I’m a real barrel of laughs right around now.
YURA YURA TEIKOKU
(“Floating Empire” or “The Wobbling Empire,” depending on your translator)
1989 - 2010
Only this morning did I find out that the world’s greatest garage-rock trio of the late 90s/2000s decided to split up last year. (I’d been hoping for a new album soon, and so was aimlessly googling in order to ferret out the latest news.)
You could see how frontman Sakamoto Shintaro had a bit of that uber-caffeinated, Little Richard-style energy in him, when, at the opening of a noise-garage solo, his legs would start trying to dance him in different directions — and he’d just split the difference by scissoring himself into the air. It happens at the 1:30 mark in this video (and again, more impressively, at 3:07):
But Sakamoto’s splits-doing, saucy hands-on-hip posing and balancing-on-one-foot-while-twirling were just the bonus fun. The band actually wrote songs. I don’t know any Japanese at all, but my brain thinks I know how to sing their kinda-sorta theme song “Thinking in the Wobbling Empire.”
When I witnessed the Yura Yura Teikoku experience for myself at Music Hall of Williamsburg in 2009, I was surprised to see how the almost 100% Japanese audience had been constructed out of more than pure “hipster” demographics; it looked as though expat crews from NYC’s financial institutions and other less avant-inclined industries were quite solidly represented. Most everyone was singing along or screaming with delight, which is another way of saying they were big in Japan.
As tends to happen with international acts that develop laggard U.S. followings/distribution, the albums most readily available over here aren’t Teikoku’s best. The Yo La Tengo-pimped “Sweet Spot” is fine, but plays with static jamminess in a way that’s not totally convincing. (Twenty years on, Teikoku were clearly getting a little bored of their long-perfected shtick.) Same goes for the DFA-issued “Hollow Me / Beautiful.” So, while both of those records are worth hearing, if you wanna get into YYT (and by that I mean, “if you want to start skittering across your bedroom floor while playing air-guitar”), search online for “Me No Car” and “3X3X3,” both of which are just about perfect. (The links aren’t hard to find.) RIP, boys.
“[T]he strongest scene proved to be the opera’s climax, ‘High Times for Chorus and Orchestra.’ (The word ‘Hochzeiten’ in German means ‘weddings’ but can also be read as ‘high times.’) And yet the scene is actually two connected scenes, since it is played twice by five small chorus groups and five small orchestral ensembles (all playing in different tempi). The choral and orchestral forces are segregated into different auditoriums. And in each hall, seven “inserts” — or weddings — of music from the neighboring auditorium are achieved via a live relay, piped in through loudspeakers. The audience is divided between the two forces, then during intermission changes halls to hear the music from the other sonic vantage.”
Or: How the Washington Post sponsored my dream vacation in Germany, more or less.
When I go to foreign countries to report on things, it’s big international news.
[Apparently I told the journalist for Express: “Die Aufführung einer Stockhausen-Oper ist für abenteuerlustige Musikliebhaber in den USA eine große Neuigkeit.”]
John Cage - Water Walk
“Inevitably, Mr. Cage, these are nice people but some of them are going to laugh. Is that alright?”
“I consider laughter preferable to tears.”
Auto-John Cage reblog. Also: I love archival TV examples from the period before mass culture was so obsessively figured out and gridded that things like this could still happen.
“Put All Your Eggs in One Basket and Then Watch That Basket!!”
My review of Marnie’s original demo tape, which has been commercially released as a small-run cassette and includes the original recording of this song, is up on Pitchfork today. The grade does not reflect my opinion of the songs themselves, only the demo release which I think is pretty unnecessary. Anyway, this is the song that sold me on her music when I first heard her debut album a few years ago. This is what I wrote about it in 2007:
It sounds like a band tumbling down a flight of stairs or a girly punk band fighting a wind storm, but lately, this is the song I put on when I want to feel calm. It’s like being in the eye of a hurricane, maybe. Stern’s arrangements are like meticulously crafted chaos — it spins around you, pulls you in every direction, but even when it feels like disorienting madness, there’s comfort and safety in the knowledge that every moment is organized and under control.
