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Archive for the ‘Translation’ Category

SOUNDTRACKHIT LA ROSA-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #134/144 (January 12, 2021).

Hit La RosaGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The second band on the second night is Hit La Rosa from Peru.

Kidjo says their music is like a psychedelic surf-punk cumbia.  That’s true, but in a rather restrained way.  The music is cool and a little wild but it never gets out of control.  They play three songs and again, the musicians’ names aren’t given.

From the candle-lit home of their lead singer, Hit La Rosa comes in hot and doesn’t stop until the final measure. The band explores the many facets of Peruvian cumbia music, infusing it with pop music, folklore, jazz and dancehall to produce its distinctive grooves and hooks. The band’s precise-yet-dreamlike music and punk sensibility all come together to make music that explores life’s shadowy sides. Despite living through a political crisis in Peru, the band brings a message of hope and joy in the midst of struggle and upheaval.

“La Montañita” has a latin drum opening with a weird echoing surf guitar intro.  Sliding bass and trippy keys propel this danceable song along.

“La Marea” opens with a mellow keyboard and slow bass and guitars.  After a coupe of minutes,a drum fill introduces the faster part of the song.  An echoing vibrato-filled guitar solo and trippy synths are accented with Peruvian percussion and drums and it all works really well together.

“Salvia” is trippy and moody with more of the vibrato guitar soloing.  I really like at the end of the song the juxtaposition of the looping guitar melody and the bouncing bass.

[READ: December 14, 2020] Simantov

This story (originally written in Hebrew and translated by Marganit Weinberger-Rotman) was a combination police procedural and eschatological novel about the end times.

I read the summary of the book at work, but the summary really doesn’t indicate just how supernatural the book is going to get.

It would greatly help to have a solid foundation in Biblical lore to fully understand what’s going on in this book.  I mean, the first chapter title contains a footnote:

The First Day of the Counting of the Omer*
*According to the Torah (Lev. 23;15) Jews are obligated to count the days from passover tp pentecost. This counting is a reminder of the link between the Exodus and harvest season.

Things are supernatural right from the get go.  Elijah the prophet comes to Earth to prepare for its smiting (it’s quite an elaborate introduction).  Elijah lands in Israel and leaves a trail of destruction all the way to Shamhazai’s mansion.

So, obviously it helps to know who Shamhazai is (I didn’t–Shamḥazai and his companion Uzzael or Azael are fallen angels of Nephilim).  The Nephilim are literal giants in the Bible–often taken as fallen angels.  That’s a lot of background for the first 9 pages.

The next chapter reminds the reader of the first humans created by God–Adam and Lilith.  Shamhazai was gaga over Lilith.

Incidentally, after reading the book I was looking at what other readers had thought.  One reader on Goodreads said she had to stop reading the book on page 10 after this sentence:

[Lilith] was dark and comely, her eyelashes fluttered like turtledoves, her perky breasts like two erect towers.

I’m going to admit that I found this simile to be really awkward (translation problem or just poor writing?).  I mean, even if Lilith were a giant, her breasts wouldn’t be like towers, right?  It’s hard to know even where to begin with a simile like that.  But I pressed on. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMINYU CRUSADERS-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #134/142 (January 12, 2021).

Minyo CrusadersGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The first band on the second night is Minyo Crusaders from Japan.

Min’yō folk music was originally sung by Japanese fishermen, coal miners and sumo wrestlers hundreds of years ago, and the Minyo Crusaders are on a mission to make these songs relevant to an international audience. For their performance, the Crusaders found a unique take for their desk: a “kotatsu,” which is a heated Japanese table traditionally used for gathering in the winter months.

The diversity of music melding together here is quite impressive.

They open with “Hohai Bushi” (The album credits the style of this song as “afro”).

It starts with high notes like a theremin then quietly jangly guitars.  Cumbia-sounding horns (sax and trumpet) and complicated percussion (shakers and cowbells) flesh out the song.  Once everybody is established, a groovy bassline underpins the whole thing.  The male singing starts singing and the female adds some nice high backing oohs with it. Sadly, band member names are not given so I can’t credit anyone.

When the song is in full swing the guitars play loud and the keys play a retro sound including a retro fuzzed out keyboard solo.  Toward the end, a bass line slowly builds and the drums add intensity as they sing “ho hai ho hai.”

