Monday, October 28, 2013

Remembering Lou Reed

Along with The Beatles – his days with The Velvet Underground and his subsequent solo career, did Lou Reed single handedly influenced the not so mainstream parts of Generation-X era popular music?

By: Ringo Bones

The short answer is an equivocal yes, without Lou Reed – as in his stint in The Velvet Underground and his subsequent solo career – alternative rock from 1980s era REM to Seattle Grunge period Nirvana would probably not exist and if it even exist at all, it might sound wholly different. And though he may had left a “mixed legacy” lifestyle wise as a role-model, it is safe to say that like The Beatles before him, Lou Reed did make rock music more than just post World War II / baby boomer bubblegum pop music. 

Born in March 2, 1942 – it wasn’t his stint as a frontman for The Velvet Underground during the latter half of the 1960s did the whole world became aware of his prowess as a really gifted songwriter and long after breaking up, The Velvet Underground became the most cited influence of every alternative rock and Seattle Grunge era alternative rock that had came since. After his departure from The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed recorded the following year his most well known song titled Walk On The Wild Side from the Transformer album and co-produced by David Bowie and ever since Reed became synonymous with the heroin and bisexuality scene of New York City. Though it wasn’t until in the early 1990s when he recorded Power and Glory did he regained his prowess as a gifted singer songwriter that brought to us Walk on the Wild Side. 

After getting a liver transplant in May 2013 after his old one gave out due to years of heavy drinking and intravenous heroin use, Lou Reed – after recovering – said he was stronger than ever and plans to do what he loves namely write and record more songs. Though it is not yet determined if complications arising from the recent liver transplant compromised his health, Lou Reed passed away in October 27, 2013 in Long Island. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bösendorfer Pianos: World’s Best Pianos?

Even though Steinway pianos are perceived as ideal for performing Beethoven’s piano works, is the “Viennese Upstart” piano maker more suited for the maestro’s piano works?

By: Ringo Bones 

Bösendorfer should probably be thankful to Tori Amos who single handedly telling people who don’t normally listen to Western European Classical Music that their famed pianos exist back in the early 1990s. And even though Steinway & Sons the preferred pianos for performing Ludwig van Beethoven’s piano works after World War II and during the Golden Age of Stereo already had a New York Mercantile Exchange listing as LVB – stands for Ludwig van Beethoven’s initials – are Steinways the still preferred pianos for Beethoven’s piano works given that since the 1990s, Bösendorfers are gaining acceptance and even preference as the ideal platform for Beethoven? 

Founded by Ignaz Bösendorfer in Vienna, Austria – though now owned by the piano making arm of Yamaha – back in 1828, Bösendorfer pianos are relatively unknown outside of the German or even the Western European Classical Music scene prior to its popularization by Tori Amos during the early 1990s. According to Western Classical Music piano players, piano technicians and concertgoers, a typical Bösendorfer piano sounds darker but less full bodied when compared to other more traditionally preferred pianos used in performing Western Classical Music – like Steinway & Sons. 

But in actual listening and according to top contemporary piano technician David Lander – Asian pianos (at least to my ears those found in bars in British colonial period Singapore or Hong Kong or the then country of Malaysia and Indonesia before the Imperial era Japanese invasion of World War II) tend to emphasize the same high frequencies heard in folk music of that part of the world, European pianos tend to be melodic and lyrical while a lot of American pianos have a lot of dynamic power. Sadly, almost all Steinway piano set-ups here in South East Asia used whenever an American or European Classical Music pianist performing Beethoven tends to sound of too much felt in the hammers and as if on anti manic depression medication due to its restrained dynamics despite being unadorned by PA system electronic amplification. 

A typical piano has 88 keys a Bösendorfer Model 225 has 92 keys – all of the extra keys are all located in the bass end of the keyboard. They were originally hidden beneath a hinged panel mounted between the piano’s conventional low A – at 27.5Hz and the lowest note on a typical 88-keyed piano – at the left hand end cheek to prevent them being struck accidentally during normal playing. The lowest note on a 92-keyed Bösendorfer Model 225 is an F at a frequency of 21.827Hz. 

Under Yamaha’s administration, the Bösendorfer Imperial Grand Model 290 has 97 keys that enabled it to reach the 16.325Hz low C note often found in full-sized pipe organs equipped with a 32-foot pipe. This Bösendorfer piano model was originally custom built for Ferrucio Busoni who wanted to transcribe an organ piece that went to the low C below the 27.5Hz low A of a standard 88-key piano keyboard.
Pop/rock musician Tori Amos popularized Bösendorfer Imperial Grand pianos and their famed low end frequency reach on her single Precious Things to her fans who a significant portion of them probably are still oblivious of the existence of Western Classical Music. And back in 2001, Canadian Classical pianist Robert Silverman chose to record with a Bösendorfer Imperial Grand Model 290 SE instead of a traditionally preferred Steinway piano when he recorded his Beethoven piano works for Stereophile’s John Atkinson.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Young Musicians: Old Music?

