Sniff My Pits!

We’ve all been there…

joshua-bell-cmyk2

Two hours in a suit or gown, the stage lights radiating down with the heat of a thousand suns as you tear through a Presto movement. The lateral blast of the air conditioning creates a frigid ring at your collar, the wet blooming outward with every passing measure. Ticklish beads of sweat scurry down from the under-arm toward the culvert at the belt line.

As you stand for the final bow, you consider the options for greeting friends and fans in the lobby. The old elbows-planted-at-the-waist hug? A quick change of shirt? Did you bring an extra shirt? 

This inevitable performer’s scenario has taken me through pretty much every deodorant and antiperspirant available to humanity. From the voodoo pastes (looking at you, Lush) to the Nordic crystals to the chemical slurry at the pharmacy. I’ve tried them all…even that pore solder that is sold to brides-to-be that comes with all the terrifying warnings of death, despair and disease on the back.

The thing is, you can stuff your skin full of aluminum and sweat a little less, but I don’t need a double-blind, peer-reviewed study to infer that this approach may cause my armpits to go all RoboCop.

The good news is I’ve found a product that doesn’t lance your pores with metal chips, smells fantastic and minimizes packaging waste. I give you: Life Stinks Deodorant

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

The little glass tube you see is the oil, which goes on first, is light and won’t stain your clothes, I promise. You rub a tiny amount on your fingertips and apply. Then comes the powder, which you can buy in a small plastic dispenser (I use it for travel), or the larger metal container with the screen on top. The benefit of the latter is that it is refillable, cutting WAY down on waste. Just fill the dispenser from the bag, shake a bit on your palm and pat under your arms. It takes exactly one go-around with this process to get used to the old-fashioned powder method and forget all about roll-ons.

 

So now the benefits:

    1. This stuff smells fantastic. I love the cedar version, but the lavender is great too.
    2. I stay drier longer. 
    3. Even though I will eventually sweat, especially under those stage lights, I never get to that funky odor place because of the combo of the oil and powder.
    4. My shirts are lasting longer because there isn’t a white paste build-up from antiperspirant.
    5. I can give you a real hug, elbows unencumbered, after the show.
    6. It’s a natural product, and won’t plug your pores with aluminum.

This is an awfully long post about deodorant, but it took me decades to find my holy grail unicorn of underarm delights. I hope it helps you, fellow performer, and that all your future shows are funky for the right reasons.

Old Man and the C cheats on his Dr. Beat

It's been a little while since I dropped some music gear recommendations on you, but trust me on this...this one is well worth the wait!

I remember being ecstatic when metronome apps first started surfacing on iOS, and then quickly realizing that I needed to play everything ppppp with it if I stood any chance of actually hearing the click. Even some of the more robust metronomes (in terms of custom subdivisions) like Metronomics are essentially useless in an ensemble setting because they are about as audible as:

Marcel

So the options are, 1) cart around a Dr. Beat DB-90 and its requisite power adapter or 2) plug the iPhone into an existing stereo system or speaker and be constantly bending over or running across the room to adjust settings and turn it on/off. Both options are lousy.

Then it hit me: Bluetooth speaker, son!

I had ignored these when they were first introduced because of their dubious audio quality, but for a metronome, this strident mono sound would be perfect. After much deliberation, I decided on the TekNmotion Air Capsule because it pumps out good volume and (full aesthetic disclosure), it is housed in sexy brushed aluminum. It's small enough to fit in my messenger bag, isn't tethered by any cabling (BT connection to my iPhone) and runs for days on an internal rechargeable battery. This thing is changing my musical life, for real, and it doubles as a hands-free device in the car. While it isn't loud enough for a string quartet going full-tilt fffff, it is more than enough for most sonic scenarios. If you want even more decibels, some of these speakers can be daisy-chained (TekNmotion cannot).

Now, your metronome app of choice is ready for business and your phone can remain on the stand with you. Time to go get groovy...

Processed with VSCOcam with f1 preset

 

Old Man and the C cheats on his Dr. Beat

It's been a little while since I dropped some music gear recommendations on you, but trust me on this...this one is well worth the wait!

I remember being ecstatic when metronome apps first started surfacing on iOS, and then quickly realizing that I needed to play everything ppppp with it if I stood any chance of actually hearing the click. Even some of the more robust metronomes (in terms of custom subdivisions) like Metronomics are essentially useless in an ensemble setting because they are about as audible as:

Marcel

So the options are, 1) cart around a Dr. Beat DB-90 and its requisite power adapter or 2) plug the iPhone into an existing stereo system or speaker and be constantly bending over or running across the room to adjust settings and turn it on/off. Both options are lousy.

