Saturday, March 06, 2010

two new and important internet tools in my life

for when silence seems to engulf my evenings, i pop over to and just listen to the peaceful sounds of a storm (oxymoron?) this also sounds lovely with music playing over it, and covers up the awkward pauses between songs (without needing the yucky crossfade).

for anyone who wants to be a writer, but knows that they don't write enough: is especially cool. i've only just signed up yesterday but i love the simplicity, the word count, the incentives and the mood analysis. i'll be sticking around for the april month-long "contest."

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Readernaut: or, how I learned to stop worrying and love my obsessive tendencies about cultural phenomena

My friend Doug Campbell is often on the forefront of the rapidly-unfolding new-Internet-lexicon that is morphing and redefining itself daily. He has an account on just about every media-related website, personal and promotional. Of course, he is therefore x-amount more likely to forget about these accounts and let them gather dust. It was through a link on his tumblr that I discovered Readernaut, and dusted off the poor, overlooked book nerd haven.

Readernaut takes my somewhat-compulsive annual desire to read 50 books to an entirely new, and quite possibly unhealthy, level.* Now, not only can I track how many books I've read, but exactly how many pages I've read in each. And there's a nice little bar for me to track my progress. Convenient!

Perhaps my favorite thing about Readernaut is the "notes" feature - which I have not used except for the "quote" widget. I can forever immortalize (in my Internet life) the few turns of phrase that stand out from otherwise forgettable books. The first time I used it was for a quote from Lowboy, a recent release that was challenging enough to take my time on, but that I honestly will probably never pick up again. John Wray writes:
He forced his eyes shut but her outline persisted, the afterimage bright against his brain. A green, girlshaped pillar rose through the veins of his retina like ivy twining through a chainlink fence. As soon as his eyes were closed her beautiful face began to disassemble. He'd suspected it would. Her features came apart like knitting.
It's absolutely beautiful. I can now forever evoke that imagery, and perhaps even the way the book made me feel at its peak moment (in uncertainty, hope, promise; before it comes crumbling down) whenever I so desire. (Though, I wonder if, in the long run, this will diminish its potency...)

This post is nothing more than a cry for friends (mostly my super-nerdy friends) to join this site! Because, it would be nice to have a little bit of healthy competition. And I am curious about what my friends read (if anything at all.....unless it's Twilight in which I'd rather you just keep it to yourself). Readernaut releases all of my happy endorphins - not just from finishing a book or a pile of books, but even just for finding a brilliant talking point or progressing further along in a particularly challenging tome. Endorphins just for readers! Take that, all ye illiterate Farmville degenerates!

*Mind you that the starting point here is a girl with a folder on her laptop called "Cultural Consumption," (there's really no more glamorous way to describe this) including lists of all of the books she's read for the past four years, lists of suggestions (movies/music) she has made for others, suggestions people have made to her, Excel spreadsheets of every episode of
This American Life (idea stolen from Doug) and Doctor Who [every episode ever] just to keep track... This girl would also be devestated if she ever had to give up Netflix, on which her account shows (nearly) every movie she has watched for the past two years and makes uncanny suggestions daily.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Musical score of the day

Discovering that a song I dug all summer long on the radio but couldn't track down for anything was, indeed, included on one of those free iTunes samplers I never listen to and is in my iTunes library.

Elizabeth & the Catapult - Taller Children

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Songswithoutwords Best Albums of 2009

Songswithoutwords Best Albums of 2009

Since I actually published something of substance, now I feel worthy of posting my favorite albums of 2009. Let me know what you do or don't agree with in the comments, I always love some good dialogue. Sorry for using the word "nuance" twice.

1) St. Vincent - Actor
This is the standout album of the year for me. Unafraid of taking risks, the music of Annie Clark and her band is sexy and smart. Orchestration is a strong point for this band, experimenting with effects on woodwinds, electric instruments and vocals.

2) The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You
After finally negotiating their bluegrass roots with music for a wider audience, this could prove to be the group's lasting masterpiece. With heartfelt lyrics and versatility that makes them hard to pigeonhole, the Avett Brothers have finally come into their own. Have I mentioned that "Laundry Room" is perhaps the most beautiful thing that I have heard all year?

3) Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
Case's voice is one of the strongest in indie music today. Her range and expression, both in vocals and guitar playing, is second to none.

4) Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
This album ranges from driving to delicate, touching on every nuance between. Bird's violin playing and grasp of live looping has lent his music depth and the subtle assurance that comes with time and experience.

