see the way

i was planning to go to one more night of the pianos october residency of other passengers, but i hadn't planned on writing anything about it. as it turned out, all the bands and the resulting pictures were even better than i thought they'd be.

the opening slot was taken by my best fiend, who played a great night at tonic a few months ago, and also did well on a wednesday at scenic put on by loveless music group last month. fortunately, the show was pushed back from the original start time of 7:30. when i went into the room it was otherwise empty; a few people trickled in slowly. but shortly after the band took the stage, the place seemed pretty full for a cold and rainy tuesday night.

they played what may have been pretty much the same set as before, but they get exponentially better each time i see them. the two-chord vamping roots of their music seemed a bit more apparent this time (as opposed to the emphasis on the noisy electronic overlays before). however, their lead singer has really started letting go in his performance, especially in song sections where he's unencumbered by an instrument. the other guitarist/keyboardist also showed new strengths in feedback manipulation. the bassist and drummer were solid as usual, although i always wish the former would turn up just a bit more or perhaps get a compressor, since half his notes tend to get lost in the mix instead of punching through - he's definitely worth hearing.

i had never heard of skeleton and the girl-faced boys before i checked the night's lineup, but i should have, as much time as i've been spending at the ghostly international site lately. while the title track from their album git is all fractured miniature electro-funk, the live band is anything but. bandleader matt mehlan (formerly known simply as "skeletons" for his solo project) sings with a calm and lilting tenor that somehow brought to mind kevin drew of broken social scene. he's also one of three guitarists in the band, which at times seemed unnecessary. however, his songs and voice were good. in addition, the drummer was excellent, whether keeping a steady beat or breaking into subtle polyrhythmic workouts. also of note was the bassist, who seemed to be playing constantly in an unusually high register for a bass ( peter hook notwithstanding). even more exciting was that on the first and last songs, he left the bass alone and fiddled with a jacket he wore that was decorated with what appeared to be giant 3D dominoes. they turned out to be knobs for a custom-made mini synthesizer, which he constantly tweaked as the band played along. at times, the combined effect of mehlan's appearance and the sometimes rhythmically complex music that took strange unexpected turns made me think of richard d. james (sans evil grin) fronting an indie rock/freak-folk band. that may not be incredibly accurate, but the point is, they were much more enjoyable than i thought they'd be, and i look forward to them coming through nyc again.

the lighting had been good so far, but once berkoy started up her projector things took on a wonderfully murky atmosphere. her visuals have now almost become a sixth instrument in the band, the backgrounds affecting the overall tone of the performance. she shifts from stark whites to grey clouds, from amorphous bubble-like shapes to hard vertical lines, adding to the tension of the music.

not that other passengers rely on the visuals to make up for any deficiency. the band were clearly anticipated, as the room filled up well before they began. this was not a "see and be seen on the scene" show, all heads were pointed at the stage. playing no material whatsoever from last year's EP, and with no easy three-minute singalongs, they still had people enraptured with their brand of dark indie/prog-rock. the songs have no obvious verses or choruses, arrangements build up and break down, and there is occasional time-signature trickery. but these are not lyrically pompous, overly-long wankfests with faux-classical pretensions. this is music with heart and soul, as evidenced by the band's increasing onstage intensity. putting everything they have into each show is obviously working out for them; they'll be opening for the emotionally raw xiu xiu next week (tickets available to NYU students only until day of show).

the title of this post is a song by the aformentioned skeleton and the girl-faced boys.


you know nothing about wickedness

i hadn't been to a psychasthenia society presentation in a long time, so when i saw it had moved to collective unconscious, i made sure to see it. i say "presentation" because the format makes this word seem more appropriate than "show." the core of the idea is a kind of "remix" of classic film noir images (actually using the hideous beast powerpoint, last i heard), recontextualized by an original story told live by jon keith brunelle. the results are often humorous, sometimes sociopolitical, and always engaging.

