Graded Accordingly: Twitter Edition

On May 22nd, 2016, a clutch of (unfortunately yellow) party balloons floated into the airspace above the White House, causing an immediate lockdown at the residence of the most powerful man in the known universe. That’s a banner day for the Balloon Party’s influence(not a proper name for the party where the balloons were festively used, but for the shadowy political cabal known as the Balloon Party, which was formed twenty seconds ago just to make this joke work. Or so they’d have you believe).

That’s also a banner day for New German Wave’s Nena(that’s Nena the band, not Gabrielle “Nena” Kerner, the lead singer of the band, Nena. Our song was co-written by the band’s guitarist and keyboardist. Man, I bet Kerner and Debbie Harry could just chat and chat and chat…), who totally called that shit during a Rolling Stones concert in 1982 with their uber hit, “99 Luftballoons”.

This being 2016, I thought we need a new version to celebrate Carlos Karges calling his shot in West Berlin thirty-four years ago. But who should do it? I asked some Twitter friends…

Please choose your band/artist to do the 2016 “99 Luftballons” cover

… and here were the results, graded accordingly:

 

KG: “It’s a tie between Tom Waits (artist) and Mariah Carey”

I understand the Tom Waits choice, and his eventual cover was nearly completely formed in my head when I saw his name pop up… but is that a good thing?

The first theme that developed when I was thinking about the best choice was “stylized”. The eponymous Nena album is a banger, but it was for sure highly stylized to be the mainstream sound of New German Wave. To have any pop sensibility in the New German Wave scene was considered a sellout move; most of the authentic or “underground” New German Wave is random and Dadaist, inaccessible and harsh. I like both! The camp that Nena falls in is obvious, though.

So, the trap that Nena falls into, having the same “style” as many of the other late pop bands still considered New German Wave, applies in my head to a “Tom Waits” version of any song; it’s too obvious what it’ll sound like. I want to be surprised.

At least Waits could pull off the angular German language lyrics, though. Poor Mimi would have to sing the English lyrics, which are fucking awful. Plus, she doesn’t even dance when she sings, which it totally her right, but this is at least gonna take some Breakfast Club-ish retro dancing. Her talents won’t cut it.

Grade: Tom Waits(B-, but must be in German), Mariah Carey(D+, ’cause she can sing tho)

 

BW: “hmmm Pearl Jam for a live show cover, Lorde for a creepy cover for a soundtrack”

“Stylized” and “produced” are different. Lorde does write her own stuff, which keeps the horrid mechanization of pop music, the camp she clearly lives in, from grinding her individuality into a fine pablum powder. Still, I don’t hear much of the intent that comes with a high execution of style; it just sounds produced by someone with the same palette. Style demands color and shade, brush stroke and perspective. Her one album I’ve heard sounds flat to me.

I get the “creep” factor, watching her reenact the “ghost from The Ring in the throes of orgasm” routine when she sings. Can someone else produce it? ‘Cause if she gets her next album produced in a way that she can mark it with her own style, her next album will be killer. Her “99 Luftballoons” cover would be good, too, with the right backing.

I have SiriusXM radio, and now, at 40, I am more likely to stop and listen to the Greatful Dead channel,  band that I don’t necessarily like, than the Pearl Jam channel, a band that I championed along with everyone else, from Temple Of The Dog onward to some point lost on me, which brings me to the next theme and the next suggestion.

Grade: Lorde(B+, produced by Plain Pat tho), Pearl Jam(D, they would just have the audience sing during the live show and frankly I’m sick of that shit)

 

BN: “I’m going country. Jamey Johnson”

The second theme that came up was how important “stylization” is to both the best and worst that country music has to offer, and a discussion of the country music covers out there in the last couple of years is a shining example.

Here’s Lily Meola, a country musician that Jamey Johnson himself is trying to make famous, doing a cover of Lorde’s big hit, “Royals”. Take a listen, maybe two:

Did you like this? Was it because of its “style”? The wizard behind the curtain of this particular performance is really the arraignment more than anything else; Maui guitarslinger Tom Conway’s use of open chords lets the bass strings drone uninterrupted under the vocals, and it’s prefect sounding. I prefer this version over the original. In general, though, is this version relying of a style that is geared toward country? Is it relying on the sparse, but deliberate, production? Fuck, is it even “country” music?

