Music

donkey riding

TeacherMoi  Mostly job today, which is what I'm here for after all. Three good classes with some more talk about Newton and asking questions. One of my students went right for the Donkey gold with the first question about why American supports the independence of Tibet. That was a tricky one, but I'm glad she felt comfortable (or bold) enough to ask it. It's so impossible to be the spokesperson for an entire country, a good number of whom you think are bigoted assholes. How do you explain the horror that was George Bush? Or anything else, for that matter, without making sweeping generalizations? Well, you don't, much. I'm looking forward to more conversations on an informal basis when our students take Elliot and Peter and I to another park on Friday. (Why we have to start off at 8 AM, I don't know, but at least we'll be back by 3:30. If I haven't dropped 20 lbs by the time I come back, I'll know for sure that, yes, it really is genetic. LOL)

The weather's been absolutely gorgeous, if a little rainy, but tonight we ate al fresco at a little sidewalk cafe near where we got our pictures taken the other day. There we discovered the donkey carts come around to collect compost and recycling. This one came by for a plate of watermelon rinds before braying like a klaxon as we walked away. So of course I've had Great Big Sea's song Donkey Riding in my head since then.


stop-motion love

PeaceGirl I cannot get this song by Oren Lavie out of my head, and I keep watching the video compulsively, so I thought I'd share the love here to all three of my readers. :^) Don't know much about the artist, but I think he's Israeli, as is the actress in the video. The video is making its way around Facebook, which is where I first saw it. I have to play it at least a couple of times a day. It's one of those few songs whose lyrics function really well as poetry, too because it's not a doggerel rhyme.  Enjoy!


The Boho Dance

UrbandollJoni Mitchell, songwriter extraordinaire, turns 65 today. I first discovered her on the Detroit AM radio station CKLW with "Free Man in Paris" from Court and Spark in 1974 when I was 14. It's been true love ever since. Her musical experiments helped introduce me to jazz and to a far more eclectic range of music than I might have known until far later. She did everything: folk, rock, jazz, country, all of it loaded with off-kilter rhythm and quirky instrumental arrangements. She didn't have Judy Collins' pure, ethereal voice, but she had something just as interesting: a kind of smoky warble that inclined to minor keys.

If there were one song that sums up my fascination with art, with New York, with my motives for moving here and the way I've structured my life, it would be Joni Mitchell's "The Boho Dance." Although it's an ironic look at the hip crowd and their contempt for the squares, it had its own strange sort of mocking appeal that made both the grit and the glamor of New York romantically attractive. Of course, real life is never like our dreams imagine it to be, but I'm happy to say that I've found a bit of my own Boho Dance here without the absolute squalor that often accompanies it. I guess the cleaner's press was in my jeans, too. Happy birthday, Joni. Thanks for the inspiration.


Life Sucks: Let's go have a beer and sing about it

Beermug_moi Back in grad school, in the wastelands of Michigan, I was up studying one night with NPR on and John Schaeffer, on his show New Sounds, played a couple of songs by a band from Ireland called Clannad. I didn't know it then, but I was doomed. The first one's always free, you know? It didn't help that on my first trip to Edinburgh, I'd been lucky enough to be standing on the ramparts of the castle one late afternoon when one of the pipers started to practice. It sent a chill up my spine and some ancestral gene woke up, as though switched on by the sound but waiting for that first real hit to lock into the receptor. In short order, I bought the album, "Macalla" (this was back when everything was still vinyl and East Lansing was the capital of cheap music and cheap beer). Before too long I was hunting out more contemporary and traditional Celtic music. Then I stumbled across and was utterly bewitched by the crystalline tone of Alasdair Fraser's fiddle, which is even more awe-inspiring live. I wrote most of my novel to his and his band Skyedance's music, to Clannad, Altan, The Chieftains, Cherish the Ladies and Joanie Madden, and a pile of Celtic music collections comprised of various artists doing traditional and remixed arrangements of traditional tunes. I fell in love with the pipes—bag pipes and uillean pipes. I bought a penny whistle and played along.

See, the thing I quickly realized about Celtic music, and I suppose about the Celts themselves, is that their operating philosophy seems to be that when things get bad, if you can't fight it, you might as well have a drink and sing instead. Good friend just died? Forget the weepin' and wailin'. Take the carcass down to the pub and tie one on with all his mates. And not in a gloomy way, either. No cryin' in yer beer. It only dilutes the liquor. I've never run across any other music that can break your heart with the sadness of the words or the tune at the same time it's making your feet dance while you sing along. Don't get me wrong: some of the ballads are heart wrenching, but in a music set they'll immediately segue right into some frenzied jig or reel before your tears have time to dry. Either that or some utter tragedy will have the most upbeat melody, as if to say "fook it. Yeah, it's bad, but you have to laugh." Not a bad philosophy. And it seems to have kept the Scots and Irish alive and kicking all those centuries under the British thumb, and on their peripatetic diaspora across the Atlantic, into America's Appalachia and Canada's eastern seaboard. Not to mention their cousins in Cornwall, the Channel Islands, France, and Spain.

Continue reading "Life Sucks: Let's go have a beer and sing about it" »


Rave On

PeacegirlLike just about everybody else who sees it, I can't get enough of this video. Celtic music does this to me. I can't tell you how often I've danced around my apartment to jigs and reels. And George Michael. And Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill." And the Clash. Bless Matt Harding for reminding me.

More time dancing, less time killing each other. Everybody Snoopy Dance! Thanks to Jen-Luc for the heads up.


Water + Clay = Music

PeacegirlI'm not sure what it is about Tomoko Miyata's music that moves me so. It makes my hair stand up at the same time it soothes me. The drones remind me of a lot of early music pieces, and the later percussive bits are sort of tabla-like. I like that it's such a simple instrument: ceramic bowls of different sizes, holding water, similar to glass marimba music, but with its own distinct sound. I'd never heard of using bowls this way, but apparently it was not uncommon throughout Asia. The visual on the video is crap, but the sound is pretty good. What you can't see on this one is that she not only hits the bowls, but stirs the water to get reverb. You can see that in a rehearsal video with Scottish musician Momus for a performance at Vienna University called "Into the City". Momus provided some of the drone and back up and sang chemical formulae over the bowl chiming. Wish I'd seen this. The rehearsal video is better miked and the bowls sound bell-like. Amazing stuff. She doesn't seem to have a CD out yet, and is not to be confused with a Japanese jazz singer of the same name. If anybody knows where to get a recording or MP3, let me know, will you?

Thanks to The Affected Provincial's Almanack for the heads up.

UPDATE: I got a very nice note from Tomoko about this post. It seems she's better known as Tomoko Sauvage, and she has a website.  She tells me she's in the process of making a solo album and that her album with Gilles Aubrey will be coming out on a Russian label, which might make it hard to find over here. But at I've got a link to keep track now! I keep listening to the YouTube clips over and over. There are more samples on her site, too.