Last night, Laurie Anderson gave a concert at the Perimeter Institute. Much to my surprise, I was able to go [1] and so I offer this brief review.

I guess the atrium of the Perimeter Institute has improved a bit since the first concert I saw there, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, which featured very uncomfortable lawn chairs. This, this concert had real hard-back chairs. Not that I got to sit on one- I had a standing-room ticket, upstairs. Mezzanine. The whole 2nd floor was open, and there were only 40 standing-room tickets, so we each got a fair bit of space to ourselves.

Pluses: Unobstructed view: at the beginning I was standing less than 10 feet from Laurie Anderson. Straight up.
Minuses: We weren't allowed to lean on the glass railing, which I kept forgetting. And the top of a performer's head turns out to not be as exciting as seeing the front of her face. Also, I saw her glance upward once and realized it might actually be disconcerting to have audience perched just over-top of oneself.

So I moved back to 20 feet away, where I stayed for the rest of the show. It wasn't bad, even standing, and there was lots of room for me to sit on the floor, which I did for a while.

The acoustics were fine; possibly slightly less amplified, but that wasn't a problem. Fortunately, I also didn't find there were any annoying echoes in the big space.

The concert was 90 minutes. She started with her signature pitch-bended electric violin (which in the late 70's was a "tape bow violin"- with recorded magnetic tape as the bow, and a magnetic tape head as the bridge; though I don't expect that's still how it works). She alternated between instrumental-only pieces, some which I liked quite a lot, and spoken-word over instrumental and keyboard loops. Some of her spoken-word was pitch-bended into her trademark growling bass voice, which she has called audio drag or "the Voice of Authority." That voice matched her appearance- she was dressed up way butch, with spiky hair, a thin tie and dark suit, though the Voice didn't really say things of much authority- and she had a perfectly commanding presence with her own voice.

Lighting was quite dark: there were mood lights of various primary colours, and candles on the stage. She told stories. Very modern stories, simply told, many of them compelling, though I didn't feel like they hung together as a whole (more on that at the end). This is apparently the start of a new tour, "Another Day in America," which started last week in Calgary, and we were lucky enough to be the second city on the tour. I imagine it will evolve as it goes.

She spoke about the National Defense Authorization Act which Obama just signed on New Years Eve, which allows indefinite detention without trial of American citizens in military prisons. She noted that this piece of law centers on a redefinition of "battleground" to include all of the United States. And what does it mean to choose to bring the battleground to one's home? "We've been waiting a couple hundred years for the enemy to show up, and since they never did, we decided maybe it’s us."

She spoke about how annoyed Darwin had been with peacocks- "what could possibly be fittest about a giant bright blue tail?" and jumps to how the Catholic church has been afraid of science- and what if the Church was most afraid that we'd find many worlds, with other popes? Which pope would be the real pope? Perhaps one with the brightest, bluest tail?

She told about visiting one of the many tent-cities in the US which started during the housing crisis, which collectively have housed thousands of Americans over the last years. I have to say I thought she'd veered to the fictional, but google and wikipedia tell me the camp she visited is exactly as described.

Her beloved rat-terrier Lolabelle died this spring, on Palm Sunday; she told how the Tibetian Book of the Dead says when a living being dies, it will spend 49 days in a place called the Bardo, before it is reincarnated. And Lolabelle died 49 days before Anderson's birthday. She goes on to say that when Lolabelle went blind a few years ago, Anderson began teaching her to play the piano, and to paint; and then she shared a dozen of Lolabelle's paintings, and a video of her playing the keyboard (wagging, and barking in joy as she did so).

The last time I saw her, in Ithaca in 2006, she had just spent time as NASA's first (and last) Artist in Residence. She also had stories about Lolabelle, one which has stuck with me, about a walk in the woods when a hawk dive-bombs them and the dog realizes there's 180 degrees of the world she had never imagined could be dangerous- which turns into a parallel story about the US post-9/11. Really sharp stuff.

So, on the whole. I wish this concert had tied together more. I could feel the authority with which she was speaking, and maybe it's up to the listener to pull things together, but the way it was structured, I didn't find myself able to do so during the concert. Perhaps some of that pulling together can happen when I'm in Quaker Meeting this weekend.

I'm quite glad the PI was able to get her here- they have been trying for years. Perhaps she will be back! I would not mind that, no.

[1] So, how I got a ticket. If you are allergic to twitter, you won't want to read this. Just sayin'.

I found out about the concert from someone tweeting about it on Monday. I tweeted an "Aw, how come I just found out about this sold-out show?" After a bit of whinging to friends, I forgot about it. I had a faint hope to show up at the venue and see if there were unclaimed tickets.

But on Wednesday evening, I checked twitter and noticed somebody I didn't know had specifically sent me a message asking if I needed a ticket. I replied, but it had been 6 hours after he had asked, and he had also gotten re-tweeted by the Perimeter when he previously if anybody needed a ticket. ... and yet, somehow, nobody had; all of his friends who would have jumped at the chance lived in Toronto or New York or elsewhere. So Thursday morning, he came to my office and sold me his ticket at-cost! How cool is that?
So, 20 days ago, dan and I went to see Peter Gabriel play the Molson Amphitheatre near Toronto.

