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Music


Music14 Apr 2009

I’ve blogged about Philip Glass’s Metamorphosis before (back when I was young and naive and just learning about Glenn Gould), but it’s music that I keep coming back to. I really, really like it, but don’t fully understand why. It seems to have been calculated to stimulate my very own brain in just the right way to make me both calm and creative.

I lately found this on Youtube. Branka Parlić playing Metamorphosis One:

You can find parts two through five on le ‘tube as well (or on Parlić’s own website under “videos”).

Music and Musings19 Jan 2009

I feel like it has been a very long time in coming. Today is Bush’s last full day in office. I can’t say I’ll miss him a whole lot.

Here’s some appropriate exit music for “the decider”: the Two Gallants playing their tribute, “Waves of Grain”.

…such an infamous freedom / such a militant peace…

Music26 May 2008

Considering I just turned on the camera and started playing, I think it turned out pretty well.

I recorded it using the iSight on my Mac and didn’t bother to figured out how to turn off the default mirror-image mode. So no, I’m not a south-paw fond of wearing shirts with backwards lettering. Though that would be cool.

Music27 Mar 2008

For no other reason than that I feel like it, here’s some Leslie Feist.

If you poke around there are other videos on Second-Person-Pronoun-Tube of the same concert.

Music05 Mar 2008

Jeff Healey passed away this week.

I saw him live in Halifax a few years back. He played a great show, singing powerfully and dancing onstage with abandon. Healey was a versitile performer. The material that night was Jazz, played in the style of the 1920s and 30s. I have the album he was promoting, “Among Friends”, and it’s one of my favorites from the tentative steps I’ve taken into Jazz.

And man oh man could he play the guitar.

Music05 Feb 2008

Let me introduce you to the hippest brass band leader you might ever meet: Zack Condon, young American formed in the Balkans, leading his tumultuous gypsy musicians on the trumpet and the ukulele.

My introduction seems a bit familiar, but I’ve only read his wikipedia entry and heard some of the music of his band, “Beirut”. I believe dependable Mr. Frank arranged my first introduction, and at that time I bought one track, “Elephant Gun”, from iTunes. I’m not normally in the habit of buying single tracks, but I wasn’t sure about Beirut at that point and didn’t want to splurge $3.96 for the other four tracks on the short album. I did like his airy voice, even if I have no idea what he’s saying, and the more I listened to Elephant Gun the more it grew on me. I really like the layers of sound created by the various instruments as they come in against Condon’s voice.

I went back and bought the rest of his short album and realized by not doing so before I had violated my own maxim: songs need context. The whole album works as one extended performance, starting with Elephant Gun and meandering through other themes. Track four is just a minute-long reprise of the accordion line from E.G., tying the whole piece together.
There is something moving about this music’s gypsy excesses. Some heavily layered music invites you to live inside it, but Beirut instead directs you outward, makes you aware of the world turning around you.

Play us out, Zach.

Books and Music and Musings23 Jan 2008

It seems I’m blogging about Glenn Gould again.

“Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould” by Kevin Bazzana is a fairly recent biography of the Canadian classical musical icon, and I wish I’d had my previous Gould encounters after reading it. I have a much better sense of the man and his significance now. I’ve seen the movie, been to the museum exhibit, and now, read the book. Next I need to hear more of his music. I have a couple of his Back and Beethoven albums, but I’ve got my eye (predictably) on his Goldberg Variations and hope to soon snag a recording of one (or both) of the Goldberg albums that book-ended his career.

Gould’s first record, at the age of 22 in 1955, was the Goldberg Variations and it hit the classical music world like an atom bomb. The Variations was not a well-known piece (Gould single-handly changed that), and Gould was a largely unknown artist making his debut, yet the album had huge success.

At one point in its first year, [Gould's record] was outselling a new recording by Louis Armstrong and the soundtrack of The Pajama Game; in 1960, in the New Yorker, Joseph Roddy reported that it had sold more than forty thousand copies, “which is just about as astonishing in the record business as a big run on a new edition of the Enneads of Plotinus would be in the book trade.”

In 1981, dissatisfied with his earlier recording, he recorded the Goldberg Variations again, offering a different interpretation of the music. The video I posted previously is of this recording session, and is the last videotape of Gould in existence. Bazzana again:

But within a week of the album’s release Gould was dead, and it was easy then to hear it as “autumnal,” as his “testament”; in the decades since, sentimentality about his untimely death has given the 1981 recording, and the Goldberg Variations generally, an exaggerated prominence within the Gould oeuvre. A better candidate for the summit of his Bach discography might be his two-record set of the English Suites, released in 1977: his Bach was never more thoughtfully creative, more intimate or more strongly characterized, and never attained a superior balance between high-modernist orderliness and Romantic flexibility. In any event, Gould had no plans to die at fifty, and his second recording of the Goldberg Variations became his testament only through a sad fluke of fate.

