Archive for May, 2008

Deja-Vu Flute!

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Cow Palace Velo-Improv

There was a definite sense of deja-vu as I began to pack up my flute after recording a few pieces in this deserted Cow Palace in Ottawa: such an incredible space!!

Like the Velo-Flute solo that I had improvised while riding my bike in an empty warehouse on the CNE grounds in Toronto, I suddenly realized that this was yet another golden opportunity to conduct an acoustic experiment in the Doppler Effect!

Quickly re-assembling my trusty Yamaha Flute, I set the my Edirol rolling while I embarked on a wonderful, early-morning spin across the polished concrete floor, happily improvising as I rode my trusty Brodie. The Doppler Effect is not really in evidence here, however this bending-pitch phenomena (think of the sound of a passing siren) can be heard in a recent video I posted on YouTube yesterday: Playing Flute on a Skateboard!

This last link courtesy of Chris Foley’s The Collaborative Piano Blog.

Olde New York

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I can’t mention the clip-clop of horses hooves in New York City without offering a few evocative sound files! I had hoped that I might capture a recording that would meld Boris’ accomplished Jazz Sax with the sound of passing horses in Central Park, but you’ll just have to use your imagination!

These recordings capture a distinct aspect of my acoustic experience while in NYC, and it is interesting to note how the contemporary sound of these horses compete with the shrill whine of taxis riding their brakes. In the final soundfile, the sound – and history – of the horses is all but subsumed by the din of street traffic.

Peering into the past, and for a rather gritty, unique glimpse of ‘Olde New York’, check this Dark Passage site.

El Grain Silo Pasa

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Here are a couple of takes of one of the first pieces I ever learned on flute, El Condor Pasa. You’d think I’d have it down cold, but this was very much an impromptu performance, an ode to this evocative shell of a building that caught my eye as I was driving back from Ottawa recently. Playing on my antique Hawkes & Sons Superior 8-keyed flute, some of the fingerings got away from me: I have to get that thing repaired! In the first of these two recordings, despite my false start, I love the way the final notes blend with the sound of a passing truck on the highway.

With the sound of the 401 in the background, I explored the unique acoustics of this abandoned grain silo. Like the derelict barn I recorded in not so long ago, these shells of buildings that dot the rural landscape are a reminder of – and testament to – days gone by.

The Best Sax Player in New York

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Boris!

Having discovered that Central Park was celebrating its 150th, I made a point of catching a cab uptown on my last morning in New York for a quick visit.

It’s easy for me to recollect my first impression of Central Park before ever even visiting NYC: that it was a dark and dangerous place, filled with broken needles, drug-pushers and lurking, shadowy figures in the underbrush. In retrospect, this impression seems quaint and even comical: nothing could be further from the truth!

Before I even caught a glimpse of this guy and as I was scouting the park for a tunnel to record in, it was the distant strains of a lone sax player that caught my attention, just as din of the ever-present street traffic and the clip-clop of horse carriages began to fade away, and as the park’s green hush began to embrace me.

Without having seen too many street musicians during my short trip, I was particularly delighted to have a chance encounter with this fine musician. Boris was schooled at the Moscow Conservatory, and seemed to know all the players in town. It was humbling to go ahead and record my little Broadway Tune after hearing this guy blow his horn, but I carried on nonetheless considering that I was on the prowl for unique acoustic spaces!

Central Park’s 150th!

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Just The Way You Are, Jerome Kern

I imagine most New Yorkers are up on the news, but this was first I’d heard of the big birthday celebration for Greensward.

Before heading south of the border, I did a quick Google for Sewer Tours in NYC, thinking that there might be a quasi-legit way to head underground and maybe check out some mysterious, hidden acoustics under Manhattan – ‘Lower’ Manhattan, I guess you might call this! – however my exploration of Underground Spaces will have to await a return visit!

To my surprise, my web-browsing found me unexpectedly popping up right in the middle of Central Park, at least in a manner of speaking! What I stumbled upon was a site describing how this living, breathing green ‘heart’ of the teeming metropolis is celebrating 150 years, having been founded on April 28th, 1858…and the date of my little discovery: April 28th, 2008 as chance would have it!

I didn’t have enough time to coordinate attending any of the Special Events* marking the occasion, however I did manage to follow through with my original idea of recording in one of the numerous and distinctive tunnels that lace the wonderful park.