The guitarist speaks between songs.  He says his English is very poor but he does a fine job.

The second song “Yasugi Bushi” (bolero) is much more chill.  The male singer sits aside and the female singer takes lead.  There’s some nice basslines that repeat although for this song it’s really the saxophone that takes the lead with a lot of soloing.

The guitarist says these songs are old work songs and festival songs: “Minyo is dead in Japan but they are trying to bring it back.”

They end with “Aizu Bandaisan” (latin).  This song is much more dancey.  Lots of Latin horns, groovy bass and congas.  The lyrics are in Japanese (of course) but there’s a fun part where it sounds like they are singing “soy soy.”  As the song jams toward the end, there is lots of whooping and yelping and a wild trumpet solo.

This is a super fun set.

[READ: January 14, 2021] The Inugami Curse

Seishi Yokomizo was a hugely prolific writer.  He created Japan’s most famous detective (comparable to Sherlock Holmes in scope), Kosuke Kindaichi, who featured in seventy-seven books!  The Inugami Curse is apparently one of the best known of the stories and has been adapted into film and TV.

There are only two of his novels translated into English, this one (translated by Yumiko Yamazaki) and The Honjin Murders (1946) (translated by Louise Heal Kawai).

This book was an absolutely fantastic, complicated mystery.  There were many twists and turns.  And the way the story was plotted was perfect.

Sahei Imugami was a wealthy man.  He was called the Silk King of Japan and his business provided work for many many people.  He was a local celebrity to be sure and even had a biography written about him.

Sahei never married, but he did have three daughters with three different women.  The book opens with a character list which is quite helpful.

DAUGHTERS: Matsuko; Takeko; Umeko
GRANDONS:     Kiyo;       Také;    Tomo

There are some husbands involved as well.

There is also Tamayo Nonomiya, the granddaughter of a married couple who took Sahei in when he was just starting out.  He thinks of them as family, so when Tamayo was orphaned, he took her in. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORROMEO STRING QUARTET-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #127 (December 15, 2020).

This is the second of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. 

The Borromeo String Quartet consists of Nicholas Kitchen: (first) violin, Kristopher Tong: violin, Mai Motobuchi: viola and Yeesun Kim: cello (who is Kitchen’s wife).

Beethoven doesn’t score high when it comes to positive personality traits. Paranoid, litigious and a micromanager, Beethoven didn’t suffer fools and often fought with friends. Still, he possessed a well-developed funny bone, which Nicholas Kitchen and company put on display here, along with their own whimsical tiny “desks.” Because of the virus, and the confined space, the players wear masks.

The humorous side of Beethoven’s personality seeps into his music, such as the false stops and musical giggles that fuel his two-minute-long Presto from the Quartet Op. 130, which opens this performance.

“String Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130, II. Presto” has many fast moments and interesting parts where the first violin pays fast melodies but the rest of the quartet plays slow triplets over and over.  This is one of Beethoven’s shortest movements and is full of variety and energy.

For contrast, the Borromeos follow with a serious movement from later on in the same piece, the prayerful Cavatina, which Beethoven said even got him choked up.

This movement is full of serenity and tranquil beauty.  This is called the beklemmt section meaning trouble breathing. 

Kitchen can barely contain himself about the humor in the next piece, “String Quartet in F, Op. 135, II. Presto.”  He says this has a playful melody and “berserk” middle with instruments going all over the place.

More hijinks ensue in the Vivace from the Quartet in F, Op. 135, where Kitchen says the music becomes “completely berserk.”

And finally, in the last movement of the same quartet, Beethoven inserts a musical inside joke, the brunt of which falls on a wealthy music lover who displeased the great composer by not showing up at an important concert.

Kitchen says that Beethoven never met an occasion when he did not have a pun.  And he enjoyed injection his own brand of humor into his pieces.  In “String Quartet in F, Op. 135, IV. Der schwer gefasste Entschluss” there is an inscription: question must it be?  answer: It must be it must be!  Kitchen explains there was a patron who did not attend the premiere of opus 130.  The next day the patron  asked Beethoven to send him the music so his court musicians could play it. Beethoven said he’d send it but “you not only have to pay the price of admission for the concert you missed but for everyone in your family.”  The man looked at him and said “Must It be?”  Beethoven wrote a canon for four men to sing “it must be it must be.”  Then he made that joke the basis of the last movement of Op. 135.

