jump to navigation

Howard Shore: Crash Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1996) October 18, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment
Howard Shore: Crash

Howard Shore: Crash

Howard Shore’s soundtrack for Crash, the David Cronenberg movie based on the J.G. Ballard novel, is of my favourite movie soundtracks ever, and one of very few that wouldn’t sound out of place played between albums by, say, Robert Fripp and Robin Guthrie.

The main instrument is electric guitar, but it’s not rock music at all. In many of the tracks, reverbed guitar is the only noticeable instrument. The fourth track begins with a woodwind, creating a more contemplative tone; the fifth features some strings and prepared piano as the music becomes more discordant. The ninth features ominous noise and percussion, sounding like isolationist ambient music, and the tenth primarily features strings, with the album expanding its musical palette beyond guitars as it progresses, but never leaving them behind. And, thanks in no small part to the opening titles theme, the guitars are what come to mind when I think of this soundtrack. It’s textured and experimental enough to suggest avant garde music or postrock, but it still has melodic motifs. It’s not aural wallpaper. And not only does it work in the context of the film and on CD, it worked wonderfully as a live performance, too.

In 1998, the National Arts Centre here in Ottawa held its second “Generations XYZ New Music Festival.” The first event was Crash: The Music of Howard Shore. Shore conducted a group of musicians in a newly arranged version of the music composed for the film. Following that, there was a discussion on scoring for movies, featuring both Shore and David Cronenberg, which lasted maybe 40 minutes. And then a showing of Crash.

The musicians included six electric guitar players, three harpists, and flute, oboe, clarinet, percussion, and keyboard. Quoting from Robert Markow’s notes in the program:

The concert suite… brings together approximately fifteen musical sequences from the film arranged in chronological order lasting about three-quarters of an hour. The ensemble consists of essentially three timbral groups: guitars and harps, percussion, and woodwinds. ‘The piece is about harps,’ says Shore, and the three harps do indeed constitute the focus of the score. The guitar writing is derived from the harp music, and in a sense the three harps function as a single unit, with the harps acting at times like bass guitars. (The two episodes in the film employing a fifty-piece string orchestra have been arranged for guitars for tonight’s performance.) The percussion consists of metal sculpture, tuned gongs, prepared piano, and miscellaneous everyday metal objects. Woodwinds… are used as solo voices.

The harps may be the focus, but in the music as played the guitars dominated. They were loud, but clear and precise. Quite enjoyable.

The Shore/Cronenberg discussion had some good moments, but the moderator asked a few too many silly questions, and eventually the discussion was derailed by an audience member who wanted to get into a discussion about Cronenberg’s philosophy.

The concert was supposed to be recorded for CBC Radio’s Two New Hours program, but it never aired. It’s a shame; I was hoping to tape it. I would have loved to supplement the soundtrack CD with this alternate version.

Advertisements

Synth Britannia (2009) October 17, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.
add a comment
Synth Britannia

Synth Britannia

A bunch of people scattered across the UK, reading J.G. Ballard and watching science fiction movies, inspired by the DIY ethos of punk and newly affordable synthesizers, all doing their own thing in their own way at the same time, not necessarily aware of the others — in 1978, no one knew who they were, but by 1981 they’d changed pop music in the UK.

Last night, BBC Four aired a new 90 minute documentary and an hourlong collection of filmed performances from BBC archives. I haven’t watched all of the latter yet, but I watched the documentary and enjoyed every minute of it. Most of the people I’d want to see in this kind of program were there. There was some background on Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder, two of the big influences. There was archival footage and new interview material of Daniel Miller (The Normal, Silicon Teens, Mute Records), Cabaret Voltaire, the Future/the Human League/Heaven 17, Depeche Mode, Yazoo, John Foxx, Midge Ure, Gary Numan, OMD, and more.

The first part of the show is called The Alienated Synthesists and deals with the more experimental side of the music and the buildup to the moment of the first commercial breakthrough, Gary Numan’s “Are Friends Electric.” (I still remember how that song hit me when I first heard it; it was exactly what I’d been waiting for.) Part two, Construction Time Again, deals more with what came next, when the emphasis in synthpop was on pop as much as synth. There’s a lot of Depeche Mode, Human League, Soft Cell, and Yazoo here. The story progresses past the early hits to the mid-’80s, when so many synthpop bands broke up or changed their sound. The show suggests that New Order, with songs like “Blue Monday,” began a transition in British electronic music from synthpop to electronic dance music, and ends the show with the Pet Shop Boys as the band who completed that transition.

