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Petri Wessman's weblog

Minireview: Tori Amos - Piece by Piece, by Tori Amos and Ann Powers

Piece By Piece is not an autobiography as such, it’s a book of Tori talking about her music and parts of her life, with side comments by rock journalist Ann Powers. In parts very interesting, in parts somewhat irritating, it’s worth a read if you like Tori’s music. The basic concept is sound; record a “conversation” between Tori and someone else, about her views and music. Problem is, it doesn’t come off as a conversation, it’s Tori writing about stuff and Ann interjecting with her own comments… and those comments are mostly inane, noncritical and bring nothing new to the conversation. Now, it may be that Ann’s comments had a positive effect on the formation of the book, but the final result would be a lot better without her in there.

As for the book itself, it’s a mixed bag. Some of it goes heavily into feminist/mystical territory, which I found somewhat irritating at times – though since Tori gets a lot of her inspiration from there, I can’t fault her for talking about it. I found her viewpoint of being just a channel from a bigger universal Source interesting, it explains some things (like the title of the compilation album “Tales from a Librarian”). Seeing yourself as a “librarian” and the songs as independent entities that come out on their own is nice viewpoint. It makes for a somewhat humble worldview, also, since it deprecates the Artist and Sole Creator role to some degree.

I found the later parts of the book, where she talks about the realities of life on the road, and how she integrates being a mother and a touring showperson, to be the most interesting. It can be a tough life, but Tori says that she needs to perform music live in order to have it work for her; studio music isn’t enough. So yes, when you’re the mother of a young girl and need to take her along with you on the tour, you need iron discipline in other to figure out something that works. At the very least, young Tash has had an interesting and unusual childhood.

The book is also interesting in what it doesn’t discuss. There is very little talk about her personal life between the time after her debut album and when she married her sound engineer and settled down. I’ve gotten the impression that she experimented a lot (with many things) and that it was a wild and turbulent time. That time doesn’t get much mention here, which is a pity since she made a few great albums then. It seems she’s maybe a bit wary of discussing all that, maybe with the view that her daughter will be reading the book at some point. I’m not sure. In any case, we don’t really learn all that much about Tori as a person here, there is a distance.

So… it’s well worth a read for Tori fans. For others, not so sure.

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Dancing about architecture

It’s been a pretty amazing year for me, music-wise. I saw Imogen Heap live twice, saw Jane Siberry perform in a normal home living room and got to talk with her for a good bit afterwards, saw Arcade Fire live at Senaatintori… the list goes on. I’m not complaining at all, it’s nice that Helsinki is firmly on the map nowadays for musicians on tour. And now of course both The National and Rush are coming to play gigs in Helsinki in the early spring (yay!).

Still, the “most amazing performance of the year” prize goes (easily) to Joanna Newsom at Kulttuuritalo. I wasn’t sure of what to expect and had never seen her live before. Wow. She’s now pretty close to the top of my “must see this artist live again” list. Very quirky, with a weird voice and a blend of folk, classical and even jazz music, she sounds quite a bit like a young Kate Bush at times but the music is often quite different. Oh, and in this age of compact radio-friendly songs she goes for 7+ minute epics with dense and literate lyrics. Good for her. This is the reason I go see live shows. One show like this makes up for dozens of mediocre ones (not that there were too many of those this year).

I also have to include this even though it’s not from that evening (though it is from the same tour), simply because besides being a great song, “Good Intentions Paving Company” is perhaps the best song title ever.

The National coming to Helsinki

Today’s good news: The National, one of my favorite bands, are coming to Helsinki next March (3.3.) for their first “proper” Finnish gig – they’ve been here twice before at rock festivals (Ruisrock and Ankkarock). Missed them at Ruisrock, but they were awesome at Ankkarock.

I do love these guys, there’s just something about their music and Matt Berninger’s stage presence that captivates me. Matt’s songwriting has a Bohemian flair and the intricate lyrics are meant to encapsulate snapshots of a vanishing moment or feeling rather than being literal things (“I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees”, for instance). You won’t find songs of teenage angst and rebellion here, this is about middle-aged life in a complicated world, trying to keep your head together and dealing with relationships (failed ones, most often), alcohol, divorce, alienation, loss, and friends who are close to losing it. It’s not all dark; there is wry humor here, and often an air of hope. Oh, and they also rock.

I think this place is full of spies
I think they’re onto me
Didn’t anybody, didn’t anybody tell you
Didn’t anybody tell you how to gracefully disappear in a room
I know you put in the hours to keep me in sunglasses, I know

And so and now I’m sorry I missed you
I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain
It went the dull and wicked ordinary way

Tickets go on sale next Monday.

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Tori @Pori

Missed seeing Tori at the Pori Jazz festival this weekend (due to Ropecon), but I just noticed that Undented has a collection of YouTube clips of the whole concert. Shortish gig and somewhat predictable “festival” setlist, but her voice is in great shape and I really liked some of the versions she sung here. “Hey Jupiter” (below) is a particularly cool version.

