Coldplay LIVE!

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:55 am

On Tuesday evening, I picked up my lovely fiancée for a surprise date; she knew we were going out but didn’t know where we were going. I took her to the Honda Center, and with a hint she guessed beforehand what we were doing: seeing Coldplay perform live!

As my loyal TLB readers know, I love Coldplay; they’re one of my favorite bands of all time, right up there with U2. I was stoked out of my mind to get tickets to a show of theirs, and I came in with high expectations, looking for my world to be rocked.

Ticketmaster hadn’t said this, but there were two opening acts. The first was Sleepercar, a band allegedly from West Texas whose lead singer had an English accent. Their style was generic rock blended with country elements–a pedal steel guitar and harmonica joined in periodically. It was an interesting contrast to Coldplay’s style, and while I understand the thought behind not wanting too much of the same style of music in one night, I bet a lot of the people who were at the show were not very fond of Sleepercar’s music. I didn’t hate it, but it certainly wasn’t worthy of a second listen to my ears.

The second opener was Jon Hopkins, an electronic musician slash DJ who contributed electronics to Viva La Vida, Coldplay’s latest album. He mixed along with a synced animation video by Vince Collins, who apparently has no personal website; Hopkins’ site indicates that the animation was from the 70s and 80s, and he got Collins’ permission to use it in his show. The animation was really trippy, very M.C. Escher-like (as Eleanor commented) in that the image would start as one thing and morph into another in a way that was very smooth yet discomfiting to the eye. Very interesting. I enjoyed his music, although the set went on a bit long for my tastes. Most likely a great deal of the crowd was more into electronic music than I was, because many fans of electronic music are also fans of Coldplay (like my roommate Mike) and vice versa, so that demographic of the audience probably loved it. Hopkins did lots of “whoosh” and electronic “swish” sorts of sound effects as he was mixing, and I thought they were a bit overdone. But I liked his choice of music, and I definitely enjoyed the transitions between songs. He often would bring in a new beat but keep elements of the previous song, and then build to a climax–and drop suddenly into nothing but the beat, and build back up into the fullness of the new song. It was a different type of musical experience for me, one I’m not very familiar with, but it was profitable.

And then Coldplay. I was very excited about this show, not least because I would get a chance to see one of my all-time favorite bands, but also because I’ve heard that this is the best tour they’ve ever done. Mike and I remarked to each other that it’s probably the best time in their career for a tour, because they’ll be playing a lot from my favorite CD X&Y but also a lot from Viva La Vida, which is similarly excellent. (I’ll include links to previous TLB posts about Coldplay at the end of this post.)

The show was incredible. I have to admit that I was just the slightest bit skeptical, because I’d heard a previous review of a friend who said they were disappointing in concert, and I’d seen them live on TV–perhaps on the Grammys–a few years ago, and they were terrible (Chris Martin, the lead singer, was probably drunk at the time). But this concert dispelled all my fears almost immediately. They started with “Life In Technicolor,” the song that opens Viva La Vida, beginning with the recorded electronics but then adding in all the band members, and then transitioned straight into “Violet Hill” (instead of transitioning straight into “Cemeteries Of London” as they do on the album). Chris Martin danced around the stage but never to the detriment of his singing, the whole band was full of energy, and the whole arena was rocking along.

Eleanor commented afterwards that it was one of the best performing arts shows she’s ever seen–and that says a lot coming from her, as she’s including classical performances, other concerts and her background and wide experience in musical theatre. I would have to agree. Everything about the show was excellent. Of course the music is good; the performances by each of the band members was terrific; Chris Martin’s interaction with the crowd was perfectly balanced, always adding to the show and excitement but never waxing too long; the lighting and stage design perfectly complemented the music; I could go on and on. But instead I’ll highlight a few things.

The lighting and stage design. Of course a show like this is going to have cool lighting effects: blinding lights for strong drum hits, lights sweeping over the audience during sing-along choruses, lasers. This show had all that. But the stage design was also very impressive. When they began, a digital curtain raised itself on the screen behind the stage, revealing the painting that serves as the cover art for the album; and at the end of the show, the curtain lowered back down over the word “VIVA.” There were also five spinning globes, suspended above the stage and out over the audience, that were used to display various images, patterns and views of the band. Very cool.