5) Beat Circus - The Boy From Black Mountain
This band is seeking to unearth the strange and beautiful subtleties of "weird American gothic" and succeeding at every turn. I think of them as the sonic equivalent of Carnivale. Give it a listen and maybe you'll agree. This was perhaps the most under appreciated of the year amongst what appears on my list.

6) Matt & Kim - Grand
Released at the very beginning of the year, Grand remained my favorite pop album of the year. "Daylight," "Good Ol' Fashioned Nightmare" and "I'll Take Us Home" are always just right when I need a pick me up.

7) Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Another catchy, no-nonsense record that gave a long-established band the bump they needed to find their way into my heart and many others'. "1901" is my indie hipster jam of the year.

8) Jason Lytle - Yours Truly, the Commuter
I first heard this album after succumbing to NPR All Songs Considered producer Robin Hilton's infinite praise got to me. While I have to admit that I've never listened to Grandaddy, I fell in love with Lytle's solo work immediately. I can imagine the music echoing around me, filling cavernous spaces with each nuance. A good album to ruminate on alone in a quiet, dark room (like most everything Robin Hilton likes...)

9) Why? - Eskimo Snow
With an unusual voice reminiscent of They Might Be Giants, the recurrence of exuberant arpeggio'd keyboard/mallets, and layering of sonic textures that could only be their own, this album keeps me engaged from start to finish. Is it just me, or does it sound a bit like Christmas?

10) Pearl and the Beard - God Bless Your Weary Soul, Amanda Richardson
A late discovery for me this year, I love the breadth of textures this trio is able to produce. The anthemic "Oh, Death!" just rips at my heart. Most of all, Pearl and the Beard prove that there is indeed life after music school--it is anything and everything you choose to make of it.

Honorable mentions: Samtidigt Som - Flykt, Karlek & Broderskap, The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love, Fanfarlo - Reservoir, Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest

A look back at this decade in music, according to my music collection

It's been a long time since I cared about anything in my corner-CD tower. It's trapped between the bookcase that holds my record player and the wall. It's not at all accessible except for the top few tiers. Today I wrangled it out to snag my Pet Sounds album, since I discovered that Mono is indeed better, and wanted to revisit the album.

I can't remember the last CD that I bought that wasn't from a brick and mortar store that didn't belong to a friend or The Hold Steady. The newest additions are, of course, Stay Positive, and last year's Emilyn Brodsky's Greatest Tits, but aside from those, most everything on this rack was purchased sometime during high school, the 2002-2006 era. I remember trips to Tower Records, with about $40 in my pocket. I'd stack up four or five CDs and my understanding, saintly stepfather would make up the difference.

I devoured records then. I distinctly remember using my portable CD player on the bus, choosing one album a week with care. I'd listen to half the album in the morning, half in the afternoon. All week long. One album in particular I remember doing this with was Ryan Adams' Gold. I think that album may have turned me from music lover into music worshiper.

Looking back at this tower of forgotten media, I can outline the decade. Well, almost. For me, at least. There are the CDs that lived in that Walkman: Ryan Adams' Gold, Demolition and Rock and Roll; Josh Joplin's Useful Music; Rhett Miller's The Instigator. Then there are those that nearly warped from the heat after sitting in my car stereo for months on end: Streetlight Manifesto's Everything Goes Numb, The Smiths' Louder than Bombs, Motion City Soundtrack's I Am The Movie. It's a time capsule not just for the great artists of the 00 decade (Belle and Sebastian, Modest Mouse, Beck, Ryan Adams, Interpol), but also a tribute to every discovery from the near and distant past that I made in the past 8 years or so (the aforementioned Smiths, Phil Ochs' discography, Randy Newman, The Blues Brothers, Jeff Buckley, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith--the list goes on.

It's a shame that, well, frankly no one gives a damn about CDs anymore. They served their purpose. They were my gateway drug into finding the music that I loved, and putting a proper value on it (an ideal that I held dear, then departed from, but find myself slowly returning to). But, I am confident that the music industry will streamline, adapt, and renew itself as it always does (did you see those nifty Apple records-shaped Beatles anthology jump drives?) My fiending for vinyl more or less came and went; every record that I truly LOVE currently sits in my collection. Except perhaps for Paul Simon's self-titled number, but that will be easy enough to track down.

After all of the changes that the industry has endured, nothing refreshes me more than to discover an excellent album, preview it on Lala, and if my funds allow, purchase it instantaneously on iTunes. No wonder our generation is so impatient for everything.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gutbucket makes a modest proposal

I recently spoke with Ken Thomson and wrote this feature up for The Racquette. I did a bit of graphic design myself for the layout and I am pretty proud of it.

