thoughts on music, design and literature

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cornelius: Wataridori

My director friend Jon Goldman and I got another chance to catch one of our favorite artists at the Disney Concert Hall last week: Cornelius. It was a great show, *despite* the acoustics of the concert hall...and what I mean by that is, while DCH is no doubt a gloriously rich and reverberant space, the sound tends to favor a blended, warm sound that benefits a symphony orchestra; whereas Cornelius' music relies on tight, rhythmic interplay between instruments that is better suited toward a drier space.

Nevertheless, it was thrilling, and we were both excited to see his drummer again...a tiny Japanese woman who goes by the name of Mi-Gu, but who sounded like the second coming of John Bonham. We're both amazed by the way she's able to internalize Cornelius' complex drum parts (especially on Fit Song), and she drew a standing ovation from our mutual drummer friend Andy Featherston. (Side note: Andy, again, my apologies for not calling you back two years ago!!!)

Here's another track by Cornelius, entitled Wataridori. He uses delay (music jargon for 'echo') to great effect in this one.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Delicato: The 'Calling All Dawns' Font?

I think I may have found my font for Calling All Dawns. Introducing Delicato, designed by Stephan Hattenbach for the Fountain type foundry (based in Sweden). I think it's quite good; it looks classic, without being overly used, and without the baggage of a font like Trajan.

Here's the creator of the font describing his product:

"After spending my early years experimenting mostly with display faces, my focus now is to make functional text fonts, incorporating both traditional and modern aspects.

Delicato is, in many aspects, built in a traditional way. Still, some modern details have been implemented which classic designs sometimes lack. The prime goal was to make a strong text font for books and longer texts in general. This fact does not exclude the possibilites for use elsewhere.

Throughout history existing designs have often been the source of inspiration for newer ones. Delicato is no exception and looking closely, similarities can be found in the lowercase of Jeremy Tankard’s Enigma and the stems of Petr van Blokland’s Proforma. My goal is to respect these sources and turn my own creation into something new with a unique and personal touch.

Most text faces carry a basic set of weights like regular, italic, bold and small caps. I wanted to expand that a little bit further and added a medium, alternates and a set of ornaments to make the family complete and versatile."

I know I have some artistic readers out there....what do you all think? Thumbs up? Thumbs down?

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Three Typefaces

I'm dating a graphic designer these days, and since I'm a big-time design aficionado, the topic of typefaces (otherwise known as fonts) comes up frequently. In most cases, I'm a fan of sans-serif fonts--that is, fonts without the little 'feet'--like the one utilized in this blog, verdana. On the whole, they're cleaner, more modern, and easier to read. In certain cases, though, when I want to tap into various traditions or subconscious associations, I'll utilize serif fonts. Here's what I mean:

Trajan is 'the movie font'...and it has been heavily overused in motion picture advertising, especially with epic blockbuster summer tent-pole fare (which I have to admit, I hate). But if a typeface carries any sort of subconscious association that I want to tap into, then it might not be a bad idea to utilize that font. So in the case of Calling All Dawns, if I want to convey that the scope of the album is epic and cinematic in some way (which it is), I may consider using Trajan as the principal font.

On the other side of the coin, however, is my favorite font Helvetica--a modern classic sans-serif that is purposefully devoid of distraction and meaning, preferring to let the words express themselves without coloration of typographic associations. You've seen Helvetica everywhere; it's the default font for Apple Computers, used in countless corporate logos, and pretty much pops up in all manner of signposts and advertisements. So you can see just how pervasive it really is, here's another clip, from the documentary "Helvetica," created for the 50th-anniversary of the font:

And finally, just for fun, I'm posting this YouTube video of a tribute to Akzidenz-Grotesk, an early predecessor to Helvetica. Some people just really, really love their fonts.

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Monday, January 7, 2008

The Shakti Foundation: 'Miracle 2003' Revisited

This evening I took five minutes out of my schedule to perform an annual ritual; writing a 'letter of support' to the Shakti Foundation.

Back in 2003, I had the rare honor of playing keyboards and bass in a benefit concert organized by the Shakti Foundation entitled 'Miracle 2003.' The concert raised awareness and money for the cause of accessibility for the disabled population of Chennai, India; wheelchair access, elevators, and other such amenities that we take for granted here in the States are sorely lacking.

Headlining the concert were avant-garde guitarist and producer Michael Brook and mandolin virtuoso U. Srinivas--both outstanding musicians. Really, I was just there to back them up. The best way to describe the collaboration would be to declare it a world-music jam band; my job was just to provide some basic harmonic backup to let them do their soloing.

But wow, what a concert...and what an appreciative audience! I had a great time connecting with the fans and media (which I tend to like to do), and I think they rather liked me as well (in fact, the review of the concert in India's national paper, The Hindu, called me amicable and charming! Must have been the haircut...)

Since then, every year when they do their annual 'Miracle' concert, I've been writing a letter that they print in their program pledging my continued support to their cause. It's the least I can do, really....and frankly, I think it's important for musicians and artists to contribute to the greater social good, whether through the beauty of their works, or through championing causes and rallying the public (like the way that St. Bono does). There's just so much crap out there that adds nothing to the world, if you ask me. I yearn for the attitude towards music that was fostered in the 60s--the idea that music had the *responsibility* to be socially involved. But alas, my entire generation has been raised in a fog of apathy.


Friday, January 4, 2008

Two Deborah Dickson Documentaries

I never really mentioned this before, but over the course of the past four months I also somehow managed to score two feature-length documentaries for director Deborah Dickson. Deborah and I were introduced through a film editor, and she's a pretty fantastic director; the fact that she's been nominated for three Oscars for her other films should attest to that. This afternoon I put the final touches on the second of the two films, and so I thought I'd finally blog about them, as a little diversion from all the album-talk that's dominated over the past few months.

The first one is called Another Day In Paradise, and is executive produced by Mel Gibson and his company Icon Productions. It follows a six-month deployment of the USS Nimitz as it heads to the Persian Gulf in support of the war in Iraq. It's a great film; at once a character study of the men and women of the armed forces (and the lives of those they leave behind), and at the same time, an exploration of the role of an aircraft carrier in modern warfare (hint: it wasn't designed for ferreting out insurgents).

The second is called Witnesses To A Secret War, and chronicles the history of the Hmong of southeast Asia. During the Vietnam war, the US government recruited the Hmong people to wage a secret war by proxy against the Viet Cong; but when the US pulled out, they abandoned the Hmong to the persecution of the communist forces. Those that weren't killed immediately fled across the Mekong River into neighboring Thailand, where they lived in poverty in refugee camps. Eventually they were given the chance to relocate to the US. This film follows one such family as they leave their country--and its tragic past--and resettle in a land where they have a future.

Both films were recorded with the City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, which is one of the oldest of the low-budget session orchestras of Eastern Europe. The cost of recording with them is ridiculously affordable; and while they're not exactly a premiere orchestra, you still get a good bargain out of it. Their string sections seems to be their strong suit, which benefitted my 'Witnesses' score tremendously.