Archive for October, 2007

Violently Happy

October 31, 2007

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Once upon a time, an angel found herself on an island located somewhere in the northern Atlantic ocean. Realizing she could not escape earth’s gravity (or perhaps she didn’t want to), she decided to have some fun while she was here. So she communed with the earth, adopted the local customs, and decided to be an artist. Although she has made the best of it, she often finds herself in a state of melancholy. This is painfully obvious when you look into her eyes, or listen closely to her voice, or watch her interact with humans. 

The artist we know as Bjork is simply amazing. She can take her voice to the height of heights and then bring it to a whisper effortlessly. She has complete control of her voice, and often uses it to make sounds no human is capable of making. She uses it as an instrument to be experimented with. Mastering musical convention, she abandoned it to create something completely unique. She continues to outpace trends, and in doing so creates them instead. She is, in fact, the best female vocalist of all time (my humble opinion, of course). 

One thing I love about her is the way she incorporates traditional Icelandic melodies and instruments into her songs. This is evident in the first clip embedded in this post. Here she takes a pop melody and weaves it into traditional Icelandic arrangements and vocal style. This is typical for Bjork; in fact, in many cases one can’t even understand what she is singing because she transitions effortlessly between the two languages…and sometimes she just makes up her own. 

Bjork’s popularity is an example of how narrow-minded American audiences can be sometimes. While we hail Brittney Spears, Bjork goes relatively unnoticed. Yet, in virtually every other country she is a megastar and is consistently asked to perform for royalty worldwide. She sells out arenas worldwide and has performed at the previous Olympics. She was even offered her own island by the government of Iceland. In America, she was laughed at for wearing a swan dress to the Grammys.  

Bjork is not easily digested. She is an artist in the true sense of the word, but while she has enjoyed major success in pop music, theatre, and visual arts, she remains just an angel to me.  The first video is a very short clip of Bjork in Iceland. The second clip is a photo montage that exposes the essence of Bjork. Enjoy.

Namaste

October 30, 2007

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I have always been drawn to Indian Devotional music, or Bhajans, because they somehow speak to my soul. I can’t really explain it, exactly. Perhaps it is the resonance of the Sitar vibrating my ribcage. Maybe it is the transcendental state of the musicians that overtakes me. Maybe it’s because the music is so ancient that I feel a little closer to God by listening to it. One thing for sure, it moves me toward a meditative state. I decided to include Ravi Shankar in this list not because he is my favorite sitar player, or even the best one for that matter, but because he is an old and tranquil soul. I’ve sat next to him while he’s played, I’ve seen him play Bhajans with his daughter, Anoushka, and I’ve had the privilege of talking with him for awhile. He is gentle, compassionate, and very wise.  Check out this clip of Ravi from the Dick Cavett show. Because of time restraints, they no doubt asked Ravi to “wow” the audience. Normally, these pieces last 20 to 30 minutes and don’t get moving until about half way in. Oh well, this just rocks.  

 

Next, I thought I’d pay homage to Ustad Zakir Hussain, probably the world’s greatest Tabla player. He is the master of manipulating tone and syncing up with the other musicians, and just phenomenal to watch. In this clip I don’t know where they are playing, but it’s very unusual for an audience to clap during a performance. Nonetheless, it’s enjoyable to watch.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHt2_VWBHaY

It’s Just a Matter of Opinion

October 29, 2007

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Like most drummers back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I was really into Neil Pert from Rush. He was (is) considered one of the best rock drummers of all time, and I guess I can’t dispute that. But then one day my guitarist handed me a tape and said “Here. Listen to these guys. They’re better than Rush.” Blasphemy! I thought to myself. No one was better than Neil—Neil was God! Well, I have to say that Tim Alexander, the drummer for Primus, could very well be better than Lord Neil. Tim would never admit it; in fact, he thinks he’s not that good. Man, if I could only be “not that good.”  The fact of the matter is that all three of the members of Primus may very well be the most technically brilliant band of our generation, but as with the case with virtuoso bands in general, it tends to be only musicians that appreciate them. I guess that’s why their bumper stickers say “Primus Sucks!” on them; their music is not for the easy listener.  

What sets these guys apart is their quirky nature, especially Les Claypool. Les is one weird dude—a city hick if you will—who loves to joke around in a Chainsaw Massacre kind of way. Tim is intense and focused, and Larry LaLonde just sits back, grins, and shreds on the guitar. I expect many of you won’t care for this band, but they are entertaining just to watch, and I think they’re ridiculously talented.

This clip was taken from a radio appearance they made back in 1989. They were popular locally at this point (in San Francisco), but their “big” success didn’t come until the following album.

I am not a composer of music, I am an inventor of music

October 28, 2007

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Who better to round out this list of eccentrics than Igor Stravinsky, the “gangsta” of classical music. OK, that’s a bit of a joke, but his music certainly is no joke. Here he was arrested for “tampering with public property.” His crime? Rearranging the U.S. national anthem and performing it in Boston. God bless America and freedom of speech, yes?

 Believe it or not, I don’t think I ever heard his music until I was 18 years old (my parents were into the top forty of classical). I was driving home late at night and as I was flipping the dial I heard two pianos being vigorously played…well, it sounded like they were being destroyed, really. Then I began to hear intricate patterns forming in the noise, and soon its brilliance became clear. 

That masterpiece was “Rites of Spring,” and I had the good fortune of hearing it for the first time performed on two pianos. So I sat in the car, waited for the dj to tell me who it was, wrote down the info, and ordered the CD the next day. It took over two months for it to arrive, but it was worth the wait. Since then, it has become like a close friend to me, which is a big reason why I chose it to close out my list. 

Below is a short clip of one of the movements of “Rites of Spring,” played as it was written, for a full orchestra. Hope you enjoy it.