The word "gutbucket," although now a somewhat obsolete term, might conjure up the image of a clunky, homemade washtub bass and the raw, raucous early New Orleans jazz associated with it. NYC-based band Gutbucket stays true to the barrelhouse implications of its name, but tends to avoid being pigeonholed by any genre-specific stereotypes. Gutbucket has brought its musically rabble-rousing sentiments into the 21st century through a unique juxtaposition of every genre from jazz to punk to neo-Classicism. They have declared musical warfare, "destroying walls between art-rock, avant-squonk, and mathed-out prog," so they say on their website bio.

Breaking musical assumptions

The quartet consists of Ken Thomson on saxophone, Ty Citerman on guitar, Eric Rockwin on bass and Adam Gold on drums. Just reciting the instrumentation, and calling it a quartet, probably brings some assumptions to mind. "People have a sense that if there's a band that's saxophone, guitar, bass, drums-if you tell them that's what the band is and that it's instrumental, they have a certain guess or expectation for what that's going to be and they're thinking jazz; they're thinking people kind of standing still and looking a little bored, and being really, like, overly intellectual. I guess what I love to do with Gutbucket is not do that. Really, do my best to make it a show. Really try to connect with people with instrumental music, which is kind of a hard thing to do because it's not always clear," elucidated Ken Thomson, saxophonist of Gutbucket.

With their rebellious approach to instrumental chamber music (literally, music to be enjoyed in an intimate setting), the gents of Gutbucket risk alienating haughty classical music lovers and young punks alike. That is a risk they are willing to take. Thomson clarified his goals, "I want to…kind of bring instrumental music and instrumental music with a saxophone into places, into people's heads, where they kind of wouldn't expect it and in a way they wouldn't think about it." Gutbucket accomplishes the unexpected on every record, sometimes with "rabid genre-switching" (as Thomson called it) and other times by juxtaposing asymmetrical rhythmic meters. One thing is for certain: Gutbucket's music will take you on a veritable rollercoaster of sound.

Gutbucket has something to offer to every open-minded listener. Their music exists at the juncture between jazz, rock, punk, classical and avante garde, and doesn't even stop there. It is clear that they are picking and choosing from a smorgasbord of sonic delights, confirmed by Thomson, "when we are all together, we rarely agree on music we like to listen to. In the van, it really just runs the gamut of any kind of music that you can imagine." Combining so many different elements can harm a band striving for a solid, homogenous sound, but that is not much of a concern for Gutbucket. For Gutbucket, the basis of their sound lies in their ability to constantly change and not feel restricted by musical assumptions.

A Modest Proposal

A Modest Proposal, Gutbucket's fourth studio album, marks another chapter in the band's 10-year history. As a band that adapts to new styles as often as they change meters in their music, Thomson revealed that, "at some point we try to document a period by putting a record out." Therefore, a new record isn't only a culmination of the band's hard work, but, more significantly, a benchmark in the band's ongoing musical saga. With that in mind, it is interesting, and fitting, to examine how the band has evolved between records.

The most notable change on this album is the inclusion of several slower songs. Thomson explained the reasoning behind pulling back on the reins: "With Adam [Gold] joining the band on drums (and he's been in the band a couple of years now) there were some things that we felt like we were inspired to do, like doing things that are slower. On this record is more stuff that actually is not at a break-neck pace the whole time. That's also something that was kind of exciting for us to explore." On A Modest Proposal, the true surprise is the presence of those slow songs, which were few and far between on previous albums.

Three out of four members of Gutbucket are active composers for the project. Ken Thomson ranked the prominence of each composing member: "The biggest writer for Gutbucket is Eric [Rockwin] our bassist. He is incredibly prolific and he just goes through these spurts where, in a month, he'll push out like five or six tunes or something like that," which the band then has to work through; "our second biggest writer is Ty [Citerman], our guitarist, and I'm the third biggest writer in Gutbucket." Each composer has refined his individual style to the point that, "the three of us are getting more and more distinct as songwriters," said Thomson, who is now able to identify the composer just by hearing one of Gutbucket's pieces.

What's in a name?

The seemingly asinine song titles (such as "More More Bigger Better Faster with Cheese," "I Am a Jelly Doughnut [Or a Commentary on U.S. German Relations Post WWII]" and "A Little Anarchy Never Hurt Everyone") do sometimes have deeper meanings, but, as Thomson so aptly pointed out, "not everything needs to be so serious all the time."

The importance of Gutbucket's song titles is rooted in the group's lack of a vocalist/lyricist, explained Thomson. "Most people, if they write a song, have got three minutes of lyrics in which to deliver a message, and we have five words or something like that. We definitely think carefully about what we're calling things. Sometimes it's really just us having a good time, and other times it is relevant, or sometimes it's just a feeling…that you have during the song," elaborated Thomson. He went on to say that most often, the title comes after the fact. The song titles serve as a reflection of the original intention of the pieces, whether those intentions were based on a sociopolitical issue or just for fun.