Then it hit me: Bluetooth speaker, son!

I had ignored these when they were first introduced because of their dubious audio quality, but for a metronome, this strident mono sound would be perfect. After much deliberation, I decided on the TekNmotion Air Capsule because it pumps out good volume and (full aesthetic disclosure), it is housed in sexy brushed aluminum. It's small enough to fit in my messenger bag, isn't tethered by any cabling (BT connection to my iPhone) and runs for days on an internal rechargeable battery. This thing is changing my musical life, for real, and it doubles as a hands-free device in the car. While it isn't loud enough for a string quartet going full-tilt fffff, it is more than enough for most sonic scenarios. If you want even more decibels, some of these speakers can be daisy-chained (TekNmotion cannot).

Now, your metronome app of choice is ready for business and your phone can remain on the stand with you. Time to go get groovy...

Processed with VSCOcam with f1 preset

 

Old Man and the NostalgiC

In writing up the press materials for our upcoming Sampler Pack concert on August 31st, I've found myself referring to Britten's Three Divertimenti as "pop-music-posing-as-classical." As a music writer doing daily battle with reductive genre labels, this hyphenated moniker is a little cheap on my part, and when it comes down to it, only applies to the second movement Waltz.
 
In any case, "pop" is not a pejorative term in my world. While studying this piece, I've been continually astounded by the simplicity and ear-worm-iness of each melody. Where it becomes distinctly Britten is in the sterling orchestration, clarity of the primary voice, and of course, the occasional gnarly harmonic breakdown. What struck me when I first heard the Waltz, though, was how perfectly this innocent tune would slip into pretty much any Wes Anderson film ever. Like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums or Moonrise Kingdom, the naiveté of adults and children alike is thrown into stark contrast with the often cold realities of life. 
 
During an early rehearsal of the Waltz, Aurelien commented that the music evoked for him the picture of a young girl who, while twirling about, has tiny glimpses of future hardships. Shifting harmonies that lead back to the theme and a mid-movement agitato/con fuoco passage are the broken hearts here. There is something about 3/4 time signatures that stirs the nostalgic, the wistful and the unblemished in us. Perhaps it is because it's the first style we learn in ballroom dance class. We all did cotillion, right? Right? Oh boy…
 
Not all 3/4 tunes are waltzes, but that fact notwithstanding, there's something about 3/4 and 6/8 that is perfectly situated for a pop ballad. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
 
Metallica - Nothing Else Matters
 
Elliott Smith - Waltz #2
 
These songs instantly shift me into the bliss of nostalgia, and in each, the charm of the meter and the melancholy of the lyrics create a compelling dichotomy. The same can be said for Britten, and before I get completely lost down this rabbit hole, here's what you're in for on the 31st:
 

Old Man and the C: Live at the Hide-opolis

Remember our end-of-the-year party at High Concept Labs last June? What you probably didn't know is that the power went out on half of Wabansia Ave just hours before you showed up. Across the street, the folks at the Hideout were scrambling to figure out what to do with the sizable crowds queueing up for its Just For Laughs Festival (and acts like W Kamau Bell, Pete Holmes and Brody Stevens) that very same evening. The Hideout pleaded with us to use the downstairs space at HCL and I immediately envisioned the Andante movement of Beethoven's Op. 59 No. 3 with Reggie Watts's dulcet ballad, F**k S**t Stack, wafting up through the floorboards. Short story long, we offered to help them out (don't worry, the power came back on prior to show time) and Hideout owner Tim Tuten offered us a slot in his 2013 season lineup…which we are cashing in on this Saturday.

Personally, I couldn't be more excited to play this joint. The Hideout is intimate, the stage is low and inviting, the crowd open-eared and the drinks silly cheap. If there is any question how much I love this venue, might I direct you to one of the photo locations from my wedding in 2011:

This house-shaped club isn't really a secret in Chicago, but sitting as it does in the middle of a public works campus, fans have made an effort to be there, and the riff raff is minimal or non-existent. It's played host to some outstanding talent, such as:

(get ready for some QUALITY audio, folks…)

Glen Hansard

Jeff Tweedy

Shellac

CAVE

The Fiery Furnaces

Jay Reatard

Alabama Shakes

Spektral can't wait to get the sounds of Alex Temple, Steve Gorbos, Ben Hjertmann, Liza White, Francisco Castillo Trigueros, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Verdi inside these hallowed walls. Make sure you come up and say hi after the show…or during the show for that matter. See you on Saturday!

