5 July 2015
ATL Collective is a group of local and regional musicians that get together to re-create classic rock albums live [ Web site | Facebook | Twitter | Tumblr (outdated) ]. I had heard about them many months ago from Michael H., a previous co-worker, but only decided to go see them when I got the notification about their concert on Sun 31 May for Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life. Flyer for the concert: front and back. It's a double album written after he reversed his decision to retire and go into charity work in Africa, and it contains several huge and hugely recognizable hits. ATL Collective had maybe 10 or 12 musicians total throughout the evening, with multiples for every skill: vocals, keyboards, guitars, drums, horns. Sometimes all would be on stage and at others just one or two. It was an amazing concert and perfect at that venue.
The next concert was on Thu 25 Jul for Jeff Buckley's Grace album. I knew him only from his posthumous album Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. I picked that up after hearing tracks on an indie Internet station run by two guys in Texas. I listened to them frequently at around the time that album came out in 1998 (?!) and from their broadcasts also acquired Durian's Sometimes You Scare Me, Faraquet's The View from This Tower, and Don Caballero's What Burns Never Returns. Obv. heavy math rock fans. Anyway, Grace was an equally amazing concert with a guest vocalist from Nashville (the Google-friendly named Landon Pigg) who hit JB's vocal style perfectly.
Sadly, I missed their previous performances of This Year's Model and Led Zeppelin IV. On my radar for future gems.
7 June 2015
Documentary about avant garde electronic music in Tokyo [ IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes ]. Very good. Structure worked with the music. Performances alternating with a round-table discussion by 8-or-so of the musicians represented. Worth watching for the natural, organic statements of intent that resulted. Music in the same vein as that from No Fun Fest back in 2009.
- Is the avant garde a symptom/expression of a society's psychological disfunctions? More than mainstream forms, I see it as a working though of as-yet unformed or forming ideas.
- Often works from existing instruments and extends them. Re orchestral writing expanding how sounds can be produced from stringed instruments (cf. even simple alterations like sul tasto and sul ponticello and then extend to other areas). Prepared piano. Records repurposed. Microphone feedback. Even when using modern devices (sequencer) it can be physically beat on to produce unintended sounds. "Hacking" your instrument.
- Use of autonomic body processes to generate music. Think of all the personal health metrics that people are generating that could be converted to music. John Cage did similar things to remove the human hand from art. Both try to tap hidden forces, but the autonomic technique seems to have different intent.
- Issues of authenticity. Object and location imbue meaning. Even the avant garde suffer the anxiety of influence.
- "Contact mics allow you to amplify microscopic phenomena."
- "To compose is to remember things that have entered us."
- How does music reflect environment? Images of landfills and destroyed buildings shown as cultural memory. To be used by artists? Or triggered by artists?
- All musicians were older (>30?) and, except one, male.
4 June 2015
Sat 9 May
Off to Prague to meet Lisa and Danice and Theresa after their week in Croatia. First international travel alone in, ever? Oddly nervous. While weighing my luggage at home, I found out I weighed twenty pounds less than a few months ago. Weird, if true. This trip should change that.
Atlanta to Paris to Prague. Ended up going through a different security area and am not sure how. Being alone sets you on different routes for even the simplest choices. Lunch at Ecco: Gruner Veltliner and chicken panini. Read: "Charlie Hebdo and the previous question" (brilliant examination of racism, heroics, and humor), "Love songs, RIP" (rap is killing the love song), "The happiness industry" (uninspired rant against policies that nudge people into better behavior). The Charlie Hebdo article pointed me to the hilarious/informative site Understanding Charlie Hebdo cartoons. And, of course, sitting next to French travellers waiting for the flight to CDG. Gate F12 Paris; gate F14 Knoxville.
On the flight, sat next to Roberta From Tampa and, as I leafed through my Czech language book, we realized our destinations were the same. Her friend's daughter is in cinema school in Prague and she planned to stay a few days then meet her husband in Bologna. She's Italian with absolutely no accent.
Watched: Jupiter Ascending (all it had to offer was spectacle, so an airplane screen was the worst possible option), Project Almanac (childish, avoid unless you have a desire to see Piedmont Park), and Episodes (recommended by a coworker, good).
Sun 10 May
Follow the crowd off the plane to the only possible destinations: ATM and luggage. English signs everywhere, yet airports are confusing in their base genetics. Eventually made my way to the bus stop and was given 24Kč by a Kind Stranger to get a train ticket since I only had large bills. After several false starts I eventually joined the last people remaining. No ticket needed, it appears to be only circling the airport. Rats. Finally, it ended up at an entrance to the underground Metro. Success!