Gutbucket's album titles bear significance as well. In case you were wondering, the album name, A Modest Proposal, is indeed derived from Jonathan Swift's 1792 essay of the same name (a satire in which he suggests that the impoverished Irish eat their own young to survive). "It's also alluded to with the cover, a bird feeding a bird to its child. Our drummer Adam [Gold] realized that the songs are basically about food, politics, and children. We were trying to come up with something that would work as an overarching idea for the title, and Eric suggested A Modest Proposal. We thought it was perfect," recounted Thomson.

Hearing is believing

Because the music of Gutbucket does not easily lend itself to literary branding, there's no better way to familiarize oneself with their sound than listening. To hear some tracks from A Modest Proposal, visit the band's myspace at For general information about the band, go to their website, To find out more about what Ken Thomson does in all of his "spare time" (playing saxophone and clarinet with The World/Inferno Friendship Society, being part of a kid-friendly band-that has appeared on Nickelodeon-called The Dirty Sock Funtime Band and composing for offbeat chamber collective Anti-Social Music, to name a few) visit his homepage at

Friday, April 24, 2009

Student-penned play to premiere as part of Spring Play Festival

The creative vision of one SUNY Potsdam student will come to life on stage as part of the annual Spring Play Festival next week. Erin Nicole Harrington, senior theater major, wrote and is directing Transfigured Night, a play in one act roughly based on a poem by Richard Dehmel and the subsequent music composed by Arnold Schoenberg. The original story has been adapted from the original male-female couple to reflect the lives of contemporary lesbians.

Although Harrington drew inspiration from the works of Dehmel and Schoenberg, she mostly based Transfigured Night on her personal experience. "They say you have to write what you know and I think Erin has done a solid job of looking at that situation within the LGBT community," said sophomore theater and geology major Chelsea Wischerth who plays John Romme, the professor. "I think Erin wrote a great story that will hopefully reach closeted girls and speak to them," Wischerth elaborated.

Realizing something for the first time on stage has been a rewarding and challenging experience for those involved. "I love that Erin is both the playwright and director because she can essentially just do whatever she wants, which is amazing," expressed Wischerth. "[One challenge] has been learning lines that change quite frequently because this is a brand new play and some of the kinks had to be worked out," remarked Matthew DuBrey, freshman, who plays Stephen Maddow in the production. "It has been really cool to see the script kind of morph into what it is now," commented Liz Tarantelli, sophomore, who plays Ruth Hall. "I'm secretly hoping she gives me a line change opening night," she disclosed. "It's changed dramatically from where it started to where it is now," noted playwright Harrington. The play will quite possibly still be in flux until the very moment the curtain rises.

Writing and staging Transfigured Night doubles as Harrington's Presidential Scholars project and senior project for her theater degree.

Harrington's creativity does not stop with Transfigured Night. It is to be part of a "cycle of ten plays that deal with the experiences of American lesbians from 1920 to 2020," explained Harrington. Although Transfigured Night is the only fully realized play so far, she said it is "all sketched out in my head." Ideally, they will all be one act plays so that they can be performed together over a three-night span.

You can see the world premiere of Transfigured Night on April 28, April 30 and May 2 at 7:30 p.m. at the Black Box theater. Admission is free for students and $5 for the general public.

Potsdam music scene evolves

Since my arrival in Potsdam nearly three years ago, the "Potsdam music scene" had been a sort of running gag. "What music scene?" someone would always interject.

Suddenly, refusing to settle for what little we have here, a few people have taken matters into their own hands. There's no denying that things have gotten better little by little. Hurley's has changed hands several times. Both the demeanor and quality have drastically improved under the guidance of current Hurley's chair Ben O'Brien Smith. Show attendance is stunning every time. The on-campus venue has brought in acts of ever-increasing quality. Downtown, La Casbah has also played a huge role in reviving live music. Lastly, the school radio station, 90.3 FM WAIH, has brought musicians into the studio to perform on air at every available opportunity. This has made the long drive seem a little more worthwhile to out-of-town musicians. All of the people involved in those efforts deserve our thanks. Because of them, our scene is flourishing and sometimes even boasts multiple shows on the same night. Although double booking isn't ideal, I could never have imagined that we would have so many options.