This week Billboard finally gave up trying to pretend to know what some country music was, turning their old “Folk” charts, mixing in the more head-scratchy country and rock music out there that seems to be on a converging style path in the process, into an “Americana” chart. This is “my” music more often than not, and the chart is a glorious goddamed mess:

  1. Traveller – Chris Stapleton
  2. A Good Storm – Sawyer Fredricks
  3. Cleopatra – The Lumineers
  4. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson
  5. Rest in Chaos – Hard Working Americans
  6. Chaos And The Calm – James Bay
  7. Self-Titled – Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats
  8. Dig In Deep – Bonnie Raitt
  9. The Intro (ep) – Ruth B
  10. Sound & Color – Alabama Shakes
  11. The Things That We Are Made Of – Mary Chapin Carpenter
  12. The Wild Swan – Foy Vance
  13. Paging Mr. Praust – The Jayhawks
  14. Hope – The Strumbellas
  15. Full Circle – Loretta Lynn

This is where we are in the the battle of how “style” affects “country”; Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Loretta Lynn in a chart that can’t call itself country because of the weight of the prevailing, overproduced and shitty, radio-friendly country music that is trying to define the genre. This is where Jamey Johnson will chart next, too.

The best part of this horrible dichotomy is that the purveyors of “good” country music are content to let “bad” country music kill itself. Sturgil Simpson(who I’ll get wordy about eventually) just loved to tell all the people that said he was gonna “save” country music to kiss his ass. To him, every album he makes is “country” music, and if you don’t think so it’s your problem, not his. The difference between “style” and “production” follows the Buddhist adage that “the thing” and “the name of the thing” are two different ideas. Sturgil Simpson understands style well enough to see it in the field: in his recent podcast with Marc Maron, he admitted to not being able to listen to Jason Isbell’s albums, in fear of Isbell’s near-perfectly realized style making him record music too derivative of it. That gives me hope that he, and possibly Jamey Johnson, too, understand the importance of style, not the importance of the label.

Speaking of Sturgill Simpson… he’s the reason that Jamey Johnson probably couldn’t pull off a cover outside of his “style”. Simpson has cornered the market with earnest, stylistically-appropriate covers on his last two albums, both songs that his wife asked him to cover. Jamey Johnson has flexed his cover song chops before, though, but the covers on his albums fall pretty inline with his particular style already. A tiny peek at his cover of “You Are My Sunshine”, with some help from Shooter Jennings and, of all people, Twiggy Ramirez, though, may make you want you to look places other than Lorde for the “creepy” cover:

Grade: B+(but you’ll have to figure out if that’s “going country” or  if picking Florida-Georgia Line is)

 

JC: “The obvious choice is Rick Astley: maximum cringe”

Right in line with our discussion is the phrase, “Rick Astley, soul artist”. He was a soul artist mainly because the production team of  Stock Aitken Waterman wanted him to be. It was all production and no style: Astley had been Ringo in a Beatles cover band before.

It won’t be any more cringe worthy than his new gospel-esque single, released in April of this year, which is butt.

Grade:D+(even though “blue-eyed soul” as a phrase, not a music genre, would have probably played out well in West Berlin)

Letters Of Note: 5/23/2016

Birthday Power Trio Of The Day:

Albert Bouchard(1947, Blue Oyster Cult) on drums, Guy Fletcher(1960, mostly notable with Dire Straits) on keyboards, and Patti Labelle(1944, cocaine and soul food) on vocals.

