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Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Wes Finch fails the Billy Bragg elevator test

I've been hoping to find a way of writing about Wes Finch for a while.

At the Warwick folk festival he played a version of Richard Thompson's Vincent Black Lightning that was so good it made you forget to breathe: to be honest I don't think the recording I've linked to there really does it justice. Judging by the wild applause he received Finch, who's local to Warwick, impressed more people than just me that afternoon.

I spent good money buying the album, Mayflower, (above) listened to it a couple of times and then forgot about it for a few weeks until my stereo developed a mind of its own one day and stuck it on. By then the CD had become separated from its cover and while I was scrabbling around confusedly thinking "Bloody hell, that's good. What is it?" several of the tunes had become earworms. Check out Good morning, captain! and Bowl of Stars.

So I rang him, in order to find something to say that you couldn't hear for yourself by listening to the album, explaining that I tend not to write reviews because I don't think on the whole they're very useful. The beauty of blogging, anyway, is that you can embed the music and let other people make up their minds.

Wes gamely told me a bit about himself. Turns out he's 36, has recently gone full time with the music, which he can do because he plays in a band that does covers for weddings called Doc Emmett Brown, after the character in Back to the Future, and another called By Lantern Light. As a solo artist he's working on a project with Gerry Diver, who has recently produced albums for Lisa Knapp and Sam Lee, though I always think he sounds like a character from The Beggar's Opera. And then, to show what a pro he was, Finch also came up with a good anecdote.

"I supported Billy Bragg at the Royal Shakespeare Company's theatre in Stratford recently and they gave me the male lead's dressing room, which had a balcony over the river. I'd like to become accustomed to that kind of thing... And it's an amazing place to play because there's this wall of people in front of you.

"I'm not sure whether I could say that I really met Billy Bragg though. We shared a lift but he seemed a bit preoccupied, and I don't really talk about politics or football so I didn't know what to say. Plus for a while I didn't recognise him: he was in kind of a disguise."

"That'll be the beard," said Billy Bragg, over Twitter. "It does have that effect on people."

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

Friday, 18 October 2013

Seattle Anglophile Dylan Carlson plays Reynardine like you never heard it before

This was a real surprise, and one that may intrigue Fairport Convention.

"Come and see the man who bought the shotgun that Kurt Cobain killed himself with play some rock and roll," was the invitation. Who could resist such a morbid offer? Not me...

Dylan Carlson was best friend of the unhappy Cobain, which puts him if not actually in the rock and roll hall of fame, then lurking somewhere in an anteroom nearby. Rock loves a good tragedy and so, if we are completely honest, do most of us so long as it's happening to someone we don't really know. Carlson carries with him a trace of that mortal glamour and, accordingly, his later show sold out so quickly that The Lexington cannily decided to schedule another at 5pm. This also sold out, if I'm not very much mistaken, despite starting at a time when only freelances and students were really likely to make it.

It was quite a show though. Dirty, fuzzy, grungey guitars played by seated musicians - first Thurston Moore and friend, then Carlson accompanied by a really sympatico drummer - in the Lexington's upstairs room with all the windows blocked up, organised in such a way that it was completely mesmerising: it felt like a cross between a rock and roll show and an extended dope-smoking session. Or something that the Barbican might put on as part of a modernist season.

It was great: a mind-altering musical experience.

And then Carlson pulled a cultural rabbit out of the hat. A young female vocalist came on, the drummer departed temporarily, and they proceeded to do the filthiest, weirdest version of Reynardine that you're ever likely to hear. The grunge curled and twisted around the familiar tune as the singer, who went by the name of Teresa Colmonacco, gave it a kind of haunted-house Sandy Denny without overdoing it. It was perfectly judged and fantastically surprising under the circumstances.

It turns out that Carlson is an Anglophile, in a semi-mystical, imagined Albion, renaissance faire kind of a way. His Twitter handle - @drcarlsonalbion - reflects this and when I asked him about Reynardine he said: "Liege and Lief was one of the first albums I ever had. It was given to me by my uncle, so the songs on it are all part of my personal history."