I haven't followed his music very closely for the last few albums, but I have listened to enough Peter Gabriel over the years that I didn't want to miss this opportunity. Thanks to my friend Justin who scored the tickets, we got excellent seats; about 10 or so rows from the stage.

He played with the "New Blood Orchestra," half made of a touring company, half local musicians. Mostly, rearranging for orchestra worked [1]. Particularly, I liked the arrangements for "San Jacinto," "Mercy Street," and "Blood of Eden." I wanted to like "Solsbury Hill" and "Boy in the Bubble" more than I did but they seemed too pared down. And "In Your Eyes" had silly Audience Choreography (as did "Biko", which was annoying because Gabriel was all Social Conscience and the audience was all Play the Damn Song Already).

My overall impression of Gabriel as performer is: consummate professional. It looked like he had done this every day of his life, which he almost has. He was also clearly suffering from a bad sore throat: he was constantly downing a gulp of tea, then a shot of honey. And you could tell where the throat problems came from: gulp of tea, shot of honey, plaintive scream in nearly every song... I had never realized how much his songs have wails in them until dan asked if every one of them did. Not quite, but.

His lights show was fairly cool: very bright LED boards behind the stage, plus a curtain the width of the stage and 20 feet tall, also LEDs, often with video.

One light trick I had never seen before that we both liked: in the second act, he picked up something reflective from the stage, and it was sitting over top of a spot-light. He then swept the light around the audience; it looked for all the world like fire from his hand.

There was a downpour during the first act. The outermost 1/5 of the seats were open to the air. Gabriel apologized; he said on one concerts that week, the moment they had mentioned the word "water" in "Washing of the Water", the skies opened up.

Neither dan nor I had been to the amphitheatre before. I would go to a big concert there again- getting out was remarkably quick, and it was late enough that the 401 was quite speedy on the way home.

And then dan was off to Italy, and while he was gone, I went to see DJ Tiesto, whose podcast I listen to. He's a Dutch DJ, and I'm perplexed why he wound up in our little town: he went from Chicago, to our town for two nights, then Quebec City, and Ottawa (for Canada Day), then Las Vegas for the 4th of July weekend. Then Ibeza for a week. :) But whatever, he came and sold out two shows of about 300 people (versus n-thousand each for Chicago and Quebec City...).

I haven't been inside a dance club in, like, forever.

They confiscated my pen at the door, because they thought I might throw it at someone. I was like, "..." and they said I could get it back at the end if I really wanted to. (and so I did (pick it up again, not throw it)).

The doors opened at 10:00, I showed up at 10:30, Tiesto started playing at 11:45, and I left around 1:30 when I realized I had heard all of the songs I would recognize. And the next day was still a work day.

It was fun, and I probably don't need to do that again for a while. :)

Hope you like the photos, in lieu of earth-shaking incisive content. I would have done better with reviews had I not waited two weeks. Oh well.

[1] Gabriel's set list, which I found somewhere on the net:
"Heroes" (David Bowie cover)
Apres Moi (Regina Spektor cover)
The Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon cover)
My Body Is a Cage (Arcade Fire cover)
Father, Son
Washing of the Water
# Intermission
San Jacinto
Digging in the Dirt
Signal to Noise
Downside Up
Mercy Street
The Rhythm of the Heat
Blood of Eden
Red Rain
Solsbury Hill
# Encore:
In Your Eyes
Don't Give Up
The Nest That Sailed the Sky

[2] Bigger copies of these photos are on flickr. I couldn't be bothered to link each one individually. :)
I have been in a writing lull over the last month. I've spent a bunch of free time immersed in that game; I've been thinking about work at other free times, solving problems in my head; I've been thinking about Quaker Meeting and making plans for Quaker-related travel; and while dan was away, I had a cold for a week that made me fairly low-brain.

Then, the cold got better two Sundays ago, and I went to Quaker Meeting and felt absolutely wonderful, and spent the afternoon bouncing around, writing journal posts in my head, only to see them disappear when I sat down at the end of the evening, just as the cold symptoms came back again for the night. So, oh well.

But the last two weeks have been pretty good. I went to a Vote Mob [1], voted early in the national election, went to a birthday party, a pub dinner with programmer friends, and we had friends over for tea and cookies. I think I finally kicked the cold, despite some very rainy and windy weather. And I finished what I needed to do at work, for the start of the new term on Monday, despite a fairly impressive set of potential problems with infrastructure upgrades which have largely been ameliorated. And that is all I will say about work.

Last Wednesday was the start of Open Ears music festival, which is more low-oomph than prior years. It's held every other year, and it's how dan and I have seen Pamela Z, Negativland and Patricia O'Callighan, and DJ Spooky, among other highlights. I hope they can get their act together for 2013; Open Ears has been one of the great things about living around here.

This time the only out-of-town performers I was really excited about was the Princeton Laptop Orchestra; and their concert didn't really do it for me.

So far, the best pieces were by Penderecki String Quartet (with DJ P Love). The Quartet are always excellent, even if I don't like what they play. This time they played Different Trains by Steve Reich, and it totally blew the recording away. The mix was different; you heard less of the recorded voices, and a much more lively violin-against-steam-whistle that just sounded awesome. They also played a piece composed during the CBC Strike (of 2005?) by Nicole Lizee, called "this will not be televised", which at one point, sampled the most famous riff from the middle of Duran Duran/"Rio", and cracked dan and me up.

