Monthly Archives: August 2012

Elton rocks it at 60

I’ve been slack about filling out the BBB category of “rock elders late-career DVDs.”  But tonight I’m back on the case after getting a bit of an Elton jones after seeing Brandi Carlile and her really good (and a bit crazy) band last night – Brandi’s worked with Paul Buckmaster, you see; and whatayaknow, Elton encouraged her, and Stills, too!

Elton 60So, anyway, this DVD been on my shelf waiting to be written up for awhile now.  In 2007, Elton celebrated his 60th birthday by playing his 60th show at Madison Square Garden.  But this wasn’t a typical Elton concert, and certainly not the show he’s settled into in his residency in Vegas. The three-hour extravaganza dug deep into his early catalog, with only 8 of the 33 songs originating after 1975 (and 17 from Don’t Shoot Me and earlier), making this a great treat for those of us who love the classic Elton-and-Bernie years, but haven’t found much use for the later Elton (but note: The Captain and the Kid is worth a listen, and this electro remix album with Pnau, sampling from his whole career, hit #1 in the UK this summer).  

The band features his old mates Nigel Olsson on drums (“Nigel! Outasight!”) and Davey Johnstone on guitars and mandolin; the arrangements are laced with cello from Martin Tillman, along with a huge youth choir.  Elton’s vocal commitment and intensity shines throughout (though his range has definitely shifted lower since his heyday), and his playing is rich and rollicking.  Rarely performed old gems include Where to Now St. Peter, Ballad of a Well-known Gun (“we haven’t played this one for maybe 30 years…”), High Flying Bird, and (yes!) his beautiful ode to New York in the early 70’s, Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters. Here’s a taste, picking up in the climax of Holiday Inn, with maybe my favorite jam of the show: cello, mando, piano (sorry, Flash-less tablet viewers; YouTube’s time-stamp embed doesn’t work with their html5 code; skip to 1:50!):

  Other highlights include the great revolutionary anthem Burn Down the Mission (by turns majestic, angry, longing, and determined) and a nice guitar/piano/cello jam at the end of Levon.  

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My ears will never be the same


An essay I wrote about sound and listening – as reflected in art, and science, and experience for the online journal Field Notes, has just been published. The piece begins and ends with personal reflections much like what is often shared here on BrightBlueBall, with extended sections in the middle on sound art (ala EarthEar) and sound considerations in science and policy, such as I work on with the Acoustic Ecology Institute.

Downloaded the issue by clicking here.

My essay begins on page 25. The other pieces are very good, too!

1. Tom Lawrence: The Waterbeetles of Pollardstown Fen

2. Scott Sherk: Phonography: Art or Documentation?

3. Jim Cummings: My Ears will Never be the Same

4. Marcus Kürten et al.: ‘Something Which Lasts Passes By’ — A Collection of Hearing Memories

5. Hein Schoer: The Sounding Museum — Between Art and Science: Cultural Soundscapes in Museum Pedagogy

6. Budhaditya Chattopadhyay: Soundhunting in a City — Chronicles of an Urban Field Recording Expedition

 Past issues of Field Notes can be downloaded at this link.

Evening again

And so again, here I am.  Gazing across the valley, shades of grey overhead inviting me up into the bulging bottom surfaces of clouds drifting slowly downwind. A steady sequence of thunder-rumbles sound from both a couple miles to the east and from the ever-present slope of the small ridge across the creek: the direct path and the echo just a split second apart as the sound spreads across the land, the rolling, tumbling echo revealing in its extended rhythms the shape of the land it touches along the way.

I am waiting.  Watching.  Listening.  Bearing witness to the Here and to the Now.  And hoping — yes, against my inner Buddhist aspirations — hoping for a downpour, for the relief of rain, for the exuberance of immersion.  For each shock of lightning-flash, every tumbling extended thunder-roll, all that wind-driven water angling from cloud above to earth below. 

Yet, wait I must.  Watch, I do.  Listen: to the eternal story, the original language.  Finches cheep, doves flutter, grosbeaks, jays, titmouse, chickadee all clamor for a snack before the storm.  Winds slip through piñons thirty feet in front of me, and in deeper surges, across the hill a hundred yards to my right.  A plane passes through, and the sky stills as if giving it space.  

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The (really) big picture

Taking Neil’s exhortation to “walk like a giant on the land” to heart, here’s the latest entry in astro-dazzle sweepstakes: the Sloan Digital Sky Survey has turned their early data into a three-dimensional map, and further proceeded to create a video fly-through for our mind-blowing pleasure.  

