Archive for the ‘Listen to this…’Category

Owen Pallett rocks my world

Owen Pallett‘s new album Heartland is just fantastic. I was introduced to his work by Sequenza21 and after listening to a couple of tracks I made a special trip to Aquarius Records to pay full price for the CD (hooray for supporting artists and local record stores). It was that compelling.

A month later, the album is still gorgeous. Rhythmically complex, richly textured, an intriguing mix of electronica and acoustic instruments, affecting modal melodies. I’m so happy that this music is being made. Just listen to the opening track “Midnight Directives”

[audio:http://musicvstheater.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/01-Midnight-Directives.mp3|titles=01 Midnight Directives]

The snare drum rhythm that kicks in around 0:53 bears more than a passing resemblance to Bjork’s Hunter. After a few listens I became very enamored of the complex pizzicato line at 1:15. Eventually I started searching YouTube to see if there was a video to go along with it. Here’s what I found.

OMG.  Ya see.  I hadn’t realized he was a loop artist. I mean, I remember seeing it mentioned, but hearing the album, the looping aspect of things just didn’t register. The material was too rich, too interesting to just be another looper. Sure, when he’s doing the solo performance bit, the textures aren’t as varied as the fully orchestrated album cuts, but still. He’s completely shattered my previous beliefs about what loop musicians can and can’t do.

I wonder how this piece was conceived. Was it a solo piece first? If that’s the case, than the tape delayed pizzicato line must have been one of the original elements, as opposed to the pretty textural addition that I believed it was after hearing the album track.

If you’re in San Francisco, Owen Pallett is playing at the Independent tomorrow, May 5. Tickets are only $16.  I’m going to try to make it, but I’ve got a rehearsal up in Petaluma that evening. Hopefully I’ll get out in time.

Here’s one more video from Owen Pallett. It feels a wee bit like an underbaked casserole of images and ideas, but it’s still a fun watch. Especially when Alison Pill shows up. Oh my god is she adorable.

04

May 2010
11:05

It’s time to admit I have a problem…

I wrote one more #operaplot tweet today. It’s for Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex. But as a rap. I thought that would be particularly appropriate, since the whole show is about Oedipus’s hubris, which seems to fit right into the rap genre.  So this is what I came up with…

Oedipus Rex

Ego Rex,yo! With my mad flow. Tiresias be hatin on my bling tho. Cuz I’m the king, aint no other. Is my ho fly? Word to my mother! #operaplot

See how I snuck the latin in there?

The problem is, it wouldn’t leave my head. I kept on singing the damn thing all day. So tonight, instead of promoting my string quartet, or working on my opera, (or packing for my trip to LA tomorrow), I spent my precious few free hours after rehearsal trying to produce a passable hip hop track.

So, with my sincere apologies, I will subject you to the results.

[audio:http://musicvstheater.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/OedipusJam-Rendered.mp3|titles=OedipusJam Rendered]

ed: I think I mispronounced the “ego” at the very beginning.  (Should be aego, not eego).  My latin teacher would kill me.  If I had ever taken latin.

If you’d like to read my other #operaplots, you can find them here and here.  I also made a fairly ridiculous attempt to classify the many hundreds of #operaplots that others have written.

30

Apr 2010
3:04

Collect all three!

The string quartet is DONE! Actually, it was done a year ago, but now it’s been premiered, recorded, annotated, and released to the public.

The third movement Off the Rails is finally available for listening and downloading and reading about and whatnot.

So what happens now? Hmm. Good question. I’ve already submitted it to several competitions to little effect, but those are pretty much crapshoots (and the only recording at the time was a sub-optimal midi realization).

Well, what do composers really want? To create music and to have people hear the music they’ve created. So, in no particular order, here are things I can actively do to try to further these goals:

  • Network to get the piece introduced into an established quartet’s repertoire.
  • Keep entering competitions and festivals.
  • Give away the audio tracks to whoever wants to hear them.
  • Make some youtube video with potential for virality.
  • Advertise the piece using Google AdWords. (Paying to give something away for free!)

So, dear reader, if you have any other ideas to suggest, or a desire to help with any of the above mentioned action items, PLEASE feel free.

Radiohead + Bluegrass = Crazy Delicious

Time for another transformative cover.  This time the source material is Radiohead’s Morning Bell  This track isn’t exactly uncoverable.  There’s plenty of harmonic and melodic material in there with room for an artist to interject their own sensibilities.