Last night I saw Tanya Tagaq Trio, who are made up of a percussionist, a violinist, and Tanya Taqaq, an Inuit throat singer. This is not easily described. I'm glad I went. She has toured with Bjork, and I can see the mutual attractions. Many of the sounds she made were ones I didn't know the human body could safely produce. They closed with a set of traditional Inuit throat-singing, between Tanya and a female cousin, which was amazingly intimate and sort of kind of like this, though dialed up in intensity quite a bit.

There are two remaining concerts I'm interested in: Blue Dot tonight, and Da Capo tomorrow afternoon. However, we have our friend Lee-Ellen visiting from Ithaca, and I'd rather see her than the concerts!

[1] Vote mob: if you're outside Canuckistan you've probably not heard the term. And fellow Canadians are probably sick and tired of hearing it. In short: a month ago and at a school not very far from here, students decided to Stick it to The Man via YouTube, to counter the claim that "young people don't vote," and there have now been a few dozen youtube-video-driven events along the lines of Flash Mobs, though none I've seen have had amazing music or amazing dancing or amazing anything. Just lots of energy. Being part of the local campus one was... um, sort of silly. But I got to run through mud puddles, which turned out to be fun.

I wasn't going to bother reviewing this, but in part I wanted to record that I don't always like the concerts I go to...

We went to see Pendrecki String Quartet sharing a concert with "Ebony Tower Trio", a jazz group including Glen Buhr, the new director of NUMUS. d. and I conclude that Buhr is much more interested in playing his own pieces than Jesse Stewart was, which is a shame; we used to like NUMUS concerts. This opened and closed with pieces of Buhr's composition, as well as the next-to-closing piece.

Much of the audience seemed to like them, though the house (the old King Street Theatre) was barely half full.

The second piece was a setting of Poe's "The Raven" to string quartet, read by the trio's singer, who made really odd gestures throughout. It was preceded by 15 or so minutes of exposition by the composer, who nearly went line-by-line through the piece, having the players demonstrate the musical phrasing. (For goodness sakes- this isn't a workshop!) She said "I don't know what I should say about this part, but..." and went on to do so, for minutes.

There was a Beethoven piece, Grosse Fugue, which was described as being excised from his Quartet No. 13 in B♭ major upon its premiere, when the audience applauded the preceding movements but not the conclusion. I can see why. It seemed as if it were strung together from the bits and pieces of a dozen other fugues. I was really amused for the first five minutes. And it went from "OK, he's playing with us" to "why is this still going?" I'm intrigued that wikipedia says it's considered among Beethoven's greatest achievements. Maybe it was that we were already coloured by the first pieces. It was technically very good, as far as I could tell.

And there's no law I need to like all Beethoven.


And the first half concluded with an instrumental Radiohead piece, "Like Spinning Plates." Which I sort of liked, but not as much as the studio version.

The second half started with Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues, done by the trio. The vandals took the handles, alright. More odd gestures and expressions from the lead singer.

The string quartet played one piece I really liked: String Quartet by Erkki-Swen Tüür, a modern Estonian composer who was apparently a popular Estonian rock-star in the 80s.

And, after the closing Glen Buhr pieces, they did a collective encore with Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne", which was, um, under-rehearsed.


(no subject)

Sunday, 7 February 2010 10:57 pm
The weekend, it is seized. Seized, ruffled and shaken a bit; but then smoothed down and given a relaxing glass of something on ice.

Saturday was basically spent recovering from Friday night, which saw [ profile] melted_snowball & I head to Toronto to meet up with [ profile] amarylliss for dinner and an evening of Karaoke. I have never had so much fun in such a divey bar. d. went beyond the call of duty, driving in both directions. I sang with a mic in front of a crowd of strangers for the first time in... hell, I am not sure. Possibly, ever? I sang You Can Call Me Al from Graceland. Some guys with tattoos and shaved heads sung Metallica; [ profile] melted_snowball & [ profile] amarylliss rocked Aqua Barbie Girl.

Saturday evening, d. made us really tasty roast chicken with raspberry vinegar dressing. He can throw together a really good meal in a scary short amount of time. Then, Spanish Catholic Baby Meyer Lemon Pots de Creme. I tell ya, it's a tough life.

Today, we went for a drive and walk with the pooch; I went to the gym; said 'bye to d., who's off to do research with some folks in BC for a few days; and treated myself to a lot of sashimi, staving off the Inner Polar Bear for a bit longer.

Tonight, I watched Crazy People, which isn't a great movie, but it is fun. And I finished scanning my photos- all you folks who said I should do it myself, you were right; it only took three weeks to do 290 or so. I may upload some pics to facebook this week, too.

Wednesday, I pick dan up at Pearson; Thursday I drive to Buffalo to catch a flight to NYC for a Quaker gathering.

...Oh, the weekend's come back for a refill on its calming drink, probably my cue to close up for the night.


Wednesday, 3 February 2010 10:17 pm
Got to play with a puppy on the bus this morning, because I ran into [ profile] nobodyhere and Tawney. I mused to dan this evening, can we get a "Service Puppy in Training" coat for Rover? She could totally pull that off. (Us humans, not so much; it would definitely involve lying. Unless we admitted her training was in cuteness.)