Patti’s gonna want to have her way, and I’m not gonna stop her. No funny business here; those other two guys are just there to help her burn the fucking house down with a version of “You Turn Me On”. I’m just gonna leave this right here:

 

Let’s All Die In 2016: Nick Menza

Nick Menza’s rock and roll life had some spectacular near misses; nearly played with Slayer before Dave Lombardo showed back up for South Of Heaven, nearly lost his leg to a tumor and his arm to a power saw accident, and nearly drew the short straw, seeing two of the members of his band touring a show called, of all things, Menza: Life After Deth, die one after another in the space of a year(the second one to heart failure, the first one to Great White’s pyrotechnic disaster), just after Menza left Megadeth.

Well… not “left”. Although he was partly responsible for the sound of Megadeth’s most iconic period from 1990-1998, Dave Mustaine, whose asshole period will last to the eventual entropy destruction of planet Earth, fired Menza while he was recouperating from having the aforementioned knee tumor removed(Mustaine also re-fired Menza in 2004 after re-hiring him. He was back in Megadeth for the length of one rehearsal.).

Menza stayed close with Marty Friedman, playing on some of his first solo albums, including the weird(I know Friedman has ties to Japan, but have you heard the thing?) album Introduction, which features Nick Menza’s dad, famous tenor saxophonist Don Menza, on the shakuhachi of all things. Nick Menza stayed active in music until the very end, too, and I mean the literal, actual terminal end of his life: he collapsed on stage and died. I feel for his family, but that’s how to do it. RIP.

 

Also Dead: Elvis Presley

I almost, but not quite, got ran off the road last week thanks to the King’s mighty catalog.

There’s so much after-death garbage out there recorded, remixed, and “modernized” that I’ve never tried to listen to it in earnest. Normally I’m pretty sensitive to it and just turn the channel(SiriusXM radio has its own music/propaganda station devoted to Elvis), but this song, a slyly re-recording of “Now Or Never”, one of my favorites, arranged very subtly at first, caught me off guard. Of course, being 2016, it didn’t take long for them to muck it up(“them” being the Italian pretty-boy pop-opera Eurovision entrants Il Volo, and, to a lesser extent, Priscilla Presley, who gave her blessing to this recent recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), and when my brain snapped to attention to frown at the radio because my ears are not capable of frowning, I also noticed a Mack truck with 11 tons of fill dirt drifting into my lane. Thanks, E!

A Brief Note Pertaining To Vomit

Please note that I’ve puked to the point that all the muscles in my neck are strained, too much so to comfortably look at the laptop. Your long-form will appear after another edit, this weekend. Did Lemmy’s neck feel like this from the posture he sang in? Is this why he was always drunk/ is always dead?

 

Letters Of Note: 5/19/2016

Birthday Power Quintet Of The Day:

Jane Wielden(1958, The Go-Go’s) on guitar; Steve Currie(1947, T-Rex) on bass; and vocalists Joe Cocker(1944), Cher(1946), and Trevor George Smith, Jr., aka Busta Rhymes(1972, Leaders Of The New School).

This will work. This will work! And I’m gonna make them do a cover of “Talk Dirty To Me,” by Poison.

No no no, don’t go! Just think about it for a second: Cher and Cocker trading versus and harmonizing in the chorus, an extended verse for Busta to rhyme over, Weilden and Currie doing an almost pop-punk, churning backing… can you see it now? Holy shit this will work!

 

Head Nodders While I Cooked Banchan In My Goddamed Underwear And T-Shirt Of The Day:

Mmm…Food:

Straight Underoos, Son:

Squeezing They Spinach, Mayne:

 

 

Also Born Today: Pete Townshend

As corny as it sounds, it was actually impactful to me to hear him, in the VH1 commercial I looked to post but could not find, say out loud that he wanted to fuck a man(the man, in this case, being a Twist-ing Mick Jaggar).

Happy birthday, you old bugger. In lieu of that commercial, here’s the next best tribute for him: a video in which Roger Daltrey is reduced to doing nothing but looking like he’s a costume change away from knife-fighting the Kwisatz Haderach:

 

 

Sounds Like!(5/18/2016)

Homonym: “Red”, by King Crimson & “Red”, by Okkervil River

First, a caveat: this isn’t the video you really need to see for this song, but the original material is pretty well scrubbed off the internet. So here you go:

Why not this video? Because it is the 90’s band, still looking and sounding pretty 80’s, doing the title track from the album that was really the last one they made in the 70’s before things got all… 80’s and 90’s. Everybody was affected by the ascetic of the era, but I don’t have to like it. You can listen to Dicipline all by yourself. Onward.

