Tuesday, August 22nd

There was much about sound this week, from the science behind the Doppler Effect to the whys and wherefores of producing a vocal sound that won’t permanently damage you. Also, the extraordinary website that is digitising 78s with a record deck that uses four different needles. Oh, and Tom Waits (in the music player on the right) does his own Doppler Effect of a car hurtling by on the blacktop…

ONE YOU GOT ME SINGING…
An excerpt from a fascinating article in The Guardian’s Long Read slot, by Bernhard Warner on the actualité of being a professional singer nowadays:
“Singing is a rough business. Every vocal performance involves hundreds of thousands of micro-collisions in the throat. The vocal cords – also known as vocal folds – are a pair of thin, reed-like, muscular strips located inside the larynx, or voice box, in the throat. They are shaped like a wishbone, and contain the densest concentration of nerve tissue in the body. When we are silent, the cords remain apart to facilitate breathing. When we sing or speak, air is pushed up from the lungs, and the edges of the cords come together in a rapid chopping motion. The air causes the cords to vibrate, creating sound. The greater the vibration, the higher the pitch. By the time a soprano hits those lush high notes, her vocal cords are thwacking together 1,000 times per second, transforming a burst of air from her lungs into music powerful enough to shatter glass.”

TWO TRAVELLING LIGHT (WELL, SOUND, REALLY)
Charles Hazlewood (on Radio 4) talked about the dissonance that makes him tingle. With the help of Brian May, he recreates an unusual experiment with a steam train and a brass band to prove the existence of the Doppler Effect (think police sirens flashing past, or the end of “Caroline, No” – it’s the way a note seems high in the distance and lower once it’s passed you by). The section on the Hammond Organ and its associated speaker, the Leslie, is especially interesting. In his studio in Somerset (an abandoned swimming pool) he discusses the Leslie with Sarah Angliss: “Donald Leslie wanted to get the sense of immersion that you got when you went to hear a mighty Wurlitzer at the cinema”. The twin horns in the Leslie spin at “quite a lick, so much of a lick that they create a Doppler Effect” alongside what organ players apparently call a “tremulant”, a sort of wah-wah volume shift. They also discuss the subtle use of a Leslie on both the guitar and vocal on “Little Wing”. Listen here.

THREE HEY, THAT’S NO WAY TO SAY GOODBYE
Tom Waits’ “Summertime/Burma Shave” medley, live, with an intro devoted to Elvis, best read very slowly in a Waitsian drawl…
“August, I remember it. It rained all day, the day that Elvis Presley died… and only a Legend can make it do that. Cause, you know, when my baby said we were through, that she was gonna walk out on me – it was Elvis Presley that talked her out of it…
He gave me my first leather jacket, taught me how to comb my hair just right in a filling station bathroom… It was Elvis that gave you a rubber on prom night, told you that you looked real sharp. I think he maybe just got a little tired of repairing all the broken hearts in the world… and now I think we’re behind the stand, where mechanics cars never start and where nightwatchmen are always sleeping on the job, where shoe-shine boys all have worn-out scuffed up shoes… But a legend never dies, just teaches you everything he knows, gives you the courage to ask her out. And I know there’s a small town where dreams are still alive, and there’s a hero on every corner – and they’re all on their way to a place called Burma Shave.” Listen on the music player to the right.

FOUR TOWER OF SONG
Go here for an extraordinary project, the digitization of shellac records by George Blood for the Internet Archive. “Through The Great 78 Project, the Internet Archive has begun to digitize 78rpm discs for preservation, research, and discovery. 78s were mostly made from shellac (beetle resin) and were the brittle predecessors to the LP era. On Twitter, go to @great78project for uploads as they happen.” FYI An unapologetic preservationist, Mr. Blood lives in Philadelphia where he and his wife Martha are renovating a 1768 house.

FIVE DRESS REHEARSAL RAG
Kevin Cheesman puts me on to this, Neil Finn’s project to rehearse and record an album in live-streaming sessions: “Every Friday in August at 7 pm NZT, I will be performing on a live stream from my studio in Auckland. It will be accessible via Facebook. During these Friday sessions, you will be witness to a series of musical happenings featuring friends, family, songwriters, and singers playing tunes both old and brand new. Follow the progress of new song arrangements as we build towards the last stream on August 25. This final performance will be the actual recording of my new solo album.” Neil invites you to watch and listen to him and his exotic ensemble record the whole album, live in one session. His new album entitled Out of Silence will then be mixed, mastered and released on the following Friday, September 1 (the previous streams are all on YouTube now).

EXTRA CLOSING TIME
Thrilled to see my piece on Daniel Kramer’s Bob Dylan: A Year and a Day in both English and Italian in the latest issue of Pulp. Libro di Bob!

dylanbook

PS I’M CLEARING OUT MAGAZINES…
Anyone interested in a whole bunch of MOJO magazines? I’ll happily give them to whoever will take them away. Email martinworkbench@gmail.com.