Work was. One efficient meeting, one dodged meeting, good conversations about work and about not-work. In the afternoon, I tried to buckle down with one task that I thought should have been quick, but it wasn't, and I was getting fairly frustrated with myself that it wasn't. I seem to have listened to Lady Gaga - Telephone 31 times over the course of the day. doesn't lie, eh?

In the evening I watched the tail end of the last David Tennet Doctor Who, had a beer, walked Rover... and I'm feeling more sanguine about my day now.

OK, that's weird.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 09:20 pm
da: (blue)
On my walk with Rover, my iPod decided to make me a random playlist. As far as I can tell, it was a shuffle of everything, 5327 songs.

The first four songs were a great combo:

Laurie Anderson - Statue of Liberty: she says, "...It's a good day / To run away / Freedom is a scary thing / Not many people really want it."

The Cure / Open ("I really don't know what I'm doing here / I really think I should've gone to bed tonight but...")

Brian Eno, Music for Airports / Ambient 1/2

O Brother Where Art Thou / Highways and Hedges

And then we got a middle chapter of the book Stumbling on Happiness, where Daniel Gilbert helpfully reminds us that "most people do prefer to have more freedom than less. Even if it makes them less happy."

So, is he agreeing with Laurie Anderson, or disagreeing. I'm not sure. Maybe my electronics want to remind me that free choice isn't always the ticket to happiness.


How was your day? Mine included excellent raw fish at Taka Sushi; and good news from two different parties about job offers. So, not so bad overall.

trading bits

Thursday, 31 December 2009 01:29 am
Over the last three days I've been going through my boxes of dust-covered tapes. Alannah Miles through When in Rome.

One box of legal resellable tapes: off to the MCC thrift store!

1.45GB of music: purchased from itunes or in a few cases skimmed from youtube or elsewhere. (In passing I will say: that video is a LOT of fun. It took me about an hour to find the right version of the song. And there it is, complete with video. Vicky, where ever you are, thanks for introducing me to it, half our lifetimes ago.)

15 or so mix tapes, prodded, googled, sorted, and reconstituted as playlists or summarily dragged behind the barn and shot. (Warrant! Winger! Aerosmith! Paging 1990, paging 1990; your hair metal must be removed now from the waiting area.)

Two boxes of digested mix tapes, recordings from the radio, and illegal copies: set to go out with the trash.

And 14 irreplaceable tapes: a few bootlegs, a few recordings of the folk music coffee-house I was involved with in Ithaca, and suchlike, are set to be digitized by [ profile] fuzzpsych who's got the right equipment for that job.

I'm excited to be rid of the clutter [1] and some of the rediscoveries did make me smile (I'm sure I hadn't given a thought to The Hooters or Black 47 in most of a decade.)

I'm amused there were as many rediscoveries; the "good stuff" I hadn't realized I was sitting on, and hadn't previously run across elsewhere.

I'm very pleased to be in a position where I can do a bit of googling and listening on iTunes and youtube and successfully end up with the proper versions of all these songs.

And hey, you can play along with my page. Or give a shout if you want to come on over for a listen. (We can trade mixes and do homework and read out our angst-ridden poetry... Bring your beanbag chair.)

[1] Next up: my 20-year old stereo and 30-year-old speakers, still functional but utterly useless to me. And the furniture it sits in, which has felt like clutter for the last few years. But that's a post for another day.

This and That

Sunday, 13 December 2009 07:45 pm
Last night I went to see my friends Jason (aka [ profile] mrwhistlebear) and Karen perform at the Registry Theatre, as Gaedelica (named from a Gaelic book of poetry, Carmina Gadelica). They are both quite talented. One of their pieces was an original arrangement of The Huron Carol, which I hope they record. Great job guys!

They were followed by a Celtic band, Rant Maggie Rant, which I knew nothing about, other than the evening theme was "Celtic" and "Christmas music". If you know me well, you might know this pairing might make me apprehensive. It did, but I'm glad I stuck around. The Registry Theatre was packed to the gills; they were turning people away when I got there (20 minutes before the show). The band was talented, very energetic, and their two lead singers were attractive, too. One sort of looked like a slightly more fey version of Sting. The other singer made me want to start wearing vests- he wore his well- black vest, black dress shirt, purple tie, gray slacks. Porkpie hat.

And home by 10:30.

This weekend's main project was cleaning my home office floor. I rented a carpet vac, followed the instructions, and hey, the carpet is clean! ...-er, at least. I'm worried about the off-gassing- my last attempt to clean carpet in this house resulted in a severe reaction from dan, and while it didn't smell like anything yesterday, today there was something like new-car smell, so I went over it again with the vac with just water instead of soap. And there was a distressing amount of dirt picked up the second time around, as well. I suppose this is a cost of dog ownership. Yeah. I'm blaming the dog. She's the main reason we still have one room with carpet- it would make her unhappy if we took it out, because she uses it as her towel when she comes in from the rain and snow (after she's already been dried off).

Also yesterday I made fudge for today's Christmas Desert Potluck at Quaker Meeting. I was, once again, apprehensive (it's been years since I've made fudge), but it got a number of accolades, including people coming around asking who made it, so I'm happy. Meeting was good, too.

