Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Love Letter to Music of 2011/2012

Well, music is obviously a big part of my life and sharing it is a pretty important thing for me. I wanted to share some thoughts of all the songs that have meant a lot to me over this last year, with one for each month from October 2011 to September 2012.


'The Broom/Scarlett Flying' by Cirque du Soleil from Iris.

Danny Elfman started composing the music for Iris in 2009, for the shows premiere in 2011. On average, composers for film take around 3 -4 months to complete a score, and Elfman had 2 years. One of my favourite pieces of all time, ‘Scarlett Flying’ is included on Iris.

This piece is important to me because the first time I heard it was at a time in my life where everything was going right. I remember the day I first heard the song (Tuesday 11th of October – I was on my way into university to work on my Performance Innovation assignment), and TaylorJeffs on CT announced that the entire Iris album was available for streaming online. I jumped on the bus and eagerly loaded it up, and actually started crying upon hearing the first few notes because I was so glad Cirque du Soleil could still produce magic in their music.

From my Iris review last year:
"The most coruscating moment on the album is the exquisite and flawless 'The Broom/Flying Scarlett' arrangement. Beginning with a reprise of the opening tune shared delicately between woodwinds and a solo violin while strings flourish softly behind, the piece evolves into something utterly stunning. It provokes this incredible but practically indescribable emotion that resembles something like yearning. It's an ephemeral and achingly beautiful piano waltz paired with this forlorn, angelic voice which fragments and harmonies itself, and slowly layers with chimes and glockenspiels which leads into the striking, driving and powerful orchestra accompaniment. The arrangement is sweeping . . . I'm listening to this right now and I am covered in goosebumps -  it's just so good. "

 The piece is also now included on Le Best of Cirque du Soleil 2, which I'm very happy about. 


'Downside Up' by Peter Gabriel from New Blood.

I’m not a Peter Gabriel fan in general, but ‘Downside Up’ is a song I really fondly remember. Originally it was released on the album Ovo in 2000 (not the shitty Cirque du Soleil one with ‘dodecaphonic melodies’, the soundtrack to the show from the show at the Millennium Stadium). The rendition there is nice, but really heavily synthesised and with mixing that’s a bit boring. While it’s an okay listen it’s not compelling or uplifting. The new version is subtle and mellow to begin with, but the chorus introduces an entire symphony that evokes a visceral and celebratory atmosphere, with a melange of fluttering strings and woodwinds which sound regal and wood-nymphesque.

This version was released in November 2011 on his album New Blood, and is a re-imagined rendition that is performed entirely on orchestra, with new vocals featuring Peter Gabriel and his daughter Melanie Gabriel. At this time, we were just about to open for our Production One performance, The After Dinner Joke. In between rehearsals I busted out this song almost all the time, and I still find listening to the chorus to be an elating way to spend my time . . !


'Musique Pour Gabrielle' by Jorane from 16mm.

I’d known about Jorane since 2007, when I saw her first perform on a Cirque du Soleil DVD (Soleil de Minuit), and was really taken by the piece she performed. Like most performances Cirque do, they’re not particularly good at crediting who does what and what the songs are actually called, so she fell of my radar pretty much entirely until last year. Her new EP, Une Sorcière Commes les Autres, was released last year, and it came recommended to me after I bought another Cirque CD (hurr).

‘Musique Pour Gabrielle’, which was originally released on her album 16mm, is no exception. It’s a quirky, feel good piece that has an eclectic mix of instruments and moods. It starts off very brightly and later moves into a closing phrase that features some of the most gorgeous and earnest cello music that I’ve ever heard. It evokes feelings of wanderlust and homesickness simultaneously, and I love the filmclip because it just shows ordinary people smiling, doing the jobs, dancing at home . . . it makes me feel very nostalgic.

After the La Boite 2012 Season Launch, I walked around the city about 3am. I had a lot to think about and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, so I just walked and listened to this album. The following morning, I went to the GOMA, and this song played while I sat in the atrium, looking out a huge glass window onto the river – I realised I’d come a very long way since the start of the year. While the launch was in October, I started planning ahead for Of Little Matter in December, and that’s’ where the piece (and a lot of Jorane’s music) came to be a huge influence in my style of composing. I hope one day I’m able to write music that moves other people in a similar way.


'En Plein Face' by Harmonium from Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison.

