Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Introduction

November 5, 2007

A recording gig at Hansek studios

 

Welcome to my blog. Here, I am offering for free what others would charge for—an honest critique of your music. This isn’t a review, it’s an assessment. I’m not going to pull out my thesaurus and use lofty adjectives to praise or pan your latest record; I’m just going to tell it like it is.  I have no agenda, no preconceived ideas, no attitude. What I do have is years of experience in the music industry, a wide range of musical tastes, and the desire to find new and great music. My goals are ultimately selfish; I want to find great music, but I demand quality!!! 

While I’m waiting for the onslaught of bands to submit their mp3s, over the next few weeks I will be sharing some of my favorite bands with my legions of subscribers.  These are not necessarily my top favorites, but still very important to me. Also, these posts will not be critiques, per se, but rather personal narratives. You are welcome to comment on these either positively or negatively. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find something you like.

Toodles

 

Soundtrack to my Life

November 4, 2007

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In 1985, my mom came home from a music appreciation class she was enrolled in at Cal State Long Beach, and she handed me a homemade cassette that some guy had given her in class (I think he might have been hitting on her!). She had already listened to it, and while she liked it, it wasn’t her cup of tea. Knowing I was always on the prowl for cassettes to tape my songs, she left it for me on my bed with a note saying “Free tape. Just erase what’s on it first.” 

The tape lay hidden under my dirty clothes for a week or so, until one day I dug it out to use for an idea I was having. I put the tape in the recorder and hit play so that I could wind out the leader. Suddenly, the most incredible sounds—not quite melodies, but yet, kind of—oozed from my speakers. My spine began to tingle, sending me into a trance-like state, and there I remained motionless for the entire length of the tape. I never recorded my idea. 

When I saw my mom again, I demanded to know who the artist was, but she didn’t know either. Worse yet, her class was over and she didn’t know how to contact the guy who gave it to her (plus, I don’t think she wanted to). So, I spent the next couple of years trying to figure out who this was. I played the tape for my friends who worked in record shops; I gave copies of it away, hoping someone would recognize who it was; basically, I was obsessed.  

Then one day I played it for a small record shop owner who said “Well, it sounds like that record Jon Hassel and Brian Eno collaborated on a few years back, but then again, it sounds a bit off.” I asked him if he had the record in question, and he did, so I bought it. I ran home, put in on my turntable and waited for the familiar ether to envelope my consciousness. It started playing, and at that point I understood the words of the record shop owner. It was playing too slow!! Wait, I mean the cassette was playing too fast! What’s happening here! It was when I cranked the turntable speed up that I realized the guy who gave my mom the tape years ago taped it at 45 rpm!!  

Possible Musics Fourth World Vol 1 by Jon Hassel and Brian Eno is the soundtrack for my life. It expresses what I feel in my soul, what I hear in my head, and what I see when I shut my eyes in silence. It’s been about twenty years, but I still can’t listen to it at 33 1/3 rpm; it has to be 45 rpm. It makes sense why the music doesn’t elevate me at 33 1/3 rpm—the frequencies that tingle my spine just don’t exist at the slower speed. 

Here is a link to one of the tracks, Ba Benzele, played at 45 rpm. Since there is no actual video for this, I’ve created a visual counterpart to go with it. To see it on youtube, where you can enlarge the screen, follow this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdpIEdF7iko Otherwise, you can just click below. So, turn the lights out, enlarge the video, and chill out for a bit.

When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse

November 3, 2007

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I spent so much time as an adolescent listening to all the great punk and new wave bands that were hitting the scene in the late 70’s that I pretty much missed Pink Floyd as they we’re making some of the best psych/pop/blues/experimental music of all time.  That all changed with the release of The Wall in 1982. Stunning is the adjective that comes to mind when thinking about that movie and its soundtrack, and as I began the journey backwards through their catalogue, the modifier became inadequate. The music of Pink Floyd is the perfect communion of beauty, innocence, despair, anguish, and hope: all the elements of the human condition. It is reflected in the instrumentation, chord progressions, film, and of course, the lyrics. Pink Floyd songs can transport me from the warmth of the sunlight to the dank coldness of a dark pit with one chord change, and then back again. Their music, like all great music, overtakes mood and reason; sometimes for the better, sometimes not.  Below is a classic video from Pink Floyd performing one of their more tranquil numbers. Footage of the band kicks in at about 1:45, so be patient. You can link to it here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mV9AwB-DnoI, or watch it below.

