Friday, February 27, 2009

Long live Pere Ubu!

I dunno if it was a Freudian slip or simply because I'm tired, but the post below was originally intended for--and is now posted at--the multi-author blog associated with an incredibly elaborate, 2 1/2-years-in-the-making production I am involved with next month in collaboration with my pals in the Real Dream Cabaret, these hi-tech folks here, other robot designers, and musician-about-town David Kane. For some reason, I almost posted it here instead. But what the hell--why not crosspost? The more people who hear about the project, the better! Plus, I'm really loving the ongoing blog we're maintaining as we put the show together--a rare chance to watch a show take shape before your very eyes--and this makes a convenient excuse to encourage you to check it out. I'm also a big Pere Ubu fan from way back, which makes the following all the more relevant in a different context ...

Like a lot of people my age--easing from high school to college as Pistols-era punk rock evolved into post-punk--I first became aware of Ubu Roi through the legendary avant-noise rock of Pere Ubu. The band is still around, more than 30 years later, albeit with an ever-changing lineup, and it's kinda surprising that it took them until 2008 to get around to actually staging Jarry's play.

The production, described here, sounds pretty interesting--and quite far from our own handling of the same material. Visual elements are by the Brothers Quay, and lead singer/songwriter/play adapter David Thomas performs as Pa Ubu himself--the role he was obviously born to play. Here's a sample:

(You can download a free MP3 of the same song here, or buy the whole album shortly.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Phases and stages

Yes, yes, we all know Best Buy and its ilk are evil, but now that they have driven most of my favorite indie record stores out of business, sometimes I am driven to visit a big box. Well, actually, it was the SnapTell app on my iPhone that sent me to BB in search of a lower price on a Nara Leão album I found at Borders recently. (Fun fact: "Nara Leão" sounds to me like someone trying to say "Laura Nyro" and getting tongue tied.) BB allegedly had the album for two bucks cheaper, but after searching every conceivable bin in the (surprisingly tiny) music section of a specific store in the hinterlands of suburbia--World Music, Latin, Jazz, Female Vocalists, Bargains, even Pop/Rock--I found no Leão whatsoever.

What I did find instead was quite possibly the best deal I've ever stumbled upon in my many decades of bargain-hunting:

this five-CD box set of classic Steve Reich works on Nonesuch. When I saw the $14.99 price tag, I thought at first it might be a typo for $149.99, but then vaguely remembered reading about this rock-bottom-priced set when it first came out in conjunction with Reich's 70th birthday. (There is, in fact, a $100 Reich box, but even that one seems reasonably priced, given that it contains a whoppin' TEN discs.)

The scanner at the cash register wanted to charge me $35, but I pointed to the sticker and sure enough, $15 is what I paid. Or would have been, had I not had 7 bucks remaining on a BB gift card a niece gave me for Christmas two years ago--meaning I just paid 8 bucks and change for 5 albums' worth of minimalist masterworks, including the pioneering early spoken-word tape loop piece "Come Out," the lovely song cycle Tehillim, all of Drumming, and the one and only Music for 18 Musicians, which I will forever associate with the foyer of a New Wave dance club back in the early 80s. I already have a lot of this stuff on vinyl, and my Reich/Glass "phase" ended a couple of decades ago, but something like this is too good to pass up. And for the record, "Come Out" sounds just as mind-blowing today as it did when I first heard it (let alone what it must have sounded like in 1966, long before Bush of Ghosts or before the sampled and looped human voice became ubiquitous on hordes of electronica and hiphop releases).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Come up to the Lab and see what's on the slab

There's something annoyingly cutesy about the science-themed public radio show Radiolab, but naturally I had to listen to the episode on "Musical Language." Missed a few sections on the air this afternoon, but I can catch up via the online version sometime. Here's the basic premise:

What is music? How does it work? Why does it move us? Why are some people better at it than others? In this hour, we examine the line between language and music, how the brain processes sound, and we meet a composer who uses computers to capture the musical DNA of dead composers in order to create new work. We also re-imagine the disastrous 1913 debut of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring…through the lens of modern neurology.

Alas, this is yet another reminder that I haven't yet read either Oliver Sacks's Musicophilia or Daniel Levitin's This is Your Brain on Music, which (I assume) provide further explorations of the above.

(Note: Groovy psychedelic album cover art above found at the always-enjoyable LP Cover Lover.)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

That's the way (uh huh, uh huh) I like it

As my oft-documented affection for Don Lennon, Jens Lekman, and Stephen Merritt (to say nothing of their precursors, Messers Morrissey and Richman) establishes, I am a sucker for this sort of thing:

If you're digging Mr. Dent May (an Animal Collective protege, of all things!) as much as I seem to be liking him, you may also enjoy ...
*another, even catchier, video clip on my other (gardening-related) blog (WARNING! SELF-PROMOTION IN EFFECT!)
*the AllMusic Blog entry that first alerted me to Mr. May
eMusic's handy page of audio and video clips and other DM goodies

I consider it a good day when someone I've never heard of when I wake up is ringing in my ears by the time I head back to bed at night.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Eat to the beat

Courtesy of a heads-up on Boing Boing, news of a book sale from the folks at PictureBox Press (which ends Feb 8, btw). I admit I've got my eye on this volume saluting the work of the album design company Hipgnosis, who were behind many an iconic LP sleeve from the 70s, from Pink Floyd to 10CC to Wings. I've leafed through this particular coffee-table book and it's a beaut, with visual and verbal accounts of the thought processes behind those witty, often surreal covers, including rejected concepts. I was a teenager during the heyday of Hipgnosis, and I remember finding their distinctive company name in the liner notes of album after album--the first designers I was ever aware of. Sometimes their aesthetic seemed great, other times really appalling (just like the music!), but it always set the tone of the contents. They were also masters of using every square inch of "real estate"--gatefold sleeves, sleeve jackets, the label on the disc itself--to extend the look and theme of the cover. (People often lamented the death of album design in the era of the CD, but I never bought it, because many a designer was smart enough to adjust to the smaller canvas. What was missing in CD packaging was all the ephemera--inner sleeves, poster inserts, etc.) (History in the making! The preceding parenthetical comment marks the first time I've referred to CDs in the past tense. And alas, there truly is NO packaging involved in the average MP3 download.)

There's a lot more here, too, including beautifully packaged works by Gary Panter, Michel Gondry, and others. But act fast, because at full price, most of 'em will cost you major coin, and you'll be reduced to eating vinyl like the gentleman on the book cover.