I couldn’t tell you why Fripp named this song or the album “Red”. There’s no lyrics to support that decision, and who’s to say that Fripp even chose; he gave up some creative control over this album to try and make the band dynamic better(spoiler alert: it didn’t take. It would take them another 20 years to make a good album, THRAK. Don’t @ me.)

This is a great tune, above video non-withstanding, from a  great album that kept the vibe of Starless and Bible Black going, down to having a track originally vetoed from the Starless and Bible Black sessions, titled “Starless”, included. “Red” would be a pretty good introduction to someone interested in King Crimson that would get turned off by the acoustic sounds of previous albums. Just recommend the actual album, not the YouTube crawl.

 

“Red”, by Okkervil River, is a good place to start, too. It’s their first song off their first major-ish label release, and it has all the parts that are good and just get better about their music, and all the shitty trappings that you can hear them correct if you start from the top:

You know why it’s called “Red” from the very beginning, and from the very beginning of their first album you get to hear Will Sheff excel at writing lyrics with perfect and compelling rhyme schemes and phrasings, literary strength in storytelling, and thematic arcs that make each of Okkervil River’s songs seem like short stories. The lyrical power of their music just gets better after each album.

That forced buildup in the vocals that happens just after the three minute mark, though? That keeps happening in songs. One of my favorite “looks like it’s time for me to run away” songs was “Kansas City”, off of the same album, and even in the dull and depressive state I would get in, that forced crescendo would hit in the lyrics and I would think, “dude just let it happen”…

 

Homograph: “Feel”, by Chicago & “Fancy Colors”, by Chicago

I know this is shooting fish in a barrel, but this fish needs to be executed:

This is the reason I picked this song: I saw today on Twitter that Pringles, the potato crisp snack that comes with its own homemade Fleshlight starter kit, was sponsoring a Rascal Flatts tour, and I immediately felt bad for the brand that it had to associate with those fucking terrible musicians.

Jay DeMarcus, the lead singer of Rascal Flatts, produced the album, Chicago XXX, if it’s not painfully obvious by listening. I would rather fuck that can with the duck bill crisps still in it than listen to this song again.

I’m nor gonna post a shitty bootleg video of a Chicago song that you will want to watch over and over, and not just because of the exotic, Japanese-ness of it:

Again: if time machines were real, I wouldn’t be wasting my time killing Hitler. I’d be going to the Nashville recording sessions for Hot Streets and politely, graciously, murdering Peter Cetera.

 

Near Cognate: Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper”, by Steve’n’Seagulls

Everything about my general disdain for cottage-industry “file under X” style switch cover bands/tributes wanted me to mark this “False Cognate”, but there’s a couple of reasons why they get a pass:

One: I fancy the mandolin player.

Two: There’s a decent following of country music in Scandanavia, but it’s mainly of the pop variety(re: Rascal Fucking Flatts). I encourage some people with a bit of technical talent doing something “country”, rather than just pretty(to me) boy Kurt Nilsen getting some semi-stoned photo op with Willie Nelson to help his “brand”.

 

 

Letters Of Note:5/17/2016

Birthday Power Quartet Of The Day:

Jim Moginie(1956, Midnight Oil mainly but try his weirdo album, The Blessing, he made with some flute player named Andy Richardson that goes by “Howlin’ Wind”…I know, just try it) on guitar, Mark Mothersbaugh(1950, Devo) on drum machine/mechanical percussion, Martika(1969, Kids Incorporated), and Rick Wakeman(1949, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe) on every keyboard ever made.

They’re not gonna get along. There’s no way. Wakeman’s Twitter handle is @GrumpyOldRick for God’s sake. But as professional musicians, and a pinky swear that Mothersbaugh will only make percussive noises, maybe they could make it through my pick.

