October 25, 2007

slightly northern exposure

I am getting psyched to perform at the Revolving Museum in Lowell tomorrow night. Things are definitely going our way as Game 1 of the World Series didn't get canceled last night which would have forced a make-up game during our show which - for those of you uninitiated into the madness of Red Sox Nation - would have meant no one other than the band and my wonderful girlfriend would have shown up. For that matter, it's even possible that parts of the band wouldn't have made it. But the skies are clear for Game 2 tonight, so this show will not meet the fate of our last two which sadly and decisively lost the afore-mentioned mismatch.

The other helpful news is that we got an article written in the Lowell Sun about the show and what we do:

Finding his voice through yours

I am particularly excited to play with Melanie Howell on bari sax and bass clarinet as well as Dan Rosenthal on trumpet. They add amazing things to the mix, and if you don't believe me, just check out how cool we all look in the event poster!

rm_poster.jpg

Posted by halsey at 05:15 PM

October 21, 2007

homecoming

Today, we perform in Bedford, my home town. Nestled in between the Patriots in Miami and the Red Sox trying to extend their season, we'll be rocking out at ye olde Town Hall in Bedford Center. And in case you need more proof, there is evidence on the front page of the local newspaper...

Aesthetic Evidence in the Bedford Minuteman

Posted by halsey at 11:45 AM

July 30, 2007

nature...can require participation

I recently put together this video from our Cyberarts performance a few months back. It's pretty cool to see how audience member voices are recorded and immediately used in the music. Enjoy!

Posted by halsey at 11:38 AM

March 11, 2007

live at the Lily Pad

Somehow I never got around to posting on my blog ahead of time that Aesthetic Evidence had a performance at Lily Pad on March 8th, so I'll do the next best thing which is to post some photos from that performance. You know, just to prove to you that it actually happened. I should be better at promoting us!

This show was lots of fun as soon as it got started. We had some dramatic (and traumatic) technical issues during setup, but persistence prevailed and once we got going, things began to behave better than it seemed like they were going to.

Thank you to everyone who came out to the show and supported us!


live @ Lily Pad #1


live @ Lily Pad #2


with help from photoshop rock star

(click on photos for larger versions)

Posted by halsey at 02:33 PM

September 19, 2006

video!

As I mentioned last week, aesthetic evidence performed live at the LIzard Lounge last Tuesday. The show went well, though we had some interesting technical challenges dealing with a mono (as opposed to stereo, not appended by nucleosis) club. We got it all worked out and performed for about 40 minutes. It was a bit late on a Tuesday night for many people, but thank you very much to all who showed up and for those who didn't, here are two video teasers to get you to join us next time:

aesthetic evidence performs 'Predictable?' live @ Lizard Lounge

aesthetic evidence performs 'Vessel' (solo marimba) live @ Lizard Lounge

HUGE thanks to Rob Cheyne for the excellent camera work and editing.

Posted by halsey at 01:28 PM

September 12, 2006

alive and in public

I want to let you all know that aesthetic evidence will be performing live tonight!

WHEN: Tuesday, September 12th @ 10:30PM
WHERE: Lizard Lounge - 1667 Mass Ave, Cambridge, MA (beneath Cambridge Common)
WHAT: 40 minutes of music from 'words and voices' and elsewhere

Thank you to Jordan Carp for putting us on the bill.

Posted by halsey at 07:46 AM

May 15, 2006

Mr. Beast and the Happy People

When you tell people that you are going to the Mogwai show, half of them say "who?!" and the other half say "wow, aren't they like really loud and heavy?". The latter statement is certainly true, though somehow Mogwai's brand of loud and heavy is unlike anything else, and is especially far removed from anything resembling metal. Maybe it's because they are from Scotland where apparently it rains all the time and is against the law to change one's clothes too often.

I have been told that often these guys actually hand out ear plugs at their shows which prompts some uninitiated people to inquire as to why they don't just turn it down rather than encourage protection. But this would defeat the whole purpose of the music; three guitars, bass and drums layering and pulsing on top of each other in such a mammoth display of power, I swear deaf people could appreciate it just as much. The music truly vibrated it's way right into your core. And that is something that doesn't happen at low volumes.

There were too many brilliant moments to recount here, but I'll leave you with this: Guitarist #3 (or#2, or#1?!) took off his bright green Adidas running jacket half way through the show only to reveal that he was wearing a Mogwai t-shirt underneath. As my lovely concert companion put it, wearing your own t-shirt on stage is probably the biggest rock band faux pas ever invented. But they did it anyway. Now that's cool!

Posted by halsey at 09:53 AM

March 13, 2006

intuitive

I went to a performance of "intuitive music" by John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen on Saturday night at Harvard and it totally blew my mind. As I told some friends, it made aven the most experimental Schoenberg seem like Mozart in terms of accessibility, but some of the ideas and sounds and technologies were mind-opening and inspiring in many many ways.

The ensemble from Weimar, Germany consisted of cello, piano, trumpet/flugelhorn and 'live electronics' and have been performing together for 24 years so they know each other pretty well. I have always had a HUGE issue with how live performance of music can incorporate computers/electronics/sequencing etc in a way that it doesn't feel like the real musicians are just playing along with a computer. I have seen and heard many failures to strike a nice balance in this regard, but every once in a while, I'll see a group that is successful, and that is really exciting to me. These guys were probably the most successful of any I have ever seen. Not even for a second did it ever feel like they were playing along with a computer or that there was some pre-determined sequence that they were fitting in with. It always felt like the musicians were in full control and that the microchips and wires in front of the electronics player were no different than the wood and strings in the cellists hands. Quite an accomplishment.

I have been thinking more than normal about this topic recently because I have been working on figuring out how I can perform my music live. I will no doubt rely heavily on computers and other bits of technology, and I have no issue with this, but I have a fear greater than my fear of bivalves that on stage I might come across as 'playing along with' a computer. How freaking LAME!!! But how do I judge myself like I cruelly judge everyone I see? This is hard. I can't be unbiased, clearly, but who can I trust? Do I need to videotape myself and watch it pretending I'm in the audience?

Posted by halsey at 06:25 PM

July 31, 2005

bang on a what?

I headed out to the Berkshires - North Adams specifically - yesterday. I love it out there because it is an amazing combination of natural beauty and cultural beauty. MASS MoCA is one of my favorite museums, and Mt. Greylock and surrounding areas are gorgeous, especially on a beautiful day like the one we had yesterday.
My trip was designed to give me plenty of these offerings. First I went on a mountain bike ride up and down Mt. Greylock. I climbed on the road (8% grade for 6.5 miles!) and descended via an assortment of trails. This ride was consistent with every other time I have biked or hiked out there in that I got lost. I had a map and everything, but I kept on wanting to explore and kept on getting myself further and further from anything that even thought about being on said map. Clearly I did find myself eventually, but not after 3 hours or hard pedaling, which, after my 'shower' in the river, made me about half an hour late for the concert at MASS MoCA that I was attending.
You might be thinking this is terrible, but thankfully the concert was a unique one in that it was a classical 'new' music show that lasted for 6 hours and the participants were encouraged to come and go as they pleased. So yes, I missed a few pieces at the beginning, but still had 5.5 hours of music to enjoy.

The concert was the annual Bang On A Can Marathon (a name that does absolutely no good at all trying to convince anyone under 40 that classical music isn't totally dorky). BOAC is a new music collective based in New York and every year they convene their faculty of eleven incredible musicians with an assortment of music students from all over the world for a month or so out in North Adams and, well, see what happens. It sounds like it would be a pretty remarkable experience. This year, Steve Reich was the composer in residence, and therein lies the main reason I attended this show. More on him in a second, but first, the performance.
The format, as I mentioned, was pretty casual with an emcee and the ability to come and go as you please without feeling like you are interrupting some fragile and dainty situation. More classical concerts should be like this.
There were three Steve Reich pieces performed. I was unimpressed by the performance of Drumming, Part 3, but Eight Lines and Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ were great. My favorite new piece by far was David Lang's Sweet Air which was simply incredibly beautiful; I could have listened to it for twice as long. Marc Mellits' 5 Machines was very interesting, but the piece that took the prize for most experimental and intellectually fascinating was Critical Band by James Tenney. It had six woodwinds, a french horn and electronics slowly deviating more and less from an A producing the craziest rhythmic phasing in and out of tones I've ever heard from live instruments. There was nothing but long tones played by the musicians, yet their interplay and purposeful detuning created some insanely rhythmic aural artifacts. I imagine that piece is different every time it is played. I wonder what the score looks like.

The most exciting part about the evening was accomplishing something I had wanted to for some time, and that was to introduce myself to Mr. Reich himself and give him my cd. He was so gracious and unpretentious. I can't even imagine walking up to any minorly well-known rock musician of the moment and having such a simple and easy conversation as I did with Mr. Reich. The crazy thing is that this guy is an absolute god in terms of modern music. He has been accused of being America's greatest living composer, among other things, and I wouldn't disagree. He's the classical equivalent of U2 in terms of fame. I'm serious. This tells you something about the difference between the popular music scene and the 'new' music scene.