The musicians. I certainly didn’t doubt that the members of Coldplay were good musicians. But I didn’t know they were this good. Each of the four members of the band played at least three different instruments throughout the course of the night. There were multiple songs that featured Chris Martin playing piano, rather than just singing or playing guitar; a few of them required some stage rearranging after the song, and to cover for that he would play a minute or so of a classical piano piece. I think he even incorporated Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp minor into the outro of one of their songs. I was very impressed, again. The only mistake I heard was when he was playing the last few lines of one of the piano songs (I don’t remember which it was)–he came down on a clearly wrong chord, quickly said “Oh f—,” and kept going. The crowd went wild.

The crowd interaction. The whole show was very theatrical, as mentioned, and Chris Martin is a consummate showman. He danced around, he laid down on the stage, he rocked out on guitar, piano and harmonica. Several times during the night he substituted a lyric from a song with something about California, and the crowd loved that as well. His banter in between songs was very funny and added to rather than detracted from the show. And at one point, the whole band left the stage and walked over to a small enclave near the back of the arena, where they picked up two guitars, a mandolin and a harmonica, and proceeded to play an acoustic version of “The Scientist,” right in the middle of the audience. It was awesome and again the crowd went wild.

The music. Have I mentioned before how much I love Coldplay’s music? In addition to rocking everything they played, they played almost the entirety of Viva La Vida during the course of the night. The only songs they left out were “Yes” (although they did play the “Chinese Sleep Chant” by itself) and “Reign Of Love,” which I’m not very fond of anyway. The rest of the material was lots of X&Y and some of A Rush Of Blood To The Head; they only played one song from Parachutes, “Yellow,” which was the single encore. They began with “Life In Technicolor,” and they ended (before the encore) with “Death And All His Friends,” which
was the epic climax that it is on the album; after the encore, the recorded version of “The Escapist” played to finish out the night. It was basically a live performance of Viva La Vida, bookended with the recordings, with other songs thrown in the middle. Awesome.

The show was just incredible. I had to keep reminding myself that I was actually there, seeing Coldplay live. I paid lots of money for the tickets, but it was worth every penny and then some. Now all I have to do is see U2….

Click on the links below to read previous TLB posts about Coldplay and Viva La Vida:

Viva La Vida, Coldplay: First Impressions (my original review of the album)

Viva La Vida, Coldplay: Revisited (my further thoughts, and the intro to the week of song posts)

“Lost!”, Viva La Vida, Coldplay

“Death And All His Friends,” Viva La Vida, Coldplay

“Viva La Vida,” Viva La Vida, Coldplay

“Violet Hill,” Viva La Vida, Coldplay

“Cemeteries Of London,” Viva La Vida, Coldplay


Wedding Music, Part 2

Posted by AJ Harbison at 3:55 am

As I mentioned in my first wedding post, I’ve taken on the responsibility of planning the music for our wedding, and that includes the music for the wedding ceremony itself.

TheKnot.com is a wedding planning site that I would normally stay far, far away from, as a guy, but as a fiancé I guess I get a bit of extra slack. I decided, after spending an hour or two or three on Gigmasters, that I would check it out just to see if it had any good suggestions for wedding music. In the sidebar of an article entitled “Ceremony Music: The Basics,” I found the following list of ceremony music suggestions, which was rather amusing and entertaining in itself:

Your selections will speak volumes.

