Official music page and soapbox of Matt Snell

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Episode 13: Sweet Harmonies, Part Two

The followup to last week's show played yesterday, continuing my exploration of interesting vocal harmonies. The artists were:

Ames Brothers - The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane
Sons of the Pioneers - Blue Prairie
Dezurik Sisters - I Left Her Standing There
Middle Georgia Singing Convention - This Song of Love
Five Aka Women Yodeling (Aka polyharmony)
The Persuasions - Oh Heavenly Salvation
Me - Spirit Be Frisky

That's right, I slipped myself in there again. Next week, I think I'll move this theme into the future by playing singers who have overdubbed themselves singing harmony.

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Tuesdays 9:00-9:30 on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, online at http://www.trentradio.ca/stream.htm.

Season 1, Episode 13

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Upcoming Shows with International Accordion Sensation Goto Izumi


 This is gonna make my summer. I've played with some awesome acts, but never with a Japanese cabaret-style accordion player. Goto Izumi will be arriving in Canada in August to play some shows, and I'll be joining her on the bill for three of them.

Based in Hiroshima, Izumi promises a "unique and interactive show, full of costume changes, dances, acting, strange props and stranger sounds." Sounds like me, only with an accordion and in Japanese. From the tracks I've heard, the cabaret/folk thing keeps things anchored while Izumi pushes it in strange modern directions. I'm not sure exactly what Izumi has planned for her Canadian audience, but I think you should come and find out. Along with Peterborough's the Fire Flower Revue, I'll be present at the following dates:

  • August 20 - Thomasburg Hall, Thomasburg
  • August 21 - Kubo, Peterborough (413 George St N)
  • August 22 - Smiling Buddha, Toronto (961 College St) 

To make it a truly international affair, ECHOREV will join us from LA at the Thomasburg Hall show. Events like this don't happen every day, so I'm working hard to make it a good one. Mark the date(s), tell a friend, and in the meantime, check out Izumi's site and posters...

Izumi's international base of operations:

http://www.myspace.com/gotoizumiinternational




(P.S.: Notice how the wallpaper in the photo at top almost matches the wallpaper on Bang & Jangle? It's as if she's walking around inside your computer!)

Monday, 25 July 2011

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

(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.)

Take that, deadline! Scroll down and you'll notice this one comes only two days after the last. In fact, it was conceived and executed in one day, and I'm as happy with it as any of the pieces I tortured for several days before letting go. I'm sure that spontaneity accounts for some of its success.

If you listen to the Bang & Jangle Radio Hour tomorrow (Tuesday, July 26), you'll hear some of the stuff I've been listening to that inspired this piece. It's a pretty conscious attempt to emulate Sacred Harp style singing. Mine has no real words, but I never can tell what Sacred Harp singers are saying anyway.

Also, further to last entry, this one is rousing and contains no elements of dread or even melancholy. It gave me a chance to practice harmonizing and sing my guts out. I got stuck naming this one, so I asked for a bit of help in the initial post. The winning title goes to Shane of shane-movies.blogspot.com - check it out for if you like hilarious reviews of eclectic movies. Shane's suggestion was "Spirits be Frisky," and a damn fine suggestion it was, though I think I'm going to drop the "s" since it's really only my spirit divided in four:

"Spirit Be Frisky"

Sunday, 24 July 2011

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

(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.)
 
Hippopotamus time is here again. I met my once-a-week deadline, but so far I haven't turned into the manic song-recording machine I need to be in order to finish this project by the 31st of July. I'll play it by ear through the coming week, and keep that goal in mind but give myself extra time if I need it. Especially since the recordings are, on the whole, improving, I see no reason to foist three pieces of crap on the world in one week.

I say "on the whole," because I was happier with my output this time last week. My muse really seems to perk up when I sing, but I thought I could fool her by just whistling. No dice. On the other hand, this piece is still a reaction to last week. I mentioned in that post, referring to generally dark tone of these recordings, that "I should try and make something cheerful just to see how it ends up perverted." I took that as a challenge and tried to make something sweet. It still ended up melancholic, but at least there is no undercurrent of menace.

I call this piece "Gaggle of Grackles." I have no idea what the actual call of the grackle sounds like, so my whistling bears no relation to any real bird. But when I conceived the main banjo part I was sitting by a stream where a whole mess of grackles were bathing. I changed "mess" to "gaggle" for the sake of alliteration and the rest is history. The whole thing has a pretty natural vibe - I was going to put some of my field recordings in the background, too, but my multitrack and my computer aren't on speaking terms, so I made the nature noises myself. That's ultimately to the good, I think. I also fumbled around with plenty of delay - strange how technology can be so helpful in the evocation of nature.