In any case, he now has my cd and indicated he would listen and perhaps respond via email. I have been tremendously influenced by him and it feels really good that he now can listen to what I have done. I wouldn't say that my music sounds like his, but I'm sure he'll hear the influence with the voices and the marimba patterns. Let's hope for the best.

Posted by halsey at 09:19 AM

July 28, 2005

one plus one equals zero

Sometimes alone is better than together. This is what I learned at the Elvis Costello show I went to over the weekend. I am not a huge Elvis fan by any means, but, having seen him once before, I did know what an incredible musician he is and how professional and entertaining his performances are, so I was psyched to go check him out at the Bank of America Pavilion last Saturday. And what I thought would make it more interesting and better, he was to perform with Emmylou Harris. You see, I like Emmylou and saw her at the Boston Folk Festival a few years back and enjoyed the performance, so I figured this combination would only provide for an even better show.

I was wrong.

It was actually really strange to watch these two great musicians, backed by the ever-talented Imposters deflate the entire vibe that Elvis had created on his own. I literally thought the tent was going to collapse a few times given the lack of inspiration below. Elvis opened the show on his own and was rocking out like he does to new and old tunes. I was feeling it and having a good time until the blonde and waifish Emmylou stepped on stage. Everything slowed down, the intensity vanished and we were left with molasses country. It was almost like how Dave Navarro ruined the Chili Peppers. Well, almost.

At times I felt as though this was due to them simply not having practiced together much, but other times it just seemed like their worlds refused to mesh. Perhaps as they play more dates together they will figure out a way to make it work better. Or perhaps they felt it worked fine. But for me, I would have much rather seen Emmylou play an opening set and then get out of the way for Elvis.

Posted by halsey at 10:51 PM

July 01, 2005

slippery

I saw the Eels for the third time this past Wednesday and it proved to be quite a different show than prior performances. There is no doubt that Mark Everett has a very distinctive style of rock and roll and virtually every Eels song is instantly recognizable after a few notes. Some might say that they all sound the same, and they wouldn't be entirely mistaken. But I enjoy his style and will gladly listen to his continued variations album after album.
What was great about this particular performance was that things sounded different. There was a string quartet complementing Mr. Everett on guitar and keyboards, Big Al on upright bass and The Chet on virtually everything else imaginable (including the godforsaken saw). The other outings I saw were more of a standard rock quartet situation, so this arrangement really changed up the entire sound. At the end of the day, I actually prefer them when they rock out more with electric instruments and drum kit, but I appreciated the branching out as it was quite bold.
The other very cool thing that they did was to replace the opening band with an opening film. I loved that the show started with a 15 minute Russian claymation short about the importance of inter-species friendship and other such charmingly silly topics. I plan to rip this idea off as soon as I start performing.

Posted by halsey at 10:36 AM

June 02, 2005

to gimmick or not to gimmick

I went to the final BMOP concert of the season last Friday. It was a Takemitsu tribute and included pieces by the man himself as well as ones influenced by him. The latter were a premiere from a local Boston composer, Ken Ueno, and Tan Dun's Water Concerto. As always, the concert was very well done and I enjoyed each of the pieces for different reasons, but the Water Concerto in particular got me to thinking.
I found the piece fascinating throughout, but let me explain a bit first. What on earth is a water concerto anyway? I wondered the same thing until I entered the hall and saw some of the equipment that was setup. I guess I should call them instruments, though they resembled equipment more in their non-traditionality. There were huge glass bowls of water lighted from underneath, long tubular devices, various gongs, wooden bowls, and a slew of un-nameable objects that proved to all make some sort of weird sound when hit or dunked. The coolest thing was that there were plastic tarps covering all the standard recording equipment. This does not happen often at a classical music performance. So this water concerto was exactly what it sounds like: a concerto for water. Truthfully, it is a concerto for percussion, which, in this case, consisted exclusively of percussion that involved water in one way or another. I think that percussion is somehow the default instrument classification for anything really weird - just make the percussionist play it!
I ended up liking the piece because of it's rhythmic inventiveness and for the amazing variety of sounds that were conjured up by Robert Schulz, the solo percussionist.
But what really got me thinking was that in certain ways, the piece was a total gimmick. I mean, how silly is it to write a full-on 30 minute piece of music for some dude splashing water all over the place and generally flailing around like a kid during his first swim of the season? So yes, this was a gimmick, and usually gimmicks annoy me because usually they do not have any depth to keep one's interest past the initial WOW factor. But this piece was different for me. I think I would have liked it even if traditional instruments were substituted for the water. In some ways, I had to get past the splashing to enjoy it. Tan Dun composed a lovely piece of music and it was performed well.
I often think that I have a music gimmick too. And it worries me sometimes. I'm the weirdo who sets up this crazy plywood booth and convinces people to go inside it and record themselves speaking and then turns the results into 'music'. This is a gimmick, for sure. But for me, it's all about the end result, not the process. I do enjoy the process tremendously, but if the music sucked and I wasn't proud of it, who the hell cares how I got there? I guess my point is that gimmicks aren't inherently good or bad. Sometimes they can attract positive attention to lots of solid creativity that might otherwise go unnoticed, and other times they can distract listeners from an unfortunate lack of creativity. There's nothing wrong with the former. Enough defending me and Mr. Dun.

Well, I've been on a boat for the past three days, and now I'm stuck in a parking lot highway due to some fugitive shootout that occurred half a mile ahead of me in southern Maine. It sucks to be stuck for hours, but it would be much worse to have been involved, so I am thankful.

Posted by halsey at 10:54 PM

May 26, 2005

military and maritime

I saw the Decemberists last night at Avalon and though I was encouraged to scream as if I was being eaten by a malevolent whale, I came away feeling much happier than that scenario would have left me.
I'm not going to say the these guys did anything overly ground-breaking (other than the whale, of course), but they put on a tight and entertaining show. Colin Meloy is a talented songwriter and despite ostensibly being from Portland, Oregon, has a bizarre Michael Stipe-ish singing 'accent' and opens his mouth wider than anyone I have ever seen. Sort of like the whale. Thankfully what comes out of that gaping hole is quite pleasant and clever at times.
I'm trying to extend the whale analogy even further past the over-use I have already put it through, but it would be mean to, say, compare the opening act, Rebecca Gates, to a whale. She was not, though during her set was when I felt most like I would prefer to be eaten alive. Yeah, it wasn't very good musically, and on top of that, it took me and my two concert-going compatriots a good ten minutes to firmly determine that she was, in fact, a she. So much for not being mean...
I am looking forward to hearing the Decemberists studio work as this show was well worth attending. Nothing wrong with a little sea-shanty rock to get you through a rainy rainy rain-ishly rainy week.

Posted by halsey at 01:41 PM | Comments (1)

May 15, 2005

"I hope you enjoyed the show; even though I am old"

This is how Ben Folds ended his show at Avalon last night. He should have added "I hope you liked the show; even though I am a total dork". Yes, it turns out Ben is indeed an unabashed, old dork, but you gotta love him anyway for the way he plays the piano and the fun he has with his audience.
Ben played a number of songs from his new release, Songs for Silverman, as well as a slew of the old favorites we continue to love. The thing about Ben Folds is that he does only one thing but he does that thing very, very well. When I listened to Songs for Silverman for the first time, I felt like I had heard it before because it was classic Ben Folds percussive piano and lyric story-telling with a few signature harmonic shifts and catchy vocal melodies thrown in. He isn't breaking any new ground, but if you are already a fan, you won't be disappointed.
I had never seen him play live before, though I had heard live recordings. It turns out he is a very funny and engaging guy, in a - you guessed it - dorky way. Everything from loving the disco ball to improvising around a feedback issue (at 72KHz), to jumping up on top of his Baldwin baby grand (not an easy instrument to tour with) to conduct the audience through some ridiculous musical whims. I laughed a lot both with him and at him, and that felt good.
And speaking of laughing, I nearly fell down when the opening act, Corn Mo, launched into an admittedly 'totally retarded' sing-along-with-your-album death metal version of hava negila (which involved a MONSTER and a crap load of screaming). I don't think he was Jewish.

Mainly I liked the show because it made me feel like perhaps I am not too old or too much of a dork to ever be a rock star. What do you think?

Posted by halsey at 03:23 PM

May 14, 2005

rockin' in groton

Two evenings ago, I was the lucky participant in something that doesn't happen too often in lovely Groton, Massachusetts: people staying up after 9 PM. I can't say that the craziness extended much beyond an occasional whoop, enthusiastic clap alongs and a few momentary head- bops, but given the context, it was pretty impressive.

This was all in response to the inaugural concert in a series of folk performances presented by Wind Chime Productions held at the beautiful barn at the Gibbet Hill Grill(e).
The headliners were Eddie From Ohio with Gideon Freudmann as the opening act. Gideon was a bit over-dependent on his looper and delay pedals, but was a super-talented cellist and was really impressive how he took the cello to places it doesn't normally go. Eddie From Ohio was mainly entertaining for their between songs banter. As I have mentioned before in this blog, though I like seeing folk music, it's generally not as much for the music as it is for seeing professional musicians work together on stage and provide entertainment not only with their instruments but with their personalities as well. Michael Clem has got to be one of the stranger and oddly humorous people I have seen on stage. And it didn't for one second seem like he was putting it on. I felt myself continually wanting them to rock out a bit more and break out of their standard issue "hard" folk fare, but the truth of the matter is that they are great musicians, play extremely well with each other and genuinely have a good time at it. I'm just a snob for breaking new ground.

