July 30, 2011 § Leave a Comment
A warning to New York — it was after we passed gay marriage here in Massachusetts that it all fell apart. Next thing we knew, floods swept the state and most of us only survived by fashioning arks to float around. The lucky ones were the ones who got washed away, though.
Now we live in a festering hell hole of chaos, with demons on horses hunting us all down amidst the earthquakes and the plagues, as well all just wait for that one final tremor that will plunge us en masse into the Atlantic Ocean and down to the realm of Satan for all eternity.
Actually, nothing even remotely Biblical has happened in Massachusetts — not that I can recall, anyhow. We have the usual array of disasters and tragedies, but nothing to indicate that God is particularly annoyed with us for allowing gay marriage in our state.
Perhaps God is just a little disoriented and he’s punishing everyone else for our sins — Massachusetts passed same-sex marriage rights on May 17, 2004, and more than 6 months later, the earthquake and tsunami hit in the Indian Ocean.
Coincidence? Some would think not, but that correlation only works if you think that God can’t actually pinpoint Massachusetts on a map. It’s certainly understandable, since it’s been a long time since he created the world and the continents have shifted. Also, I don’t think there are career development days for gods where they get up to speed with the latest god skills.
Judging from the Massachusetts experience, making gay marriage legal may be the one thing that strengthens your chances against retribution from God. In fact, you might find yourself starting to believe that God might support gay marriage and is actually rewarding us. You’d have to ask the other states if they’ve had the same experience. I haven’t heard about any spontaneous volcanic disasters or invasion of demons happening in Iowa — at least not yet.
As I’ve thought about it, I can’t really understand why an omnipotent being who knows everything, made everything and basically is everything would really care much about the sexual habits of what must amount to maggots by comparison to his own existence. But then, this is the god of the grudge — we’re still paying for an apple that some naked woman ate several thousand years ago with no sign of abating.
I thought it was all about forgiveness — at least it was for that long-haired fellow who wandered aimlessly around with 12 other men who routinely professed their love for him. What was his name again?
It’s time for some level of civil obedience. I know there are plenty of people out there who are straight but have no intention of every marrying. Perhaps they have a life partner of the opposite sex, perhaps not. I’d like to suggest that as supporters of same-sex marriage, you ought to find someone else in the same boat as you — someone of the same gender — and marry them.
It’s a great way for straight people to show solidarity to their gay brothers and sisters, and it might even be fun! You get all the perks of having a wedding with none of the seriousness.
It will also confuse the heck out of God and really call into question what is offensive here — the marriage of people of the same sex or the sexual activity between them. Is marriage between members of the same gender at least okay if they don’t have sex with each other?
As near as I can gather, God’s mind works so slowly, he’ll spend a millennia just pondering these questions. Until he learns how to read a map, it may be our best course of action.
July 30, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Among the last things I expected was to enjoy a complete Yes album in 2011 — this is a reflection of my age and having moved on from many of the sounds of my teenage years, the tendency of dinosaurs to sound like dinosaurs and the very idea that there would be enough active members of the band at this point to even cobble together an album.
A smart man admits when he’s defeated and I’m here to say that the new Yes album, “Fly From Here,” is the most worthy of a purchase since their pop chart breakthrough of “90125.”
The back story is as good as the album itself. Back in 1980, the perceived leader of the band, the voice that so many equate as essential to the band’s sound, Jon Anderson, left the group, along with onagain, off-again keyboardist Rick Wakeman. Rather than accept that as an ending, the three remaining members — Chris Squire, Steve Howe and Alan White — took it as a chance to do something very different, and they created a chapter in Yes history that not many people remember.
Do you recall the wondrous new wave hit, “Video Killed The Radio Star”? It heralded in a new era of music as the first video played on MTV, propelling the band who performed it, The Buggles, into one-hit wonder glory.