My desk is a disaster area. I haven't gotten back on top of the scattered papers since getting back from two weekends away, and we're reaching critical density. Ack.

At least the house is otherwise clean. Except for the furniture from my office which I moved out to clean the floor. Hm, I guess I should put that back when the floor's dry, or dan will be surprised.

Dan comes home on Tuesday! Yay!

I finally upgraded my laptop to Snow Leopard; the "family pack" DVD has been sitting on my desk since dan did his upgrade. It wasn't as painless as I'd hoped, because when I last swapped drives, I apparently used the wrong default partition map (Apple Partition Map instead of GUID) so Snow Leopard said I had to wipe the drive. So I babysat a reformat/recopy/upgrade (in the process discovering that my backup was not, in fact, bootable as I had thought; whoops.)

Apple did an excellent thing with this release, by the way- I was still running 10.4, and the upgrade DVD jumped me up to 10.6. They didn't have to make it this easy, and in Windows and Linux, I would be looking at either a sequential two-step upgrade, or wiping the disk and reinstalling my software and data; both probably a more fault-prone process than whatever Apple had to do to make this upgrade work in one step.

And I like Snow Leopard.

(Although, chatting with dan in iChat, we discovered the graphic for :-P looks like a big smile-and-tongue, which is just wrong. I don't know if it was that way in 10.4, but NOW IT IS WRONG.)

We went to Toronto last night to see A New Brain, a musical put on by Acting Up Stage- which closes tonight. (Hey, there are still tickets! Go see it! I'm thinking of a few Toronto friends who would enjoy this- particularly [ profile] metalana & [ profile] amaryllis...)

Music and lyrics are by William Finn, who also wrote Falsettos and 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It's mostly autobiographical; he wrote it after he had a brain aneurysm. Gordon Schwinn (not Finn) is a songwriter for a kids' TV show with a tyrannical frog for a boss (Mr. Bungee is the TV personality; he shows up in a number of scenes, via hallucinations and in Gordon's imagination. He's always in a frog suit.)

There are songs about calimari, sailboats, craniotomy, genetics, and horse-racing. There is an unsympathetic doctor who is very excited about his patients' diseases. Roger and his Jewish mother have a messy relationship; Roger and his seemingly upper-crust boyfriend have a complicated relationship that seems a bit sketched-out instead of properly developed.

The songs have made me chuckle ever since dan got the audio recording of the show a few years ago. But seeing them acted was a real treat- there is overall flow to the story when you see the players interact; and they do an excellent job constructing story-scenes from Gordon's memory.

My favourite example, I think, is all the medical professionals put on patient clothes, come out with walkers and saline drip poles, sing the beginning of the song about Roger's father- which segues into a horse-race, where the three walkers turn into the wall of a racetrack and the players are all super-slow-motion bettors at the track waving on the horses, as Roger sings about how his father lost their family fortunes but claimed it was worth it; sometimes joy is expensive. It really worked for me.

There were also great dance numbers on Gordon's Laws of Genetics ("why is the smart son always gay?") and a dream scene when he's convinced he's brain-dead and he'll never get to finish his best songs.

The overall tone is "madcap," which does fit the off-kilter medical emergency side of it. But there are places it doesn't quite flow properly (some parts with the boyfriend seem sketched, and the parts with a homeless woman who never seems to exactly have a place).

I'd give it 3 of 4 stars, where 2 stars is "go if you like musicals." (And I suppose 4 stars is "even go if you don't like musicals...")

History of Hallelujah

Wednesday, 28 January 2009 09:08 am
An interesting History of Hallelujah from Leonard Cohen to the 100+ covers of the song. The author suggests it's been dumbed down- the first few covers changed words and tone; and subsequent covers were covers of one or another of the previous covers and lack some of the emotional complexity of the original.

And so when Jeff Buckley decided to cover "Hallelujah," he didn't really cover Cohen, he covered Cale; the form and lyrics of their versions match almost exactly, while none of the three previous versions (Cohen studio, Cohen live, Cale) match at all. [Buckley's] effect was to flatten the song emotionally, to take out all the different Hallelujahs Cohen depicted and reduce them to one: the cold and broken, which appears here twice.

And that's the version that gets recycled for TV and movie, it becomes a placeholder for "people are being sad now."
[ profile] melted_snowball and I went to see the Met production of Doctor Atomic, a John Adams opera set just before the first atom bomb test at Los Alamos.

It was at our local Cineplex, which made for a surreal "brave the hordes of afternoon children's matinees to sit down and see the Metropolitan Operahouse live in front of me in High Definition video." d. saw a Britten opera (Peter Grimes) in the same theatres, earlier this year, but this was new for me.

I consider myself a poor opera watcher- I've never gotten into the form, partly because it's so darn expensive, and watching opera on video has just never turned my crank. This experience was neat. Probably not as neat as seeing it front-row-centre at the Met, but it was a fine afternoon activity (instead of a weekend NYC trip such as [ profile] bats22's experience last month.)

The opera?