Drop the bags early at Hotel Josef with Filipe who had an awesome Gant watch that I Simply Cannot Find Available Anywhere. Snack and coffee at cafe Opapa waiting for room 114. Unpack, sleep, shower.
Dobre rano, Hotel Josef!
Girl-free until tomorrow night, so today is museum day. First stop: as 20 minute walk to Veletrzny Palac at The National Gallery. Started on the 4th floor and went down. Czech art from the 1850s on, then European art from the same time, then late 1900s and 2000s Czech art. Czech cubist artists would quote Picasso, Cezanne, impressionism to the point of plagiarism. I was kindof shocked. Beautiful late-romantic large-scale canvases. Very good 60s and 70s minimalism and the there was good balance in the present-day styles, presented with "what's next?" uncertainty. I recognized very few of the artists throughout the exhibits. Big mistake not taking notes. Rushed through the Kokoschka exhibit due to tiredness and I'm not that big of a fan.
Leaving Veletrzny as Roberta and her friend Sue were entering. Ha!
Light-filled atrium at Veletrzny Palac. Unrelated, but equally awesome, Mr. HotDog (coming soon).
Next: back near the hotel to the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia. Hard to find even with GPS and Google Maps. There are no two streets that are parallel. The current show is Medieval Art in Bohemia and Central Europe. Painting and sculpture from 1350s to 1450s with notable transitions to the international style. Nice complement to the moderns at Veletrzny.
Late afternoon and time for drinks and mussels from Nadeem at the bar at Chez Marcel. One of the many times I'd get a bonjour instead of a dobre den.
Brain reset and got a recommendation for a local kavernu for beer and Czech food. Ended up at VKolkovně ("v" is "in" and I'd see it sometimes with street names or locations; usually street signs will start with "U" which is short for "ulice"/"street"). Sausages in gravy with onions and peppers and a basket of heavy bread and Pilsner Urquell. Manhattans after at the bar at Tretter's. Minor people-watching and reading as I wind down (The Vorrh by Brian Catling).
Mon 11 May
Late start and finally get out at ~10. The nap did nothing! Coffee at Opapas (again). They serve coffee with a small shot glass of water. Not sure if Viennese or Czech tradition. The morning itinerary is walk around the old city squares. I see: Church of Our Lady Before Týn and Prague Astronomical Clock. I avoided tours since I wasn't sure what the girls would want to see. My mistake because I never got to go to the top of the clock tower. Wandered old neighborhoods randomly and saw many cool things that I would never be able to find again because of the aforementioned non-parallel street chaos. There were several instances of "oh, I was here before!" later in the week.
Church tower: stack it to heaven, I say!
Approaching the old city square.
Lunch at La Veranda (bonjour!). This was included in a list of recommendations the hotel concierge provided when I emailed them before the trip. I actually made reservations just because. French. Sauteed calamari, pea risotto with scallops, limoncello ice and espresso. Very nice wine recommendation. Even the nicest restaurants are so inexpensive here.
Jog. The weather is perfect and continues that way throughout the week. The hotel provides a jogging map with three routes. Neat! I take it and promptly get lost on the first turn. Again, non-parallel streets. I get back on track and wend across bridges and through parks and through the city. It's a nicely joggable city. I'd been worried since Lisa S. went for a jog in Rome and said it was unpleasant. Prague reminds me of Florence for its mix of age modernity and its narrow streets. Lisa S. had a good jogging experience there.
Back and clean up and then drinks and reading at Vino di Vino (ciao!). Picked up bottle to take home to Atlanta (yes, we eventually drank it in the hotel). Amazing wine cellar.
Throughout the trip, Lisa and I had been using an IM account via Trillian to talk. Alternately, she and the girls used WhatsApp to chat when they went their separate ways. The world needs a unified IM protocol. Anyway, at VdV she messaged that she was in the room. After meeting up for drinks at the hotel bar we wandered around the city and ended up for dinner at an Italian restaurant (ciao!). Completely forget the name. I had roasted pork knee with mustards (traditional Czech), Lisa grilled pork with hot peppers and mushrooms. The knee was a complex combination of bones and fat an very, very tender meat. Drinks at Tretter's (again).
Tue 12 May
Crossing the Charles Bridge to get to Prague Castle.
Looking down at the small people from on castle high.
Detail of the solid silver tomb of John of Nepomuk inside the cathedral.