I might return to this idea one day and add lyrics. Anyway here it is, take a listen....

"Gaggle of Grackles"

Friday, 22 July 2011

Golden Age Comic Book Weirdo

The Jim Woodring comics I blogged about earlier this month initiated a renaissance in my reading, and since that post I have read voraciously through Charles Burns' Black Hole, Art Spiegelman's Maus, and Will Eisner's A Contract with God. I enjoyed the latter two especially, but anyone interested in comic books is probably aware of or has already read them. So I thought I'd give some airtime to a slightly more obscure artist, Fletcher Hanks.

Let's start with a disclaimer: I use the words "genius" and "masterpiece" a lot around here. I don't think I'm being hyperbolic, it's just that art I don't like has no place on my blog. That being the case, and this being a sort of followup to a piece on Jim Woodring, you might expect Fletcher Hanks to deliver another transcendental tour-de-force. No. Fletcher Hanks comics are crap, but it is crap of the highest order.

Hanks worked in comics from 1939 to 1941, churning out stories about cosmic wizards, jungle queens, and burly lumberjacks. According to fletcherhanks.com, his total output amounts to fifty-one stories, which are now collected in two volumes, I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! and You Shall Die by Your Own Evil Creation! published by Fantagraphics. I'll need a break before I delve into the second tome, but I laughed my way all through the first.

I'm not a comic book historian, so I can't say exactly how representative Hanks is of "Golden Age" storytelling. Certainly the pulp elements we know and love are there - evil mastermind plots to destroy the planet, before an invincible paragon of goodness pulls us from the brink. What sets Hanks apart is the lurking perversion a familiar formula is laced with. In some ways it reminds me of outsider art, at least in the sense that the artist presents something deeply odd as perfectly normal. Time and evolving sensibilities can't account for all the weirdness here. My favourite evil scheme was spearheaded by the "Gyp" Clipp Gang, who vowed: "Our anti-solar rays will check all motion and thereby destroy the power of Earth's gravity... Do you know what that will mean? As soon as the motion stops, all the people will fly off the Earth's surface into outer space!" Before flipping the switch, they prudently decide to chain themselves to the ground and keep the water on the surface with a "hydraulic balance ray."

Of course, the Super Wizard Stardust would never let that happen. After destroying whatever apparatus they happen to be using, he punishes mugs with a twisted biblical vengeance that accounts for 9/10s of the reading pleasure. Gangster are transformed into rats, only to be chased off a dock by Stardust in panther form, who then agitates the water to drown them. He rescues the leader (who retains his human head), and delivers him to the FBI. Or Stardust might feed a criminal to an "octopus of gold," or tear off their head and toss it to an intergalactic headhunter. For all he's done for America, he's still a pretty sick bastard.


The four-colour drawings are crude but strangely evocative, the use of commas can be unusual, and the need to solve a global problem in one or two panels often results in some pretty bizarre work-arounds. In fact, the over-reliance on mysterious rays reminds me of another monument of strangeness, Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by D. P. Schreber. I probably missed a few, but I counted the number of times Stardust pulled a game-changing ray out of his sleeve, and the partial list included a reducing ray, a revolving speed ray, new spectral rays, an anti-gravity ray, a powerful boomerang ray, a magnetic ray, a suspending ray, a rarifying ray, a fusing ray, a gravity-control ray, a radiophonic thought-recording ray, a long attractor beam, a mysterious ray, a powerful agitator ray, a super-solar disintegrating ray, a superiority beam, a transforming ray, and a "secret ray that brings in front of the spies, the skeletons of innocent people, they have killed."

One never really gets the sense that Stardust has had to exert himself to save the world, but the deadening repetition combined with the outright surrealism gives the stories a disturbing aura. Or maybe the book is charged with radio-ionic pulp rays. According to some, Hanks also deserves credit for creating the first female superhero, Fantomah. Her punishments are as brutal as Stardust's, and since her face turns into a skull when she's angry, it's not really about eye candy. The progressive politics are diluted, however, by the fact that this flying white woman is solely responsible defending "the jungle" and "jungle-born" natives.

There seems to be a paucity of biographical information on Hanks, and what exists isn't exactly flattering. I'd suggest enjoying the mystery rather than flipping to the back and spoiling it like I did. Whatever happened in between, Hanks died in February, 1976. His frozen body was found on a park bench in New York City.

