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Archive for the ‘Kurt Weill’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JULIA BULLOCK-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #119 (December 1, 2020).

I had not heard of Julia Bullock, so when I started this video I was surprised that she was an operatic singer.  Their setting seems so casual–just her sitting next to her husband, Christian Reif, at the piano.  And then pow–what a voice!

Soprano Julia Bullock prefers to be called a “classical singer.” It’s a rather humble, even vague, appellation for one of today’s smartest, most arresting vocalists in any genre.

Bullock is in Munich Germany and has decided to sing songs in both langauges.

Carefully choosing songs in German and English, Bullock begins with something bittersweet and introspective by Franz Schubert that cautions patience when looking for inner peace.

Franz Schubert: “Wanderers Nachtlied II” [Wanderers Night Song] features poetry by Goethe and is barely two minutes long.  It’s a wonderful start.

She follows with “Wie lange noch” (How Much Longer), a World War II-era song by Kurt Weill. Written after Weill emigrated to the United States, the song contained coded messages for Germans back home. But Bullock has no time for secrets in these days fraught with uncertainty. The meaning behind her insistent cries of “How much longer?” as she stares straight through the camera, couldn’t be more transparent.

That direct look at the camera is certainly uncomfortable–I hope the right people are made uncomfortable by it.

The next two songs are a gut-punch of clear-eyed observation, struggle and hope. The spiritual “City of Heaven” finds a determined protagonist facing down sorrow.

The song is sung as a spiritual, but Bullock’s operatic voice cannot be denied.

while Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free,” written at the height of the civil rights movement, speaks truth to power. At the very end, Bullock spins out a long flowing line on the word “free.”

After a soft piano intro, she sings the beginning of the song a capella.  So that when the piano comes back in it’s even more powerful.  As are the deep notes she hits.

[READ: December 29, 2020] “The Heart of the Circle”

This was an excerpt in the back of the novel Simantov.  It’s another book from Angry Robot and “more Israeli fantasy.”  The story was translated by Daniela Zamir.

I enjoyed the way this book starts right in the middle of the action–giving very little in the way of context.

A few people (college students) are seated at a bar.  There’s Reed and Daphne.  He is close with Daphne (her curls tickle his nose), but she is a free spirit.  There’s also Reed’s brother Matthew.  Daphne and Matthew were supposed to be an item (according to the boys’ mother) but it never happened.  Their mother now sees her as part of the family–as a sort of sister.

They are all somber.  It is the day after the latest murder.

The first murder was unbearable.  This is now the fifth or sixth and they are almost numb. This time they didn’t know her, but they were marching with her when she was killed.

When pyros tried to get revenge after the first murders, they were arrested and executed by the Prevention of Future Crimes Unit. (more…)

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momentSOUNDTRACK: NICK BUZZ-Circo (1996).

nickbuzzNick Buzz is a side project of Rheostatics singer/lead guitarist Martin Tielli.  This album was reissued in 2002, when I bought it  But it came out in 1996, right around the time of the concerts I’ve been posting about.  Martin says that this album is pure pop, and that he is genuinely surprised that people don’t see this.  Of course, when your album has screeching monkeys, cars honking and circus music, pop is not the first thing that comes to mind.  There are certainly pretty songs on here, but it is an album that resists easy entrance.  There are short manic pieces, slow, languorous, almost lounge music pieces, and an improved cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” And then there’s the instrumentation: piano, violin, guitar, voice (no drums, although there is percussion on some tracks) and other weird sound effects.

“Step Inside” opens the disc.  It seems like a normal, mellow song (with slightly falsettoed vocals).  But 34 seconds in the circus music starts—a deviant and unsettling circus that pushes its way into the song briefly then vacating and allowing the pretty melody to return.  It’s like a mild form of Mr Bungle (with more actual circus).  It’s unsettling at first but then strangely catchy after a few listens.  There is fanfare as the song ends, interrupted by the sound of a tape speeding up (or going backwards) until song two bursts in.

“That’s What You et for having Fun” is less than three minutes and while weird, it is certainly accessible and funny.  The guitar sounds like he is slapping the strings rather than strumming them.  The refrain of “there’s a monkey in my underwear” gives a sense of the absurdity (especially when the President of Canada (sic) says he has one too).  “Just Because” mellows things out a lot—simple guitar with a kind of lullaby feel (it’s a bout wishing on stars).  It’s so slow after the craziness of the first two songs.  After  3 minutes of a lounge type song, it ends with a distant radio sound of an even more loungey song which melds into the live version of “River.”

