Sunday, November 11, 2007

MUM, BING AND RUTH, and HAUSCHKA @ Society for Ethical Culture (New York NY) - Nov 10, 2007

Let this be a lesson to you: always check showtimes with the original source rather than some third party listing. Had I consulted the Wordless Music Series website, I wouldn't have arrived at the venue incredibly early and would have avoided the unenviable situation of trying to kill an hour on the Upper West Side until doors open. This was my second time attending a Wordless Music Series event. To be honest, the first one chalked up to a quite unpleasant experience. Ambient drones in a crowded and non air conditioned church on a hot summer day can get pretty brutal after the first hour. But it's cold now. And the performers have changed.

Hauschka is the alias of Volker Bertelmann, a German pianist and composer. This is his first tour of America, but not his first US performance (I enjoy being a part of those). As hard as I could think, I don't think I've ever seen a German band/musician perform before and I find that really unusual. Anyway, he came out and, before taking a seat at the piano, approached the microphone just to introduce himself and tell us a little about himself. I've never seen that before, but I couldn't hear anything he said thanks to a mini-commotion going on next to me just at that time. He played a few pieces I would loosely describe as modern classical or accessible avant-garde. He also experiments with the tone of the piano -- dropping items on the strings, attaching tape or aluminum foil to them, and so on. At one point, he placed something (I wish I knew what it was) on top of the strings and suddenly this normal baby grand piano was producing a bed of drone for him to play on top of. It was really cool. A lesser musician/composer would make experiments and effects the focal point of the music, but for him it was just some subtle shading as the songs would really stand on their own without them. On my way out, I saw him standing at the merch table so I ended up buying his latest album, Room to Expand, and have been listening mostly to just that since then.

Bing and Ruth are two oboes, piano, cello, bowed bass, electronics, and two female vocalists. The curator/host introduced them with so much gushing enthusiasm, any band would have a hard time living up to expectations. Especially with an audience which mostly never heard of them before. They're good at what they do, but it just wasn't for me. I prefer it when music goes somewhere. After their set, I overheard two guys behind me. One seemed to share my opinion and the other thought they were the most amazing thing ever. Then he added, "I'm a die hard ambient fan." I never knew there was such a thing.

I know I think this about every good show, but Mum was seriously phenomenal and easily one of the best shows I've seen all year. The twins are gone, which completely ruins the angle I wanted to use about my two favorite shows of 2007 both involving bands with identical twins. I actually didn't realize they were out of the band until today -- I just assumed one of them cut and bleached her hair. Going into the show, I also just imagined them as being a couple of laptops and lots of knob twisting. I know I'm going to forget a few instruments along the way, but there were seven people playing guitar, bass, drums, cello, violin, trumpet, melodica, either oboe or clarinet, moog, something that looked like a washboard, and yes, a laptop. They weren't particularly loud, but they were powerful and every song was completely dense. It was the last night of their US tour and they opened their set by having every one from the opening acts join them on stage to serve as a choir. Introducing the last song before the encore, the guy singer told us that he usually plays kazoo in the song but he lost his. Suddenly, three kazoos were thrown on stage. Then he added, "well I was going to say that if you have a kazoo, or even a harmonica with you, you should play along with us. Or even if you have any instruments. Don't be shy. You can even come up on stage if you'd like." As they start to play, some guy with a harmonica joins them on stage, and then he's soon joined by two more guys with kazoos. Who walks around with a kazoo? Apparently, a bunch of people. I'm not going to bother trying to write about their music, because I really couldn't do it any justice. They're probably back in Iceland now, so we'll just have to wait until next time. But I'd really really recommend it as being worth the wait.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A squeal of feedback.

Tap, tap, tap.

"Mic check, mic check, one two, one two"


This may just be temporary. I won't promise anything lest my promises go broken. There is more, but that's all I can say. For now.

Or there may be nothing. You never know...

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