One bit that I found a little funny: as talking heads discuss the beginning of the end of synthpop, with trite and conventional pop songs that happen to be made with synths oversaturating the music scene, the screen shows bits of videos by Howard Jones and the Thompson Twins. Seems kind of appropriate to me; I’ve got at least one or two albums by pretty much everyone else in the documentary, but I never bought anything by those two artists, because they just seemed too much like ordinary pop bands.

Synth Britannia at the BBC is a collection of performances from various BBC TV programs, starting with Roxy Music’s “Do the Strand” as a precursor to the scene, and including Numan, Depeche Mode, Ultravox, Sparks, and many others. In some cases the artists are miming to recorded tracks, in others they’re actually playing live. It’s a bit of a mixed bag in that respect, and it includes one or two acts not mentioned in the documentary (e.g., Tears for Fears). The only commentary is in the form of a few text pop-ups on the screen.

I was never the type to listen to only one kind of music, to belong wholly to one scene; while I was listening to synthpop I was also listening to punk and other stuff. Still, watching this documentary brought a lot of nostalgia for an age when electronic music was something unusual and exciting. It’s not flawless; I would have liked to see Ultravox get more attention, not least because they were cited as a major influence on Gary Numan, who gets a lot of attention in the program as the first person to top the charts with synthpop. For that matter, David Bowie’s nowhere to be seen, though he was an influence on many postpunk and synthpop artists, and his Berlin trilogy of late ’70s albums would have fit in nicely. But my quibbles won’t keep me from enjoying this again.

Venetian Snares: Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett (2005) October 12, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.
Tags:
2 comments
Venetian Snares: Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett

Venetian Snares: Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett

When it looked, briefly, like drum ‘n’ bass was going to be the next big thing in dance and electronic music to hit the mainstream, I didn’t get into it. (Instead, it just became the soundtrack for many years of car commercials.) The hyperactive skittery drums seemed to get slathered onto a variety of musical styles, making it seem like more like a fad than a style. If you have a soul/R&B tune on top of that percussion, and something contructed out of jazz loops on top of that percussion, and ominous dark ambient synth sounds on top of that percussion, are those all part of the same genre just because they’re constructed on top of looped breakbeats? Well, I still don’t know. I still haven’t listened to a lot of drum’n’bass or jungle, though I make occasional efforts.

But somehow this album caught my attention, and I downloaded it when it popped up on eMusic. It’s not one of my neglected or forgotten downloads, though; I’ve played it fairly often. It just takes a certain mood to appreciate it. On this album, Venetian Snares works with the aggressive drill’n’bass style of dnb percussion — or maybe breakcore; depends whose review you’re reading, and I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on this part of the musical continuum; but the music is primarily sampled from classical albums (aside from one track, built on samples from Billie Holiday’s take on legendary suicide song “Gloomy Sunday”). Some tracks are devoid of percussion, like the sinister “Felbomlasztott Mentökocsi.” On others, the orchestral samples are given time to create a mood and sense of direction before the percussion comes in. “Hajnal” starts with some speedy string playing and, eventually piano, before changing gears into something much jazzier, with light jazz-style drumming instead of dnb percussion, before returning to the ominous strings, which are soon joined by an assault of dnb percussion and synth noises.

If there’s a near-mainstream comparison I can make, it would be with some of the tracks on Bjork’s Homogenic album, which also used strings and drum’n’bass percussion tracks. But this is almost entirely instrumental, and for that matter much more mental. Sometimes it’s hard not to laugh at the stuff Aaron Funk, the guy behind Venetian Snares, pulls off here; there’s a sheer sense of delight and exuberance about the possibilities of mashing things up that don’t conventionally go together, and an energy that makes this a blast to listen to (preferably at high volume). It’s beautiful and noisy and glorious. I haven’t heard any other Venetian Snares stuff, because I gather that this is something of an anomaly. Still, it’s hard not to be curious… in a world where Canadian music brings to mind people like Nickelback, Celine Dion, and the Barenaked Ladies, this is a welcome alternative.

