Official music page and soapbox of Matt Snell

Wednesday 29 June 2011

The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project: Week VI

(The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project is a series of impromptu recordings released on a weekly basis. Click the label at the bottom of the post for more details.)

Here is this week's entry, and on time no less. I was quite satisfied with last week, and a little nervous to find out whether it was a fluke. I'm relieved to hear myself improving on a weekly basis. I think this project started to heat up as soon as I started to focus on the one instrument I can really play the hell out of, my voice. Mind you, this track doesn't feature any mellifluous singing, just mouth trumpet, mouth tuba, and mouth trombone.

I've been to circuses all over the world, from Mexico to Sweden to Canada, and as hoary as the cliches are, I'm still enraptured. I've titled this piece "Two-Bit Trapeze." Production values as usual are a misery, but like the circus, pretend it's part of the charm...

"Two-Bit Trapeze"

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Episode 9: Contemporary Old-Timers

Seasick Steve
Last night on the show, I played musicians who are bringing old-time music boldly into the 21st century. They are:

C.W. Stoneking - Goin the Country
Seasick Steve - My Donny
William Elliott Whitmore - Our Paths Will Cross Again
Sheesham & Lotus - John Henry
O'Death - Busted Old Church
Trampled By Turtles - Wait So Long
David Grisman & Jerry Garcia - Stealin'
Loretta Lynn - High on a Mountaintop

Apologies to the listener who wrote in to request I "play a Michael Jackson song pls." Great idea, but I ran out of time.

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Tuesdays 9:00-9:30 on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, online at

Monday 27 June 2011

Film Review: Adam's Apples

A Danish priest takes a paroled neo-Nazi into his church and asks him to set one goal. The neo-Nazi says he's going to bake an apple pie. Film, or ethnic joke? Film! And a good one at that. I enjoyed director Anders Thomas Jensen's The Green Butchers, and I thought Adam's Apples followed that film with black humour intact and an even sharper eye for drama.

The Green Butchers was based on the old feeding-people-human-meat-and-they-love-it routine. A pair of struggling butchers accidentally murder an electrician by locking him in the freezer, and make good on their misfortune selling him by the pound. In that movie too, the dialogue comes off brilliantly despite the subtitles - my favourite line came when one of the main character's asks his mentally challenged brother, a vegetarian, to dispose of some expired chickens. The brother runs weeping to the graveyard and buries them with the eulogy, "So long my friends. Fly up to heaven and ask for good weather."

Out of context, that scene sounds like it could come from a piece of Farrelly Brothers trash. What separates Jensen's movies is that somehow his characters retain a sense of dignity through it all.  Watch Mads Mikkelsen's performance in Adam's Apples and you'll see what I mean. I'm a sucker for this type of film, like a good Polanski or Coen Brothers, where the sense of unreality is heavy but nothing overtly surreal tips the scales. This film is similar to the Coen's A Serious Man in that it plays with a Book of Job theme, and although that film is grower, this one beats it if narrative is what you're after. The pacing in Adam's Apples is strong and moves from trial to trial briskly while upping the ante each time. The play with religious themes was subtle enough to appeal to anyone.

I seldom laughed out loud watching this one, but I did get a sense of satisfaction knowing that it was funny on a subliminal level. I'd skip it if black humour wasn't my thing, but anyone with a taste for it should look Adam's Apples up.

P.S.: I didn't want to write it up since it doesn't fit the usual aesthetic here on Bang & Jangle, but this weekend I also really, really enjoyed Mike Leigh's Another Year. Any time you're looking for a keenly observed and finely acted piece focusing on normal people you can't do better.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project: Week V

(The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project is a series of impromptu recordings released on a weekly basis. Click the label at the bottom of the post for more details.)

 This one arrives nine days after the last - no fancy excuses, mainly nice weather tempting me to leave my very hot recording room.