My pick is “Spring, Summer, Winter and Fall”, by Aphrodite’s Child. I would ask Martika to do a fake, Brian Ferry-esque accent, but I’ll settle for her just keeping up.

 

Let’s All Die In 2016: Guy Clark

Guy Clark’s death won’t affect many, but most of the unaffected have heard a Guy Clark-penned song and just don’t know it; he wrote music that everyone wanted to record. His most famous works were recorded by superstars like Ricky Skaggs and the country supergroup The Highwaymen, but the biggest gap his passing will leave will be his kinship with the other great songwriters keeping the folk/”old” country traditions alive at the time, like Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, and Steve Earle. He was famously close to Townes Van Zandt, and a good enough friend to Townes to have outlived him. Here’s most of those folks together in Guy’s kitchen from the highly influential Heartworn Highways documentary. RIP.

 

Also Dead: Elvis Presley

If you took a monk from a life of cloistering in the most remote monastery, void of knowledge of world culture and even the most rudimentary information of wellness and medical science, and played this recording to him, he would say “oh Lord, we need to make some sort of facility where this person can convalesce and heal. I hope he’s ok.”

Patton Oswalt does a great bit about how you can hear how fat he’s become by the sound of the “b” words that he says. This is the terminal version of that joke. Still, RIP.

 

Rap Song That Dates Itself By Mentioning The Year Of The Day:

Still a banger.

 

 

Letters Of Note:5/16/2016

Birthday Power Trio Of The Day:

Robert Fripp(1946, of various fames) on guitar, Krist Novoselic(1965, of Nirvana) on bass, and Billy Cobham(1944, associated with various funky people, but my heart wants to remind you that he played on the Shaft soundtrack) on drums.

This would work! Maybe! If no one’s egos clashed! Maybe not! Damn it!

What would I want to hear, though? A 14-minute-long version of some track from In Rainbows turned into a space jazz feature. Any track would probably work.

 

We Hate The Music You Like, Algorithm Edition:

Google thinks I would like “What Part Of Forever,” by CeeLo Green…

This selection must be from listening to Outcast, Dungeon Family, and Gnarls Barkley this past week, but damn. Even coming out of the “get some hot people to make a ‘music inspired by’ album or something who cares” era of soundtrack recording, this is too poppy and aloof for me. Vampires live forever, yeah yeah…

 

We Like This, Though:

You can’t tell me the world’s sad boy vampires don’t prefer this. It’s pitch-prefect European dour heartbreak. Your Lost Boys reboot has a raging boner right now.

 

 

A Brief Note Pertaining to The Soundtrack of A Hilarious Clerical Error

So, long story short: I’m handcuffed in the back of a patrol car and the officer puts on the local Classic Rock Radio station.  And, being a Tuesday, federal law dictates that it is a Two-fer Tuesday on every Classic Rock Radio station in America.

We’ve been having a friendly conversation, but whenever a song the officer likes comes on, he turns up the radio just a bit.  It’s been a mixed bag of rockers and duds, as per Classic Rock Radio usual.

But when the double dose of THE POLICE comes on, he turns it up juuuuust a bit more than usual.  Is it because he really likes them?  Is it because he knows that this is just some weird mistake and I am cool enough to find the humor in the situation?  Regardless, well played, sir.  Well played.

They announced a block of Judas Priest right before I left.  If they would have played “Breaking The Law”, I have a feeling we would have disturbed the neighbors with the radio and I would have choked to death trying not to laugh.

Boring, Boring Rock Arsenal: The Oboe

oboe-vp3fty

When?

The oboe was developed by the French in the 17th century, taking an already silly instrument with a tone fit only for military outdoor signal calling and enemy intimidation, the shawm, and making it over complicated.  This is why most French preparations for duck involve some sort of steampunk contraption and leftover gynecological tools from the set of Dead Ringers.

Where?

hautbois-de-nonon-jacques_1780_1_IS
Hautbois

France, originally, but it spread quickly across all parts of Europe(see also Boring, Boring Rash Arsenal: The Syphilis).  The oboe was originally referred to by its French name, hautbois(pronounced “hoe-boy”, as in “Ho boy, is that the way it’s supposed to sound?  Really?”) which is French for “loud woodwind” and not “the voice of a duck wood golem singing to you as you shop in your local CVS Pharmacy”.

