Best of 2013

Saturday, 21 December 2013


Here are some of my favorite songs that I listened to this year. Click the image to download a ZIP file or get it here.

David Bowie

Monday, 4 November 2013

I used to play a pirated copy of “Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego?” on my DTK 386 back in, say, 1994. This was when “pirated” meant you just copied the files onto one of those 3.5″ floppies that AOL sent in the mail every two days. Since it was a pirated copy, I didn’t have the Fodor’s Travel Guide that you were supposed to use to answer the final question to move on to the next level. It was always “What State is on page {foo} of the travel guide? Me being me, I made a list of all 50 States, and slowly worked my way through via guesswork until I had most of them down.

Now if you remember this game, you had to track down criminals based on contextual clues left behind as to who they are, and where they are going. It assumes some level of geographical and pop culture knowledge. Geography I had down. Proud winner of the 8th grade geography bee, here. Pop culture… not so much. One of the contextual clues was a David Bowie cassette tape. You had to know what kind of music he made. I never could remember. (it was “rock”).

A year or so later and I start getting mail from Columbia House and BMG. Notice I didn’t say junk mail, because for me, Columbia House and BMG were pretty much my sole method of obtaining music that was new to me. I got into Led Zeppelin, Stone Temple Pilots, 311, and, on a whim, decided to find out who this David Bowie person was. You could say I was sheltered. That would be very tactful of you. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars sounded like a good start, because I was and am still a huge science fiction nerd. It arrived, and, just a bit through the half way point of the opening track “Five Years” my mind was blown.

The album itself was nearly 25 years old at that point, and there’s little young me, poleaxed. I couldn’t tell you how many times I listened to it. And every month, when my BMG or Columbia House mail would arrive, I’d get more Bowie. This was a good time for it, even though I wasn’t aware, I was getting the remastered Rykodisc versions that were chock full of outtakes with different lyrics, or rare live performances. I still have them all: Diamond Dogs, The Man Who Sold the World, Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups. Those albums all received mad play time. Low, Lodger, Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, and Let’s Dance significantly less so, though now I have a more mature appreciation for what’s going on in those albums.

Earthling came out in 1997. The first album of his that I had the opportunity to purchase in its natural milieu. I have to admit I had basically no idea what was going on with that electronica drum & bass madness. I still don’t. I’m okay with that. It’s a great album for zoning out on a road trip. 1997 is, incidentally, the year I went to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Minneapolis. I got a chance to do a little shopping at a big city record store. On that trip, I picked up Bowie’s Outside. Certainly his most macabre, grotesque, baroque work. The least appropriate Bowie album to pick up while in town with a ton of Catholic teenagers. Incidentally, on that trip I also learned that Tolkien calendars exist.

I managed to see him in concert, on the Area 2 tour with Moby, when he was touring for his album Heathen (in my opinion, his best work in these later years). I eagerly picked up Reality in 2003 when I was working in New York, and I remember playing it on the Bang & Olufsen sound system owned by the family I was staying with at the time. The first song immediately called up memories of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, and the whole album it an amalgam of songs sifted from Bowie’s long career and new work.

For years I’ve been unable to decide which album I like best between Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs, but I’ve finally decided that Diamond Dogs is my favorite album. The 8 – 9 minutes of Sweet Thing/​Candidate/​Sweet Thing Reprise is my favorite chunk of music.

The version from David Live is amazing:

And I really like the alternate lyrics to Candidate (released on the aforementioned remastered Rykodisc release):

Bowie has been a constant intrigue and challenge to me as I’ve grown older, and he’ll continue to be as long as he keeps putting out albums. I learned about Jean-​Michel Basquiat by seeking out the movie made about him merely because Bowie played Andy Warhol. I discovered the horrible sack-​swinging fascination of his role in Labyrinth, and developed a little crush on Jennifer Connelly. I became a fan of Nicolas Roeg after watching The Man Who Fell to Earth. I’ve become a fan of just about every band he’s ever covered.

David Bowie was my gateway from small town Indiana to the rest of the world. This young dude carried the news, so hey, man. Thanks.

Bruckner & Adams with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Once again, I was given the opportunity to attend a performance of the world-​renowned Cleveland Orchestra. This time it was at Blossom Music Center, there was a Meet the Musicians panel before the performance, and a chance to meet the featured violiniset, Leila Josefowicz, during intermission. We were also plied with wine & hor d’oeuvres at both times; so, you know, bonus. The performance featured pieces from John Adams and Anton Bruckner.

In my previous post, I complained a bit about the lack of reasonably priced ticket opportunities to see the Orchestra and a lack of young folks. In the run up to attending this performance, however, I learned that seeing the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom is a family tradition for families all over the Northeast Ohio area; that’s a serious perk of living near Cleveland. Growing up in the middle of nowhere Indiana, there was never an opportunity to see something as special as the Cleveland Orchestra. It’s definitely something I’ll be taking my son to in the future. The acoustics at Blossom are admirably suited to listening to the Orchestra, from any vantage. At Severance Hall you sit inside the music, at Blossom it washes over you.

