National Public Viking

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Every NPR story should be introduced with the grimmest metal ever made

|current sounds| Burzum- Burzum

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An artist's rendering of our valiant hero (or, really, Sarah's mind wandering during a meeting a few weeks ago)

Around seven o'clock, the crazy ideas that often appear after hours of concentrating too hard came full throttle. I heard the theme to the Legend of Zelda introducing a story on orchestral musicians' use of beta-blockers (performance enhancers) and laughed wildly at the thought of black-metal band Burzum and their punishing "Feeble Screams From Forests Unknown" serving as this summer's theme music. Just think of it:

From NPR in Washington, D.C., this is... [Hosts Nathan and Rhitu destroyed by buzzing guitars, blast-beats, and the indiscernible screams of...] DRIFTIIIINNGG IN THE AIIIRRR ABOOOVE A COOOOLD LAAAKE IS A SOUL FROM AN EARLY, BETTER AAAGE!!!!

The music director position for Intern Edition has turned out to be as challenging as I knew it'd be. I have never thought of music in terms of 5, 10, and 15 second clips, especially since I gave up on pop and rock music for a year to study and purchase extended free-jazz blow-outs and noodling psychedelic-rock jams (hey, time well spent). As with all art, I tend to view and listen to music as a cohesive whole. I value an artist's work in its entirety and rarely on single works of genius (or luck). I'm approaching this program to present a coherent aural piece, which is the only way I'll be able to justify three guitar strums from Jack Rose.

Arriving at noon, I listened to the entire program minus music and host tracks. I wanted to discern a pace to the stories, what music (if any) each used, what kind of ambient sound was recorded (e.g., traffic, children laughing), and pick up on key themes. In the end, I'm going mostly on gut, which is how I DJ-ed at WUOG. I'd hear a certain rhythm by The Specials and knew I had to play "Manteca" by Dizzy Gillespie afterward. But I want to keep the whole of the show in mind, especially since this isn't an off-the-cuff improvisation.

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My cube overtaken by CDs.

I sift through that large collection of CDs every day to screen and review music for All Songs Considered and Open Mic, but I came back to my pile plus my own 300 gigs on the external harddrive, the extensive NPR music library, and a few stolen discs from Stephen Thompson (NPR Online Producer, former Onion founder, and my mentor) to undertake the task of selecting ten clips. TEN. The shortest is five seconds and the longest are four 59 second "beds" of music spoken over to introduce upcoming pieces. The hardest have been the latter, especially since I refuse to use any cliché post-rock like Explosions In the Sky or Mogwai (for the uninformed, post-rock is more or less predictable, instrumental rock music). It's been a mix of jazz, afrobeat, folk, and Tropicalia, so far. Diverse, but would sequence brilliantly to a mixtape. Still haven't found a way to include The Velvet Underground, which has been my goal, but I'm willing to sacrifice smart art school kids making rudimentary pop music for the sake of the show.

And, yes, I am going to see The Devil Wears Prada tomorrow with Jamie and others excited to have our coming-of-age/pop-culture needs pandered to. Christa will be proud.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

"All things oooordinaaaary"

|current sounds| For some reason, I've been listening to whatever emo songs I could find online all day. There's no accounting for taste.

Today's heart-on-sleeve-for-no-good-reason-other-than-nostalgia mix:
And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead "Source Tags & Codes"
Jets to Brazil "I Typed For Miles"
Mineral "Gloria"
Rainer Maria "Tinfoil"
The Anniversary "All Things Ordinary"
The Promise Ring "Why Did We Ever Meet"
Cap'n Jazz "Little League"
Braid "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" (Smiths cover)
Cursive "The Radiator Hums"
Sunny Day Real Estate "In Circles"

I've been a neglectful blogger. And every time I do write, it's about a concert. Well, at least y'all know I'm being entertained. Next week you can expect to see an equal amounts of updates as I will be taking on my Music Director duties for Intern Edition. I lost my reporter for the IE piece I was producing, so picking out appropriate segue-way music for the program will certainly make up for the time spent in front of a computer editing audio.

Now for the concerts.


For some reason, Emilia (Audience and Corporate Research intern) and I have never hung out in the same circles, so she suggested we go to Fort Reno for a free punk rock show.

I get really excited about community-driven DIY (Do It Yourself) projects like the Fort Reno Park summer concert series, which the Tenleytown area seems to really support. I can't say the same of Athens, Georgia's government, which for the most part chooses to overlook DIY venues, but isn't afraid to slap an eviction notice when more affluent development comes around (RIP Tite Pockets).