The voice that can be heard here emerged from the dark depths of the tunnel from a guy camped out near the other end, kindly warning me that musicians are often busted by security. This filled me with confidence, as you can imagine, however he and I had a pleasant chat after I’d finished playing. As the music is ending, the amiable conversation of two joggers passing through the tunnel overlay with the sound of ‘Just the way You Are’, composed by the Granddaddy of American Musical Theater, Jerome Kern…as always, headphones are recommended for full stereo effect!

* If there is one link you check out, this’d be the one, courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy…and for another aspect of urban preservation, you might want to explore Ars Subterranea.

Purcell in The Palm House

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Purcell

As described in the previous post, it was a wonderful treat to return recently to the Allan Gardens Conservatory, to have a look around and check out the acoustics of the massive glass dome. Of botanical significance since 1858, this wonderful conservatory has been described as a green oasis in Toronto’s urban core.

Pictured is the Palm House dating from 1910. I figured this regal piece by Henry Purcell was appropriately majestic!

Allan Gardens Conservatory

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Sonata, CPE Bach

The moth-balled Maple Leaf Gardens tends to get all the press, but you owe it to yourself to visit the ‘other’ gardens just a little further along Carlton Street: The Allan Gardens!

After a hockey scrimmage at Moss Park Arena last weekend, I realized that I finally had the opportunity to record in this tropical paradise, and while a wedding entourage and various visitors wandered amidst the lush foliage, I practised a bit and gave one of my favorite pieces a quick read-through.

Since mid-winter I had been wanting to check out the acoustics of these magnicent glassed-in spaces at the Allan Gardens Conservatory, with the romantic notion that it would be especially evocative in the middle of one our many snow-storms. Despite a record snow-fall and a winter that seemed to go on and on, I just never was able to work it into my schedule to get over there during a blizzard!

It had literally been decades since I last set foot in this magical place, and next time I intend to have a look inside the transplanted and restored Victorian Greenhouse that was donated by the University of Toronto back in 2004, and that now share the grounds serving as a Children’s Conservatory.

Perhaps once again it will be snowing…like playing in a giant snow-globe!

R&B All Star Night @ The Trane

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Stevie Wonder, Knocks Me Off My Feet

Any chance to see soul flutist Jef Kearns sharing the stage with friends, especially when it’s conveniently just around the corner at The Trane Studio!

As suggested in the e-flyer that got sent around – that this mother of all mothers day shows would be so dope you won’t want to miss a note – the concert did not disappoint! Jef is totally chilled as frontman for some of the finest hip hop and R&B musicians in the city.

So what if it’s a Sunday night?

Afterword: At time of posting, I couldn’t put my finger on the name of the tune here, but Jef has put me out of my misery! This is his killer cover of Stevie Wonder’s Knocks Me Off My Feet from the timeless double-album, Songs In The Key of Life. No wonder the tune sounded so familiar, as this is only my favorite album of all time! Dating from 1976, this is one of those recordings that just keeps getting better with the passage of time! Check out this link to Higher Ground from 1973, and tell me that Stevie Wonder wasn’t on to a sound and message that – if not visionary – then at least was miles ahead of its time!

The Ebony Hillbillies

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Ebony Hillbillies

Taking the subway from Greenwich Village uptown to record in Grand Central, I had a musical epiphany, and am happy to introduce The Ebony Hillbillies!

Happily stumbling upon their incredibly accomplished and spirited playing at the Grand Central Subway Station, Public Television Channel 13 was in the middle of an elaborate documentary they were filming.

I would have stuck aound longer, but Grand Central Terminal was calling me, not to mention I had a plane to catch!

Urban Mash-Up!

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Hip Hopera, Overture

Launching into a seemingly unlikely fusion of Hip-Hop and Opera, we in the audience were taken by storm!

Pictured here are turntablist DJ Lil Jaz and Soprano Teiya Kasahara with Liz Upchurch at the keyboard, as they launch into Deconstructon Reconstruction: A Hiphopera for DJ’s and Operatic Voices at the Royal Conservatory of Music earlier today. The other musicians making up this innovative and collaborative quintet were Justin Welsh, baritone, along with the internationally acclaimed DJ T.R.A.C.K.S.

Welcome to the Hip Hopera!

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Hip Hopera, Finale

There are a lot more New York tales to tell, but I just have to interrupt the proceedings to fill you in on an extraordinary musical experience I had today.

Premiered just a couple of days ago to a packed house in the light-filled Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Canadian Opera Company, The Hip Hopera was re-staged this morning at the Royal Conservatory of Music. The Concert Hall, filled with busloads of excited high school students, had a palpable air of anticipation as five musicians set up extensive sound equipment and techies buzzed around.

