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Peter Gabriel and the Polar Music Prize

31 August, 2009; 16:38 1 comment

Peter Gabriel is one of this year’s winners of the Polar Music Prize, which was presented today at Grand Hôtel in Stockholm. In honor of the occasion, here’s a video of Peter Gabriel performing his song Games without Frontiers while riding a Segway Personal Transporter:

Other winners of this year’s Polar Music Prize were José Antonio Abreu, a Venezuelan pianist and music educator, along with his humanitarian organization El Sistema.

The Polar Music Prize, while not quite the Nobel, is still quite prestigious in the music world. It was founded by the late ABBA manager Stig Anderson. Like the Nobel prizes, the Polar Music Prizes are decided by a committee of Swedish “experts” in music, ranging widely in styles, traditions, and roles.

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Categories: awards, music

Pop Orchestra in the Cellar of the Stockholm School of Social Work

8 June, 2009; 17:42 Leave a comment

Sander Screencap One of the best things I’ve managed to get involved with since moving to Sweden is the Stockholm Academic Orchestra (click here for an English auto-translation), a group of about 30 amateur musicians that put on 4-5 concerts per year, usually renting out a little church in the south borough. Back in December, I found out through a work connection that they were fresh out of trombones, and I was looking for a new music project, so it came at the perfect time. What’s more, they were preparing to perform a piece by Sibelius, one of my favorite composers — his Violin Concerto.

Since then, we’ve had two formal concerts — first in February, the Sibelius violin concerto featuring a fantastic guest soloist, Sergei Bolkholvets, and then in May, a mix of Debussy, a concerto for bondeone by Piazzolla, and collaborations with four local pop musicians (AK von Malmborg, Mikael Sundin, Anna Järvinen, and some-time [ingenting] singer Christopher Sander). This is one of the great things about this orchestra: they have some deep and rich connections with musicians of all types across Stockholm, meaning that they can put on a show that mixes powerful traditional pieces with adventurous collaborations.

This past Friday we had a paid gig — playing a few pieces for the graduation ceremony of the Stockholm School of Social Work, including one of Christopher Sander’s songs from [ingenging], Bergochdalbanan (The Rollercoaster). Then afterward, the fun began: doing a video recording for one of Swedish Television’s online blogs of us backing up Christopher on Bergochdalbanan. If the weather hadn’t been so windy, we would have set up on the lawn outside of the School of Social Work, but instead we grabbed our instruments and sheet music and were led through a narrow door underneath the stairs, down another set of stairs into the cellar of the building. Then a right turn, through another door, and into a long corridor with grey concrete walls, fluorescent lighting, and pipes and wires lining the ceiling and left-hand wall, stretching all the way down the length of the building. This is where we were to play.

It took some time to get settled into positions that felt at least reasonably comfortable to play as a group — this was a far cry from the layout we were used to, and it takes a moment to put aside those habits of being near to certain instruments and far from others. Eventually the cellos were set up with some chairs, and we all found one way or another to place our sheet music within sight. As the videographers got their portable gear calibrated, we did our own calibrations — small groups of individuals playing a few bars from the song, or improvising a klezmer ditty, one way or another exploring the acoustics of this corridor. It was amazingly easy to hear each other — but afterall, the walls were very hard, and the corridor narrow, so where else would the sound go, but into each other’s ears? Then we started playing for real.

We did two takes. The song begins with an all-string introduction alternating between subdominant and dominant, next highlighted by some woodwind melodies, then with the brass up to a final dominant. It’s resolved by Christopher Sanders’s unamplified vocals in the verse, accompanied by his bandmate playing glockenspiel this time instead of the normal piano part. I actually don’t play much, but when I do play, it’s fun — basically a bass trombone part, providing the lower-end foundation during the powerful second refrain, so I get to really belt it out in the low range when the time is right. When I wasn’t playing, I was listening — and noticing that because of where I was standing, I was near instruments that I don’t normally hear so well — in particular, the cellos and the lead 2nd violin, playing some lovingly delivered counter-melodies and delicate pizzicatos. At the same time, with such effective acoustics, I could hear sounds from all the way down the corridor. The videographer made his way up and down, slowly weaving his way between us and somehow managing to catch some key instruments at the right time.

But if you’ve read this far, then why not see for yourself? SVT has uploaded the video to their blog, so just click here and check it out. Now you know the backstory on how we ended up in such an industrial setting. By the way, you can catch a glimpse of me hiding behind the double-bass — mostly, you can just see my slide.

