Archive for May, 2009

The Spiders From Mars

May 31, 2009

Although I am not a fan of reality television, the muchmusic show Disband interests me.  Perhaps it is the soul crushing manner in which the judges put down the abilities of young musicians (many of whom aren’t that talented) or just the wide-eyed optimism of the participants that is so intriguing.  Last night the participating band actually ended up signing with Universal Records after an expanded episode chronicling what happened after a successful visit to much.  The questions raised by the group signing a contract without consulting a lawyer aside, the comments of one Disband judge caught my attention. He remarked that although he was impressed by the bands tightness and package, he lamented the state of the music industry.  He was upset that this band’s music was representative of what was popular in the business.  He was tired of the pop-punk, bubblegum scene, and referred to them as the Jonas Brothers of punk.

His remarks reflect the nature of the current music industry. There are definitely two main currents which are usually defined as mainstream and indie, although it is not so clear cut.  Popular music is popular because it is what people like.  This band’s music is appealing to a wide segment of the population, particularly those who have the extra money to buy albums and go to concerts.  I have no doubt they can do very well in the industry.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking that approach to music, particularly if you want to make a career of it.  Ultimately, music is a subjective experience, and each performer/composer will do what they feel best represents their musical abilities and interests.  The very fact that an indie scene exists is a testament to this fact.

The Disband judge makes a valid point about the cookie-cutter nature of popular music.  A great many groups find a pattern that works and stick to it until the money dries up.  Gene Simmons appeared on the episode because he was interested in the band, and there could not be a better example of the make money approach to music than him.  His band, by definition, made fairly generic and uninteresting music, but found a way to market the concert experience and band image successfully.  As a business the music industry is just like any other, it depends on creating a product that people will buy, then finding every means to sell it and expand market share.

Does this mean there is no room for people making “unpopular” music?  Of course not, but it means that they won’t find major label support (a mixed blessing)  for their efforts.  Luckily, there is more opporunity than ever for innovative groups to reach out to an audience and connect with like-minded individuals.  The internet is a sea of music, but it is still possible for high quality music to stand out.  The wide variety of podcasts, internet radio, music sites, and CD retailers online, allows any band to reach out into the world. Whether people listen or not has a lot to do with hard work and luck.

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A Potter Of Plans

May 29, 2009

Every good song must come to an end
Even as I beg for the notes to carry on
It’s only the sound of your voice
That keeps me moving forward from day to day
When the music settles
As snow on the porch
I stumble backwards into my head
And the senseless shame
With layers of sorrow
Crowd me again as if I am alone
I walk to the record player
Slide the needle back
So I can listen again to my love
Spinning your words and rhymes

Peter Snow

The Notes

Today is an exciting day at The Alder Fork.  My first publication, Potter of Plans Poems About Canada, has just arrived in hard copy form.  If you would like a copy drop me a line at thealderfork@gmail.com, or you can get it at blurb.com by clicking the link on the sidebar.  At the link you will also find a 15 page preview of the book so you can get a sense of it before buying.  Very shortly I will be launching a store at thealderfork.esty.com to sell the books and my albums.  Once again the book is $10 plus shipping if you don’t  live within drop off distance.

Rico Was A Short Man

May 28, 2009

It’s the eye of the tiger it’s the thrill of the fight. Rising up to the challenge of our rival. And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night. And his fortune must always be eye of the tiger.

Survivor

Eye of the Tiger

A commercial for the new Conan O’Brien talk show used this song.  My high school band, Urban Moon, covered it for awhile.  It got me thinking about the many songs I’ve covered over the years.  My previous bands’ musical attempts have ranged from The Band to Wide Mouth Mason.  I imagine the total number is over 150, but I’m not sure I could play 10 of them today.  Urban Moon used to go through 15-20 songs a year.  Basically, we performed 5 new songs every show.  I was also part of a short lived group that only played songs by Matthew Good Band.  In university I played even more cover songs, including a long version of Lucky Man that caused the audience to fall asleep (oops!).  All of this is fairly irrelevant but it does give me an opportunity to announce that The Alder Fork’s new album, The Colour I Remember Most will be out in June.  It’s been less than a year since The Lights I See You In Shadow, but this new album marks a turning point in my music making.  This album will have a physical existence (a real CD!) and will be more promoted than the last one.  Why am I doing this?  Mostly because I think this collection of songs is my best ever and deserves a little more effort than usual.  I’ll have all the details about purchasing the CD once it’s ready to go.  Thanks for your ongoing support of The Alder Fork in all its forms.  Since I have a busy weekend ahead, I’m not sure that there will be a podcast this week. Next week I am heading to Oakville to interview Madison Violet, which promises to be a lot of fun.

