9 posts categorized "Music"

This American Hold Music

My brother Tim Carleton is the star of this week's episode of This American Life.

He shows up at the end of Act One, "Do You Hear What I Hear," Sarah Corbett's story about her father-in-law's obsession with telephone hold music.

Product_data_sheet0900aecd802ff012-1Tim composed and performed the music that two decades ago became the default on Cisco IP phones. Apparently, it's still in wide use today.

Tim enjoys checking out the comments under the recording someone posted to YouTube a couple years back - especially the negative ones, he says - but I see the notoriety from the radio show is engendering some warm and fuzzy reactions, too.

Here's the piece, Opus No. 1.

Opus_number_one (1)

Christmas at the airport

That Nick Lowe has some PR person.

Someone locked in to all the NPR shows.

Christmas at the airport

I heard him play and sing his new song, Christmas at the Airport, on two different NPR shows the week before last, and have heard the album recording three times on NPR since.

It's a fun song!

The story of the lyric is that of a person stuck traveling Christmas Day, who makes the best of it, finds joy and succor alone among the baggage carousels and dustbins.

Reminds me of the Alaine de Botton book, A Week at the Airport.

Well, on a plane now. Merry Christmas. More soon from sunny CA.

Portugal. The Man

So the Sounders did not win Saturday night v. Portland. 

That's okay. Seattle can rest up a bit now and all they really have to do is beat Portland, in Portland, on Thursday.

After the game my youngest son and I went to the Lively premiere party a mile or two farther south in SODO.


It was Portland's night, as far as we were concerned. Portugal. The Man (a band from Portland) played the Lively party. I didn't take video because I know I can download a better one from the Lively app. But I took some pictures and liked this one best.

Poem + Chamber Music = Cinema

Last night I attended the premiere performance of a new work, chamber music by Joshua Kohl which interprets and contextualizes a suite of vignettes by Herbert Kohl, the poet and the composer's father.


The makeup of the musical ensemble was new to me: essentially a string quartet (two violins, viola and cello), along with a clarinet and electric piano. And here's what else is fascinating: though Herbert Kohl himself was present at the performance (and in fact gave a very charming introduction to the work), the poems set to music were recorded and played from a laptop.

Among other benefits, having the poems "performed" by a recording gave the ensemble the opportunity to accompany a memory embedded, if not in the time of the actual event remembered, then in the history of a historical retelling. The poems became documents, artifacts.

And what emotionally explosive documents!

Here is the shortest, simplest poem from the evening, but the one that affected me most, and best illustrated for me the genius of the new form of chamber performance Joshua Kohl was either utilizing or inventing:

The last time I saw Roz on Grand Avenue
She was standing in front of a mirror crying.
I don't have anything to wear.
This stupid hair is too curly.
My father said just put anything on.
My mother said I'll get you a new dress.

As a remembrance, a free verse on the written page, the poem is sweet enough. Set to the younger Kohl's music, and read in the Bronx accent of the elder Kohl, the poem became synesthetic, cinematic.

If I'm not mistaken, the work was commissioned by the Frye Art Museum. The performance last night was the first in a series of "salon" events to take place in a special space in the museum which reproduces the way the Frye's benefactors, Charles and Emma, had hung their collection of paintings in their own home.

I understand that a recording of last night's performance of the Kohl work will be playing in a listening lounge at the Frye.


Lotta confusion about how to get into the show
People waiting in random lines, you can't know till you get to the window
You at the wrong will call, she says, good luck picking the right one, dear
The band was on in Vancouver last night, I hear

PA looping a recorded broadcast message
All patrons subject to search before passage
Those who don't submit will receive a full refund
But will not be admitted to the arena; that's the way it's done

Paul and Katrina have a different philosophy
This kind of imprecision doesn't bother them demonstrably
It's not that they don't plan, they just focus on what's in front of them
I'd like to carry myself, in my next life, just like them

Finally we muddle in, happy to not get scolded
You folks are on the floor in seats that are folded
There's a number written in chalk under each one
I think that's clever - for the next show they can mix the seats up some

I walk off the floor for a pee and to get me a beer
Gal at the bar asks for ID, I say what's the fear
That I'm 18 and had plastic surgery to look 55
No, she says, looking for punch holes in your license, they do that if you get so drunk you can't drive

The warm-up act comes on and have a pretty good flow
He played guitar on a couple of the headliner's albums years ago
You say their sound is pretty clean
I agree but some of this sounds like a PBS Irish dance scene

But we enjoy the main act, the effort now seems small
None of the songs we know best sound anything like how we recall
And that feels honest, the way an old guy stays new
I want to be like that, hostile to nostalgia, just like you

Knopfler and dylan

Photo: Angelo Amboldi / Flickr. This verse copyright 2012 William Carleton.