It's a departure from last week, and I'm quite happy with it (although I'm likely to lose some of the friends of old time music I just made). I did try and get down to the THHOAB project a few times before this one arrived, but all my ideas kept turning out half-baked. I got frustrated and tried to stitch them all together in a pastiche I called "Cluttered Mind." Cluttered Mind featured some very interesting segues and some not-very-interesting performances. Luckily, I heard something in one of the segues which gave me an idea for what you're about to hear.

So, in keeping with the apparent theme of the week, I call this one "Spiritual Plaque." Come to think of it, that's my excuse for being late. It's all the mental clutter and plaque on my spirit. What can I say, I'm doing yoga twice a week and eating plenty of fruit so the condition can't last. I guess if the themes of the past four entries have been concrete, this one is abstract. The thing I'm happiest about is that it was done using exclusively voice, except for a little bit of shaker, and it is hands down the most musical of the five pieces so far. I hope this composition ultimately comes down in favour of the spirit and not the plaque:

"Spiritual Plaque"

(By the way, this file uses a new audio player, and I've converted the old tracks as well. If you've had problems listening to music on Bang & Jangle in the past, I hope this helps.)

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Episode 8: The Cabaret

C.W. Stoneking
Last night on the show we took "The Cabaret" as our theme. I kind of got sidetracked and ended up at the circus, but I think that's alright. Here are the tunes I played:

C. W. Stoneking - Jungle Blues
The Scarring Party - Revelator
Evelyn Evelyn - Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?
The Tiger Lillies - Cheapest Show
Beat Circus - Mandalay Song
Circus Contraption - Carousel
Goto Izumi - Elysian Boneyard

I dunno what I'll do next week - anything you'd like hear? Soundtracks? Outsider Music? Whatever it is, rest assured it'll bang and jangle, hard...

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Tuesdays 9:00-9:30 on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, online at

Sunday 19 June 2011

Ode'min Giizis Festival and the Resolutionaries

The Resolutionaries Marimba Band
I was pretty uninformed about the Ode'min Giizis Festival in Peterborough this week, but luckily Del Crary Park is very nearly my backyard. I sauntered over yesterday afternoon, and turned out again in the evening for some amazing performances.

According to their website, the festival features "over 100 Indigenous artists, including musicians, performers, visual artists, writers, storytellers, artisans, and dancers," and runs for five days. I'm sorry I didn't get on it earlier, but I'm glad I caught as much as I did. I enjoyed David Maracle, Chaka Chikodzi, and Gabriel Ayala's act on downtown Hunter St., and the evening closer by the Resolutionaries was downright incredible.

I'd heard rumours of a local marimba band, but now that I've seen 'em once I'd go again in a heartbeat. The Resolutionaries are led by Chaka Chikodzi, who immigrated to Canada from Zimbabwe in 2001. He's rounded up some fine local talent, including the surnameless (at least on the Internet) Anna, her brother King Julian, Howard Gibbs, and Wyatt Burton. They managed to fit on stage three marimbas, a drum kit, hand drums, electric bass, and even a dance ensemble at the front of the stage to warm up the crowd. I did my best to follow their example.

The sound of the marimba is purely musical, intensely rhythmic but with a melody that is simple and insistent. I'm fascinated by instruments that involve the whole body and was quite taken by the way the musician's vigour translated into a precise, tight groove. As corny as the term life-affirming can be, the Resolutionaries come by it honestly. Their music is not just up-tempo - making something this joyous is a real feat.

Chikodzi mentioned the Resolutionaries would be breaking for the summer soon, but I'd keep an eye out for 'em as soon as the fall hits. I'll also be on top of the Ode'min Giizis Festival program next year 'round...

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Episode 7

Sun Ra
There was no theme last night on the Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, just a bunch of tunes fit for summer. That meant I did less talking, and the playlist is slightly longer than usual:

Mr. Bungle - The Air-Conditioned Nightmare
The Books - All Bad Ends All
Sinn Sisamouth - Rom Sue Sue
Hasil Adkins - No More Hotdogs
Diego Verdaguer - Voy a Conquistarte
Sun Ra - I Am Gonna Unmask the Batman
Jean-Claude Pigeon - Hipster Hell
Selina Martin - Rape During Wartime

Next week I'll get back to the themes. I'm thinking maybe a delve into cabaret...