Knee Bender

May 27, 2009

It’s poetry in motion
She turned her tender eyes to me
As deep as any ocean
As sweet as any harmony
Mmm – but she blinded me with science
“She blinded me with science!”
And failed me in biology

Thomas Dolby

She Blinded Me With Science

Scientific research has vastly improved our lives.  From medicine to technology, very smart and innovative people give us longer and easier lives.  All of that is fantatic, but what I really want to know is why does a fastball appear to break sharply?  Thankfully there are people using their grant money to sort out pressing questions like this. The team of Arthur Shapiro (American Museum), Zhong-Lin Lu (University of Southern California), Emily Knight (Dartmouth) and Rob Ennis (SUNY Optometry) study this visual illusion. Shapiro’s blog outlines the study along with a great visual representation of the effect. The site is filled with neat visual tricks. The point of all this research is to reach a deeper understanding of how we see the world.  I find it amazing that our view of the world is almost completely dictated by what we see.  The work of visual researchers expands our knowledge of how we perceive the world.  This allows us to go beyond the illusions.  A curveball doesn’t really break, but we see it that way.  Maybe that’s why so many players swing and miss.

The Thomas Dolby song I’ve referenced is a clasic 80’s tune.  If you haven’t seen the video for it, you really should. The craziness will blow your mind. It’s really a Sci-Fi B-Movie disguised as a music video. Here it is:

Victory

May 26, 2009

See my ghost, see my ghost.

Wintersleep

Weighty Ghost

That song is fantastic, please download it.

Despite a windy, cold, and soon to be rainy day, the thought of summer is alive around here.  A time for hiking, camping, gardening, outdoor sports, and reading on the deck.  One of my favourite writers, Alice Munro, won the Man Booker International Prize this week.  Unlike the yearly Man Booker Prize the biennial international award recognizes an author for outstanding contributions to literature, not a specific work.  This is the third time the award has been given and Munro beat out such accomplished authors as E.L. Doctorow and Antonio Tabucchi. It’s worth noting that Margaret Atwood was nominated for each of the first two awards (2005, 2007) but failed to win. She was not nominated this year.

Alice Munro is from Wingham, Ontario, and won a Governor General’s Award with her first published work.  She is primarily known for working in the short story genre.  For more info about this incredible Canadian talent visit her Random House page.

I was inspired recently by a discussion about the state of television.  The commentators concluded that TV producers have more or less run out of new ideas.  I often wonder if our various artistic endeavours will run out of innovative techniques.  Have we pushed art, music, theatre, tv, and film to a point that future changes will be modifcation rather than innovation?  I don’t have an answer to this question but it’s worth thinking about. I suppose the biggest wildcard factor is technology.  Since we can’t predict what machines and computerized devices will be available, it’s hard to say where the boundaries will be. We can only hope that our great great grand children will still admire our creations, and that they will be able to develop their own style.

Mighty Casey Has Struck Out

May 25, 2009


Rios

Originally uploaded by dfallis

This lovely picture was taken by my friend Dave at a recent Blue Jays-Yankees game. We were sitting up in the 500 section at the Rogers Centre. He captured the ball in motion and Rios leg twisting into his swing. I am always amazed by the quality of photographs Dave takes, so please take the time to visit his Flickr page and enjoy his work.

