Saturday, December 22, 2007

The New Chamber Ensembles

For probably the fifth time since this fall began, I'm showing my dad stuff on the internet. Music stuff. Since I embarked upon this whole, "Hey, I think the type of journalism I'm gonna practice is music journalism!" thing, he, my mom, my best friend, and really anyone else who'll listen (and who loves me enough not to just leave the room as soon as they get bored) has been subjected to internet tours of what excites me musically - and subjected to them frequently. Hence the blog, I guess. Dad (a onetime music history major at Florida State and of the best musicians I've ever encountered) just finished watching Arcade Fire's Take Away Show at my request. (It came out in March. I just caught up last week. Psh.) Before that, I made him watch "The Penalty" by Beirut (see previous least this one's only three months old). Dad's a good sport. We're commenting on the way that even though these two groups have chosen different instruments, they've both stepped outside the norm (rock n' roll-wise) and employed not just unusual strings and percussion, but several wind instruments as well.

See, we're both wind players. He played the clarinet for many years and since then has turned to numerous old wind instruments like the baroque flute and recorder. I've been playing the flute for 11 years, and the piccolo for five. (Plus, I'm a really bad guitar player now, too...) I grew up playing duets with Dad in our kitchen. Kitchens have nice acoustics.

Point is, we pay attention to instrumentation. In his Take Away Show, Zach Condon utilizes not one, but two euphoniums (Dad raises his eyebrows. "Two euphoniums?"), as well as a trumpet and a couple other things. This sort of accordion-related, big-band concept seems to have been getting less unusual lately. As someone who's rapidly stumbling upon better and better music by the day, I can't tell if it's just that I haven't been looking until now or if it's really a trend. Whatever the case, string basses have been popping up all over, accompanied by hand cymbals, ukuleles, horns of all types, dancing cellists, and what have you. I'm extremely ok with this.

We watch as Win Butler and the whole crew warm up, playing arpeggios and drinking tea to loosen up vocal cords. ("That guy plays French horn and bass clarinet?" asks Dad.)
The room they're in sounds like every backstage. We've played those very arpeggios, sat on folding chairs in the midst of dozens of others who are doctoring their musical tools, tuning up, preparing. Musicians are all the same.

They pile into a freight elevator and play "Neon Bible," from inside, beating on the ceiling and ripping up magazines by way of percussion. It's intimate and beautiful and has a thousand times more meaning when you know what a motley collection of contraptions have produced the song. We follow the bouncing camera as they walk through the halls to the packed-to-the-gills auditorium. The crowd parts to Butler's megaphone-assisted requests and they perform "Wake Up" for an audience with disbelief and excitement spelled out across their faces as clearly as if it were in sky writing. "It's such a distinctive sound," muses Dad. "These groups...they're like rock chamber ensembles."

This video is very very much worth your time:

The face of "popular" music is changing. We're not tied down to specific collections of instruments the way we were at the beginning when rock began, or soul, or country, because each genre has influenced every other genre. They're meshing and fading and borrowing, and classical and jazz are creeping into all of them. Ends of the industry become higher-brow while the others go lower. Besides, genres define themselves other ways than orchestration nowadays anyway.

Maybe the holiday stress is going to my head, but it all makes me happy and hopeful. Possibilities seem endless in world that contains groups like these.

Going on vacation tomorrow morning. Will blog again when I get back (unless Grandma's neighbor has wifi...doubt it). Working on Stomp and Stammer ads this week, as well as preparing for an interview with A Decent Animal for SEP. They're opening for Band of Horses on New Year's Eve which is only a week away! I have to resist the urge to squeal whenever I think about it.

Again, joyous Christmakkah everyone!


bradley said...

You know It's no secret to people close to me that I can get a little choked up when watching something really raw and honest. I actually decided to leave a girl I was seeing because I was so excited about this video that I became... Evoked. I showed this very video to her and she said in response "What am I supposed to be watching".

I thought to myself "you really are the type of person that won't ever get it".

Juliar said...

Yeah, that's basically unforgivable. I don't blame you :)