On the same(ish) note, here’s an awesome clip from a 1998 “Storytellers” session, with a short story prelude.

“Everybody knows I’m her man”

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Survived vacation

Well, I’m back at work, after a (short) 2-week vacation. It’s nice and peaceful here, as opposed to the hectic (but very fun) vacation schedule. And the office has air conditioning, which is a win these days.

We spent the first weekend in Joensuu, at Isosaarirock. Very nice rock festival, and nice trip overall. The hotel was an “eco-hotel”, which proved to be bad on Friday when we arrived: “eco” meant no air conditioning and poor ventilation, resulting in a room temperature easily in the 30s (C). We finally managed to sleep without dying of overheating by (also) leaving the room door open to the corridor. The temps dropped a bit the next days so it wasn’t so bad, but… that place really wasn’t built to handle heat waves. Nice enough otherwise.

The festival itself was good. Nice selection of bands and a wide cross-section of genres. We listened to everything from big band jazz to heavy metal and (Finnish!) rap. I primarily went there to see Imogen Heap (she was good), but many other gigs were also very much worth seeing and listening to. My feet were killing me near the end; 12 hours or so of standing / bounding about in soleless shoes (Feelmax) starts to get to you. We got a bit of a sunburn, but nothing too bad… and the beach there was awesome. You could wade in the water or go for a swim, while seeing and hearing the band on stage at the same time.

Imogen Heap seemed happy about the very positive reception she got (she hasn’t been here before), so I’m hoping she’ll do a “proper” tour with a Finnish concert at some point. It would be great to see her in a more focused environment.

The following week our house started filling up with guests. A lot of EVE players were coming to Finland for Ropecon, and we housed some at our place. Actually, we still do, I think the last of them leaves tomorrow. We also got well-known VTES “celebrity” player over (I’ve met him before at ECs), who got crash space on the floor on a mattress since our guest bedroom and sofa were already occupied my others. Fun guys all, and it’s fun to have the house full of people. Well, now and then it is, anyway ;)

Last weekend was Ropecon, of course. I ran the big VTES tournament on Friday, and it went very well. Excellent turnout with 93 players, and we also had a record number of foreign players attending. The win went to Otso Saariluoma, with the final round ending around 3am. It was a good final round too, with lots of stuff happening all the time. I’ll write up a full tournament report during the next week or so, with details on all that.

On Saturday I played in the VTES draft (fun, but only got 1 VP total), then caught some random program events and finally stumbled home to sleep for an all-too-short while. Sunday back to the con area to listen to Guy Windsor’s traditional “Realities of Steel” thing, and then an 8-hour info desk shift. So the con went well, though this year most of it went towards VTES for me.

…and now it’s (slowly) back to normal routine. That’s not a bad thing, as such. The kittehs will miss having a million people around the house, though, they’ve grown used to always having a human around who has time to pet them.

Jane Siberry in Finland (and elsewhere)

I’ve been a fan on Jane Siberry for the longest time. Ever since I bought her compilation album “Summer in the Yukon” way, way back, her music has been a semi-constant presence in my life. She’s (very) quirky, and some albums of hers work better for me than others – my personal favorites are “The Walking”, “Bound by the Beauty” and “When I Was a Boy”. I encountered her music at a fairly turbulent and emotional time in my life, and songs like “The Life is the Red Wagon” will always hold special meaning.

As a person, she’s… eccentric, at least judging by the evidence. After trying to run her own record label for a while, she got fed up with it and in 2006 sold her house and gave away almost all of her worldly possessions. She also changed her name to “Issa” and released an album under that name.

Now, she has changed back to “Jane Siberry” and has been on a worldwide ”Salon Tour” since January. Instead of a “normal” high-profile tour, she has decided to go globe-hopping with just her guitar and her dog. She plays where her fans arrange for her to play (often in someone’s living room), and asks that her hosts give her a room for the night and some food. The ticket costs cover her travel expenses. The Globe&Mail has a nice article about one of her living room concerts in London.

…and best of all, she’s on her way to Finland, in fact she may already be here. She’s playing a gig in Helsinki tomorrow (Tuesday). When I heard about that I’d already gotten tickets to see Rufus Wainwright at Kulttuuritalo. I was considering selling those, but then another date opened up in Riihimäki. It’s in someone’s living room, and me & Janka will be their short-time guests on Wednesday.

If you like her music, check out the tour page for contact info on the Finnish dates. They don’t seem to be sold out yet, so… if you have an eclectic taste in music and free time on Tuesday or Wednesday, get in touch with the organizers and go check out what may be a fairly unique little show.

And about that music: a bit over a week ago, Jane announced that all her albums are now available as free downloads. That’s… wow. I already had most of them, but now I have all of them.

If you’re new to her music, “When I Was a Boy” is probably her most accessible work. “The Walking” and “Bound by the Beauty” are also highly recommended.

