Avant garde musician and visual artist Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, has died aged 69.
Flight of the Conchords are back ....with a cameo in the new season of The Simpsons.
A few preview clips here
MEN Arena, Manchester
With new album Death Magnetic showing a return to form after the below-par St. Anger, well documented in the film Some Kind Of Monster, I was keen to finally see Metallica live – having first heard them on record in 1988. They haven’t played in Manchester for 13 years, and have recently only played festival dates in the UK.
We're running late. Afraid that we'd missed the opening of their set, we'd walked briskly through Manchester's rain-soaked centre. Luckily, we hadn't missed anything, except the support act. Just time to try to find our seats, when the familiar tune of Ennio Morricone's Ecstasy Of Gold (from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly) began - the full-capacity crowd cheered and sang along in unison.
And they’re off. The first track is from Death Magnetic, it’s performed in almost complete darkness apart from a laser-fest. We can’t really see anything except for the drums, but we can hear it – it’s loud. Ribcage-rattling loud. In to the second song, also off the new album, and the lights are up. We can see them, finally.
The first thing that struck me was that there were no video screens. But it didn’t matter: Metallica perform in-the-round, which in an arena really means that you can see them even if you’re up in the rafters. James Hetfield flits between eight mic stations dotted around the stage, singing to each corner of the crowd. Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo also use each of the stations to perform backing vocals and stunt guitar solos. Lars Ulrich’s drums are in the middle on a circular riser that is turned to face the four sides of the venue throughout the set.
It’s a pretty serious Metal affair – plenty of running around; marathon songs with numerous time signature changes and an endless supply of riffs; rock-out endings that step up a notch from an already speedy tempo; pyrotechnics; hammy theatrics. As polished as you’d expect from a band that’s been playing this stuff for 28 years. But the overall mood is quite cheerful, joyous even. There’s something quite primeval about the riffs, the chugging guitars and thrashing drums. It’s almost as if you can’t help but to nod your head.
There are moments of levity and self-awareness however. Hetfield asks the crowd if any of them have the new album, ‘with the little coffin on it? … It’s supposed to be a coffin...’ The lighting rig previously high above the stage at one point lowers and is revealed to be four coffin-shaped boxes. During the encore, at a stage where you’re thinking there can’t possibly be more, hundreds of black (what else?) Metallica beach balls fall out of the sky. It’s like they’re out-Tapping Tap. It does look like they are having fun too.
The sound was far too bass-heavy, which was a real shame: you couldn’t actually hear Trujillo’s bass guitar for Lars’s bass drums and the slightly too chuggy guitar sound. So for that reason only 4 out of 5 because it spoiled the music a little.
Highlights for me in the 2-hour set were For Whom The Bell Tolls, Enter Sandman, and a blistering rendition of One. They change the set each night they play, so it’s by no means guaranteed that they’ll play your favourite track, with a few exceptions. Their set consists mainly of classic tracks and it’s a testament to their return to form that the new stuff sits comfortably next to those, sounding, well, classic.
Read more 4 star reviews
That Was Just Your Life - [Death Magnetic, 2008]
The End Of The Line - [Death Magnetic]
For Whom the Bell tolls - [Ride The Lightning, 1984]
Wherever I May Roam - [Metallica, 1991. aka The Black Album]
One - [...And Justice For All, 1988]
Broken, Beat And Scarred - [Death Magnetic]
Cyanide - [Death Magnetic]
Sad But True - [Metallica]
Turn The Page - [Garage Inc., 1998; cover of Bob Seger song]
The Judas Kiss - [Death Magnetic]
The Day That Never Comes - [Death Magnetic]
Master Of Puppets - [Master of Puppets, 1986]
Blackened [...And Justice For All]
Nothing Else Matters - [Metallica]
Enter Sandman - [Metallica]
- - - - - - - -
Blitzkrieg - [Garage Inc.; cover of Blitzgrieg song]
The Prince - [Garage Inc.; cover of Diamond Head song]
Seek and Destroy - [Kill 'Em All, 1983]
Nice little documentary on the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Mark Ayres, who worked for the Workshop in its last days interviews Dick Mills, one of the original members who produced the sounds for Doctor Who and other programmes.
Using synthesizers such as the VCS 3 and the briefcase version the Synthi, as well as boiler tanks, lamp shades and other found objects, they demonstrate some of the techniques used to make the sounds.
Many chimps will remember the website Blackle claiming to save energy by using a black background, rather than the white of Google.
The helpful boffins at ZDNet have made a video that examines this claim.
In further Green News, a new search engine ( ........ ) has been launched that aims to combat climate change. Using Yahoo! technology to drive the searches, Ecocho will plant 2 trees for every 1000 searches carried out via the site.
Google has added some themes by 'world-class artists' such as Rolf Harris, Ronnie Wood and Coldplay. They also have work by Jeff Koons (shown above).
Other Artists' work includes that of popular beat combo the Beastie Boys, Kung Fu legend Jackie Chan and designer Philippe Starck.
Never quite got the point of having a personalised Google homepage.
The ubiquitous Mark E Smith was on BBC Radio 4's Front Row being interviewed by Mark Lawson last night (Monday). He talks about his recent autobiography, Renegade: The Lives And Tales Of Mark E Smith, and whether he said that he hoped it would be, 'the Mein Kampf for the Hollyoaks generation'.
