Category Archives: Music

Putting myself to task

Wrote another song this weekend that I can’t wait to share… I’m tentatively calling it “Inside Joke.”  So far it’s made of ukulele, piano, kick drum and voice. I’m obviously gravitating toward writing on the uke all of the sudden.  Daniel just re-strung it (for the first time in 50 years we think), so you can expect a lot of it on the album.

Speaking of “the album”, I’m putting myself to task this week and I’m going to try to knock out the rest of my demos, so I can head in to the studio with Daniel in the next few weeks to finish up my first collection of tracks. So begins the arduous task of transcribing cell phone recordings…

Cross your fingers for me.

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“Dance, dance… otherwise we are lost.”

OK, I know I am not going to do this film justice, so please just go see it. See it at the theater, in 3D, they way it was meant to be seen. Do not wait a minute, or you’ll miss it. I’ll also state that this is not a movie review, rather a confession.

I have to admit, I’ve never been much a dance fan. Although maybe its just lack of exposure to the idea of choreography living independent of music. I longed to be a ballerina when I was a little girl (for the tutu not the craft), but thanks to my family’s many moves around the globe, I didn’t actually get involved in the performing arts until I was in junior high… much too late to be “en pointe.”

Until that time, I painted pictures, wrote stories and sang along with my favorite albums in the privacy of my own room, but seldom danced.  I’ve always had a keen sense of movement and rhythm, and I certainly learned plenty about dance, but mostly in the context of how composers worked with choreographers (i.e. Tchaikovsky + Petipa or John Cage + Merce Cunningham… music school obviously thought the music was the driver in such collaborations), so i guess I’ve never given myself the chance to fully appreciate the body as an instrument of motion. I never discredited dance as modern art or what not, I just haven’t been thinking about it. Then I saw Pina. I was wrong about everything.

(This is a track written for the movie by Japanese composer, Jun Miyake)

With images, words, music and motion, once they are deliberate, they become art. I think the general public, like me, has had a hard time conceptualizing modern art as physical motion (I’m not talking about ballet or ballroom here people). There is no doubt though that what Bausch creates is art in one of its highest forms, and her deliberate subtle movement-making, dare I say, proves sound to be secondary.

So in terms of the movie… Pina, frames dance in a series of breathtaking vignettes. You see the stylistic choices made by both choreographer and dancer, played out on stage and in life. Director, Wim Wenders, does a great job at showing how, when it comes to the body, a choreographer isn’t bound by the notes in a scale; movement is as boundless as the imagination. The film takes you inside the hearts of the dancers (which match in passion, the intent of the choreographer), and surrounds you with the dance works themselves. Through 3D, you get to see 360 degrees of first person perspective – taking the audience to place far past “spectator”. The works jump off the stage and screen, and envelope you.  I would see it again in the theater, a million times over.  Please do the same.

Foot notes… Pina Bausch sadly died of cancer in 2009, five days after diagnosis and two days before shooting was scheduled to begin for the documentary, resulting in a film that is as much a planned collaboration between Wenders and Bausch, as an homage and celebration of her contribution to modern dance and to the lives of her dance company.

If you’re headed to Germany make  a B-line for Wuppertal and catch a performance of one of her works, by the troop that knows her best. Works by Bausch will also be staged in London this June and July, as a highlight of the Cultural Olympiad preceding the Olympic Games 2012. If you see her work in person, please tell me about it. Make me jealous.

PS. I think its time to give Merce another shot. I’m still saying no to broadway musicals though.

xo sarah

Free Reeding in a Fancy Dress…

Say hello to my little friend… We met at a Goodwill in Hollywood, while I was looking for a ball gown to destroy by jumping in to a pool, later that day (see Exhibits A, B and C). The ball gown survived after all, so it was a win-win sort of day!

I hadn’t played Harmonium before this, but now that I have, I am in love.

Inspired by my new toy, I went searching for Harmonium music, and the majority of it is not surprisingly Qawwali (Indian / Pakistani etc.) music. I keep getting hypnotized by this clip of Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan (brother of Nusrat, who you probably know) jamming for 10 minutes in the early 1980s (i think).

