My life and the world around me

Category: music (Page 2 of 4)

Rajamani at One World Theater

Gwen’s been a fan of Oliver Rajamani for quite some time, so when she found out he was having a CD release party at One World Theater, she figured it would be a good show and a good excuse to see what that venue is like for a relatively low ticket price.

The show was pretty good. I have mixed feelings about Rajamani’s music: he’s good at what he does, and I do enjoy some of his stuff, but some of it gets into these aimless, hypnotic jams that don’t do much for me. But when he’s good, he’s good. He had a good band assembled around him, too, including an acquaintance, Steve Marcum (one of the original instigators behind the full-moon drum circle). He also had Nagavalli Medicharla, a female vocalist, on stage with him. She wasn’t in the show much, but she was one of the high points–she has a voice that really makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. I’m looking forward to hearing the album, as I expect it will probably edit the rambling bits out.

Neither Gwen nor I had ever been to the theater before. While the grounds are great, and the building is really interesting from the outside, the room itself is no great shakes. The acoustic seemed fine, and there didn’t seem to be many bad seats in the house, but we were expecting something a little more interesting. Gwen pointed out that the wings set up on stage were obvious afterthoughts that didn’t fit in with the rest of the building at all.

After the show, there was a reception downstairs, where I ran into one of my Japanese teachers from back in the day and one of my fellow fire-freaks.

Boxcar Preachers

Expecting to see Shorty Long last night doing their usual thing at Flipnotics, we wound up seeing the Boxcar Preachers, the lead singer of which is a co-worker of Gwen’s. Old-timey songs about heroin addicts and Randy Weaver. They’re good. Check ’em out.

Visual Music

Saw Kronos Quartet’s performance of Visual Music last night. My opinion: Mixed. Some of the music was more, well, musical, and some was experimental in a way that had some novelty value but became trite or positively grating pretty quickly.

The show opened with exactly such a piece. Four very tall, spidery sculptural things lined up on stage, with upward-facing speakers at the base and mics hanging like pendulums (with slightly varying lengths) from the tops. My initial assessment was that these were feedback generators, and I was right. The four members of the group came out, pulled back the cords, and let them swing. As the mics passed over the speakers, the speakers squawked; the closer the mic, the higher the pitch. Slowly they moved out of sync with each other (being different lengths) and would occasionally move briefly back into sync. So this was fun, in a way, but before long I was clenching my ears. When the piece ended and something more traditional began, I could barely hear it for the first minute or so.

The subsequent piece was played on violins, and was technically impressive, but only intermittently what I would call “musical.” There were several other pieces I would categorize the same way, including one where they projected their musical score on a giant screen behind them (which they faced), scrolling by as they worked their instruments in a way that seemed more like violin abuse than playing, including bowing above the nut, below the bridge, above their fingering hands, on the body of the violin directly, pressing the strings flat against the fingerboard and playing that way, and mostly beating the bow on the strings rather than sliding it across them.

Other pieces also involved video projection, and some had recorded spoken-word tracks (usually consisting of chopped-up didactic commentary) and recorded music tracks behind them. Gwen’s comment on these was that they were “painfully early-80s Laurie Anderson.”

The set (which was surprisingly short, with no encore) ended with something that I did enjoy, that I think was composed by Sigur Rös.

My music collection

I’ve written before about the problems with CD storage. My approach has been to put all my CDs in binders (which are fairly cheap on a per-CD basis), and rip them all as 192-Kbps MP3s to an external hard drive. So I have all my music accessible on my computer, which is nice.

Raymond Scott

How is it possible that I have lived all these years without ever having heard of Raymond Scott before? The man was a mad-scientist musician, equal parts Juan Garcia Esquivel and Leon Theremin, who composed whacky cartoon-style music and built giant scary machines with lots of knobs.

He even talked like a mad scientist:

It is not widely known who invented the circuitry concept for the automatic sequential performance of musical pitches – now well known as a sequencer.

I, however, do know who the inventor was – for it was I who first conceived and built the sequencer.

Cue maniacal laughter


I’ve always had a weakness for unusual musical covers. Jenny knows all too well about the Golden Throats, and she flatly refused to listen to Dread Zeppelin. There are some covers just too weird to mention. And of course, there’s the reverse phenomenon: I was exposed to the Venture’s surf versions of Perfidia and Lullaby of the Leaves, for example, years before I ever heard more traditional renditions–it’s just as much fun for me to discover what I’d been missing going backwards.