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Five Things, Wednesday 30th July

At the Multiplex
Watching Joe, with a great performance from Nic Cage that reminds you of the fact that he’s Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew and therefore should know a good script when he sees one. Pitched somewhere between Winter’s Bone and Mud (and co-starring young Tye Sheridan from that film) it’s really enhanced by a score from David Wingo and Jeff McIlwain that uses unsettling bass drones and atmospheres, with the occasional chorded piano. There’s also a nice Jerry Reed-ish song that tracks the hunt for Joe’s dawg.

At The Royal Academy of Music
With my mother and Yvonne for War Music: Notes from the First World War, a small but perfectly formed exhibition full of gramophones, sheet music (my favourite: “Hello, Central! Give Me No Man’s Land” by Al Jolson) and short films featuring extraordinary scenes of local am-drams preparing shows for the soldiers at the front. I loved this photo of Ivor Novello, and the description of one of his performances. “When he sang, men seemed to drink it in at once and instantly sang the chorus, and as we drove away at the end of the concert in the dark and the rain and the mud, from all parts of the camp one could hear the refrain”.

Novello

 

At The Commonwealth Games
England’s “Jerusalem” is given competition by Kenya’s National Anthem, a strikingly moody piece called “Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu” (O God, of all creation). According to Wikipedia it was originally composed in 1963 by a commission set up for the purpose, and based on a traditional tune sung by Pokomo mothers to their children. “The tune had to be of the right length and quality, yet possessing the necessary dignity. It had to be of such character as to make the writing of suitable words manageable, complicated by being both in Swahili and English. The tune also had to lend itself to appropriate harmonisation and orchestration for performance by a military band, without impairing the original tonality of the melody.” They totally succeeded. It was great to hear it played when Kenya swept the medals in the Women’s 10,000 meters on Day 6. You can judge for yourselves when David Rudisha wins the 800m tonight. [Editors Note, August 1st: this prediction was as accurate as my World Cup ones. Never come to me for betting advice.]

At Caitlin’s House, and my old Bank
Lovely use of a cello shape for storing wine. And for private banking, the less lovely use of a shiny resonator guitar, along with your crystal goblet and Greek bronze to make finance seem somehow, you know, groovy. We’re all rockers at heart, aren’t we? I blame the cover of Brother In Arms.

Wine

At home, finding a great Vanity Fair Questionnaire with Tom Waits
What phrase do you most overuse? “Do as I say and no-one will get hurt”.

Waits

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 12th December

Dave Brubeck, talking to Marian McPartland
…on her wonderful series, Piano Jazz, for NPR, about his great collaborator, Paul Desmond. “I loved listening to him, every night, and the humour—if he wanted to say something funny through the horn—would just break me up… If I did something wrong, that he didn’t like, he’d usually play I’m An Old Cowhand (From The Rio Grande) because I was raised on a cattle ranch and he’d bring that up, musically. Or Don’t Fence Me In—anything that he didn’t like, that was going on, he’d play a quote to get you back in line. It was something that was always so funny, you’d laugh—you’d never take it too badly. He could tell a complete story in quotes of what just happened, his mind was so quick… [One night they had been] arrested for speeding on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, he did the whole story; of the arrest, where they went, all in tune titles. It was amazing…

[On playing a Country Fair and Horse Show] “A guy came up on the stand with spurs on and he drug them across the stage and he walked up to me and he said, “Tell the guy playing the traps [drums] that he’s spookin’ the horses…” and Paul was in hysterics, and when he started playing, he hit some high notes and all the chickens went crazy and started cackling…Paul was going to write a book [about all these tours] called How Many Of You Are There In The Quartet?”

What? What? What Am I Not Getting Here?
Mumford and Sons, Babel
@Big Boi (of Outkast) responds to a fan enquiring after his favourite non-hip hop album of the year.

Richard Thompson, New Album, Great Quote
Electric is produced by Buddy Miller at his home studio in Nashville, TN. “We did it ridiculously quickly. It was just stupid. But it sounds great. It turned out surprisingly funky, sort of a new genre—folk-funk. It’s quite snappy, somewhere between Judy Collins and Bootsy Collins.”

Tom Waits letter to The Nation, 2002, from Letters Of Note:
“Thank you for your eloquent “rant” by John Densmore of The Doors on the subject of artists allowing their songs to be used in commercials. I spoke out whenever possible on the topic even before the Frito Lay case (Waits v. Frito Lay), where they used a sound-alike version of my song Step Right Up so convincingly that I thought it was me. Ultimately, after much trial and tribulation, we prevailed and the court determined that my voice is my property.

Songs carry emotional information and some transport us back to a poignant time, place or event in our lives. It’s no wonder a corporation would want to hitch a ride on the spell these songs cast and encourage you to buy soft drinks, underwear or automobiles while you’re in the trance. Artists who take money for ads poison and pervert their songs. It reduces them to the level of a jingle, a word that describes the sound of change in your pocket, which is what your songs become. Remember, when you sell your songs for commercials, you are selling your audience as well…

Eventually, artists will be going onstage like race-car drivers covered in hundreds of logos. John, stay pure. Your credibility, your integrity and your honor are things no company should be able to buy.”

Tift Merritt’s Red Guitar, Later
Ooooooooh, that is one great guitar, a cherry red Gibson J-45, sweetly played and with a wonderfully soft & rounded tone…

Tift

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