12: A Cappella

I love a cappella music. Multiple voices coming together and flowing together in beautiful harmonies, with no musical instruments to “distract”. A cappella always sounds magical and mysterious, taking me to it’s special universe of sounds, echos and flavors.

A cappella music comes in many styles and sounds. Here I will present a (very) few examples that I came across over the years. You are welcome to add your contributions in this installment of This Reminds Me.

We start with… Lady Gaga. Yes, to me it was a surprise that of all artists, Lady Gaga will do an a cappella. I was used to her high-power, super bombastic productions of cellophane-wrapped shallow pop. But then I came across this a cappella variation of her song Born This Way:

And I actually liked it. IMHO, in this simple, down-to-earth version, Lady Gaga is much more real, authentic and believable.

Talking about Lady Gaga and cellophane-wrapped shallow pop, it turns out there is an a cappella cover of one of Lady Gaga’s… well cellophane-wrapped shallow pop hits. On The Rocks – an all-male a cappella group from the University of Oregon – brings us this little improvised musical joke – an a cappella version of Bad Romance.

I love it! Just a bunch of talented young people, not taking life too seriously and having fun. Not the highest quality production but I have a big smile on my face whenever I watch the clip. Common u’all, loosen up! Not everything has to be perfect. As long as we are having fun…

The next example actually combines a fascinating mix of a cappella with instrumental music and of old and new – Gregorian Chanting and electronic music. The Enigma project, lead by Michael Cretu introduced this new amazing and enchanting style. When I first heard MCMXC a.D., it was a WOW moment for me. OK, no more words. Just listen, find those Gregorian nuggets and get lost in the music.

There are tons of more examples of a cappella but I will stop here with my last example – a true hidden gem. A cappella usually implies multiple voices from multiple signers without instruments. Here we have multiple voices from one singer. Israeli singer Hani Livne created this beautiful album called Vocaliza.

She overdubbed multiple tracks for each song, singing various roles – lead, bass, back, second, even instruments. Most songs are without any instruments. What a beautiful and special album. I have a blast every time I hear it and marvel at both the beauty and high quality of the production and Hani’s beautiful clear voice.

So here we are. Do you like a cappella? Any cool pieces you love?

11: My Friend Uri Rosenberg

I recently visited with my very good old friend Uri Rosenberg. Uri and I go back together all the way to first grade. Kept in touch all these years.

Uri has all sorts of hobbies and he does very well at them. He takes his stuff very seriously and it shows. He loves literature – recently finished his M.Sc. – nice job Uri! He also has a blog about Israeli history, based on old documents that he digs up from… I don’t know where.

Uri has been an avid amateur photographer for many years. The word “amateur” does him disservice because he does a beautiful job and IMHO is as good as a pro, but I use the word to indicate that he does this for the fun and love of the activity, not for the money. He never made a business out of it and intentionally so. A true artist. His work was presented several times in galleries and won prizes. Here are some examples of his work.

A few years ago, Uri started expanding into video. He does the whole production: filming, recording, directing, editing, etc. Here is a collection of his work.

Well, this blog is about music, so this brings me to the music in Uri’s videos. Uri is very particular about the music he uses in his videos and I love his choices (at least most of them). So go ahead and view the clips. The videos are very beautiful, and if you are Israeli or Jewish with love for that country and culture you will have a real treat. View the clips and pay special attention to the music and how it fits and flows with the visuals. And note the very exacting level of scrutiny Uri puts in his work. He is a perfectionist 🙂

In future posts, I will say some more specific things about some of these clips. Right now, I want to point out a little gem: Atai’s Garden is a beautiful documentary about nature and a wonderful man and if you watch it patiently, you will find a lovely musical surprise at the end.

Thank you Uri. Continue the great job and share with us.

10: The World

As you probably know by now, I was born and grew up in Israel. Naturally, a great part of my musical “baggage” is Israeli music, which is mostly in Hebrew. Israel was always more open to world music than the US, so we were exposed to music from around the world. I will sometimes write about non-English music and this category – The World – will be the home for these posts.

9: I Saw Them Playing There

I always thought the Beatles were the greatest pop/rock band ever. I still think so. Yes, today much of their work sounds naive and sort of silly/childish. But back then they were by far the trail blazers. They didn’t just bring a new style of singing. They defined a whole new culture. Only people, who grew up with the Beatles, can understand and appreciate their groundbreaking work. And I’m not even talking about their commercial success, still unrivaled to this day.