According to the dust jacket, Kurt Vonnegut and R. Crumb both dig Fletcher Hanks, reason enough to check him out. Like I say, you probably won't learn anything, but if you are susceptible to strange art by strange people you won't regret it either. Thanks to Hartley for the recommendation!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Episode 12: Sweet Harmonies, Part One

The Louvin Brothers
This week on the Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, I covered vocal harmonies. Given the span of the subject, I believe I'll spend a few episodes vamping on this theme:

The Mills Brothers - Tiger Rag
Norman & Nancy Blake - The Sunny Side of Life
Bill Monroe and Doc Watson - What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul?
The Louvin Brothers - Broadminded
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Jordan - Baby, It's Cold Outside
The 5 Jones Boys - Mr. Ghost Goes to Town
Matt Snell - Toothy Grin

That's right, I played myself last night. I haven't done so on the show yet, but the theme was pretty close to home this time. With the exception of myself (and the Blakes, although they were playing an old-time style), most of the material was of an older vintage. As the series progresses I'll get into more modern material...

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Tuesdays 9:00-9:30 on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, online at http://www.trentradio.ca/stream.htm.

Season 1, Episode 12

Sunday, 17 July 2011

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

(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.)

 Week Eight is finally here. I seem to be operating on a nine-day week, so I'll have to pick up the pace to get 'em done by the end of July. To be honest, I'm not slaving away on each track, fine-tuning the composition in the lead up to the release. I spend the week bashing out ideas too crappy to be shared, only to have a half-decent one trickle out on the eighth and ninth day.

This week's track is horrendously cheesy. Cheesy in a "Sha-na-na-na, sha-noop sha-noop" kind of way. I'm slightly embarrassed, but I guess it's time the world knew the truth. It is partially redeemed by the darkness which pervades all these recordings, which I come by naturally. I should try and make something cheerful just to see how it ends up perverted.

On a technical level, I suppose it's cool that voice is the only instrument (if you don't count finger snapping). I think it becomes overly dense by the end, but the groove is still prominent. And before I get too down on myself for letting my inner cheesebag loose, I have to remember this is an experiment, and this song continues the tradition of sounding nothing like its predecessors. It's called "Toothy Grin," have a listen...

"Toothy Grin"

Friday, 15 July 2011

Two-Headed Snake Visits Ukraine

I've been slaving over the Two-Headed Hippopotamus Project for weeks, so imagine my delight when I read about a real live genuine two-headed snake. It's at the Skazka zoo in Yalta right now, where it will be on display until September. I'm tempted, very tempted to quit my job and go check this out.

The heads are able to "think, react, and eat separately," although one article notes that one is more passive than the other. Apart from arguing over where to slither, it becomes an issue during feeding time, when the heads try to steal food from each other despite sharing a stomach. Because California Kingsnakes sometimes hunt other reptiles, zookeepers keep the heads separated with a spatula during feeding time, lest the snake become confused and eat itself.

Although these things don't tend to last in the wild, this snake is already three years old and going strong. It's name is Gorynych, after the two-headed dragon of legend. I trolled the net looking for more details, but most articles are paraphrases and repeats of the info I've just regurgitated. If you want independent proof, try this one:

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/

Or see Gorynych in action:



Had enough, or would you like to see a five-legged chihuahua, a one-eyed kitten, a pig with two mouths, and ten other freaks of nature? Have I got a link for you! Be forewarned, it's occasionally gruesome:

http://www.smh.com.au/photogallery/environment/animals/freaks-of-nature

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Episode 11: Movie Music, Part Two

Kaada and Orchestra
The thrilling conclusion to the Movie Music series played last night. The pieces were:

Tom Waits - Los Angeles Theme (Another Private Dick)
Ennio Morricone - Recreazione Divertita
Masaru Sato - Yojimbo
Mike Patton - A Perfect Twist
Krzyzstof Komeda - Rosemary's Baby Main Theme
Kaada - Molly
The Five Blobs - The Blob

Tons of incredible pieces remain unplayed, so expect a third installment sometime in the future. Next week, I'll mix it up again with a fresh theme...

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Tuesdays 9:00-9:30 on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, online at http://www.trentradio.ca/stream.htm.

Season 1, Episode 11

Friday, 8 July 2011

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

(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 finished my seventh entry of twelve today, which means I'm more than half done this experiment. I was on track to finish this week's piece by Wednesday, but the Little Lake Music Festival near my house started up in the afternoon and bled electric blues into my microphone. I was bummed, because I've been drifting over the deadline already. I got a fresh start this morning, and came up with a plan to stay on target - since I started this project May 15, if I can have it finished by July 31st I'll consider myself within the deadline. Kindly ambitious, but I do some of my best work in a panic.