[READ: January 3, 2021] Dinner

The Linden Tree was an interesting trip down memory lane for Aira.  

Dinner, by contrast is a wild violent fantasy (translated by Nick Caistor).  But its starts in the mundane–with a man and his mother going to dinner.

The two of them went to his friend’s house.  The friend was a terrible storyteller.  But he and the narrator’s mother had one thing in common–they were great at remembering the names of everyone in Pringles.  They knew the genealogies and configurations of nearly all the families.

But the narrator was terrible at remembering names–he had no facility for it at all.  He had plenty of memories from the town, but could never put a name to an event.

Evernatully the friend brought out a precious toy that he had.  It wa an old and rather sophisticated wind-up toy.  Two separate gears would go at the same time.  As it began to run, the door to a bedroom opened an a fat man came out and started to sing (as well as an old 19th century toy could sing). An old woman was in bed and she began to move back and forth “as a blind person does.” Then the second mechanism kicked in an the bedspread began to move and it looks like flocks of birds were flying out from underneath it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JONATHAN BISS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #126 (December 14, 2020).

This is the first of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. 

Biss is uniquely qualified for the task at hand. The 40-year-old pianist has recorded all 32 of Beethoven’s freewheeling sonatas, performed them worldwide and has taught an online course in the music.hat’s impressive. Still, what’s more astounding is the personal story behind Biss’ obsession with Beethoven. The recording project alone took nearly 10 years and the things Biss says he gave up – relationships, even his sense of self – in order to live the dream is heartbreaking. The pandemic has shut down the life and livelihoods of many musicians, and for Biss the down time offered space to confront his relationship to Beethoven and his own demons. He tells his story in a raw and insightful audio memoir called Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven.

You can hear some of Beethoven’s own struggle in these perceptive performances. The bittersweetness of the Bagatelle Op. 126, No. 1, the moments of fragility in the Sonata, Op. 90, and the interior perspective that reaches outward from the Sonata Op. 109, all prove that Beethoven’s music is as meaningful today as ever.

Jonathan Biss is a chatty pianist.  After playing the lovely if brief “Bagatelle in G, Op. 126, No. 1” (it’s under 3 minutes), he explains that the six bagatelles were the last thing Beethoven ever wrote for the piano. 

He also jokes that he had the overwhelming urge to introduce himself via the “invent your NPR name” by inserting your middle initial somewhere in your first name and your last name is the most exotic place you’ve ever traveled.

He says that didn’t expect to be drawn back to Beethoven during the pandemic because hos music is so intense and so much.  He thought he’d rather be drawn to comfort food.  But he can’t get away from Beethoven.

The pandemic has sidelined many big Beethoven birthday plans. Jonathan Biss was slated to play concerts around the globe in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Instead, he’s home in Philadelphia. So it’s no surprise that for this all-Beethoven Tiny Desk concert, Biss chose music that explores the composer’s own isolation, brought on by deafness and an uncompromising personality.

He talks about cancelling his tour in March.  He came home  and decided to read more–do he randomly picked out How to Be Alone as if the fates were telling him something.  Biss feels that beethoven provided a guide to being alone.  He was alone for most of his life–his personality was rather off putting, but he was also functionally deaf–the most profound form of isolation.  He retreated into his imagination to create these songs.

“Piano Sonata in E minor, Op. 90: I. Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck” is a piece that shows his vulnerability–a rare things for Beethoven.

He plays the first two movements of “Piano Sonata in E, Op. 109: I. Vivace, ma non troppo — Adagio espressivo, II. Prestissimo.”  You can hear him humming an grunting along.

He signs off with his “NPR name” which I can’t quite make out.  Then he concludes with the final bagatelle, “Bagatelle in E-flat, Op. 126, No. 3” which ends by drifting into the ether.

[READ: January 1, 2021] The Linden Tree

I’ve had a few César Aira books sitting around that I wanted to finish and the beginning of a new year seemed like a great opportunity.

It’s not always clear if his stories are fiction, non-fiction or some combination of the two.  The back of this book calls it a “fictional memoir,” as if that clears things up.  Chris Andrews translated this fictional memoir.