After castle, met back up with Danice and Theresa and stopped at V Laznich traditional Czech restaurant after we saw pretzels hanging on wooden stands at each table. Neat. Had sausage and potato pancakes. Then further wandering in the area to see Lennon Wall filled with graffiti with both peaceful and trolling, war sentiments, and the Memorial to the Victims of Communism.
Dinner at the Michelin Starred Alcron. Four courses with wine pairings. Excellent. At the end of the evening the chef created an elaborate food painting for newlyweds at their table.
Wed 13 May
Meet Theresa and Danice at Cafe Louvre. Their tour guide Marcus had given them a 2 hour tour in the morning, so he joined us for a late breakfast. Vienna sausages and horseradish. Although very knowledgeable about the city, Marcus answered a question of greater importance: the cartoon character we had been seeing all over the city is the lovable Czech mole Krtek! The rest of the day involved walking around the Nove Mesto area to see the Dancing House and the Church of St. Cyril and Methodius and Upside Down St. Wenceslas (first Czerny of the trip).
Cross the city to visit the National Monument in Vitkov to see the gigantic sculpture of Jan Zizska on a horse. Met Samuel on the way who gave us directions. He moved from St. Louis to teach English a year and a half ago and is now drawing caricatures. Fun fact: you don't need to know Czech to teach English there. Photos and drinks at the top floor cafe. Off in the distance, Babies Climbing the Radio Tower (second Czerny).
Communists really know how to build a monument!
No selfie-stick necessary.
Return walk stopped at U Medvidku for X33 beer and bought a bottle to take home (drank it with Matt and Tedra and Bill at Meehan's after Mad Max the Sunday after our return). Stopped at the small Cafe Bar Archa U Prokupku: calimari and my first Staropramen ("old spring/fountain") beer. Hanging Freud (third Czerny of the trip).
FInally, the reason for this whole trip: Smetana's Ma Vlast performed by NDR Philharmonic at Municipal House. Champagne beforehand with what seemed like every nationality on Earth represented. Languages everywhere. People dressed from jeans to tuxedos, we were casually in between. The hall itself was more ornate than pictures suggested. Excellent concert and the first time I had heard the cycle in it's entirety. Perfect.
Nearing the end of the trip, so Danice and Theresa split off for independent studies. Lisa and I went to Chez Marcel (again) for dinner. Hanger steak and gratin potatoes for monsieur, rabbit confit for madame.
Who's a swank traveler? You are!
Thu 14 May
Nina our tour guide for the day picked us up early for a day trip to the fantastical city of Cesky Krumlov. Nina grew up in communist Czechoslovakia and experienced it turn into the democratic Czech Republic, so she had many stories of the social change. During the 2-1/2 hour drive, she regaled us with history and such. My only notes:
3 regions: Siletia - north west, industrial; Moravia - south east, agricultural, wine country; Bohemia - central and western (and what else?).
Drove past Archduke Ferdinand's castle. It was renovated for his wife Sophie who was not a noble, so the other nobles looked down on her. He was very traveled and educated, and so made it the most modern castle of Europe. Plumbing, electricity, the works. Nina was worried if we visited that we'd be upset by the many animals from his hunting trips mounted on the walls. She seemed very apologetic about it.
Later, she told us about Ruslan and Ludmila from Ukrainian history. Theirs is a well known love story that I knew from some Russian opera but neither of us could remember at the time (it was an opera by Glinka).
No CGI required.
Josef Vachal and Egon Schiele exhibits at the Egon Schiele Center. Excellent museum. Needed two hours and we had 20 minutes.
Open Vino di Vino bottle back at the room.
Fri 15 May
Last day rush rush rush. Jewish synagogue and cemetery. Late breakfast at the Kafka Snob Cafe: croque monsieur. Museum of medieval torture instruments at one end of the Charles Bridge. Across the bridge for beers with Lisa at Hergetova Cihelna near the Franz Kafka Museum. Piss sculpture (fourth Czerny?) in front, sadly w/out working piss.
Kafka Museum. Grew up in Prague, worked as an insurance adjuster. Overbearing father and combative family cook. Four canceled engagements. Thanks Max Brod! On the Amsterdam layover back home, I purchased four paperbacks to binge-read in the coming months (Schocken, 1998 editions).
Residual obsession from Prague arrived: set of books by their favorite son, K. The next few months will be weird. pic.twitter.com/8Iysff5zmk— Scott D. Strader (@sstrader) May 20, 2015
Is anyone else paranoid right now?
Drinks at Malestranského (mala strana, small side) Hostince (inn). Baroque concert for organ and soprano at St. Nicholas church. Amazing acoustics. [ updated 5 Jul 2015 ] Flyer for the concert: front and back. Final dinner at Paris Cafe near the hotel.