The SDSS has so far covered just a third of the sky, and this is just the first batch of 3D data to be released from that.  And oh, they’re not looking at stars.  That’s so yesterday.  This here is but a fragment of the physical structure of the universe, as revealed in these clusters and filaments of galaxies upon galaxies upon (repeat ad infinitum…):

The cosmologists and astrophysicists say that this new 3D data about these large-scale structures will help unravel the mysteries of dark matter (which seems to account for about 25% of the universe’s mass) and dark energy (which exerts enough influence on matter that scientists say it accounts for 70% of the universe).  So, yup, all those bright shiny galaxies in the video: less than 5% of the universe.

At the risk of blowing my scientific front here: I can’t help but think that such framing (especially of “dark energy”)  is simply a fancy way of saying “we have no idea” what underlies the structure of the universe and the wonder of creation.  Is it so hard to posit that this mysterious integrative energy – the fundamental driver and shaper of the formation of all galaxies, stars, planets, forests, and diatoms – is something more like “spirit” or “life force” than what we normally think of as “matter” and “energy”?  

Perhaps the equations and theories that are brewing around all this will turn out to be valuable, though if so, I’d bet it’d be in revealing totally unexpected and even more mysterious causal complexities (ala the ways that “sequencing the genetic code” has revealed a dynamic ecosystem of interactions that’s more like a mysterious dance than the workings of a causal machine); or maybe this inquiry is taking place in a deep lost corner of the mechanistic rabbit hole, trying to fit the ineffable into a nice square hole.

I say go for it, academicians, see what sense you can make of this, our biggest picture of life.  But meanwhile, I’ll content myself to marvel at the beauty of it all and rest in the ease of simpler explanations, ones that are content to flow from an omnipresent ground of mystery.

The Horse is loosed upon the land

Crazyhorse with logo

Four guys.  Full on.  With a tale to tell, in a language all their own. Well, I suppose the language isn’t unique – bass, drums, rhythm guitar, lead guitar in 4/4 time – and truth be told, it’s a pretty darn simple set of phonemes.  In the hands of Neil and Crazy Horse, though, the playful, propulsive thrash of garage band chaos opens into a mythic tunnel of glorious noise, a Primal Rock and Roll Orchestra.

On Friday night under a star-spangled sky laced with moon-glowing clouds, a few thousand New Mexicans were lucky enough to be at the unveiling of This Year’s Model—or call it This Decade’s Model, their first time on stage together since 2004.  The show commenced with several minutes of roiling, pounding, searing jam (jump on in, the water’s fine!), then Neil swung to the mic, his voice layered atop the instrumental waves, the story beginning to be told:

Long ago in the book of old
Before the chapter where dreams unfold
A battle raged on the open page
Love was the winner there, overcoming hate
Like a little girl who couldn’t wait
Love and only love will endure….

CrazyHorse 1  320ish pxYowsa! What an opener! And on higher:

Spirit come back to me
Give me strength and set me free
Let me hear the magic in my heart

Love and only love will endure
Hate is everything you think it is
Love and only love will break it down

After settling us down just a mite with his enigmatic Powderfinger, a classic for any of us who’ve ever found ourselves in a bit over our heads (it’s the tale of a younger brother left home while dad and big bro were out and about, whose fate it was to futilely face down some mysterious gunship on the river), Neil then proceeded to toss a slew of brand new songs at us, each one a gem:

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May what I do flow from me

May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.

Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Book of Hours I, 12

Translation: Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
From A Year With Rilke

Tipping points

It’s late July, and the summer rains remain few and far between.  By now, we’d hope to see a five-day forecast fully populated with Thunderstorms Likely icons, and a few Severe Thunderstorms thrown in for good measure; instead, we’re having to hang our hopes on days when the prognosis tips to Scattered, rather than Isolated, storms.  

Out here in the southwest and Rockies, we count on these summer rains—all of us do: piñon, cougar, deer mouse, side-oats gramma, cooper’s hawk, swift fox, human, bobcat, and bunny. In a good summer, we’d get close to half our annual allotment of eleven or twelve inches of rain between the 4th of July and just after Labor Day.  But those good years are slowly becoming exceptional, no more than one year of five.  Much more common are feeble rainy seasons like this one, two or three of every five years.  In July here in Cañoncito, we had one half-inch storm and a couple of close-to-quarter-inch ones.  There’ve been years when that would have been a typical week!

IMG 9881This is what climate change has been predicted to look like in the southwest.  The future’s here.  (Oh, were that so….we’re just a few steps along that new road, in fact.)

Driving along the Front Range of the Rockies from Denver last weekend, I got a regional look at this summer moisture pattern, a three-hundred mile Big Picture within which my five-mile-wide dark cloud and lightning vigil takes place each day.  It was not a pretty picture.

Actually, it was too pretty a picture: nearly all the mountains along the way stood clear and tall from their jagged peaks down through folded forested ridges to the plains at their feet.  Beautiful!  And just not right for a midsummer late afternoon.  In only two fairly small (ten-mile wide) areas were the mountains socked in, the dark, dark bottoms of towering cloud masses 

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