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Tuesdays 9:00-9:30 on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, online at

Season 1, Episode 7

Sunday 12 June 2011

Open Book Day on Trent Radio

This coming Saturday, June 18th, I will be reading from three of my favourite books. From 3:00-4:00 p.m on Trent Radio, I plan to cover excerpts from Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by D. P. Schreber, Monkey by Wu Cheng'en, and The Yage Letters by William Burroughs.

The reading is part of a day-long Open Book extravaganza on Trent Radio, during which anything goes as long as it's written. The three selections I have chosen have nothing in common, except that I like 'em, and they form a perfect trifecta of oddity.

Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (1903) is Judge Daniel Paul Schreber's appeal for release from the mental asylum where he was confined. Schreber was highly educated and articulate, and his precise, logical prose forms a stark contrast with the hallucinations he is describing. For example, he believed at the time of writing that God was attempting to transform him into a woman by bombarding him with divine rays, and that little men who lived on his scalp controlled his eyelids. The text is frightening and quite funny at the same time.

Monkey is a 16th-century Buddhist folktale from China. Also known as Journey to the West, it is considered one of the four great classic novels of Chinese literature. It concerns the birth of a monkey-god from a stone and his journey towards enlightenment. It is also simultaneous hilarious and disturbing. I will be reading from Arthur Waley's 1942 translation.

Last but not least, The Yage Letters were written by William Burroughs to Allen Ginsberg, detailing his trip to the Amazon in search of the powerful hallucinogen ayahuasca, which he believed could have the power to cure his junk addiction. It is both comic and... you can probably guess the theme by now.

If it's a beautiful day, what better thing to do than take your radio out to the patio and listen to great literature. If it's raining, what better thing to do than curl up in your armchair and listen to great literature.

3:00-4:00 on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, online at

Saturday 11 June 2011

The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project: Week IV

(The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project is a series of impromptu recordings released on a weekly basis. Click the label at the bottom of the post for more details.)
I finally got around to the Two-Headed Hippopotamus Project this weekend. I'd struggled the past few days trying to come up with something I was satisfied with enough to release. I've been reading some books lately on improvisation, and I was gung ho to come up with something freer and more spontaneous than before, even during a relatively impromptu Hippopotamus session. The problem is frequently that by the time I've brought the technical standard up to a level I can accept, the spontaneity and energy I was trying to capture has leached away.

Negotiating between the two extremes, I hit upon an ingenious solution - record something where the sloppiness matches the theme. And so today's entry is entitled "Goodtimes in the Swamp." Initially it had a nature theme, but the composition evolved until it sounded more like a couple hillbillies enjoying each other's company. It's rough and recorded using very few takes, but if it has any charm, that's it. Enjoy...

Friday 10 June 2011

Luke Mercier Solves My Banjo Woes

My first (and lousy) banjo
The first banjo I ever owned was a piece of garbage - it had an aluminum pot (go wood or go home), funhouse dimensions that would send a luthier into a rage, and a short, curly hair pasted into the finish on the neck. As a novice, I was happy to be able to afford a banjo and to have something to pick on. I continued to play it after I outgrew it, and subsequently came to loathe it. My Chinese-made Alabama had to go.

Last January, I treated myself to a proper banjo. Coming from a soulless factory instrument, I wanted something with mojo to spare, so I choose a small Michigan maker with a good reputation named Bart Reiter. The banjo I got is a much more potent and versatile animal, and I'm happy as a clam. All the same, the nature of the instrument means that unleashing that potential in keys other than G or C requires retuning and can slow things down mid-jam. So I started looking for someone to install railroad spikes - tiny nails driven into the fretboard under the fifth string that allow for faster switching into different keys.

As the new proud owner, I was leery of entrusting my banjo to a guitar tech with a dabbler's interest. Although the modification is not especially complicated, it does involve drilling holes that can't be undrilled. Luckily, that Sheesham and Lotus concert I mentioned a couple weeks ago is still paying dividends, and someone there recommended the right man for the job. This is good news for anyone who has seen a Real Coyotes show, because it means 50% fewer corny jokes between songs as I retune.