After recently seeing a 13-year-old guitar player perform a righteous rendition of Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water during an open invite recital of our local music school, are young musicians the only ones capable of appreciating “old music” these days? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Whether or not you consider it a “disturbing” trend will likely depend on how you seriously cherish the contemporary music back in the time that you have come of age. But have notice lately that it seems only young musicians that are able to appreciate music that were originally released  20 or 30 years before they were born? 

In my neck of the woods, it is extremely rare for a non-musician aged 13-year-old or younger to appreciate 1970s era classic rock like Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple. Although seeing a 13-year-old electric guitar student doing a righteous rendition of Smoke on the Water in 2013 is more likely to remind me of seeing a 13-year-old piano student performing a righteous rendition of Allemagne by JS Bach or Rachmaninoff’s “Rack Number 3” in a piano recital back in 1988. Although, it still pisses me off – just a bit – when anyone aged 40 or older with an extensive music collection draws a blank every time my music-buddies and I talk about Budokan and how Cheap Trick made their best concert ever there and how Scrawl – a newer alt-rock band that got startrd around the mid 1980s – wish they could perform on the iconic Budokan. 

Are young people these days no longer listening to old music on a recreational basis? It seems like it, but it has been observed a few years ago – around 2009 – that when kids aged 13 to 17 began playing with that famous musical instrument oriented video game called Guitar Hero, views of “classic rock” music videos archived on You Tube – like Pat Benatar’s Heartbreaker and Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing began to rise, not to mention the increased sales of classic rock albums following the success of Guitar Hero thanks to the new generation of guitar players. And another “weird” trend happening these days that a growing number of kids on Facebook admiring their parent’s old music collection. Now if only we can entice these kid to become hi-fi enthusiasts and rare vinyl LP collectors.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Remembering Richie Havens

Mainly remembered as the first musician to play at the iconic 1969 Woodstock concert, does anyone still remember Richie Havens for his other “causes”? 

By: Ringo Bones 

To anyone with musicological and musical skills born way after the iconic 1969 Woodstock concert, we remember American folk icon Richie Havens more for his playing his trusty Guild D30 acoustic guitar in Open D tuning and opening up our minds to the pressing environmental and social issues that were topical since the 1960s. Despite opening for the 1969 Woodstock on August 15, 1969, the original Woodstock was remembered more for Jimi Hendrix than Richie Havens. 

Sadly Richie Havens passed away back in April 22, 2013 of a heart attack. It is quite ironic that he passed away during this year’s Earth Day given he is as famous in the environmental causes front as in the folk rock music scene. Whenever he makes a guest appearance – like the 1970 Woodstock movie documentary and co-starring with Richard Pryor in the movie Greased Lightning, Richie Havens managed to recruit a new cadre of fans. For those born way after the 1969 Woodstock and came of age during the seminal days of the Seattle Grunge movement in the early 1990s, the younger generation of Richie Havens fans probably first saw him during the then US President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration back in January 1993 and later on, when Havens’ became the spokesperson on Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti – a utopian community designed in the middle of the desert for environmentally sustainable living. Sadly, Frank Lloyd Wright – inspired architect Paolo Soleri passed away earlier in April 9, 2013. 

Richie Havens was still active musically and through his various environmental causes just weeks before he passed away. Whether you know him from the original 1969 Woodstock or on a mid 1990s Discovery Channel documentary about the environmentally sustainable utopian city of Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti, Richie Havens will surely be missed despite not being played out to death like his more famous contemporaries from the 1960s.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Did Beoncé Lip-Sync the National Anthem?

It suddenly became the next day’s water-cooler conversation, but did Beoncé actually lip-sync the U.S. national anthem during the 2013 Presidential Inauguration back in January 21, 2013?

By: Ringo Bones

Lip-sync or not, hardcore Beoncé fans who are with her from the beginning of her Destiny’s Child days no longer cared whether if there’s any truth to the alleged lip-syncing of Beoncé Knowles when she sang the U.S. national anthem – Star Spangled banner – during the rather chilly day of the 2013 Presidential Inauguration back in January 21, 2013. But those who do frequently point out that Aretha Franklin didn’t do any lip-syncing when she sang the Star Spangled Banner during President Obama’s first Presidential Inauguration back in 2009 – a rather unfair comparison?

Major news networks in America recently ran a story after they did an investigative report on the Beoncé national anthem debacle that she did both sing live and lip-sync with a prerecorded track.  Scrutiny of Beoncé singing that was broadcasted have shown that parts of it have both background noise and her own rather muted singing after it was passed through a 25,000 dollar Fast Fourier Transform used to analyze audio signals.

Given that the prevailing weather over Washington, D.C. back in January 21, 2013 is rather chilly compared to President Obama’s first Inauguration back in January 2009, the prerecorded track only served as a back-up track if Beoncé’s vocal chords would come “under the weather” on that rather chilly Monday M.L.K. Day morning. And it’s been proven that singing ones heart out in such chilly weather can be hazardous for one’s prized vocal chords. Even the late, great Italian Opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti once employed a prerecorded backing tape of his singing Star Spangled Banner when asked to sing in sporting events during unseasonably cold weather.