The Buggles produced two albums in their existence— both lots of fun, actually — and each individual member went onto make their mark on the mainstream, big business world of music. Keyboardist Geoff Downes was the anchor in Asia (a questionable achievement, certainly), while singer Trevor Horn became a much sought after producer. You can thank Horn for Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
Horn was also one of the original brains behind the brilliant early sample band, The Art of Noise, and he stayed in the Yes fold to produce their comeback on “90125” — “Owner of a Lonely Heart” was his sonic brainchild.
As part of Yes, they produced “Drama,” a prog record with a harder, more rocking sound, as well as an ear toward catchy tunes. It’s the great, under-appreciated Yes album, and some songs are actually delightful even if you don’t care for Yes. Really.
Zoom ahead to around 2010. Yes still exists, though their major glory days are behind them. They still can pack them in, though, and they have turned their revolving door membership into an asset by mixing and matching on tour and recordings. Somewhere in there, Jon Anderson got sick and the rest of the band decided to hi-jack the operation because they still wanted to record and tour.
To that end, they picked up the vocalist in a Yes tribute band, Quebecois Benoit David, and despite Anderson’s legal actions, toured around with him (and original keyboardist Rick Wakeman’s son, Oliver, pounding the ivories).
At some point, the band decided to record a new album and they picked a real novel approach — an ersatz reunion of the “Drama” album. With David fulfilling Horn’s role, but Downes coming into replace Oliver Wakeman and Horn fulfilling the producer’s role and songwriting credits, with some vocal work in there — a majority of the album is co-written by him, built around an old unrecorded “Drama” era song called “Fly From Here.”
And so the very complicated story of Yes continues in 2011 with even further twists and turns to produce something surprisingly wonderful. David might have been a Jon Anderson replacement, but his range echoes Horn even more, and the voices are practically interchangeable. While most the album is a song cycle, it manages to take that Yes formula and chop of the grandiose bigness into bite-size nuggets that are manageable on their own, though with brief instrumental flourishes that recall the pre ‘80s band chops without becoming meandering.
At the same time, little herky-jerky riffs appear out of nowhere that recall nothing so much as The Buggles — an unexpected musical reference. And, since Horn is at the helm, modernity abounds, as well.
“Fly From Here” is a tiny little triumph for a bunch of old prog rock coots who are still churning out the notes, a happy little tribute to an unfairly ignored period of their chaotic history and a lesson that it’s okay for an old dog like me to embrace a few old tricks now and then, especially when they contain little moments of flair that make them delightful all over again.
July 30, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Each summer for the past decade, Bang on a Can participants converge on Mass MoCA for an explosion of joyous musical experimentation. Cofounder and Pulitzer Prize winner David Lang sees the organization as central to his creative mission in life — and integral to his personal creativity.
Bang on a Can’s 10th anniversary celebrations at Mass MoCA — and its 24th year of existence — rounds out the with its annual marathon on Saturday, July 30, from 4 to 10 p.m. Bang on a Can began in 1987 as a one-day, 12-hour festival of experimental music as the brainchild of founders Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe. For the next 15 years, success followed — the Bang on a Can All Stars were formed, as was their own record label, Cantaloupe Records, but Lang looks at that as a preamble for what was to come at Mass MoCA.
In 2002, the organization partnered with Mass MoCA to produce the annual Summer Institute of Music — or Banglewood — with summer residencies and performances spread over a two-and-a-half week period that sees Bang on a Can faculty members conducting an array of classes and seminars.
“The most surprising thing to me is that we ever did anything else before this,” Lang said. “If you really want to change the environment for contemporary music, if you really want to change the way composers and performers think about what it is they’re doing in terms of experimental musical culture, you have to get them while they’re young. You have to get these people and tell them all sorts of things that their schools will never tell them. That’s what this whole festival has been about.”
The founders talked 25 years ago during the planning of the first festival about starting a school that would, as Lang puts it, “make the world a safer place for this kind of music and this kind of attitude.”
“When you’re a student at a music school, if you like anything in the 20th century you’re considered to be a barbaric radical,” he said. “And if you liked things from the more experimental end, then you really were out on a limb and your teachers would try to talk you out of it. Your teachers tell you should be spending your time — if you’re a performer — working on your Mozart or your Beethoven because that’s where the jobs are.”