All joking aside, it is really cool to see a sleepy New England town pull together resources and excitement to bring some great music to the home-front. I hope that this series is a success and continues for many years to come.

And most importantly, thanks to mle and family for including me (and treating me).

Posted by halsey at 12:00 PM

April 04, 2005

math can be beautiful

I have been way into Steve Reich lately. I admire the uncanny way he is able to combine incredibly interesting concepts with remarkably listenable and engaging music. Often it seems like when art is conceptual or based on something that is more of an idea than an emotion, it becomes stale and lifeless or sometimes even plain old ugly. Mr. Reich does not have this problem.
I went to the Gardner Museum two weekends ago to see So Percussion perform several Reich pieces, including his incredible 1971 masterpiece 'Drumming'. This piece is so hard to play and so freaking cool that it turned a bunch of pudgy, super dorked-out 20-somethings into gods for the evening. I could go on and on about what it is that makes the piece so interesting, but I really want to get this posted soon!

The piece is over an hour long and there is only one thing that happens the entire time. There is one rhythmic motive that repeats literally for the entire duration. It is played by up to a dozen musicians in and out of phase with each other, and the tonal qualities are shifted throughout by moving from tuned bongos to marimbas to glockenspiels, but nonetheless, there is only one thing going on. I'm serious; there are essentially no melodies, and no harmonic shifts. Sounds boring, eh? I challenge you to listen and come away saying that.

I have found that when you go to concerts by yourself, there are hidden benefits, such as not having to worry if your companion is having a good time and more importantly, having the ability to sit in those single seats that pop up in good locations. It is safe to say that I wasn't early to this concert, though with a little effort and aimless wandering through the general admission setup at the Gardner, I managed to secure myself a seat in the front row. As in NOTHING in front of me but for the musicians, ten feet away. I am pretty familiar with 'Drumming', but seeing it played so expertly right in front of my eyes was another experience entirely. I could actually see the phasing of the instruments with each other as well as hear it. The blur of sticks and mallets added a new dimension that the cd does not provide. And it was remarkable that the performers didn't get inextricably tangled up with each other as they piled multiple players on a set of bongos and a singular marimba.
It was really refreshing to be at such an incredible performance surrounded by teenagers and octogenarians alike. It was loud and raucous and fun and simple and complex and difficult and all around the expression a genius.

Posted by halsey at 04:13 PM

February 28, 2005

rachel's what?

I did something really crazy last night. I went to see a band instead of watching the Oscars. And on top of that, I almost stayed up until midnight.
It wouldn't have taken much to be worth it as I am not a fan of awards shows of any sort, but even if I was, the performance Rachel's put on last night would have been worthwhile. I was quite skeptical of seeing Rachel's at the Middle East downstairs because the sound is usually so crappy down there. Rachel's plays music that is practically classical; it is quite dynamic and gets soft and beautiful often so the pounding bass of the inevitable band playing upstairs would surely be a problem. This did turn out to be somewhat of a problem, but the band was able to transcend all the other issues I imagined they might have and put on a truly wonderful performance.
What struck me most about the show last night was how incredibly well Rachel's was able to combine a whole bunch of disparate instruments and styles into something that didn't sound at all forced or unnatural. I had been impressed with their studio recordings for this very reason as well, and was curious to see how they were going to pull it off live. And to be honest, I figured they wouldn't really be able to do it. I figured they would give it a valiant effort though ultimately succumb to certain realities of transferring music from the studio to the stage. They did rearrange their music somewhat, but not due to restrictions and inabilities, but rather in order to optimize it for the live performance.
They used a bunch of standard 'rock' instruments as well as classical instruments and then threw in some electronics just for fun. I got the impression that they have been doing this for a while, are very cognizant of exactly what they sound like, and have discerning ears. Everything was thought about. Even the drummer (and we all know how stupid drummers are!?) used a concert bass drum for his kick, tuned his snare loosely for an open feel and played predominantly with timpani mallets. Whenever he started playing it felt like a completely natural appendage was added to the music, not some pathetic attempt to get classical musicians to rock out. In this way, I was reminded of seeing Sigur Ros a few years back. They figured out this delicate balance as well, though in an entirely different fashion. I think the fact that they brought their own sound guy helped a lot as well. Don't know how he did it.

This performance gave me hope for the popular music scene. The opening act was a string quartet called Invert who played fairly upbeat original music, and then there was the oddity that was Rachel's. At the Middle East, of all places. Yes, there was thundering bass from the upstairs band bleeding into our ears, but there was something so refreshing about seeing such original acts in a place so often dominated by the common and banal.

Posted by halsey at 08:08 PM

February 26, 2005

Music, Marketing, and Word of mouth

I can't quite figure out what the deal is with Medeski, Martin and Wood. Their talent, both individual and as a group, is undisputable, though they seem to occupy this strange space somewhere between a jazz trio and a jam band. As far as I can tell they actually are and jazz trio - experimental for sure, but jazz nonetheless - though their audience seems to think otherwise. I can't imagine seeing anyone who was at Avalon on Thursday at Regatta Bar or any dark underground jazz bar in New York. They would have been at the Phish show instead. Or maybe Widespread Panic. Was this some sort of calculated marketing brilliance or did it just sort of happen this way for them? Clearly playing for this demographic is much more profitable than the typical jazz crowd. Somehow, sometime way back when, MMW was deemed to be super cool for the young, pot smoking, concert-taping masses and this reputation has stuck. They seem to be doing pretty well for themselves playing for kids who probably have no idea who Miles Davis and John Coltrane are, let alone Elvin Jones, Charles Mingus, and Thelonius Monk.
I think it is fantastic how MMW broke through the barrier between jazz and rock because, well, I just love seeing barriers broken. I wish I knew how it happened and whether it was by design or by happenstance.

Posted by halsey at 06:14 PM | Comments (1)

February 19, 2005

minimal?

I don't know why they call it minimalist music. I guess perhaps it's perceived simplicity is what led to this label, but it sure doesn't feel minimal to me. I went to see BMOP's Minimalism concert last night and this was the best concert I have ever seen them give. The performance was excellent, in my humble estimation, but the real reason it was so good was because of the program. It started with some John Adams, moved into Philip Glass, ended with Steve Reich and also included a piece written by the BMOP composer in residence, Elena Ruehr. Adams, Glass and Reich are for sure the stalwarts, inventors, if you will, of minimal music, so it is no shock to see them on this program, but is had been a while since I had heard any of their music live.

What I like about this music is that in some ways it makes so much sense, yet in other ways, you can't believe what your ears are hearing. Much of it is very mathematical; simple motives repeated over and over in common tones and scales. Nothing totally crazy until the layering happens. One line upon the next over and over until this mass of pulsating sound is just oozing throughout the concert hall. You begin to hear rhythms that aren't actually there, it seems. At least no one single musician or group of musicians is playing the rhythm necessarily. It is the interaction between the layers and parts that becomes so exciting. I guess the cliche of the whole being better than the sum of the parts holds true here.

I could hear everything so clearly and seeing the musicians moving to the music was an added benefit. There were layers of long sustained strings countering syncopated clapping. There were vocal and instrumental layers; loud and soft ones. One time I nearly fell out of my chair at the shock of an additional bass part. The music was so full that I had forgotten, or maybe didn't even realize, that there was a whole range beneath what was being played that was silent. And then when it entered, the bottom dropped out and a monumental shift had happened. I can still feel it in my chest, re-living the moment in my memory. It was a deviously wonderful trick to play on us listeners.

But through all this, the pulse just kept on going. The pulse was where the music lived. It came out to show itself, but the roots were in the never-ending, steady pulse of life being attended to collaboratively by each and every musician on that stage.

It must be so fun to play this music. You have your own little part of the whole, diligently counting like mad and repeating repeating repeating while the entire world, it seems, flows around you and over you in a mollasses landscape of geologic shifts. Things change without you even knowing how, though the why seems perfectly clear: because it sounds good; because it *is* good. And here you are, doing your part. I wonder if any of the musicians ever feel like they are just along for the ride.

I left the show with reinvigorated interest in these three composers and have scoured my own collection for a few cds. They are not enough, though, so I have re-discovered how great our public library system is, and have ordered a few more cds to be delivered next week. I am incredibly excited for the ten cd set of Steve Reich's complete works. My god, this is going to be fun. Listening to his music at night in the rain in your car is the best way to listen, I think. I don't know why.

Posted by halsey at 03:23 PM | Comments (25)

December 13, 2004

infectious

Josh Ritter is a happy guy. Or perhaps Josh Ritter simply smokes a lot of pot. Like I said, he's a happy guy. As soon as he came out on the stage at Paradise on Saturday night, it was impossible not to feel his excitement, energy and sheer gratitude for having the opportunity to perform for us. I found myself not even caring if it was all an act. He was super-smiley and it seemed 100% genuine and I was happy to give in to it.

