Archive for the 'Music Theory' Category

Through Rosa-Tinted Glasses

by Pierre, March 17th, 2005

Dateline: Austin.

Elvis CostelloThe sun is out, but I’m still indoors.

After a cold and overcast start, the South by Southwest music conference is finally greeted by a clear blue sky, which is a piece of luck, since this afternoon Linus and I shall enjoy the hospitality of the ASCAP boat ride on the Colorado River (not that Colorado, the other one), courtesy of course of all those underpaid songwriters who frame their $4.13 royalty checks rather than bothering to cash them. Rock on!

Last night, Elvis Costello closed the first full day of festivities with a rousing two-hour performance at La Zona Rosa, of which you’ll hear much more later from Linus who was taking feverish notes. This is just a quick picture -gotta love digital cameras- resized and saved with a program I’m not familiar with: I only use the PowerBook on trips, and this is the first time a digital camera was involved. It’s all about learning. And barbecue, of course. Never forget the barbecue.

Robert FisherOnly other band I’ll mention from last night, the Willard Grant Conspiracy had a hard time at The Vibe, a covered shed kind of a place, rather chilly in the night air and plagued by sound problems that caused serious delays and forced the band to curtail their set. A good show nevertheless, but not nearly one of their best.

OK, time to get out and let room service do their thing.

Nash(less)-ville: a Farewell to Juliana

by Linus, December 1st, 2004

It’s frustrating to watch a towering talent fade into comfortable obscurity more or less unnoticed. This is a common enough event, which is part of the ingrown sadness of the music business. Last night Juliana Nash had a last-minute goodbye party out in Williamsburg, marking a quiet shift in her musical life. Pierre and I dropped by for a quick drink and scooted just before the pesky rain began, and like so much else these days it got me to thinking.

Over dinner with the Divine Maggees a couple of weeks ago we were talking about How Things Change. The Maggees are a Maine band with a dash of Boston and a current residence in Athens, Georgia, and they’re not taking well to the South. I don’t take well to any state where folks are likely to serve you white gravy without warning, so I can appreciate their feelings.

We were talking about strategies and plans, and labels and bands, and how to get things done, and how to waste money or not, while making a difference or not. Because there comes a point — there come many points, actually — when it’s time to make changes, great or small. I put it this way: imagine you’re standing there in front of a wall. It’s a nice wall; it’s your favorite wall. You’re knocking your head against it now and then, because that’s what one does. Bang. Bang. Bang bang. After each thwack you rub your head and comment: Ow, that hurt. Or Man, that was a bad one. Bang. Whoa! One more of those and my teeth are shaking loose! Every once in a while you smack your head up there and say, Hey, that time it hardly hurt at all — I must be making progress.

In a world of vanishing mystique, disposable fads, force-feed publicity and MBA-culture focus on products rather than process, I’m not even sure there is such a thing as success in the music business any more. Except for occasional routs from the indie left field — today’s darlings are Montreal’s The Arcade Fire, and from what I’ve heard so far the band is absolutely terrific — the dance cards are tightly programmed, and filled at the whims of hands on high.

Eventually, you look up at the wall, now dented and hammered. And you say to yourself, What the hell was that about?, and go about the rest of your life with fire in the memory and bruises on the head to show for it.

Juliana Nash matches a voice of amazing range and texture with a pen shaved down to the pithy core, and adds an instinct for easy, rolling hooks. She fronted a rock band called Talking to Animals, which was signed in the ’90s to Columbia Records, warehoused for a couple of years, and then dropped. Eventually the band’s one album, Manhole, was released on Walter Yetnikoff’s ill-fated Velvel Records, and although the CD is a fine one, that was pretty much that. “Turning into Beautiful” from Manhole is one of my favorite uptempo happy ferocious bouncy tunes EVER.

When I came to know Juliana, Talking to Animals was fading. She had phased the band into a wiser and deeper machine that layered her melancholic musing melodies with soft detailed lines and the gentlest touches of harmony, and drew out her inward silences with sympathy and care. Our modern world has no handy box to squeeze grown-up music into, and her shows became rare over time, sweet treasures buried in the calendar.

Story not over: Juliana became one of the owners of a new enterprise, Pete’s Candy Store, an unlikely music bar launched on the residential fringes of hopping Williamsburg. Pete’s is small, cozy, and unique, and as booker and den-mother she was instrumental (heh) in making it into one of the essential we-care acoustic music rooms in New York City. Now, five years and two kids after plunging in, Juliana has sold her interest in the Candy Store. The venue continues, power to it, and if a music-friendly child center opens up just outside New York anytime soon … well, let’s just say that some people are built for forward motion.