Hank Thompson: Hank World: The Unissued World Transcriptions (1999) October 12, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.
Tags:
add a comment
Hank Thompson: Hank World

Hank Thompson: Hank World

Another insufficiently-listened-to eMusic download! Back in 1999, insurgent country/alt.country label Bloodshot Records released this collection of material recorded by Hank Thompson back in the 1950s, as part of a Bloodshot Revival series of relatively forgotten old time country stars. It’s not his best known material, which was released on Capitol; instead, it’s a few alternate versions and a number of otherwise unavailable songs.

Laura and I have a few CDs of good ol’ country music that we really like, especially for long roadtrips — Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell, George Jones, Marty Robbins, and a few others. The more upbeat stuff is fun to sing along with and keep you awake when you’ve been on the road for hours. Plus, it reminds me of my childhood, when I loved my parents’ Marty Robbins and Eddy Arnolds albums, before I decided for a few years that country wasn’t cool. Seeing local Ottawa country revivalists like Lucky Ron and Lonesome Paul helped resurrect my love for the good  ol’ stuff.

So Hank is an obvious choice for our collection. We don’t have the stuff he’s best known for, but then we discovered, when my  mother heard it, that the first Webb Pierce we bought and played to death was partly made up of rerecorded versions, not originals, too. And we don’t have memories of the originals, so for now this’ll do. This is classic country: Hank’s voice, guitar, fiddle, pedal steel, standup bass, and drums, playing a range of ’50s country, some of it reminiscent of Webb and Lefty’s honkytonk stuff, sometimes reminding me of other Hanks, Snow and Williams. If there’s nothing that hooks me as instantly as Webb’s “There Stands the Glass,” well, Webb probably never did a Western Swing take on Benny Goodman’s “Don’t Be That Way,” either. Yep, there are some curveballs here, all right. But fun.

This stuff is really the product of another age. Country radio doesn’t play this kind of music now, instead focusing on stuff that might as well be middle of the road pop or slick ’70s rock. And frankly I’m probably still more likely to put on something more familiar than this when I’m in the mood for this kind of music, but I should definitely be listening to it more than once every couple of years. And I should check out some of Hank’s more famous recordings, too.

September’s eMusic downloads October 5, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Music.
add a comment

Funny how the dismal days drag and the months fly by.

Heralds of Change: Secrets EP

Heralds of Change: Secrets EP

Hudson Mohawke: 7×7 Beat Series Number 6 EP, Heralds of Change (Hudson Mohawke and Mike Slott): Sittin’ on the Side/Rock With You EP, Secrets EP. Saw something online about the forthcoming Hudson Mohawke album and listened to the minisampler (go here) and decided I want it and I need to get some backstory. Basically hiphop/electronic stuff, though the album will have more of a soul/R&B feel.

Alien Sex Fiend: Acid Bath. Liked a couple of ASF songs back in the day, and a discussion of the band over at Gallifrey Base, the Doctor Who forum with a surprisingly busy and interesting music subforum, inspired me to get this. Now to travel back through time to tell my younger self to throw this into the mix with all that Sisters of Mercy, Cult, Siouxsie, Bauhaus, etc I was listening to.

Julian Plenti: Julian Plenti is… Skyscraper; Maximo Park: Quicken the Heart. The former is Interpol’s front man’s first solo album. I really liked the first Interpol and Maximo Park albums, along with Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand, etc, and liked a lot of stuff from their various second (and in some cases third) albums, but I haven’t been instantly grabbed by anything during the one or two cursory listens so far. Must make an effort.

TV On the Radio: Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes

TV On the Radio: Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes

Telepathe: Dance Mother. Sort of artsy ’80s synthpop/dance revivalism with female vocals. My kind of thing, I guess.

TV on the Radio: Young Liars EP, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. They’re always being compared to stuff I like, and band members are popping up here and there (like producing the aforementioned Telepathe album) so I should listen to this soon.

Bad Lieutenant: Sink or Swim/Dynamo: see previous post.

And, as usual, various dubstep singles, this time from Faib, Cyrus, and Kryptic Minds.