I *loved* the set: we first see the periodic table projected on the curtain; which goes translucent to show a rough mountain landscape made of suspended fabric, and metal junk dangled from the ceiling. The curtain goes up, and two three-story walls come in from either side- each with pictures projected in a 7x3 grid. The grid elements turn out to be window-shade curtains, which are raised to show people working in individual cubbyholes, sitting at tiny desks doing math. And there we have the setting of much of the first act; the scientists at Los Alamos stressing over their as-of-yet unproven (and decidedly scary) atomic bomb.

The music was neat- staccato, rhythmic- d. said it sounded too much like a film score, but I liked it, admittedly not as much as his orchestral work (indeed I don't think I know any Adams by the sound of it other than that linked piece. More to explore!)

I feel poorly qualified to judge the performers; I didn't see any faults, certainly.

The only false note in the opera, I felt, was the very end. The program describes the conclusion as: "the triggering circuits begin to fire. 'Zero minus one.' There is an eerie silence."

They ended the opera with a bright light behind the stage, lighting up the metal junk and the suspended fabric mountains. This didn't feel eerie; it felt like an attempt to evoke a nuclear blast, and it fell short.

There were wonderful eerie moments- in the second act as the scientists are revealed turned every-which-way in their cubbies, many upside-down and looking like they got scattered like toys. Then, minutes later, the top row of scientists are replaced by other figures, which I won't describe in case it's a spoiler.

The best background info I found was an annotated synopsis by The Exploratorium, though it's a few steps to find on the site ("enter site" -> skip intro -> "annotated synopsis"). Lots of depth there- the Muriel Rukeyser piece they used for Oppenheimer's wife Kitty's soliloquy (Easter Eve 1945) is set just months before the events in the opera, with the narrator exhausted of war...

Anyhow. Glad we went. Now I think I see a dog who needs a walk...!
Elora Festival Singers put on a sequel to their concert last year, "Paradise Lost," which was a lovely program of Pärt and Whitacre. ([ profile] melted_snowball reviewed that concert here).

The Festival Singers were in fine voice, but the program wasn't as stunning as last year's. They played two Latin masses, Cantus Missae in E flat by Joseph Rheinberger, Messe En Sol Majeur by Francis Poulenc. They played an arrangement of Kein deutscher Himmel from Mahler's 5th Symphony, and Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine by Eric Whitacre.

The first mass soared with great harmonies. The second didn't do much for me, but I'm fairly convinced I just don't like any Poulenc.

The Mahler was sung to "Excerpts from Sennette aus Vendig (Sonnets from Venice)," and it was gorgeous and well-sung. But it had an "Off Stage Soloist," a feature I spent too much time trying to figure out when I should've been listening more closely, and now that I'm home I haven't been able to track down why they did it. It wasn't a particularly ethereal piece, and it wasn't the "funeral march" movement of the symphony. I dunno. Also, they flubbed up the program, merging the beginning of the Whitacre with the translation of the Sonnets from Venice. (Da Vinci didn't live in Venice!)

The Whitacre was beautiful, and the piece seems well-represented at youtube in case you're curious.

Leonardo dreams of his flying machine
tormented by visions of flight and falling,
more wondrous and terrible each than the last...

[I think this treatment of the piece is better than the one we heard today; which isn't too surprising because it was conducted by Eric Whitacre himself. The one we saw had a bit too much percussion in the last minute; it felt gimmicky, where the version Whitacre conducted just feels upbeat. ]

All in all, a good concert, just not a great concert.

But the company was wonderful- [ profile] persephoneplace and I kibbutzed about life and such on the drive up and back. And we had cucumber sandwiches and punch served to us by clergy.

And then for something different, after we got back to town we stopped downtown at the Craft Beer and Ribsfest, which hurt our ears and sensibilities just a little. (Both of us wanted to go tell a young woman to pull up her damn pants; and the Blues musicians seemed to be slightly soused.)

Oh, and we have a photo we'd like your collective wisdom as we try to figure out what the hell it is...
Last night d. and I went to sleep at 10:15. I woke up feeling creaky.

In this morning's paper, I was most enthusiastic to read the obits. And a piece about some musician close to death.

The obit that made the most impression on me was yet another "I remember" piece from a reader, about Sheela Basrur, a doctor and public servent who was Ontario's public face during the 2003 SARS crisis. At the time I asked d. how the public service sector managed to hire such an intelligent spokesperson. Since she died on Monday, the Globe and Mail has printed a large number of remembrances; today's was from a 25-year-old woman whose career in health care were directly chosen because Basrur immediately stood out to her, as well; in her case, first as an ethnic minority and a woman; then, for her career and dedication to improving healthcare. And they met, and Basrur backed her up when she got a panel of male doctors mad at her at a conference. It just made me smile.

And the Arts section profiled Oliver Schroer, a violinist with leukemia who expects he has one concert left in him. And two CDs. And whatever else comes together. Dude! The article makes me wish I were half as energetic and focused and upbeat with whatever time I do have left.

So yeah. I'll keep feeling old-and-young. It probably helps that I seem to have slept 9.5 hours last night. So aside from being a bit creaky, and obsessed with death this morning, I feel great.

Also, some of that Oliver Schroer guy's music is beautiful- one of his CDs is from walking the Camino de Santiago through France and Spain and recording music in some of the churches he passes through. Tis haunting, and I expect I'll buy it in physical form instead of via itunes, because it comes with a booklet with photos of the churches.