Since music schools don’t often stress experimental contemporary and classical music in their offerings, the last thing oddballs going through that system expect in regard to their interest is enthusiasm. This creates a misconception that there actually is none, but Lang thinks that is quickly dispelled when students come into contact with the musicians who have dedicated their lives to exactly this sort of music — and having fun with it.
“These are all credible virtuosi who have come through youth orchestra and college orchestra and graduate school chamber music and recording sessions — they’re young professionals who are fellows here,” Lang said. “They all have incredible experience working in different parts of music. Where they got that kind of collaboration and they got that kind of enthusiasm, we’re trying to get this world on par with them.”
Lang believes it’s a lot easier to get young people interested in the sort of music Bang on a Can specializes in, rather than older people, is largely because they tend to experience what is in front of them, while older musicians can be more interested in measuring whatever they encounter against music from 200 years ago.
This especially crosses into the modern world in the form of indie rock acts that have embraced a level of experimentation from the world that Bang on a Can inhabits, like Radiohead and Wilco (who have a direct connection through drummer Glenn Kotche’s collaborations). Bryce Dessner of The National and Dave Longstreth of The Dirty Projectors are both Bang on a Can alumni.
“I that people go see indie rock all the time and a lot of that stuff is really weird,” said Lang. “If they’re going to do that weird stuff, it’s not such a big stretch to do this weird stuff.”
Lang sees the dynamic building where the rock musicians with connections talk about those connections — and their avant garde influences — and this opens up thousands more to the kind of work that Bang on a Can promotes. On a wide scale, this makes the typical push toward normality in music school less oppressive to the oddball in music school — it signifies that their people are out there, they just need to find them, that there is a world to work toward.
“People teach you to be a normal musician. In order to reject that, you end up with a lot of fire, a lot of passion,” Lang said, “because you’re fighting against everything in your education. So, when you meet someone who’s dedicated his life to early music, or new music, or improvisation, or some other part that’s different from the mainstream, a lot of times those people are unbelievably passionate because they’ve struggled to get this far. All the people who are the faculty here, they’re all on the same page with that.”
This has all, for Lang, converged into the question of who the music is for, and who exactly is the audience for this music. In 2008 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for “The Little Match Girl Passion,” which he says he deliberately designed in order to provide an entry point to experimental music for a large number of people to file through and take hold of something.
“It doesn’t say that the point of this is to shock people or to do strange things or to make a new sound that you’ve never heard before or to impress you with my intelligence,” Lang said. “The point of the music is to say that here’s this emotional message that no other art form can give you other than music. I’m going to give it to you, and in order to give it to you, there has to be a composer who’s willing to do it now, so you can get this message made for you as a living listener.”
Lang credits his experience in Bang on a Can as making him a better composer, and also giving him the tools he needs to direct his own work toward what he thinks music should be doing. It’s given him a wider scope to apply on an intimate process, and added to his own his own purpose in life. “What’s the point of a piece of music?” he said. “Is my music supposed to be full of complicated games and rules and formulas that only 10 people in the world are smart enough to decode? There’s nothing wrong with that kind of music. I’m one of those ten people who can decode that music, so I actually really like a lot of that, but I don’t think that’s what my mission is.”
“My mission is to make people want to receive messages that can only come through music. Because of that, this whole attitude of the mission of the organization is also my personal mission.”
July 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
It was a big thrill to find out this week that I, my family — in fact, almost everyone I know — were being welcomed into the extended Neanderthal family.
The past decade or so has been a great time for Neanderthals. When I was a teen, we just thought of them as slow thugs with big brows, no culture and a total meat diet. When you envisioned a caveman with a big club, dragging Raquel Welch by the hair, you were picturing a Neanderthal.
Evidence has accrued since those days that Neanderthals had a little bit more going on. They showed some creativity with tools and trinkets, actually did include some veggies in their meals and existed in complex little communities that had more interaction than the dragging women around thing.
And now, it is revealed, those of us of non-African descent are the glorious continuation of Neanderthalian values.