Old Man and The C: Free Hugs

Humans of Earth,

What a week. What a terrible, horrible, very bad, no good week. I prefer The Onion's take on the conclusion to the Boston manhunt: 

It's times like this when I feel fortunate to be a musician; to have an artistic outlet for confusion and rage and despair and hope. I watched this tragedy unfold from a distance here in Chicago, and I don't mean to make any part of it about me (because it sure as hell isn't). I can't pretend to know what it must be like to have one's life indelibly transformed by the loss of mobility, or the death of a loved one to such an unfathomable disaster. A magnified sense of vulnerability is something we all share, though, and today I'd like to express how much I value all of you. 

To my wife and my family: I love you and thank you for fostering this crazy dream of playing music for a living.

To the Spektral fans: chatting, laughing and nerding-out with you at our shows is really what makes every performance inspiring for me.

To my musician friends: thank you for making Chicago the unstoppable sonic engine that it is. 

To my composer friends: thank you for making each day of rehearsal hair-pulling-ly challenging and artistically exhilarating. 

We're headed back into the recording studio (two down, four to go) these next couple months, but we hope to hear from you soon. Just don't be alarmed if I hug you a little tighter when I see you next.

Stay safe everybody,

Doyle

Old Man and the C-arter

This week, Spektral gives its first-ever performance of Elliott Carter's String Quartet No. 2 at the National Pastime Theater. I've now had two separate incidents of someone asking me if we decided to play this monumental work after learning of Carter's death. I only wish I traveled with the score, so as to quickly (and passive-aggressively) answer their query. Unpacking this piece, with all it's hocket-ed composite rhythms and wickedly-challenging passagework, has been an experience equally frustrating and gratifying for us. This is Carter, though. That's what HE DOES.

The title of the show is a quote from the man himself, that reads: "An auditory scenario for the players to act out with their instruments." It is not specifically tied to Quartet No. 2, but it closely parallels the individuality of each part, or character, around which Carter wrote this score. Aurelien's imaginative synopsis of the "plot" will be included in the program, and each of us will offer descriptions from the stage of who we feel our character is. 

I thought I'd preempt Wednesday's show by giving you my (unauthorized by my quartet-mates) film analogies to these personalities. The concert is BYOB, so with enough rye in your flask, these will make perfect sense…

Austin: 

 

Aurelien: 

Doyle: 

 

Russ:

Tickets are $5 cheaper in advance. See you on Wednesday!

Old Man and the C: Familiar Territory

 
Soon after Spektral cracked its first six-pack, reading through quartets and wondering if we wanted to gallop off chasing windmills, we decided that taking this particular brand of music into unexpected locales was a must. We would head to a bar after our shows. Our audience heads to a bar after shows. Why not save us all a bit of shoe leather? And so the Sampler Pack tradition was born. We'd start each season with a single-movement and short piece menu at one of our favorite haunts, The Empty Bottle.
 
Prior to our third time packing the Bottle mid-week, I was approached by the venue's owner to inquire whether or not I'd like to curate a new-music series there. Chicago has no shortage of new-music ensembles, and most are looking to add dates to their schedules, so of course I replied with an Omar Little-ian: "InDEED!" And now Chicago may add The (Un)familiar Music Series to its roster, with yours truly selecting the talent.
 
 
The second installment of (Un)familiar arrived on Oct 24th, with Fischoff Chamber Music Competition gold-medal-winners The City of Tomorrow.
 
 
Featuring Chicago's own Andrew Nogal on oboe, this new-music-evangelizing woodwind quintet had the dubious distinction of being an early-adopter of a brand-spanking-new endeavor, so the crowd was unsurprisingly diminutive. Gainesville, FL rockers Levek, who held the late slot that night, made up the front row of the audience, and were the most vocal about their post-show love of Berio, Salonen and Lang.
 