Freshman business major Brian Bond deserves major props for the show he put together last week at Backstreets. What I experienced on Thursday night at Backstreets was not all that different from a dingy New Brunswick punk house basement show. It brought together people of different interests with a solid lineup. There was dancing, socializing and most importantly, amazing music. Local acts Keeping Wyatt and Greene Reveal (Watertown) drew the crowd anxious to hear familiar acts. The Knockdown (Oneonta) subsequently wowed the crowd with tight harmonies and a solid punk rock sound. I think that the raw punk show and community feel reminded a lot of people of their hometown scenes.

For those looking to help the scene, there are a few places to start. First, pair touring acts with local ones. Touring acts that don't have a name here might have trouble drawing a crowd no matter how good they are. Secondly, use your resources. Money can be an issue, but if the musicians are flexible, there are plenty of opportunities around town and on campus. Lastly, advertise the hell out of your events. Attendance and overall interest will keep musicians coming back and even spreading the word about how great our small town really is.

I'm surely not the only one completely blown away by the transformation that has happened within the scene during the past year. Maybe all we needed were some positive-minded people and fresh blood. The collective effort to bring a scene of such magnitude to Potsdam is admirable. The more we continue to put our hearts into it, the better it will get.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Radio DJ utilises technology to enhance experience & an interview with Bob Boilen

Radio has undergone many changes since its prime. The seemingly dying medium has done anything and everything to change with the times. The biggest change that terrestrial radio has undergone is to incorporate the Internet as a viable tool and broadcast medium. One music-based radio show has gone to great lengths to utilize the Internet as a way to expand its scope and allow for dialogue between host and listeners.

All Songs Considered started as an online radio show in 2000, putting itself slightly ahead of the curve. The show is now syndicated weekly on many NPR affiliate stations. Every week, host Bob Boilen presents a variety of tracks from forthcoming albums of many genres for the listeners' consideration. Aside from the normal show broadcast, Boilen hosts Tiny Desk Concerts at his own desk, allows musicians to guest DJ, streams full albums in advance on the NPR music website (the First Listen series), brings musicians into the studio to chat about their albums (with live questions from listeners) and maintains a live concert podcast. Boilen and his affiliates also provided extended coverage of SXSW Music Festival, including podcasts and videos detailing newly discovered artists.

Boilen started podcasting in 2006 because, "listening to a forty minute, fifty minute show while sitting at your computer was not as inviting as listening to it when you wanted to, where you wanted to." Now, one can even look at individual episode blog posts on the web site and choose particular tracks to stream.

All Songs receives hundreds of CDs each week and Boilen personally sorts through them. "There are just so many hours in a week," said Boilen, "I used to try to listen to every single thing I got, if not, just at least the first song. I still stay pretty true to that although I have to say I've gotten discriminating to the point where a bad album cover filled with an aesthetic that doesn't appeal to me, or just a bad opening cut, sometimes even a label where I've never liked an artist, I will pass on if I'm really backed up. So, all of it that goes on the show is something I really, really like, and that's the bottom line." Boilen will sometimes include music less appealing to himself if he thinks that it is something listeners will truly want to hear (like the new U2 single). As the host of the show for almost 10 years, Boilen's discerning taste is easily trusted. But, when there is dissension, radio listeners no longer have to remain mute at the other end of the transmission.

"The community's built up to the point that I am constantly getting suggestions from audience members," said Boilen. He interacts with listeners through e-mails, Facebook, Twitter and blog post comments on the All Songs Considered blog. "I always like to have a dialogue with people on an individual basis. I think it's what public radio should do," he illuminated. The surge in communication has made it difficult to keep in touch with everyone, but he is certainly doing his best. Boilen also poses questions on his shows from time to time to encourage dialogue between listeners. Recent questions include: "When you go to a show and hear prerecorded backing tracks, does it bother you?" "How much would you pay to see your favorite band(s) live?" and "What does your vinyl collection look like?" The response to informal questions allows for one to get a feel for trends in music today.

The benefits of this increased communication via the Internet has transformed listening to a radio show into an entirely new experience. Radio DJing no longer consists of talking and playing music into the darkness. Now, all of the people out there listening actually get a chance to talk back.

KH: Well, I was just wondering, just as background, how did you get into radio in general?

BB: Oh, haha, let's start big, huh? Well, let's see…This goes back a long way. In 1983 (like I said, a long way), I was a composer for a theater company based in Baltimore and I did a piece using sampling that NPR heard my music and did a story on my music. About five years later, the person that produced that story was Ira Glass, working at All Things Considered back then, and I went and visited Ira five years after he had produced that piece and said "Remember me? I wanna work here. How can I do that?" I quit my job at a TV station at the time and just sort of determined to work at NPR. Long story made very short is that I started working at All Things Considered the following week, and about a year later I was directing the show and I did that for eighteen years (of directing, nineteen years with All Things Considered).