Josh Ritter isn't breaking any new ground musically; he isn't blowing anyone away with his technique; he isn't even doing anything that is all that different from many other folk rockers. So perhaps it is some magic combination of song-writing talent and natural exuberance that makes him such a joy to see.
He has written some really beautiful songs and his voice is truly perfect for his brand of folkiness. He performed with a backing band of drums, bass and keys, though perhaps the most powerful song was played with no amplification on voice or guitar. The band was fine, but I wasn't too impressed with anyone other than the bassist, Zack Hickman, who had such a grasp and understanding of the music that his lines and sound felt like they were born at the same time as the songs themselves. He did some very tasteful backup vocals as well.

Though I am extremely jealous that this mid-to-late twenty-year-old (conflicting internet information) has three albums under his belt and is rising fast, I will gladly admit that he deserves every bit of fame. And it is great to see that a semi-major label (V2) would support this kind of music.

I'd be happy too...

Posted by halsey at 03:09 PM

December 06, 2004

Of Human Ingenuity (or Frankie B. and Jimmy L. do what they do best)

For those of you not in the know, I am talking about Frank Black and James Levine. I had the pleasure of seeing both of these fine musicians practically one right after the other last week. The Pixies did not open for the BSO, but somehow I found myself as a lucky audience member at these two very different yet somehow oddly related performances. I couldn't help but marvel at how wonderful and various and long lasting and powerful music of all sorts can be. And how lucky I am to be able to see and hear all this practically in my back yard.

I don't think that I can come up with many direct comparisons between these two shows other than both were led by individuals with long and impressive careers who had a bit more heft and a bit less hair than the early days of their fame. But don't let this indicate anything about their music. They know what they are doing, and they know how to perform in front of hundreds of people.

Seeing these in quick succession made me realize how amazing we human beings are. Well, at least some of us are, and we, as a race, are certainly capable of creating amazing things. I'm not sure if this sort of race self-assessment is fair, but I am continually blown away by this world we live in and the moments of beauty, both natural and anthropogenic, that exist all around us every day. Berlioz could not be more different from the Pixies in so many ways, but in the end both are music, both are well thought out, both are creative and ingenious, both are pushing certain limits and playing firmly within others, and really the most important thing: both are fun to listen to. Don't let these sorts of opportunities pass you by, my friends! Go, listen, enjoy and support it so it doesn't stop.

At the end of the day, despite the unfortunate wheezing of the heavy breather seated next to me (no, not my companion), I enjoyed the BSO show more. Yeah, I know this is stodgy, but there was something so beautiful and unadulterated about the sounds that filled Symphony Hall on Saturday that left me feeling fulfilled and blissfully exhausted at the same time.

Posted by halsey at 06:30 PM

November 17, 2004

cagey

I checked out the BMOP Club Concert last night at Club Cafe in Boston. The last time I tried to go to one of these shows, I made the huge mistake of driving, and the resultant frustration of being unable to find a parking spot led to this song. Yes, I nearly rammed my car into several innocent pedestrians, and no, I never did make it to the show. Needless to say, I took the T this time, showed up tastefully early, and was markedly more relaxed.
And I was very glad to have made it. The music was great, the performers were very talented, but the most exciting part about the event was the layout, if you will, of the event itself. This was a concert of 'classical' compositions, performed by 'classical' musicians on classical instruments (and some non-instruments), but we were not at Jordan Hall stuck in an assigned concert hall seat. We were in the back room of a hip restaurant, alcohol and food was being served and we didn't need to worry about whispering or even shifting our weight for fear of disturbing the bluehair on our right.
The music formerly known as classical can, in fact, be hip and fun and exciting and even cool. It doesn't have to be serious and stuffy. And it can attract an audience younger than my deceased grandparents.
We can't let this music die. Thank you BMOP for doing an admirable job of making it more lively!

Speaking of music, what about the pieces they performed? All had redeeming characteristics and were interesting, but I liked two in particular.

John Cage - Living Room Music
Javier Alvarez - Temazcal

The John Cage piece was totally incredible. It was written for 'found objects' and included five sections (I think) of extraordinary variety and creative brilliance. In one section, the four performers used only their voices, making sounds, and speaking in rhythmic patterns, and even indulging in a bit of choreographed humor. I liked it for it's use of the voice, but it was really cool because there were traces of rap and hip-hop and it totally rocked out. And here's the kicker: He wrote it in 1940! As in 64 years ago. As in WWII time frame. As in WAY WAY WAY WAY ahead of his time. And the piece still came across as being totally innovative even today. That guy was brilliant.
The other piece, Temazcal, was written for solo maracas (yes, you read that correctly) and recorded tape. Robert Schulz, percussionist extraordinaire, played the maracas like they were a real instrument, I mean, umm, like a true virtuoso. I couldn't believe all the different sounds and rhythms that he was able to coax from two synthetic dried gourds. He was running around the room banging on tables and the floor all the while miraculously staying perfectly in sync with the unforgiving recording.
This can't be classical music, can it?! I was super impressed. I had fun. I will go again.

BMOP has two more Club Concerts this season, and I encourage you all to attend. You won't be disappointed, and at the very least, you will be supporting a worthy and necessary cause.

Posted by halsey at 12:54 PM | Comments (29)

November 06, 2004

these guys have it all

well, at least they have Matthew Bellamy. Matthew Fucking Bellamy, to be precise. I don't swear often because I like to reserve it for times when special emphasis is needed. This is one of those times. Holy fucking shit! I went to MUSE last night at Avalon and I swear I never wanted it to end. This was the best show I have seen in years, and it has been even longer since I wanted to jump around and generally make a fool of myself in the presence of hundreds of other raving fans. Had I been given more space, I would have done just that, and would have enjoyed every minute.
As the FNX (or was it BCN?) DJ announced, these guys truly are one of the best live bands playing currently. There are only three of them, yet they exude an energy and the sound of five or six musicians. Matthew Bellamy jumped back and forth between his various guitars and the piano, evoking his own special versions of both Eddie Van Halen and Van Cliburn playing Tchaikovsky with no effort at all. And his voice; this is another matter entirely. Not only is it totally distinctive, but he has nearly the range of Prince and the control of an opera singer.
I realize that I have just made many comparisons to other musicians, but this is simply to try to explain to those of you unfamiliar with MUSE what kind of a talent I am talking about here. I don't want you to think that they are merely derivatives of these likenesses. They go way beyond the sum of their influences, like all good bands do. And Matthew is only twenty fucking six!

I love seeing live shows, and the experiences often profoundly effect my relationship to the music. Typically I do not need to see bands more than once, but mark my words: the next time MUSE is in town, I will be there!

And you should be too.

Posted by halsey at 10:25 PM | Comments (5)

October 30, 2004

it has been a rough week...

but I didn't realize until last night what a stressed out mess I have been. My condition has mainly been brought about by my work and the fact that I am being pulled in seemingly hundreds of directions by every 'integration' team imaginable at Symantec. It's getting a little bit old. A lot old, actually.

So yesterday, I'm frantically trying to get everything completed by the weekend and I am looking forward to going to a performance of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. After massive indecision as to whether I should drive downtown and risk not being able to find a parking spot, or just take the T, I decide to go for the T and risk being at the whim of our erratic public transport system instead. I have barely enough time, so I get off at Symphony Hall and am literally running down Huntington Ave to Jordan Hall when it hits me: Is this concert at Jordan Hall? Uh oh. The closer I get, the more convinced I become that I am running to a show that is about to begin somewhere else entirely. And I was right.

=======================

Let's take a time out here. Do you realize what I did?! I went to the WRONG VENUE! This is not easy to do. Maybe it's not quite as bad as going to Fenway for a Patriots game, but come on! In my defense, every BMOP concert other than this one has been held at Jordan Hall, but still, what was wrong with me? It turns out the BMOP faithful were filing into the Longy School all the way in Cambridge as I labored toward the NEC. Arghh!!!!

=======================

But what's this? Something is happening at Jordan Hall; a different show, perhaps? I do not give up so easily. I sidle my way up to the Will Call table which is about to shut down because it is 8:03, and confidently announce that I have a ticket being held under 'Burgund', please and thank you. Perfect timing, an under-sold show, and a subtle wink at the Will Call lady (well, maybe not the wink) conspired and two minutes later, not only was I in the show, but I was sitting in the best seat I have ever sat in at Jordan Hall on a Complimentary ticket.
And what luck(!), the program stated that I was about to hear the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio play Beethoven, Shostakovich and Brahms Piano Trios. For those of you not familiar with these performers, THEY KICK ASS! And after the day I had experienced, the more familiar and mellifluous tones of these three composers was going to be significantly more relaxing than the Bernard Rands: Canti Trilogy. Things are looking up.