I got introduced to Harmonium through Jorane – after enjoyed The You and the Now so much, I went ahead and picked up Une Sorcière Commes les Autres and discovered that all the songs were covers of French Candaian songs. I particularly enjoyed the cover of ‘En Pleine Face’, which I found was originally buy a folk group called Harmonium (in English the title literally manes “In Your Face”).

The piece, included on one of the bands only EPs Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison, is very gentle because evolving into a somewhat hypnotic and inspiring ballad, and then transforming to something that seems to represent some pleading disappointment – very difficult to describe, and it’s hard to grasp, especially as the song is in French. The band, especially in the closing moments of the song, sound very much like the Beatles.

I alternated between listening to the original and Jorane’s cover. I ended up including this one as I thought it’d be boring to list the same artist twice, though I do like both versions, and both have their advantages over the other. I just like the song because it’s so easy to sing and it’s so memorable – I remember singing it a lot during a dinner with gravity, and one evening I ran into Liesel Zink who laughed and complimented my singing skills in French. Winner.


'Sunday' by Stephen Sondheim from Sunday in the Park With George.

Sondheim’s ‘Sunday’ is far from anything like “an ordinary Sunday”. For some reason I had avoided Sunday in the Park with George for a long time because it just hadn’t appealed to me, but during one rehearsal of Sweeney Todd, Sarah recommended I give it a listen and showed me ‘Sunday’. Even then, it took me a few weeks to get into it, but once I did I was so glad I’d found it. I ordered the CD and when I received it I really enjoyed a few songs (‘Sunday’ the most), although the score is really difficult to engage with initially.

In the musical, the song is performed at the end of Act One, and is then reprise at the end of Act Two to close the show. It is probably Sondheim’s strongest ensemble piece, holding a hauntingly beautiful melody that utilizes the entire ensemble of the show – the version below is from the 2010 Proms. The delivery is stunning, with a huge orchestra and choir which conveys the grandeur and rich texture of the score.

Thematically the song’s lyrics discuss the observations of idyllic surroundings, suggesting the simplicity of life can supply even the most beautiful and inspiring art in the eye of the beholder. As someone who wants to create art, I find that message very special and important.


'Losing My Mind' by Laura Michelle Kelly from The Storm Inside.

Oh, to be young and incredibly good-looking. A very cute and vastly different adaptation to Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Losing My Mind’. Originally it’s a heartbreaking ballad about the uncertainty about the perception of love, but here it’s just something you can bop your head to. I can easily see it in some kind of romantic comedy movie, starring Zooey Deschanel doing various sad-single women things – like doing her hair, diving under covers, eating ice-cream all while simultaneously wailing irrationally.

I’m a director.

Just something to relate a little crush too. :0)


'The Vegemite Song (The Black Death)' by Amanda Palmer from Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under.

Fond conversations with Steven Mitchell Wright drew me back to this one. How could this not be on anyone’s list? Perfectly surmises my thoughts on the subject and I usually redirect people to it when asked for my opinion.


'Libertango' by The Swingle Singers from Too Cubed.

We had been working with Ben Schostakowski in a university unit called Production 2, where we devised a work of theatre under supervision and guidance of an industry professional. We used Ben’s starting point, eisteddfods, to create a work that was a satire on the preparation and process of children competing at eisteddfods.

We were fairly up in the air about what we wanted to focus on, and Ben suggested that we bring some music into the room to add some inspiration. We found this track by the Swingle Singers that unintentionally embodies the entire vibe that we wanted for the production – a melodramatic and over the top creation that regardless of how intense characters were, the ending result is something ridiculous.

I’ve been a fan of Piazola’s music since I heard an interpretation of ‘Libertango’ on bond’s album Shine. The piece is somehow quite romantic, sort of hypnotic with its repetitive descending passages and carries a sense of allure. The vocals of The Swingle Singers, who provide everything and use nothing beyond their voices, adds a complexity and grandeur to the work, and added in the Glee vibe that we were trying to create . Tom and I still bust this one out every now and then.


'Rainbow High' by Andrew Lloyd Webber from Evita Broadway Revival Cast Recording. 

I had actually bought a copy of Evita in 2010, entirely based on the fact that Philip Quast played Juan Peron in the 2006 version. I didn’t think much of it, and I found the music to be pretty unpleasant and the instrumentation to be pretty week. I left it alone for about 2 years until I somehow got very enthused about it in May this year. As it turned out, Evita was currently being revived on Broadway and a new recording came out in June.

