Tuesday, May 29, 2007

burning beta brides

Here come the waterworks.

As a rule, I bawl at weddings. The controls on the waterworks are sensitive, turning on with the slightest of stimuli: how a vow gets recited, on what word the groom's voice cracks, how flower girls perambulate down the aisle, the parents that didn't live long enough to see this day, how geese take to the skies above, whatever. And this past weekend was no different. Thank God the ceremony was outdoors, so that I could wear my cop shades.

It helps me prepare for when I head to a Texas wedding next week, wherein I will bust out such moves as the "Texas Two-Step" and "Cotton-Eyed Joe" (and no, not the Eurodisco version they play at Yankee Stadium). The best thing about Texas weddings, aside from a catered barbecue dinner, shots of Hot Damn!, and tables full of sliced jalapenos and pickles, is this giant processional dance, "The Grand March." Hard to unpack here but let's just say it's about as close as I get to being in a Busby Berkeley musical, participating in that ineffable dance of humanity that is part geometry, part biology.

In the week preceding that white wedding, Nick and I trade emails about wedding reception playlists. He noted that at the last wedding he attended, "lots of people would get up all the sudden and say this is 'our song' and go dance and 'our song' would be something like Earth Wind and Fire's "September" or Kool and the Gang's "Celebration."' Funny enough, neither of these were on the playlists. Instead, we got the next generation of "our song," which translates as "Hey Ya." And of course, Johnny Cash's dour "Ring of Fire." Finally, I admit to myself that I'm just not a fan of the Man in Black. Everytime I hear his voice, it invokes only John Wayne, bulky and wasted. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Sparks' "Perfume" (the bride doesn't wear any) and realized out on the dancefloor just how long and ludicrous the breakdown for "One More Time" is. You could nap in it.

The best song of the entire affair though came early on. After the two families entered to the blaring horns of "All You Need is Love," all fell quiet. The opening notes of "Here Comes the Sun" were plucked as the bay doors swung wide so that the bride could enter in all of her luminance. Of course, it made me cry.

Friday, May 11, 2007

dur dur d'etre beta

First I have to give thanks to Mister Burns for getting me into the Jordi Savall concert at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Having only recently become enamored with the early-music maestro (courtesy of his disc exploring the curious folios of 17th century composer Tobias Hume), I was beside myself to get into one of these performances, but two dates he's playing in the US. For all the upscale grandeur of going to a concert at the Metropolitan Museum, they instantly set our minds at ease by making the audience enter through the cafeteria.

As a newbie to this music, I'll admit to being somewhat lost amid the blue hairs in attendance and what exactly to listen for, but the program notes attest that before 1800, it was expected that composed music were to have some of its music improvised in performance, so that it might blossom freshly-created for its audience. So whereas I might otherwise not have familiarity with the folios of composers like Diego Ortiz, Mr. de Sainte-Colombe le pere (or his son, Mr. de Sainte-Colombe le fils), and Marin Marais (or even Bach, honestly), I could at least appreciate the spontaneous moment.

Not necessarily one for etymology, I find it curious that names for themes (canario, chaconne, passacaglia) stem from New World explorations, even though they are ultimately of Old World lineage. Tonight, Savall plays a viola da gamba crafted in 1697, in a line-up including harpsichord and a dual neck stringed instrument, the theorbo (think medieval Jimmy Page here). When the trio commences, the most shocking thing is how quiet the music is. Unamplified, there's an inherent hush to the audience as well, yet my ears panic, harried that they're missing something. But wait, it's just that the ears have always been reactive, dealing with overload and volume, the necessity of shutting out. Now, in the quietude, they slowly begin to open up, so that the music blossoms mid-performance.

As I'm most familiar with the work of Tobias Hume, I can hear how Jordi Savall teases out new filaments, new pathways in the notation. Hume is as bizarre a figure in the early-music world as he would be in modern music, which is no doubt what draws me to him in the first place. First and foremost, the Scotsman was a soldier of fortune, prefacing one of his 1605 folios for viol with the claim that "the onely effeminate part of me, hath beene Musicke; which in mee hath beene always Generous, because never Mercenarie." If this music is effeminate, then lord only knows what he must've been like in the flesh (in old age, the notes say he was reduced to eating snails in the field, for lack of mercenary work); his program is in stark contrast to the other pieces of the night. Savall's bow work is volatile, at times physically attacking the viola, barking out proclamations between flurries of plucked and bowed passages, rapping kinetic taps of the bow across its strings.