The book opens with the narrator explaining that his father used to go into the town square to take leaves and flowers from the linden trees (in particularly one unusually large tree) and make a tea out of them.  This had some kind of regenerative properties for him–they cured his insomnia at any rate.

From there, as happens with Aira stories–it goes everywhere.

About a different Aira story Patti Smith once wrote:

I get so absorbed that upon finishing I don’t remember anything, like a complex cinematic dream that dissipates upon awakening.

And THAT is exactly the way Aira books work for me too.  I have to go back through them just to try to remember the details.

So, in this story the narrator’s father is black (mixed race marriages were unusual in Pringles at the time of their marriage).  His mother, who he praised for marrying a black man, was also flawed in many ways, including being very short and very bossy.

But the main thing about this story is the rise and fall of Peronism. (more…)

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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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SOUNDTRACKOWEN PALLETT: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #113 (November 17, 2020).

I know Owen Pallett from their performance at Massey Hall.  It was beautifully layered orchestral pop.

Typically they loop the songs to make them bigger, but or this set, Owen changed things up.

Owen recorded four songs in multiple stages on different instruments: first, they played acoustic guitar and sang; then they performed the songs again, but this time on violin and viola; finally, Owen layered the recordings in post-production, not really knowing what the final versions would sound like. They explain the whole process, charmingly, between songs.

The setlist here is complete different from the one from Massey Hall.  Although like a that show, he mixes some songs from his first album (released as the band Final Fantasy) as well as he official solo songs.

From a bedroom in Toronto, Owen traverses their musical history, opening with a dreamy song from 2005’s debut album (as Final Fantasy), Has a Good Home, 

His guitar melody is beautiful and the layers of strings make this song feel big and pastoral.  His voice is gentle and lovely.

Before the second song, “Cliquot,” he says that in 2007, he went to Quebec with the band Beirut to write songs and record his EP Spectrum, 14th Century. and Beirut’s album The Flying Club Cup. Zach Condin gave him an instrumental and asked Owen would write a melody, lyrics and sing lead.  They don’t play it live probably because it’s really really gay and Zach doesnt want any more werotci fan fiction writen about the two of them.

Beautiful string melodies in between verses.

“Perseverance of the Saints” is from Owen’s latest record, Island. Here it’s transformed from arpeggiated piano to guitar, and I love the tone it sets.

It is so gentle with swirling strings and a gentle melody.

Owen not only performed each instrument in separate takes, but also did all the production work: recording, filming and editing. A remarkable talent captured in a candlelit bedroom.

“Song for Five & Six” is from his 2014 album In Conflict.  He says when he loops live things to end to get “overwritten and annoying,” so he’s looking forward to playing this with arpeggiated guitar instead of synth.

This song was written about an incident he saw on the Orkney Islands.  After playing some kind of ball game, the men and boys, covered in mud, would climb on the back of a flatbed truck and ride through town banging sticks on the side of the truck.  He thought it was a beautiful image and probably the only pure thing that the men have ever done.

He sings in a gentle falsetto and there’s some gorgeous strings.

[READ: December 19, 2020] “The Snowstorm”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth 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

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

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.

It’s December 19.  Alexander Pushkin, author of Eugene Onegin, died in 1837 and so was unreachable for comment. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I have not read any stories by Pushkin before and I really enjoyed this one (translated by T. Keane).

Set in 1811, this story revolves around a young woman who has fallen in love with a young man whose station is far beneath her.  And such great quotes!

Maria Gavrilovna had been brought up on French novels, and consequently was in love.  The object of her choice was a poor sub-lieutenant in the army, who was then on leave of absence in his village.  It need scarcely be mentioned that the young man returned her passion with equal ardor, and that the parents of his beloved one, observing their mutual inclination, forbade their daughter to think of him.

They wrote to each other every day.  At last they decided that they would run off and get married in secret.  They would then hide away for a time and come back to throw themselves at their parents’ feet for their blessings. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MATT BERRY-Music for Insomniacs (2014).

Matt Berry is a renaissance man and I love everything he does.  Whether it’s acting in over the top comedies or making over the top prog rock, Berry is my guy.  He has several albums out already.  This one was his fifth. Evidently he created this album in the middle of the night while unable to sleep.

