Archive for the ‘Weekend Edition’ Category

flinchSOUNDTRACK: HAUSCHKA-“Improvisation,” “Random Gifts” and “Mt. Hood” in the NPR studios (2010).

hausckaHauschka is German composer Volker Bertelmann and he plays the prepared piano.  What that means is that he places things on and in the piano to alter the sound of it.  (Nothing he does creates any permanent damage).

Mostly he creates percussive sounds with things like bottle caps,Tic Tac boxes and skewers.  And while it sounds simple, it is really quite ingenious.

This Vimeo link shows him talking to Guy Raz at NPR about the random materials that Raz has given him and then demonstrating how they change the sound of things.  Then he plays the “Random Gifts.”

The Youtube Video below shows another improv piece from the same day using different items.

This Vimeo link to him playing “Mt. Hood” shows off his use of ping pong balls.

All of his songs are fairly simple and fairly slow, primarily because the preparations add resonances and percussion that would overwhelm if he played faster.  Thus his pieces are often moody and reflective

Hauschka has a new album out as of this month called Abandoned City.  Every track on the new CD is named after a city that has been abandoned, that is vacant.  And his spare oftentimes eerie music goes very well with that theme.

There’s lots more videos of him on YouTube which are worth checking out.

[READ: June 23, 2014] Flinch

I was grabbed by the cover of this graphic novel.  The book is so short that I was really surprised to see that it was actually a collection of short stories.  As you can tell from the subtitle, this work is going to be dark and more than a little creepy.  And it is.  And while there are some similar visual styles, it’s interesting to see just how different these 13 stories can be.  Most of the stories use very few words, relying instead on the power of the visuals.  And it works pretty well.

I didn’t think any of them were especially creepy or dark, although the first one is kinda gross.  I enjoyed them for what they were, short stories that revel in the darker side of life.  I hadn’t heard of most of the artists.  The only one I knew was Shaun Tan. (more…)

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I used to not like Christmas songs very much.  Mostly because they;re unavoidable at the holidays but also because if you subject yourself to radio and mall versions, you get a really really bad selection of tunes.  The lowest common denominator of low denominators.

Sarah is a huge fan of Christmas music (even intentionally putting on Magic ninety-eight point threeeeeeeeee) during the holiday season (which may indeed be 50/50 when it comes to music and commercials and which tends to play quite a bit off my least-favorite song list, but they at least mix it up).  And, buying some of our own Christmas music (including alternate versions and new songs) has really helped get the monotony out of our mix.

This is a list that I created in 2008 and I see that it hasn’t really changed much at all.  There are some albums that we have recently acquired which I haven’t digested enough to see if they rank here or not.  But perhaps by the end of the holiday I’ll have a new post about new favorites.

Sarah’s comments are in red.  And, interestingly, she has created her own favorites list on her site.  Let’s see if anything has changed for her.

So, here’s my favorite Christmas songs circa 2008. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: COLIN STETSON: “Horn of Plenty” (interview, NPR’s All Things Considered) (2011).

I’ll be mentioning some recordings by Stetson shortly, but as an introduction to this man and his bass saxophone, this ten minute piece from NPR is absolutely essential.  I had listened to his recent album and NPR has two concerts from him that are downloadable.  I enjoyed the music, but after listening to this interview it gave me so much more appreciation for what the man is doing.

For a lot of classical and jazz, knowing what the author “meant” can help.  Knowing that The Moldau is a river makes Bedřich Smetana’s piece all the more interesting and moving.  Similarly, knowing that “Judges” is about horses… well, holy crap yes it is.

More importantly, knowing how he does what he does–circular breathing: taking air in through your nose while breathing out through your mouth (try it…it’s not possible) allows Stetson to essentially never have to stop playing.  (Tenacious D has a very funny version of this called “Inward Singing,” although it lacks the gravitas of Stetson.)

Also, the bass saxophone weighs twenty pounds nad is almost as tall as him.  The picture is preposterous.  Who even thinks of making music with such a thing.  And yet he does.  Unsettling music, sure, but music nonetheless.   Listen to this interview and be amazed.

[READ: 2010-2011 and beyond] Natasha Wimmer

Many readers don’t read anything that was written in a different language.  And those of us who do probably give little thought to the translator.  Until recently I didn’t give much thought about them either.  Often I assumed that if I didn’t like a book, it was the author not the translator.  And that could be true, but it may also not be so easy a judgment.

Natasha Wimmer has translated many of Roberto Bolaño’s English publications (she has not translated them all–see below–and, she has also translated other writers).  But she has famously translated The Savage Detectives which rocketed her to prominence, and then she managed his unwieldy 2666.  She has also recently translated Between Parentheses, the book I am currently reading.

