Tag Archives: Music

Rubbing Wings Slowly

Warning!!  This is an early Christmas post!  Well, at least I waited till it was  December.

One of the cute things about my wife is that she heckles crickets!   Yup, she just can leave the little critters alone.  On occasion when we are walking in the countryside in the cool of the evenings, we would come across a chorus of crickets chirping.  The sound can be quite loud and in the relative quiet of the evening it is the most prominent sound to reach the ears.  Instead of just enjoying the natural sounds, my wife would always flash a mischievous smile and then she would ‘chirp”.

“Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!” goes my wife enthusiastically.

Then something amazing always happens;  ……………all the crickets stop chirping ……..completely…………just stunned silence!  You have to be there to really appreciate the sudden drop from cricket crescendo to stunned silence.   Well, just total silence really.  I say “stunned silence” because I always imagine the little insects stop rubbing their wings  (rubbing wings is how they produce the chirping sound) and sitting there on their blades of grass with their jaws dropped!

I can only imagine what goes through their minds.

Theory 1:  They think; “My, my, that is the most beautiful cricket voice I have ever heard!” (not likely!) .

Theory 2: They think, “Wow! That is really, really bad ….. an off-key ….. an plain awful!” (more likely)

Theory 3:  They think, “Surely, that’s a bird or a frog  trying to pretend that he is a cricket to get a quick meal.  Better keep quiet so he doesn’t know where I am.” (even more likely).

But just this week, I discovered this video below and I hope after my wife sees it, she will stop heckling the creatures.

Doesn’t that sound like a heavenly choir?  So that’s my early Christmas post!

Now, it seems that this was recorded by an American American musician, Jim Wilson, in the 1990’s.  It was used  on the album Medicine Songs as the track “Ballad of the Twister Hair.”   There are supposed to be two tracks superimposed on each other; the first is the cricket chirp at normal speed and the second is the same slowed down.  It is claimed that the melodious chorus sound was produced by slowing down a recording of chirping crickets by more than 800 times.  This was said to be done as crickets live their life in high speed with a  lifespan that is approximately 800 times shorter than that of a human.  In the liner notes it is explained;  “Though it may sound like a synthesizer or a chorus singing; it’s the crickets themselves slowed way down, creating the effect of a choir of human voices. The sound created is a simple diatonic 7-note scale chord progression and melody with a multi-layered structure.”

Skeptics doubt that this sound could have been accomplished just by slowing down the natural crickets’ sound.  Attempts have been made to reproduce it.  Some musicians have tried to reproduce the sound without crickets and have failed.  Others have made their own attempts to slow down recordings of cricket chirps.  The latter found some of the sounds were reproducible but found the sounds more repetitive than the flowing choral sound in Jim Wilson’s recording.    One theory is that it really is the sound of crickets slowed down but not purely from just that and that the melodic choral element may have resulted from some secondary manipulation of the sound.  The debate continues and you can check it out at Snopes.

Music Takes Five

I was a very young boy when I heard this strange music coming from the old radio. I felt as if an invisible. magical force had dug its hook into me and made my feet dance to a new rhythm. Thus began my appreciation of modern jazz and the tune responsible was the famous “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

Dave Brubeck passed away on the 5th of December on the eve of what would have been his 92nd birthday. He was one of the great jazz composers and pianist. He contributed greatly to the evolution of jazz and was once designated as a “living legend” buy the US Library of Congress. Many more capable than I have already written articles and posts in honor of this great man. Thus I will just end this post with two of the iconic pieces closely identified with Dave Brubeck.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Brubeck is taking five……. music will resume in heaven. God bless Dave Brubeck.

Little Drummer Boy

(top image by eclectech)

Is it true that chicks dig bad boys, and especially bad boys in rock bands? And is it true that chicks are really, really, really into bad boy drummer-types in big bad rocking bands?  Well, true or not, my brother-in-law recently bought himself a drum set.  I suspect it is a case of early on-set mid-life crisis.  Any way, he bought the drum set and signed up for some formal classes to learn to play the drums.