The mellow “River” is followed by a raucous bass clarinet solo and wild guitar solo that is interrupted by the long (nearly 6 minutes) “Sane, So Sane.”  This is the most conventional song on the record—a simple piano melody with repeated lyrics (conventional aside from the weird distant music in the background of course).  Although it does gone on a bit long.  “A Hymn to the Situation” is an eerie two-minute wobbly song.

“Fornica Tango” is indeed a tango presumably sung in Italian. This song features a crying baby, an interesting sounding “Italian” chorus and the screeching monkey at the end.  “Love Streams” is a pretty, slow ballad.  “Aliens Break a Heart” is another pretty song.  Although this is the song that ends with traffic sounds.  “The Italian Singer/Just Because I’m Nick the Buzz” has a kind of Kurt Weill atmosphere to it with spoken words and falsettos.

It took me several listens before I could really find purchase with these songs.  I find that I really enjoy most of them now–some of those slow ones are a little too meandering for my liking.  But it seems like a fun outlet for Tielli’s songcraft.

[READ: October & November 2013] A Moment in the Sun

I read this book last year…finished it just before Thanksgiving, in fact (I was proud of my pacing).  But it was so huge that I didn’t want to write about it until I had a good amount of time.  And now here it is four months later and I probably have forgotten more details than I should have and the post will be nowhere near as in depth as I was saving time for in the first place.  Bah.

When people see this book, they say, “That’s a big book.”  And it is a big book.  It’s 955 pages (and they are thick pages, so the book itself is nearly three inches thick–see the bottom of this post for an “actual size” photo); it’s got three “books” and dozens of characters whose stories we read about in full.  It is about the United States, racism, The Gold Rush, the assassination of a President, the Spanish American War, a World’s Fair and even the exploration of moving pictures.  This is a fairly comprehensive look at the Unites States from the 1890s to the early 1900s.  And, man was it good.

John Sayles is known more for his movies than his books (18 films directed, nearly as many different ones written and only 4 novels), but the cinematic quality that is clearly in his blood comes through in this book as well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PJ HARVEY-Live at the Warfield Theater, San Francisco, April 14, 2011 (2011).

NPR was given permission to share this PJ Harvey concert.  However, they were only allowed to share about half of it.  The show is fairly short to begin with (about 75 minutes) but the downloadable portion is barely 40 minutes.  It turns out that NPR was given the rights to all of the songs from the new album, Let England Shake.

Now, I have no idea how things like this work, why they are only given access to these songs as opposed to the other ones, or why an artist (or management) would not let her fans hear the ten or so other songs she played that night.  Legal restrictions are weird and usually stupid. But as I’ve mentioned before, you shouldn’t complain about free stuff.

So, what we get here is a spliced together concert (it sounds seamless, although they have removed all of the banter (if there was any)).  The album is played in its entirety (although we were not given “Written on the Forehead” which happens to be the song they are playing the most on the radio here), but it’s not played in order.  It was also interspersed with older songs “The Devil” and “Silence” from White Chalk, “The Sky Lit Up” and Angeline” from Is This Desire, “Pocket Knife” from Uh Huh Her, “Down by the Water” and “C’mon Billy” from To Bring Her My Love, (I’d like to hear how she handles the older songs, now that’s she’s singing primarily in the higher register).  And, “Big Exit” from Stories from the City.

It’s pretty clear that Harvey is no longer the young woman who made those first couple albums.  And she sounds strong and confident here.  It’s a great set; the autoharp never sounded better.

[READ: April 20, 2011] Five Dials Number 5

I have been enjoying all of the Five Dials, but this issue is easily my favorite so far.  The “theme” of this issue is translation.  Translators are the unheralded workers in literature, and while I have been trying to give them credit in my posts, I don’t always pay them enough attention (except when a translation is awkward or clunky).

But in addition to the theme (and the really cool interviews with some translators, I thought the fiction was outstanding and I loved Alain de Botton’s Advice column.  The whole issue was great. (more…)

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