Between Parentheses is a collection of newspaper columns, essays and pseudo-fictions.  It is a far cry from the convoluted masterwork that is 2666 and yet Wimmer has made this collection of essays utterly readable (I’ll review the book proper when I finish it).  Again, obviously the work is Bolaño’s and he deserves the credit.  But as I’m reading these newspaper articles, I am aware that they were written in Spanish.  And yet the word choices that Wimmer uses, from idioms to real seventy-five-cent words make the essays flow, give them real impact and really convey the kind of writer that Bolaño was.  Let’s take just one example picked not at random but because it uses a real seventy-five-cent word and it mentions David Foster Wallace (can I go a week without mentioning him?).  In “All Subjects with Fresán”, Bolaño states that he and Rodrigo Fresán spend much of their time talking about various subjects;  he lists 30.  Number 22 is “David Lynch and the prolixity of David Foster Wallace.”  I have no idea what word Bolaño used in Spanish (he has an amazing vocabulary, so I’m sure it was a Spanish 75 cent word) but how many translations would have used the word prolixity?  [Okay I had to look it up, he uses “palabrerío” which Collins translated as “verbiage, hot air.”  How much more outstanding is “prolixity”!–Oh, and as if Bolaño wasn’t prone to palabrerío himself]. (more…)

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ATTENDED: WEIRD AL YANKOVIC-Live at the State Theater, New Brunswick, NJ May 19, 2011 (2011).

I’ve seen “Weird Al” live three times now and I have never been disappointed by the show.  The first year my friend Matt and I waited out by the bus and got the bands’ (minus Al’s) autograph.  The second time we waited even longer and Al had an autograph (and picture taking) session in the theater after the show (how cool is that?).

This year, Sarah and I didn’t wait around afterwards (kids at home) but the show was still great.  Al made a joke after the first song thanking his opening act, Technical Difficulties. (There were indeed 45 minutes of technical difficulties before the show, but Al’s joke made us quickly forget it–and, kudos to the State Theater: I ordered my tickets online from their site and the day after the concert, the theater owner sent an email apologizing for the delay. Classy!).

Sarah had never seen him perform before, so she was pleasantly surprised by the set selection.  I was also surprised by the set selection because he pulled out a few older, more obscure tracks (“Frank’s 2000″ TV” (!), “You Don’t Love Me Any More”–complete with Al smashing a guitar!).  But he also dazzled with some new tracks from his forthcoming album.

The set opened with the polka medley (“Polka Face”).  This is the first polka medley that I didn’t know any (well almost any) of the sped up songs, but it’s always a treat to watch them play it live.  The one complaint with the show was that the sound in the theater wasn’t very good (which is surprising given that it’s an old theater) so it was hard to make out a lot of the words, especially to the new songs–and what’s Al without the lyrics?).  But his new song “I Perform This Way” (parody of Lady Gaga’s “I Was Born This Way”) was fantastic (Al was dressed up like a cartoon peacock).

Yes, costume changes.  One of the most entertaining things about Al’s shows is the costume changes.  For all of his big video hits, he comes out dressed like the video (the band does as well, although it’s a bit more subtle).  So, we get the Amish garb in “Amish Paradise,” the Michael Jackson red jacket for “Eat It”–(another surprise) and, my personal favorite, the fat suit from “Fat.”  One of the funniest costume changes was for a song that will sadly not be released on the album (but you can hear and download it here), “You’re Pitiful,” in which he wore multiple T-shirts (about 5) which all expressed some kind of funny comment (anyone know who was the face on one of the shirts?) and finally ended in a Spongebob Squarepants shirts and tutu.

So how does he do all of these costume changes? In between songs, when the band runs offstage, they play wonderful video clips.  Some of the clips are from his TV shows, some are faux documentaries, and the best are interviews that Al splices together (you can see a whole bunch here) which are hilarious and surprisingly mean-spirited.  I wish he would release them (and any other AlTv segments) on DVD, but I imagine that no one would ever give permission for that–check out the Kevin Federline one, for instance.  But they’re all pretty great.

The crowd was also totally into it (including the guy behind us with an Al wig (and a Harvey the Wonder Hamster).  And the age range was fantastic–from kids to grandparents.  My only hope is that my kids are old enough to come to a concert next time he comes around.

Oh and a brief word about his band.  He’s had the same four guys with him for years and years and years.  Rubén Valtierra is the newest member of the band and he’s been with them since 1991.  Jim West (guitar), Steve Jay (Bass) and Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz (drums) have been with Al since 1980.  They are tight as a drum, can play incredibly diverse styles at the drop of a hat (check out “CNR” which sounds exactly like The White Stripes) and they all seem to have a lot of fun on stage (see them jump in the air on “Fat” or the crazy vocal-only solo at the end of “Yoda”

–which I think is longer than ever and totally mind-blowing).

[READ: May 21, 2011] This is a Book

I recently read Martin’s “This is Me” in the New Yorker. “This is Me” is, along with about 100 other things in This is a Book.  I also heard Demetri Martin on NPR a few Sundays ago and he read a few short things from This is a Book.  And they were quite funny.

Indeed, the funny things in this book are really very very funny.  It seems to work that the shorter the item, the bigger the laugh.  Conversely there are a number of longer, extended jokes which just go on and on, like a Saturday Night Live sketch that just won’t end.  Those quickly lose their humorous value.  Fortunately  there aren’t too many of those in here.

What makes me smile a lot about the book are the jokes he plays with book conventions.  So the title page says “This is a book by Demetri Martin called This is a Book by Demetri Martin.”  Or the previous page:

Also by Demetri Martin


*Nothing yet.  This is his first book.

The book opens with “How to Read this Book.”

If you’re reading this sentence then you’ve pretty much got it.  Good job.  Just keep going the way you are.

I’m not going to spoil the rest of the book (or talk about each piece).  But I will mention some real highlights: (more…)

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