What and How?

Early Oboe
Early Oboe

The oboe is a double-reed woodwind, meaning that two flattened reeds vibrate against each other which, coupled with the conical shape of the oboe’s bore, give it its distinguished timbre, described as “bright”, “vibrant”, “piercing”, “cloying”, and “pungent” even.  Really it’s not so bad, but its sound is intense; in an attempt to housebreak the instrument, the flared bell of the shawm had to be removed, and the neck piece covering the majority of the reed on the shawm had to be removed as well, giving the oboe a more mellow and controlled sound.  The fingerings of an oboe are similar to the fingerings of a saxophone, so on about the second date.

Why?

Well, in The Sixties…

The oboe seemed to be the must-have timbre to add a chamber-pop aloofness to feel-good hippie tunes(as compared to the menace of the sitar. which immediately made you switch from a left-handed cigarette or two to black tar heroin). There was “The 59th Street Bridge Song”, so aloof it was called by its sub name, “Feelin’ Groovy” more often than not.  “I Got You Babe” was so aloof that it let the woman be taller while the oboist skipped a groove like Zoot from The Electric Mayhem.  So aloof was the oboe playing in The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” that it doesn’t bother to be on rhythm or come in to any of the phrases properly, making me pull over to the side of the road and stutter-scream “FIGGITY FUCKING FUUUUUUUUUUUUU” every time it comes on the radio(listening to the single version of this song with a good set of headphones is a decent into madness, like The Serpent and The Rainbow but with more triangle rolls).

In The Seventies…

… that’s it.  You needn’t hear anything else involving the oboe from The Seventies unless Peter Gabriel is playing one.

In The Eighties? This…

[skip to 1:53 if you must]

…which led to this:

[skip to 3:44 if you must, but don’t…]

The Nineties?  Sorry, I got nothing.

But in the 2000’s, the prog-metal group Opeth go back to capturing the chamber music vibe of The Sixties with the opening track from their 2008 album Watershed, “Coil”.  But no aloofness here.  Oh, goodness no.  “Coil” warms you up for the track “Heir Apparent”, which the band was nice enough to call it instead of “Heir Apparent to Slayer and Megadeth as Proven By This Song”.

So enjoy the oboe this week, or just enjoy some aloof duck noises.  Better yet, in an act of aloof solidarity with the oboe, go full “Bartleby the Scrivener” on someone when they ask you about Duck Dynasty, then pass it to the left.

Boring, Boring Rock Arsenal: The Theremin

moogtheremin-460-80

When?

The theremin was invented in 1920, which is why it slyly is shown as background furniture on the cover of all of your Decopunk graphic novels.

[NOTE: I’ve made every attempt to be factual and accurate, if irreverently so, in all of my “insightful humor” posts.  Be warned, though, that the propaganda machines behind both the Iron Curtain and the American Flag makes it pert near impossible in the case of Leon Theremin.  I was unable to edit out all of the ‘Murican sentiment because it is the most compelling story, not because the USSR were liars, liars, and fiery-pants wearers]

Who?

The theramin was invented by Leon Theremin[whose real name was Lev Serveegich Termen; Leon Theremin was his Westernized name, but history identifies him with it instead.  See what I mean?], a wizard of electronics for the Soviet Union.  Much like Celtic Frost, Theremin toured Europe before coming to the United States in 1928, patenting his instrument and starting mass production with a contract from RCA.  Shortly after that?  The Great Depression.  Theremin “left” the United States a decade later, with a little nudge from his mounting debt and a teeny nudge from a Soviet press gang.  The theramin lost favor as a musical instrument, so Leon continued to make awesome spy equipment(in a Gulag prison) and work for the KGB, later working for a music conservatory and a physics department for the USSR.  Theremin would eventually return to the United States, but not until the 1991, the year punk broke and rudely excluded the theremin from its ranks.