When we meet up from time to time, he tries to show me some of the beats and drum sequences that he has learned.  I have no patience with the discipline that is needed to learn new things like playing drums.  Instead I rely on my natural inclination to music and after learning the basics, pretty much play by ear ……….. and I am pretty decent at it too, even if I say so myself.   So each time, he will show off what he has learned and I will show off what I just made up.  I know, silly.  But it kind of fed both our egoes.

Then his seven year old son, G, got into the act and started attending the same classes as his dad.  Lo and behold, G was playing better than his old man!  G does not have a natural flair for music but he is very capable and was technically superior to both of us and for awhile, G held center-stage during our jam sessions.  But the family saga was not yet over.  G’s younger 5 year old brother, R,  got interested watching his older brother play and so he picked up the drumsticks and with no formal training whatsoever, copied his brother’s beats.  And R, was a real surprise cause, he plays with the best natural rhythm of us all.

Despite nursing a bruised ego, my brother-in-law at least had the soothing balm of fatherly pride in his two kids.  He videoed them in action on the drum set to show off to relatives.  As it is the way these days, it was not long before doting dad got the idea to put one of the video’s up on to Youtube to show the world his talented offspring.  He put up a particularly good video of R playing the drums in his pajamas.  He was really rocking, playing the beat and doing a drumroll.  R didn’t miss a beat even though he had to pull up his falling pajama trousers a couple of times during the act. He entitled it “5 year old R plays drums”.

My brother-in-law was full of expectation.  He imagined the video clip going viral with praises and comments flowing in, “Oh how cute?” or “Boy genius” or “Amazing”  or “Can I adopt him?” or even, “Hi I would like to sign a recording deal with this musical prodigy!”

So imagine his surprise that when we checked the status of the video a few days later, there were only two views of the video and only one “like”.  (Later, doting father confessed that he had “liked” the video to get the ball rolling).  Curious at the poor response, we tried to do a google search to locate the video and made two surprising discoveries.  Discovery number one is that there are a lot of videos of drummers called “R”  – so we could not find our video and discovery number two was that there were a lot of kids who played a whole lot better and at an earlier age.

One such discovery was Howard Wong – shown in the video below when he was just three years old (he is 6 this year).  When we showed the video to G, all he could say was “what…? How? Is this real?  How…did he do it?”

So excuse us, we have to go practice some more before we dare show our faces on Youtube again but in the meantime, ever the patron of the arts, the Lone Grey Squirrel presents …………three year old Howard Wong. (Oh and he’s Malaysian!  At about 2.30 mark in the video, Howard really takes off on the cute factor)

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Kantoi! Busted!

Dear readers,

The Lone Grey Squirrel has been distracted by the abundance of nuts in dire need of burying and so cannot be with you at this time.  However, always seeking a way to better serve the community, Lone Grey Squirrel has asked his friend and cultural linguist to do a guest spot and post an educational post.  Enjoy and learn.

‘allo ladies and gents,

Perfessor Squirrel McNutts here, at your service.  You may remember me from when I reported back from my expedition to the jungles of Malaysia almost two years ago (Field Report on Manglish).  At that time, I gave an introduction to the lingua franca of the region which is an odd concoction of  English, Malay, Indian and Chinese dialects or Manglish (which is a technical term used by us experts).   Now using a modern scientific methodology called “Youtube” I have been recently successful in capturing more of this Manglish.

In the video below, a Malaysian singer and recording artiste, Zee Avi, sings a sad love story.  To my knowledge, it is the only song sung in Manglish that has ever been recorded (but then my knowledge is admittedly quite limited).  Nevertheless, I hope this will help you appreciate Manglish and even learn a phrase or two.  And to kill three birds with one stone, the song has even a moral.  See if you can guess what the moral of the story is by the time you get to the end of this post.

The song’s name is “Kantoi” which means “Busted!”

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Semalam I call you, you tak answer
You kata you keluar pergi dinner
You kata you keluar dengan kawan you
But when I called Tommy he said it wasn’t true

So I drove my car pergi Damansara
Tommy kata maybe you tengok bola
Tapi bila I sampai, you tak ada
Lagilah I jadi gila!