And now here’s a cover by bluegrass super group, The Punch Brothers.   That’s right, bluegrass.  Chris Thiele is the driving force behind the band and is on the short list of my favorite musicians alive.  Back in 2007 I won tickets to see Nickel Creek in a 100 seat theater and it remains one of the top 5 musical experiences of my life. He recently composed a mandolin concerto (co-commissioned by my alma mater Interlochen Center for the Arts) and I swear I just read this now, but apparently he’s working on a collaboration with Hillary Hahn.  (Not that surprising since they have the same publicist, blogger Amanda Ameer.)

I LOVE this cover. Behind the virtuosic solos and Thiele’s perfectly attuned singing, there’s this percolating murmur of plucked and strummed strings. The harmonic rhythm is pretty static.  Chords don’t change very often, and when they do, it’s sudden and almost completely unprepared.  In the context of prerecorded electronica, that’s not such a big deal, but in a live “jam band” situation it’s exhilarating.  These are some serious musicians.

If you happen to be in San Francisco tonight, The Punch Brothers are playing the Herbst Theater as part of the SF Jazz Festival.  It’s going to be a great show.

Interestingly enough, Radiohead themselves released another version of Morning Bell on their Amnesiac album. They switched the meter from 5 to 4 and removed the drum track. In this version, the plodding duple meter lurches through a haze of reverb. It’s almost relentless.

18

Apr 2010
11:04

On the virtues of being baked

Two weeks ago I swung by the free Hot Air Music Festival at the SF Conservatory.  It was an all day affair with dozens of pieces from composers who, save for four, all shared a trait that almost guarantees that they’ll be largely unknown and unheard, specifically, they’re alive.

I was only able to attend the last four hours of the day (unfortunately missing David Conte’s Two Motets for Double Brass Quartet) but there was a lot of great stuff packed into those two hours.

Steve Reich’s 1987 Electric Counterpoint was written for Pat Metheny as part BAM’s Next Wave Festival.  It was designed to have twelve guitar parts all prerecorded by the soloist, who would then play the “solo” thirteenth part live at the actual performance while accompanied by the tape.  The composer also prepared a less frequently performed version for a full battery of guitars, which was the version performed at the festival.  No recording can do justice to the sound of a stage full of acoustic guitars strumming.  If you get a chance to hear a good guitar ensemble play live, go!

Here’s Gaku Yamada playing the solo version in recital.  Dunno who that is, but it’s the best video I could find on YouTube.  You can always buy the Pat Metheny version.

Another revelation (for me at least) was Alfred Schnittke’s Concert Grosso No. 1.  I was familiar with his name, but he was always one of those composers I was going to get around to listening to later. I think later may have moved to sooner.  I was also pleasantly surprised to see that  Liana Berube (who played in the premiere of my String Quartet) was one of the soloists.  Schnittke certainly has a lot of fun taking baroque forms and motives and layering them to the point of utterly unrecognizable noise.  It’s intense and at times nerve wracking, but damn exciting.

The piece is definitely all over the map, but when it hits, it hits hard.  Although I think I’d prefer a wee bit more coherence, stylistically.

In recent discussion about the piece, a friend said he preferred his composers to be more “baked” (in the cooked sense, not the altered sense, I assume).  More like Barber and Copland than the raw music of Ives and Schnittke. In theory, I share his preferences, but looking back at his list, while I’d prefer to have Copland’s career and skillset, I’d much rather be listening to Ives.  At my heart, I’m a pretty conservative composer, but I deeply admire iconoclasts.  It’s hard to forge a path when you’re still worshipping idols.

16

Apr 2010
18:04

Covering the Uncoverable

Whew.  A full six days since my last post! What can I say.  Those Sondheim posts wiped me pretty hard. That was at least a month’s worth of blogging concentrated into a week’s time. The next few posts will be a lot less dense.

I’ve been thinking about the point I brought up in my P. Diddy post, specifically how songs that make heavy use of sampling and the creating of soundscapes (ie Definite Content) aren’t really possible to cover without losing its identity, the essence that makes the song what it is. More traditional songs that rely on a flexible framework of melody and harmony can have that DNA transformed by other artists and it’s still very much that song, but songs that rely more on recording technology and less on melody and harmony (the stuff that older generations considered “music”) can’t be covered in the traditional sense.

Yet there are still examples of these transformative covers, and sometimes they’re really great.