Throughout the night, I am reminded of Joanna Newsom's most recent EP, perceiving it as this attempt to bridge new music and old. From its instrumentation (and their furious interplay) to its artisan craftsmanship down to its poetic imagery, almost none of the music elicited by her Ys Street Band strikes me as "indie." Talking to a friend afterwards, while he thoroughly enjoyed the evening's performance, noting Savall's masterful tone and exuding of grace, he sheepishly admits that he still has a Hall & Oates song stuck in his head. His date claims that the quicksilver lines on theobro evoke Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" in her own head. And so worlds collide.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

beta stops smiling

The irony is not entirely lost upon me: handing in my article on Breathless femme fatale Jean Seberg for the upcoming Ex-Pat issue of Stop Smiling I can barely breathe come the Stop Smiling party on Tuesday night due to an allergy attack. Lucky for me, my publishers are similarly voiceless, so I spend much of the night wheezing to Dave Tompkins and Pete Relic instead, as Chairman Mao and Pete Rock spin like its 80s Night.

Go figure that the first portion of Dave's Scorpio meditation is all about huffing hay (and features fine deployment of the word 'williwaw'). Dave corrects one trainspotter who opines Gigolo Tony when in fact it's Afro-Rican. "Throw the D" comes on, and it's as if I'm trapped inside the head of a madman. Which reminds me that I need to YSI him these Pompidou tracks (the Jamaican toaster known for his 'synthesizer voice') as it'll push Dave's long-threatened vocoder book back another decade, thus giving us hacks some breathing room.

Monday, May 07, 2007

beta gets feisty

Simply put, aside from my own music-making, I have never had a greater bias towards an album than I do with Feist's The Reminder. The connection is not of import here, but rest assured, it is close to my heart. Coming wholly from the aesthetic side of music appreciation as a critic and reared in a world of music-making (in small town punk-rock club culture) where the idea of monetary success meant free beer on a Saturday night, it has been illuminating to finally glean the gears (and greasing) of the music industry, to see the to-and-fro of both frontlash and back, to know just what commercials will pay for a slice of pop music, to learn how $25 million ad campaigns and big-budget motion pictures get edited in rhythm so as to woo a certain song's placement amidst their visuals.

It was a curious vantage point to watch that critdom race to proclaim Feist first, to see articles jockey for position in the NYC market, to realize how an 8-hour fashion shoot only translates into an inch of space in a glossy, to know that the name "Busby Berkeley" appeared in a video proposal, and to understand why certain authors appear strangely stymied regarding their subject. Similarly, I have never experienced the true "behind the music" workings of a major label album and how it gets sold in these days of diminishing returns until now. How music gets sold alongside frappucinos, how labels haggle over that obsolescent creature of the music industry (barring 8-tracks): the music video, how songs wind up on prime time, it was all revealed to me. It is not glamor, but the direct result of hard work. And I now pray that Leslie Feist does don the mantle of "the hipster Norah Jones" and sell 20 million copies.

It's gotten to the point that I dreamed the other night of gushing to an old high school friend about the room sound on The Reminder, relishing the texture of the field recordings, the suspended air surrounding the piano chords and woodwind breaths, the grain of Leslie Feist's throat, explained with zeal the 3:1 ballad ratio. I dream of certain remixers for songs like "Sealion," revel in how that fritzing electric organ bleat on "My Moon My Man" recreates exactly the interference of a certain somebody's overworked Blackberry when near my stereo. Every time I hear that single sonic element now, it conjures their presence instantly.

In waking life, I bully a professional acquaintance for positing a theory about "sophistication" with regards to Feist's thirtysomething audience while having never heard a single note. I laugh at the notion that on a corporate countertop lies the widest dissemination of my words. And when my mother calls to say that the album reminded her of Carole King's Tapestry, I beam. Okay, The Reminder isn't that great, but such a testimony is nevertheless music to my ears.