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LangoLee

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  1. Time to revive this thread after a couple of years: I just saw the latest sci-fi blockbuster, Ridley Scott's Prometheus, billed as a prequel of sorts to the Alien franchise. I went in with low expectations after reading the reviews, but was generally entertained. Anyway, what makes it pertinent here is a scene in which the character played by Idris Elba (better known as 'Stringer Bell' from The Wire) is briefly seen holding (and unconvincingly squeezing) a concertina! It looked like an Edeophone. When asked about it, he claims, rather implausibly, that it once belonged to Stephen Stills. I'd like to add that the instrument plays a critical role in the resolution of the plot, but alas, it makes no further appearance. Still, this must be the most high-profile Hollywood deployment of a concertina in a while.
  2. This may be of interest if, like me, you have a combined interest in concertinas and films of the silent era: I learn from a DVD forum I frequent that the British 'Masters of Cinema' DVD label will be putting out a box set of German silent films by Ernst Lubitsch (now better known for his later Hollywood comedies), one of which - Die Puppe (1919) - will feature a new soundtrack played by Bernard Wrigley on English concertina, which, according to the producer, 'exhibits a lovely ambience and warmth, and avoids the razor-digital-sheen of many 'new' silent scores'. Should be released early next year.
  3. As has been pointed out by the likes of Allan Atlas, baroque violin (or flute) music is preoccupied with the melody line more than tonal variation or bowing effects. Obviously a concertina cannot emulate a violin directly, but it can do a pretty good job of playing a melody line, and hence baroque music is fairly well suited to it. (Romantic repertoire would be a different matter.) We probably shouldn't concern ourselves with whether a paying audience of classical snobs would be entertained by the results. For all their difference in tone, a concertina is still closer to the sound-world of a violin (and the flute possibly moreso) than a piano or harpsichord. Its bright timbre arguably favours sparse arrangements. I know we may simply be expressing differences in taste here, but I personally find single-line concertina performances (maybe with limited harmony), whether of classical or folk material, more convincing than attempts to play adaptations of keyboard pieces, which can only really be done with any freedom, as you have regularly pointed out, on the duet. I am yet to hear a duet performance (even of the 'vintage', pro players) in which the left and right hand parts could clearly be separated in the manner of a piano - they always seem to smudge together, the bass notes threatening to overwhelm things. This is okay for polkas, waltzes, and other tunes requiring a thick accompaniment, but seems wrong for classical, except perhaps small-scale organ works.
  4. Hundreds of Irish-style players would disagree with that statement. Surely the problem with chordal playing on the concertina is that the more notes are sounded at once, the thicker, and possibly more sluggish, the sound (concertina reeds arguably seem more subject to this effect than accordion ones). It is like the shift from a lithe, acrobatic instrument such as a violin or flute, to the denser texture of a small organ or harmonium. The latter sound is more likely to evoke a late 19th-century church than a dancefloor or rock venue. Just as one man's 'facile' may be another man's 'exciting' or 'animated', so one man's 'juicy' chords may sound 'muddy' or congested to others.
  5. Mostly harmonicas with the occasional bit of harmonium (on the mellower, less 'rocky' songs), right? The harmonium remains a much maligned and underrated instrument. Listened to 'Hey there Delilah'. Think I would describe it as acoustic singer-songwriter type stuff rather than rock, but I take your point. I think the reason why the guitar (acoustic or electric) has become the hegemonic instrument in popular music is because: A) it has a naturally rhythmic/percussive sound, and quick note decay (except where effects pedals are used), and it is seen as a 'mellow' complement to the human voice (except in heavy metal and more abrasive styles). The problems facing the concertina as a challenger are, conversely, that: A) the notes do not decay, but will either be short & sharp or extended and drone-like, and, more importantly, the tone tends to be quite bright or even strident, somewhat 'voice-like' in itself, so when sung to, the result can sound almost 'choral', usually not what pop/rock players are aiming for (same reason you rarely hear oboes or clarinets in pop). If a banjo can't appear in a pop context without people thinking of bluegrass, then a concertina (which, if it exists in the popular consciousness at all, might be 'one of those things played on a pirate ship') would have a much harder struggle. However, it is eminently well-suited to singer-songwriters or 'independent' musicians with more adventurous tastes (after all, if Radiohead can hit the charts using an ondes martinot...).
  6. Since two of the defining characteristics of rock music are electric amplification (usually of guitars) and beats played on a full-size drum kit, it would be impossible to replicate such a sound on a solo concertina - only a skeleton of the tune. With the addition of drums and maybe an electric bass, it could be slotted into crossover genres such as folk-rock (e.g. John Kirkpatrick in Morris On, or any of the numerous Irish acts), or one of those pseudo-gypsy bands perhaps. Otherwise, free reed instruments are, one imagines, still regarded - if they are ever regarded at all - as tragically unfashionable by most Western rock aficionados (connotations of an elderly street musician playing a polka on a battered old accordion, or something).