As for the music, I was keen to keep experimenting with overdubbing vocal harmonies, but this week when I tried them against a guitar backdrop it wasn't happening. I started playing the saw over top and found that worked nicely, so I decided to take this week as an opportunity to work on a paired-down arrangement. It peaks at four tracks, but generally I kept it fairly sparse to try and make for more integral performances. That said, it seemed to demand a couple instruments I hardly ever play, and I did my best to oblige. It probably would've turned out better with a couple instrumentalists that aren't me bringing their own thing. Still, I like the chord progression and the mellow feel. My favourite aspect of the Hippopotamus Project so far is the range of genres and atmospheres I've been able to play. Each new piece sounds nothing like the one before, and if that's still the case by week twelve I'll consider it a success.

I was going to call this one "Xtabay," because when I made up the chords I was trying to write a song about a Yucatecan legend. The Xtabay is a spirit in the guise of a beautiful woman who, depending on the person you ask, either leads men to their deaths, to fairyland, or leaves them crucified naked on a cactus. Then I remembered that Yma Sumac has an album called Voice of the Xtabay, and I decided not to compete. So I'll call this one "Dead Leaves," the only two words from the rejected lyrics that survived. Hope you dig it...

"Dead Leaves"

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Episode 10: Movie Music, Part One

Fran├žois de Roubaix
Last night on the show, I covered music from movies, with an ear towards finding pieces that still worked out of context (or came with neat trivia). They were:

Carl Stalling - Drunk La Cucharacha
Henry Mancini - Touch of Evil (Main Title)
Fran├žois de Roubaix - Dernier Domicile Connu
Ennio Morricone - Gringo Like Me
Sun Ra - Pink Elephants on Parade
Tex Ritter - High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin')

I did a bunch of research for this one, and I think I turned up enough material to make this a two-parter. More great music from films, and Burt Bacharach's chilling theme from The Blob...

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Tuesdays 9:00-9:30 on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, online at http://www.trentradio.ca/stream.htm.

Season 1, Episode 10

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Jim Woodring's Comics Remove My Psychic Baracles

It's been awhile since I've read a good comic. I loved reading stuff like Chester Brown and Joe Sacco, and I usually kept a book or two around when we lived near the Bibliotheque Nationale in Montreal, but since then I've read very little in the way of comics. The last time might've been a year ago, when my friend C. T. Staples showed me a weird little number about a creature named Manhog and his run in with some giant frogs. I only skimmed it but its essence lodged in the back of my mind.

This weekend while I was in Montreal, the clerk at Drawn and Quarterly was able to identify the artist from my description - his name is Jim Woodring, and he is an outright genius. I feel obligated to pass the name on, because you don't find material of this calibre every day. My taste for artistic weirdness is nigh-insatiable, but this is the kind of whole package deal that satisfies on a cellular level. It's not about surface oddity, though I laughed, or just the visual flair, although it's beautifully illustrated. Woodring's stories are allegories that penetrate the subconscious several layers deep, the importance of which seems self-evident despite the fact you can't make hide nor hair of it.

I picked up a compilation of Woodring's main series, Frank. The titular character is a generic 20's-era cartoon with white gloves and buck teeth. He lives in a world called the Unifactor that strikes me as vaguely medieval despite a few modern touches. There is no dialogue and a very sparing use of signs and sound effects. Apart from Frank, the aforementioned Manhog, and the most sinister, inscrutable-looking demon I have ever seen (he's called Whim and that's him in the top image), the Unifactor is populated mostly by weirdly geometric monsters, like cubical chickens and floating organic tops. Woodring has experienced hallucinations since he was a child, which probably contributes to the authority he brings to his images. It's different from acid flashback fodder - Woodring is also interested in Vedantic philosophy and brings a certain moral weight to the most bizarre scenarios. If you think just anybody can write a story about a cat with hands and make it seem profound, you're out of your mind. The way Woodring can convey Frank's misgivings or the quality of his mirth with a subtle shift of the eyes is incredible.

I already blew through the collection I picked up, I couldn't help myself. My favourite piece was "Gentlemanhog" - there is a part where a chicken finds some fireworks that made me laugh until I cried. Put that thing in words, and you've got a piece of shit on your hands. Without them, I found it very moving. I fully expect the author of that cartoon to be able to walk through walls, in the very least. Also, "Frank Obeys the Rule of Five" gave me nightmares. If I had read that as a child, I don't know what I might've become.

I've been in a slump when it comes to reading fiction, and it seems fitting that I should return to it in the form of a wordless comic. Although I plan to reread the short stories I'm also going to be on the lookout for some Woodring's latest material so I can see how he deals with longer-form stories (Weathercraft and Congress of the Animals are the his first graphic novel-length works and are from 2010 and 2011, respectively). Let me know if you run across it, and thanks again to Corey for turning me on to this stuff. If you don't like it, don't tell me. Keep that filthy secret to yourself.

Let's close it off with one last image, shall we?