the concept, as well as his bemused delivery, struck me as an idea that, while having been done to some extent before (most famously by mystery science theatre 3000), had never been taken this far. brunelle's approach is more than simply mocking the original, replacing dialogue, or reacting to and speculating on the original actions and plot as laid out in the films. instead he uses these somewhat quaint, innocent images of yesteryear to illumimate modern tales of anxiety. dark, dramatic, jazzy music clips accentuate the performance as he advances the stills in real-time. it's also worth noting that in the age of omnipresent quick-cutting, he takes care not to overload the audience with a barrage of fast-paced visuals.

i first saw brunelle's unique vision at the tank as part of the day job event put on by spit and duct tape. he later expanded it in an approximately monthly show at galapagos, some of which i've written about before. during these shows (which were free or very low admission), he brought in a series of collaborators. in between a three-part story, a different laptop-based musical guest would play a short set while a video artist grabbed images from the preceding chapter and manipulated them live. in recent months, the lineup has been pared down to visuals by daniel vatsky and music by mad ep.

at the collective unconscious show, the trio offered what seemed to be a "megamix" or "greatest hits plus new material." using elements of previous stories about work, drugs, the christian right, he tied everything together with a thread involving deadly nanobots and added an additional story tying it all up at the end.

towards the middle, brunelle broke up the static staging (a necessary evil when all three members are behind laptops and mindful of keeping a screen in view) by stepping out front. here he became more animated, interjecting touching and funny fictionalized accounts of some of his own past experiences, illustrated with stills from the period. although seemingly unrelated to the other stories, these somehow helped put everything in a more personal perspective instead of just being a crazy sci-fi story with music.

speaking of music, mad ep has to be the most appropriate musical collaborator brunelle has worked with, along with end (some of whose sturm-und-twang "spycore" music makes short appearances in the show). matthew peters never lets his apparent love for hip-hop overshadow his original ideas or the needs of the story being told. his relentlessly inventive breaks and assistance with the show's musical cues are surpassed by his ability to use appropriate arrangements for each setting he comes into.

daniel vatsky has also grown into his role as visual foil for brunelle's straight-man film clips. putting the "psychedeleic" into psychasthenia, his use of effects is never heavy-handed, but visually stimulating and intuitively reacting to mad ep's music.

this conglomeration seems designed for a downtown theater crowd, as opposed to the chapter-and-intermission-based galapagos shows. although the show is no longer free, you certainly leave feeling like you've had your money's worth. in all honesty, i somewhat prefer the older format, because it was a bit more informal and broke things up more. i also found the new ending a bit superfluous (a preceding slide using the words "the end" enhances this feeling). but perhaps the club gigs were only warm-ups for this magnum opus, with more ambitious works to come (such as the inclusion of dancers at last year's performance at ps 122 (josh took some great pictures). whatever form the psychasthenia society takes in the future, it's not something to be missed.

the title of this post is part of a tagline for the lady from shanghai, some stills from which were used in the production.


is it live or is it memorex?

some time ago on an email discussion list, the argument of live performance vs. recorded/mass-produced music once again reared its hideous and multifaceted head. initially concern was expressed over the future of recorded music, specifically the album format, a concern which i share. then the idea was put forth that as a side benefit, live music would and should completetly supplant recorded music.

there's no good reason why this should be an either-or proposition. i believe the creation of sound art in a recorded medium is just as valid as live performance. shows and recordings are two different experiences, and both deserve to survive. some artists craft recordings the way painters work on paintings - it's a slow process, and not usually exciting to watch. other artists thrive on live performance, but can't make a decent record to save their lives. still others somehow balance both. on the audience side, there are people who are never able to see a show (perhaps for monetary or geographic reasons), or simply don't like going to concerts (crowds, loud volumes).

another argument is that music is a social activity, and live, real-time interaction between musicians, between the musicians and the audience and among audience members is an important part of the overall experience.

if music is always social, why is the usual expectation of live concerts a one-way street for the most part? it's generally considered rude for people to socially interact with each other too much during a live performance; you're expected to direct your attention to the performers and be silent, or else make noises in appreciation of the performers at appropriate times. i know there are exceptions, but the situation i just described is pretty much the norm as i understand it. some musicians may change their performance based on audience reaction, some don't. these are variables, rather than hard rules about live performance that make it a truly interactive and social event by definition. everything else is optional, and people's enjoyment of the experience depends on how close it adheres to their own interpretations of a good show.