Processional: Bridal Chorus (Wagner)
Recessional: Wedding March (Mendelssohn)

New Traditional
Prelude: “Apotheosis” (Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty)
Processional: “Spring” (Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons)
Bride’s Processional: “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” (Bach)
Recessional: “La Rejouissance” (Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks)

Prelude: “Amazing Grace” (John Newton)
Processional: “In This Very Room” (Ron and Carol Harris)
Bride’s Processional: “St. Anthony’s Chorale” (Haydn)
Recessional: “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” (Hans Georg Nageli)

Prelude: “You and I” (Stevie Wonder)
Processional: “In My Life” (The Beatles)
Bride’s Processional: “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” (Lauryn Hill)
Recessional: “Beautiful Day” (U2)

Prelude: “J’ai Dormi Sous L’Eau” (Air)
Processional: “Luna” (The Smashing Pumpkins)
Bride’s Processional: “Fade Into You” (Mazzy Star)
Recessional: “Love Song” (The Cure)

It was funny just to note my own knowledge of these pieces–I recognize all the songs listed under “Traditional” and “New Traditional;” about half of the songs under “Gospel/Religious” and “Modern;” and none of the songs under “Hipster.” I guess that tells you where I fall in my musical tastes….

Several years ago, an old friend of mine asked me to write a bridal processional for her wedding–the song that would accompany her as she walked down the aisle. I wrote it, incorporating a lot of musical symbolism–even basing the melody of the middle section on her name–and in the end she decided against using it. (She already had music in mind for the bridesmaids’ processional, and I guess it didn’t flow well with my piece. She ended up using the piece that she had sent me as an example of what she wanted it to sound like.) A short while ago, Eleanor and I were talking about music for our ceremony, and I mentioned that piece (which I had entitled “Passion and Purity,” based on this book). She got very excited, and asked if I would want to compose music for our wedding ceremony. I got pretty excited myself.

After that I looked at the Passion and Purity Wedding March again, and was horribly disappointed–it’s really not well-written at all. I composed it in the spring of 2006, which I suppose is not very long ago but rather a long ways away in terms of my development as a composer. So, for our wedding ceremony I will be rewriting the Passion and Purity Wedding March. (Not least among the revisions will be the middle section, which will no longer feature the name “Hannah.”)

In further discussions, Eleanor said that the more music I composed for the ceremony, the happier she would be. I don’t know how much I’ll have time to write, but I love the thought of writing all the music for my own wedding. Seán Dunnahoe did it for his, and (although his style was very different from mine) it was really cool and worked out very well.

Most likely we’ll have just a piano (to keep costs down, and make my writing easier); I guess if I wrote everything I would compose the processional, the bridal processional (a new incarnation of “Passion and Purity”), and the recessional. I’ll keep you all posted on thoughts as I go!

P.S. Amazon is having a Black Friday sale all through this week and next, with different deals each day. And, as always, if you click through any of the Amazon links here on TLB, your favorite starving composer-blogger gets a commission on whatever you buy, with no extra cost to you! If you’d like to do some of your holiday shopping online and support me in the process, please click here: Black Friday 2008 Deals.


Wedding Music, Part 1

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:49 am

First off I must apologize for my lack of posting this past week, and the general lack of substance in my posts of late. I’ve been quite busy, planning a wedding and all. I hope I haven’t lost any readers. But (I must say) I’ve been a bit disheartened by the lack of comments lately as well. I like to hear what you think, even if it’s not a particularly brilliant comment–I like to know you’re listening!

I never had any idea of how much planning goes into a wedding. My lovely fiancée and I have four months, almost to the day, between my proposal (and her acceptance) and our wedding day, and there is so much to do. In any case, one of the aspects of the wedding planning that I’ve taken on is the music. (I wonder why…?) Of course, there are two components to wedding music: music for the ceremony (which I’ll post about in a few days) and music for the reception.

Eleanor has really only one non-negotiable for the wedding, and that is that the reception must have a live band instead of a DJ. One of the things she loves most about weddings is their ability to bring together people from all different circles and stages of your life for one big party, and she wants that party to be done right, and that includes having a live band. (And much dancing, and much wine.)

I’ve found Gigmasters.com to be a very helpful site. It organizes bands by style and genre but also by type of event (they have different sections for weddings, corporate parties, etc.), and provides a wealth of information about each band including audio and video samples. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a band as a great place to start.