Meantime, take this moment to visit Juliana’s page on CD Baby, which (if you don’t know it already) is the best indie music store around. Her self-titled EP contains the only commercially-available recordings of Juliana’s post-Animals music, and it is rare and gorgeous stuff. The buttons on the left of that page will stream mp3 samples of the first four songs: listen. She is still, and beautiful and strong.

In other news, it’s hella windy over here and we’re all wondering if this building is going to fall down, or what: the wind is screaming past outside, and up here on the 10th floor even the kitchen is creaking.

A Perfumed Garden No More

by Pierre, October 26th, 2004

John PeelLegendary British radio DJ John Peel has died of a heart attack while on holidays in Peru. He was 65.

John Peel came to the forefront of pop consciousness during the heady days of “pirate radio” in the mid 60’s, that fueled the music revolution in Britain, and soon the world. In those days, I used to listen most often to the competition at Radio Caroline -whenever I could, reception was not terrific in Paris- but I did often tune in to Radio London for Peel’s free-wheeling show, The Perfumed Garden, with its eclectic and invariably surprising program.

When the Wilson government made the pirate stations illegal on August 15 1967, and only Radio Caroline defied the ban, Peel moved to the newly-created BBC Radio One, which was supposed to take over from the pirates. To his credit, of all the pirates’ alumni, Peel was the only one who managed to keep the flame burning in the homogenized and sanitized environment of BBC1. He will be missed.

A Slip Of The Eye

by Pierre, October 13th, 2004

Quickly glancing over yet another Halloween show announcement for my weekly updating of The Gigometer, my eye stumbles upon a mention of “spongy music”. Huh? Oh, it’s “spooky music”. Still, I wonder what spongy music would be like…

Be Vewy Vewy Quiet

by Linus, September 27th, 2004

No answers here, CharlesAfter posting last week about Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question, I find myself Jonesing to hear the piece. I’m at the office and my CD’s are resting quietly at home, as CD’s are wont to do. Nothing matches live spatial music concert hall performances of The Unanswered Question, in which the various instrumental voices are scattered around through the performance space in balconies and wings and such, making a call-and-response effect that can’t be caught on two-channel stereo. But still. I hanker.

Google brings me soon enough to the Smooth Channel in the listening room of American Mavericks, a wonderful radio series on modern music (hosted by Suzanne Vega). The Smooth Channel won’t cough up my Ives — I think it had just gone past in rotation — but there’s plenty of stuff that’s either invisibly ambient or done in the kind of twisty sonics that bleach cubicle walls whiter and make the computer clench its teeth. This is just fine for an afternoon in the middle of One Of Those Days At The Office™.

So I’m reading and typing along, not paying much attention to the music, when I notice that the speakers have gone silent and I’m typing without accompaniment. A quick click over to the playlist, and … yep. They’re playing 4′33″ by John Cage.

4′33″ is Cage’s “silent piece,” in which a pianist opens the piano and sits in front of it without playing. It’s a tremendous subversive thought experiment in some ways, and in others it’s a delightful lesson in listening; the piece famously shifts the focus of the performance from the notes set down by the composer to the layers and rhythms and natural flow of ambient noise we don’t usually hear, until someone does something as pointed as sitting in front of a piano and not playing it.

I’ve never actually seen 4′33″ (the piece runs precisely four minutes and thirty-three seconds, thus the title), and of course the funny thing is you really can’t just do it yourself at home; it’s as much about power structures and cultural dicta as it is about preordained sound. On the radio, it’s strange and ballsy and as foolish as it is strong.

I zap out emails to Pierre and to my friends Rob Schwimmer and Mark Stewart of Polygraph Lounge (and most recently of the Simon & Garfunkel band as well — some pop act, so I hear). Mark and Rob are brilliant musicians, and of a po-mo classical bent when they bend that way. Hilarity ensues.

Pierre: How was the sound quality, then?
Linus: Well, you know, it was an mp3 stream, so it sounded all compressed and brittle.

Rob: Was it up to tempo? Is there an extended play version?
Linus: Perish forbid. This was the radio edit…

Mark: So, if 4′33″ is performed in the forest and no one is there to hear it——does it make a sound?
Linus: I think you’d have to ask the forest…


Show Tunes Redeem Themselves

by Pierre, September 24th, 2004

I detest the concept of musicals, and especially loathe the kind of situation where apparently perfectly sane and hale individuals suddenly feel the urge to throw their arms into the air and blare thundering crescendos just because they haven’t done it for, oh, a good 10 minutes already.

