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Archive for the ‘Thor Harris’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THOR HARRIS & JOYFUL NOISE PLAYERS-Is Adam Ok? (2020).

I have been aware of Thor Harris for years.  He’s played in bands that I like and he’s played with musicians I like.

He’s an amazing all-around musician, even if his first/main instrument is drums/percussion.

Thor is also a craftsman–making his own instruments and all manner of other things.

So, when Joyful Noise Records announced that he was their artist in residence this year, I definitely wanted to see what he would come up with.

And so, he has created a 6 LP box set.  And by created, I mean he created the boxes (not the record sleeves, I don’t think) by hand and hand colored each one.  he also drew the album covers.

The first album in the collection (according to the list on the back) is this one, Is Adam OK.

The basis for this recording is this:

When musicians are working on a “song” or a specific “piece”, they are using a certain part of their conscious brains. But before the super narcissistic band leader shows up and takes the reins, they will often hang out making stream-of-consciousnesses music that is often more interesting than the conscripted “songs”.

I really enjoyed this observation about virtuosos and about himself

Interesting things happen when a musician is playing out of her comfort zone. This can be achieved by playing an instrument that you don’t usually play or by playing out of your usual genre. If you hand a guy an electric guitar and he grew up on rock and roll, the outcome is somewhat predictable at this point, mimicry of 50 years of rock and blues players. This is why virtuosos are boring to watch after a few minutes of amazement. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been asked to “play dumber” when recording drum tracks. I spent much of my youth learning hot drum licks, then my early 20s learning not to ever do them.

The first song, “Is Adam OK?” is a 22 minute improv piece.

On “Is Adam OK?” I sat at the piano prepared with sweaters across the strings. Virtuoso, multi-instrumentalist, super-freak Greg Saunier sat beside me at the piano and off into the abyss we wandered for 22 minutes.

The musicians are Thor Harris – piano, xylophone, bass drum; Greg Saunier – piano, vibraphone, bass drum; Jasamine White-Gluz – organ; Sima Cunningham – vocals; Macie Stewart – vocals; Adam Harding – vocals, field recordings, toilet flushing; C.J. Boyd – bass guitar, vocals; Daniel Smith – vocals; Kid Millions – seed husks

The piece starts with repeated piano motif. You can hear the “mistakes” as they hit the “wrong” note or go out of time, but that’s sort of the point of this piece.  Around seven minutes, the vocalists start singing like the middle of Pink Floyd’s “Atom Heart Mother.”  I rather like when, around 8 minutes, the percussion comes in and then the bass drum at 10 minutes adds a whole new layer of texture.  By 21 minutes the piece has circled back to the quiet opening with just piano and xylophone.  And it all ends with a flushing toilet

The second track, “Kindest Regards Mr Mapfumo” is 11 minutes long and feels a little less improvised.

I started “Kindest Regards Mr Mapfumo” hoping for a Steve Reich kind of 12/8 piece, but ended up with a Thomas Mapfumo kind of 12/8. A pleasant misstep. The driving instrument is an electric tongue drum that I built. I will soon put instructions for building one yourself on Instagram. I ran it thru an Old Blood chorus/delay/distortion pedal.

Thor Harris – electric tongue drum, Casio organ, marimba; Sarah “Goat” Gautier – organ; Jasamine White-Gluz – guitar; C.J. Boyd – double bass; Sima Cunningham – vocals; Macie Stewart – vocals; Marina Tadic – vocals, güiro; Adam Harding – vocals, Mellotron, guitar, güiro

The tongue drum sounds like a modifed (loud) jaw harp–a cool vibrating sound.  OHMME add some unusual vocals to the song and then a double bass comes in to ground it somewhat.  Around half way through you can totally get lost on all of the various waves of sound that wash over the tongue drum, which feels aboriginal by this point.

The vocals around the 8 minute mark are just lovely–intertwining “do do dos” that flow around almost like an Esquivel space-age-bachelor-pad vocal line.

The third song “Grief Comes in Waves” is 9 minutes and is much more creepy.

On “Grief Comes in Waves”, Andy Stack, Monk Parker and I played layer upon layer of sax and clarinet in 7 minute slabs. We added some other bits and bobs, then sent them to others to have their way with them. Jad Fair, Ohmme, and Adam added things I never would have thought of.

Thor Harris – clarinet, kalimba, organ Andy Stack – alto saxophone, marimba Monk Parker – baritone saxophone, marimba Jad Fair – vocals Sima Cunningham – vocals Macie Stewart – vocals Adam Harding – vocals

The kalmiba and marimba make for some lovely echoing sounds , but its the repeated clarinet and saxophone rumbles and blasts combining with the low organ that create a field of tension.  The vocals are more keening than singing and help to build the air of discomfort.  There’s even  growling sound which could be a human voice or an instrument.

However around half way through, OHMME start singing some syncopated notes and it adds a feeling of hopefulness, somehow.  But the feeling of despair returns by the end, effectively demonstrating the waves of grief.

This is not easy listening, but then, one shouldn’t expect that from Thor Harris.

[READ: February 24, 2020] An Ocean of Despair

This is a short, illustrated story by Thor Harris.  Although I guess it’s not really a story so much as a telling of a low point in his life.

He says in 1992 he left Austin for San Francisco.  He hoped to recover his “Self-esteem and love for life.”  But instead he became terrified of social interaction.  It became so bad he woke up with tunnel vision.  He also began having panic attacks which made it hard for him to work.