The Engine Room, a local female-fronted band made of high schoolers, opened. For what they were, it wasn't bad. Kinda reminded me of Ted Leo & the Pharmacists in the guitar work, though they ran the gamut of trendy indie music including a disco-punk-ish number. The bass player was the stereotype of the high school band musician: ripped jeans, shaggy haircut, slumped over, but instead of a Nirvana t-shirt, he sported Mission of Burma.

As I later explained to Emilia, Heather, and Jacob (the latter two library interns who joined us later), my roots will always be in punk rock (and metal for that matter). Some of my best college memories were spent in crowded house shows with everybody's sweaty bodies pushing and colliding into each other. The effect, then, in an outdoor venue is not the same, but still fun. The Max Levine Ensemble's a band that played Tite Pockets quite often, but I never got the chance to see them. It's not the kind of thing I'd listen to more than 30 minutes of; nonetheless, their quirky pop-punk will sustain my house show love for a while.

At least until Ian Mackaye's pop band The Evens plays on July 31st! Never got a chance to see the legendary Fugazi, but I understand this new project of Mackaye's puts on a good live show.


Tonight was by far my most anticipated concert of the summer: Konono No. 1, a 25-year old group from the Congo whose primary instrument is the likembe (a type of thumb piano) electrified by homemade amplifiers and very old megaphones. I've been a fan since early last year shortly after Dutch avant-punk band The Ex announced Konono's generally unknown existence. It's appropriate and unfortunate that the air conditioning broke at the Black Cat that evening ("It's like we're really in the Congo!" someone commented).

Chopteeth, a local Afrobeat group, opened the evening to a excitedly responsive crowd. Still somewhat cooled by standing outside, all of the interns I convinced to come (Jamie, Sarah, Jeremy, Nathan, and Emilia) all danced hard. The band mixed originals with Fela Kuti covers, the father of Afrobeat. Chopteeth were a solid band, especially in the horn section whose heavy-hitting arrangements really pushed the rhythm.

We all went outside to catch our breath and thankfully there was a breeze. We hesitantly climbed the stairs of the Black Cat once again to see Konono and the stifling, smoke-filled heat was even stronger and more pungent than before. We managed to shake our tail feathers for twenty minutes of Konono's nearly droning, tribal (forgive the adjective) rhythms surging through the near-heat-stroked audience (sweat was no longer an issue as it all evaporated within minutes). I even managed to rip my good pair of jeans (I'm now down to two I can wear to work) in one-upping Sarah by busting a move on the floor. :) But for fear of heat exhaustion, we all left the venue around the same time and convenened outside to get some pizza nearby.

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Even in my exhaustion, I manage to fist-pump.

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Jamie and Emilia.

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Jeremy, Jamey (sp?), and Nathan.

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Nathan and the classically posed Sarah.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Lars... future karaoke star?

|current sounds| The P.A. system at the 9:30 Club (lots of classic soul - Wilson Pickett at the moment)

I'm about to get two and a half hours of my hometown's finest Southern rock: Athens' own The Drive-By Truckers agreed to have their D.C. show webcast live. It'll be nice to see some familiar faces including my old Live in the Lobby sound engineer Brian Spett, who's been a roadie for the band a while.

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The extremely attractive 2006 NPR summer interns. Photo by Meghan Gallery.

It's been an exhausting week, actually, partially from work and mostly from lack of proper sleep. My living quarters, while convenient and having a great suite-mate who shares my love for Project Runway, are full of dust and mold. I have a tendency to become very weak-bodied and tired in such an environment. Thus, after celebrating the launch of the Intern Edition website yesterday (I selected the music for the promotional video: Phoenix, Old Time Relijun, The Pipettes, and then Jeremy sequenced the end montage to the Smashing Pumpkins), I went straight home to crash and watch TV, talk to Helen, and sleep until 11 this morning.

A former WUOG alum e-mailed the listserv this past week to get D.C.-area WUOGgers to meet up at a bar off U Street this past Thursday. It was great to see Nina and Matt again both of whom I knew as I first joined the station as a sophomore (actually, it was Nina who encouraged me to join at the end of my freshman year), but the rest of the folks (about ten total) were all alumni from the '80s and mid-'90s. Cool and somewhat telling to find out that all of them were involved in radio in some capacity. One in particular wants me to visit him at Voice of America, which broadcasts news, informational, educational, and cultural programs all over the world.