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, which means lots of afternoon baseball, and poignant reminders of those who died in war. Canada partakes in this activity on November 11th, and this blog featured a few posts on the topic during that month. The combination of sports and war brings to mind the stories of many professional athletes who spent the 1940’s fighting overseas. My grandfather spent a portion of his time in England playing hockey with many NHL’ers, though he was only an amateur. Many of these men fought on the front lines during the war. I wonder, if a large war were to break out today (the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are obviously a smaller scale than WWII) how many of our athletes and other celebrities would line up to serve? It’s a much different question now because they are millionaires today, whereas in the 40’s they made salaries that were more in line with the average worker. It’s an intriguing question particularly since many professional athletes have the level of fitness and discipline needed to be ideal soldiers. The average Canadian or American probably doesn’t anymore. I hope we never find out.

Appendicitis?

May 24, 2009

While reading up on the theme of isolation I came across this delightful Yvon Mallette directed NFB animated filmThe Family That Dwelt Apart is an adaptation of an E.B. White short story. You may know him as the author of Charlotte’s Web or Stuart Little. Although the story is set in the Northeast United States, the setting could easily be anywhere in Canada.  The film has a dark sense of humour.  The use of jazz in the soundtrack adds pace to the playful animation.  The 1960’s and 70’s era of animation have a distinct style that is instantly recognizable.  The animators generally created a world bordering on the surreal, but with enough reality to make people, places, and objects recognizable.

On the theme of isolation, this film highlights what might be one of the potential problems of withdrawing from society.  In this family’s case, other people decided that help should try to reach their island.  The end result is somewhat funny and somewhat tragic.  In real life people who isolate themselves may at first illicit a sympathetic reaction from others (if anyone is around to notice) but ultimately they may become completely alienated from everyone.  While this could lead tothe kind of gossiping we find in the film, it likely won’t produce the same response.  Obviously, this comparison is a rational leap, but it does contribute to a discussion of intentional isolation.

I Awake To Muddy Streets

May 23, 2009

Today, The Alder Fork presents the first in what will likely be a series of video experiments.  This one is based around the song Piling Snow.  The theme of the song and the video is isolation.  I am planning to do more videos around my various songs, hoefully addressing the them of the lyrics in each one (without being too literal).

Please Please Please

May 22, 2009

Wild flowers grow in the park
Summertime and it melts into dark
Dancing together at night until two
You’re cheering me up and I’m thanking you

New Buffalo

Cheer Me Up Thank You

A brand new podcast is up today. As always you can find it over there or subscribe on iTunes. This one is mostly music as I squeezed in 5 songs.  Featured artists:

1) The sublime New Buffalo.

2) Canadian roots all-star Colin Linden.

3) Soundtrack-esque The Flaps.

4) Talented Torontonian Amer Diab.

5) Star of tv and film (music) Mujaji.



Silence

May 21, 2009

Today, The Alder Fork presents another piece of the mighty National Film Board of Canada collection.  Julian Bigg’s 23 Skidoo is an eeire look at the possible devestation of a neutron bomb.   If you are familiar with Montreal’s downtown than this film will be even creepier to you.

The basic premise of the film, that a neutron bomb has killed everyone in the city, while leaving everything intact, represents two realities. The first is the Cold War fear that the entire world would be destroyed by nuclear weapons.  That concern is less present today, as people seem to be more afraid of viruses and terrorism than nuclear war.  In fact, for younger generations, the cold war worldview is more of a historical curiousity than a reality.  The destruction of society in this film is caused by an accident, as a by product of a test gone wrong.  That plot twist is intriguing because it departs from the standard mutually assured destruction model.  By the 1960’s people were beginning to oppose the testing of nuclear weapons because of the potential dangers.

The second reality in this film is the understanding that a neutron bomb would only kill people.  Since the technology was brand new in 1964, it’s understandable that the filmmaker wouldn’t know the way these weapons were later utilized.  Indeed, a neutron bomb still yields in the kiloton range and would cause sizable material damage.

The phrase “23 Skidoo” was popular in 1920’s America as a way of implying that someone was going to “get while the getting is good.”  What a witty choice for a film about the death of everyone.

This film won awards from the UN and BAFTA.  It’s striking message, creepy soundtrack, and stiring visuals bring the extinction of humanity into focus.  It is still shocking today, and were it not for the teletype machines and old tv monitors it could be from 2009.  23 Skidoo asks, where are we going and how soon will we get there?