Categories: music

Submarines of Stockholm

26 February, 2009; 22:27 Leave a comment

Vancouver band New Pornographers was in Stockholm at about this time last year to play at Debaser (great show, by the way!). I guess lead singer A.C. Newman must have had his creative juices flowing on his visit, because now his second solo album came out containing this track (mp3 file, courtesy of his record label).

Categories: music

Random Stockholm-Seattle Convergence of the Month

23 September, 2008; 20:33 Leave a comment

Every now and then something comes up that connects Stockholm and Seattle. This time it’s a band. Calling themselves First Aid Kit, two Swedish sisters, 15 and 17 years old, form a singing duo with acoustic guitar and piano, and they happen to cover recently-popular Seattle band Fleet Foxes‘ song “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song”.

The first crossover connection is the song. The second crossover is the fact that I just heard about this band for the first time last Friday from Swedish friends, then heard about them again today by Seattle’s best music zeitgeistists, Three Imaginary Girls. I’ll let them tell you more about First Aid Kit.

Categories: music

The Wisdom of Thom Yorke

10 December, 2007; 8:52 Leave a comment

Thom Yorke was interviewed by the New York Times, regarding his band Radiohead’s trailblazing decision to sell their newest album online for…well, for whatever you choose to pay, from zero to £99.99. Yorke showed that he knows more about traffic than many traffic engineers: when explaining why the band did this instead of signing a multi-million-dollar contract with a major record label, he said:

I mean, it’s tempting to have someone say to you, ‘You will never have to worry about money ever again,’ but no matter how much money someone gives you — what, you’re not going to spend it? You’re not going to find stupid ways to get rid of it? Of course you are. It’s like building roads and expecting there to be less traffic.

Not exactly true, but a lot closer to the truth than to say that building roads will get rid of traffic. It may actually be that Thom Yorke is something of a transportation geek, judging by the artwork from Radiohead’s 1997 album, OK Computer.

Categories: music, transport

The Illustrated Urban Life (with Music by Röyksopp)

23 November, 2007; 8:02 Leave a comment

A few days ago I marked this in my “recommended reading” feed, so you might have already checked it out. But it’s so good, it’s worth highlighting here. Beautifully addressing several minor fascinations of mine—urban environments, technical illustration, a keen wit, and fun Nordic electronic music—this music video follows the ordinary life of young woman in central London, where her context is illustrated by infographics such as orthographic drawings, electricity-grid maps, a water-cycle diagram, an Underground station diagram,…you get the picture…all designed by H5, a design studio in France that actually designs infographics for a living, mostly for advertisements. The video is well worth watching.

When Edward Tufte first published his wide-format, beautifully designed book “The Visual Illustration of Quantitative Data“, many people in academia thought, “why didn’t I think of doing that?”, yet it was Tufte who got rich off the idea. Now, I bet that Tufte would think the same thing while watching this video: “Why didn’t I think of that?”

(with a nod to the blog Digital Urban)

Categories: academic, music

Speaking of “S” Cities…

5 October, 2007; 15:39 Leave a comment

459.jpgI am working a bit late on a Friday…OK, not that late, but late enough to tune into KEXP (Seattle alternative radio) on the internet. Just five minutes in, a song came on that took me back across both space and time. Allow me to reminisce for a moment here: it was a warm spring day—must have been 1993—that I was eating lunch on the Quad at UC Davis, and a local Sacramento band set up to play the lunch hour in front of whatever students happened to be there. The band came on, and I was intrigued by them but not overly impressed. The sound system was pretty bad. But that didn’t matter for long…they were so dismayed by the unenthusiastic crowd that they packed up and left after only three songs.

Not long after, they played more of a proper concert, though again a free concert, at UC Davis’s annual spring festival, Picnic Day. This time I was impressed! They had a trumpet, which of course caught my attention, but it was an odd fit, playing in a flat style along with funk-style pop tunes on acoustic guitar and with a country-style lead singer. Anyway, to make a long story short, it wasn’t long before they made the big time. But they never got so big that you got too sick of them, so they’re still around (OK, maybe you got sick of them). I even saw them in concert just a few years ago, and their music seems to last.

I was reminded of all this because one of their very old songs came on the radio, one that they played back in 1993. I just had to marvel how that song has traveled through time and space from its origin in the early nineties in Sacramento, to a radio station in Seattle in 2007 that I just happen to be listening to in Stockholm.

Oh yeah, you must be wondering what band?

Read more…

Categories: music