You can listen again to the programme here
the feature starts at around 15'40"
It is often said that given enough time, a Chimp could write the works of Shakespeare - usually by people talking about the probability of something unlikely. What they didn't focus on was that a chimp might write a book.
on BBC Radio 4 Arts programme Front Row this evening, John Wilson spoke to Thom Yorke and Ed O'Brien of Radiohead about their recent album
Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) composer, electronic music pioneer died on the 5th December.
Gibson launched a self-tuning guitar today.
It's fairly ugly, but it'll always be perfectly in tune - several tuning options too
Since readers of Chimpomatic probably don't follow R Kelly's epic single-chord soap 'Hip-Hopera', Trapped in the Closet, they mightn't have noticed that Bonnie 'Prince' Billy makes an appearance in Chapter 15 - as a cop.
Chapter 15 - he appears at 4:50, if you can't stand the wait
From next March, we'll no longer be able to make our own Warhols at home with cans of tinned soup in the UK, as the company that makes it here had a limited licence to the brand name. Instead it will be called 'Batchelors Condensed Soup'.
Caught this on Radio 4 yesterday, it goes some way to explain Elvis Presley's true role in the Cold War. Thoroughly baffling at times, it also explains the entire history of decadent western popular music.
well worth a 'listen again' (available for one week)
Radio 4 Afternoon Play
Rick Rubin on Radio 4 today (and repeated on Saturday 4th August) talking about his collaboration with Johnny Cash.
Should be available on listen again too.
Palace Theatre, Manchester
The flagship event of the Manchester International Festival is an ambitious one: An opera with music by Damon Albarn, designs by Jamie Hewlett and direction by Chen Shi-Zheng entirely in Mandarin. The two-hour work involves a cast of 45-odd martial artists, acrobats and singers - and in the case of Fei Yang, who plays Monkey, often all three simultaneously.
The event is nothing short of spectacular. The opening sequence, with animations by Hewlett, which deals with Monkey's birth (hatched from a giant egg, which was expelled from a great stone) is perfectly coordinated with the live music. Later in the scene, which switches effortlessly to the live players, Monkey with other monkeys climbs up the bamboo trees - which is reminiscent of the scenes in Crouching Tiger and Flying Daggers, except that these people are really doing it.
The story, which many chimps will be familiar with, is a Chinese classic. Monkey is obsessed with seeking immortality and magical power, and travels over continents to find a teacher. He eventually finds Subodhi, a Taoist master, who teaches him how to fly on a magical cloud that can carry him on great distances, and the art of transforming himself into anything he wants.
He then dives into the Eastern Sea and finds the Old Dragon King to whom he boasts of his prowess and requests a weapon to equal his ability. The King gives him the magical iron rod, which can change from the size of a needle to the size of a mountain, and is so powerful it holds down the ocean floor.
Monkey travels to Heaven to demand recognition of his power, and gate crashes a birthday party for the Queen Mother of Heaven. Incensed that he was not invited along with gods and sages, he wreaks havoc - eating all of the heavenly peaches, each of which takes 9000 years to ripen and bestows an extra thousand years of life. He fights with all of the gods and sages, winning every battle, and proclaims himself a Great Sage Equal to Heaven. The Queen Mother of Heaven eventually pleads with the Great Buddha to step in to get the Monkey King under control. Monkey is imprisoned under the palm of Buddha.
Five hundred years later, the Buddha sends the goddess Guan Yin to find a believer to journey to India to bring the Holy Scriptures to China. She chooses Hsuang-tsang, a handsome, devout Buddhist monk and gives him the name Tripitaka after the Scriptures themselves. Guan Yin enlists Monkey to protect Tripitaka and they embark on their journey, finding Pigsy and Sandy on their way and offering them the chance of redemption in return for their service. They encounter many adventures and obstacles on their Journey to the West.
The text, which alternates between spoken word and song is delivered entirely in Mandarin, the inclusion of subtitles which are hard to read due to the heads of the people in front, help only a little. Surtitles wouldn't have worked here either, since the theatre has a huge amount of restricted-view seating. That aside the story is easy to follow, and it is often the case in opera, even those sung in English, that you cannot hear the words.
The sound-world is exotic and far from conventional. The orchestra consists of some western instruments - 2 violins, cello, trumpet, trombones, tuba and percussion - as well as instruments from China such as the Pipa, Zhongruan and Zheng, which are all string instruments. Damon Albarn also includes a substantial amount of electronics, including an Ondes Martenot (as used extensively by Jonny Greenwood), and keyboards. Also in the pit are 9 singers who contribute to the overall sound, often wordlessly. All of the music is amplified too, which adds a further dimension to the sound. The entire opera is held together by the young conductor André de Ridder, who can be seen cueing the singers on stage - often whilst they are suspended mid-air, mid-flight and mid-fight.
The music is a mixture of Ennio Morricone (particularly Farewell to Cheyenne, from Once Upon a Time in the West), Philip Glass (circa Koyaanisqatsi), and Tibetan Buddhist chant. Albarn manages also to avoid writing music that sounds Chinese, whilst simultaneously doing exactly that. His gift for melody and riff-making are also pleasingly evident here.
Taken as a whole, then, this opera does what opera should do at its best - it entirely captivates for the duration of the show. I was completely caught up in the story, the music, the animation and the action on stage. I couldn't help thinking though, whether this opera was successful because of the huge spectacle, and if the lavish production was stripped away it would be as impressive. It is certainly as big a production as those found at the Met in New York, or the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.
Rumour has it that the production will be transferred to London at some point. It moves to the Théâtre du Chatelet in Paris from late September. I saw cinematographer Christopher Doyle after the show, perhaps he will be making a DVD of this run. Definitely worth seeing.