The concept of a fusion between Opera and Hip Hop is right in keeping with the urge to push new boundaries in exploring relevance and meaning in music, especially when one considers that the history of Western Classical music is littered with constant innovation and cross-pollination of genres and influences: an ongoing mash-up of musical styles.

But beyond that, these artists are each internationally-acclaimed masters of their craft and made the diverse mix of sounds appear natural and effortless. The two genres complimented each other beautifully, and the two unamplified singers from the Canadian Opera Company balanced perfectly with the twinned turntable artists (DJ Lil Jaz & DJ T.R.A.C.K.S. both teach ‘Scratch from Scratch’ classes at the RCM), their expressive scratching and overlay of intriguing electronic samples and loops.

There were a few moments where, in fact, I wanted to hear more turntable!

A new collaboration between the COC and the RCM, and the result of a year of intensive collaborative workshops, this progressive mini-opera was virtuostic and captivating and offered the best aspects of both Opera and Hip Hop – and their respective audiences – perfectly interwoven and layered together.

The Quiet Zone

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Quiet Zone

The sound of distant drumming could be heard above the din of the mid-town traffic just as I zeroed in on The New York Public Library, and as this sign came into view.

“A drum is a voice, alive and feeling as with any voice. When it speaks, then we must listen and honor the message with our best and noblest selves, for it is a voice with great power and it is a voice that is a gift to us from a greater being. If we do this, then our lives will be full and happy. If we do not listen but pay disrespect, then our lives will have dishonor.” –Louis W. Ballard, Quapaw-Cherokee

Penn Station: How Great Thou Art

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How Great Thou Art

Or maybe this should read Penn Station: How Great Thou Were…?

The modern Penn Station certainly gets you in the game, as it lands you plunk in the heart of Lower Manhattan, but I’d say that despite its efficiency it’s no screaming hell as a building. And it turns out that the present day modern ‘slab’ that also accomodates Madison Square Garden is the site of an urban travesty. The original Pennsylvania Station was demolished amidst heart-rending controversy back in the 1960’s.

Forget Grand Central: Penn Station has always dwarfed the previously-described train station to a ratio of 4:1 for commuter traffic, and perhaps even on the scale of architectural grandeur. The original Penn Station was phenomenal, an architectural wonder, as attested to by the thumbnail photos below.

The good news? The wanton, short-sighted destruction of this majestic structure galvanized the New York community and paved the way – so to speak! – to a more contemporary, preservationist attitude towards buildings of historic significance… nation-wide as well as internationally.
Torontonians will recognize the name of Jane Jacobs, whose singular Urban Vision was writ large on those ground-breaking discussions. And it is Jacob’s clear, articulate voice that rang true here in the heart of our city, once she had gotten warmed up in NYC! Otherwise we would be contending with a Spadina Road Expressway: unthinkable!

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…btw, no, this is not me playing How Great Thou Art, though I wish it was: this guy is good!!

Jack Kerouac Has Left the Building

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Minuetto, Locatelli

Before heading for The Big Apple, I had my sights set on visiting The New York Public Library to take in their special exhibits profiling Milton and Kerouac. So you can imagine my disappointment when, upon arrival, I was informed that the Jack On-the-Road Kerouac show marking the 50th anniversary of his death had closed just days earlier.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Milton and his incredible output (who’s not to love Paradife Loft?) but it was as much the odd juxtaposition of these two great writers that I wanted to bear witness to more than anything!

John Milton at 400: A Life Beyond Life was in a surprisingly small yet wonderfully intimate, dimly-lit room just off the main foyer, and was a treasure-trove of original works tastefully on display behind bullet-proof glass. Someone next to me, upon observing the heady writings and illustrations, commented on how Milton’s writing reads like music in its rhythm and cadence, full of nuance and subtle phrasing.

Having read recently in a New York Times article that there would be music piped in ranging from Handel and Purcell to the heavy-metal band Cradle of Filth – who had used Milton’s apocolyptic visions as source material – it was my intention to record a soundfile or two and maybe snap a photo – no flash – to document the show. The canned music, however, was pallid and muted, at a respectfuly low level, and as I levelled my camera the security guard positioned outside the smoked glass doors entered and kindly informed me that photos of any description were not permitted.

