Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Roll over Beethoven (to the N-th)

I'll admit that my prejudices in classical music run towards the 20th century brand. Sure, I appreciate and enjoy ye olde Euro-masters when I hear them in the background at stores or when I utilize their services as background music for difficult writing. I even have a long time crush on Puccini and Wagner thanks to their destruction at the hands of Bugs Bunny (ditto many others at the hands of Spike Jones).

And then a Los Angeles Times story caught my eye. Much in the same vein as Douglas Gordon's 24 Hour Psycho (1993) which took Alfred Hitchcock's classical piece of Oedipal horror and stretched it on for a day, composer Leif Inge takes Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and stretches it out for the same period of time as "9 Beet Stretch."

OK, this sounds pretty hokey, right? But just as Gordon's work showed that even each frame in Hitchcock's film deserved to frozen and examined, Inge does the same with Ludwig Van. As guitarist/author Alan Licht once summed up minimalism, the idea behind it is having the music stay in one place and looking at its essence. That's exactly what Inge does here with the well-worn work, making it into a monumental piece of minimalism that John Adams would remove an appendage for. Thanks to ADD, it's not realistic for me to sit through all of such a conceptual piece but even sampling a few minutes of its epic grandeur did move me in a way that I hadn't been otherwise in Beethoven's work. Call me a philistine but Inge's work is a trip. I'm kicking myself for missing him at SXSW this year and may have to make amends by attending his Gotham visit in January to Issue Project Room.

Still don't believe me? Check out the 9 Beet Stretch website and listen to the piece in streaming audio.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Beirut no show

Sorry to report that Beirut has cancelled their tour- seems that Zach Condon was tuckered out from the travel and such. Details are at their MySpace blog.

It's a shame 'cause I was looking forward to their NYC show. By ZC's own admission (see the MySpace page), his band is a weird cross between Magnetic Fields and balkan brass bands and who wouldn't want to see how they/he would pull it off live. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery and that he can hit the road again soon.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Neil Young- this is nowhere?

Anyone with even a vague interest in rock is stoked that ol' Neil has finally dug out some of his archives that he's decided are fit for release. And while it's great to see a roaring 1970 electric set with the original Crazy Horse line-up, he's still got acres of tapes of unreleased material in his vaults, including many songs never officially released. Getting over the disappointment that we'll have to wait longer for this material is balanced by the release of Live at the Fillmore East. But is it really a decent compensation?

Much as I was dying to hear this, I have to say that I was kind of disappointed. You already knew and loved doomed guitarist Danny Whitten's solo turn on "Downtown" as it came out on Tonight's the Night and though the rest is new, most of it comes from the then-recent Everybody Knows This is Nowhere but sadly includes nothing from the soon-to-come After the Goldrush. Other than "Downtown," the two obvious highlights are the extended versions of "Down By the River" and "Cowgirl in the Sand," which add a respective three minutes and five minutes (the last minute is extended applause) to their studio versions. While they sound fine on the live album, if you go back to the studio versions, they come up short.

Listen to both versions of each songs back to back if you don't believe that (these links go to full streaming versions from Napster).

Down By The River (Album Version)
Down By The River [Live]
Cowgirl In The Sand (Original Album Version)
Cowgirl In The Sand [Live]

The original version of "River" not only has a more complex, knotty, exciting interaction between Young and Whitten but also a better build-up dynamic on the chorus to add to the drama and tension of the song. The live version of "Cowgirl" has Jack Nitzsche's keyboard amped up way higher than Whitten's guitar so you miss the interaction he has with Young on the song. Granted that the live versions are both different from the known versions and are still exciting but honestly, you'd be better off dusting off your copy of Nowhere for some real thrills.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pittsburgh Freeform radio

Between my mass transit commute and my office time during the day in the middle of a nowhere-land, I don't get the chance to sample much terrestrial radio (as it's called) but I do make one exception. I listen to Jason Baldinger aka The Underwater Culprit religiously every Thursday morning through the afternoon. From WRCT in Pittsburgh, he broadcasts his program "Does Your Hometown Really Care?" I even keep an Outlook reminder calendar pop-up to make me drop what I'm doing and tune in online.

The reason that it's so important to me is that it's one of the few vestiges of great free form radio out there (along with WFMU). The reason that I treasure such things is that we live in a time when freeform radio has gone the way of vinyl- it's still alive but treasured by a smaller, cult audience. There's tons of stations on satellite radio but they're almost all genrefied to the point of covering micro-styles. FM freeform radio was a great staple of the late 60's and 70's, jumping around different styles of music and breaking down barriers, but since music stations are getting crowded out by talk radio and news, it's getting harder and harder to find. And just spinning anything randomly doesn't make a great station unless you're a fan of the Jack format (I'm not).

Baldinger's show is special because like all great DJ's, it reflects his sensibility. In his case, it's wonderfully schizo. Or if you like, as a friend gave me a backhanded compliment once, "you have good taste by default since you listen to so much music" (meaning that SOME of it has to be good). A typical "Hometown" show will include healthy doses of alt-country, noise terror, underground hip-hop, R&B, odd world music, funk, garage rock... In other words, the only thing you can be sure of is that you can't be sure of what's coming next, which is what great freeform radio is about. But instead of being a mess, there's some kind of logic or sensibility going on to his madness. For some reason, all the disparate songs work together side by side. Rarely will you turn him off in disgust- more likely, you'll scramble to check his playlist to figure out who you just heard.

He's on right now as I'm typing this so click the link above and see for yourself. Or if it's not Thursday, just mark your calendar to remind yourself next week. He'll take your ears somewhere wonderfully unexpected.