Listen and zone out with me…

Now its time to go make some magic with this thing… another track is on the way!

xo

The weight of words and a ukulele…

Here’s another demo track at last.  I wrote this song on a ukulele (this one)… which, as you can probably imagine, I’m not much of an expert at. I had my eye on it for weeks as it laid around the studio, begging to be played.  Finally I picked it up one morning and pressed record, capturing my first attempts at playing it (inspired by Edison, of course). What emerged was “The Weight of Words”, a nearly complete impassioned folk-ish song, not really in the vein of my usual writing style, but in keeping with the texturally additive and harmonically simple essence of Daydrifter. This is my first love affair with the ukulele, and the words tell a tale of an impending end, void of regrets.

Again, Daniel added electric guitar and some other bells and whistles, all of which added to its magic. (Download HERE if you don’t see the embedded player below.) Enjoy.

PS. This is a photo I snapped while descending in to New Orleans (while disobeying the order to turn off all electronic devices). It makes me feel weightless.

The weight of words defies me
And sentiments, more than you could hide from me
Hurting more, ’cause you waited all this time

But I’m not gonna hide,
No I’m not gonna go quietly.

Sitting, Wishing, Wanting,
Pretending? No, not so far. No not so far.
Sitting, Wishing, Waiting,
Regretting? No, not so far. No not so far.

You did more than just define me
Silence said more than you could try, to me
I’m easy game ’cause I’ve given all this time

But I’m not gonna hide,
No I’m not gonna go quietly.

Sitting, Wishing, Wanting,
Pretending? No, not so far. No not so far.
Sitting, Wishing, Waiting,
Regretting? No, not so far. No not so far.

Beneath the Singing Oak Tree…

Daniel and I recently returned from our annual trek back to my hometown, New Orleans where we always march in the St Anne’s Parade on Mardi Gras day.

After an amazing march through the quarter on Fat Tuesday, we spent a leisurely Ash Wednesday scouring pawn shops for gear, eating the first crawfish of the season and lounging beneath the “Singing Oak Tree” at Big Lake in City Park.  We shot a little clip of the tree in action, but its hard to capture or explain the serenity that overcomes you in person, as the wind conducts its chance music orchestra of pentatonic bells (some 14 feet tall), strung up in the branches of the old oak.

There are dozens of home videos of the tree, made by fellow admirers, trying to capture its voice to no avail – here’s my attempt. (I’m going to try to use this windy recording in a song at some point, so stay tuned for that.)

And, with New Orleans still on my mind, I thought I’d share one more rare find (feel free to download for free as usual), called “Let Me be the First to Kiss You Good Morning,” by The Dixie Stars. There was a time that New Orleans had a very melancholy heaviness in my heart, but the longer i am away the closer we get. This is a charming little love song… one I sing in my heart to the city of New Orleans whenever I am there.

Here’s a little more about the writer and singer, in case you’re interested:

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Al Bernard started his recording career around 1916. He was one of the first white singers to record blues songs. He recorded with songwriter J. Russel Robinson as “The Dixie Stars” and, with Robinson, wrote the Bessie Smith feature “Sam Jones Blues”.

I ♥ Crafts!

…but of course you already knew that! When my musical id is feeling shy the artist in me comes out to play. So, I recently wrote a little blurb for Racked LA’s “Shopping Confidential” series,  about the perfect place to get your craft on, The French General! Read it at la.racked.com

In keeping with the theme… I’m listening to this lovely little French Accordion piece from the 1930s right now. That’s about all I know about it.

 

 

xo sarah

Obsessed…

I am officially obsessed with this band / album…

There’s a a group called Tinariwen, that performs what could be described as African “blues”. Blues is a vague word I suppose, since this isn’t blues as we know it in America, but it certainly has the spirit of blues, and from what I gather the personal anguish to back it up. Although they’re from Mali, They recently recorded their new album (stripped down from their usual electric fare), Tassili in the Algerian desert with a few lucky bastards that you might have heard of like Nels Cline (Wilco), Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe (TV on the Radio)… ❤ ❤ <3.

I can’t remember getting so excited by an album after hearing only a few measures of music. As anyone who knows me, probably knows of me, I have an affinity for 1960s / 70s Ethiopian Jazz… So blues from Mali, makes sense, i guess.  I also happen to be in love  with the desert… so a band by that name, has to fall in my good graces.  I’m honestly ashamed that I haven’t been following this group my whole life, as they’ve been around longer than I.