Luke Mercier in his workshop
Luke Mercier is based out of Springbrook, only an hour from Peterborough. He has fifteen year's experience with George Heinl and Co., Ltd, a Toronto restoration company whose name I recognized because they had dealt with the sale of my grandmother's cello. That was as high-end an instrument as I have ever seen, and gave me confidence my banjo was in careful hands. Although my intellectual understanding of banjos has improved since shopping around, I'm coming from a bottom-end instrument that makes comparisons hard. Almost from the first strum, Luke was able to give me some suggestions on the setup that hadn't even occurred to me. He also told me that installing the spikes would take over an hour, a far cry from some of the other technicians who had offered to bang 'em in while I watched.

Luke took his time, and the spikes are unobtrusive and work like a charm. Based on this comparatively minor job, I'd love to hear some of the banjos that Luke builds himself. He also specializes in the making and restoration of violins, and examples of the craft are hanging around his workshop. I always find it interesting to meet someone whose technical or artistic understanding far outstrips the norm, and I got the sense that Luke could appreciate the instruments for qualities that most of us will never even be aware of.

I'm sure this post will be of limited interest to anyone who doesn't play banjo or fiddle, but those who do maybe can appreciate the relief at finding someone who is meticulous, experienced, and a pleasure to deal with. I certainly hadn't expected to walk into a fully-operational luthier's workshop on a dirt road in Springbrook, and Luke said that his business in turn was supported by some well-kept rural musical secrets. I'm hoping to run across them too someday. In the meantime, here's a link to Luke's website:

Thursday 9 June 2011

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Episode 6: What Does Tom Waits Listen to?

Dr. John
Whoops, looks like I'm a day late on this one. Here is a belated list of the artists I played on last Tuesday's show, all of whom were an influence on the music of Tom Waits:

Marianne Faithfull (performing Kurt Weill) - The Ballad of the Soldier's Wife
Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band - Dropout Boogie
Dr. John - Gris Gris
Frank Zappa & Ensemble Modern - The Yellow Shark
Theolonius Monk - I Should Care
Howlin' Wolf - Moanin' at Midnight

Alas, there just wasn't time to play any James Brown, even though Tom Waits compared his live show to "sticking your finger in a light socket." I'll fix that omission soon. I'm thinking that I'll give the themes a rest next week and just play some goodtime summery tunes that really bang and jangle...

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Tuesdays 9:00-9:30 on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, online at

Season 1, Episode 6

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Film Review: The Illusionist (2010)

It’s been awhile since I recommended a film here on Bang & Jangle, but I caught one this weekend that deserves a mention. The Illusionist (no relation to the 2006 Edward Norton film) is Sylvain Chomet’s follow-up to The Triplets of Belleville. While the latter arrived with much fanfare, The Illusionist passed much more quietly. That’s a shame, because it’s a beautiful film.

Sophisticated animation for adults is rare, so as soon as I caught wind of this one I was eager to see it. The story is simple and concerns a down-at-the-heels magician in 1950’s Scotland. What makes this one even more of a visual feast is that it is virtually wordless, with only incidental comments in English, French, and some Gaelic. What comes across strongly is a keenly perceived sense of movement – the beats in each scene have a distinct musicality. I get the sense that the animators would see a crowded street with different eyes than I do. The exaggerations are subtle and never crude, the framing masterful. The animation also combines the best of new and old-fashioned styles, clean, colourful, and fluid but evoking a bygone era.

I appreciated the bleak touches that cut the whimsy whenever it gets too thick. In this cartoon, lonely people drink to excess and clowns attempt suicide. The overall feel is different from The Triplets of Belleville, and I imagine after that film’s success it would have been tempting to develop the kinetic style into a brand.  One reason for the difference might be that this film is an adaptation from an unfilmed script by famous French director Jacques Tati. I’ve only seen one Tati film, and awhile ago at that, but I remember the visual and comic sense being very similar.