He felt suicide would be an escape from the misery, an act of mercy.

In a moment of clarity he called his older sister.  She always made him feel like he was okay.  She brought him back to Texas, told him about depression (the disease) and thought that he might be able to get treatment. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KISHI BASHI-“All I Want for Christmas is You” (2019).

The 2018 JNR Holiday Party, Vol. 2 compilation also featured a Christmas song by Kishi Bashi.

It begins with him muttering.  “It’s Christmas.  It’s never Christmas when you’re recording Christmas songs.”

What follows is the remarkably conventional song I’ve heard Kishi Bashi record.  Aside form the obviously hugely conventional nature of one of Christmas’ biggest songs, the style of his singing along with the backing vocals and the general feel makes me surprised this version isn’t played more.

Thor Harris who appeared on yesterday’s bizarre Christmas song, makes an appearance here (although I don’t know what he does).  The gorgeous backing vocals come from OHMME (just like yesterday as well).

K. sings this in his lower register–giving him a very croony sounds (one that is rather unlike his normal singing voice).  The only real nod to it being Kishi Bashi is a the cool violin solo (so much better than a sax solo!).

I would listen to this version over any other, hands down.

[READ: December 17, 2019] “The Science Fair Protest”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This was another confusing story that seemed like it might have been based on something … except the whole premise is crazy.

Even the beginning is hard to parse: “When the new gangsters got elected and took control, atoms could no longer be said to be the smallest form of matter.”  What?

This begat the Science Fair Protest, an ongoing violent disruption.  The narrator says he is no science teacher, but his neighbor, Ram, was an eighth grade biology teacher.  Ram said that the gangsters insisted that instead of him having lab hours once a week, he was to take the students to a field to play a game called Stick & Ball.  You have a stick and, not a ball, but a big rock.  You throw the rock in the air and hit it with the stick as hard as you can. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THOR HARRIS, DUMB NUMBERS-“Carol of the Tubular Bells” (2019).

I really like Joyful Noise Records.  They release some really beautiful music as well as some really out there stuff.  They are the home of Kishi Bashi and Ohmme as well as a number of other terrific bands. But they also release lots of noisy chaotic bands (call it joyful noise perhaps).

For 2018 they released JNR Holiday Party, Vol. 2 and eclectic bunch of holiday songs.

This song was recorded by Thor Harris & Dumb Numbers with David Yow, Ohmme, and CJ Boyd.

Thor Harris is, well, his Wikpedia page says he is “an artist, sculptor, musician, painter, carpenter and handyman.”  Musically he is a composer and percussionist who plays every instrument in the universe (on his last album he was credited with marimba, flute, vibraphone, voice, organ, duduk, tubular bells, gongs ,etc.”

Dumb Numbers is the project Adam Harding whose musical style has been described as doom, sludge, and “swooning feedback pop.”  He has worked with all kinds of people including David Yow, singer of The Jesus Lizard.

That’s the background for this nearly three minutes of bizarreness.

The song starts with a toy piano playing Carol of the Bells.  Soon enough, OHMME sing beautifully the actual song, including the ding dong ding dong.  Meanwhile the counterpoint vocals (normally “Hark how the bells, Sweet silver bells…”) features David You singing “Don’t go insane, don’t go insane” to that melody.

That’s all that Yow sings, over and over for nearly 3 minutes.  And he clearly starts to go a little insane.  His vice fades to a whisper, turns into a rant, and sometimes even gets back on track to the timing.  Meanwhile OHMME sounds really beautiful.

Around 2 minutes in, Yow seems to have lost it entirely, mumbling incoherently until he screams “look out mama, there’s a….”

OHMME stop singing and then the melody of “Carol of the Bells” suddenly morphs into Mike Oldfields’ “Tubular Bells” and the song takes on a whole new tone.

As the song fades Yow screams “Faaaaaaaaalllllllll on your knees.”

This is the song you play when you want everyone to leave your Christmas party.

You can watch Yow sing over the backing track here.

[READ: December 16, 2019] “Show Me Your Dantes”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story was delightfully surreal.  I am very intrigued that it is an excerpt from an upcoming novel which is the second of a trilogy about  character named Prin.  Initially I thought Prin was a woman, because, why not.  But that was quickly settled, when it was obvious Prin was a forty-year old man.

The excerpt starts with Prin being interviewed by a Charlie Tracker.  Charlie asks him what he knows about this job and Prin says that if he got the job he would be working with Charlie but would be working for Hugh, Charlie’s son.

The story seemed to be pretty normal–a man getting interviewed–until Charlie says he is impressed that the Prin wore new shoes to the job interview, “most of the professors I’ve met over the years show up in shoes they stole from hobo camps.”  Since I didn’t know when this story was set I didn’t know how literal that was meant to be. (Apparently not at all).

As the interview gets going Charlie offers to let Prin see “the finest private collection of Dante manuscripts and Dante memorabilia in the United States.”   Charlie is a little disappointed that Prin wasn’t more excited about that but Prin says he’d be more excited if he knew what this position was all about.

Charlie gives a lengthy and affecting explanation of how he got into Dante (it had to do with the Vietnam war and a very disturbing scene).  We also learn about Charlie’s business background and how he succeeded after the war. (more…)

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