Posts Tagged ‘music’

Origami Ukulele

Friday, May 18th, 2012

A freelance engineer who’s won awards for his mobile phone concept designs has taken his passion for origami and applied it to music. Brian Chan has invented a folding ukulele, made of laser-cut pieces of bamboo plywood. The engineering makes it even more portable than a normal ukulele. By disengaging the strings, one can fold the neck and headboard into the body of the instrument. The result—something that resembles a turtle—can be easily thrown into a pack. If you really want to connect with the design, there’s a kit available. Get details on where to buy it and watch him describe here.


Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

After a wonderful evening of listening to free improvisation at the Outpost in Cambridge last night, I took part in a discussion about the phrase “you have to learn the rules before you break them.” It was agreed that it was a relatively meaningless phrase. However, the beauty of the music that proceeded the discussion showed that certain rules were indeed in play. Perhaps a better way to describe it is that they all shared a language that allowed everyone there to mine possibilities and construct some rather varied “instant compositions” without unintentionally stepping on the feet of the other musicians. I say unintentionally because there was some rather purposeful stomping going on. I guess the idea is that you have to know which rules are in play to take advantage of them, because—whether you like or not—there are always rules.

A Concert in Cambridge by a Dane Recommended by Swedes

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

We are certainly living in a different world. Why did it take a heads up from friends in Sweden to know about a gig at a venue I frequent? Poor advertising? Certainly.  But it’s also a story of how we share information these days. It’s not just friends around the corner, but those in different parts of the globe that often provide us with timely missives about things they know about. As my wife says, we are truly living in a transnational village.

The concert? Jacob Anderskov on piano with the Americans Chris Speed on sax and clarinet, Michael Formanek on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums. They played pieces from last year’s Agnostic Revelations, released on the ILK label. Squeezed in between a couple of other performers, they managed about 45 minutes of telepathy and interplay. Anderskov’s somewhat angular, and at times economic, style pointed to his Scandinavian jazz roots though the group clearly has forged their own identity. If you didn’t make the gig—and there weren’t many us there—get the album, and look for his name next time he comes around.

Memory, Presence and the Present

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Janis Joplin performing in San Jose in 1968. (Photo by Jim Marshall)

History changes with time. Views of the past are said to be products of the era in which they are examined, and  I think this is also true on a much smaller scale: how we, as individuals, understand the world at any given moment.

From time to time, I will revisit something—a recording, an artist, a piece of literature—to see if I still dislike it. Occasionally I change my mind. Why? Just as our understanding of historical events changes because of where we sit, so, too, does our take on specific examples of culture because of the time in which we live or the experiences we’ve accumulated over the years.

Last night I decided to do the opposite of my usual exercise—rather than wanting to check on whether something was as “bad,” as I remembered it, I wanted to verify that I was holding onto a memory that still resonated with who I am now. When I was in 9th grade, Janis Joplin returned to Austin, Texas after a long absence to give a concert. My remembered experience places the performance among the best I’ve ever seen. That is saying a lot—I see live music as often as I can, though it feels more and more like “I’ve heard that already.”

A music blog I was reading recently included a link to two clips of Joplin performing during the last years of her life on the Dick Cavett show. She goes from being interviewed (about 2 minutes in) to a stage with her band and inhabiting the songs in a way that most musicians can only dream of. Her official recordings—mostly done in a studio—do not reflect the amazing transformation that took place on those television studio stages. As I had only these albums as touchstones, I began to doubt the validity of my experience. I am happy to report that the videos I saw eliminated any doubt about my memory of the concert I attended.

It occurs to me I was also confirming something about myself. We accumulate a wealth of core experiences throughout our lifetime, and these things contribute to defining who we are. There was something about the honesty and directness of Joplin’s performance that made me realize how important it is to remember what is possible in a world defined by the status-quo. It takes courage and commitment to get to magic. Maybe we should reprise the slogan “Be Here Now.”

Excuse me, I have to sign off now. I’ve got to watch that video again.


Check out the book Trust: The Photographs of Jim Marshall.

Space, and Silence

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

Too often we dismiss white space in art and print and silence in music as nothing. The reality is that it is very much something—as much a part of what we understand about the art we encounter as what we might call the substantive part. In fact, the absence of these “nothings” would propose very different readings of pieces before us.

In Josef Alber’s famous book, Interaction of Color, he talks about how colors do not exist in a vacuum. Individual colors are understood in context; that is, what surrounds a color is an important part of how we perceive it.

The same is true in music. Morton Feldman composed many pieces that forced his listeners to consider notes differently than usual because of the space with which he surrounded them. Remove them, and they become entirely different pieces.

Of course, the most famous piece about silence, 4’33” by John Cage, is not really about silence at all. It is about listening.

Besides the reverb which bathes each recording on the German label ECM, every one of their CDs start with 4 or 5 seconds of silence. In this way, the first sounds of the performance are heard differently than if they began instantaneously. That approach has another effect: it separates the music you are about to hear from the world of ordinary sounds. (Think of what we consider to be ordinary sounds these days as compared to 100 years ago!) It is the label’s way of setting the experience apart from normal life, should you choose to really listen. Not unlike what is attempted during the services in sacred buildings.

A print or drawing with a mat around it in a frame is saying the same thing: this is special—pay attention, and you’ll be rewarded. The “white space” of the mat helps to ensure that other elements in the area in which the art is displayed do not become part of the viewer’s experience.

Often I have clients tell me that I have an excellent opportunity to add more information to an ad or brochure because of the white space I have employed—usually used deliberately to make the piece more effective. The irony is that less will be communicated because it would have become more difficult for a viewer to enter and engage with the material. (In many cases, it is a question of the client not having gone through the exercise of deciding what are the most important messages to be delivered and wanting to cover all their bases: a case of too much is not enough.)

I’ve talked about the effect that these “nothings” have on the “substantive” part of things, but what about looking at it the other way around? The spaces and silences are all bordered by their opposite, and so are limited by their borders. Sounds like shapes to me—again, that’s really something!

Long live nothing.