I am generally not a big fan of covers of great originals. If the original performance was good, any cover just “kills the fun” for me. No wonder then that I am even less excited about covers of Beatles songs. How dare somebody imitate the Fab Four? But as time goes by, here and there I encounter a nice surprise – a cover of a Beatles song that I actually like. Here is one I “discovered” just a few days ago.

I was watching A Musicares Tribute to Paul McCartney. One of the songs there really made me jump up and dance, more even than the Beatles’ original performance. Neil Young and Crazy Horse doing I Saw Her Standing There.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqIbpgJ2skU

I am generally not a big fan of Neil Young either. I just don’t like his high-pitched and nosy voice. But here it worked great. The band just felt down to earth, unpretentious, having fun. Felt more like a bunch of people in a bar just standing up and having some improvised fun. The performance wasn’t the cleanest and highest quality but they produced a great sound and rhythm. You just have to get up and dance. Good job guys.

8: The ABBA Legacy Lives On

Last Friday, I watched the weekly news magazine on Israeli TV Channel 2. They reported that a production of the musical Mamma Mia was coming to Israel. The item was followed by a cover story about ABBA. The story showed short clips of many of ABBA’s great hits. Wow, that was a trip into the past. Both my wife and I had these shining eyes and silly smiles,  reminiscing about the good old times when the whole world sang and danced ABBA.

Personally, I think they were one of the greatest pop groups of all time. Obviously, millions of people all over the world share this sentiment. I always wondered what was the secret of their magic? What was their formula? Not sure there is a simple answer to the question. I do believe the lyrics of their songs were above average. I’m not comparing their lyrics to Shakespeare or the greatest poets of the world, but within the pop music world, their language was good and verses very precise. The melodies were beautiful (IMHO) and the arrangements great. And perhaps best of all, the beautiful voices of Agnetha and Anni-Frid, merging together in great harmonies. It’s been over 30 years since they broke up and still their songs are as beautiful as ever.

Which pop group was your best ever?

7: Creep has Many Faces

Radiohead’s Creep is one of the most powerful songs I know. It has the perfect combination of lyrics, melody and arrangement. Happily, I have never been in such a self-loathing state as this song expresses and yet the song made it very real to me. It gave me a window into the heart (and should I say hurt) and mind of such a person. I suddenly can understand and sympathize with these people and their suffering.

The song has many versions, some of them by Radiohead itself. Here I will present a few widely different styles.

First, the original:

For a while, I only knew about this original version. Then, I was surprised to find Radiohead’s acoustic version:

Removing all the instruments and pyrotechnics and keeping only an acoustic guitar made the vocal and the lyrics stand out even more sharply. And still this stripped-down version has all the power of the original.

Next is Scala & Kolacny Brothers in a technical, dreamy, unemotional rendition. The psychological power of the song is gone and instead we have a sort of heavenly cathedral sound (well if only you ignore certain words…). It does not deliver the punch but it sounds beautiful still.

 

And just very recently, jazz! I’d never think anybody would ever feel like doing this song in jazz but here it is by the new jazz pussycat Haley Reinhart:

So there you are, an installment in the “This Reminds Me” series. And how about you? Which versions of Creep do you like? More generally, what does Creep remind you of?

6: This Reminds Me

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the term “Musical Chains”. No, not the “Musical Chairs” game – I do mean “Musical Chains”. No, not the book. Not the computer science-driven music generation software. And not necklaces with a music theme. Not even key-chains that play music. OK, enough with the not’s 🙂

I mean the game Musical Chains. You start by suggesting a song. Someone else will suggest another song that is related to the previous song by some rule. Then the next person will suggest… You get it. It’s pretty popular on the Internet.

What I don’t like about the games I find on the Internet, is the rule. Usually, these rules are totally arbitrary and as a result, the relation between consecutive pieces is random and meaningless. The most popular rule I see: The The first letter of the name of the new song must be the same as the last letter of the name of the previous song. Example from Bulls Banter: if we start with Oasis (ends with an ‘s’) then the next piece must begin with an ‘s’ (for example Sugerbabes) and so on. This is easy and popular – Bulls Banter’s game has approximately 250 links in the chain. But the connection between the songs is pretty meaningless – the only thing they have in common is one single letter in the song name. Other than that, consecutive songs are completely unrelated. A slightly better option is a common word (rather than a letter). A whole word in common has a better chance of making consecutive songs more closely related. For example, if the common word is “freedom”, there’s a better chance that they both deal with some sort of freedom (political, personal, etc.).