Let’s be blunt about this, though, and wear our shame for all to see — we non-Africans are the result of cross-species sexual activity. There, I said it. All the talk of DNA and our X chromosome makes our origin sound so passionless, so clinical. We are the love children of Homo sapiens and Neanderthal lust.
It’s a little family sexual scandal that we don’t like to talk about.
So hesitant are we that the scientific paper announcing these findings has been available online for a half-year and talked about with gusto on various science blogs that ordinary people wouldn’t bother to frequent. It as out there all along, this nasty little family secret, but only the relatives on the fringes would acknowledge the truth.
The patriarch and matriarch — the media, that is — had to figure out how to present to us simpler, more impressionable family members. It’s just so delicate. Our forefathers had relations with things that were not human. Or kind of human.
Obviously this complicates matters.
There’s certainly a bit of irony to this whole revelation that upsets centuries of hate, since it turns out that the only genetically pure bloods in history are actually people of African decent — sorry racists!
We also have to give thought to how this affects religious thought. Or, I guess, people who feel the need to rectify scientific reality with the silly creationist fairy tales that we pass down have to think about it.
My suggestion — perhaps these “giants” mentioned in Genesis 6:1-5 who “saw the daughters of men” and noticed “that they were fair” and “came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them” are actually a parable for Neanderthal cruisers picking up some Homo sapiens chicks.
It would be tidier, though, if we decided to adjust the Garden of Eden story to accept Eve as a Neanderthal (which might also account for her dim-witted behavior when dealing with evil serpents) then the Bible would become slightly closer to aligning itself with scientific truth.
Now if we could just get God to understand that bats aren’t birds, we’d really be getting somewhere!
One inescapable reality is that we can either embrace our Neanderthal roots, or continue to deny. I say embrace. I feel like one of those heroines in a Victorian novel who discovers a distant uncle she never knew existed has passed on and left her a fortune — except the fortune is not in money, but in the wonderful weirdness of familial history and the little bumps they toss in your path.
I’m ready to declare myself “browed and proud.” Are you?
July 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Antarctica is as big a psychological space as it is a land mass, igniting the imaginations of people and nations since the time of the Roman Empire.
Multi-disciplinary artist Paul D. Miller mixes all the aspects together in a new work that examines the issues surrounding it while also maintaining the mystique that lends the continent its cultural power.
Miller’s work “NORTH/SOUTH and other works” winds down its appearance at Legacy Gallery, 28 Holden St., showing through July 25. Miller recently published a collection of the images with essays and interviews in “The Book of Ice,” from Mark Batty Publisher.
Miller is best known for his sound work as DJ Spooky, which has seen him work with artists like David Byrne, Laurie Anderson and Thurston Moore. He recently performed with Todd Reynolds on North Adams’ Main Street as part of the Solid Sound after hours celebration.
Evoking turn-of-the-century futurist visionaries like Jules Verne and Georges Melies — as well as more recent ones like Kim Stanley Robinson — Miller’s “NORTH/SOUTH” is a fusion of past and present and imaginary visions of the continent furthest south, Antarctica, with an eye toward the wider history of exploration and conquest all over the world.
“My installation is loosely based on the ‘false’ story of Frederick A. Cook, who went north,” said Miller.
Cook was an Arctic explorer who famously claimed to have reached the North Pole, though this has been disputed over the years. His 1912 film, “The Truth About The Pole,” was an reconstructive attempt to correct the so-called fallacy that he had not actually visited this site of frozen conquest. Miller uses portions of Cook’s film in his own video work, “Terra Nova,” a visual extension of the sound aesthetic of remixing.
Unlike his inspiration, Miller makes no claim about the site of his exploration that is up for dispute — he visited Antarctica and worked to capture the continent in sound and vision.
“Antarctica struck me as a place that was a pure kind of poetry,” Miller said. “The landscape and the idea of composing from the molecular structure of ice seemed to be perfect metaphors made concrete. Plus, black culture loves ice! I guess you could say I’m post-bling. Ice grill, anyone?”