This complete screw-up and total brain malfunction leads to my introduction to one of the most sublime pieces of music I have ever heard performed: Shostakovich's Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor. Dmitri wrote this piece as a memorial of sorts to his dear friend and one of Russia's leading music critics at the time, Ivan Sollertinsky. It has this melancholic wonder to it, and the way he uses the full range of the cello in particular is remarkable. He is mourning the loss of his friend with legato notes that are practically overtones oozing out of a brilliantly played cello. And the pizzicato interplay between Laredo and Robinson couldn't have been more perfect. Wow, this is good!
I went to my classical music cd library in my basement this morning and found a recording of this piece and am listening again right now. There is something irresistibly powerful about it; something that makes me feel both sad and happy at the same time; something that only music can do to me.

Somehow this mistaken cap to my day yesterday couldn't have been more perfect. I had a lot of feelings running through my body all day, and as I sat in Jordan Hall in premiere complimentary seating with my eyes closed and head back, I felt this music throughout me; I felt absorbed by Shostakovich's feelings of loss; I felt it take me over; and I felt lucky.

Posted by halsey at 09:15 AM

October 24, 2004

I never want to meet Richard Wagner

Seeing Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky last night got me thinking about how there is much much more to a live show than the music. Now this might seem obvious to most of you, but please don't stop reading just yet.
If you recall, I saw CAKE a few weeks ago and complained a bit about John McCrea's arrogant attitude on stage. I haven't listened to any of my CAKE cds since then. Nor have I recommended them as frequently as I did before. Has the music changed? Am I simply over-CAKE'd? Have my music tastes shifted? No, no and no. The reality is that I was just so turned off by him as a person that it has tainted my interest in listening to his music. I'm actually not very happy about this, but there is little I can do.
So then I go and see a folk show with two folk stars - who are definitely not rock stars - and I feel myself liking their music more and more as I like them more and more as the people I perceive them to be. I feel happy supporting such solid and good people and want to promote their success.
From a purely musical standpoint, the CAKE show and this show were comparable; talented musicians, good songs, professional performance. But I think that the main reason this show was better was because they just seemed like normal people up on stage doing what they love to do. They engaged the audience not by making fun of us (a la McCrea) but by telling jokes, giving us background on the music, and by generally being their humble selves. Hooray for folk musicians!
At the end of the day, I actually like CAKE's music more than most folk, including Richard and Lucy, but if I ever have to decide between who to miss Game 1 to see (go SOX!!), I will certainly choose the latter.

Live folk music on the whole seems to be geared towards audience interaction in the way of a conversation, almost. Perhaps it is the simplicity of the music and instrumentation that requires this approach, or perhaps it is simply reflective of the musician's personalities. I don't know, but I do know that I have never seen a folk musician perform one song after the next without any extensive verbal digressions, and I am happy for this. Not all are as voluble and comedic as, say, John Wesley Harding, but the good ones know how to connect with an audience and make us feel like we are old friends at a reunion.

------------------

I'd like to get some opinions on a related topic here. What do you guys think about the whole 'song explanation' thing? You know, when a performer starts telling the audience what the song is about and where it came from and when he/she wrote it etc etc etc. Part of me really likes this, as the additional context can add lots to the experience of hearing a song. But part of me sometimes would prefer to have it be more of a mystery and would prefer to be allowed to interpret the song for myself in my own personal way. Which side do you guys come down on?

Posted by halsey at 02:52 PM | Comments (3)

October 08, 2004

the utility man

So it turns out the John McCrea is an ass. Or at least he comes across on stage as if he would be a total ass in person. Now this is not to say that he didn't make me laugh, or that I didn't enjoy last night's show, and this is really not to say that he isn't still a great song-writer; but it is to say that his onstage demeanor was the biggest detractor from the overall good experience of seeing CAKE live and in person.

The biggest protractor (now I realize this word isn't the opposite of detractor and, in fact, means something entirely different - and happens to bring me back to my geeky successes in grade-school geometry class - but I am using it anyway because, well, just because) was the guy who I will refer to as the Utility Man. Every band should have a utility man (Calexico would shrivel up without theirs), and CAKE's was just great. Now what do I mean by that? This guy did so many different things on stage and each one of them was the key extra sound or melody or moment of coolness that made the song what it was. He played trumpet, and we all know how great the trumpet in CAKE is, but he also produced piano, organ and synth sounds on his keyboard, played various percussive instruments and did a fantastic job with the backup vocals. He wasn't over-powering ever; always fit into the mix as he should, and provided a nice humble alternative to Mr. McCrea. Oh yeah, and he was wearing Red Sox hat; not a cap, but a knit hat, so it was even cooler. Thank you, Mr. Vince Difiore, for protracting so effectively.

And one final thing: I couldn't help but think about how interesting it would be to hear a band with Mr. McCrea on drums. He has the wackiest sense of timing. I don't think he sung one note on the beat...but it just works so well.

Posted by halsey at 08:28 AM

October 02, 2004

mission accomplished

I bit the bullet this year and became a season ticket holder to the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP). I know that I have written some positive and some critical things about BMOP in the past, but at the end of the day, I always come down feeling very grateful that BMOP exists and that I have the opportunity to see them 5 or so times a year. So why the hell not be a subscriber? It's really quite inexpensive too, so you should all join me! I've never gotten season tickets to anything before, so this is a new and exciting form of membership that I am feeling.
The opening show of the season was last night at Jordan Hall. The program was called 'Voices' (which got me particularly excited for obvious reasons) because it was comprised solely of pieces written for solo vocalists. As I listened, I realized that it is not an easy thing to do to write a piece of music for orchestra and vocalist without sounding goofy; especially if the singing is in English. Both baritone soloists were great, but the female soloists and the tenor came across as not having resisted the goofiness. This might have been due to the over-dramatic facial expressions, the painfully wrong color of the mezzo's dress and the coif that sat on the tenor's head which made Lyle Lovett's most extended days seem insignificant.
However, there is nothing at all like hearing a full orchestra live in a concert hall. Eighty musicians all locked in and cranking. There were even moments in the Fussel piece where I thought to myself that is was almost loud enough for earplugs. That was cool! The orchestra is such a versatile instrument, and Gil Rose did a great job wringing all the dynamics and power out of it.

Speaking of Gil Rose, I had another motive for going to this concert. I thought that given his focus on voices, he might appreciate my 'words and voices'. So I decided to make a special cd for him and try to pawn it off on him after the show. This is not something I am good at. In fact, I am pathetically bad at meeting new people without an introduction and thrusting my needs/wants upon them. So at the after-show reception, I stood around for half an hour quietly observing the musicians and other guests all the while feeling fairly silly for not having anyone to talk to. Sometimes I even write to myself in these sorts of situations to busy myself and not look so out of place and also to psych myself up to interact more. So after writing "Gil Rose is standing ten feet from me though I haven't yet given him the cd", I became determined.
He was quite nice and accepting, it turns out. I thanked him for the wonderful concert and he put my cd in his suit pocket after a brief discussion. I don't anticipate hearing back from him, but I am feeling good that I put it in his hands, and if he listens, I will be honored. My music, of course, is not something suited at all for BMOP, but this is not why I wanted him to hear it. I want him to hear it because he certainly has a much broader taste in music than what he performs, because he is a great musician, and for some reason I felt he might just appreciate what I am doing. Who knows, but I feel good for having done what I did, and the old addage of "you never know unless you try" will always hold true.

Posted by halsey at 09:52 AM | Comments (32)

September 06, 2004

live sound

Music is supposed to be the best, purest, most unadulterated, closest to what the musicians want etc etc when it is heard live, right? This is what I have always thought, but apparently the people at the Middle East do not feel the same way. Although I have known this for a while and been disappointed countless times, I keep on finding myself back at the M.E. hoping hoping hoping that somehow things will have gotten better.

Well, I'm sorry to report that they weren't better as of Saturday. I went to check out the Wrens (thank you Chris for the tickets) along with the three opening acts, and had a very hard time appreciating what any of them were trying to do because the sound just sucked. I find that if you really know a band's music, when the sound stinks, you can use your prior knowledge to kind of fill in the blanks and erase some of the muddiness in your head. But when you are trying to hear something totally new, as I was on Saturday, crappy sound just kills the whole experience.
I found myself wishing that I could hear the cds of the bands just so I could understand what on earth they were trying to do. How backwards is that?! Recorded music is supposed to approximate the live performance, not the other way around. At least this holds true in my book for fairly standard 4-5 piece rock groups. Of course there are experimental musicians out there for whom the recording process is part of the composition and who create music that is intended to be at its best in recorded form. But these bands were not of that ilk, nor are most of the bands that play at the Middle East.
I would think that the owners of the club could do something to improve their situation, but perhaps in the spirit of the rock 'n' roll attitude, they don't really care. Thankfully they care enough to have sprinklers, but I imagine a little bit of strategically placed acoustic foam and some new speaker cones could go a long way in improving the experience for their guests.
I ended up feeling sorry for the bands because they just weren't being heard as they should have been. This kind of dependence on equipment that is owned and operated by people out of your control is a big problem for small, poor bands. Who's going to bring their own PA? For that matter, who can afford their own PA?

Despite all this crappiness, I was able to pick up the fact that the Wrens were clearly very good musicians and put on a professional show. Their stuff sounded better than the rest, but I still feel like they were not even close to being represented as they would have wanted.
Thank god Paradise does not have the same problem.