i agree that music can be social, and has varying degrees of interaction. but it's not necessary, and many people (both artists and audiences) simply have personalities that don't desire this, or don't make it a priority. often the sales of recorded music far outstrip concert sales of the same artists. it's simply not feasible for most musicians to be in as many places and perform for as many people as their recordings can get to. not only that, but in many cases (depending on the venue), the concert setting makes additional changes to the music that are unwelcome, possibly diminishing rather than enhancing the artist's music.

another point is, if music is always meant to be social, why are there headphones? listening on headphones is a very popular way of experiencing music, given the proliferation of portable listening devices. i also want to point out, lest anyone claim this is some kind of "diminished" experience, that headphone listeners are not entirely isolated. for example, walking outside listening on headphones, you can still hear ambient sounds of your (continually changing) environment, and you have the visual accompaniment of the scenery. this can certainly enhance the listening experience, although is not technically interactive (it's a one-way experience for you only). i almost always select music to listen to on headphones based on the journey i'm going to be taking, method of transportation, and time of day. i think others do this to some degree, although it may not always be conscious. a similar argument could be made for listening to music in a car while driving alone; it is not social, but does interact with the environment.

i understand the fear of music becoming yet another way in which people cut themselves off from each other (and potentially become like the ipod zombie above, snagged from by night, rockstar). by downloading and/or streaming mp3s, as well as ordering CDs online, it's now more possible than ever to get ahold of music without needing to interact with another human being. however, i think it's not a bad thing that that's an option, especially for those in areas where access to music is very limited, and access to people is simply something they don't always crave. besides, the music coming over the internet or arriving in packaged CDs is, in some small way, an acknowledgement of an outside world where these art works are made. they may even inspire listeners with a relatively hermit-like existence to leave their wired (or wireless) wombs and experience a live concert by an artist whose music speaks to them.

the title of this post comes from an advertising slogan.


this one goes out to

due to an unfortunate mixup in times and the need to eat, i arrived late at the hurricane katrina victims benefit at bowery ballroom last week. i missed other passengers completely and caught only the end of grizzly bear. what little i heard made me wish i'd run upstairs sooner. further perusal of their website is making me regret missing them even more and want to order their CD.

in the past year, i've seen akron/family on stages as small as pete's candy store, and now here they are playing the bowery. it couldn't happen to a nicer, happier bunch of guys. their sheer joy in playing is evident every time i see them. at times, they've gone a little off the deep end in my opinion (there was a total noisefest at sin-e that i could have done without), but their post-post-rock noodling isn't for lack of talent or enthusiasm, but sheer restless inventiveness. fortunately this time, mindful of their short time onstage, they reeled it in just enough to have a good balance of melodic songs and freakout sections. at one great point, bassist miles seaton asked the bowery to turn up the house lights, while he reminded everyone of the seriousness of the reason they were there. the four of them then launched into an a capella spiritual, each of them taking turns at the same lead line while the others maintained a harmonic chant of the words "love and space."

i'd never heard of sufjan stevens before the recent flap over the cover art to his latest album. or if i had, i think i confused him with savath + savalas or some other electronica artist starting with an "s". but an mp3 blog had up his acoustic rendition of "the one i love" by rem, and it far exceeded my expectations. at the bowery, he opened with this, as if to say, "here's the famous cover song. now that's out of the way, we can get to the real stuff." or perhaps he wanted to open with a crowd pleaser to get people going. as he remarked, he's been touring with an 8-piece band, and by comparison the solo experience was "fairly terrifying." if his voice wavered at all from nerves, i didn't hear it; it would have been perfectly suited to the beautiful and melancholy songs he played. never have i heard an audience so large remain so quiet and riveted in place for one person with one instrument. he must have played for a half hour or so, but it seemed like it was over in minutes, it was so good. if you haven't actually heard him, he's definitely someone to check out further.

the title of this post is a paraphrase of the r.e.m. song sufjan covers.


