Tuesday, February 27, 2007

How I missed on-air fundraising

Owing to the spectacular snowstorm this past weekend, I was effectively trapped in Minneapolis. I am extremely grateful to Dave Pederson for filling in for me.

Things were fine when I drove up earlier in the week to participate in the annual Spark Festival of Electronic Music and Art, where I was going to perform with both of the live ensembles I'm currently working with - a trio with Tom Hamer on percussion and Mark Henrickson on visuals, and another trio [for this occasion, a quartet - hooray!] with Terry Pender on mandolin, Brad Garton on laptop and Luke Dubois on visuals. The quartet with Brad and Terry and Luke went swimmingly, and we even managed that particularly miraculous situation of being able to turn the bed in Brad and Terry's room into a recording studio for some sessions while Terry was in town.

Things got a bit interesting later in the week. Due to circumstances beyond their control, neither Mark nor Tom was able to make it to Minneapolis, which meant an impromptu solo set. Luke Dubois came to my aid and provided some visuals which I believe went a long way toward distracting the audience in instructive ways, but all seemed to have gone well (note to self: a consequence of playing with great people is that you feel all the more exposed when you return to solo work). The Spark Festival is a great collection of stuff, full of very friendly people and interesting music, and very short on attitude. My thanks to Doug Geers and his crew, and to J.P. Hungelman and his band of merry clubsters.

Given the storm and all the unpleasantness between Minneapolis and Madison, there was no way I was going home on Sunday, which is why you turned on the radio and got Mr. Pedersen instead of me. I made a cautious dash home yesterday, and things are kind of back to normal, except for the shevelling. Next week on RTQE, it's back to business as usual, thanks to our listener sponsors.

Monday, February 19, 2007

How to ruin an-air fundraising
(and save your evening)

Last night was the first of two weeks' worth of on-air fundraising for WORT-FM, when all good radio hosts talk a lot more than usual and wait for the phones to ring.

The normal and appropriate thing to do is to go with shorter pieces [for me, that means "less than 10 minutes," in case you're wondering] that are exciting and upbeat.

But that sort of bothers me. I'm quite well aware of being so generally unexciting, thanks - the Q stands for "Quiet," after all. But it's more the idea that the normal goal something that stops one in one's tracks. So I decided that I'd try to integrate this into my fundraising appeal... to play something that would bring things to a standstill by the force of its Ch'i/prana/integrity/whatever.

And I had just the thing: Susanna and the Magical Orchestra's 2006 all-covers release Melody Mountain on Rune Grammofon. Go buy the disk. No, really. Susanna Wallumrod [yes, she is related to that guy who drums on ECM discs] and Morten Qvenild from Jaga Jazzist, very minimal instrumentation, and a production job from Helge Sten that displays the Prince, Leonard Cohen, Joy Division, Kiss, and AC/DC covers like diamonds on inky black velvet.

I played her cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," and it even fetched people from other parts of the building/phone answerers into the studio to ask, "What is this? It's exquisite...." And, in honor of a later pledger, I ran her take on "Love Will Tear Us Apart Again."

Upbeat and exciting? Well, maybe not. But music that is about what I think I try to do on an ordinary evening? Oh my, yes.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Disk death (a chance to listen again)

My preparations for the Boston workshop last week were enlivened by disk death, which involved two important things: the arrival of a new Macbook Pro, and the death of my iPod library. Well, actually, the death of part of the library.

So I now have to start reloading a large portion of my iPod library from CD again. Not something I look forward to doing, but it's been an interesting chance to look at those shelves again.

One thing I didn't expect to consider is my habit of what I put on the iPod. Previously, I had this notion that I'd be going through my library and keeping only the cuts on a given recording I liked. But going back to reloading stuff, I'm struck again by hearing the things that I left off the first time. The last specific example was some material from Talk Talk's "Spirit of Eden" that didn't make the original cut.

What was I thinking? Probably saving space. But I've decided to be more selective about including entire albums, and leave off the individual cut selection for a while.

In turn, I've been thinking about the notion of novelty vs. diffusion; My reloading puts me in the interesting position of simultaneously adding new work alongside things that have been off my radar for a while. The verdict: diffusion trumps novelty. There's just more in the past to be surprised by.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Don't just look out the window - check the curtains

I'm in Boston to do a workshop, and did the Hotwire thing to find a hotel room. Owing to the insane cold snap that blankets most of the east and midwest scrambled my flights, my flights were retimed and rerouted, but (apart from a theme-park-ride landing) all went well. The hotel I'm staying is pretty nice. I was particularly drawn to the historically themed curtains. Never thought of putting historical documents on my curtains. Ah Boston, crucible of our liberty....

This reminded me of a little song about Curtains by Peter Gabriel. Just a fragment, really - it shows up on the B-side of the Single "Big Time," I think (Yep... Ah, online discographies).

Oh, draw the blinds
We can shut out the night
Oh, pull up the blankets
Pull the blankets up tight

And there are angels on our curtains
They keep the outside out
And there are lions on our curtains
They lick their wounds
They lick their doubt

The image of the vanquished nursing their hurt and doubt has stuck with me.

The last place this showed up was in a computer game - Myst IV. No kidding. You can see the sequence (and hear the tune) here.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Little Pleasures, part N

This is not about perfect or guilty pop songs, although it does have something in common with them -- the idea that some small well-crafted things expand to fill a much greater place in the sensorium than you might imagine.

My favorite T-shirt.

Mint juleps on derby day.

"The Thrill is Gone" suddenly coming out of a radio on an Interstate in the middle of Wyoming in the dead of night while you're driving cross-country alone.

An extra hour of sleep on the coldest morning of the year.

And the specific item celebrated here: A freshly cooked batch of Irish Oatmeal, a dash of brown sugar, some chopped walnuts, and chopped dried apricots and golden raisins rehydrated in my favorite Bourbon.

Note: the quality of the ingredients makes all the difference. Fussy though it may be, Irish Oatmeal is a universe apart from the stuff I grew up with, and the nuts, fruit, and bourbon also figure heavily in making this a Platonic breakfast of which all other breakfasts are mere shadows.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Not a wall of sound. More like a fogbank....

This week's through-the-eardrum wonder is all about the primary colors of rock and roll, but with a reduced palette. Well, okay. Not reduced in number, anyway. It'e Rhys Chatham's gloriously drum-free recording "A Crimson Grail" on Table of the Elements. One large, sprawly ensemble of several hundred guitarists and what appears to be a lone cymbal recorded live in the Sacre-Coeur in Paris.

It's interesting to hear the clapping and cheering between sections, since you get a nice sense for the size of the performance space. The architecture of the sections isn't particularly surprising - slowly building masses of strummed clouds [diaphanous in the first section, darker in the middle, and building to a huge chiming and ecstatic single-chord coda at the end] that rise and fill the space, and I'm sure that any recording would almost certainly miss the precise mix of individual voices or groups peeking through the giant cloud of massed tonalities in the space [something that I think never records]. But it's a wonderful thing to hear, having something of the same effect of my other favorite giant-mass-of-guitar-like-things piece, "Symphony #3 (Gloria) by Chatham's one time bandmate Glenn Branca. But where the Branca uses his work as a vehicle to investigate the overtone series - a kind of Mahler to Arnold Dreyblatt's Webern - Chatham's performance continually reminds us of the humble electric guitar itself. It's a lovely recording. Wish I'd been there.