30 March 2006


or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Parse Error

Regular readers (all three of you) will know that I uncreatively attempt to label each post with a song title. The above is, in fact, the title of a composition by PLOrk, the Princeton Laptop Orchestra. Made up of fifteen laptop'ers, or laptopists, the group also features "PLOrkified" cellos, synthesizers, tablas, accordians, and various percussion in their performances. All of the pieces are written in a new music programming language called Chuck, created by a Princeton graduate student.

You can listen here; I really liked Conflict, On the Floor, Non-Specific Gamelan Taiko Fusion Band, and Thunderbird Suite in Eb Minor. I found the abstracts of the individual pieces amsuing and the PLOrk biography is interesting, as are the photos of the assembly of and performances by the ensemble. Also follow the link to cool stuff about the soundlab at Princeton, which includes software and sound downloads.

Here's a Guardian piece about PLOrk as well.

22 March 2006

Life's a Gas

But the Strokes show at the Mesa Amphitheatre last night was not. I went semi-willingly as my daughter's Plan B. She knows I'll go to see/hear anything musical, but also knows I'm not a huge fan and was worried that I wouldn't get front and center with her. I had to remind her where I was for the Pogues two nights earlier... Unfortunately, it was about 40 degrees in the Valley last night, and everyone in the organic 'pit' was under 16. Being vertically challenged, I opted to stand and freeze on the first riser, where I had a clear view of the stage, while she muscled her way down front. I watched in parental horror as the crowd took on a life of its own, moving tide-like left and right, crowd-surfing bodies being bandied about willy-nilly over head, then dumped head first back down into the crowd. At one point, Julian Casablancas watched as a girl was lifted out of the crowd by security and commented "What is she, like ten?" The band commented a number of times during the night about it being "kids night" at the show, and someone jokingly asked my kid if she knew where all the big yellow buses were parked. I watched the first half-hour thinking to myself that Casablancas was trying to channel Joey Ramone. He had the clothes, the hair, the stance, the way he held the mike... I nearly bust a gut when the fourth or fifth tune was a cover of Life's a Gas. These guys are an adequate rock and roll band. I can't help but wonder when they are going to develop a personality of their own. My kid reappeared out of the mass about half way through the show and, loathe to admit she was feeling her age, said that after her hair was pulled and she was punched, she couldn't take anymore of the adolescent behavior down front. We spent the rest of the show debating the lighting, which to me felt like a strategy to deflect attention from the thier lack of stage presence. Too much flashing mayhem, backlighting so you couldn't really see the band, and just enough light to see Drew Barrymore stage right; I wondered if the music could stand on its own. When the show was over, they simply walked off stage...no thanks, no good night...as if it was assumed the crowd would call for an encore. It was contrived, and it came off as arrogant. During the last song of the encore, Take It or Leave It, a track from Is This It? which I like, they finally looked like a band that could be a blast. Where the hell was that energy during the entire show? What made me saddest, however, was that my kid was so disappointed by the overall experience. I know what it's like to be that excited about a show, but I can't remember the last time I felt that let down.

As an aside, I thought that event security at the Mesa Amphitheater were a bunch of power-tripping creeps. Two nights earlier, I had encountered some of the best event personnel of any show I'd ever been to, in one of the biggest venues with one of the toughest crowds one could imagine; how did the Nokia in NYC manage it? I'm writing a letter to Mesa management about our own bad experience last night, and I'm disinclined to see anything there again.

21 March 2006

Streets of Philadelphia

How fantastic it was to be back home, even for such a short time... running into friends on the street and at concerts, musicians in the park, cherry blossoms already in bloom, public transportation that works, that stretch of the NJ Turnpike between just before NYC, while an eyesore to most, that has always looked like Oz at night to me... The few photos I took during the trip are posted here.

20 March 2006

Fairytale of New York, Redux

The Pogues show was everything I had imagined it should be: brilliant, raucous, drunk and disorderly New Yorkers being lifted out of the crowd by security, punks, New York Irish grandmothers, and everyone in between. After dinner at the Film Center Cafe, Robert and I suffered the wind tunnel that is New York and walked over to the Nokia Theatre in Times Square. (The energy of Times Square made me terribly homesick for a real city.) For a large venue, I was impressed: Lots of bars, cool rest rooms, you could take your cocktails into the show, and generally efficient, if expensive, in a lot of ways. Robert is incredibly adept at finding his way to the front of a crowd and he nailed us a spot in front to the left of the stage with an unubstructed view (it also helped that we were really nice to the security guy there). Since the band played in a row at the front of the stage, the only person I couldn't see consistently was Andrew on drums. Still, it was a fantastic view for a short person with four inch platform shoes. Although I feel a bit juvenile about this, I have to confess to getting weepy when the band came on stage. Later in the show, I got teary again, when Shane and Ella Finer sang (Ella, daugher of Jem, is in the photo above from the night of the show) Fairytale of New York, 'snow' fell on stage, and they danced. That song hits me in the gut every time... Shane, unintelligible while talking to the crowd (except for "you're a fat fucking fuck," directed at either a band member or one of the audience, one can never be sure), didn't miss a single lyric. Clearly, his voice has suffered the ravages of his habits, although Robert said that Shane seemed more sober than the last time he had seen him. The end of the night got particularly rowdy, with Shane pouring whisky down his throat (and mostly missing), balancing cups of water, pints of beer, and bottles of whisky on his head, the kicking of microphones and stools by all, Spider banging aluminum beer trays on his head...everything I could have hoped for and more. Still, there were times when I wanted to cry about Shane's talent vs. his health, while some of the crowd seems to enjoy it and egg him on. Philip Chevron is an astonishing talent (especially singing Thousands are Sailing), as is James on his accordion, and I loved when Andrew got out from behind the drum kit and sang during the second encore. I also really love Spider as a front man (Shane took a break after every three songs or so and someone else stepped up front and center). Damn, I have so much to say about this show, but I'm feeling the effects of the long flight today and will have to return to the set list, the two long encores, and other comments later. In the meantime:

bad cell phone photos here, which illustrate nothing but my vantage point
much better photos from a kind soul who was front and center on the same night, March 19th
incredible photos by DzM from the March 16th show on the Pogues website
more fantastic photos by Josie Montserrat at blackmoonphotography.com
set lists courtesy of fans at the show that night, and the band (I love that Philip Chevron is so involved on these discussion boards)

19 March 2006

iFiddle Concerto

The Orchestra Underground (a project of the American Composers Orchestra) performed Tech and Techno last night at the Zellerbach Theatre in Philadelphia. The Orchestra Underground's "initiative stretches the definition of the symphony orchestra through non-traditional instrumentation, technological innovation, and multimedia collaborations." The five works that made up the program were quite diverse in their emphasis on the intersection of technology and orchestral music. On the more conservative end of the spectrum were Justin Messina's Abandon, during which the conductor controlled the synthetic sounds, Edmund Campion's Practice, which employed "a new computer-based instrument whose core sound was born from hybrids of the orchestral triangles," and Mason Bates' Omnivorous Furniture, which used morphing electronic beats with chamber-like orchestral sounds. Bates was one of the youngest composers at 28, and I really enjoyed watching him blend into the orchestra while playing his laptop and drumpad. Two pieces stood out for me however. Neil Rolnick's iFiddle Concerto melded the computer and violin into a "cyborg violin" with wonderful results. Watching Todd Reynolds play the violin and manipulate so many peddles with such energy was a real treat. The most moving of the pieces was the last, Call Them All: Fantasy Projections for Film, Laptop, and Orchestra. Daniel Bernard Roumain (who goes by "DBR") composed the piece, adding his mentor, Bill T. Jones' voice and image on film, telling a random story, and adding the turntablist DJ Scientific to the mix. The result was a fantastic and moving aural and visual experience to close the show. I loved the performance, but do wish the Orchestra Underground pushed the limits of technology a bit more. It felt backgrounded more than blended or foregrounded. I think the alternative would bring younger audiences into the theatres. The average age of the audience was typical for your average orchestra (middle-aged, and middle-income too). The photo above is during one of the intermissions, just to illustrate the stage arrangement (no photos allowed during the perfomance). Mason Bates is in the background with his laptop (the young kid with the black t-shirt and light brown hair), and DJ Scientific up front at his turntables and laptops. You can kind of make out the controls for the synthesized sounds next to the conductor's podium. He had an earplug in most of the show and was manipulating sound as he conducted.

18 March 2006

Tickled Pink

That's the title of the first track of Up Popped the Two Lips, a disk I recently bought, and that's what I was to find that Henry Threadgill's Zooid was going to be performing at International House, the last show in a five-part series by the Ars Nova Workshop, showcasing "the progression of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians." The sextet featured a drummer, guitarist, two cellists, and, in addition to Mr. Threadgill's alto sax and flute, a leather-clad tuba player. The wild instrumentation typified avant jazz, but, because of the incredible talent assembled by Threadgill, it was strangely melodic. I especially loved cellist Dana Leong, but the intensity of the performance as a whole was overwhelming. Threadgill took on more of the role of conductor, and I would have liked to have heard more of him and his sax. But, I was so pleased to see him in Philadelphia, where he hadn't been for more than 15 years. International House was packed almost to capacity with a fabulously diverse audience, including my friend Mark, who I ran into unexpectedly at the show. Zooid is not for everyone, and it wasn't for my partner in crime at the show. She was relieved to hear Threadgill announce the last piece after a short hour, but the overall vibe at the event and the quality of the sound could have kept me rapt for another hour at least.

15 March 2006

Streams of Whisky

Preparations to see the Pogues in NYC on Sunday night...

Sharon to Robert, 8:32 a.m.
I've printed the tickets, send them to my various email accounts, uploaded them to my FTP site, and now have emailed a copy to you, just in case.

Robert to Sharon, 9:19 a.m.
Hmmm.. don't forget to turn off the lights before you leave Phoenix, and cancel the newspapers.

Sharon to Robert, 9:38 a.m.
The electric bill and the pile of newspapers be damned! Only the tickets matter. I thought you, of all people, would understand this. You are in need of some serious reform. I've printed two copies of the tickets as well. One set will go in my carry on and one will be duct-taped to my mid-section.

Robert to Sharon, 9:42 a.m.
I know, I know .. I was just teasing .... I've already ordered the microfiche version that I'm having my dentist fit into a false crown on Friday afternoon.

Sharon to Robert, 9:45 a.m.
Good man.

Can I possibly be this excited? I am going, I am going, where streams of whisky are flowing... And I don't have to worry about drinking and driving for a bloody change.

I really must return to blogging.