City of Tomorrow cross-pollinating with Levek
 
Esa-Pekka Salonen: "Memoria"
 
Taking a cue from Spektral's approach to playing to new faces at the Bottle, COT interjected anecdotes from its tour, the best of which revolved around David Lang's minimalist quintet, "Breathless." A woman had approached the band after a recent show to express her admiration of the music-making, but soon went long in the face and admonished them never, ever to play the Lang in public again. The piece can be confrontational for the audience in its loquacious unison and octave repetitions, and the tale drew laughs from the crowd, but the story reminded me of why it is so important for us new-music junkies to get these scores out of the concert hall on occasion. Even a negative response is a response, and chances are quite good that a large quotient of the uninitiated in a bar setting won't hear this music unless we drag Manhassets in and perform like our lives depend on it. Which they do.
 
 
"David Lang: "Breathless"
 
City of Tomorrow played magnificently on their (Un)familiar debut, and more than a few attendees were introduced to the awesomesauce of Luciano Berio with the band's delivery of "Ricorrenze."
 
Andrew Nogal (oboe) and Elise Blatchford (flute)
 
There are four more (Un)familiar shows coming up this year, including our next offering with Chicago Q Ensemble on Feb. 13th. Do yourself a favor. Pony up some small bills, get your hand stamped, grab a beer at the bar and find out just what Spektral has gotten stirred up in our fair city.
 

Nice (W)rig(ley)

This is Wrigley. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Wrigley is the Woody Allen of the dog world: charming but anxiety-ridden. He will, however, gladly sit and listen (one ear up - one ear down) to the dulcet tones of disembodied Berio and Carter viola parts as I dissect them. Until such time (i.e. every 6-7 minutes) as he needs some attention, at which point he nudges my bow-arm elbow with conviction and an impossible-to-ignore grin. Wrigley also occassionaly likes to rehearse his favorite scenes from Logan's Run, suddenly tearing across the room with little to no warning.
 
Tethered to the AC-adapter as it is, I've found the Boss DB-90 metronome to be a resilient piece of equipment during these escapades, when the aforementioned cord attempts to thwart our hero. 
 
A trip to the local, independent guitar shop produced a solution that not only answered the dog issue, but also solved the irritating problem of metronome placement. On the stand, it blocks the music. On the desk or table, it is often not percussive enough (for Berio, anyway) and cumbersome to adjust.
 
After consulting with the Neil Peart fanatic behind the counter, I made my exit with two items: a Tama MC66 Universal Clamp and a Tama Threaded L-Rod
 
The universal clamp fits perfectly on a Manhasset (or pretty much any stand, for that matter) and the threaded l-rod winds snugly into the top of the DB-90. Rigged like so, the metronome sits at a 45-degree angle just below the lip of the stand:
 
 
Upsides: clear viewing angle, maximum audibility, easy access to metronome controls, uninhibited page turns, minimum Wrigley-interference
 
Downsides: weight, bulkiness
 
This one may only be for my fellow gear-heads out there, but it's a winner. Back to practicing...
 

Nice (W)rig(ley)

This is Wrigley. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Wrigley is the Woody Allen of the dog world: charming but anxiety-ridden. He will, however, gladly sit and listen (one ear up - one ear down) to the dulcet tones of disembodied Berio and Carter viola parts as I dissect them. Until such time (i.e. every 6-7 minutes) as he needs some attention, at which point he nudges my bow-arm elbow with conviction and an impossible-to-ignore grin. Wrigley also occassionaly likes to rehearse his favorite scenes from Logan's Run, suddenly tearing across the room with little to no warning.
 
Tethered to the AC-adapter as it is, I've found the Boss DB-90 metronome to be a resilient piece of equipment during these escapades, when the aforementioned cord attempts to thwart our hero. 
 
A trip to the local, independent guitar shop produced a solution that not only answered the dog issue, but also solved the irritating problem of metronome placement. On the stand, it blocks the music. On the desk or table, it is often not percussive enough (for Berio, anyway) and cumbersome to adjust.
 
After consulting with the Neil Peart fanatic behind the counter, I made my exit with two items: a Tama MC66 Universal Clamp and a Tama Threaded L-Rod
 
The universal clamp fits perfectly on a Manhasset (or pretty much any stand, for that matter) and the threaded l-rod winds snugly into the top of the DB-90. Rigged like so, the metronome sits at a 45-degree angle just below the lip of the stand:
 
 
Upsides: clear viewing angle, maximum audibility, easy access to metronome controls, uninhibited page turns, minimum Wrigley-interference
 
Downsides: weight, bulkiness
 
This one may only be for my fellow gear-heads out there, but it's a winner. Back to practicing...