Posted by halsey at 05:55 PM | Comments (2)

August 17, 2004

violin barbie

I almost want to write two reviews for the Bond show that I went to last Friday night at Paradise. One that says how entertaining it was, and the other that says how pathetically lame so many aspects were. But I'm going to not split it up in favor of just writing one schizophrenic review. Bear with me, please.

I was initially curious as to how the Bond girls were going to handle reproducing their sound for a live audience in a rock club, and this question was answered even before they took the stage. There was nothing on the stage but for their "wood" instruments (as they referred to them) carefully propped up for effect on the drum riser. I was disappointed that all of the supporting music was pre-recorded as it would have been really fun to see a full backing band. But alas, it was just the four of them, though I must admit I wasn't TOO disappointed by their physical appearance and attire. Being very good looking is as much a part of their show as the music, if not more. I was thinking to myself, how different would this group be if they weren't so hot? And then I realized that this was as unfair a question as 'how different would this group be if they didn't know how to play their instruments?' Music and appearance are both completely integral to the whole of what Bond is and they certainly don't pretend otherwise, much to their credit. To this end, the choreography was clearly worked out well in advance (though it could have been better rehearsed) and much of the fun of watching them was seeing how they dutifully rearranged themselves over and over on stage while playing. The dramatic upward reaching bow sweeps were impossible not to laugh out loud at and simultaneously appreciate for their unabashed ridiculousness.

OK, so what was totally lame? First of all, there was way too much support from their pre-recorded back-ups. They had the ultimate safety net, and that made it less exciting to watch. It was embarrassingly clear that the cellist was 'cello-syncing' to the first several songs and that was really really lame. Stupid, in fact. She did start playing later, but the fact that she faked it at all took away from any real playing she did later in my mind. Part of their set was 'acoustic' which was a great touch, but by not sitting down and playing a full on Schubert string quartet, they missed a fantastic opportunity to not only legitimize themselves as true classical musicians but also to educate the audience. Coming down from a bass thumping version of Swan Lake to a nicely interpreted, true to the original performance of a string quartet would have been very cool. And the final totally lame aspect was that the music was no questions asked, no doubt about it, full on cheesy. But hey, they're cross-over!

Despite these pockets of total lameness, I came away from the show not feeling disappointed at all. Bond doesn't pretend to be more than what they delivered, and, though I still do feel they could take the concept further, they provided a certain type of cross-over entertainment that was fun. They didn't take themselves too seriously and were fun to watch in their enthusiasm, their energy and, yes, their good looks. And amazingly enough, their beauty somehow didn't prevent them from actually being able to play their instruments! The first violinist and the violist were really good as far as I could tell; nice strong sound and tone and were not afraid of some pretty fast passages! I'm also going to guess that it does take talent to strut around stage in 6 inch stilettos while playing an instrument. I enjoyed hearing some of the greatest melodies ever written, and having them augmented by electronic drums and other loudness certainly lended a new perspective. The Bond girls really were getting into it, jumping up and down, shredding their bows and generally behaving as no one does, but everyone should, when listening to some of the great pieces they had arranged. I am risking serious contempt from a certain group here, but I will say that there are some things that the classical establishment could learn from Bond. Let me also say there are only SOME things; not very many, but SOME, nonetheless. Don't be close-minded.

I'm not sure why classical cross-over artists exist. I'd like to think that they have a mission of spreading a certain type of music to another group of people who had not yet been exposed to it. But I fear that many are manufactured to take advantage of a perceived market opportunity. In the end, though I am all for exposing different audiences to different types of music, I wonder how much Bond is really accomplishing in this regard (maybe they don't really care, but I hope they have a higher purpose). It seemed like they attracted an older crowd to a rock club, which is fine, but I would prefer to have seen a younger crowd attracted to a concert hall, or a younger crowd turn out for some really good, serious music, classical or not. There are already tons of rock fans, but the classical world could really use a shot of the youthful energy that Bond exudes. What would happen if Sonic Youth played at Symphony Hall with an orchestra or if there were more experimentations like Metallica's with the SF Symphony and Michael Kamen? The problem seems to be that classical performers are often so full of integrity and pride that they don't want to 'sell-out' to make money or spread their music. And rock musicians, if they are famous enough to command any influence, don't have music incentive to expose their audience to other types of music. Maybe cross-over is just a stupid idea that will never succeed in any substantive way. Or maybe cross-over is the only hope classical music has of not dying a slow and undignified death. Enough of that.

The fact is, Bond is entertainment, and they use a number of different techniques to succeed. This is not classical music; this is not the slightest bit serious music; it's hardly pop music for that matter, but taken as a whole it is light entertainment and there is nothing wrong with that. Bond is a band that I don't feel I ever need to see again, and I will certainly never purchase any of their cds (or t-shirts or, god help us, promotional posters), but am very glad that I saw them once and I am glad that they exist.

Posted by halsey at 03:24 PM

August 08, 2004

he had to cross the street anyway

I drove up to Portland, ME on Friday night in a flashy new indigo Gulf with a worn down, but ready for adventure mle. We had recently watched 'I Am Trying to Break Your Heart' together, and could not pass up the opportunity to see Wilco in concert. Although they have now scheduled a date at the Wang, earlier it appeared that Portland was going to be the best local date. And the Wang kind of sucks anyway because it isn't at all built for rock shows.
So after much traffic and the slowest burritos ever, we entered the State Theater, positioned ourselves right in the middle about 25 feet back and listened.
Wilco is not a surprising band for me. This show, like their most recent album was no exception. But this is not a bad thing. They served up what one would expect from Mr. Tweedy and Company; a simple, honest and incredible well done performance of simple, honest and incredibly well-written songs. What I like about Wilco is their ability to be so inventive within an elegant simplicity. Listen to the drums in 'I Am Trying to Break Your Heart' as an example of what I am talking about. This is not a prog-rock anthem to complexity (far from it, thank god) yet the drums are wildly clever *and* understated at the same time. How did he do that? Some of John Stirratt's bass lines are similarly sneaky. And of course Jeff Tweedy's lyrics and vocal melodies never let us forget that this is a smart group of musicians. Smart and tasteful and rockin' too.
Perhaps the most memorable moment from the evening happened before the show began while mle and I were eating our burritos across the street from the Theater. We are sitting there minding our own business and who ambles by, but Mr. Tweedy himself! Much to the dismay and embarrassment of my concert-going companion, I took it upon myself to no longer mind my own business and go talk to him. We walked across the street together and I told him how excited we were for the show and wished him good luck in the performance. He was friendly, and I felt cool until I saw mle's mortified expression. But I can't let opportunities pass by unused! I think she has forgiven me.

Posted by halsey at 01:21 PM | Comments (4)

June 30, 2004

Judging Aimee

Well, actually, it should be 'Judging Julian', which does have a certain ring to it as well, but forfeits the really lame pop culture reference. So 'Judging Aimee' it is.
Aimee, as in Miss Mann, played at Avalon last night (thanks mle for the ticket!) with her five piece band including the aforementioned Julian, as in Mr. Coryell. Julian also performed a half hour of his own creations as the opening act.
Here comes the judging part: Julian should stay in a supporting role where he absolutely shines and avoid performing his solo stuff. I can understand his apparent desire to go out on his own and be in the spotlight as opposed to more behind the scenes, but I would not recommend following that dream just yet.
In his opening set, Julian played a fairly poor piano patch on a keyboard and sang several of his own songs along with a few covers. His stage presence varied from pretty cool to slightly lame, and the keys were hard to listen to, but his voice was really stunning. He had a range that might rival Prince or Freddie Mercury (whom he admittedly admires) and hit every note with power and precision. But his songs just weren't so good. They rambled and had little memorable melodic or lyrical content (although I do remember that he repeatedly called himself an asshole in one song). Appropriately enough, his covers were the best songs he did.
So I was kind of unimpressed, but then Aimee came onto the stage and there was Julian - looking suddenly a bit like Slash - with a guitar firmly strapped over his shoulder. And over the next hour and a half, he played some of the most inventive and tasteful guitar that I have heard in a while. Every note had this brilliant tone and he played with a confidence that oozed through the remarkably minute motions of his fingers into his guitar and out to us. The thing that was really great and so admirable in my eyes was that he could easily have stolen the show with fits of stunt guitar a la Steve Vai, but instead chose to in a very calculated (but not cold) way sprinkle the songs with helpful notes only.
I left the show really liking Julian as a guitarist and thought he seemed like a cool guy, but I would not purchase his cd.

This whole predicament got me to thinking about my own situation. I mean, is Julian able to take a step back and look at himself and the whole of what he is doing and accurately judge what is good and what is not so good? It was pretty obvious to me and my concert-going colleagues, but accurate self-assessment is so hard.
So what about Judging Halsey? I don't have the luxury (yet) of having any third parties lend their opinions to any live performances, but there is studio stuff that you all hear. I wonder how my list of pluses and minuses compares to those third parties' lists.

WORK ALERT!! I started writing these out, but will have to wait because work is crazy today. But I wanted to at least post what I've got so far. Stay tuned!