This category is essentially a form of the musical chains game. But it uses a more loose, yet meaningful rule. I want a game where consecutive pieces have a meaningful relation. Some sort of a stronger, associative relation. This is why I don’t call this category “Musical Chains”. I call it “This Reminds Me”, because I think “This Reminds Me” implies the kind of rule that I want to use. The next piece in the chain will come about because the current piece reminds you of it. Not a random letter or word but something about the piece itself. Things like: a similar topic/subject; a cover of the same song; Variations on a song; the same song in different languages; a common place or person or historical event, etc. Using a common artist or album as the rule is too simple. I’m looking for some personal perspective. “What does this song remind me of?” is probably the best way for you to figure out the next piece. And be sure to explain what took you from one song to the next – this is the most interesting part. This “Musical Chains …” thread is the best example I found – an investigation into the various chronological incarnations of a song.

So go ahead, think of a new This Reminds Me chain. Email me your idea and I will start a new chain for you. Better yet, contact me and I can make you a Contributor. Or, just wait and I will occasionally start a new chain of my own.

 

5: The Lost Memorial

TV Channel 1 of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority has been running a Friday weekly news magazine forever. It still runs. The show has a regular item called: The World in a Minute. As you probably guess, it shows a rapid succession of events from around the world in 1 minute – things which are not important enough to have their own story. From the start and for many years, the item played this mysterious melody as background. The melody caught my attention right from the start and I was always curious what it was. What was its name? Who wrote it? It was a powerful and fascinating tune. Back then, I couldn’t think of a way to find out (and I guess it wasn’t that important).

Then, after several years, they changed the melody and the mystery tune was gone. For years I wondered about it? Will I ever know? Will I ever be able to add it to my music collection? Sort of like a lost love. That was in the 70s and 80s.

Fast forward to around 2010. I had already been living in the US for many years. I was sitting one night in my home office. My wife was watching TV in the living room and I could overhear it. Suddenly, I heard it! The mystery melody that I had not heard for so many years! I jumped like I had been bitten by a snake and rushed to see what the TV was playing. It was a commercial for Marshall’s Stores! Some advertiser decided that that was the most appropriate music to play. Can’t think why.

I still didn’t know what that piece was (TV commercials don’t show credentials) but I had a lead! A couple of hours of intense Internet search and Eureka! I found it!. Memorial by the British composer Michael Nyman. Finally I found it. Lost and found. I also discovered that the piece was actually 12 minutes long – the Channel 1 segment only played one minute. A very powerful creation. If it irks you some when you listen to it, it’s not surprising. After all it is a commemoration of a tragedy. What do you think about it? How does it make you feel?

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Lost & Found

This category is about pieces of music that I once heard but never was able to find. Or something I had, then lost. Then after a long time, I suddenly found it. What a joy 🙂

The most fun scenario is the hunt. I overhear something – say on the radio or TV – I like it but don’t know what it is. Shazam is not always at hand and sometimes it doesn’t recognize the piece (especially that I tend to like more esoteric music). The show host does not always tell what the song is. So there I am, just heard something cool, want to add it to my library but how can I find it? What is it? And so the hunt begins. Trying any trick I can think of. Maybe find the show online, then I can play it until I reach the piece and Shazam it. Pick up phrases in the lyrics while listening and Google them. Hear some partial info about the piece like the artist’s name, but not the piece title, then search. The hunt is fun, like a treasure hunt, and even more satisfying if it’s successful.

So stand by for some hunting stories. And as usual, you are welcome to share yours.

My Daughter’s Climb

As you may guess, the latest in pop music is not my forte. I don’t follow much all the glitz of the latest star-of-the-moment (is it Taylor Swift now? I think?). Nothing wrong with that music but just not my taste. No wonder, therefore, that when I sometimes “discover” one of those greatest hits, the hit and the hitter are long forgotten.

The first time in my life that I heard (or at least noticed) Miley Cyrus’ The Climb, was about a year ago. Yeah, 5 years late… I kind of overheard it on a car radio and made a mental note that the lyrics were sort of nice but rather cliche. Dismissed it and forgot about it.

A few days ago, I attended my daughter’s high school graduation ceremony. The program included several songs, performed by students. The Climb was one of them. That was a “wow” moment for me. All of a sudden the cliche became so powerful. For an old, cynical guy like me, this was child talk. But now it’s not just any child, it’s my child, my daughter. What a different sound and meaning the song suddenly had for me. I could imagine my daughter standing at the foot of the mountain. She is just beginning the climb. So fitting.

Definitely a case of fresh ears.