KH: So when did you start podcasting All Songs Considered and what brought you to podcasting?

BB: Well, first of all, All Songs Considered started just as an online music show in the very first month of the year 2000. Podcasting started in the summer of 2006, August 2006. I had learned about podcasting from a listener earlier in the year and I approached NPR about podcasting…and NPR was already starting to work on the idea of podcasting and launched All Songs Considered as a podcast along with a number of other podcasts. Our show is perfectly suited for it, so that's sort of what interested me. I mean, listening to a forty minute, fifty minute show while sitting at your computer was not as inviting as listening to it when you wanted to, where you wanted to. Podcasting is just sort of natural. It brought up a whole lot of legal issues that didn't exist with streaming. It was a big nut for a lot of record labels to chew to allow downloading, basically, of their music. It was a real uphill battle for a long time to podcast full versions of songs.

KH: And it's progressed to the point where you stream full albums, which is pretty great.

BB: We stream full albums, we don't podcast full albums. It's been quite a game changer in the record business, with how they feel about particularly what we do in general and I guess they see value in it. Now they're clamoring.

KH: You said it's more comfortable for people to be able listen when and where they want. Are there any other differences between podcasting and regular radio?
BB: Well, being able to rewind, being able to listen more than once. We have people who listen to our concert podcast; we have a number of different podcasts: we have the All Songs podcast, the All Songs Considered live concert podcast, we also have a podcast called Second Stage, and especially the live concert podcast is something that people can listen to over and over again.

KH: In general, when did you think of podcasting the live concerts and what process did you go through to do that?

BB: Well, first of all, in January of 2005 we approached Bright Eyes who had then just released two albums and was coming to town and we asked whether or not he and his band would mind if we tried live webcasting, so, not just streaming it but literally doing it live at the site at the time, and they were up for it. We didn't podcast that, we didn't think there would be a chance in hell anyone would let us podcast an entire concert. A few months later after doing Wilco as a live concert, we approached, I think it was Bloc Party who was a smaller, fairly unknown band at the time and asked them if they would care to podcast, figuring it would be pretty cool if we did that. That was just part of our regular podcast. We did concerts in our regular All Songs podcast for the first year or so and eventually decided to split it off and do a separate live concert podcast.

KH: Do you find that all of these methods with which your listeners can interact, through the blog post comments and Facebook, does that influence how you do your show?

BB: I mean, the best thing is I get more feedback. People can listen more, they can listen again and again and then write to me about it. The community's built up to the point that I am constantly getting suggestions from audience members. We did a series of shows about sort of your "secret band," bands that you know and love that maybe others don't, and I asked suggestions. We did a number of shows based just on listener's suggestions. I listen constantly to things people are suggesting to me, so in that way it influences the show. The audience we've built up is such a music savvy audience that I'm always trying to find stuff to keep them happy, stuff that's already out there or stuff we get way in advance. Our theory used to be don't put anything on the show that isn't out yet. That's what we used to do back in the year 2000. Because it was hard to find stuff; even finding it on Amazon it was hard. But now, we look forward to previewing stuff that's a month before release, six weeks before release, because there's so many ways to get music that we want to constantly surprise people.

KH: With those web-based things, are you the person checking and reading all of them?

BB: Yeah, I've always answered all of the e-mail personally, the Facebook as well. It's mind numbing and overwhelming, I have to say. It's getting to the point where I'm not able to answer every single person and that is very frustrating to me, because I always like to have a dialogue with people on an individual basis. I think it's what public radio should do. So it's a little frustrating now that it's gotten so overwhelming, but I'll keep just doing my best.

KH: If all of your listeners are finding out about great music from you, where do you find out about this music, aside from artists that are established, I mean, you must get so many CDs it's probably mind numbing as well, so how do you weed through that?

BB: We get a few hundred a week. You know, I have lots of different methods. Some of it has to do with, I used to try to listen to every single thing I got, if not, just at least the first song. I still stay pretty true to that although I have to say I've gotten discriminating to the point where a bad album cover filled with an aesthetic that doesn't appeal to me, or just a bad opening cut, sometimes even a label where I've never liked an artist on a given label, I will pass on if I'm really backed up. I'll just say I'm not going to deal with this, because there's just so many hours in a week and if I start falling behind then I'm not going to get stuff on in a timely manner. So, all of it that goes on the show is something I really, really like, and that's the bottom line. If I don't really, really like it, it doesn't go on the show, with very few exceptions. For example, we put a U2 song on the show, and I've never been a big fan of U2 but I think they're a really talented band and I think people would want to hear it. We got a slightly early release of it so we put it on the show. Tom Jones was a novelty to me, I thought he would be fun to put on the show. Not an artist that I'm in love with, but certainly an incredibly talented person. But, really, for the most part, the stuff on the show is stuff I'm in love with.
KH: I was just going to ask if you put things on for the sake of the listeners even if it's not your favorite. And, you answered that.

