Music

sufjan stevens in concert

The second post on this website, back in July 2005, was about Sufjan Stevens. I've been a pretty huge fan ever since that time, but I've never yet made it to one of his shows. Couldn't make the 9:30 Club in DC a few years ago because of the week combined with it being at least 1.5 hours away. Couldn't make it to see one of the BQE performances because, well, they were exclusively in Brooklyn. Last night I finally made it, though, and caught Mr. Stevens at The National Theater right here in Richmond, VA.

This was one of the best concerts I've ever attended. Each musician was spot on, from the wonderful backup singers to the double drummers, and of course Sufjan himself. The visuals projected on screen reinforced the mood of many songs, and the sound was mixed quite well. It was still a proper loud show in a concert hall, but I could actually hear each instrument and singer clearly and distinctly. The whole set - including a several song encore - lasted around 2.5 glorious hours.

Most exciting, however, was how this show reshaped my appreciation of The Age of Adz as an album. I have to admit that, while I certainly enjoyed some tracks before the show, I was a little let down by Sufjan's latest effort. I'm not sure if it's because of the seemingly heightened sonic bombast or something else, but it was a slight step below The BQE on my ranking of Stevens' work. This concert, somehow, shifted my opinion. Perhaps it's my fond impression of the live performances, or maybe it's the way these touring arrangements seemed to have highlighted what made these songs good to begin with.

Whatever the case, I listened to a few tracks on Adz this morning with renewed ears. I sure hope Sufjan comes through Richmond again in the future, too. I'll be there.

New EP from Sufjan Stevens

Mercy!

Sufjan Stevens has released a new EP called All Delighted People, and you can listen to the whole thing for free on Bandcamp (or at the bottom of this post)! From there you can buy the entire EP for five bucks, or you can wait until next week to digitally purchase it elsewhere. Or you can wait until later this year to snag a physical copy.

Just listen! So much majesty!

<a href="http://sufjanstevens.bandcamp.com/album/all-delighted-people-ep">All Delighted People (Original Version) by Sufjan Stevens</a>

beautiful distortion

On the few occasions that folks have asked me for photography help, I've had to explain what "ISO" means and how it works. It's kind of a tricky subject, especially since its meaning in digital photography is a little different than its origins in the world of film. What it comes down to, ultimately, is sensitivity.

ISO, in analog photography, refers to a standard for identifying how well film captures light. The higher the number, the more sensitive. Higher sensitivity comes with a trade-off, however; you get distortion. In film this comes in the form of larger crystalline structures on the resulting negative, or "grain." So pictures taken on film with a high light sensitivity look a little coarse and lose some of the fine detail. To many photographers the grain is only a slight trade-off since it can add depth and character to images. Different film stocks from different manufacturers have varying qualities under particular lighting conditions.

In digital photography, ISO refers to the camera sensor's responsiveness to light. When you crank up the ISO to a higher number you can capture more light. But you still have that trade-off; increasing the ISO on a digital camera creates visual distortion, or "noise." The best digital cameras, in my opinion, degrade gracefully at higher ISO settings. The noise looks less like static on a television and more like, well, film grain. I've seen it on certain Ricoh point-and-shoots, Leica's crazy high-end digitals, and even my iPhone 4 (when converted to black and white).

This graceful degradation reminded me, recently, of another artistic tool where distortion isn't all that bad: guitar amplifiers. A great deal of guitar amplifiers have a knob labeled "gain," and this is directly analogous to a digital camera's ISO setting. That's because it's increasing the equipment's sensitivity to the incoming signal (in this case the electrical sound signal from a guitar). If you turn up the gain too high you overload the amplifier and the sound output starts to break up, creating distortion.

Quite a few musicians enjoy their distortion, of course, but have varying tolerances for how easily it kicks in and how evenly it builds. Amplifiers that allow players to crank up the gain without distorting the sound can fetch a pretty penny. Nikon's D3s and Canon's 1D-MkIV, similarly, don't come cheap, because of their respective abilities to crank up the ISO setting with less noise than other cameras. Some amps, on the other hand, are desired specifically for their distortion characteristics, and famous makers such as Marshall, Fender, and Orange, are sought after because of their signature overdriven tones. Likewise, I might choose Kodak's Tri-X film over Ilford's Delta 400 because I prefer the look of one film's grain structure over another.

So maybe this will clear things up if you play electric guitar, I suppose. Or perhaps it will confuse you further. I just hope this makes ISO a little easier to understand for some folks.

new release of old music from Sufjan Stevens is forthcoming

Holy smokes…some news for which I’ve been waiting a few years: Sufjan Stevens is releasing a recording of The BQE, a symphonic piece he composed and presented only in a series of live performances in NYC back in 2007. I’ve heard only small portions via NPR and the Asthmatic Kitty website, but I’m glad to see he’s publishing the piece soon so I can hear it in its entirety. I’ll be pre-ordering as soon as I get the chance.

Oh yeah, and bonus! It will include a freaking VIEWMASTER DISC.

Music Matters

Do you ever have a musical act that you totally love but seem to have dropped off the planet? You can't help but move in your chair every one of their tunes plays in your headphones, but you've stopped checking the official website and/or other channels for news long ago because it's been ages.

A number of musicians fit such a bill for me and, the act in mind today is dZihan & Kamien, the Vienna-based down-tempo duo that created one of the finest albums in my arsenal: Gran Riserva. After years gone by with a dearth of news (and no official website) I don't feel that bad for missing the announcement of their first studio album since 2002. It seems that the fellas released Music Matters in late April, and you can stream the whole thing for free on their new website! Sure, it's Flash-tastic, so I can't link directly to the listening page, but hit up the music link at the top of the page, and mouse over the left side of the album listing until the cover for the new album slides into view. And listen. Over and over.

I'm scooting over to Plan 9 forthwith tomorrow after work to see if have this album, and if not, I'm gonna have to see if the official D&K store delivers to The States (the prices are in Euros only). This album is my new jam.