The back cover image is of him sitting amid a Rick Wakeman-like array of keyboards.  And if you’re into gear, he lists everything that he plays on this album:

Arp Odyssey Synthesiser, Korg MS-20 Synthesiser, Korg MS-20008 Synthesiser & Vocoder, Korg Sigma Synthesiser, Korg Polyphonic Ensemble, Korg SV1 Electric Piano, Minimoog Synthesiser, Mellotron-Pro, Solina String Ensemble, Roland Jupiter 4m Synthesiser, Roland Pro Mars Synthesiser, Roland juno 6 Synthesiser, Roland Gaia Synthesiser, Roland Jupiter 80 Synthesiser, Yamaha CS-15 Synthesiser, Yamaha CS-60 Synthesiser, Hammond XKB Organ, Korg & Roland rhythm boxes and found percussion.

Why would anyone need so many synthesisers?  Well, to make an album like this.

It is two 23 minute “songs.”  They are meandering, trippy sounds mashed up with snippets of “songs.”

Part 1 opens with vocals and then an organ playing a familiar-ish classical organ melody but it’s only a nod to classical music because soon enough a bass comes in and turns the music into a very different sounding piece.  I particularly love the way he phases and echoes the drums.  Variations on this song/theme run for about five minutes with more and more interesting sounding effects, until it all fades out into waves of synths.

The swirling synths create an atmosphere for another five minutes when abruptly, you hear something being turned off (or on) and a shushing.  More trippy synth washes follow and then at 13 minutes a new keyboard melody is added to the washes–a gentle tune that give the washes some momentum.  It starts building until 16 minutes when it grows distinctly dark.  Creepy echoing voices come out of the fog.  And you can hear someone shouting okay okay.  Then out of the quiet, a martial drumbeat grows louder and louder as a song starts to form.  At 19 minutes, the melody from “October Sun” from his Kill the Wolf album starts playing.  A processed voice sings the lyrics, but they are very hard to hear.  I assume it is Cecilia Fage, as she is credited with voice/choir.

Part two is not radically different.  It opens with a choir of voices.  It morphs into gentle washes of synths like mid-period Pink Floyd, complete with space sounds–whooshing and zapping.  Then comes what sounds like a horse walking by and some slightly dissonant keys before some hugely vocodered voice start singing a melody.  It’s followed by pianos at seven and a half minutes which merge with the rest of the synth melody.  There is much more going on in the background–voices, sounds, who knows what.

Things abruptly end with a big splash of water at 8:45 and remain underwater for a time before a new synth pattern emerges. Things become celestial with a choir around 13 minutes.  After a big explosion at 14 minutes, spacey chords return followed by another explosion and a return underwater–squishy sounds, then a distant bay crying (my daughter just walked in and said this music is creepy).  Other sounds swim in and out as angelic voices sing.  This goes on until 17 minutes when things settle down into a more stately organ-fueled section.  Things drift away almost to silence and then at 19, a pulsing synth bass starts things up again.  He adds a jaunty synth melody to the bass and it’s suddenly a new wave song.  This dancy part continues until the end of the song when things grind to a halt.

This is a peculiar record for sure.  It’s not soothing for sleep, nor is it particularly upbeat for non-sleep.  But it is an interesting look into Matt Berry’s headspace.

[READ: November 18, 2020] “Fata Morgana”

This is an excerpt from Koeppen’s novel Pigeons on the Grass which was translated by Michael Hofmann.

I’m not sure where in the story this comes from, but I feel like it jumps in right in the middle of a scene.

A black man, Washington Price, is walking through the streets of tenement houses (in Germany) with a bouquet of flowers: “he had marriage on his mind.”

He wasn’t particularly notable in this area, but the fact that he arrived in a blue limousine started a lot of people grumbling behind the tenement windows.

He was there to see Carla.  Carla lived on the third floor with some other girls and their minder, Frau Welz.  The other girls were there for the soldiers.  As (maybe?) was Carla.  They all knew he was there for Carla, but that didn’t stop them from trying to entice him into their room. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-präparat (2013).

präparat is Boris’ 18th album.  It contains a huge variety of styles in its 40 some minutes.  It also features a couple of guests.  Michio Kurihara plays guitar on track 3 and 5 and Gisèle Vienne offers spoken word on track 6.