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Arcade Fire coming to Helsinki!

This is getting weird, in a most excellent way. Just a week ago I was commenting on IRC about the excellent lineup of summer concerts coming up, and that if Arcade Fire and The National were to come over here, things would be pretty much perfect.

Well, this morning one of the first things I noticed was an into email saying Arcade Fire are coming to Helsinki, in June. They are playing a gig in Senaatintori, of all places. All I can say at this point is… wow. And that at this rate, it’s only a matter of time before The National announce a Helsinki concert, too. :)

Arcade Fire has been the band I’ve most wanted to see live for ages now. With luck I’ll finally be able to.

Someone up there likes me. Unless it’s a cruel joke, and I’ll be unable to get tickets. In that case violence may ensue.

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New Pornographers coming to Finland, yay!

We have arrived
too late to play
the bleeding heart show

This is shaping up to be an excellent summer for music. I already have tickets to see Rufus Wainwright, Joanna Newsom, Imogen Heap and Roxy Music, and today I heard that Martha Wainwright is also coming to Helsinki in August. Yay! Best of all, today I also heard that The New Pornographers, one of my current favorites, are coming to Finland for the first time in September. Tickets go on sale on Thursday. I’m so there.

It’s funny; just a week or so ago I was listening to advance tracks from their new album and wondering if I’ll ever get a chance to see these guys live. And now I (probably) will. If I’m really lucky Neko Case will be along for this tour, but no info about that yet. In any case… yay!

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Do No Evil & musical collaboration

A couple of interesting blog posts today.

First off, Tim Bray (the man behind this small thing called XML, in case you didn’t know), is now at Google. As such this is interesting, but his blog post about it is an especially fun read. He makes no bones about his hate for the Apple iPhone/iPad closed ecosystem:

The iPhone vision of the mobile Internet’s future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It’s a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers. The people who create the apps serve at the landlord’s pleasure and fear his anger.

I hate it.

I hate it even though the iPhone hardware and software are great, because freedom’s not just another word for anything, nor is it an optional ingredient.

Amen.

I don’t own any Apple products right now, but I’m far from hating them. In fact, I have a definite love/hate relationship with the company. Like Tim, I really like their open(ish) products: Macbooks, OS X, etc. If and when I buy a “big” laptop (as opposed to my current nifty-but-limited netbook) it’ll quite probably be a Mac. Apple is really good at polishing products, and after years and years of fighting with various Linux desktops, you know… the idea of a desktop environment with a lot of polish and emphasis on the user experience is a nice idea. I like Apple computers and the OS seems decent enough (hey, it’s a Unix variant).

…but the new Apple focus on the ultra-closed iPhone/iPad ecosystem is horrible, for lots and lots of reasons. In this mode, Apple makes Microsoft seem like the Spirit of All Things Open; Apple is ridiculously control-freakish. While this has resulted in a lot of polish in the past, now it’s (imho) clearly going into areas I do not like. The idea of needing to (semi-illegally) hack my own device in order to get reasonable use out of it (“jailbreak”) isn’t a sane one to me.

So Android has been looking more and more interesting to me, as a platform. Will be interesting to see what develops, and above all: Apple needs something to give them competition and keep them in line. A future where Apple is the major player is not a future I want: they are well on the way to becoming the very same Big Brother their old 1980’s ads fought against. I suspect they’d be a lot worse than Microsoft ever was, given a monopoly position. “Think different”, my ass. “Think like Steve Jobs, or else…” more like it.

Things might become very interesting during the next few years, in this arena. Apple and Google are more and more set on a collision course.

The other interesting read this morning was a blog post by the great David Byrne about musical collaboration. While I’m purely in the “listener, not creator” box when it comes to music, I love music and find it fascinating to read “behind the scenes” stuff like this. Professionals discussing how they work is always interesting, and David’s discussions on how collaboration works for him, along with snapshots of his workspace(es), is especially nifty stuff.

I found this bit especially interesting:

The unwritten game rules in these remote collaborations seem to be to leave the other person’s stuff alone as much as you can. Work with what you’re given; don’t try to imagine it as something other than what it is.

This presents some musical challenges, of course, but the benefits generally outweigh them. The fact that half the musical decision-making has already been done bypasses a lot of waffling and worrying. I didn’t have to think about what to do and what direction to take musically — the train had already left the station and my job was to see where it wanted to go. This restriction on one’s freedom — that some creative decisions have already been made — turns out to be a great blessing. Complete creative freedom is as much a curse as a boon.

I’ve also found (in some quite different contexts) that some limits can greatly enhance creativity and productivity. It’s a weird thing, but… complete design freedom all too often result in “analysis paralysis”, too many good possible design choices start to overshadow the whole point of what you’re doing. Setting some constraints (internal or external) can smooth things, sometimes significantly. Well, it’s worked for me at least, YMMV and all that.

…and David Byrne collaborating with St. Vincent? Very nice. Looking forward to see what (if anything) results from that.

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