So I resorted to my Plan B. The library’s exquisite foyer alone had come as an epiphany, but I didn’t have the guts to play there and so I went on to explore the rest of this incredible building looking for a quiet place to record. I knew with certainty that if I simply politely asked to play I would run into red tape, so I finally summoned the courage to play through this Minuetto by Locatelli in a secluded area as caterers set up for some big do later that evening. Before setting up to record, I joked with them a bit and made sure they were cool with it if I played my flute, and I reassured them that they needn’t to be quiet on my account as they set up their wine-station. The acoustics were not as good as in the Empire State Building, but at least I wasn’t rudely interrupted as I headed into my Da Capo!

One can only wonder who might have been sipping from these very Wine Glasses only a few short hours later…

Grand Central Station

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Jupiter, Holst

It is now called Grand Central Terminal, however this has not always been the case – preceding the present-day building, the original massive train station from the 1800’s was called Grand Central Station and was equated with the Eiffel Tower and the Crystal Palace in its day. I guess I’m stuck in the past, because that’s the name I will always use for this magnificent public space.

‘Reel’ New York

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New York Reel

Of all the locations that one could play while in Manhattan, I was determined to record an Irish tune at the Irish Hunger Memorial, a remarkable grassy knoll just west of the World Trade Center Site in Battery Park. This place is guaranteed to take you back in time, and its’ incredible design evokes the Irish countryside whilst underscoring the extraordinary historical impact that the Great Irish Famine had on New York City in its formative years.

From the adjacent boardwalk that skirts the south and west edges of Manhattan, one can say hello from afar to the Green Lady, and even get a glimpse of Staten Island, which served as gateway for countless immigrants and their families arriving in America.

I had wanted to bring along my old British-made 8-keyed flute expressly to play a jig, reel or ballad, so as to properly evoke the time and place of this kind of history. However at the last minute I had to jettison a pile of things onto the dining room table so that I could just gunny-sack it around town for 36 hours, and my Hawkes & Son Superior Flute of 1860 sadly was left behind.

I have friends who lament the passing of ’80’s New York, that the place just isn’t its former self; however here I explore my personal fascination with the New York of the 1880’s!

In Grand Central Station I Knelt Down and Played

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Puccini

A little gun-shy after getting busted in The Empire State Building as described in the previous post, this is the first of several pieces that I recorded in New York’s magnificent Grand Central Terminal, which, incredibly, had almost been demolished back in the ’60’s.

I still have not read Elizabeth Smart’s novel, however her evocative title, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept, suggests the emotional impact that this and other great buildings can have on a person. Grand architecture reminds us of human fraility, yet somehow magnifies the soul.

Gorilla Flute: Busted!

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Minuetto, Locatelli

Busted, just like King Kong!

The iconic Empire State Building I have never scaled, but when in New York a couple of days ago, I revisited its incredible deco lobby, which had blown me away a few years ago. Battling upstream through hordes of high school kids exiting noisily to the street as I arrived, I discreetly set up in an alcove by one of the exits to sample the acoustics.

I have discovered that it is a fine balance between public and private space when it comes to playing flute for my project. At times, in fact, it can be rather nervous-making, depending on the circumstances, if there are others around, or if, say, I find myself on an abandoned site in the middle of the night. Or, in this case, if there are security guards at every exit.

Like King Kong, I’m not looking for trouble, and just want to do my thing!

Buoyed up by my experience minutes earlier from having successfully recorded in a secluded section of the New York Central Library, I thought I’d give the same piece a read, you know, as part of my study of ‘comparative acoustics’.Without asking for permission – what I like to call ‘guerilla flute’ – I set up to record. I wondered whether I should take the repeats of this Minuetto by Pietro Locatelli, figuring I would be interrupted part way through as had occurred at Chicago’s Lyric Opera Building last summer.

I decided to live dangerously and took the repeats – the acoustics, even at a restrained playing volume, were just exquisite.

But then, just as I finished my second repeat and was about to head into the middle section of the piece, an imposing figure stepped into the space where I was playing and caught my attention. Thinking about it now, he was a tall as freaking King Kong! He wasn’t at all abrupt with me, but he certainly didn’t mince words, and I put up no struggle, unlike the famous gorilla associated with the building!

Gorilla Flute: Busted!

And speaking of gorillas, this seems a natural place to slip in this great interview with the lead singer of Sleepy Time Gorilla Musem who I saw at Lee’s Palace last year, as described in Sumer Is I-Cumin In and who’s band ‘s name is derived from the Sleepy Time Gorilla Press, which was based out of New York City in 1903.