  7. Nice stuff. Also enjoyed your contribution to the 'English International' compilation. I think the Swedish folk repertoire is very well suited to the sound of the concertina. It often sounds more haunting/contemplative than the usual Anglo-American/Irish stuff, maybe because it's not all in the key of D/G. Danny Chapman, a.k.a. Ratface, also has some recordings from Ben - son of Tom - Paley's anthology of Swedish pieces on his website. (See there was also a thread on the subject back in 2005.)
  8. For novelty fans - Darth Vader (rumoured to be a bald Scotsman under the helmet) plays the concertina:
  9. Are you aware of Simon Thoumire's new YouTube video series? It features him playing at home in various comic settings, including in a Darth Vader costume (think I'll put a link in the other YT thread in case people don't visit this one): http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=1516B8EF804A4C92
  10. The advantage of getting a Jack, I have found, is that, should you wish to acquire a more expensive treble at a later stage (few are going to want baritones only), the Jack can still be kept in reserve for accompaniments requiring lower notes. In this sense I think it is potentially better value than a Jackie, since the 'thicker' sound of the accordion reeds seems more suited to the lower range, even if they can be a bit sluggish to speak. Those who are skilled with multi-tracking could use a Jack to play basslines and then play independent melodies over them on another instrument (duet advocates might point out that one could do this simultaneously on a duet, but the effect would hardly be the same).
  11. Actually I think the sound you mention is one of the appeals of this instrument. The warbling low notes on a Jack could be put to use in experimental composition or Gothic/horror soundtracks. They have an ominous grunt different from 'traditional-reeded' baritone concertinas. Not so suited to light dance tunes, perhaps.
  12. I'm not sure how you come to this conclusion. As Marien notes, all of the duet button layouts are more eccentric than those of piano or button accordions, and given the accordion's status as the preeminent global free reed instrument, the duet concertina will remain a marginal curiosity, unless a standardised layout is developed and production costs are slashed. To suggest that it provides 'the same possibilities as a piano' is surely hyperbole. As for which of the three systems has the 'most promising' future, I am an English partisan, but I think the Anglos have it, for the ITM foothold if nothing else. Realistically, though, I don't think there is any obvious likelihood of the concertina extricating itself from the folk ghetto in the foreseeable future, or of ever regaining its peak popularity (c. 1900?). It was a product of the ingenious machine age of the early-mid nineteenth century, but we are now in a digital age. The forefront of instrumental development since the 1960s has been in synthesisers, electronics, sampling, computer music, that sort of thing. Guitars and other stringed instruments with a much longer pedigree remain popular because they are easy to produce cheaply (and continue to dominate much commercial music), and even the 'ugly ducklings' of the symphony orchestra (bassoon, tuba, etc.) have institutional backing because of the need to recruit new players for the frozen world of classical re-enactment. However, a hand-made concertina will seem increasingly anachronistic once some digital all-in-one comes along able to replicate any instrumental sound (I'm thinking of models much more sophisticated than MIDI, probably still a few decades away); one may object that the desire for physical hands-on instruments will never die, which is true, but the concertina itself is a fairly late entry in the restless history of technological experimentation. It is somehow stuck between two stools, still regarded as a 'novelty' in comparison to more ancient string, wind and keyboard instruments, and yet at the same time 'outdated' for the same reasons, never having taken very deep roots in the culture. It may be worth noting (to continue with my historian's hat on) that any invention created since the birth of industrial capitalism (Wheatstone took out his initial patent in 1829, the year before the Liverpool and Manchester railway opened), in a climate of global trade, disposable consumption, and a fickle 'leisure industry', is much more subject to the oblivion of a culture with an extremely short-term memory. All that said, I share the biased opinion of most posters here that the concertina is one of the greatest and most sadly underrated instruments in existence, but then we are merely a subset of hobbyist eccentrics, probably up there with enthusiasts for steam trains, silent film, Esperanto, etc.
  13. I've noticed that South African players seem quite keen on that tremolo effect. I have acquired a few CDs of Boeremusiek, and from what I can make it out it's a sort of mutation of 19th century Germanic waltz and polka tunes, often souped up with guitars and electric keyboards for dancing (including some rather unfortunate MIDI-style backing tracks on the album I have by Kobus Fourie). It's actually hard to find much info about the style on the internet, because it's all in Afrikaans. Is the target audience for this music still the rural Afrikaans population, or does it have any presence in the urban centres? I gather Die Klipwerf Boere Orkes have sold a lot of records nationwide.
  14. Agree entirely. Some people say you shouldn't try to sing with a metal-ended one, but I don't see why not (it works for Anglo players).
  15. I was listening earlier this evening to the first disc of 'Ten Thousand Miles Away', a reissue on Fellside of some of A.L. Lloyd's early folksong recordings from the 1950s. Many of these were of course accompanied by Alf Edwards, on what I believe was a metal-ended concertina (I think Stephen Chambers owns it?). Anyway, despite the relatively primitive recording setup, I remain impressed by the sound of these. What I'm interested in is how they were done. Since the early 50s ones were mono, presumably it was one microphone with Lloyd singing into it and Edwards playing further away - he manages to make what was potentially a loud music hall instrument sound highly restrained and subtle. This leads to thoughts on current amateur recording practice: what is the best way of recording an accompanied song with only one microphone, especially as a chordally-played concertina is often at risk of competing with the voice?
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