Beyonce’s Single Ladies is an example of a song that relies upon recording engineering and digital manipulation of sounds (and skin tight catsuits) for its very existence. Just listen to the accompaniment. There’s virtually no harmony or melody , heck there’s almost no pitched material at all. There’s a single barely audible repeated note that serves as the tonic while Beyonce sings a bare  bones Do Re Mi melody.  Then at the chorus a synth comes in and emphasizes the minor subdominant. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this song (particularly the flattened sixth degree in the chorus). But musically (as the older generations would define it) there’s not much there. How could you actually cover it? How can you change the sound without changing the song? The sound IS the song.

Pomplamoose gives it a shot. They’re a duo out of Northern California who create video songs of their own works as well as unlikely covers of other works. The idea behind a video song is that every element of the  song has to be videotaped as it’s recorded, so every sound that you hear on the track has to be seen at some point in the video. So if you hear a kick drum, you have to see the kick drum at some point.  If you use a polaroid camera to make a percussive sound, you need to see that camera making that percussive sound. Which also means that the source material has to be completely acoustic.

So how do you make an acoustic cover of Single Ladies?

Here:

It took me a while to warm up to this cover. For one, they flip the beat around.  In the original, the word “Single” is on beat two, while in the cover they place it squarely on the downbeat, which at first is really jarring, but after a few listens I totally dug it. It’s a truly transformative cover. They take the lyrics, the bare bones melody, add a distinctive rhythmic twist, (greatly abridge the bridge), put in very different harmonies, add Cocoa Puffs, and the result is great for entirely different reasons than the original was great.

Go check out there other videos on YouTube.  I particularly recommend their cover of Earth Wind and Fire’s September. Best use of a puppet in a music video since that Genesis video.

I’ll be posting more examples of transformative covers in the upcoming weeks. And I haven’t forgotten about the String Quartet. It’s coming. As soon as taxes are done.

31

Mar 2010
11:03

Top 10 Moments of Sondheim Genius (part 2)

Gah!  I would have published this earlier, but I spent two evenings tearing my house apart trying to find a photograph of me and Sondheim taken when I was in the ensemble for the 2001 PBS production of Sweeney Todd in Concert. I’m a bit freaked out that I haven’t been able to find it yet. I’m sure it will show up eventually. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

But here we are, the five top moments of Sondheim genius (read about numbers 10-6 in my previous post). Again, this is not a ranking of shows or songs, but of individual, isolated moments of genius. (In my browser it looks like he’s reading this paragraph… Eek!)

Read the rest of this entry →

25

Mar 2010
14:03

Top 10 Moments of Sondheim Genius

In honor of the eightieth birthday of the greatest musical theater writer/composer to ever live, I’ve gone ahead and curated the 10 most brilliant moments in a body of work that is chock full of genius.  For purposes of this list, I’ve tried to identify specific moments, as opposed to stretches of time or entire songs.  I’m not ranking the best Sondheim shows, or the best Sondheim songs, I’m identifying short bursts of time, rarely more than a few seconds, sometimes a single measure, when something remarkable happens. These are the moments to eagerly await each time a production shows up, the moments that reveal if the director and music director “get it”. And I’ve also tried to find moments that are not merely theatrical or musical, but moments when both the music and theater combine to make something amazing happen.  Any one of his shows contains dozens of inspired musical gestures that bear close analysis, but these are the instants where the musical and theatrical ideas converge to a razor point of revelation, providing multidimensional insights into characters or situations.

Today I’ll count down 10-6.  Stay tuned for the top 5…

Read the rest of this entry →

22

Mar 2010
19:03

First movement now available for download

I’m happy to announce that the first movement of my string quartet is now available for free download. I’ve also written up extensive notes for that movement if you’d like to know more about the composition and where it came from. (Of course you’d like to know more. Why else would you be reading this blog?)

I hope you’ll take the time to listen and follow along with the program notes. I spend hundreds of hours composing this piece (not including the time writing up the essays for each movement) and I’m very proud of it. It’s all time wasted if no one gets to hear it. So I’m counting on you here.

The other two movements will be released in the weeks to follow (I’m editing as fast as I can), so be sure to check back.

A lovely convergence of my favorite things

I’m on something of a David O’Reilly kick here.  His stuff is fascinating.  And I just discovered that he made a video for the Venetian Snares track Szamar Madar off of their unpronounceable but very listenable DnB/IDM/Classical mashup album Rossz Csillag Alatt Született, which happens to be one of my favorite albums ever. And then on top of that, the video is yet another great example of non-invisibility, it breaks you-tube’s fourth wall around the halfway mark with startling effect.

Venetian Snares – Szamar Madar from David OReilly on Vimeo.

What a perfectly timed convergence of ideas.

10

Mar 2010
12:03