Since Eleanor grew up in New Orleans, she wants to have a wide variety of music played by our live band. She was pretty stoked when I found some zydeco bands, a style of music created by the Creoles of southern Louisiana; but upon further listening we decided that a full-on zydeco band would be too much of a good thing. So we’re looking for a band that can do zydeco, but also styles like jazz, blues, swing, salsa, Latin, Cuban, etc. We’re still doing research, but the best band that we’ve found so far (and that we might end up hiring) is Bonne Musique Zydeco–French for “good zydeco music.” They have a West Coast-influenced zydeco sound, incorporating electric guitar as well as the traditional accordion and rubboard and such, but we like their sound and it looks like they play a pretty wide variety of styles. I’ll keep you posted on further developments. And if any of you know any Orange County/Southern California bands that might fit our bill… let me know!


I was going through some old emails today, and I came across this Washington Post article that my friend Stephen emailed to me May 3rd, 2007:

“Pearls Before Breakfast: Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour?”

I don’t think I ever actually read the whole article until today. It’s very long–about 18 Microsoft Word pages–but it’s really, really good. It’s an experiment that the Post conducted: having Joshua Bell, one of the world’s greatest violinists, play in a busy Washington D.C. Metro station to see if anyone stops to listen:

“No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”

In addition to reporting on what happened and interviewing Bell and many of the passersby, the article reflects on the philosophy of beauty, comments on the intricacies of violin-making, and describes the pieces that Bell played. It’s very well-written, dramatic and poetic as well as journalistic, and it includes several video clips showing some of the people who stopped to listen and toss change (and many who didn’t). I would recommend reading the whole article, even if it takes a few sittings. It’s an interesting commentary on our culture, and an intriguing take on the human perception of beauty.


Mash up: Gershwin vs. Schoenberg

Posted by AJ Harbison at 9:38 pm

In a similar vein to this post, one of my fellow CFAMCers pointed us to this piece, a sort of art music mash-up. In typical mash-up music, components of one song–say, the chords and the rhythmic groove–are layered with a component of a completely different song–say, the vocals–to make up one piece. (Click here for a cool example of a mash up from the blog of my friend Jason Rasmussen.) In this piece, George Gershwin‘s instantly recognizable song “I Got Rhythm” is “mashed up” with a variety of pieces by Arnold Schoenberg of the Second Viennese School. The different photos that alternate in the video indicate whose music is being played at the time. Enjoy!


Twelve-Tone Infomercial

Posted by AJ Harbison at 7:45 pm

I was alerted last week to the existence of this funny video by fellow members of the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers. It’s like a late-night infomercial, but advertising twelve-tone music of the Second Viennese School (Arnold Schoenberg and his disciples). Some of the jokes are funnier if you know musically what they’re talking about, but I think everyone will laugh to some degree. So take a brief respite from your serious listening and enjoy!


Two Flute Solos For Your Listening Pleasure

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:47 am

In my car for the past two days I’ve been listening to the album The Ultimate Collection by Michael Card–a greatest hits CD by a Christian musician who’s been making music for a really long time. I remember listening to his music growing up, and based on my memories I’m not at all sure that the songs on this CD are really his greatest hits; I remember many better ones, and I even remember better versions of the songs that are on the CD. But I digress. What struck me this past time listening through the CD (it’s actually a 2 CD set) were a pair of flute solos on two different songs, and I wanted to share them with you, my loyal readers. Flutes are seldom utilized in popular music, and even seldomer (is that a word?) are they given solos; but these two solos are excellent ones, and it’s kind of refreshing to hear.

The first can be found (courtesy of Last.fm) here (click the black play button in the player on the right), in the song “Lift Up The Suffering Symbol.” Again, this is not Card’s best work, lyrically or musically; but it’s a decent song, at least, and the solo is cool. Since the player has a time counter, I’ll mention that the solo starts at 2:24; but you can’t fast forward, so you’ll have to listen to the whole song anyway. Also listen to the brass swells, in clusters of notes–eerily reminiscent of the score to The Matrix.