That passage should give you a sense of the book in general. Inevitably it contains a lot of musical terminology and history, with which the reader is not necessarily familiar. While I was put off by this at first, I came to appreciate it a lot. Any book about Gould with any insight must delve into music, which was Gould’s whole life, and Bazzana does a good job of giving the reader a sense of what these musical concepts are and mean. I feel like I know more about classical music now, even if I don’t know exactly what “high modernist orderliness” in Bach sounds like.

I also feel as though I have a good sense of Gould the person: quirky, gifted, suffering terribly from hypochondria, sure, but also likable and real. I’m a little sad to have finished the book: I was getting used to living partly in Gould’s world and now that connection has been severed. I do know that I’ll appreciate his music all the more for understanding the aims and story behind it.

Books and Music and Musings31 Dec 2007

It turns out I have a blind spot in my pop-culture vision that is the size and shape of Neil Young.

For Christmas, my mom gave me a big coffee-table book called The Top 100 Canadian Albums, as chosen by a panel of 500 musicians and music lovers. The chosen albums are ranked by vote and not sales, and span all genres and periods from the 1950s to present day, so the book is reflects a nice slice of the Canadian music scene.

The #1 album is “Harvest” by Neil Young. This, I am somewhat ashamed to report, didn’t really ring any bells for me. “Neil Young is Canadian?” I asked aloud on Christmas morning. And then, “Neil Young is who, exactly?”.

As I flipped through the book it began to dawn on me that this Neil guy was a bit of a big deal. He had the #1 album in Canadian history, and appeared a few other times on the list.

Specifically, Neil is #1, #3, #16, #22, #30, #31, #40, and #47.

Clearly I’ve not been paying attention.

In my defense, in order to answer my next question, “What does Neil Young sound like?”, my parents dug into their collection of vinyl records. So his peak was slightly before my time.

I listened to “Harvest” on the turntable, and while it wasn’t an epiphany moment, I did start to understand why he might be thought of so highly.

Since then I’ve been keeping an eye out for Mr. Young. k.d. lang covered some of his songs on her “Hymns of the 49th Parallel” album (#59 in the Canadian pantheon) and I’ve been listening to that. On the airplane today I listened to a Neil Young live album via the in-flight entertainment system. I’m getting to rather like him.

Unsurprisingly, there’s lots of Neil Young on YouTube. Here he is with The Band. (“The Band is who, exactly?” led to more records being dusted off…)

Links and Music05 Nov 2007

(With apologies to François Girard and Don McKellar. Trivia: “the room” which is always being rented to a different roommate in McKellar’s classic series “Twitch City” has a “Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould” poster on the wall.)

I’ve been running into Glenn Gould more than usual lately (well, not the man himself, obviously). The Museum of Civilization, which I visited on Thanksgiving weekend, has a Gould exhibit running currently, in honor of the “Year of Glenn Gould“. Likewise, CBC has been playing more Gould-related programming than usual, including, I kid you not, Saturday’s episode of Fuse featuring five artists covering Petula Clark, “Gould’s favorite popular singer”. It was… odd.

Gould, was of course, famous for playing the Goldberg Variations (care of google video), but he also did a lot of work for the CBC is a broadcaster. His wonderfully odd tribute to/analysis of Petual Clark falls into the latter category, and you can hear it here (along with two of his other CBC programs).

I’m dying to hear “The Idea of North”, his “contrapuntal” radio documentary about the Canadian arctic, but no googling has turned it up.

Music and Musings08 Jun 2007

I’ve written a complete draft of my thesis, thanks in large part to Beethoven and Artur Rubinstein.

It all started (as many things in my life seem to) with Battlestar Galactica. In an episode of Season 2 they used a Philip Glass minimalist piano piece called “Metamorphosis”. I thought it sounded pretty neat at the time, but forgot about it. I heard it again later, used as theme music on an episode of CBC’s Ideas, and tracked it down. I bought a Phillip Glass piano music album from iTunes and enjoy it a lot. If you’ve not heard “Metamorphosis” (and really, why would you have?), it is mainly deliberate arpeggios, gradual chord changes and bell-like treble notes. The whole thing is 30 minutes long. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Beethoven’s famous Moonlight Sonata. It also reminded me that I really like piano music.

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