Posted by halsey at 03:26 PM

June 24, 2004

semi-lost in translation

I like Mum. I liked them before seeing them last night at the MFA because of their album 'Finally We Are No One" and now I like them for that same reason. Unfortunately, I found their live performance to be disappointing. It's not that they were bad or anything; it's more that I don't think they figured out a good way of translating their good songwriting and creative approach to music-making into the live situation.
I've talked about this before with regards to Tracy and the Plastics, but it is an important topic for me, so here I go again. Mum uses lots of electronics and acoustic 'sounds' in their music. They use them well in their recordings, but this live show seemed like someone said to them 'you can't use all those electronics live because it won't really *be* live with everything sequenced'. It seemed as though they tried to take this advice in certain ways, but were not successful, and in other ways they ignored this advice which caused further issues. Take the drums for example. As far as I can tell, the vast majority of the drums on the above-mentioned album (the only one I have heard, though they do have a brand new one and several other releases) are electronic, yet for some reason they had a drummer sitting behind an acoustic kit on stage. He was forced to play along with all the electronic sequences which were mixed much louder than him and in all honesty, despite how hard I tried, I couldn't even figure out if anything he was doing was audible at all. Live drums are so great because of their physicality. You see arms and legs flailing and hear the results in real time and you know for damn sure that the harder that guy hits those cymbals the louder and more powerful the sound that emanates will be. That's exciting and fun. It's not so fun to strain to hear if the subtle motion of a drummer is actually adding anything to the barrage of electronic percussion being spit out by the band's Powerbook.
The drums were just one instance of how I felt that the band was playing along with their computers as opposed to really dictating what was happening on stage. There was one time when I think each of the six band members were ringing cool little (Icelandic?) bells. This was totally neat except it highlighted the sequenced and pre-recorded stuff because the other parts of the song didn't stop while they were all preoccupied doing their ringing.
I felt like they were performing with the luxury of a huge bouncy safety net of sequencing. It's not trivial to play with sequencers given their rigidity, but having that solid totally predictable backbone dominate your performance is simply less exciting to me. Playing live should be more dangerous, I think.

Ok, so that was the negative, but they did some very cool stuff as well. The one thing I cannot give them enough credit for is actually taking an accordion and using it in a way that wasn't totally obnoxious! I'm serious. The lead singer (who also happened to have a great voice and funny mannerisms) played an accordion for a number of their songs, but she used it as this wide, open, bass instrument. I was amazed how she created these great gravelly bass lines that really filled out the low end.
Their songwriting was very unique; interesting forms and sonic combinations. They used lots of 'environmental' type sounds and had some great melodies. And their trumpet/flugelhorn player was a fantastic addition to the sound. Now I am feeling like I have been too negative here because these guys really are a very good band. I suppose I am judging them more harshly because I feel they are capable of so much more. But that's fair, right?

Overall this was certainly not a bad show, but I did feel it could have been better somehow. They paled in comparison to that other Icelandic band we all know and love, but they are young and talented and I hope they continue to progress and give us lucky listeners more unique music to appreciate.

Posted by halsey at 10:30 AM

semi-lost in translation

I like Mum. I liked them before seeing them last night at the MFA because of their album 'Finally We Are No One" and now I like them for that same reason. Unfortunately, I found their live performance to be disappointing. It's not that they were bad or anything; it's more that I don't think they figured out a good way of translating their good songwriting and creative approach to music-making into the live situation.
I've talked about this before with regards to Tracy and the Plastics, but it is an important topic for me, so here I go again. Mum uses lots of electronics and acoustic 'sounds' in their music. They use them well in their recordings, but this live show seemed like someone said to them 'you can't use all those electronics live because it won't really *be* live with everything sequenced'. It seemed as though they tried to take this advice in certain ways, but were not successful, and in other ways they ignored this advice which caused further issues. Take the drums for example. As far as I can tell, the vast majority of the drums on the above-mentioned album (the only one I have heard, though they do have a brand new one and several other releases) are electronic, yet for some reason they had a drummer sitting behind an acoustic kit on stage. He was forced to play along with all the electronic sequences which were mixed much louder than him and in all honesty, despite how hard I tried, I couldn't even figure out if anything he was doing was audible at all. Live drums are so great because of their physicality. You see arms and legs flailing and hear the results in real time and you know for damn sure that the harder that guy hits those cymbals the louder and more powerful the sound that emanates will be. That's exciting and fun. It's not so fun to strain to hear if the subtle motion of a drummer is actually adding anything to the barrage of electronic percussion being spit out by the band's Powerbook.
The drums were just one instance of how I felt that the band was playing along with their computers as opposed to really dictating what was happening on stage. There was one time when I think each of the six band members were ringing cool little (Icelandic?) bells. This was totally neat except it highlighted the sequenced and pre-recorded stuff because the other parts of the song didn't stop while they were all preoccupied doing their ringing.
I felt like they were performing with the luxury of a huge bouncy safety net of sequencing. It's not trivial to play with sequencers given their rigidity, but having that solid totally predictable backbone dominate your performance is simply less exciting to me. Playing live should be more dangerous, I think.

Ok, so that was the negative, but they did some very cool stuff as well. The one thing I cannot give them enough credit for is actually taking an accordion and using it in a way that wasn't totally obnoxious! I'm serious. The lead singer (who also happened to have a great voice and funny mannerisms) played an accordion for a number of their songs, but she used it as this wide, open, bass instrument. I was amazed how she created these great gravelly bass lines that really filled out the low end.
Their songwriting was very unique; interesting forms and sonic combinations. They used lots of 'environmental' type sounds and had some great melodies. And their trumpet/flugelhorn player was a fantastic addition to the sound. Now I am feeling like I have been too negative here because these guys really are a very good band. I suppose I am judging them more harshly because I feel they are capable of so much more. But that's fair, right?

Overall this was certainly not a bad show, but I did feel it could have been better somehow. They paled in comparison to that other Icelandic band we all know and love, but they are young and talented and I hope they continue to progress and give us lucky listeners more unique music to appreciate.

Posted by halsey at 10:30 AM

June 09, 2004

moms and dads

I went to the production of Oedipus at the A.R.T. last night. Overall, I found the show to be OK with some good stuff and some not so good. Thankfully for me, the main positive aspect was the music.
This was a modern adaptation of Sophocles' play and Evan Ziporyn was commissioned to write original music for it. As it turns out, Mr. Ziporyn was one of the five composers whose pieces were played by the BMOP at the show I went to several weeks ago. This music was better and in many ways saved the production from being not much more than an over-dramatized obtusely-referenced festival of self-loathing(!).
The music was written for a small group consisting of a drummer, upright bassist, guitarist/keyboardist and, blessedly, a beautiful cellist (with whom I fell instantly in love). All sounds were amplified - in some ways moreso than the sound reinforcement system could handle accurately - so that they filled out the performance space fully. Mr. Ziporyn turned parts of the play into minimalist operatic explorations with a group of eight or so singers onstage supplementing the instrumentalists.
The approach was bold and interesting, and though not entirely successful, it got me thinking that maybe theater is a place where modern 'classical' music has a particularly relevant and exciting outlet. Is it the combination of the visuals and sounds that create an experience that could attract audiences of all ages and interests?
I'm not trying to say that music needs to be be more of a supplement than a focus, but rather that this sort of expanded and extended musical experience can be much more satisfying and plain old cool than the traditional mode of classical performances.

Posted by halsey at 04:41 PM

June 08, 2004

each to her own

In case you thought that this blog was entirely about my opinions...

The Thrills: No Apologies

What ever made Ms. Tomlinson think the Thrills show was 'sophisticated' or 'pristine' is beyond me, but then again, I am sort of a music snob.

(yes, this is a diversion from the new song announcement which is a bit delayed due to unanticipated (and unrelated) anxiety last night. Also, I decided to try a little pseudo-mastering which wasn't necessarily successful...)

Posted by halsey at 12:14 PM | Comments (2)

May 30, 2004

generock

I saw the Thrills on Friday night at Paradise and just about vomited. This was one of the most pathetic shows I have seen in a while and what made it worse is that their album is selling like hot-cakes, EMI was in the audience, and way too many drunk morons were singing along word for word.
They had the attitudes and looks and moves of big time rock stars, but were devoid of any of the talent, skill or entertainment value that should accompany that. And in truth, they didn't even *have* those things; they *tried* to have them, but ended up coming across as totally forced and manufactured. There is nothing worse than being arrogant with zero to back it up.
The drummer had the stiffness (in playing and posture) of someone half dead; the stoned guitarist appeared to want nothing more than to have some acid-flavored bug fly into his gaping mouth. But the lead singer was the worst by far. The list is long, but here are a few gems: Saying 'Thanks!' immediately after each song was over before anyone had begun clapping. Announcing before a song that it was in 3/4 as if that were some crazy difficult strange time signature that would require us to listen even more intently and be impressed. Yelling 'Come on Boston, make some fucking noise!' That was as creative as he got.
You can tell a lot by looking into the eyes of people in general, I think, and musicians are no different. What I saw when I looked into the eyes of these guys was nothing. I mean, NOTHING. No spark of energy or intelligence or creativity. No indication that they had anything to say or contribute. Nothing but glazed over, practically cataractic (is that a word?) holes into the voids that were their brains.
I can't help but ask myself how a band like this can garner the amount of attention they have seen thus far into their short career. Am I totally missing something? Or am I overestimating audiences and record labels? Those EMI execs would probably walk out of a Fantomas or Mars Volta show. Too creative and interesting to make them any money.