home spun desperation

interpol are one of those bands that elicit strong reactions in people, which is a good thing. either called the most exciting new messiahs of the new york music scene or annoyingly retro and derivative, everyone has an opinion. mine may be slightly tainted, although i always try for as much objectivity as possible. after missing them at brownies (r.i.p.) in 2001, i emailed them to get on their mailing list after hearing an as-yet-unreleased track online (then called "mascara"). imagine my surprise when i got an email back from carlos d, identifying himself as the dj i knew personally from goth clubs like alchemy and his wnyu radio show. i finally caught them when they were bottom of the bill on a weekday localbandsnyc show at bowery, playing to a mostly-empty room. i couldn't understand why this band had such a bad slot and turnout, since i thought their EPs were great. the next time i saw them was at mercury lounge, when the show sold out just after i got inside. from then on, it's been a steady rise of venue sizes and attention. my reaction to this is pride and satisfaction, since there have been a bunch of nyc bands who've gotten a lot of hype and several in my opinion haven't been nearly as good. i'm actually a fan of the bands interpol is accused of ripping off, and the resemblance doesn't bother me. this is saying a lot, because usually it drives me up the wall. but barring a few early tracks and vocal production choices, i believe the band has, after two albums, forged their own recognizable sound from the ashes of the old. even to the point where i recognize their own influence in newer bands.

interpol are the only band i can think of where the most famous member is the bassist (when he's not also the lead singer). carlos is easily the most recognizable one (due to his personal style, plus being the tallest and most mobile onstage) and simultaneously the most often singled out for adulation or ridicule. all of this surface noise is a shame, because in the process he's being very underrated as a bass player. in fact, hardly anyone talks about how inventive all of them are with their carefully interlocking parts, instead choosing to focus on 80's references and comments on their wardrobe or how "dark" their songs are (please).

judging from the final show of their tour sunday at webster hall, the hysteria surrounding interpol is still mounting. from where i stood, the staircase from backstage could be seen, and just the appearance of their legs caused cheers and screams. i also noticed what appeared to be someone videotaping their stage approach, as well as two professional cameras on tripods at the foot of the stage. i smell a live DVD with extras on the way.

this show was much better than the last time i saw them, at the hammerstein ballroom near the start of their tour. they'd clearly gotten the kinks out. there were no new songs, like at the end of their last tour before antics, but they did something i've never heard before; it could almost be called jamming. there were at least three songs that had extended intros or outros. you could almost hear them thinking "twelve inch remix!" these sections were generally minimalist, lots of drum variations with scratching and noise interplay, vaguely reminiscent of the hardest sections of dancier gang of four or early cabaret voltaire. i hope this hard-edged improvising is something they'll continue to develop. besides seeming like one of the few times they all had fun onstage at this show, maybe it'll get them a little more respect.

the title of this post comes from interpol's song hands away.


and then i see a darkness

the brooklyn lyceum is a wonderful space. i'd only been there once before, to see an independent film. at that time, i didn't immediately take note of the lovely mix of gutted-out former opulence and decayed edges. but when i arrived there for the calla record release party, there was plenty of time to wander around observing and capturing those little details i'm so fond of. some of the results are on ocular spectra.

this was a bit of an odd event, since the venue doesn't do music shows all the time and calla were the only band playing. the main space is cavernous and dark, in many ways a perfect environment for calla. they must have known this, because they played with very low lights for most of the show. an antique rug and the line of speakers was all that differentiated the stage area from the audience.

the first obvious change since the last time i saw them was that they were back to being a trio. this made me happy right away. three instruments plus vocals and minimal samples is a good palette for them, espeically live. their former second guitarist switched to bass, which allowed the singer's guitar to be heard at optimum levels instead of fighting with another similar sound. as a result it had the best tone i've heard him get so far.