Afterward, Nina, Matt, Laura, and I went out and now I am a believer in the power of karaoke. I never did karaoke in Athens despite the popularity of Foxz (much to my friends chagrin). Nina and Matt busted out "The Thong Song" and Laura went solo on "Hearttaker." I was mighty tempted to try my hand at "What A Fool Believes," but I'm going to reserve that for my next visit... and there will be one.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Wet, black boughs in the National Gallery

|current sounds| The Necks- Chemist

I have never been more tempted to publically air guitar than today with the Tuesday morning metro ride to work. Converge's "Heartless" begged and pleaded to have its receptor thrash his long, golden locks about the subway car in metallic ecstacy. These petals on a wet, black bough* needed a jarring from their 8:30 ride, but I did not unshield my invisible axe, though expectant looks seemed to ask for anything out of the ordinary. I am sorry to say that I failed them.

Woke me up, though! (*My apologies to Ezra Pound.)

This past Sunday, I lost track of time in an art gallery (isn't it just like me to hole up in a gallery on a beautiful day) and only saw the last thirty minutes of the World Cup Final (looks as if the World Cup Death watch ended at 63 victims). I don't know why I keep going back to the National Gallery East because I'm always disappointed. First of all, the gallery physically separates historically "canonized" art (pre-1850s or thereabouts) from modern and contemporary art as if both cannot co-exist aesthetically, thematically, visually, etc. (That's another entry.) The permanent collection, which houses Rothko, Picasso, and Warhol, are all nice, but don't give the kind of relevatory spark they once did. Don't get me wrong, these pieces still speak deeply to me (seeing a Picasso enthralled, confused, and revealed more about myself at age seven than anything else up to that point), but the presentation is stale... dreadfully academic. Most of these artists valued the experience of art, yet the story the National Gallery has written in its "modern wing" does nothing to engage the senses (fine, Linda Brooks, I did learn something from your Museum Politics class).

Some good did come out of the day, though. I attended a lecture on Giovanni Bellini's Feast of the Gods (1514/1529) to coincide with the Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting exhibition. J. Russell Sale gave the 300-person hall (almost capacity - everyone over 30 years old except for this curious 20-something) historical, cultural, and mythological contexts for Bellini's masterpiece told in the excited and nerdy rhetoric of a curator eager to share his knowledge. He lost my interest when it came to the painting's unconfirmed patron, Alfonso d'Este, but, as with just about any Renaissance work, revived everyone's interest with bachannal details (read: sex and Greek debauchery): Priapus's extensive "member," a tanked Mercury with a bowl on his head instead of a helmet, and a very frisky Pluto enjoying the fruits Persephone.

Oh, art.

Speaking of air guitar, my friend Jace (AKA Zombie on a Rainbow, Esq.) won 2nd place in the National Air Guitar competition, so hearty devil horns I raise to him. Here's the Jace of Spades in action:

Saturday, July 08, 2006

I'm famous!

|current sounds| The Hidden Cameras- Awoo ("Hump from Bending" is a stroke of pop genius) & Starflyer 59- I Win

First off, I should mention that my name has been podcasted over the internet-waves by All Songs Considered host (and one of my bosses) Bob Boilen. I was in Bob's car on the way to record a concert a few weeks ago and I was telling him how my friends Phillip, Zach, and I had all really gotten into the '70s Brazilian psychedelic albums that had been reissued lately on Shadoks and Time-Lag. He told me to get some of it for the show in which I quickly and enthusiastically e-mailed Nemo at Time-Lag for the new Lula Cortes reissue. Nemo said it wouldn't be ready until September, but wanted to send a copy of Satwa's self-titled 1973 psych-folk masterpiece as well as the Marconi Notaro reissue. Bob came to me a few days later gushing over Satwa's raga-like sitar and 12-string guitar jams. So on All Songs Considered: Episode 115, Bob mentions my name in the introduction the Satwa track. Sweet.

And now, the week in review...


After some sushi (this, my second try with sushi, went better, but I'm still not crazy about it), a group of the interns headed over the Warehouse Theater for the Hear Now series, which is a group of indepedent producers and sound engineers that share their latest audio pieces every few months. I am particularly fascinated with the ordering (or un-ordering) of sound, especially field recordings; naturally, I was enthralled and hung over every word spoken by Flawn Williams, an audio engineer for NPR/National Geographic's Radio Expeditions. The audio stories that he crafted from field recordings were beautifully rich in texturally evocative sound: specialized mics to capture the vibrations of a bug that communicates through plant stems, week-long drunken revelries celebrated with song and drum, and a 60 second version of King Kong.