BB: It's very rare I do. And if I do it, it's usually to generate a conversation tossed to the blog. Like with the U2, I started a conversation about, "why do we love the music we love?" I mean, obviously U2 is a talented band, they have something to say, they're innovative and I don't love them. So what is it about a band that makes you fall in love with them and care about them? I used it as a jumping-off point to try to get comments about that and they've been absolutely fascinating comments.

KH: When you're listening to so many CDs in a given week, if you find something you really love, where do you make time to listen to it? What's been the most recent thing that you've really been in love with and gone for multiple listens?

BB: Well, the Decemberists record, the new one that comes out the end of March on the 24th, I listened to four times over the weekend. One of the only drawbacks about this job is that, I used to, when I fell in love with an album I'd listen to it over and over and over again, and I just don't have time to do that. So, four times in a weekend is a lot for me, and I'll do that at home, I'll do that in my car while driving around. That's where I listen to stuff that I really, really like: either in the house or in the car. But it is rare that I get to hear things multiple times.

KH: Is there anything exciting in the future of the All Songs podcast or the live concert podcast?

BB: Well we've been doing this Tiny Desk concert series, but the biggest thing coming up is South by Southwest, which is always a hoot. I have no idea what we're going to do down there, well I have some idea what we're going to do down there because we've been planning for three months. We have a number of concerts we're going to present live. They'll all wind up in the live concert podcast. We're bringing video cameras and stuff. Last year we grabbed Lightspeed Champion and we put 'em in a field in Austin. We found Jaymay and we put her on a porch. We'll try to do some fun stuff like that this year too. I have no real idea what those are going to be. I'm the sort of person who on one level plans a bit, but I also like to be able to do something on the spur of the moment and be flexible. We'll see.

Student Art Show opens at Creative Spirit gallery

Featuring everything from oil paintings to Sharpie drawings and three-dimensional works, the greatly varied Student Art Show (StASh) opened at Creative Spirit Art Gallery on Friday, April 10. People came together to enjoy live music, delicious snacks and each other's company while admiring student creations.

Students, faculty, friends and family gathered at the inviting Creative Spirit space to see the works of their peers. The mood of the event was extremely upbeat. Music provided by Some Elan Vital, which means "all good things," drifted through various spaces of the gallery. The pleasant soundtrack of flute and balafon (a type of West African wooden xylophone) and other percussion provided a perfect background for the constant din of friendly conversation.

The difference between attending an opening and visiting the gallery on a normal day is the interaction with the artists themselves. From a distance, one could see several artists interacting with the attendees, explaining the meaning of their works. This guided viewing made the works instantly accessible to the viewer.

The most attention-getting piece in the gallery, entitled Turn Me On by Sarah Haze, was a mixed-media work of suggestive light boxes. Shy onlookers stood back while the more daring stepped forward and toggled the light switches. Sharpie-inked works by Chase Winkler garnered attention for their simultaneous complexity and simplicity. The animal-themed paintings of Krystal Stowe inspired speculation and conversation.

Unfortunately, there was little publicity for the event. Luckily, word of mouth spread quickly. Perhaps with flyers around campus, even more people would have come out to the gallery opening.

This American Life live simulcast to appear at Roxy

Potsdam's Roxy Theater will be a part of something very exciting on Thursday, April 23. The Roxy will be one of 400 theaters across the nation to host a live simulcast of This American Life - Live! The unique radio show will come to life on screens across the country and Potsdam residents have a chance to experience it too.

This American Life, a Chicago Public Radio show syndicated by Public Radio International and podcasted for free, presents a new theme each week and then brings listeners a variety of stories based on that theme. Endearing host Ira Glass introduces and sometimes even tells the stories, and the cast of contributing writers is just as colorful as the characters in the stories. Segments of the show range from humorous to profound, from memoirs to fiction.

The theme of This American Life - Live! is "Return to the Scene of the Crime." Popular contributors to the show featured in the live performance will be Dan Savage, Starlee Kine, Mike Birbiglia, David Rakoff and Dave Hill. There will be a cartoon by Chris Ware, visuals by Arthur Jones and a music performance by special guest Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and more). Unlike the one-hour radio show, the live movie simulcast will be two hours in length.

