Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I have 18 things to say (an extremely belated concert review)

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Two months ago I saw a concert of Steve Reich and Philip Glass at BAM with my friend Mark (the same Mark with whom I saw Steve Reich at Columbia back in May). The concert opened with Reich's Four Organs followed by a bunch of Glass pieces. Perhaps you can tell I was there for the Reich and not so much the Glass. I ran into another band friend, Steve, who felt the opposite (but this was before the concert).

The entire second act was Music For 18 Musicians. During intermission, I asked Mark how long the piece was, and when he told me it was an hour, I ran to the bathroom. Upon my return, in the remaining minutes before the second act began, I worried that I wouldn't be able to sit still through an hour of repetitive minimalist music. I needn't have worried.

It was two months ago, but I'm going to attempt to share with you 18 thoughts about Music For 18 Musicians:

  1. Sitting up in the balcony was ideal for this piece. The 18 musicians and their instruments (most of which were mallet and keyboard percussion) filled the stage like an orchestra, and watching the movement of the musicians between the instruments was a big part of the experience.
  2. The 18 musicians don't all play constantly, but at one point when everyone on stage was playing I counted, and I SWEAR there were 19 of them.
  3. Having heard the piece before, I assumed the voices were at least a little processed (I thought perhaps a pulse was added), but watching their heads bob in front of the microphones you can see the vocalists are beating out constant rhythms like everyone else.
  4. One of the constants throughout was a pulse on the marimba made by one guy playing on the beat and the other guy doing off-beats. Musicians relieved each other from time to time, but they definitely played for minutes on end. I would never want to be the off-beats guy.
  5. The vibraphone was centrally situated on the stage, representative of its central role in the piece. While everyone else is beating out quarter note pulses and repeating eighth note patterns (assuming the piece is in 6/4), the vibraphone bides its time, and then plays a series of four or five sustained chords or octaves, whereupon the entire ensemble shifts into a new section of the piece. The vibraphone (played by the same person throughout, as I recall) has all the power.
  6. There was a female pianist at upper stage right who was all by herself. Everyone else seemed to be close to at least one other musician except her.
  7. Like any good ensemble, all of the little moving parts combine to create a single machine. The result is a wash of sound that gradually changes, subtlely bringing you along for the ride.
  8. The ensemble performing the piece was Steve Reich and Musicians, a group that has been performing together for nearly fifty years.
  9. There was no conductor! The performance was flawless.
Okay, if I try to keep going this list is going to degrade into things like, "The walls were pretty," and "I was really glad I peed first." Nine is good. That's one thing per two musicians. Next time I won't wait two months before writing the review.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Nebraska Lady

After seeing a preponderance of Elsas over the past week, it occurred to me once again that I haven't seen Frozen. Most people's (well, adults') reactions to this are the same: It's not the best Disney animated film, but just watch it. So I figured I'd take advantage of the future in which we live and tell Netflix to play it for me. To my (perhaps unwarranted) surprise, it is not available for streaming, and I discovered it is already in my DVD queue, where it shall stay until I finally watch Nebraska.

Yes, I'm one of the few remaining individuals who has a disc plan. It came in handy when I wanted to watch the first four seasons of The Good Wife, the first two seasons of Girls, and a host of other things only offered on disc. It comes in not-handy (footy?) when the I'm-an-intellectual center of my brain adds something to my queue that my I-just-want-to-laugh-or-cry lobe has no interest in watching when it arrives in my mailbox.

Such is the case with Nebraska. I am embarrassed to tell you how long I've had this Oscar-nominated film in my possession, but since this blog likely has fewer readers than months I've held onto the disc, I'll tell you. I've had it for eight months. Premature children have been conceived and born in the time I've had this disc. This disc has been living in my apartment for almost as long as I have. I moved in, blasted through the fourth season of Good Wife and the first two seasons of Girls in two months, and then in March, Nebraska landed in my mailbox with a clunk. Based on what came before it, perhaps I would have watched it sooner if it had a female word in the title: Nebraska Lady.

Put another way, I have spent $64 on the privilege of having Nebraska in my house. It's not the most inefficient way I've spent money (see Late Fees, ATM Fees, Parking Tickets, Gym Memberships, and One Year's Worth of Ancestry.com), but it's certainly the most recent.

I'd decided to watch Nebraska, but then, in a fit of nerdiness, I decided to see how the length of time I've held on to it measures up to the other times I've done this. I will not bore you with how I accomplished this, but suffice it to say I crashed MS Excel twice. Before Nebraska, the disc I held on to longest was Wanda Sykes: I'ma Be Me. To be clear, I like Wanda Sykes.  I suppose I just wasn't in the mood for stand-up comedy right then, and then not for the ensuing six months. I had The House of Mirth (part of my Gillian Anderson jag) and Annie Hall for four months each. The Last King of Scotland (Gillian again) was mine for three months, and Ray and Pi for two.

Of all of these, Pi was the one I thought about watching the most while I had it. I didn't want to watch it alone, but no one would watch it with me. I ended up watching it on my computer with an AIM chat window open to my friend Kathleen the whole time (she'd seen it, and she kept asking, "Did you get to the part yet?").

I'm going to watch Nebraska now.

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