Saturday, February 19, 2011

Random music notes from Istanbul

1. Turks love music. They love watching buskers on the street. They love singing as they walk down the street. They love listening to live music while they eat and drink. Many restaurants have musicians that will serenade the diners with traditional Turkish music. This tradition of having live musicians is not at all confined to fancy, upscale places like it is in most of the West.

2. Arcade Fire won a Grammy and massive fallout/bitching and complaining ensued. First, Enimem hardly got screwed over here, he'd won 10 Grammys before this year (after this week his total is 13) and that's a hell of a lot. Second, is there anybody over 40 who had never heard of Arcade Fire who watched their performance of "Month of May", tapped their toes, and thought "damn, I need to run out and get this album"? The band could have tried to make a huge TV audience happy, instead they tried to make their fans happy (caveat: I have no idea who actually chooses and/or approves the song selections for the Grammys ... if the band was so keen on doing "Month of May", would they have changed their minds if they thought they had a chance of winning? Or does that even matter?). To all the haters: you only WISH that your favourite bands would thumb their noses at the establishment like this.

3. I bought a couple of CD's of Turkish Jewish music at the gift shop of the Turkish Jewish Museum -- one disc of liturgical music and one of folk music in the classical Turkish style, with lyrics in Ladino. The liturgical music (performed by the Yako Taragano Synagogue Hymns Choir) is a nice listen but I don't find it particularly moving, which tends to be the case with me and just about all Sephardic liturgical melodies. I guess it depends on whether you prefer Middle Eastern or European music in general. "Yigdal" is featured on the CD, which isn't too surprising since it's the "Yesterday" of Jewish liturgical music.

However the secular CD, recorded by Los Pasaros Sefaradis, is a joy to listen to. All the band members have been involved in theatre and music performance for over 30 years, and when they say they're leading the charge to preserve classical Judeo-Turkish musical traditions, I believe it.

4. The new Radiohead album "The King of Limbs" happened to be released on a day when I was trying to unwind from a busy week. I was catching some R&R and the entire album got posted to Youtube almost instantaneously so I figured what the hell. But first, I watched the video for "Lotus Flower". And what a horribly pretentious video it is. Thom Yorke doing modern dance and twisting his body and flapping his arms for five minutes? What the fuck? And let's not even get started on how sonically, they're ripping off stuff that Warp and Too Pure were releasing in the mid-90's. Didn't Appliance and Moonshake already record this song a thousand different ways 10-15 years ago? And you know what else is pretentious about "Lotus Flower"? The fact that it's called "Lotus Flower". Good god.

Can you believe that I still listened to the album after seeing that video? And you know what -- it's good. It's really good. Even "Lotus Flower" sounds better in context. Even "Give Up the Ghost", which could have been a shlocky electronica-country experiment gone disastrously wrong, is really affecting. Comparisons to krautrock and Talking Heads' "Remain In Light" are spot on, as Radiohead have finally figured out how to jam not in a "Live at Red Rocks" sort of way. This is also what happens when they try to capture the spirit of Brian Eno (both the rock and ambient sides) without literally copying him like they did on "Kid A".

5. I was looking forward to a real Turkish live music experience when I went to see Pantha du Prince perform live last night at the Babylon club. Unfortunately, the club felt more packed with foreigners than with actual Turkish techno fans. Not only that, this particular group of foreigners seemed to be incapable of doing the basic things expected of fans at gigs, like standing still for more than ten seconds and watching the gig without having to push to the front or head to the bar, or even staying in the venue until the show was over. Opening act Onor Bumbum didn't do anybody any favours with their drab impression of the Junior Boys either. And the club management didn't do itself any favours by not wiring up the building properly (there were two power failures, one for the opener and one for the headliner ... and the sound was no great shakes either, as the speakers couldn't handle the low-end bass at appreciable volumes).

Pantha du Prince really was wonderful though. Focusing on material from his most recent album "Black Noise", he made the best of an imperfect environment.

One more:

6. "I Walk the Line" was on TV in my hotel, and every time somebody took a drag from a cigarette in the movie, the cigarette was blurred out. The smoke itself wasn't censored, just the physical act of inhaling from the cigarette. Are there regulations about "showing" smoking on Turkish TV or something? Because if so, it's a totally ridiculous rule. It's like the blurring of genitalia in Japanese porn ... why? Is there any possible confusion about what could be happening in the scene? It's obviously OK to show tits and moaning and people drinking and exhaling smoke and chugging pills and all the other indecencies in the picture, so why not show everything?

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