My debut CD, UnCaged Toy Piano, was recently reviewed in the All Music Guide,a comprehensive online music review site. This is the first time my CD was praised for its production sensibility, which I’m proud to say was done in my apartment by my partner, Rob.
I recorded the CD at the Bunker Studio in Brooklyn over the span of 3 half-day sessions. The versatility that Dave Lewis praises in this review is partially the result of the toy pianos I chose to use for the recording. I used three toy pianos for my CD and one of them was not even mine. On my first recording day, the engineers told me that they found a toy piano (very similar to mine) on the street side in Williamsburg. The toy piano was a 2 and a half octave baby grand piano (one where the lid doesn’t open) and has a really sweet ringing tone for that model. I recorded The Memoirist part 1 on this piano because I thought the sound would go well with the music box. To record this piece, we had to put saran wrap around the microphone next to the frying pan. Aaron, the recording engineer, wanted to get a close mic on the frying of the egg, but also wanted to protect the microphone. Apparently some engineers use condoms as a protection for their microphones in situations like this.
The other two toy pianos used were my upright Schoenhut and my 3-octave grand that is so beat up now, I use it only as a prepared toy piano. Rob and I spent about 2 days re-mastering the tracks. It was interesting to ponder what a controlled environment a recording studio has become–it is just an imaginary space for music. There are no music halls that would sound like it and are capable of shifting spaces from piece to piece. For example, I wanted the John Cage suite to sound closely mic-ed, almost as if the listener was inside of the toy piano, but I wanted Mirabella to be heard farther away in a small-sized concert hall. Now with recording technology, the “hall” is really reflected in a lot of the re-mastering stage and also the quality of your headphones or sound system.
Last night Glenn Branca performed with his new ensemble at Le Poisson Rouge for the CD release of his sequel album to his ’81 record Ascension. I thoroughly enjoyed his no-bullshit-tell-it-like-it-is character on stage and also in the preview article in the Village Voice this week. This new album titled The Ascension: Sequel, was released on his own label Systems Neutralizers. It was great to read that this album is completely artist made and released, making no record industry/marketing compromises. You want to know that the artist himself is proud of it! The ensemble consists of four guitars, drum and bass with Branca conducting himself.
I would generally say that this music is not what I listen to, but I was happy to be at the show last night. They were an intense and impact-driven ensemble that created walls of sound color that I usually do not experience. It kind of reminded me of a really magnified prism. I know that I miss out on some of the upper-end colors by using earplugs, but my ears had no way of sustaining the length of the concert at that decibel.
Glenn Branca made himself available to sign CD’s after the show. I found out that he actually has a piece he wrote for toy piano! I’m not sure if it is a piece for toy piano and electronics or a recorded track of sampled toy piano with electronics. I’ve noticed that composers generally love or hate the toy piano and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that his creative output had a toy piano in there somewhere. He said something about it not being released, but I hope to follow up on it someday!
Joanna Newsom, American singer-songwriter/harpist/pianist really out-does herself on her newly released 3-CD album, Have One On Me. I have fallen in love with Joanna’s music since discovering her debut album Milk-Eyed Mender. This 2-hour journey really allowed me to get lost in her world of epic fairy tales and logic-bending storytelling. There is a slightly different sultry and pure quality to her voice in this album. Though she uses a lot of additional musicians in some of the tracks, some of my most favorite moments are still solo tracks of Joanna singing and playing her harp (such as the song ’81 that tells her story in the Garden of Eden). There is a romantic imagination to her songs that inhabits such a unique world. Really, there are no good words to describe this album… but just listening to the CD at home, I would venture to say that this is one of the most memorable musical moments I’ve had recently.
While being back in Bloomington (IN) to fulfill some of my doctoral obligations, I noticed there are many things about Bloomington that makes this place very live-able, such as the good air quality, organic foods, close hiking trails, good coffee shops and laid back sort of feeling. (It’s a shame that many of these things become harder to appreciate as an anxious graduate student.) However, I would say that one of the best things about Bloomington is the radio stations. I use to be an experimental music DJ for the school radio station WIUX that plays a good bunch of Indie-rock, and there is of course WFMT Classical Radio. Every time I drive into Bloomington the first thing I do is look for WFHB Firehouse. They always have such great programming and I have not found any other radio station that has such a unique,eclectic music mix from a dedicated group of volunteers. While driving around this weekend, I heard such programs like Roots for Breakfast, Native Spirits, Melody Unasked, Youth Radio and Sound Opinions, and many more. It is possible to hear them outside of Bloomington as well so please check out their website!
Last night Rob and I went to see an improvised multimedia show at the Gershwin Hotel. This place is probably my new favorite spot with funky decorations, friendly people, a grand piano,a nice cafe and ‘library’ that reminds me of Soma’s Coffee in Bloomington.
The show had three parts featuring multiphonic soundscapist Ben Miller (guitar and electronics), Greg Reynolds (electronics/harmonium, violin), Orin Buck on video and butoh dancer Mariko Endo . The piece that struck me the most was Ka-Mi, a meditative piece with video, Greg Reynolds on sound and Mariko Endo. The intimate space of the Gershwin Hotel seem to magnify the facial expressions of Mariko. The video was made of folded/fractured colored trasnparencies that the artist was manipulating over the projection light in the back of the room . Every now and then you could hear the crackling of the plastic gels which added a nice “live” element to it. The music, video and dance all worked with elements of restraint and minimalism. But as a whole the work had a great multimedia effect and these limitations really generated a focus to the piece. I will be sure to find these performers again in concert.