The second annual live show will be broadcast live from NYU's Skirball Center. "Our listeners enjoyed getting together in their own communities to experience our show in a new way," said host Ira Glass. "The live cinema transmission was surprisingly effective. We were flooded with emails asking for us to do it again. Last year was mostly a sneak preview of stories from our television show. This year we're excited to do a full-on stage performance of the radio show."

For those unfamiliar with the radio show, I highly recommend checking the This American Life website for archived shows or the iTunes store to download the free podcast. Unlike many subject-specific radio shows, This American Life succeeds through its flexibility and wide appeal.

Tickets are currently on sale at The Roxy at $12 for students and $15 for adults. For more information, visit and

Poor security at SLU event a problem

Two thousand people descended upon St. Lawrence University on Saturday, April 11 for an event that promised to be memorable. The concert, featuring performer Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis), turned out to be memorable for different reasons than the norm. The Association for Campus Entertainment of SLU was underprepared for the 2,000 people and security was unable to control the crowd. The show, which started an hour late, was shut down after 25 minutes. Luckily for paying ticketholders, Gillis returned to the stage and fulfilled his contracted hour of performance. Gillis did his best to make up for the night's many setbacks with his high-energy performance.

The sheer number of people who attended the event was clearly more than the organization had ever dealt with before. Security checks at the main entrance were abysmal. SUNY Potsdam student Jon Wendt had a pen confiscated, while others entered with contraband that was seen throughout the evening, including beer bottles, cans, lighters, cigarettes and marijuana-the scent of which wafted noticeably through the Leithead Fieldhouse on several occasions. Bathroom facilities (port-a-potties) and water jugs were inadequate and unguarded.

Although doors opened an hour early, according to ACE, approximately 800-1,000 attendees arrived ten minutes before the event was set to begin. This mob caused event planners to make the decision to change start time to 10:30 p.m. Although they claimed (in their message to event attendees) that the event began at 10:30 p.m., in actuality, Gregg Gillis did not enter until 11 p.m. Amber Schmidt, sophomore theater major, was affected by the crowd outside. She recounted events that prevented her entry into the building: "I bought a ticket, I was really excited, but I went all the way there for nothing…just to stand around in the cold getting pushed around by drunk people and watching security do nothing." Twenty minutes after 10 p.m., she said the door was shut. After 20 minutes of waiting around with around 300 drunken people and no progress made, she and alumnus BJ LaBrake gave up on the event, both forfeiting their $15 tickets.

ACE concert chairs Sam Tyler and Casey O'Brien enumerated that there were "8 SLU security, 6 student safety employees, 14 uniformed ACE affiliates and exec members working enforcement, 4 school administrators [and] 6 EMTs and 1st responders on scene." It was arranged before the event, through contract stipulation, that 15 audience members would be allowed on stage at a time from designated stage right stairs. This plan quickly disintegrated when people jumped the front boundary (where there was no active security) and got on the stage. Dancers on the stage crowded Gillis, stood on his equipment table and climbed the speaker stacks. The few security members were unable to hold back the crowd, and the rush caused the show to be shut down because of danger to the performers and attendees.

The behavior of the majority of the crowd was nauseating. Clearly intoxicated (whether with alcohol or drugs) attendees tripped, behaved obnoxiously and made sober attendees uncomfortable. The crowd was, at best, outrageous. The manner in which our peers chose to conduct themselves in public is concerning. Event planners removed only a few over-intoxicated attendees (at least eight people had been transported to Canton-Potsdam Hospital before the event even began).

It is unfair to blame the conduct of the crowd and ACE's lack of preparation on the performer. It was clear after the break that Girl Talk was enthusiastic about continuing the event. He made an effort to compensate for the lack of action on stage by moving around and dancing.

Soon after healthy dialogue between attendees about their grievances began on the Facebook event, someone from the organization with administrator privileges deleted the event, and thus all of the content.

One final side-note was the unnecessary mass of toiler paper waste produced by two blowers on the stage. Approximately 20 rolls of toilet paper were blown into the crowd and turned to a soggy mess on the floor. The piles made it difficult to find lost possessions after the concert and was atrocious in the face of Earth week's approach.

ACE concert chair Casy O'Brien gave insight into future planning considerations: they would "request that the setup company bring extra barricades for outside the doors" and "gve people some incentive to arrive more than 20 minutes before the show starts." One way to draw students into such a big event sooner would be to have an opening act.

Hopefully ACE and other similar student organizations learn from the shortcomings of planning for the Girl Talk event. If any student organization chooses to hold such a major event again, perhaps they should take a more detailed look at the things that could go wrong.