Archive for the ‘acoustic instruments/music’ Category

The Workman’s Friend (A Pint of Plain is Your Only Man)

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

homebrew-stout-IMG_8456

An Irish drinking song, rescued recently from cassette tape. Written and recorded as a lark to 4-track cassette in winter of 92-93 (20 years ago!) by my then-girlfriend (may she rest in peace) and I during my college years in Dublin.

Lyrics taken from Flann O’Brien’s poem “The Workman’s Friend” in his marvellous book At Swim-Two-Birds. If the head on the pint of plain looks frothy, that’s because it’s a home-brew Irish stout I made with a friend and not a Guinness properly poured by a Dublin barkeep. Uploaded for St Patrick’s Day 2013.

And, here’s a spoken version of the same poem that I just found today, by the Dubliners.

Audiobiography (for Disquiet Junto)

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

My third (or fourth?) entry to the Disquiet Junto is a 2-minute narration that was uncomfortable to do. I initially resisted doing this “audiobiography”, as I generally dislike the self-consciousness that arises from talking about myself or hearing my voice, but as so many others in the Disquiet Junto have done it, I felt like I was cheating by skipping it. By the time I was finished, there were many things I didn’t talk about that contributed to the whole picture that didn’t make the cut : Indian music, analog synths, field recordings, Autechre, My Bloody Valentine…. but I was already several minutes over the allotted time when I started editing.

I also created a new SoundCloud account to post works from this site. I’ll be retroactively posting all the tracks from this blog soon.

background music: Chef Menteur – “Io” (edits)

More on this #60th Disquiet Junto project at:disquiet.com/2013/02/21/disquiet0060-audiobio

More details on the Disquiet Junto at: Groups – Disquiet-junto

More details on the SoundCloud “audiobiography” project at: blog.soundcloud.com/2013/02/06/audiobiography/

Mystery Instrument Riddle Solved!

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

For over ten years, I’ve had this instrument without knowing what it was or where it came from (at least before the music shop in Carrboro, NC that sold it to me used for $20):

Swarsangam and case

Weird looking right? And truly possibly the first “weird” instrument of my collection, if you don’t count the Appalachian mountain dulcimer I made at camp as a kid.

It has four “bass” strings, mounted on a jawari, or “buzz” bridge— the kind you might find on a sitar. When you pluck one of these strings there is a very long sustain with an oriental twang like you might hear in Indian music.

It also has eleven treble strings, mounted across a more normal style bridge, and which make a sharp turn across a series of screws to the end of the box, where somewhat flimsy tuners control their pitches. Someone had installed a “BB Jr.” stick-on pickup. And, it came with a charmingly old-fashioned velvet-lined case.

It was definitely a handmade instrument; the tuners and screws were the only part that appeared to be factory-made. So, I assumed that it was someone’s DIY project that was getting into instrument building and was quite good at it, but wanted to make something really strange and original. I’d assumed it was one-of-a-kind.

For the first 5 years I had it, it was a novelty, not knowing how to tune it or play it. Occasionally it was pulled out to make weird Chinese-sounding plucking noises.

After listening to Ravi Shankar a lot for a few years, though, and then attempting to learn to play a sitar, I realized that this was meant to be an accompaniment instrument, much like the harmonium or tanpura (also known as tambora or tamboura; I don’t attempt to pick a spelling). Tuning the four “bass” strings to the same notes that a tanpura might play sounded really, really good; and knowing that sitar players tuned their 11 sympathetic strings to subsequent notes of whichever scale they are playing in, then it followed that these 11 strings could be tuned similarly. They can be played then, much as a harp or zither, or just left alone to resonate in sympathy with the drone strings.

You can hear it all over the Murmur release Fermata, most noticably the first 12 minutes or so of the second track “Description of the Between.”

It’s also on “OTIII”, the last track of Chef Menteur’s The Answer’s In Forgetting. The tamboura side of the sound is buried beneath banjos and harmonium, but the harp side of the instrument can be heard clearly in the second minute.

You can listen to both tracks online. The links to each song are at the bottom of each page. In both cases we tuned it to open E-flat, as that’s the only key the harmonium we have will drone in. In the liner notes, we listed the instrument as “tamboura/zither box.”

Just this week, I got an email from Dan with a link to another site where the name is clearly listed. It is:

SWARSANGAM.

Here’s a page on Flickr that he found with the instrument’s name and photo. It also hints at the origin of the instrument as a hybrid or synthesis of two instruments:

  1. the drone side is a box tanpura (pictures/shop )
  2. the harp side is a kind of box zither called a swarmandal or surmandal (Wikipediapictures and tuning info). The swarmandal, according to the Wikipedia entry was the instrument producing the harp sound on many of my favorite Beatles songs, including both my wife’s and my all-time favorite song “Strawberry Fields Forever”, as well as “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and the brilliant (but often maligned) Harrison composition “Within You Without You.”

This was very pleasing to read, though not wholly surprising, because it meant that we’d arrived at an understanding of the instrument that’s very close to its common use and purpose in a very organic way by trial and error and deduction; however it did take lots of patience and experimentation with tuning pegs and tuners and a few years messing about with the thing.

RIP Jack Rose

Monday, December 7th, 2009

It has been confirmed that acoustic guitar master Jack Rose aka “Dr Ragtime” has passed away. He was only 38.

Jack Rose was one of the leaders of amazing Virginia experimental band Pelt, and a brilliant fingerstyle guitarist in the “American Primitive” tradition of John Fahey. I only got to see him play once (at the Circle Bar in New Orleans) and a second solo show last winter at the Hi Ho happened to come when I was down with a bad flu, and I remember being very disappointed that I had to miss it, but never imagined that would be my last chance to see him play ever.

A nice tribute to Jack, including video of him performing, from Arthur Magazine.

Documentary about Sandy Bull released

Friday, November 20th, 2009

I can’t find much info about this film about the oud and banjo psych-folk pioneer, but I’d love to see it. Hope it comes to New Orleans sometime. Apparently it’s by Bull’s daughter.

Arthur Magazine: Sandy Bull documentary showing in Brooklyn

sandybull.net

marlowe rides the rails (no. 12)

Monday, June 1st, 2009

this is a simple west-african/carribbean sounding blues riff on the 12-string acoustic that seemed to suit the lovely spring weather we were having in new orleans a recent saturday afternoon.

listen also for: the sound of a distant train and christy petting marlowe.

marlowe, very content.

The Guild is tuned to open G, I believe.

Radical Movement for Rebetiko Dechiotification and Bouzouki Detetrachordization

Friday, May 8th, 2009

http://www.rebetiko.org

12-string guitar rag in G #2

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

The first thing of the week is something I’ve been working on with my 12-string acoustic guitar. It’s the second of three recorded (so far) demo improvisations in a series I’ve done in an open G tuning. I plan to develop it as my technique improves:

 

 

dusk, southern appalachians, western n. carolina

After a half-lifetime of guitar, I only recently got decent at fingerpicking, after watching some free banjo lessons online and applying what I learned there to guitar as well as watching an instructional video by Doc Watson. Also, I’ve got a dusty old Takoma LP that I’ve listened to quite a bit in the past year with John Fahey, Leo Kotke and Peter Lang that connected with my endless background/fascination with old-time Appalachian music; other recent favorite listens are records by Sir Richard Bishop (“Polytheistic Fragments”) and Daniel Higgs, and as always Jack Rose and Pelt.