of short stories that is as varied as this, especially when the pieces are this short (as most of them are).  And, I guess technically, they aren’t even short stories.  They are just letters. I would never base my opinion of these authors from this work.  Although some of the authors that I know well definitely retain their signature style.  There were only one or two letters that I didn’t enjoy, but for the most part the entire collection is very good.  And if you like any of these authors, it’s worth checking out.

I’m going to list all of the authors, mention who the letter is to, and any other salient features (without trying to give anything away–several letters have a surprise in them)! (more…)

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