The second solo, which is even better than the first, can be found here on iLike–click on the first play button in the list. Listen especially for the clarity of the quick repeated notes; every note is clear, distinct from the others around it. Excellent playing. There’s no timer on iLike, so you’ll just have to listen for the solo yourself. I like in this song how the strings imitate the flute at the very end of the solo–a high trill and then a downward arpeggio by the flute, echoed just afterwards by the strings. Continue to listen to the flute through the rest of the song; it reuses some of the material from the solo to add color as an accompanying instrument.

I hope you find these flute solos as entertaining as I did. Enjoy!


My Speakers Live!

Posted by AJ Harbison at 3:12 am

Earlier this year, I acquired a pair of Pioneer CS-G404 speakers for 40 bucks at a garage sale in Redlands. I brought them down a month or so after moving into my apartment in Irvine in June, but I didn’t know how to hook them up so they just sat there looking imposing (they’re each about 2.5 feet tall and 1.5 feet wide) for a long time.

I took a trip to RadioShack two months or so ago, and asked them how to hook the speakers up to our HDTV, cable receiver box and DVD player. Note to self: Go to RadioShack for purchases, not advice. The associate who helped me steered me in several wrong directions and I ended up with a bunch of cables–complicated cables that involved me putting them together, no less–that did absolutely nothing to make my speakers work.

Ryan Fleming, who is one of my best commenters on this blog, finally came over one night with an audio receiver/amplifier that he owned, and proved that my speakers did in fact work. Turns out that the TV by itself doesn’t have enough energy to power the speakers; you need another device (i.e. the receiver) to amplify the signal and power the speakers themselves. This led to another long lull in the story, as I didn’t want to put forward the money to purchase a receiver for myself (I had other big purchases in mind at the time, like a diamond ring) and I was kinda waiting on someone else who maybe might perhaps be able to provide me with a free one.

But in the end, my roommate and best-man-to-be Mike Morabito came through–or rather, his brother did. He and his brother both used to do quite a bit of DJing, and receivers are very important in that line of work as well as in the TV-to-speakers line. So randomly a few nights ago, Mike’s brother asks him, “Hey dude, do you want this receiver?” So Mike took the receiver and brought it back to our apartment. After a bit of fiddling around with it on Wednesday night, I discovered that all I needed was to leave everything connected as it currently was–and then simply run an RCA cable out from the TV into the receiver, and then run speaker wire from the receiver to each of the speakers. And it came to pass that I did so; and it came to pass that my speakers woke from their long dormancy to rock my apartment with their excellent sound. So now TV, movies, and music will sound so much better. I can’t wait!


New Photos Over At AJHarbison.com!

Posted by AJ Harbison at 9:16 pm

As promised, I’ve finally posted the photos from the 2nd Annual Rauxa Art Show in my Picasa Photo Gallery. Courtney is a great photographer and got some good shots, and as always, they’re captioned with a particular thing to note about each one. You can get there through my website www.ajharbison.com, on the “Links” page, or you can go straight there by clicking this link: AJ Harbison’s Picasa Photo Gallery. Enjoy!


TLB Election Night Special

Posted by AJ Harbison at 5:22 am

Congratulations to Barack Obama, the next president of the United States of America. I did not vote for him, but I believe in the system of democracy and republicanism that has made our country great, and I accept him as my president because he was chosen as such by that system. John McCain gave an honorable concession speech, and Obama accepted the victory graciously. I wish Obama and his family the best; may he be given wisdom and make good decisions as he becomes the leader of the free world.

My roommate Mike and I held an election night party at our apartment; we just finished watching Obama’s acceptance speech. After he finished his speech, victory music started playing at the location of his event (Grant Park in Chicago). It was not a fast-tempo, excited fanfare, but more of a slow, deeply triumphant movie-score-like piece. A quick Google search doesn’t reveal what the piece was, although it sounded vaguely familiar to me. I’ll see if I can discover its identity within the next few days. But notice (if you saw it or can find a clip online) the characteristics that make this a triumphant movie-score-like piece: slower tempo, instrumentation mainly brass and percussion, major key with mostly major chords, high strings to fill out upper countermelodies.

Did any of my loyal readers recognize this piece? Leave a comment if you recognized it, or if you found it online! And once more, for the record–congratulations to Barack Obama.