Miller’s installation paints a portrait of a country with no people, a nation with no possible jingoism or even national identity, though its presentation of banners and flags for the Republic of Antarctica celebrate this unity of no one, but not nothing — there is the land, after all. It’s a continent with history, as well as mass, and it’s one that has involved a scuttling of nations vying for stewardship of the land mass. In a country you can’t actually own or control, it’s the closest a nation can get to conquest.
“The legacy of colonialism can be seen in Libya, Tunisia, Israel, Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, North Korea and now South Sudan,” said Miller. “In so many places, where imperial powers carved up the place with no regard to any concerns, but the bottom line of the corporations. If you update the formula, you can see that it’s all still going on.”
“Antarctica, because it was so difficult to reach proved to be able to avoid all this kind of stuff. I hope that it stays that way. My graphic design prints basically say ‘This is a cool place. Read about it, but don’t visit!’ I guess you could say it’s a postcard from a hypothetical world.”
Miller’s focus was on the land itself, although that land is populated with research scientists and others, who choose to do work there in the rare isolation the landscape offers.
“A lot of electronic music is about landscape,” he said. “I guess I went for a kind of portrait of the landscape, and Werner Herzog, who was there when I was there, did more of a portrait of the people. It’s always good to have both. But you know, I’d take the landscape any day, and just watch the wind blow over ice dunes than have to watch some dumb TV show. Nature is so much more interesting at this point.”
Miller used the opportunity for some sonic hunting and gathering, and used the sounds he collected as part of the audio section to the work. He also applies the art of the mix to the book itself, offering some guest turns that pierce the surface of Miller’s work.
The cover of the book visualizes the phrase “tip of the iceberg,” and Miller puts it into practice on the inside, offering discussions well beyond Antarctica and exploration and into the realm of physics, the nature of matter, climate change and so many other issues that spring from the work. It allowed Miller to play DJ in an editorial manner.
“I asked Brian Greene, the renowned quantum physicist, to write an essay about quantum issues in ice,” he said. “Ross A. Virginia, who is the director of Dartmouth College’s Arctic Studies research labs, wrote about the post-Cold War landscape of the Antarctic Treaty, and how that shapes many of the climate change issues facing Antarctica. The gallery show and book were really fun to put together.”
In orchestrating all these parts into one multi-faceted receptacle for delivery, Miller has his eye as much on the future as the past — it’s what the lessons of Antarctica will lead to rather than only what they’ve become. In that respect, climate change enters into the work greatly and fuels the future chapters of the story that Miller’s work hints at.
“I’m a big fan of Bill McKibben’s concept of 350 parts of carbon dioxide per million parts of atmosphere as a goal,” Miller said. “The 350 parts per million particles is the upper limit, but we’re probably going to head far past that. Regretfully, that means a lot of the way we live now will seem remote and in the rear-view mirror unless we can figure out other methods to make this civilization work.”
July 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Poor Kate Bush — a superstar in England for well over three decades, as well as a beloved madwoman, and she is still mostly only spoken of in whispers in the United States.
She had a brief fling with the possibilities of breaking through here in the 1980s, where she was implied to be a female version of Peter Gabriel, but years later and that impression hasn’t changed much.
Bush’s new album “Director’s Cut” is another odd chapter in a sometimes mysterious career. There’s no new material here in the strict sense of the phrase, but reconfigured and almost new work abounds. Some of it is much changed from the original source material, some of it merely made to sparkle more.
The idea is that Bush took tracks from two of her albums — 1989’s “Sensual World” and 1993’s “The Red Shoes” — and made them better by dispensing of synth work that might date the tracks and re-recorded the vocals, and added instruments. All this was done analogue in order to offer a warmer sound than the original digital recordings meant for the CD market.
By description, this may sound like the sort of thing that’s of interest to fans only, but in actuality it may be best heard by new ears as a way to bring the uninitiated into the fold. If you simply like a lovely melody, that’s what is at the heart of most of Bush’s songs.
