Sunday, August 22, 2010

Glockenspiel Sex Appeal

What the heck is the deal with every indie band having Glockenspiel now? And I use the term loosely- "indie band" not "Glockenspiel"- to include everything from Maps and Atlases to Andrew Bird to Vampire Weekend. I feel like I haven't been to a show in the past year that didn't involve somebody breaking out the Glockenspiel at some point.

Now, I can understand the musical need for the Glockenspiel. Sometimes the sublime natural beauty of the instrument is called for, in order to heighten the power of the musical moment. Though I frown on on indie-artists using the instrument as a cheap emotional gimmick- I worry that producers, fearful that their album has failed to pull the correct emotional strings, often fallback on the Glockenspiel to try and save a sinking ship. No amount of Glockenspiel- no matter how beautiful and alluring it can be- can save mediocre music. However, used right, I think these artists have discovered the instrument's awesome and versatile emotional power. In skilled hands, it's like some greater musical soul rises out of the high-octane instrument's shrill, metallic piercings, elevating the listener to a greater level of musical experience.

It's the only explanation I can come up with. However, despite the Glockenspiel's ubiquity, for some reason your average Glockenspielist still gets little respect on the streets. Well, in order to highlight the much deserved sex appeal of the instrument, I've began compiling a compendium of Glockenspiel uses in modern pop and indie-rock.

By the way, you should watch the whole thing to see what Bird can do with a Glockenspiel and loop pedal.

More to come...


A new keyword is born thanks to NPR's All Things Considered. Because I keep up on any mention classical music gets in mainstream culture (and compared to our general audience, NPR qualifies as "mainstream"), check out All Things Considered's story on Seraphic Fire's recent recording of the Monteverdi Vespers. Significant because a) it is on the iTunes classical top ten and b) it was independently released. This is the future of not just classical music, but almost all music, as the economic justification for the "record label" continues to break down.

The short version of my argument: releasing and distributing records used to require extensive capital. If you were going to make any significant money off of record sales, you had to produce a significant number of physical records, which would have to be distributed all around the country (and world) to actual physical stores, which physical people would have to come and pick up. Not only that, but you would have to record your album in a very expensive space with very expensive recording equipment, microphones, analog tape recorders, etc. This was obviously out of reach of your average garage band or little-known Baroque chamber choir. However, thanks to the internet, this is no longer the case. The cost of recording an album on ProTools and uploading to iTunes is relatively insignificant. Seraphic Fire's success is emblematic of this- they are doing something right. And they didn't have to pay record executives anything to do it.

Of course, microphones are still kind of expensive.

Check out and listen to the full story here.

By the way, about half of the story is a review / explanation of Seraphic Fire and Monteverdi's vespers. Besides the economic issues the story raises, the album actually seems well worth checking out. I will keep you posted.

Friday, August 20, 2010

New thinking on conductors

UPDATE: sadly, NHK has made a copyright claim on this video. I think this is somewhat insane, because this was really great publicity. I'll keep you posted if it goes back up on youTube.

I've long argued that conductors are relatively useless- at least compared to their pay scale. I don't know if this video offers incontrovertible proof, but it is definitely worth checking out. It is a pretty amazing finale to Tchaik 4 (that's musician slang for Tchaikovsky's fourth symphony). Probably the stress of the situation brought out the best in the performers- but man. There's electricity.

Now from first hand experience, keeping a non-profit organization like a symphony orchestra in business is tough, and I'll let you in on a little secret: the music director's job is half fund-raising / figurehead. And that's important. It's easier for people (i.e.: potential donors) to wrap their minds around a single, charismatic personality than it is an amorphous, abstract "orchestra" of 80 musicians. Conductors are also useful as rehearsal organizers, because somebody has to be in charge. But is that worth 20 times (or greater) the pay scale of the average string player? Especially when you hear what a good orchestra can do even without a hand waiver?

I leave you to your own conclusions.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Batman Soundtrack Update

As I mentioned before in my last post, La-La Land Records has released a complete, anniversary re-issue of the original Batman motion picture soundtrack by Danny Elfman. Well, now that I have it, I can confirm your suspicion: it's pretty much the dorkiest thing ever. But I stand by the awesomeness of the music.