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Archive for the ‘WRITINGS’ Category

Last June, my musician and writer friend Joseph Ghosn spent a few days in Beirut. We met on a couple of occasions, spoke about the abandoned grand piano in his neighbor’s house in the Lebanese mountains and the CD compilation I was planning to release later in August, with a track of his recorded in Radio Lebanon for Ruptures. He also gave me this tape. “You’re the one to get it,” he said. Joe has a fetish for tapes, and he knows I do too. “What is it,” I exclaimed, trying to refrain my enthusiasm. “Oh, just a little thing Charbel and I recorded in one week, a few years back. Listen to it.”

I have listened to it many times since then. Between Birthdays is Joe Ghosn’s first tape release for his Discipline musical persona; it consists of one elongated drone, a musical dialogue between Ghosn and guitar player-extraordinaire Charbel Haber, incorporating fuzzy swathes of guitar and discreet layers of glitchy synthesizers. It’s difficult to tell who’s doing what. The piece meanders wonderfully, veers from instrumental post-rock to ambient electronica, recalls Oneohtrix Point Never on some occasions, opts for pure noise on other occasions… A shadowy voice speaks a few detached words, a synth line recalls Discipline’s soundtrack for the film “Beyrouth”… And the drone fades into oblivion once, twice, before picking up again. The stuff that dreams are made of (for).

For more on Joseph Ghosn, click here. He’s also got a wonderful blog on WordPress.

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As one third of Sun City Girls, Alan Bishop is one of the towering figures of the American musical underground of the last 30 years, and his musical output knows very few boundaries, whether in his solo guise as Alvarius B., or through the global releases of the Sublime Frequencies label, which he’s operated since 2003. Sam Shalabi is a key musician in Montreal’s experimental scene, with Egyptian roots and a decisively warped approach to music-making. He is best known as a founding member of the Shalabi Effect quartet, and appears regularly in various free improv and avant-rock ensembles. Shalabi recently founded Land Of Kush, an intriguing orchestra inspired by the Egyptian big-bands of the 60’s and 70’s, which has released two records to date.

Sam Shalabi and Alan Bishop are old friends, but their delirious piece for Plot for a Biennial, the music section of Sharjah’s 10th Biennial, saw them collaborating for the first time. Prior to this evening’s performance, the two musicians had spent several weeks in Sharjah in order to record ambient soundscapes and impregnate themselves with the mood of the city. The resulting performance integrated pre-recorded sound fragments, live playing (Shalabi on electric guitar and oud, Bishop on amplified acoustic guitar), and Bishop’s inevitable and riotous ranting and raving.

Bishop spent the first few minutes of the set walking among the seated audience, hiding his face behind a scarf and sporting a colorful umbrella, while Shalabi triggered the electronic soundscapes and improvised on guitar. Bishop eventually climbed on stage, at which point proceedings took on a more dramatic turn — in the Shakespearean sense of the word. Standing behind a cluttered table, he relied on various objects (a torchlight, a portable radio, menus for local restaurants, artist catalogues, to name but these) to deliver a captivating spoken-word “routine”, adeptly mixing deadpan humor, vaudeville, and hilarious assessments of the Sharjah milieu. T-shirts decorated with the sentence “E = Tahrir Square” were blasted towards the audience; dog yelps and various animal sounds were emitted; and Stevie Wonder, playing on the same night in neighboring Abu Dhabi, was saluted sarcastically. The two men ended their hour-long performance with a magnificent improvised duet of oud and acoustic guitar.

[Photos by Ziad Nawfal]

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One would not expect a performance consisting of live drawing and guitar soloing to be so physical. Sharif Sehnaoui is bent over his acoustic guitar, placed horizontally on his knees, his body contorting at times, erect at others, eyes closed in extreme concentration, while he strikes, pounds and hammers the instrument with mallets and sticks. Mazen Kerbaj, on the other hand (or side, in this instance), is surrounded by a panoply of paint tubes, bottles of suspicious-looking liquids, saucers, brushes, window wipers, and other less identifiable apparatus. One wonders how he is able to pass these objects through airport customs, given the state of high vigilance enforced in these charmless places nowadays. At the end of the performance, he will inevitably be covered head to toe with blotches of paint, ink and solvent.

Wormholes is an ongoing audio-visual project by Mazen Kerbaj and Sharif Sehnaoui, two Lebanese free improvising musicians who have been working and playing together since the late 1990’s. In 2008, Kerbaj devised an ingenious set-up which allows him to draw in a live setting, using a luminous glass panel coated with acetate, an overhead projector, and a reversed camera. While he draws miscellaneous shapes and forms, sometimes precise, oftentimes blurred, and augments them with plastic add-ons and random effects (such as blowing on the panel with a pipe), Sehnaoui operates his guitar percussively, with lines that are heavy and forceful in places, and sparse and muted in others. Although the two men start the piece in unison, not much correspondence occurs at later stages of the performance, between the music and the drawing. Points of interference are accidental, and much is left to the audience’s imagination.

Prior to taking the stage at Sharjah Biennial’s March Meeting, on March 14, 2011, Sehnaoui humorously recalled an instance of ‘Wormholes’ at a performance festival in Belgium. At the end of the set, Spanish body artist Esther Ferrer walked up to the guitarist and congratulated him, remarking that the divergence between his playing and Kerbaj’s drawing was in fact one the most successful elements of the piece. The March Meeting’s performance was a success as well, with the two musicians in fine form, finding new points of both convergence and divergence, and leading their audience on a haunting, melancholic voyage.