I really enjoyed the Meet the Musicians panel; hearing from Frank Cohen (clarinet), Amy Lee (violin), Stephen Rose (violin) and Paul Yancich (timpani). Frank in particular was charming and had some great stories to relate about growing up attending orchestral performances. All of the musicians spoke a bit about upcoming performances and their thoughts on the pieces and being part of the orchestra in general. When it was time for questions I asked if any of the musicians could expand on their forays into playing in non-​traditional spaces, like the Happy Dog or in Ann Arbor, MI. Amy Lee has been active in that area and mentioned that some orchestra members have been trying to find a place to play on their night off during their upcoming trip to New York City, but were having difficulty finding a venue that would be cool with it. That’s really stupid of you, New York.

Our box seats were top notch (of course), and the chance to kibitz as the more musically knowledgeable asked Leila Josefowicz questions during the intermission was an added bonus to what had already been a wonderful evening. Post-​intermission was spent on the lawn with dozens and dozens of families and the sounds of Anton Bruckner’s 9th Symphony. It was a perfect evening for classical music. Many thanks to the Cleveland Orchestra for the invitation.

An Evening with the Cleveland Orchestra

Friday, 21 January 2011

On Thursday evening I had the opportunity to see the world-​renowned Cleveland Orchestra perform two works by Béla Bartók and a couple of bonus works by Japanese composers. The tickets were free on the condition that I write about my experience. It was Blogger’s Night. I had a great time the last time I had the opportunity to do something like this, with Opera Cleveland & their production of Falstaff, so I was anxious to get my first glimpse of Severance Hall & the Cleveland Orchestra in my 7 years living in Cleveland.

Concert Preview

I didn’t do a lot of homework on any of this before going, but I did see that there was a concert preview about 20 minutes before the concert preview started. My friend & I, braving the ridiculous weather, arrived just after the beginning, but I learned enough from the lecturer that I felt that I had something to hold on to and look for while listening to the music. I’m not a classical music aficionado by any stretch, so I’m hoping to use that ignorance as a strength in writing this. I felt that the concert preview was imperative for someone, like myself, who is unfamiliar with the music but wants to learn more about it. The preview was held in the Reinberger Chamber Hall at Severance Hall, a beautiful room filled with amazing woodwork.

The Performance

The actual performance began shortly after the preview ended. Our tickets were high up in the balcony, but when you’re listening to an orchestral performance, I don’t think where you sit is that important. What is important is that you’re actually in the venue when the performance starts. I had ducked out for a moment to get a quick drink and in the interim missed the beginning. Then I found out that you’re not allowed back in once the music has started. Thankfully a helpful usher led me to a very high door and snuck me in so I could see a great majority of Toshio Hosokawa’s Woven Dreams. Watching the orchestra was like looking at a slide under a microscope, lots of organic movement in concert.

The next piece, Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2, was (naturally) less dynamic to watch, instead the great acoustics of Severance Hall made it seem as if the music was welling out of the very air. This piece was my least favorite of the evening, although I don’t have any real reasons why that’s the case.

I really enjoyed the second half of the program. Toru Takemitsu’s Garden Rain was well named, each instrument in the heavily-​muted brass ensemble were raindrops in the shower. The evening finished with Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, which I was looking forward to for its Hungarian folk music influences. I was not disappointed. I know that Cleveland has a strong Hungarian immigrant population (I’d never heard of paprikash before I moved here), and it was kind of neat to know that the performance I heard was almost 75 years to the day that it was first performed.

A Suggestion

I think there were a couple hundred empty seats in Severance Hall for this performance, and that’s a shame, because every concert that the orchestra puts on deserves to be delivered to a packed house. I also noticed that the age of the crowd tended toward the far side of middle aged. I think it would be great if Severance Hall altered their ticket prices a bit to attract a younger crowd. The cheapest regular admission tickets are $31, which is cover to a rock show and a night of beers for a lot of my friends. Extending the student discount to anyone under 30 would be a great way to get a younger crowd (many of which I know would like to experience orchestral performances and learn more about art music (a term which I find very troublesome)) to fill the empty seats and build a younger base of concert-​goers for the future. I certainly know I would have gone to see the orchestra a few times in my 20s if I knew I could have picked up a ticket for $10 whenever a performance was upcoming.


I had a great time, enjoyed listening to and learning about the music, ogling the beauty of Severance Hall and seeing a side of Cleveland that was well-​renowned but unknown to me.

The Witness of These

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

You do not consist of any of the elements — earth, water, fire, air, or even ether. To be liberated, know yourself as consisting of consciousness, the witness of these. If only you will remain resting in consciousness, seeing yourself as distinct from the body, then even now you will become happy, peaceful and free from bonds. You do not belong to the brahmin or any other caste, you are not at any stage, nor are you anything that the eye can see. You are unattached and formless, the witness of everything — so be happy.

Astavakra Gita as translated by John Richards

Great thanks go to Robert Millis & his documentary The World is Unreal like a Snake in a Rope, a trailer of which you can see below.

Much respect also to Matt Wascovich & Scarcity of Tanks for being the draw. Their newest album, Bleed Now, is fundamentally awesome.