But all is forgiven!

A Geordie in Hoboken

by Pierre, September 21st, 2004

First the good news:
- Boom Boom
- Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
- San Franciscan Nights
- When I Was Young
- We Gotta Get Out Of This Place
- Hey Bo Diddley/Not Fade Away
- It’s My Life
- Little Queenie
- House Of The Rising Sun

Now the bad news:
At the Hoboken Art and Music Festival last Sunday afternoon, Eric Burdon fucked up every single one of them. Every single one. Now, lest you think that, maybe, this was just a matter of an aging singer having gone over the hill and being unable to reproduce faithfully the hits of yesteryear, let me add immediately that the two new songs, Once Upon A Time and Over the Border were good. Perhaps not splendid nor magnificent, but solid songs well done, that demonstrated if need be that Eric Burdon, without a doubt, still has it.

Why then that travesty of a “Tom Jones in Atlantic City” performance on all the classics? The weird pronunciation (”Cadellac” anyone?), the forced stutter (”aga-ga-ga-gain”, “n-n-n-n-n-night”), the microphone thrust again and again into the crowd for a sing-along, the plodding reggae beat on “Don’t let Me Be Misunderstood” and the plodding beat -period- on “Hey Bo Diddley“? Isn’t the Bo Diddley Beat part of Drumming 101 anymore? The rest of the band did leave the stage during the drum solo, though… Hmm…

Yet, so much was right. The magnificent bass lines were mostly well preserved, and the voice -even though it has lost some of its snarl- was mostly spot-on when not being wasted on gratuitous oddities. So, what did go wrong? I can only surmise that Eric Burdon is in fact utterly sick and tired of his old catalog and can’t stand the thought of having to go through yet another one of those “oldies nights,” since the new songs do sound good and sincere, while all the “hits” careen out of control and end up invariably wrecked on the wayside.

Most heartfelt shout from the audience: “More new stuff!” You don’t hear that at a Bruce Springsteen or a Rolling Stones show, do you?

And our thanks to the Fleshtones for not just going through the motions and giving us instead a rousing performance, worthy of the dimmest dive in Greenpoint, Brooklyn!

Johnny Ramone 1948-2004

by Pierre, September 16th, 2004

Kitty Kowalski just forwarded the news that Johnny Ramone has just died in his sleep at home in Los Angeles. He was 55 and had suffered from prostate cancer.

An era has truly ended.

Three Bands for the Elven Kings

by Linus, June 23rd, 2004

Busy busy busy. Since we started doing the Home Office Records indie label thing on December 13, 1996 - Friday the 13th, of course - we’ve put out seven CD’s by six bands, as well as a butt-kicking-for-goodness compilation, Burner, as our first outing. Those albums running up the wallpaper on the left over there <- are our releases, which someday will handily link to CD Baby and IndepenDisc where the stuff is for sale. We keep forgetting to do that.

Three of ours, past and current, are doing shows this weekend and just beyond - so it’s a scattered, happy time. The Cucumbers are releasing their new CD, All Things To You, this Friday at Arlene Grocery. I haven’t heard it yet (it’s on Fictitious Records out of Nashville), but the songs I know, and they are lovely, and I’m looking forward to it very much. We put out Total Vegetility by the Cukes back in 1999.

Same Friday, a few hours later and down the way at Pianos, Marwood is up. This is their last show for a couple of months since Benji Rogers, the lead singer, heads off on Saturday for the West Bank, where he’ll spend six weeks or so seeing for himself just what goes on there, and why, and how. Our last Marwood release, the limited edition Radio Personalities, will be available on CD Baby soon, and there’s another EP upcoming: before the fall, if all goes well.

Then on Tuesday the inimitable Ethan Lipton does a full two-set extravaganza at Tonic; he’ll be there with a couple of permutations of The Ethan Lipton Orchestra (expect impeccable ukelele stylings as well as a trim jazz combo and a few solo a capella numbers). We’re recording this show for the next Ethan Lipton release - the last, A New Low, has been doing delightfully well, and just got a terrific review from Pop Matters. It’s like … you know what it’s like? If Charlie Chaplin had done songs, they’d be like this. Except with less falling down.

So it’s a Home Office splash this week, all over the East Village. C’mon out and join us.

I Wonder Why

by Pierre, May 5th, 2004

Why does the bass solo always happen during the last song before the break? Bass solo, tip bucket: same struggle?