[Photos by Ziad Nawfal]

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I stumbled on an archive of old photographs (well, not that old, as they are all digital) while going through my PC desktop at home. Local bands and musicians, foreign musicians playing in Lebanon, etc. Some interesting, most of them serving archival purposes, more than anything else.  I will be posting a selection of those photographs in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, here are some that my friend Salim took during Jeff Martin‘s concert at The Basement, last August. Jeff Martin used to sing with Canadian rockers The Tea Party, sometime during the 1990’s. Quite successfully, I might add; I have fond (listening) memories of a particular album entitled ‘The Edges of Twilight’…

A bit of a surprise, then, that a large part of Martin’s repertoire that night in Beirut consisted of covers, hovering over a large palette of the musical board: Massive Attack, Dead Can Dance, Nine Inch Nails, Joy Division, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Keane (!), and of course Daniel Lanois…

[Photographs by Salim Hbeiliny]

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When he came over to the radio for a chat and live performance, my friend Paed Conca brought this CD with him. Double CD, actually. The first side contains two tracks: one by Japanese guitarist Takumi Seino, and another by Paed and Raed Yassin (as PRAED), playing a bass (and other things as well, I’m sure) duet. The real goldmine is Side 2, though, where all three players are gathered for a 25-minute improvised piece. The 2-CD set ‘Faded Diary‘ was recorded live in Japan, in October 2009. I can’t get enough of it; brilliant, inspired stuff.

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A few hours ago, I caught myself trying to remember the first time I watched Scrambled Eggs perform live, here in Beirut or elsewhere. I couldn’t. Either my memory has started to fail me, or I’ve seen Charbel & co perform so often, and under so many guises, that the performances have merged into one gigantic, noisy blur in my head. Which makes these CD releases that much more vital, and evidently indispensable.

Both of these albums were released in April 2010, during the 10th edition of the Irtijal Festival. They are the product of a new label, equipped with a fabulously sleazy logo (see below), entitled ‘Johnny Kafta’s Kids Menu‘. The records mark an intense bout of activity for Scrambled Eggs (a trio of Charbel Haber -guitar-, Tony Elieh -bass-, and Malek Rizkallah -drums-), beginning towards the end of 2008, and extending early into 2009. The tracks were completed in Fadi Tabbal’s Tunefork Studio.

The first of the CD’s consists of sessions recorded with the ‘A’ Trio (Mazen Kerbaj -trumpet-, Sharif Sehnaoui -guitar-, and Raed Yassin -double bass-), comprising two long tracks, epic, dissonant, and sinuous, and a third, shorter, “rockier” ditty, a tribute of sorts to early Japanese animé “Grendizer”. Interesting to hear Yassin, Kerbaj and Elieh scream Arabic insults over noisy, distorted accompaniment. And highly recommended. Also recommended is local Lebanese producer Diamond Setter‘s remix of the title track, “Beach Party at Mirna el Chalouhi”. You can listen to that one here:

http://soundcloud.com/diamond-setter/scrambled-eggs-a-trio-beach-party-at-mirna-el-chalouhi-diamond-setters-whatever-you-want-rework

The 2nd album, “Scrambled Eggs & Friends”, was recorded with various musicians hailing from Beirut’s (and Paris’) experimental scenes, namely Joe Ghosn (laptop & electronics), Abdallah Ko (guitar & electronics), Stéphane Rives (saxophone), Fadi Tabbal (guitar), as well as the aforementioned Kerbaj and Sehnaoui. Here, Scrambled Eggs indulge in newfound musical directions and tangents, far from the regular rock format, and marrying with grand ease experimentation, improvisation, and noise. I love the stuff. And the visuals too (these are by Mazen Kerbaj). Ya 3akarit.

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TRASH INC: ULTRAMIND (Incognito, 2009)

Ultramind is the first full-length release from former rock drummer-turned electronic composer Nabil Saliba, aka Trash Inc. The album is a highly entertaining collection of modern dance-floor electronic sounds, spiced with vintage, funky keyboard riffs.

The inspiration for the album’s sound came to Saliba during the summer of 2008, as he played on stage on several occasions alongside Jawad Nawfal’s electronic combo Munma; the track ‘Ultramind’ was a live favorite of theirs, and Nabil chose to expand on the basic structure of that track. While ‘Ultramind’ took on a life of its own, other random Trash Inc. tunes were developed as well, and their structure modified in order to accommodate this initial track.

The end result holds surprisingly well, and does justice to Saliba’s wide range of influences: references to the 80s abound, with a strong nod towards jazz maestro Herbie Hancock’s early electric-funk experiments. More modern strands tend toward the minimal sounds of composers Gui Boratto and Sascha Funke, and the distorted rhythms of the Rephlex label. The overall feel of the music is one of space and futuristic science fiction, with a distinct ear for melodic soundscapes, reminiscent of Radioactive Man’s recent output.

Last but not least, the album’s sleeve holds a story of its own: Saliba came upon an article in a science magazine, showcasing the virtues of “Graphene”, an atomic structure with interesting electronic properties. The shape of this 3D modeled structure enchanted him so, that he wrote to the physicist in question and was allowed to use it for Ultramind’s cover art. A new threshold for science-based electronic music?

ultramind-cov

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