Thanks to John Aielli on KUT this morning, I was exposed to a different kind of cover. Something a little more high-brow. Covers of Radiohead by classical pianist Christopher O’Riley. Pretty cool. He has an album of these out, but if you poke around his site, you can find some MP3s to download as well.

Movie night

Movie nights, actually–Gwen and I have had a couple recently that are worth mentioning.

First we saw Turkish Star Wars. OK, that’s not what it’s really called–it’s really called Dünyayi kurtaran adam (The Man Who Saves the World). Utter mind-warping dreck. This movie must have been made by Turkey’s Ed Wood. The first ten minutes was nothing but a few minutes shamelessly pirated from the original Star Wars, cut and re-cut. Much of the soundtrack was stolen with an equal absence of shame from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The quality of the filming may have been worse than those bootleggers who sneak videocams into movie theaters achieve. There was a mask-wearing bad guy, but not Darth Vader. He looked more like a kachina doll. And of course the tape has no subtitles or dubbing, so you’re pretty much obliged to fill in dialog a la MTS3K. I’ll be lazy and quote the Film Threat review here: “‘The Turkish Star Wars’ makes film criticism moot.”

Last night was a double-header. First up, About Schmidt. This movie left me a bit underwhelmed. Not a bad movie, but very flat. This was intentional–the writers clearly went out of their way to make almost every moment as blandly trite as possible, and that’s an achievement: somebody probably racked his brains to come up with a song as mawkishly awful as “Longer” by Dan Fogelberg (badly sung) for the wedding, and I salute that achievement. Perhaps the problem with portraying a universe of triteness is that the portrayal itself risks being trite.

Movie number the second was Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This was much better. A sort of earnest Rocky Horror Picture Show, if you will, it had good musical numbers, an interesting lead character (admittedly most of the other characters were slim to nonexistent), and interesting ideas, some conveyed through song. Having seen it now, I’m actually a little surprised that it hasn’t attracted more of a cult following.

More thoughts on the iTunes Music Store

The interesting thing about ITMS is that it is integrated so tightly with iTunes, and that iTunes itself is a pretty slick program.

Perhaps Apple is still working out the bugs, but the initial rollout of ITMS is missing a huge opportunity: recommendations and aggregation.

Amazon already does recommendations based on what you’ve bought and what you say you like. And audioscrobbler (thanks to iScrobbler) keeps track of exactly what I’ve been listening to, and makes recommendations based on that using some kind of collaborative-filtering hoohah.

iTunes also keeps track internally of what I’ve been playing. ITMS could roughly duplicate what audioscrobbler does and let me preview/buy the recommendations directly. That would be slick. iTunes also allows one to assign star-ratings to songs, but that’s a little tedious, and the audioscrobbler philosophy–that what you listen to most is what you really like the most–is probably more honest.

Likewise, Apple could aggregate this data into a form that it could sell to the record industry. This raises obvious privacy questions, but frankly, as long as it would be anonymous, I would be perfectly happy for the record industry to know that I have never, not once, listened to Britney Spears, N’Sync, Alan Jackson, or whatever–but that I do listen to Beck, the Asylum Street Spankers, Caetano Veloso, etc.

It’s also funny to see how they categorize music, since (once you get past the front page) the store uses the same genre/artist/album column-browser as iTunes uses for your own music library. Jimmy Cliff, Jon Secada, Martin Denny, and Abba are all listed under “World music.” Putting music in pigeonholes is often unhelpful, and that particular slot is especially so.

Apple Music Store

As rumored, Apple has created a store for downloadable music, which ties in with a new version of iTunes.

They apparently have a library of 200,000 tracks from the five big labels. So far so good. They’re charging $0.99 per track. Not good. In terms of an hour’s-worth of music, this works out to be about as much as buying the CD, perhaps more–except you don’t get the CD, booklet or full-quality audio for that matter, but do get restrictions on how you can use your downloads (although the restrictions are admittedly pretty liberal, and easy enough to circumvent).

This does seem like an improvement over some of the existing for-fee music-download services, and the integration with iTunes looks pretty slick, but the pricing is outlandish ($0.25 per track would be my limit), and the pay-per-track pricing model is a bad idea. A monthly-fee all-you-can-eat model is one that I could get behind.

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