Smart stuff — but I think I want the Zach Hill-less and all-Marnie versions of some of those songs!
Good show, you guys! The second act of Nixon in China was honestly the most glorious thing I have ever seen on stage. (Whispery bit: Don’t tell Seth Colter Walls I snoozed a little bit during the third act. I blame the two Manhattans I had before the show. But honestly, if the cast got to lay down on cots, who says I couldn’t doze off after the third hour?)
All is forgiven, Coates. Glad you dug Opera Experience #2. And yeah: the range of emotional/stage dynamics in Act 2 — from Pat Nixon’s contemplative aria to the sublime + surreal violence of the Mark Morris-choreographed, Madame Mao ballet — makes for one of the best standalone hours of music-drama EVAR.
Everyone: you’ve got one last chance to catch Nixon at the Met, this Saturday at 8pm. Standing room tix priced as low as $27 (all internet fees included) will go on sale on at the Met’s website this Saturday morning at 10am. Movie theaters across the country will repeat the live-HD performance from the other weekend on March 2nd. (See the Awl piece from the other day for those details.)
Things to think about during SNL tonight.
Nixon in China, Act 1/Scene 1: Beginning
Not quite yet willing to give up, I secured tickets to last Saturday’s Nixon in China at the Met. After a cursory review of YouTube clips, I thought it looked sharp, engaging and timely/ish (and in English!), but the whole operaness of it still turned me off. Not wanting to again be disappointed, I suppressed the hope that this would finally be the one. And yet, from the moment composer and conductor John Adams started to lead the orchestra in the Act One Overture, something jostled violently within me. The tears started less than thirty seconds in, and I knew this was indeed The One.
The curtain rose halfway to reveal the chorus just standing there, staring at us. A group of forty or so characters dressed in various statures of costumes: peasant, soldier, officer, nurse. All just staring at us, indicting us, begging us. The music, so anxious, full of anticipation and foreboding—like water held just below a boil, in which nothing quite happens but everything is about to happen—would repeat, repeat, repeat, change just a little, then repeat, repeat, repeat, etc. Very meditative and trance-like. All the while, the chorus is still just staring. Not moving, not singing, just staring. Compelled by unconscious compulsion, I leaned further and further forward in my seat, God! Something happen! But nothing did, and my mind scrambled to fill in the silence, as if the music would have induced insanity had it not.
And still, the people were just staring. Who were they? A heaviness washed over me, the humility and pain of knowing there’s so much in the world to know and I won’t even begin to ever know more than a tiny tiny slice of it. (Is there any realization so painful? It’s a fairly regular feeling but never this strong or this dramatic.) Now, I know next to nothing about China or Chinese history. Last month’s NYRB reviewed “Mao’s Great Famine” [Ed. I know! Even I’m like STFU about the NYRB, Mac!] detailing the horrendous effects of the Great Leap Forward. All news to me! Which ashamed me when I read it. The chorus then became ghosts of those 45 million Chinese who died, damning indictments of my lack of knowledge. Then, suddenly, they transformed into the billions of Chinese citizens currently working feverishly, industriously, mechanically, creating This Century’s Empire™, our new landlord. And then, finally, they opened their mouths. It was too much. Less than ten minutes into the performance, I knew Nixon in China had me, and all I had to do was let it, let it in. It was that feeling I’ve been so desperately wanting from opera, finally realized: a display of brutal beauty and bloody brilliance, something more.
And I won’t lie: it was also a very much quasi-religious experience, the type of feeling I had been searching for those years ago at church. I’m off to see the Live in HD performance in a movie theater today and in preparation have been listening to the recording while following along in the libretto (which, btw, might as well be written in Latin!). I’ll try to share more thoughts at some point in the future that are decidedly less emo and more focused on the content, staging, musical structure, production history, etc, as well as my new and evolving comprehension and appreciation for opera as an art form, but I can’t promise anything. My brain simply has a hard time not being led by my heart.
Auto-Nixon in China-reblog. Auto-Team Opera-reblog. Auto-Being Open to New Cultural Experiences reblog. (Read the whole post.)
Because I figured you needed a piece of hardcore “chance music” to kill off the rest of your workday.