So this album starts with one of the band’s most beautiful instrumentals.  “december” is slow with a cool bassline and gentle drums. The lead guitar perfectly matches the strummed bass.  It’s a lovely post-rock instrumental complete with a section that manipulates the volume knob to bring in extra soft notes.

The pretty guitars continue to ring in on “哀歌 -elegy-” for about 20 seconds before the ominous distortion means an oncoming crash of chords.  But this is a slow crash of chords with some gentle singing (from Takeshi?) in the melodic verses.  About three minutes in the song jumps into a fast rocking section with a great guitar riff and heavy drumming. It’s excellent.

It segues into the 57 second noise fest that is “evil stack 3.”  It’s just distortion and wild soloing, a noisy interlude that is abruptly ended by the gentle “砂時計 -monologue-”  This song is four minutes long complete with gentle drums, and pretty guitars.  About halfway in, it takes off in another postrock spectacle of pretty guitars and a gentle melody.

“method of error” features Michio Kurihara on guitar and starts with some slow heavy thumping chords.  Church bells come echoing in followed by soaring guitars.  The drums interject crashing sounds from time to time.  Two guitars provide an extra wailing solo as the rest of the band jams a heavy chunky riff.  This song runs over 7 minutes.

“bataille sucre” starts off quietly but then brings in a loud ringing guitar.  Then an old school heavy metal riff begins with some screaming lead guitars.  The guest vocals are whispered (presumably in French) and add texture (if you don’t know what she’s saying).

Then comes two songs in under a minute.  “perforated line” is 34 seconds of fast heavy guitar (and synth) that feels like the beginning of song, but it abruptly ends and jumps into the oddball, almost dance stylings of “コップの内側 -castel in the air-” all SEVEN SECONDS of it.  It’s followed by “mirano” which is a warped, carnivalesque waltz with keys and possibly vibes.

“カンヴァス -canvas-” has the tone of a Kim Gordon Sonic Youth song with fuzzy guitars and an almost whispered vocal, although the chorus is pure shoegaze with layers of soft vocals.  About half way through the band add a noisy wall that sounds like it’s going to explode, but it just drops away for some clear crooning from Takeshi.

The disc ends with the eight and a half minute “maeve.”  It opens with skittery percussion and faraway gongs.  Then comes a distorted slow riff.  It’s a slow drone-like song that lumbers along for about six minutes.  The last two are a wave of distortion that sounds like a slow heavy train echoing through your head. 

I love the diversity of this record and the tracks that are not experimental are just dynamite.  I’m really glad this album is no longer hidden away.

[READ: November 12, 2020] The Proof

The Little Buddhist Monk (written 2005) has been bundled with The Proof (written 1989) together in one book.  Both stories were translated by Nick Caistor.

The Proof is about as different from The Little Buddhist Monk as you could get.  It’s also the most visceral story I’ve read by Aira, whose stories tend to be very “of the mind.”

Indeed, you can tell this story is quite different just from the way it starts.

“Wannafuck?”

This question is asked to Marcia (a senior in high school?–she’s “fourth year”) as she is walking down the street.  There are groups of teenagers hanging around,and this question comes from one of the girls.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-Vein (2006/2013).

Boris continues to reissue their back catalog in streaming format.  Which is pretty amazing since so much of their work is so hard to find.  Possibly not great for collectors, but great for those of us who actually want to hear the music.

Vein is Boris’ thirteenth album.  Because they are Boris, the released two different albums under the same title in 2006.  The packaging was identical on both records and the only way to tell them apart was to check out the surface of the vinyl itself.

The “Hardcore version” had punk, hardcore, and drone.with vocals that are screamed rather than sung.  The  “Noise version” had drone and noise music as well as punk. This version of the album does not include any vocals.

In 2013, the band announced that the album would be released as a 2-CD set not as a reissue, but rather a re-arrangement of both albums combined.

Given all of this, it’s not even entirely clear to me what has been released her on bandcamp.  But it seems like the first two tracks (here labeled “v” and “e” are the hardcore version.  The third and fourth tracks “i” and “n” are a little harder to place.