Her voice is older and, very obviously, wiser than it was 20 years, and though there are varying degrees of successes here, there are certain triumphs that stand out, most notably her reworking of the bouncy “Rubberband Girl,” which was previously much akin to Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” but is now more guitar-driven, down and dirty, with a T-Rex or ‘70s Lou Reed strumming riff.
Other tracks efforts she put into it are “Never Be Mine,” “The Red Shoes” and the exquisitely bombastic “Top Of The City,” all of which benefit from the stripping down process to make them seem less like arm’s length studio creations and more down-to-earth, with far more subtle eccentricities inhabiting them. Meanwhile, the lovely and frightening “This Woman’s Work” has been entirely re-recorded.
Of particular interest is “Flower of The Mountain,” in which Bush finally puts down the version of the song “Sensual World” that she always intended. With lyrics including a passage from Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in James Joyce’s “Ulysses” — this was originally not allowed by the Joyce Estate — Bush has been able to present her original vision intact, just more than two decades later than she intended. That’s real musical perseverance.
Bush is one of the great treasures of music since the revolutions of ‘77 — too odd to be embraced by the mainstream, to soft to be appreciated by much of the rock world, too entrenched in the popular song structures to be considered truly avant garde, she’s a meticulous perfection who embraces experimentation as she investigates the sounds of all the sides of music that fail to appreciate her as much as they should. “Director’s Cut” puts forth a valiant effort to correct that situation.
July 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Artist So Yoon Lym draws a line from Aboriginal spirituality to teenagers in New Jersey, and she does it with a braid of hair.
Lym’s work, “The Dreaming,” is included as part of “A Social Geography of Hair: Performing Gender and Identity in Contemporary Art” which opens at Sheer Madness Gallery, 81 Main St., on Thursday, July 28.
Her images capture the braided designs of students in Patterson, N.J., where Lym teaches art. She began the work when she was invited with other educators to take part in a series of exhibitions at Passaic County Community College — Lym wanted to do work that was culled from her work as a teacher.
The obvious choice to her was to utilize a series of digital photos she had taken of her students braided hair patterns. Lym’s plan was to use them as source material for a series of small acrylic on paper paintings.
“A lot of the photographs I had taken of the students were taken very quickly because my primary job in the school was not to take personal reference pictures for my personal artwork, but to be an art educator,” Lymn said. “I tried to be very discreet because I didn’t want to get the administration involved. I didn’t want them asking too many questions.”
Lym’s photos were taken from back views and the paintings echoed that views, often presenting an aerial presentation of the braiding. It’s this pulling away — and this shunning of the person’s face — that Lym felt offered the audience the opportunity to view the braid patterns more in terms of a map or a landscape than as individual portraits of people.
“I decided that I had an opportunity through the text and titles to guide the viewer into viewing these paintings as being more than just paintings of hair and braid pattern designs,” she said.
Lym was sure that she didn’t want the imagery to be seen as a celebration of fashion, but of the act of students wearing these emblems of tradition and history on their heads. She was heavily influence by the Bruce Chatwin book “The Songlines,” which concerns Australian aboriginal songs and their relationship to nomadic travel, with the idea that the aborigines mapped out their landscape and connected with the land via song lines that documented their lives and created language. This addressed a struggle in Lym’s own life.
“For them, it really was a religion,” Lym said. “I’ve always fought spirituality in my life. I’ve identified myself as an atheist or an existentialist, and I’ve looked at religions of the world and tried to understand how to bring that into my life. I think the viewpoints of the dream time, for me, make sense because it’s very much tied with nature, it’s tied to myth making, which is something that I’m very interested in. It’s a form of communication.”
The title, “The Dreamtime,” also refers to a very specific aboriginal belief in another plane to existence, one entrenched in the origins of the world, as well as a place concurrent with reality where souls always exist separately forever apart from their earthly experience. As such, the Dreaming becomes a source for stories, for history, for explanation and for designating sacred sites — that is, mapping the landscape and maintaining these maps through song lines.
In the case of Patterson, Lym sees the mapping effect in the braids as relating to the changing demographic in the city over the past half-century.