 

A Musical Laxative for a Constipated Society

November 2, 2007

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I once attended a lecture by Brian Eno at UCLA back in the late 1980’s. He was talking about the future of virtual reality and its possible affects on the brain and sensory organs. What was really interesting was his comment about the brain and how it processes frequencies. Apparently, when the brain “hears” frequencies, specific chemicals interact to make sense of the “noises.” Sometimes when new frequencies are introduced to the brain, specific chemicals interact for the first time, causing nausea and mild confusion. “Ah ha!” I thought to myself. That’s what happened when I first heard Devo’s record “Duty Now for the Future.”

It was 1979, and I was at a friend’s house listening to records. I remember him pulling “Duty” out and putting it on the turntable. The cover was unlike any cover I had seen before. It had these five guys in black shirts, wearing orange crash helmets, and they had barcodes across their faces. When the music kicked in, I was really blown away.I had grown up on Zeppelin, The Doors, Beethoven, Carole King, Jim Croce, Crystal Gayle…you get the picture—pretty main stream stuff. Anyhow, Devo was unlike anything I had ever heard before. It was punk, but electronic, and the vocals sounded like they were emanating from a plastic tube or something; it wasn’t Jim Morrison, that’s for sure. My friend only played one song, Wiggly World, and then put it away. I begged him to let me take the record home, and reluctantly, he did.

I got home, went to my room, shut my door, and put on my headphones. The sounds that came through those headphones were both atonal and beautiful at the same time, and then it happened. I got really sick, like “I gotta puke” sick.

“Duty Now for the Future” was the first punk record I ever bought, and through that record I discovered music all over again. Since then Devo has remained one of my favorite bands of all time, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. I can’t think of a musician from ANY musical background who hasn’t considered Devo an influence. From jazz to country to grunge to classical, musicians understand how important Devo is (and I’m not even going to discuss their message!). It pains me to watch these one-hit-wonder shows on VH1 and see Devo featured. They are so much more than that. Their music is complicated to play, interesting to listen to, and fun to rock out to.

Below are two clips. The top one is an interview with two of the spuds in 1981, and the bottom clip is a live version of that first song, filmed in 1978.

WE’RE ALL DEVO!!

     

                                                                                                                                                

Automated Autonomy

November 1, 2007

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Much like the Jon Hassel/Brian Eno story mentioned in an earlier post, my first exposure to Bauhaus was caged in anonymity. A friend gave me a homemade cassette tape with no labeling of any kind, only telling me that the music on the tape was part of some larger theatrical performance. For over a year I would listen to this cassette, which was really low-fi, and wonder what the heck these guys were doing. The music was dark and edgy, but somehow graceful as well. It was obvious they were really talented, and knowing nothing about them added to the mystique. The album I was listening to, I later found out, was “Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape,” which was recorded live in England. A while later I saw the video footage from the concert, which completed the picture. While it wasn’t a play they were putting on per se, they were indeed very theatrical. 

Bauhaus began their musical career together in 1978, and within 6 weeks cut their first record. On that record was the 9 minute + song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” which essentially spawned the Goth music genre. Contradictory to popular belief, however, Bauhaus is not a Goth band. Yes, they essentially created the genre, but their music is anything but Goth; it’s art.  The original Bauhaus was an art movement centered in Berlin during the early 1900’s, but with the rise of Hitler, the school shut down. The art of the Bauhaus movement shares many commonalities with the music of Bauhaus the band: angular, simplistic individually, complicated when combined. On a larger scale, each of their five original records sound completely different from one another, yet when put together create a complex musical tapestry. 

One could even take this idea further. When Bauhaus broke up in 1983, it spawned no less than 6 new bands, including Peter Murphy’s solo career, Tones on Tail, and Love and Rockets. It’s now almost 2008 and Bauhaus has reunited. The proof that these guys are not Goth can be found in the multitude of records they’ve put out—all of them different, all of them artful, and just about all of them great. 

Bauhaus is one of those cases in which I own everything they’ve put out, and then some. I have interviews that I’ve taped off the radio, concerts, photos, and even tattoos. The music of Bauhaus was instrumental in the discovery of me, and although I don’t play them much anymore, they are one of the most important bands in my life.

This clip was taken from a British t.v. show back in 1982, and I think nicely exemplifies the artistic prowess of Bauhaus.

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.