“v” is 14 minutes long, broken up into several small pieces:

It starts with a wall of noise–static and low feedback swirling and manipulated until 4.01 when it segues into segues into ringing bells and effects that sound like a jet taking off and broken glass swirling and zipping around.   Then some drums and chords are introduced.   At 6:15, there’s a samples from the 1979 film Stalker, by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. A man says “И пусть посмеются над своими страстями” (Russian for “Let them laugh at their own passions”) followed by a blistering hardcore song  until 7:52.  After an abrupt halt comes the next screaming hardcore song which is more fuzz than chords with screams and feedback which at 9:06 segues into another super fast song which is distinguished from the others because of a riff where the chords go up and up higher and higher and faster as if they are going to explode, although it rumbles unto feedback at around 10:24 when a new tone of fuzzy nose feedback and a much slower introductory opens before before the pummeling hardcore resumes until 12:03.  This first song ends with a moment of silence and then a woman saying “unpleasant dreams” before a Wata fast high note solo is balanced by slow pummeling chords and drums and cymbals. After a minute or so, the hardcore returns this time with a solo all over the top of the song.  The song ends with a humming and what sounds like car keys jingling

“e” is over 15 minutes long and is one third hardcore punk and two thirds slow lengthy drone.  It starts with an Atsuo scream and hardcore drums. There’s a blistering hardcore song–fast riffage and screamed lyrics (which I assume are in Japanese).  Although the hardcore songs sound similar (and are unnamed) the riffs are distinctive enough to tell them apart.  Some backwards masked sounds come in at 1:05 and a similar riff at 1:15.  I have never seen them play this kind of set–it must be exhausting.  At 2.01 a loud bass comes in with a lot of cymbals and the song is buried under a blanket of distortion.  two minute song starts with.  At 3:04 a buzzsaw sound and a cool riff is coupled with some intense screaming.  At 4:45 it morphs into feedback that contains another sample from an Andrei Tarkovsky film, this time the 1986 film, The Sacrifice.  A man say “I hela mitt liv har jag väntat på det här. Hela mitt liv har varit en enda väntan på det här.” (Swedish for “All my life I’ve been waiting for this. My whole life has been a long wait for this.”)  The rest of the song feels like it might stay a lengthy drone, but at 5:46 after some cracks of the snare, a slow powerful Boris riff emerges.  But the riff dies away for some slow Wata soloing over droning chords.

Track 3 is probably the “noise version” (which is 17 minutes long) or the 2013 re-release (which is 17:25) but this track is 18:04.  Of course, if the “noise” version has no vocals, it can’t be this because it does have vocals.

It opens with a similar kind of noise that opens “v” but more staticky and with distant riffing going on.  At 1:58 a riff comes in.  The songs are like “v.”  A shorter version of the jet sounds are followed by some slow heavy chords.   At 3.22 there’s some chirping feedback that introduces the first hardcore song in “v.”  At 5.22 [#4 above] segues into a scream-filled hardcore song followed at 6:14 by the riff that goes higher and higher.  At 7:36, there’s slow thumping with noise and feedback (this might be new and not on “v”) then a sudden drop off of sound and near silence before the screeching feedback that starts at 8:39 with a blistering hardcore song that sounds unlike anything before. There’s heavy fast riffing with a pause and a big scream before resuming.  At 11:50, warping sounds and a thundering drum compete with a really fast riff which sounds like the first part of “e.”  At 13:05 song 2 from “e” begins–short, fast and loud.  Then at 13:51 comes track 4 from “e” (there’s no track 3) with the buzzsaw opening. At 15.21 there’s some backwards recording which eventually becomes the guitar solo that ended “v,” although this time it’s just under 3 minutes long.

Track 4 is “n.”  Perhaps it’s the “noise version” as there are no words.    It’s 17:59 and is a noisy composition of drone and feedback.  There’s some heavy chords and some quieter moments.  The high soaring notes seem to fit in very nicely with the sludgy bottom parts.  About half way through it turns into a fast, heavy hardcoreish track with a lot of drums, but buried under a wall of feedback and distortion.

[READ: November 12, 2020] The Little Buddhist Monk

The Little Buddhist Monk (written 2005) has been bundled with The Proof (written 1989) into one book.  Both stories were translated by Nick Caistor.

