Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 9th January

Weird iPod Synchronicity Pt4: Hyde Park Corner, London
As Lana Del Ray sparks into life in my headphones, hitting the chorus of Day At The Races [And I’m off to the races/Cases of Bacardi chasers/Chasing me all over town…] a trap and four outriders, all jodhpurs, riding hats & crops, trots in front of the bus, past Apsley House, and makes their way into Hyde Park.

On The Road Again
Fact Of The Week: At number 17 in the Highest Earning World Tours last year, Leonard Cohen is ahead (at £28.4 million) of Justin Bieber… and at Number 27, The Black Keys are ahead of Celine Dion, having grossed $23.5 million. The Black Keys. $23.5 million. Wow…

emusic Find Of The Month: Menahan Street Band, The Crossing
Recorded in a studio paid for by a Jay Z sample, by some of the musicians behind Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley’s sound, mostly during the night, this instrumental album is wonderful. Some of it is Spaghetti Western, some a kind of handicraft Portishead—try Ivory & Blue: jazz horns, soulful wah-wah guitar, funky Seventies pop drumming. Just the right amount of loose, just the right amount of tight, just the right amount of great.

Jeff Buckey: Three Films In Pipeline…
But the one I’m looking forward to (Brendan Fletcher’s A Pure Drop) is written by the fabulously named Train Houston. You’d have to gravitate towards music in some form with a name like Train Houston.

Bowie Back, Nile Rogers Bio, Letters Of Note
One the evening before David Bowie’s return to PopWorld™ I was reading Nile Rodgers’ very entertaining biography Le Freak, and had reached the part where he talks about recording Let’s Dance with the label-less Bowie.

“As I say to vocalists who are singing a little flat, sharp, or out-of-the-pocket, We’re in the neighbourhood, but we haven’t found the house yet.” David Bowie helped me find the house.

Not long after I arrived in Switzerland, Bowie strolled into my bedroom with a guitar.“Hey, Nile, listen to this, I think it could be a hit.” What followed was was a folksy sketch of a composition with a solid melody: the only problem was it sounded to me like Donovan meets Anthony Newley. And I don’t mean that as a compliment. I’d been mandated to make hits, and could only hear what was missing… I started reworking the song. I soon discovered the diamond in the rough.

[We] asked Claude Nobs, creator of the Montreux Jazz Festival, to round up a handful of local musicians… gone were the strummy chords… I’d replaced them with staccato stabs and a strict harmonic interpretation. I used silence and big open spaces to keep the groove and kept rearranging it on the spot, like I always did with Chic. David quickly got down with the reshaping of his song. We had a lot of fun and laughter in that Swiss studio with those terrific musicians… Laughter is the key to my sessions—the unconditionally loving parent in the room.”

And from Letters Of Note: In November of 1970, a month after signing a five-year publishing deal with Chrys­alis Music, 24-year-old David Bowie wrote the following letter to Bob Grace, the man who signed him, and briefly filled him in on his life so far:

November 17th, 1970
Haddon Hall

Mr. Bob Grace
Chrysalis Music Ltd
388/398 Oxford Street
London W1

Dear Bob
I was born in Brixton and went to some Schools thereabout and studied Art. Then I went into an Advertising Agency which I didn’t like very much. Then I left and joined some Rock ’n’ Roll Bands playing Saxophone and I sang some which nobody liked very much.

As I was already a Beatnik, I had to be a Hippie and I was very heavy and wrote a lot of songs on some beaches and some people liked them. Then I recorded Space Oddity and made some money and spent it which everybody liked.

Now I am 24 and I am married and I am not at all heavy and I’m still writing and my wife is pregnant which I like very much.

LOVE DAVID

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 21st March

Homeland’s sound design
British dramas tend to have clean, neat soundtracks. I don’t mean the musical elements, but the overall soundscape. Often brilliant atmospherics and great scoring, but generally pristine voice recording and foley work. US programmes on the whole have a funkier sound (it may be partly a technical thing, I’m no expert). However, Homeland has taken funky to new levels. It’s oppressively, brilliantly, noisy—all cicadas and compression. [Compression |kəmˈpre sh ən| noun. Compression in audio recording lessens the dynamic range of the audio by reducing the level of the louder parts, resulting in an “in your face” sound. The proper use of compression will bring out the quieter parts of the audio and make the entire piece sound louder.] In each scene, the outside seems as loud as the inside (witness the crickets at night in the episode where Carrie sleeps at her sister’s house and the same background sounds run into Brody’s house. Air conditioners whirr, fridges hum, interview rooms throb. There’s no escape…

emusic find of the month
Late Late Party, a compilation of songs recorded by The Pac-Keys and The Martinis, at Stax in the mid-Sixties, both bands featuring Packy Axton, son of the label’s founders. Like a frat boy version of Booker T and The MGs. Fantastic. Hear Greasy Pumpkin. If you like that, hear the rest.

White On White
I hadn’t reread The White Album by Joan Didion for years. But it’s extraordinary. Against a backdrop of California, Manson and her own mental issues, it’s filled with brilliant passages like this one. After Manzareck and Morrison discuss, in a circular way, where they might rehearse the next day… “I counted the control knobs on the electronic console. There were seventy-six. I was unsure in whose favor the dialogue had been resolved, or if it had been resolved at all. Robby Krieger picked at his guitar, and said that he needed a fuzz box. The producer suggested that he borrow one from the Buffalo Springfield, who were recording in the next studio. Krieger shrugged. Morrison sat down again on the leather couch and leaned back. He lit a match. He studied the flame awhile and then very slowly, very deliberately, lowered it to the fly of his black vinyl pants. Manzarek watched him. The girl who was rubbing Manzarek’s shoulders did not look at anyone. There was a sense that no one was going to leave the room, ever. It would be some weeks before The Doors finished recording this album. I did not see it through.” Read anything about music that good recently?

Karen Dalton 1966
Personal recordings made in her family living room, now released. The folk world’s Billie Holiday sings Darroll Adams rhythmic, pretty Green Green Rocky Road with such a motionless sadness, it’s as if she’s staring transfixed out of her window at the road itself.

Winogrand/Dylan interface
Funny how certain songs leap into your head when prompted by something visual. I was walking down Edgware Road on Monday with the morning sun flooding past street signs and traffic-light poles and jaywalkers, and everything was angles and glare. I always think of views like that as Garry Winogrand mornings, a reference to the great American photographer whose photographs captured the extraordinary cityscapes of New York. A half-remembered lyric comes to mind: “Perhaps it’s the color of the sun cut flat and coverin’/the crossroads I’m standin’ at…” (Bad, bad attempt below)

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