Category Archives: Quick Shots

Potholes, pot shots, hot pockets, pot heads, hot shots.

Reelin’ in the Years – Donnie and Marie

“Poor false eye lash, trapped beneath the ice!”

And poor Steely Dan, trapped beneath Donnie and Marie.

Word on the street is that Sid & Marty Krofft had a hand in putting together the Donnie and Marie show… which goes a long way toward explaining why it was so awesome.

Seriously though, whatever happened to the grand spectacle of the weekday variety show? Halcyon days.

Perhaps You Are Made of Glass? Laurie Anderson, Zellerbach

It’s been 26 years since I last watched Laurie Anderson perform (“Big Science”). I was much younger, and so was she. The audience at the time was composed mostly of new wave/punkers with a literary bent – young adults into Fripp and Eno and William S. Burroughs. I remember a raft of white violins descending from the ceiling – with tape heads installed where the  bridges should have been – followed by a  dozen or so white violin bows  lowered into place, strung with reel-to-reel tape instead of horse hair. Each bow harnessed a different sound clip or spoken word recording, and she “played” each one back- and forwards, at any speed or in any staccato word rhythm.

Fast forward to 2012, Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley. Now 65, Anderson has dispensed with most of her avante-garde gimmicks and boiled it mostly down to pure storytelling , ensconced in more “traditional” violin playing backed by sequencers playing strange loops (a porch swing creaking, compressed air escaping in a repeating cycle with one timing mark off just enough to make you feel vaguely uncomfortable). The stage atmosphere  a sea of votive candles peeking out through mellow fog machine vapors, a giant screen filled with solid colors, a smaller one reserved for displaying the paw-scratch “paintings” of her dog (and a few entertaining clips of same dog playing piano – who doesn’t love animals on keyboards?)

She still pulls out a few of the old tricks – her digital vocal octave dropper completely changes the tone of her amazing poem/stories (a technique she calls “audio drag”), and she did take time to pop a pillow speaker into her mouth and play a short wah-wah improv, the shape of her mouth and breath conditioning the sound source. But for the most part, her presence is more minimal, more grounded now. At one stretch, she just sat in a big black comfy chair and talked. But the maturation of the performance seemed completely tasteful, appropriate.

Langue d’Amour, from Mister Heartbreak (1984)

Her poem/stories are still bizarre, but in a more grounded way – she weaves political observations about Battleground America into meditations on why the coloration of the peacock’s tail drove Darwin batshit crazy. And throughout, little zen zingers like:

“Of all the things that ever could have happened… most of them didn’t.”

She has the ability to deliver lines like this with such matter-of-fact precision that you feel like she’s pierced the veil of evening fog into something deeper. She takes you beyond without even trying.

Perhaps you are made of glass /
Should a dog strive for Buddha Heart?

(I’m paraphrasing from memory here). In fact there were many Buddhist references peppered into the performance – she’s been practicing, and that practice is reflected in the relative minimalism of the vibe. Laurie is aging like a good cheese, not like Jagger.

Performance art, by definition, always has the immediate potential for pretentiousness. But Anderson avoids it like the plague, mostly by being funny. Not comedienne funny, but “Isn’t life weird?” funny.

Via Wikipedia: In “The Cultural Ambassador”, a piece on her album The Ugly One with the Jewels, Anderson explained some of her perspective on the character [“Bergamot” – with the lowered voice]: (Anderson:) I was carrying a lot of electronics so I had to keep unpacking everything and plugging it in and demonstrating how it all worked, and I guess I did seem a little fishy — a lot of this stuff wakes up displaying LED program readouts that have names like Atom Smasher, and so it took a while to convince them that they weren’t some kind of espionage system. So I’ve done quite a few of these sort of impromptu new music concerts for small groups of detectives and customs agents and I’d have to keep setting all this stuff up and they’d listen for a while and they’d say: So uh, what’s this? And I’d pull out something like (Bergamot:) this filter, and say, now this is what I like to think of as the voice of authority. And it would take me a while to tell them how I used it for songs that were, you know, about various forms of control, and they would say, now why would you want to talk like that? And I’d look around at the SWAT teams, and the undercover agents, and the dogs, and the radio in the corner, tuned to the Super Bowl coverage of the war. And I’d say, take a wild guess.

I keep waiting for news about some upcoming collaboration between Anderson and her husband Lou Reed (file under “The most unlikely pairing ever that makes perfect sense”) but it never happens.

Tesla Man

This’ll get your Maker nerd and guitar geek wheels cranking – ArcAttack performs a Tesla Coil version of Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” The guitar player is using an iron guitar while wearing a faraday suit, which causes half a million volts of electricity arc’ing from the Tesla coil to circle his body without harming the wearer.

The MIDI signal from the guitar is routed through a fiber optic cable to control the Tesla coils.

About ArcAttack:

Creators of the original Singing Tesla Coils, the crew of ArcAttack uses their high tech wizardry to generate a truly ‘electrifying’ performance. Two custom engineered hand built Tesla Coils throw out electrical arcs up to twelve feet long, each one acting as an instrument with a sound reminiscent of the early days of the synthesizer. A robotic drum set accompanies the spectacle, it’s high power LED’s flashing bright colors with the stroke of each mechanically actuated stick, while ArcAttack’s six members churn out rhythmic instrumental melodies. Live instruments meet drum loops and samples to produce rock, electronica and indie with a splash of punk and a dash of metal served with a side of pop. During the show, the MC engages both the crowd and the Tesla Coils by walking through ½ Million Volt sparks wearing the relatively thin layer of his chain mail Faraday suit.


Years is a modified turntable created by artist Bartholomäus Traubeck, that uses light to play a slab of tree trunk rather than dragging a needle through vinyl, translating growth patterns into haunting piano music. Lovely concept – Brian Eno would be proud.

YEARS from Bartholomäus Traubeck on Vimeo.

A tree’s year rings are analysed for their strength, thickness and rate of growth. This data serves as basis for a generative process that outputs piano music. It is mapped to a scale which is again defined by the overall appearance of the wood (ranging from dark to light and from strong texture to light texture). The foundation for the music is certainly found in the defined ruleset of programming and hardware setup, but the data acquired from every tree interprets this ruleset very differently.

Touch the Sound

Evelyn Glennie has been profoundly (not completely) deaf since the age of 12, but tours the world as a master percussionist, speaker, improviser, and living embodiment of the act of hearing – not with the ears, but with the whole body. Contending that deafness is largely misunderstood by the public, Glennie creates and absorbs vibration with a level of nuance that few hearing people can reach. And yet she communicates about the aura of sound so beautifully, so effectively, that no hearing person can come away from her presentations unchanged.

Continue reading Touch the Sound

Center of Attention

Music gets all the attention. Record covers a little bit less. Totally neglected are the poor center labels, which are often great little mini-works-of-art. Simon Foster’s Center of Attention publishes photos of excellent LP and 45 RPM center labels. Lest we forget.

Whilst record cover sleeve art has always received plenty of attention (and rightly so) I believe that center labels have been somewhat neglected … To keep the focus solely on the artwork I have purposely not included any information on the music, artists or date of publication as most of that should be self explanatory from the images.