Category Archives: Thoughts

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

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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

Block Printing with a Ghost from the Gulf…

I’m doing some DIY album art for my Daydrifter project, so each album will be a little art piece (if all goes well).  I was recently reminded of the work of New Orleans native / Mississippi resident and artist, Walter Anderson, specifically his large scale block printing pieces. Growing up (for part of my life) on the North shore of Lake Pontchartrain and in New Orleans, I had seen his water colors of coastal birds and such, without even realizing it, but seeing one of his 6′ block prints for the first time  instantly inspired me. Looking at it now, the simple geometric patterns of the piece evoke movement in a way that transports me to Horn Island. There, I can hear the rhythm of the gulf water lazily lapping on to the shore, and the harmonies made by soaring birds chirping as crabs scuttle through the sand below them.

Anderson died in the 1960s – unfortunately  Hurricane Katrina destroyed and damaged a lot of his legacy, but the one below, survives. I couldn’t find a higher res photo, so you’ll have to pay it a visit in person next time you’re in Mississippi – promise me you will.

Linoleum block print-Frigate Birds by Walter Anderson
Courtesy Walter Anderson Museum of Art

PS. I’ll have new music for you to hear very soon, I swear.

xo sarah

How to rewrite a spiritual…

I grew up in a house where everyone spontaneously broke in to song, in response to whatever was going on around us… not musical theater songs, but  songs like Three Dog Night’s “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog” (when we were happy) or Willie Nelson’s “Hello Walls” (when I was arguing with my parents), all done in a rock opera way. If I was pouting or whining, my parents would often pepper in songs like “Nobody Knows the Trouble” and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” to counteract (and play into) my mood, which usually led me to A. singing along, or B. storming off more pissed. My parents told me that I would sing similar sounding songs in my sleep even. I had no idea those were “spirituals”  but I suppose that explains how the spiritual seeds were planted.

I already blogged about this song last month…  and now I’ve decided to jump in and take it on after all. I obviously can’t do a pre-civil war spiritual justice, so I’m going to have to rewrite the lyrics and find my own voice within it. I’ve re-written plenty of lyrics, but this cover is going to be very different for me, harder to write, I think. Daniel is going to sing the lower parts of the song, and the rest will be me – no instruments. Pretty simple.

Here’s the original point of inspiration, so we can compare later.

 “I’m Troubled in Mind”. 

ps. this was apparently recorded by a Spiritual Workshop group in Paris, but I can’t  find anything else out about the group or when it was recorded – bummer.

I’m really trying to follow my gut here. I’m generally very guarded in terms of the music I make, refraining from explaining lyrics or inspiration. A year ago I would have been terrified to take on such a song, to share so many random points of interest, or to even create a project like DAYDRIFTER, exposing my musical venerabilities, but here I am, to my own surprise. Yay!

Oh and just a word relating back to my rock opera upbringing… you’d be surprised to find out that I actually dislike musical theater (I could probably use a stronger word than dislike), but, I highly recommend turning your home into a stage and singing throughout your day, about your day.

Stories by firelight…

CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS couldn’t have come out at a better time for me! It really reaches out to the anthropological inspiration aspect of the Daydrifter project. The film is a documentary by Werner Herzog, about the Chauvet Cave in southern France with a breathtaking score by Ernst Reijseger, that features syllabic vocal chanting in a really beautiful and unexpected way.

Here’s a little background stated better than I could have courtesy of Wikipedia.

Based on radiocarbon dating, the cave appears to have been occupied by humans during two distinct periods: the Aurignacian and the Gravettian.  Most of the artwork dates to the earlier, Aurignacian, era (30,000 to 32,000 years ago). The later Gravettian occupation, which occurred 25,000 to 27,000 years ago, left little but a child’s footprints, the charred remains of ancient hearths and carbon smoke stains from torches that lit the caves. After the child’s visit to the cave, evidence suggests that the cave had been untouched until discovered in 1994. The footprints may be the oldest human footprints that can be dated accurately.

I can’t really put in to words all that was amazing about the film. The remarkably vibrant illustrations were  made by firelight, and in some cases, 5000 years apart. It’s hard to conceive of a place in history where humanity existed without any sense of time.  I was left wondering how similar the songs they sung and stories they told were, all of those years apart. Oh, and it was in 3D…

Musique Concrète Monday

Happy Monday!

Since I’ve been on the subject of Thomas Edison, I figured I should link him up to my latest listen…. so here we go.

Thanks to all of the fancy new tape machines and microphones being developed in the post-Edison world, the people of the early 2oth century, seem to have been clamoring to record anything and everything ad nauseam… from symphonies to speech to the sounds of nature and industry. With only a few decades of material to pull from, two Frenchmen named Pierre decided to take some of these relatively “new” audio recordings, dice them up and use the primitive samples that resulted, to create an entirely new type of music (or musical movement rather). Here’s an example…

Pierre Schaeffer & Pierre Henry

“Symphonie Pour Un Homme Seul, Waltz” (1950) 

Ok, so its not pop music, but since the music I’m working on right now is really rooted in the looping of human speech and sounds, I owe a great deal to Schaeffer & Henry for pioneering the art of composing with samples. They treated each segment of recorded sound as an instrument, seamlessly arranging them in a systematically musical yet disjunct sounding way. According to Schaeffer (per some French website that’s better at restating the obvious than I am), he intended to “challenge the primary opposition between sound and noise to discover the musical potential of sound usually regarded as noise.” Bravo Pierre.

Anyway, if you have a chance, clear your mind, take a listen, and let yourself time travel to a world without protools.  

PS.  I originally wrote this with the added perspective of my music history interests… but decided that I ramble too much, so its shorter now.

First contact… with film

This Thomas Edison-produced 14 second clip from 1894 is the first cameo by Native Americans on film. There’s no audio in the post, but it does sort of fall in line with my Youtube home video snooping, since it depicts Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show (a sort of “Disneyland fireworks” equivalent for its time).

“According to Edison film historian C. Musser, this film and others shot on the same day featured Native American Indian dancers from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, and constitutes the American Indian’s first appearance before a motion picture camera.” – Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division

Let’s  imagine the music they danced to that day…