Although there seems to be some conjecture on the subject, the script allegedly represents an attempt by Tati to reconcile with his estranged daughter. Chomet has been criticized for his adaptation, either for being disrespectful towards the family or for inserting maudlin elements into Tati’s vision. I definitely found the plotting to be fairly slight and sometimes sentimental, but never cloying. When a film looks this good, I’m happy to watch characters walk down the street. Chomet claims to be able to relate to the material because he has a daughter from a previous marriage himself whom he does not live with. My only complaint with the treatment would be that towards the end the film seems to veer from its melancholy straight into desolation.

The trailer is attached below, but if you like the style or the work of Tati it’s definitely worth seeking out the real thing:

Monday 6 June 2011

Rocking Out in the Boonies

Selina Martin
Just came back from a show in Thomasburg, and it was so good I wanted to give it one last posthumous plug. JC Pigeon and I, as the Real Coyotes, opened for the Selina Martin Triage at the Thomasburg Hall and caught their show afterward. JC and I felt very relaxed and comfortable, which came through in our act, but the 'Triage really nailed it.

The Selina Martin Triage is Selina Martin with Annelise Noronha and Kevin Lacroix. They bill themselves as art pop, a genre I'm not especially familiar with, but this was nice way to meet it. The band was not only extremely tight, they were beaming the entire time, and it's scientifically proven that's infectious. I was particularly taken by their surprising vocal and rhythmic flourishes, the kind of thing that keeps the audience engaged, and requires time and forethought on the part of the band. As you can see elsewhere on Bang & Jangle, I'm a sucker for instrumentation like Lacroix's homemade kit, made of an old suitcase and porchboard bass, and Noronha's accordion. Selina Martin's vocals and lyrics preside over the whole affair - I thought her line about "a spine made of homemade wine" really painted a picture.

I'm listening to their album Life Drawing Without Instruction as I write this. Expect to hear a track on the Bang & Jangle Radio Hour in the next couple weeks. I'll keep you posted if they plan to come to Peterborough. They're Toronto-based, so it's bound to happen.

Thanks also to everyone who helped to promote and put the show at the hall together. The more I look, the more I see the rural communities have got it going on...

Thursday 2 June 2011

The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project: Week III

(The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project is a series of impromptu recordings released on a weekly basis. Click the label at the bottom of the post for more details.)
...of the Damned
It is a bitter irony that the musical projects we lavish the most attention on often don't turn out as well as the ones that came about casually. When you do happen to get lucky, however, it feels good. This week's installment of the Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project came about fairly easily, and I'm happy with the results.

I found a detuned ukelele in the back of my closet and started strumming. The standard chord forms had devolved into something fractured and spooky. So I put it to tape and added a beat, and the result is a weird groove. As usual, my main beef is with the production, or lack thereof. My condenser mic is on the fritz, so you may notice some hiss in the background.

The composition is entitled Tiki Bar of the Damned. There is only one bar in hell, and it is a tiki bar. It is actually kind of nice.

"Tiki Bar of the Damned"

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Episode 5: Tom Waits' Long Shadow

Billy's Band
Last night on the show, I featured artists from around the world who have been influenced by Tom Waits. There just wasn't time to play everything I would've liked, but we still managed to cover Canada, the States, Finland, and Russia. Here's the playlist:

Tom Waits - Misery Is the River of the World
Friendly Rich and the Lollipop People - Grapefruit League
(excerpt) Tom Waits - Straight to the Top (Rhumba)
Tuomari Nurmio & Alamaailman Vasarat - Paavi Roskapankissa
(excerpt) Tom Waits - Sins of My Father
Billy's Band - Muz Zambela (?)
Man Man - Engwish Bwudd

Before Tom Waits was a legend himself, he took some cues from pretty incredible musicians. I'm thinking next week maybe we should look at the people who influenced him. That should be a fun one to put together...

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Tuesdays 9:00-9:30 on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, online at

Season 5, Episode 5