Sister Oh Sister

There's an extraordinary song performed by Rosanne Cash on a multi-artist album just out.

The song is called "Sister Oh Sister" and the album is titled "Kin."

The lyrics express a complexity of feelings wrapped up in admiration of an older sibling. No question but that the song is a tribute, but metaphors are arranged to suggest that tension is part of what makes the tie so strong.

Here's how it starts:

"Sister, oh Sister
I miss your shadow
I miss your shade"

Living in a relative's "shadow" is of course the way we express the frustration of failing to be recognized for one's own personality or accomplishments. But consider here how the singer says she misses that shadow. Then, subverting the metaphor, the next line names the shadow "shade," as in relief, protection.

The play with expectations is taken in an opposition direction in later lines:

"Sister, oh Sister
You've been my seawall
You've been my flood"

This time the metaphor for protection, "seawall," comes first. But the next metaphor, "flood," acknowledges a paradox: the protector might also be the very menace against which her protection is employed!


"Kin" is a collection of songs written by the poet Mary Karr and the country singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell. I don't know the prior work of either, but this engaging feature on NPR tells the story of how Crowell pulled Karr into the music business. And the liner notes to the CD show how blown away Karr is to have talent like Rosanne Cash singing her very first songs. Who wouldn't be!

Photo: Evan Leeson / Flickr.


Friday, my girlfriend Helen and I heard the world premiere of Sirens at Disney Concert Hall.

It's a half hour piece by composer Anders Hillborg, written for the following instruments (quoting from the program notes):

"3 flutes (all = piccolo), 3 oboes (all = English horn), 3 clarinets (all = bass clarinet), 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion (crotales, glockenspiel, tubular bells, vibraphone, wind chimes, tam-tam, bass drum, glass harmonica), harp, piano, and strings, plus soprano and alto soloists and chorus"

Actually that inventory is not comprehensive. The percussionists also "played" four half-filled wine glasses (running index fingers along the rims to make that sound that half-filled wine glasses make when you run your index finger around the rim) and the chorus snapped their fingers like beat poets at a hipster club.

6406424239_1fc4569273_bThe piece is about the gamut of Sirens encountered by Ulysses in Homer's The Odyssey. And there was more dramaturgy than typical for staging an orchestral work: the players were bathed in a variety of strong, colored lights, as though they were to represent a tossing sea; the black gowns of the women in the chorus were lined with blinking micro-Christmas lights; and the conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen (to whom the composer dedicated the work), in black tunic, hair curling around his neck, evoked Alan Rickman playing Snape in the Harry Potter movies.

We were surprised to hear violins, not screech in strokes, but sustain a screech for what seemed like minutes at a time.

The libretto featured synesthetic lines such as, "Clouds of sweet fragrance swelling and roaring around you," together with unmistakable if economical references to the Beatles' A Day in the Life ("I'd love to turn you on") and Nelson Riddle Sinatra ("come fly with us").

After the show, we walked the roof of the Hall, to let the parking garage thin out. We also dropped by the store to get a closer look at Emmanuel Axe, the soloist for the Beethoven piano concerto on the first half of the program, who was signing CDs.

We tarried long enough that the garage was nearly empty as we reached the car my brother lends me when visiting. No question that we preferred the Beethoven and found the Hillborg more challenging, but Sirens proved powerfully suggestive: as we pulled away, spiralling to the mouth of the garage five floors higher, we could hear a sustained screech of tires and power steering columns reverberating from an unseen car (or cars) above or beneath us. Sirens again! The garage the synesthetic sea!

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