the new songs are definitely the most straightforward rock-oriented they've done (other than their cover of can's "mother sky"), but still remain unmistakeably calla in their construction and whispery vocals. a few songs (such as "it dawned on me") jumped out over others, but overall they maintained a heavy but midtempo dark rock atmosphere. at times a 60's pop sensibility peeked through the stormclouds in little vocal melody or harmony lines. they stuck exclusively to songs from their new album until the end, when they played the epic creepy funk-rock of "televised" and slow-burn mini-classic "fear of fireflies". the top picture was taken during the former, in a rare period of illumination made all the more blinding from our eyes being used to the mood lighting of the rest of the set. the band came back for a two-song encore before disappearing back into the darkness.

the title of this post comes from a song by will oldham.


forward motion, frame me in

i've made an effort over the past year to update ocular spectra fairly regularly. the goal has been one picture per weekday, uploaded all at once for the week. some of the images have been turned into flyers like this one. the above image is one of this week's additions, taken last week at the brooklyn lyceum. this is the sort of thing i notice when most everyone else at shows is chatting, which is about the only time i have to shoot anymore.

i was inspired to start putting images online after i discovered photoblogs like rion.nu and whateverland's through gothamist. then i think josh tipped me off to the nyc photobloggers 2 event last year, and i made the disparate images i'd been snapping into a regular concern. i went to a photobloggers meetup and caught photobloggers 4 in june. the people i've met have been very nice, and several of them are linked from the site. i tend to just link to sites that have a vaguely similar aesthetic, like satan's laundromat's decaying buildings or overshadowed's dark sci-fi cityscapes.

as alluded to above, time has been getting short lately, so the site may not be updated as often in the future. although i'm not calling it quits, at this point i'm content to let it stand mostly as is. i think there's a clear style going on, something that might almost be called a "body of work." i'll be judging additions more harshly and may even be removing photos i'm not so fond of. there's no point in repeating myself or displaying substandard work. the site has always hovered between photoblog and gallery, just as my intent has been somewhat more than snapshots but less than a professional concern. as stated on the site, i save high resolution unmarked versions of all the images, in case anyone is interested in obtaining permission to use them (or in commissioning similar work for a project). contact info is also on the website.

the title of this post is from a lyric by adult, whose new CD i was listening to while writing this. their singer nicola kuperus is also a photographer whose darkly humorous work i love. i also wrote about their nyc show.


last trick

i would never have thought a bill so left-field could pack a place out so much on a wednesday night. but when i got to northsix at the suggested time of 8:30 pm a few nights ago, i was told by shannon of stars like fleas that i was on the "to pay" list, since the show was "way sold out."

i almost didn't go to the show. i've seen SLF a lot, and written about them here several times. i didn't expect them to play again so soon, but they got the opportunity to open for deerhoof. i'd heard of the latter band by their association with labelmates xiu xiu (who i love). i tried to like them, but the mp3s i heard just weren't my kind of noise. flying, who supported SLF the last time i saw them at tonic, was also playing, along with a band i'd never heard of called lavender diamond.

although i liked SLF's last show, it was a very dissonant and noisy affair compared to their usual balance of tunes and improvisation. on this night they swayed in the opposite direction, sticking to pretty songs and more structured and harmonious improv interludes. i think the balance was better, although shannon later told me the lack of ambient sound reflection onstage was not very conducive to interplay between the musicians. as a result, they tended to link up in clusters, playing off the closest people they could hear. one of the best musicians for this is the slide guitarist, gerald menke. i had the pleasure of improvising with him at an SLF recording session, and hopefully it will turn up in some form on their next album. he listens very attentively and adds the perfect bits at the right times. overall the set was great, although there was a pervasive sense of sadness i've never felt in their previous shows. i'm glad this was their last live impression before going into more studio hibernation.

lavender diamond had a fun audience rapport, but musically they were a bit too straight-up for my tastes, although i like the recorded version of "you broke my heart" on their website. flying brought their quirky vibe, although sadly quite a bit of the crowd rudely talked through their set. i preferred their show at tonic, but they did well nonetheless, winning over a decent portion of the packed house. they sold their CDRs with handmade covers and were very nice people. by the time they finished it was pretty late, so i wasn't up for giving deerhoof a shot, though to be fair i've heard they're better live than on record. another time perhaps.

the title of this post comes from a song by flying.