Posted by halsey at 09:52 AM

May 23, 2004

is there something wrong with 'classical' music?

I went to a performance of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) on Friday night. It was everything one would expect from a performance of this type. Interesting, well-composed music, a highly talented group of performers, a beautiful performance space, all around nicely put together. But still I was left feeling disappointed. Perhaps this is somewhat thanks to Mr. Byrne who set a very high bar the previous evening, but I don't think that actually had much to do with it.
I was disappointed because there was something missing from the performance; something I almost always feel is missing when I attend classical shows. I'm not entirely sure what words are appropriate to describe it, but it's something like energy, vitality, power, excitement, and it's important.
The thing is, I really like classical music; it's not as though I am trying to force myself into a new musical sphere. I love the romantics, the big orchestral pieces, the string quartets, minimalist experimentations, grand opera (Verdi is my favorite!) and much more. I have thousands of classical cds. Yet I still feel this way about most performances which leads me to believe that something is wrong.
The program consisted of five pieces from five American composers who are all still alive (they aren't even old!). One piece was commissioned specifically for BMOP and this performance was the premiere. The composers were all in attendance and with varying degrees of eloquence spoke about their pieces in a pre-concert discussion. These are five smart and creative people with interesting ideas and the talent to turn those ideas into music. However, the balance between idea and emotion seemed to be tilted too far towards the former with the exception of one piece which was, interestingly, written when the composer was 23. Many of the ideas were more interesting than the music itself. For example, the notion of exploring the extremes of the piano's capabilities by presenting us with quiet resonating tonal fields interspersed with sharp percussive attacks is really cool. I did like this piece, but I think I liked it even more before I heard it and my mind wasn't tainted by reality. I am not normally capable of quoting Wordsworth, but this quote I read the other day is appropriate to this feeling:

We also first beheld
Unveiled the summit of Mont Blanc, and grieved
To have a soulless image on the eye
That had usurped upon a living thought
That never more could be

For me, mountain summits are never disappointing, but the reality of this music was less than I had imagined or hoped for.
This whole experience made me sad and a bit dismayed. There is so much music being created out there in the 'classical' (or as BMOP likes to aptly and cleverly call it 'music formerly known as classical') world, but its future, in the U.S. at least, is unclear. Normally I am one of the older people at shows, but at least 75% of the audience last night must have been 60 or over and there were only a handful younger than me. Don't get me wrong, I think it is great that this demographic is supporting and interested in this music (they've got the money, right?!), but if this is MODERN and CUTTING EDGE shouldn't the modern and cutting edge generations be more excited about it and involved with it? This is a slightly unfair comment as the majority of the performers themselves were relatively young, but who are they going to perform for in twenty years? What can be done to ensure audiences exist in the future?

(much) more to come soon...

Posted by halsey at 06:35 PM

May 21, 2004

what it takes to make me feel like I am in high school again

6 string players
10 very talented musicians
7 incredibly awkward dances
~9 Talking Heads songs performed live by the man himself
2 hours of incredibly tight, well-rehearsed and energetic performing
35 dollars gladly spent
1 Verdi aria (Traviata)
300 yards of distance walked backwards
28 years of eclectic music career
1 baby marimba
47,843 (approx) percussive notes
0 houses burnt down, BUT
EVERYTHING ELSE same as it ever was

ONE David Byrne

Time travel *is* possible!

Posted by halsey at 08:39 AM

May 10, 2004

useful desire

I had the pleasure of seeing burgundy-shoed, golden-haired, big-voiced, and extraordinarily talented Patty Griffin last night (thank you mle!!). Patty told us that she had been challenged to write a happy song by a friend of hers, and the one she came up with was this song she wrote about her Mom when she was four growing up in Maine. She further explained that she had to go way back to her childhood to find the inspiration for a happy song.
I have trouble writing happy songs as well. I think that the best I have done is a neutral song, perhaps (imposters of memory?) and recently I have been feeling 'Enough of this sad stuff! Why do I have to depress my listeners all the time? This angst is so cliché! Can't I be uplifting?' This is easy to say, but hard to do. I think my songs contain hope, but not really pure happiness.
But is it just hard to write a happy song, or is it hard to *be* happy? I am beginning to think the latter. OK, so here I am now depressing you with my words too, but seriously, happiness isn't this thing that just happens without thinking about it and working on it, I don't think. Maybe, as Patty mentioned, when you are a kid, it's easier and simpler, but now that I think way too much(!), it's hard. I'm not trying to say that I am sad and depressed all the time, but I have gotten to the point where I realize happiness isn't easy and can't be taken for granted, so when I do have it, it's that much more appreciated.
Thank you, Patty. You made me happy last night.

Posted by halsey at 04:08 PM | Comments (3)

May 08, 2004

opus cactus

drop your bags, stop what you are doing, cancel your plans, do not pass go, and proceed directly to see MOMIX. I was half breathing, half crying throughout this entire performance. It was that beautiful. Go, see, listen; I promise you will not be disappointed. But you must act fast as their final Boston show is on Sunday.

Posted by halsey at 08:04 AM | Comments (1)

May 05, 2004

three of me

I have two ongoing musical projects which keep me pretty busy and excited. Unfortunately, this blog and two other websites are the most public I get with the music at this point. I have my solo project and my band and both of these projects are ones in which I use computers quite a lot to create a sound that is much larger than one individual could create on his/her own.
So I have been on a quest to figure out how to recreate in some fashion my music in a live situation without being totally lame. Now this is harder than you might think. I can't tell you how many bands I've seen play where there's just a couple people tied to the unforgiving sequence of their Powerbooks. Pressing the spacebar to begin a song just isn't very dramatic. They almost always sound like they are playing along with the pre-recorded stuff rather than the pre-recorded stuff fleshing out the music that is being created in front of the audience by real live human beings. This is so lame and very disappointing. I am in no way opposed to using computers or whatever technology might be available in order to create anything, but I don't want to feel like the technology is dominating and the people are subservient in some way. How do you do this without falling into this lame-ass category? Try this...
I saw Tracy and the Plastics perform at the Zeitgeist Gallery in Inman Square. You might think this is a band, but truth be told, she is one individual equipped with a dvd player, a projector and screen, pre-recorded video and a very powerful voice. Essentially she has created a show that involves a choreographed interaction between her 'live' self and two different 'selves' on video. So here she is, standing totally alone on stage having conversations with larger than life projected images of herself acting as the other members of the Plastics. Sure, this sounds silly, and it is in a variety of ways, but what struck me was how well it worked. I didn't for a second feel like she was 'playing along'. I felt like she was in control of the whole proceedings, and somehow it seemed like the video wasn't actually pre-recorded. It was almost as though the video characters were real, alive, and reacting to the external forcings of the situation in a spontaneous way.
So why was she so successful at something which is so hard? I don't really know for sure, but perhaps it is the interactive nature of the show; perhaps the fact that she is the very one in the video helps; maybe the fact that it is funny. But I think that the main reason is that she accepts the technology as vital and doesn't try to hide anything. It's almost as though by shoving this technology in our faces, she makes it less noticeable.

And the other great part of last evening was Annie Clark, one of the opening acts (I won't mention the other for fear of remembering how wickedly awful they were). Her songs were very well crafted and contained some of the most tasteful and creative bass playing I have heard in a long time. Thank you guys.

Posted by halsey at 08:23 AM | Comments (3)

April 26, 2004

life on other planets is difficult

...or is it dangerous? I can't remember, but either way it is true for Blixa Bargeld and the rest of Einsturzende Neubauten. I saw them perform last night at the Paradise in Boston and it was quite a show. This is the sort of band that you love seeing because they are so crazy and different and brilliant, but you hate it at the same time because you realize that every 'new' and 'avant-garde' idea you've ever had about your own music was done by these guys twenty years ago. I mean, they were hitting pvc tubes 10 years before Blue Man Group, writing music to the beat of their own heartbeats (literally) when the fetal heart monitor wasn't so commonplace, and going on the road with air compressors when no one knew what the hell they were. Their stage setup looked more suited for metal fabrication than for music creation.

It *is* dangerous to do what they have been doing for the past quarter century. And it got me to thinking about pushing musical limits and how hard it is to push these limits while maintaining a certain level of beauty and, well, accessibility. No one would doubt the creativity of these guys as far as inventing instruments, sounds and approaches. But I have to admit that it often is not beautiful music. And I really have to be in the right mood to put any one of the 'Strategies Against Architecture' in my cd player. It's smart music; it's inventive music; but is it music that you want to live with all the time? For me, they are perfect to listen to in small specific doses, but the influence that they have exerted on the contemporary music scene over the years is something that I am happy to be stuck with forever and always.

As Blixa put it last night: 'We are a legendary band, but not a famous band, so we have to play on a small stage.' The music world needs more groups like Neubauten, but the music industry sadly doesn't support them.

Posted by halsey at 08:25 AM | Comments (2)