The Little Buddhist Monk is an absolutely bizarre, borderline stream of consciousness story.  It jumps from topic to topic like a fever dream and resolves itself in an even more unexpected way.

The story opens with us meeting the little monk who would very much like to leave Korea (where he was born and where he studied). But he has no money and no reasonable expectation for ever emigrating.  

Then one day a French photographer, Napoleon Chirac, and his wife Jacqueline Bloodymary (!) happened in his path.  They were on vacation and spoke French to each other.  The monk knew French and joined in the conversation.  They were delighted to meet a fellow French speaker in such a foreign land.  He imagined that they could be his ticket out of Korea.  So he decided to help them throughout the day.

They talk a lot about art.  Napoleon photographs empty rooms with a 360 degree camera and then splices it together as one image.  He has traveled the world filming places and he is looking to do a Korean monastery.  What luck, the monk can take them to a good one. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-tears e.p. (2019).

Boris tends toward being a very heavy band.  Their two recently albums D.E.A.R. and NO are some intense heavy metal.  They also do a lot of noise and heavy drone.  But they are not afraid of melody.  And they are not at all afraid to make pretty, dancey music.

There are five songs.  The first song “どうしてもあなたをゆるせない (doushitemoanataoyurusenai)” is on the disc twice.  The first version of this song is a remix by Narasaki under his name “Sadesper.”  It opens with a grooving bass line and some pretty guitars.  The drums are metronomic and there’s a sprinkling of keys.  I’m not sure who sings, but there’s a lot of falsetto. I love how just before the chorus there’s some orchestra hits.  It’s pretty much a full on dance song and it suits them perfectly.  You’d never guess it was Boris, but it makes sense once you realize it.  It even ends with a nifty guitar solo that sadly fades out.

“u fu fu” opens with a fast simple guitar chugging riff.  After a good ol’ “Whoo!” from Atsuo, the song pulses forward on the insistent grunted  “ooh ah” that works as a foundation to the song.  There’s a lots of great backing vocals in each ear. With about a minute to go, the bass takes over with a fast, heavy rumble before the harmonizing vocals kick in.

Up next is a fantastic cover of a Coaltar of the Deepers song “To the Beach.”  I didn’t know Coaltar of the Deepers before this release, but I have listened to them a bunch since and they are a terrific Japanese band unknown in the States.  I’m not sure how much this differs from the original , but this version is fantastic–slow and moody with lots of build and release.  The song starts with a pretty guitar melody and then a series of crashing chords and cymbals while Wata’s guitar soars.  The verses are slow with a whispered vocal.  But the choruses resume the crashing chords to punctuate things perfectly.  In the middle of the song as the vocals overlap and blend, it sounds magnificent.

“Peaches” comes next, it’s a 2 minute song sung by Wata.  A pulsing bass line propels the song forward as Wata chants the the word “peaches” over and over with an occasional “la la la” fleshes things out.  A repeating piano is added for a bit and then a shift to a kind o funky bass line that leads to the end of the songs.  It’s only two minutes long and kind of goofy but I wish it was longer.

The disc ends with an instrumental version of “どうしてもあなたをゆるせない.”  The song is so catchy and wonderful that hearing it a second time in the EP is a great thing.  It’s one of the few instrumentals that I think might sound better than the original because you can really hear what the musicians are doing–and its some great stuff.

[READ: October 29, 2020] The Ten Loves of Nishino

I have a stack of books waist high next to my desk which I intend to read.  And yet, I continue to find new (to me) books that I jump in and read first.  This book was recommended by the most recent Tiny Desk Contest winner Linda Diaz.  Why on earth would I read a book recommended by a person I’d never heard of before?  She said it was her favorite book ever (which seems weird since it only came out in English last year, but whatever).  It was also pretty short.  So I decided to check it out.

I have enjoyed many of the Japanese writers that I’ve read, so I was intrigued to read a contemporary female author (this book was translated by Allison Markin Powell).

So this book is written in ten chapters–each one written by a lover of Nishino, an enigmatic figure whom we only learn about from the women writing about him.

There is something strangely seductive about Nishino that these women find hard to resist.  He is aloof and puzzling, but that seems to make women want him even more.  But he is perpetually with women (more than these ten, it would appear). (more…)

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