Wednesday, 21 May 2008 09:25 pm
I'm earwormed by Popcorn. Look! Moog synthesizer! It's older than I am.

First I was just looking for the DJ Bell mix I heard on (and I can't seem to find legally). But I made the mistake of looking for the history and now I have a dozen mixes stuck in my head.

This album cover is my favourite. That font just shouts out 70s/80s PBS, doesn't it?
(I brought work home with me; I was going to write this review tomorrow, but the work turned out to be an easier read than expected, so this becomes an earlier review).

This evening was a DaCapo concert with the Guelph Chamber Choir, rescheduled from nearly a month ago when we got plastered with snow. The theme was two choirs and two versions of some texts. The first half saw "Lobet den Herrn," a motet by Bach, paired with "Lobet de Herrn" by Sven-David Sandström; the second had "When David Heard" by Thomas Weelkes and "When David Heard" by Eric Whitacre, and "Agnus Dei" by Barber and "Agneau de Dieu" by Rupert Lang. It's clear DaCapo is the stronger choir; but I thought the Guelph Chamber Choir did fine in the second half. Roughly half the pieces were conducted by each choir's conductor; Enns did more of the talking, which was fine with me, because he's a charming guy.

The first piece was written by Enns, "Te Deum Brevis", opening with a big sound though the piece didn't do much for me. The second piece, Bach's motet, was... a bit ragged in singing (and so I also overheard from a few people who thought the same).

DaCapo's conductor, Leonard Enns, took time to deconstruct the Sandström, which has two choirs singing in harmonies but different tempos, which was fun to listen to. There was a Kyrie & Gloria Mass by Frank Martin with 12-tones, that also didn't do much for me, though I think [ profile] melted_snowball would've liked; and there was a piece by Knut Nystedt, "Immortal Bach" which takes the first three phrases of Bach's Come sweet death (Come blessed rest, Come, lead me into peace) set for five choirs, each singing a different tempo. The intent, according to Enns, was to make the rest/sleep feel timeless- it worked for me, except the piece was surprisingly short, considering it was supposed to feel timeless. I wanted the patterns between the five choirs to play a bit more! Never mind how f'ing difficult I'm sure it was to sing! ;)

After the intermission, we had an introduction of Past Life Melodies (by Sarah Hopkins) from Gerard Yun, a local music prof, who demoed a digeridoo and two kinds of vocal overtones. It turned out I'd once heard a recording of this piece, and I'd liked it; the overtones worked much better in person, which isn't such a surprise... (the link above is the piece played by Chanticleer.) K., who came with me to the concert, said afterward that this piece alone was worth the price of admission. I've never heard overtones sung by 50 voices before!

Then two pieces just by DaCapo's 22 voices: "When David Heard" by Thomas Weelkes was written in the early 1600s, and had great runs and harmonies. But the Whitacre piece by the same name. God. I've heard DaCapo perform this piece three times, and it continues to put a lump in my throat. Of the 13-minute piece, the majority of it is singing the four words "O Absalom my son." I think it is the choral piece I know that most concretely embodies grief- it rages, it murmurs, it holds the refrain for many minutes, it finishes with a powerful many-part harmony of the text, "when David heard that Absalom was slain he went up into his chamber over the gate and wept, O Abaslom, my son, my son." It's chillingly beautiful.

They ended with two pieces for both choirs. "Agnus Dei" is the text Samuel Barber used to set the eight-part choir version of his famous string quartet. I hadn't known, until I read this program, that the Adagio for Strings came over 20 years before the choir version. They did a wonderful job with this. They ended with "Agneau de Dieu" by Rupert Lang, a Canadian composer, who set the Agnus Dei prayer for a solo quartet along with the choir, a quieter ending.

K and I stayed a bit for refreshments, and while she caught up with old friends who sung with DaCapo, I took the opportunity to finally thank Enns in person for so consistently bringing us such exciting music.

And now, to bed. :)

Weekend Wrapup

Monday, 24 March 2008 09:48 pm
The weekend was fun. Conveniently, the chest-cold I've acquired didn't show itself until last night late- well *after* the Easter dinner out with [ profile] melted_snowball and his colleagues. But last night I went to bed with a tight chest and woke up at 5ish this morning feeling pretty icky. Today was blah, but manageable.

I'm drinking tons of fluids and hope I can get over it quickly- if I'm still likely infectious on Friday, I'll scuttle my trip to NYC to see my grandmother... ("Happy 100th Birthday! I brought you a cold!")

Anyhow. This weekend: I slept in (till 8am! wow!), did more paper-sorting in the closet (getting down to the end on the left-hand closet!) did some art-wrangling [1] (three more framed pieces in my study: one by [ profile] catbear of d. [2]; one an odd-sized matted piece I bought and promptly stashed in the closet when I realized it would cost a mint to get it properly framed, but [ profile] catbear's advice gave me the proper $30 solution; and finally, I bought a frame for the LP album [ profile] fuzzpsych gave me when I became a citizen) [3].

[1] Ugh, apologies for the dreadful sentence structure. I bet you can guess what my excuse is?