The new recording got me enthused about the entire score (probably due to fact that it’s a complete recording) - I'm crazy about Elena Roger, who is perfect in the title role of the trashy and calculated actress who clawed her way to the top and seduced a nation. Her voice has an earthly quality, slightly rough and raw, but powerful and engaging. She is captivating, and while she has attracted a lot of criticism for being too nasal, she is ferocious on the brutal highs and lows of the score, and manages to balances explosive exuberant with a quietly modest and candid.

Roger’s performance in 'Rainbow High' is simply bitching, and she absolutely smashes the ending with these incredibly crazy notes that I imagine would bring the house down. It’s a high paced, hypnotic and a bit of a bizarre song. I regularly scream out passages from this – it’s an insanely catchy piece and a lot of fun to belt out. I sang this a lot all through a dinner with gravity, and frequently ever since.


'You Woke Me Up!' by Andrew Bird from Noble Beast.

Through July I was working with Dave Sleswick on the show Iphigenia 2.0 for Vena Cava Productions. We were one day away from our preview and Dave and I decided that one scene (‘The Bridesmaids’) in particular needed music. We weren’t sure what the mood should be, so Dave tried ‘You Woke Me Up!’ as the temporary soundtrack.

I instantly fell in love with the track and Andrew Bird’s work. The final we ended up using I wrote and recorded the day that we opened for a preview, and although it’s in a different key with a different melody and different instrumentation, I drew a huge amount of inspiration from this track. I love its simplicity and nonchalant mellow mood. It’s sweet and calming, but also warm and playful. I listened to it everyday through the process after and ordered the album from Amazon as soon as I could.


'And I Will Kiss' by Underworld (feat. Dame Evelyn Glennie and the Pandemonium Drummers) form Isle of Wonder.

Written by Underworld for a section in the opening of the 2012 Olympics, this 17-minute mega-mix accompanied a breathtaking and stunning theatrical segment called ‘The Pandemonium’. Around 90 drummers swarmed around the crowd while hundreds of actors pulled up the entire lawn of Olympic stadium, while towers and buildings emerged from the ground.

The piece is led through a thunderous percussion section dominated by Dame Evelyn Glennie, a deaf artist who drums in time based on the vibrations she feels with her bare feet. The piece is an inspirational and explosive anthem. It builds through the use of layers, gradually adding melodies in electronic synthesizers, percussive loops, and chanting, ritualistic vocals. To me it really embodies the atmosphere of the Olympics – an uplifting and indescribable event that really celebrates the world coming together for a few days to celebrate human spirit and athletic talent.

I remember watching the opening (a few days after, since we were in bump-in during the time) and not thinking much of it, but once this came on I thought I had to look up this song. Its like a massive journey across 17 minutes, which can be used to entertain yourself on the train (four listens from Dakabin to uni!), to block out boring people who don’t understand criteria sheets, and just to motivate me whenever I have to do lots of research. Listening to it at full volumes makes my ears ache, but it’s beyond words to describe how much I love it.


'Loving You' by Stephen Sondheim from Passion.

The third Sondheim composition to reach the list, Loving You is the most hummable piece included in the 1993 musical Passion. The piece is brief, a candid and subtle moment which represents a short explanation and resembles a breath - it is the major turning point of the show, where Fosca communicates that her relentless pursuit of Giorgio is not a conscious choice she has made, it is simply who she is.

Fosca is one of the most complex fictional characters I have ever heard of – she is repulsive and impossibly ugly, in the original stage directions and Tarchetti’s original novel she is described as“an ugly, sickly woman: incredibly thin and sallow, her face all bones and nose, her hair pulled tightly back. Just as there is a beauty that surpasses all possible description, so is there an ugliness that escapes every manifestation”. Her character is fragile, occasionally erupting into uncontrollable hysterical outbursts upon accounting thoughts and emotions that she cannot endure. She pursues Giorgio in a fervour that is terrifying, although this piece explains why she does the things she does.

It’s hard to express the deep connection and appreciation I feel towards the story, music and lyrics of Passion. This piece, along with the Passion original recording, played on repeat through September and the start of October as I was writing a professional plan and proposal for a staging of the show for Directing Theatre subject at university. The piece is firmly engraved inside my brain, and I find it simultaneously beautiful and harrowing to be able to acknowledge within Fosca the possible emotions that people are too afraid to express.

So there’re mine. 

What are yours?

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