“At one point, Patterson was considered an extremely wealthy, industrial city in America,” said Lym. “At the turn of the century, it was the center of industry for train parts, submarine parts, Colt 45. It continues to this day to be called ‘Silk City,’ because it was the center of silk production in America, but I understand, 50 years ago, the population was predominantly Italian-American and now it has become primarily an Immigrant population with a substantial African-American population. It’s considered an immigrant city.”
The braids become a tangible mark mapping the change in the city, especially considering that the braiding is done by another person, not the girl wearing the braids. In this respect, it functions just as a story or song passed along by Aboriginals, a map of culture between relations.
“The braids were primarily done by women or girls in their lives,” Lym said. “They may have had some input insofar as what the general design scheme was, but it’s really the women and the girls in their lives that came up with and made it a particular design.”
Perhaps the most vibrant lines are the ones that Lym has drawn between her own students and tradition of ancient mapping as something spiritual and beyond the physical world. That’s still a struggle to get across to some viewers, though — particularly the very people wearing the markings on their heads.
“Most people usually think that my students would be very interested in my hair and braid paintings,” said Lym, “but, when my students see the paintings, they don’t understand why I didn’t paint the faces.”
July 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Which one is Buke and which one is Gass? The answer is neither — this two-person band is named not after the members, but the hand-crafted instruments they play.
Bandmates Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez have added DIY technical prowess to their musical talent to create something new and entirely their own.
Dyer plays the buke, which is a six-string baritone ukulele that has been modified, while Sanchez tears it up with his gass, a homemade bass/guitar hybrid instrument. Add in other customized and homemade gear used to augment the sound and it’s easy to see how the duo has crafted a sound much bigger than seems possible for only two bodies to make.
“We had the desire to play music together again and Aron was playing the gass so that automatically sounds really different,” Dyer said. “As time went on we were left with these instruments and I wasn’t trying to sound like anything, but I think automatically when you have a pretty straightforward set-up like guitar, bass, and drums, it’s pretty difficult to sound different than other bands that are guitar, bass, and drums. So it gives us a lot of freedom to do very different arrangements.”
Sanchez began developing the gass in a previous band, a continuum of the norm in his life as an itinerant tinkerer and DIYer — he
spent a decade creating instruments for Blue Man Group, as well as those crafted for his own personal interest.
“He makes a lot of instruments, that’s just what he does,” said Dyer. “Since I’ve known him, he’s made several basses. He just does that. I helped him build a studio in his basement. That’s how he goes through life – the same with me. We just both do it that way, but I don’t make instruments as much as he does.”
The buke was created when Dyer needed something other than the regular guitar she had been playing thanks to carpal tunnel pain. The solution seemed to be to pick up a lighter guitar and Sanchez suggested Dyer try a baritone ukulele, which they customized into a small guitar.
“I know that little guitars exist, but for some reason when you go to a shop and you buy a little guitar, there’s something that’s not so pleasant about that,” she said. “I just don’t want to buy a little guitar, it’s stupid because they’re all cheap, they’re cheaply made pieces of crap, so why don’t I make my own cheaply made piece of crap?”
Originally, they had a drummer, though Dyer had bells on her foot also in accompaniment. When the drummer left, it meant a further tinkering with their sound, including the addition of a kick drum. The DIY sensibility affected not only the sound of their work, but the writing of it as well, and has demanded a high level of concentration from them live in order to get the same precise electricity as they achieve on record.
“We’re pretty rigid — we have to be rigid,” Dyer said. “The way the music is written and since there’s just the two of us there’s a lot of coordination that we have to go through.”
“If you see pictures of Aron, you can really tell. He’s paying so much attention to what he’s playing, he rarely looks up sometimes. There’s just a lot going on so there’s not a lot of room for improvisation live, anyway, because we have to keep it pretty tight in order for a song to be at all finished.”
The duo is reveling in the moment — their success has given them plenty of new opportunities — but it does bring up the question of where they go from here – can you call the band Buke and Gass if it’s not centered around the two instruments for which it’s named? Or would it be the same band if they had other humans filling out the sound instead of utilizing all their own limbs?