Sat 16 May
Taxi with Lisa to the airport in the early AM. Separate flights, mine was Prague to Amsterdam to Atlanta. Watched: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (w/ Kramer, very good), Taken 3 (entertaining enough), Leviathan (beautiful, depressing film with cinematography that needed to be seen on a good screen. Deals with ideas of a corrupt government and a complicitly corrupt church, echoed by Pussy Riot's closing statement. One scene has PR on the TV in the background), Louis CK (his younger daughter thinks she's always dreaming). Home and laundry and a jog to sweat out the exhaustion and flight and Marta.
7 May 2015
Went to see Sonic Generator at MOCA this Wednesday upon prompting by Dan. I'd missed several previous performances and this made up for it. Each piece was its distinct own world. (Mostly) 21st century composition at its finest. [ updated 5 Jul 2015 ] Flyer for the concert: front and back. The program, plus several random videos of other performances of the pieces:
- Like sweet bells jangled (2009) - Nathan Davis. Traditional instruments with some electronic phase shifting that I understand audibly yet don't understand the science behind it. Very Music For Airports #1 (which I had seen performed live in Knoxville by Bang on a Can All-Stars!) with the undeniable theme and variations structure, ending with a palette-cleansing scherzo section.
- September Canons (2002) - Ingram Marshall. Violin playing against itself. The periods of live sampling and repetition were asymmetrical. Long sense of ocean waves.
- Nostalgic Synchronic: Etudes 1-3 (2015) - Dan Trueman. Prepared piano done with an electric piano. I started with a dislike of the sound. I feel like sometimes I'm a traditional modernist who likes new sounds to be created from the composition and arrangement. Altered instruments sometimes leave me cold. Eventually I warmed up and feel these were the most emotional pieces. The three map nicely to a three-movement sonata: brainy, challenging first movement; soft, emotive second; exuberant third. New emotions were created here.
- delete/control/option (2008) - Marcos Balter. This was the most demanding for the listener. Very very very sparse, episodic expressions with flute and cello, layered tremolo. The most amazing aspect was that throughout they were seldom individual but rather a single, new instrument.
- Music in Similar Motion (1969) - Philip Glass. Ha! The staid, Brandenburg Concerto of the evening, 40+ years old. Very rock and roll and a fiery performance. First time seeing live.
(The videos I picked were either from lack of option or best looking available. There may be other, better performances.)
22 March 2015
I'd recently read Blindsight by Peter Watts after my Kindle recommended it and the content of the reviews suggested I would like it (correct and correct). It's a posthuman sci-fi novel about a small group of enhanced humans sent on a decades-long journey to investigate an alien presence at the outer regions of the solar system. Throughout, there's a sense that humanity has reached a dead end. As people with means alter themselves with enhanced abilities--man/machine interfaces, multiple consciousnesses in one person, neuro-physical updates--un-altered "baselines", without the ability to keep up against an advanced society, hook their brains up to a virtual world called Heaven. Once in, they abandon any emotional bond to those they left behind. One particularly odd aspect of the novel is that vampires exist as an extinct offshoot of humans. They have been resurrected and though there is a detente of sorts, they are so far advanced in intelligence and ability that even the most enhanced humans are like children. To trump even this level of insignificance, the aliens the crew encounter are orders of magnitude more adept than even vampires.
I've since started the sequel titled Echopraxia (which means "the involuntary repetition or imitation of another person's actions"). I'm 50-or-so pages in, but the grimness is the same. The action takes place on Earth where a group of hive mind Bicamerals push the boundaries of invention but cannot explain how they achieve it. It's another example of humans becoming so far from equal that there is no longer a single humanity. Non-Bicamerals are as threatened by them as baselines by the transhumans. Similar fears have been echoed in Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl (and his even more stunning and depressing short stories Pump Six), Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief trilogy, and even somewhat in Atwood's Oryx and Crake trilogy. Notably, Watts is a marine biologist, Rajaniemi a mathematician and programmable DNA entrepreneur, and Atwood a developer of remote robotics.
Contrast these with Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End (read at the same time as Oryx and Crake). Though he deals only slightly with posthumanism, he shows the tension of modern, augmenting technology. Rainbows End has all of the aspects of a dystopian warning--aggressive emergent AI, near 100% surveillance state monitoring, the physical destruction of all books in order to digitize--yet he somehow offers an optimistic message in the end. Ever the singularitanist. Or maybe the realist. Still, sci-fi is not about what will happen; it is simply plotting a straight line with a few of the data points we currently have. Sometimes it's a warning, sometimes a hope.