[2] which looks like a much wider view of this:


We also attended the baptism for [ profile] tbiedl's youngest, who's young enough that neither d. or I had met her yet. It was a sweet welcome to her; though the church service was long- it included four readings, three skits, an outdoor portion, two candle lightings, and communion. Whew! :)

We also saw the Phil perform St. John's Passion, with surtitles and projected art. I don't have the oomph to properly review it, but I'm glad we went.

We shared two quite enjoyable dinners. One with [ profile] catbear, [ profile] dawn_guy, and Boy; it included scads of double-entendres, talking about games, food, and favourite stories. And the miracle of the Uncovered Pie. The other dinner was with colleagues of dan's, plus other academics at the Other University. It included no double-entendres, some French, many bottles of wine, shop talk, favourite stories, and a Devon Rex kitten who looked much like this. (Awwww!)

Hm. It's probably a good idea for me to go thud now. Hopefully I will wake up well-rested and less sick than today.


Sunday, 16 March 2008 08:41 pm
Because I'm lazy: Cribbed from here

NUMUS Presents... REVOLUTIONS: Turning the Tables on DJ Culture
Export to Personal Calendar
Start Date: Thursday, March 13, 2008
End Date: Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Three-day mini-festival of turntablism.

March 13-15, 2008

Starlight Social Club
47 King Street N.
Waterloo ON

Concert 2 - March 14, 2008 - 8pm
(Un)settling the Score: DJ Olive and Friends
Gregor Asch, better known as DJ Olive, is a turntablist and improviser active in the free improvisation and "illbeint" idioms. He has worked with a remarkable array of musicians including John Zorn, Dave Douglas, Medeski, Martin & Wood and many others. For the past six years, he has been developing a concept that he calls "the vinyl score" - compositions made specifically for the turntable. For his NUMUS appearance, DJ Olive will perform a solo set on turntables. Additionally, one of his vinyl scores will be performed by several of KW's finest turntablists.

Concert 3 - March 15, 2008 - 8pm
Subliminal Strings: DJ Spooky meets the Penderecki String Quartet
This concert will feature highly acclaimed DJ and conceptual artist Paul D. Miller - better known as DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid - in a world premiere collaboration with KW's own celebrities of contemporary music, the Penderecki String Quartet. Incorporating cutting-edge live video mixing technology, this performance promises to be an unforgettable evening of sound and image.
We just came back from seeing the musical Children of Eden put on by the Grebel Student Council.

I love the show; it was composed by Stephen Schwartz (who also did Wicked). It's loosely based on Genesis, with nuance and colour added to form a touching story of people disappointing their parents, falling in love with the wrong kind of people, doubting their roles in life, and so on. I think it makes wonderful overlays on top of those dusty allegories from that book.

We saw this when we lived in Boston, in an excellent production at Emerson College. And I've listened to the soundtrack a million times. This production, unfortunately, had a few problems. Biggest was tuning. I'm somewhat pitch-deaf and I was wincing a bit. There were some good moments, and with my mind's ear, I was also listening to the soundtrack version to make the harmonies work better.

I can't decide whether to recommend seeing this production; but if you like these songs, eh, give it a shot (also showing tomorrow and Saturday). :) - Ain't it Good - Title Song - Generations
[ profile] melted_snowball and I caught a Thursday-evening concert at KWCMS, the Chambet Music Society. Neither of us had been to that concert space before. It was essentially a living-room attic with 80 chairs in it and good acoustics and lighting. The performers had good things to say about the high ceiling. It felt intimate, though not warm- while I was OK, d. was incredibly cold, and he didn't warm up much during the concert. But the woman sitting next to me said that usually it's much warmer and often too warm.

This was my third time seeing Patricia O'Callaghan sing. The first time, at Open Ears in the King Street Theatre, blew me away- it was all Leonard Cohen songs, and I liked them all more than Cohen's versions. The second time, at the Guelph Festival, was a large affair with a full band, and she sang a wider repertoire, which I liked about half of, but I bought two of her CDs. I just bought her third CD, and between them, I don't think I've heard her sing more than one or two songs that aren't on the CDs.

She sang well, I think. She was accompanied by a pianist and bassist, who make up her traveling backup band. The pianist had two solos by Poulenc, in the second half. The two sets had Cohen pieces mixed throughout: "Take this Waltz," "I'm your Man," "The Gypsy Wife," and an encore of "Hallelujah." These, and the Magnetic Fiends' "Book of Love," were my favourites, because I'm not so much a jazzy-cabaret kind of guy. The rest of the concert was roughly themed. Mostly Kurt Weill in the first set, in German and English. In the second set, French singers and composers in the first half (Piaf's "La Vie en Rose", Poulenc's "Hommage a Edith Piaf"), and three Ladino folk songs at the end.

Even though I'm not a jazzy cabaret kind of guy, I enjoyed the Weill and the Ladino songs (which she translated; some were amusing and I have a bit of context for the tunes on the CD now).

I loved the "living-room concert" feel; she has a stage-presence and I think she's attractive (if not traditionally so) And she was pointing directly at me during "I'm your Man" which is a fun gender-bendy image. ("Here I stand / I'm your man / If you want a boxer / I will step into the ring for you" as she makes a fist directly at me, four rows and 15 feet away...)

And the encore was what I hoped she'd play when it didn't appear on the program (she does have a beautiful voice for Cohen songs!)

We left into the frigid wind and came home and got under the covers.

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