My interest comes from the late night racket I would make on Crisis!, a two hour program on WUOG that showcased one of three things: 1) avant-garde and noise music, 2) live free-jazz/psychedelic/noise made by local musicians, or 3) improvisational audio collages. My friend Winston really got me into the third aspect of the show in which we'd layer spoken word records with ambient, jazz, or easily recognizable popular recordings to recontextualize the sound. Often we'd spin records backwards at speeds no turntable needle can normally withstand and put everything through mixing board effects, etc. etc.

To hear such professional sound architects share their work and explain microphone techniques and excerises was a great opportunity and just adds to my list of dream-jobs. Heather S., whose intern position escapes me right now, took notes (I had no pen or paper), so I'll be grabbing those from her.


Sarah and I left work with her National Desk friend Jack to hear jazz at the Sculpture Garden. The musicians they have play every Friday evening are never anything spectacular, but, as I've said, good enough to drink wine and eat cheese to. We partook in neither wine nor cheese, but just enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere and walked around the garden.

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Sarah with Thinker on a Rock by Barry Flanagan.

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Myself pondering Thinker on a Rock. Meta like feta.

We (now Jack-less) stopped by the National Mall for the New Orleans portion of this summer's Folklife Festival. We caught some of The Hot 8 Brass Band's excellent set. The group was really solid playing a mixture of traditional New Orleans jazz, Dixieland, and even a little Fela Kuti-influenced Afrobeat. If we had had more energy, both of us would've been dancing with the folks really getting into it near the stage.

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The Hot 8 Brass Band @ the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

A stop at diner, a game of late night croquet, and many episodes of Arrested Development later (now with Johnny and David, two of Sarah's Yale friends), I got home very late and just want to do laundry and maybe take advantage of the "Fajita Orgy" at Tortilla Coast right across the street.

And for those interested, there's a well-done interview with Kieran Hebden (Fourtet, Fridge, Steve Reid's musical sparring partner) over at Dusted Magazine. Kieran has some great things to say about improvised and composed music.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Willie the Warlock deserves his own post

One of the greatest out-of-left-field pop songs of all time now has a music video: "Willie the Warlock" by Billy Q. Effinger. I cannot express to you the awesomeness of this song. The four-octave vocal range, the cut-up karaoke accompaniment, the Harry Potter-inspired lyrics, the fact this is 42 year old man never recorded a song until two years ago. You can expect nothing less of this crazy magician-at-a-birthday-party video either.

I am the warlock surpeme
Nothing's real as it seems
except my love for you
Do you know it's true
that I am immortal
but you have a power unseen
over me

Is it so wrong that I spent most of the day watching the Project Runway marathon?

|current sounds| Scott Walker- The Drift

FRIDAY, 6/30

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Man Man.

NPR took a huge chance by including Man Man as part of the "Live Concert Series," but it just makes me more proud to be just a small part of an internationally recognized organization. Most writers will tell you that Man Man is the descendent of such avant-garde visionaries like Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits, but in all honesty, they're just a rabid pop band cranking out tribal carnival jams. I've been skeptical about them on CD, but they definitely made a fan out of me at show. Dressed in tennis clothes and white war paint, the band literally played on top of each other in a tight circle. In performance, this is hell to pull off, but they did because they practice (that was very clear). I think they also convinced the very pop-conscious audience, too, even some of my fellow interns who had never heard of them before.

The Fiery Furnances, on the other hand, were a disappointment. The odd quirks that both repel and attract me to their complex pop songs were nowhere to be found. Instead, the sound was streamlined to loud, distorted rock. I do like it when an otherwise "strange" band comes out of nowhere and delivers a balls-out foot-stomping version of a silly pop song, but the Furnaces did it for the whole set... so much that it actually became boring (many people left half-way through). Made me wish I could've been a few blocks away to see Juana Molina (WXPN, an NPR member station, did, thankfully, record her show in Philadelphia. It's beautiful).

Here's a link to a stream of the Fiery Furnaces/Man Man show.

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American Heiress covers.

I've finished my second album under the Ancient Mariner moniker. It's called American Heiress and each specialized cut-out artwork will feature a classic (or, at least, classy-looking) female model. The two pictured are of Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol's first "it" girl.

Musically, it's much much better than Queynte Geres, which was recorded when I wanted to be free-improvisation guitarist Derek Bailey, but still believed in riffs. Someone left me a message on Myspace commenting that some of my new songs reminded him of gamelan music, which I took as a high compliment. There are also a couple attempts at ambient music with actual singing... well, more like echo-ed ooh's. I'm pleased with the 30-minute album and surprised by how un-abrasive or un-"out there" it came out.

Next project (on the opposite end of the spectrum): Athens, Georgia noise artist compilation.
Release date: I'm hoping it'll be out by late August or September.