“We’ve only really been playing for three years really, and that’s not a lot of time,” said Dyer, “and I feel like we’re still getting to know what we can do but we’re also getting a little antsy. I don’t know if we’ll take on other people. I don’t know what will come first, whether we’ll make other instruments or whether we’ll try to find other musicians. “
“It would be a different project if we had other people with us or if we had different instruments. It’s only really this band so long as we’re doing it like this, and I like that idea. Both of us like the idea of transforming something so extremely that it just becomes a different project.”
One thing that seems obvious to Dyer is that one of the important aspects of the band is that they use gear that they create themselves, rather than have instruments fashioned for them. They’ve had offers from other DIY musical instrument creators, and while the band respects those makers, they prefer to play their own clunky creations. To Dyer and Sanchez, it’s a bit of a personal decision.
“This is totally self-serving,” she said. “We’re not doing this to impress anybody, we’re doing this because this is what seems to be the right thing to do for us.”
As an ongoing experiment in real-time, the band works as a duo, with Sanchez continuing to configure ideas for instruments.
“He was trying to develop a form of a 12 string,” said Dyer. “He was trying to turn his gass into some form of a 12 string, and basically doubling up some of the strings, not all of them. He did that successfully, but it was one of those things where it was so different – it was extremely different – that we couldn’t play the buke and gass songs on it. There’s always the idea of changing it and adding different things to the guitars.”
And sometimes, the dynamic between them is stark enough that it points to the band’s strengths — though the lo-fi gadgetry could take over the sound, it never does. Sanchez’s concoctions are solely aimed at serving the music, and though Dyer takes a hand at the instrument-building, her first thought is with the music that will come out of them.
“I wanted to have a bass string, but personally I don’t like being complicated with what I’m playing,” said Dyer. “The instrument can be really simple – I just want to have the opportunity to use it, but Aron is always thinking about ways to get an instrument to do different things. We’re a great balance.”
July 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Somehow achieving an impossible quality that involves sounding smooth and rough at the same time, the Mattson brothers — Jonathan on drums and Jared on guitar and bass– deliver an instrumental album of trashy elegance that brings in jazz and surf, and ropes them together in a twine that energizes even it dances around the complications.
“Pleasure Point” offers a feel-good surf vibe that ushers you into the adventure that follows with the straightforward intense groove of “Black Rain” — nice horns and hand claps there — and then the West Coast jazz styles of “Ode To Lou.” This is a good road map for what follows, which could qualify as a particularly hip imaginary soundtrack to Sinatra’s “Tony Rome” movies. There is a ocean front detective quality to the music that gives it personality, often opting for the surf ambiance in songs like “Spaceman 2,” though tossing in the jazz, a mix best realized in the finale, “Man From Anamnesis.”
Still, The Mattson 2 are just as like to opt for something resembling not quite Haircut 100 but almost, like the delightful “Give Inski’s,” and that’s their greatest strength, mixing in the familiar that they’ve established with some surprise turns.
July 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Almond and McKean return to the world of elevated children’s books with a cryptic bit of creepiness that melds both their specialties into a hybrid story that’s heavy on the symbolism and surreality.
Slog’s friend Davie recounts the death of Slog’s father, a process that sees toes and limbs taken prior to his life. With a narrative language that hearkens to a world long gone, discussions about the possibility of an afterlife unfold, with the story turning to the ways in which we keep spirits alive. Almond’s story chases some sort of spiritual explanation only slightly, only insofar as it is an aspect of our explanations for eternal life, so important to our own comfort.
The book ends on a slightly Twilight Zonish note that remains appropriately vague and should ignite some strong questions for kids. The book is structured as a tag team narrative — Almond’s short story sequences trade pages with McKean’s sequential work. A creepy, silent comic unfolds between the prose and offers the sort of visual cues that words cannot begin to. It’s a wonderful though somber collaboration, and a testament that literacy — both in text and visuals — is not off limits to kids. High roads can be offered.