What and How?

dayearthstillpic

The theramin, in its original form factor, looks like a toy piano possessed by an electronic ghost, with a vertical antenna and a horizontal metal loop connected to a wooden cabinet eaten alive by the design ascetic of The Rocketeer.  The metal loop controls the volume of the note, while the vertical aerial controls the pitch of the note.  Both operate by proximity; the closer your hand gets to the loop, the quieter the note gets, and the closer to the aerial your other hand gets, the higher the pitch of the note.  The motion of coordinating your pitch hand, which is both moving towards and away from the pitch aerial and trembling at a government-approved seven tremors per second to facilitate vibrato, with your volume hand, dropping one, two, or three fingers in like an at-first-timid-but-then-awestruck Grace Slick poolboy, is difficult to master[unless you are Lenin, who, according to legend purported by the man himself,  was able to play “Skylark” immediately after watching Theremin perform it].

The trick to playing a theremin correctly is understanding the vocal concept of portamento.  Portamento is a technique where a vocalist uses a glissando effect, sliding the pitch of his/her voice from one to another.  It’s more subtle than the trombone’s glissando, the clowns of the orchestra that they are*.  Even in its subtly, however, it is widely discouraged among classical musicians.  In fact, if you ever wonder if a classically trained vocalist lady you’re dating is also trained in Taekwondo, tell her as you’re strolling on the moonlit beach about how much you love the way those American Idol singers hunt and peck and warble for the notes because it sounds “soulful” and “like they’re really feeling it”.  Is she stating to slide her dress over her knees?  No, your music talk hasn’t put her in a sexy mood; she is giving herself the full range of motion needed to dislocate your jaw with the hardened heel of her weaponized foot.

rockmo_clar_theremin_101b

Using portamento correctly on the theremin gives the instrument the vocal, lyrical quality that makes what is essentially feedback aurally palatable.  Clara Rockmore, who helped establish the signature sound and technique of the theremin, said that the performer must “play through the rests”, and proper playing of the theremin means that during phrases you can’t stop the sound completely by sticking your whole fist through the volume loop, the main reason Rob Halford refuses to use the instrument on any Fight albums.

Why?

Because HAUNTED BY ROBOTS, that’s why!  Here’s three of my favorite rock theremin parishioners:

1) Brian Wilson

Sure, only once, but once is enough when it’s on “Good Vibrations”.  Coupled with the chamber echo on the bass and the organ sound, the theremin was the perfect lyrical voice to hover over the cello strokes and walking bass parts.  Apparently Carl’s idea, but I’m sure somehow Dr. Landy tried to take credit…

2. NOT Portishead

I sure do love me some Portishead, but according to the band they never use a theremin to make their eerie, Fifties-era electronica noises.  Part of the reason the theremin went out of vogue was the creation of synths like the Moog, with a more familiar method of performance(keyboard) making it easier to get the sound the performer needed.  Playing a synthesizer doesn’t look as cool as playing a theremin, but still sounds awesome.

3. Mike Patton

On the off chance that Mike Patton isn’t using his voice as a theremin substitute, he often surrounds himself with the sound of one.  Often the theremin takes over the melodic line in his songs or is doubling the vocals, but every once in a while Patton kicks out the jams with his own “cheater” theremin in his kit of effects, with just one aerial to control pitch.

So celebrate Independence Day this week by listening to the theremin, which I guess was invented by a Communist but Clara Rockmore had to learn to play one because the malnutrition she suffered behind the Iron Curtain left her too weak to master the violin USA USA USA USA.

*Saying the trombone is “the clown of the orchestra” is tiring, I know, but a fantastic trombone player I know once called someone who was running past his allotted time in the rehearsal hall a “ham sandwich”.  This happened roughly eighteen years ago, and I’m still laughing thinking about it.  Clowns, indeed.

____________________________________________________

SUGGESTED VIEWING:

Hawkwind: Silver Machine

Kaada/Patton: Invocation

EVERYTHING PETER PRINGLE YES THAT IS HIS REAL NAME HE IS SERIOUS