I wonder whether his curiosity has taken him to Cropredy yet? He may be ripe for a crossover project, clearly loves the material and does something darkly enjoyable to it.

* If you were intrigued by the mention of renaissance faires you may also be interested in this, about the Mediaeval Baebes.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Bruno Zamborlin's invention, Mogees, turns everyday objects into musical instruments

Picture this. 

It is a warm night, and on an island in Mexico an orchestra in white tie sits playing Stravinsky under the stars. Across the lake, which is carrying the sound, an audience in neat, seated rows is absorbed by the music and by the spectacular lights that are playing across the island's trees - lumiere for the son. But the evening is about to become even more magical... For when a break comes between movements, the orchestra quietly puts down its traditional musical instruments - the clarinets go back on their stands, the cellos balance on their sides - and continues the symphony by playing the trees instead. 

This is one of several projects - this one potentially to be sponsored by a bank - that have been suggested to Bruno Zamborlin, a 29-year-old Italian drummer who is completing a computer science PhD at Goldsmith's College and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, since his TEDx talk (below) about Mogees.

In essence the technology is a microphone that can be attached to any hard surface, which can then be played in a variety of ways: it detects all movement around it. The output can be programmed, using related software, by the player in advance and what can be produced is, therefore, bounded only by the player's imagination.

The TEDx talk has been watched more than 8,000 times on YouTube but judging by the number of commissions that have come Zamborlin's way, it's likely that a large number of these views were by people working in the creative industries. For this is a technology with a million potential applications.

The last time I saw Zamborlin he was too busy to talk because he was doing a demonstration at an evening organised by MC Saatchi ad agency to promote Peroni beer by association with the work of world-beating Italian expats - of whom there are a great number for reasons he explained succinctly, if sadly. "Nothing in Italy works. People leave."

But when asked about Mogees' applications, the first thing Zamborlin mentioned was music teaching. "There is usually a gap between starting to play music and enjoying it, simply because it doesn't sound good. During that period a lot of children give up or come to the conclusion that they'll never be able to do it. But Mogees is really nice to play even if you don't really know how to - it allows you to improve your skills without making any terrible sounds."The hope is that Mogees will encourage musical confidence, building music into the lives of those it touches.

Accordingly, the EU has provided a grant to manufacture the system for classroom use, at a cost of around £1 per microphone. That's one above, attached to a railing that temporarily became an instrument for demo purposes, along with the iPhone that is running the software.

There was also an installation for the Italian kitchenware company Alessi, which had Zamborlin turn some of their products into a musical instrument for promotional purposes, much as he does with the bicycle in the video above.

And then there are the wider applications of the technology, which is known as EAVI - "embodied audio visual interaction" - for the group of talented researchers working in the same field. One of Zamborlin's colleagues, Mick Grierson, has been working with handicapped children and told me: "I've been working with some boys aged 12-14 at Whitefield School and Centre, who are very seriously affected by their autism: they are non-verbal, sometimes violent and with extreme repetitive behaviour.

"I worked with them to develop a sound and music system for the iPad called "Sonic Scrapbook" and an interactive squeezable interface for sound recording and manipulation. I developed the interface because although most people find iPad touch screens easy to use, the people we were working with didn't always get along with it.

"These new interfaces [can't] make them less autistic, I think it's pretty clear that this is impossible. What you can do is make them feel that their choice is important, and that whatever they do can have an impact on the world. From talking to teachers and carers, this is a good thing you can try and do for people who have autism."

There is also talk that the EAVI technology has been used by researchers in the US for military purposes connected with the sighting of tank guns: as I say when you can programme the output of a device to be anything you would like it to be, the practical uses to which it can be put are limited only by the user's imagination.

* Bruno Zamborlin will be producing an installation at Rich Mix on Bethnal Green High Road at the beginning of May 2014. In the mean time you can contact him here and follow him on Twitter @brunozamborlin

* If you enjoyed this post, would you also be interested in reading about how music is a political force in Afghanistan?

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

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