Here’s a little more about the group according to their Wiki…

Tinariwen (Tamashek, t-i-nàriw-en “deserts”, plural of t-è-nere “desert”[1]) is a band of Tuareg musicians from the Sahara Desert region of northern Mali. The band was formed c. 1979[2] in refugee camps in Libya but returned to Mali after a cease-fire in the 1990s.[3] The group first started to gain a following outside the Sahara region in 2001, with the release of The Radio Tisdas Sessions, and the performances at Festival au Désert in Mali[4] and at the Roskilde festival in Denmark.[5] Their popularity rose internationally with the release of the critically acclaimed Aman Iman in 2007. Tinariwen’s biography has variously been described as “the most compelling of any band” (Songlines), “the most rock’n’roll of them all” (The Irish Times), “hard-bitten” (Slate.com), and “dramatic” (The Independent).[citation needed] The band is set to release a new album entitled Tassili on August 30, 2011.[6]

 

I literally just heard about and bought their new album today, so I’m still in the discovery phase… will keep you posted as my favorite tracks emerge.

xo

I am a sleepwalker on a “War Path”

Here it is… the first track from DAYDRIFTER!!!

The song is called “War Path“, and it was conceived on a long silent car ride as I was running errands sans radio around LA in April (I was actually dropping off a pair of boots at the cobbler, that I’d worn the heels off of while stomping around Austin during SXSW). I demoed nearly all of the parts into my phone while I drove, and the second I got home I rerecorded it as (along with 2 other tracks, also anchored in vocal loops). The entire Daydrifter project and name came to me during the same car ride.

I’ve been wanting to write a war chant for some time –  something simple and oddly traditional sounding (pentatonic), with a foundation in vocal melody the way most traditional folk music is written (not the laurel canyon sort). When I’ve written for my other projects, I generally play piano or guitar and I let the instrument lead the way. In this case, I wanted to turn things around and start with voice and melody, so that everything else is secondary, which is a common thread throughout all of my Daydrifter songs.

Another aspect of the recording that I wanted to maintain was the spontaneity of every performance. There were only a few takes to get everything, my dogs are making noise in the background, and everything going on around me at home is captured by the mic (much like the recordings / performances I did with ROBOTANISTS for the King of Limbs In 24 Hours project).

My usual partner in crime, Daniel DeBlanke produced the track, to my delight.

[Silent film footage of Cecil Hepworth’s 1903 “Alice in Wonderland” was used under creative commons license. It is the earliest film adaptation of the book.]

This is a true story… I sleepwalk, sleeptalk and sleepsing, sometimes.

When I went walking out there
I saw so many things
I can’t let go
I can’t get up to see you while I sleep

and I sang

On a war path in my mind
I might have taken flight
I found myself
Somewhere else, too far for you to fight

and you sang

So many things, to look (love) for, to bring

xo sarah

New music soon…

I just finished the first track from my Daydrifter album!!!!! I’m going to sit on this weekend, and probably post it on Monday. I’ve got a few more songs nearly done as well, so stay tuned! Can’t wait to share!

PS. if anyone knows a bassoonist who wants to play in a rock band, email me! I’d also like to find a lady drummer, who can play lots of hand percussion and sing backing vocals. A girl can dream…

xo

What a life…

Daniel traded a bass for a 1930s era ukulele on a whim one day while stopping by Old Style Guitar Shop, here in LA. He plans on making an atheism themed inspirational folk album with it, for the kids who don’t get to go to Jesus camp every summer (think of “Kumbaya” with out “my lord” – ha).

So, with the old, yet newly acquired uke laying around the studio, and Daniel playing it constantly, I decided to search for some not-so-Hawaiian early recordings of the instrument.

Here’s a 78 rpm Victor recording of a 25 year old tenor “crooner” (and presumed “ladies man” based on the picture below), by the name of Gene Austin, performing with ukulele in 1925.  I’ve fallen in love with it.

“Arriving with the advent of electro-magnetic recording, Austin, adopted an intimate, radio-friendly, close-miked style that took over from the more sentimental style of tenor vocals popularized by such singers as Henry Burr and Billy Murray. Such later crooners as Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra all credited Austin with creating the musical genre that began their careers.” (wikipedia, duh)

Gene Austin “What a Life” 

I also subsequently decided to pick up the instrument for the first time myself. With Edison as my “first recordings” inspiration, I decided to press record the very first time I played it. The result was a new song, nearly complete, that I can’t wait to share.

xo sarah