So I called and called sampai you answer
You kata, ‘Sorry, sayang. Tadi tak dengar.
My phone was on silent, I was at the gym.”
Tapi latar belakang suara perempuan lain.

Sudahlah, sayang, I don’t believe you
I’ve always known that your words were never true
Why am I with you? I pun tak tahu
No wonderlah my friends pun tak suka you

So I guess that’s the end of our story
Akhir kata she accepted his apology
Tapi last-last kita dapat tahu she was cheating too
With her ex-boyfriend’s best friend…



Last night I called you but you did not answer
You had said that you were going out for dinner
You had said that you were going out with your friend
But when I called Tommy he said it wasn’t true

So I drove my car to look for you in Damansara (a suburb of Kuala Lumpur)
Tommy suggested that you were watching soccer at a sports bar
But when I got there, well, you weren’t there
So all the more, I got annoyed
So I called and called until finally you answered your phone
You said, ‘Sorry, darling.  But I did not know that you were calling
My phone was on silent, I was at the gym.”
yet in the background I could hear some hussy’s voice.

Enough is enough, “sweetheart”,  I don’t believe you
I’ve always known that your words were never true
Why am I with you? Even I don’t know
No wonder my friends don’t like you

So I guess that’s the end of our story
Eventually she accepted his apology
But wait, the latest gossip is that she was cheating too
With her ex-boyfriend’s best friend…


MORAL of the Story:  Don’t piss off women songwriters or you may be immortalised in song and not in a good way (remember Taylor Swift’s boyfriends).

Happy March

Well, February is almost over and March is just a couple of days away.  I think many of us are glad to say goodbye to February this year.  In an effort to be more positive about things than I had been in my last post, I decided to celebrate the coming of March, a new month.  Perhaps there will be a new smell of hope in the air; maybe even the smell of Spring and the end of winter?

And to help with this celebration of March, I am recruiting the help of one of my favorite singers to sing one of my favorite songs.  How is that for double positives?!?!

I refer to the incomparable Jane Monheit singing the Antonio Carlos Jobin classic, “Waters of March“.

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I think that this New York native has one of the clearest and sweetest jazz voices that I have ever heard.   You should check out this second bonus video where she sings “Over the Rainbow“.  When recording this song for an album, the music producers were mesmerised by her voice and amazed by the fact that she sang the song impeccably on the first try.  I think this is the best ever version of this song which became part of the song track for the movie “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow“.  The movie really disappoints but I am sure that you will find that her singing does not.

Happy March ……..I hope!

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Space Opera

No one will ever mistakenly accuse me of being high-browed and cultured. I certainly don’t track with the black tie penguin suits of high society. Sadly, this extends beyond my lack of interest in participating in the extravagant social rituals of the aristocracy and my lack of money to pursue them. I genuinely do not seem to know how to enjoy or appreciate some of the things that are adored by this set. For example, I do not see the fuss made about foie gras. Please, it’s liver! Apart from the debate about whether it is ethical to force feed the ducks to get the fatty liver which is made into foie gras (in humans, a fatty liver is medically a diseased liver), I never liked eating my liver and onions and hiding what it is behind a foreign (non-English) name still does not hide its intense liver taste.

Another thing that brands me solidly as a Philistine squirrel is my lack of appreciation of opera. Wikipedia says that “Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text (called a libretto) and musical score. The word opera means “work” in Italian (it is the plural of Latin opus meaning “work” or “labour”) suggesting that it combines the arts of solo and choral singing, declamation, acting and dancing in a staged spectacle.” Hmmm. Well, that just sounds like a musical just like “West Side Story” or “Phantom of the Opera” but in a different language (just like the foie gras case).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the modern musical. I just don’t understand why people pay top dollar, get dressed to the nines and go an see a musical which tells a story in a foreign language that I can only understand from reading the souvenir program which I have to purchase separately at an extortionist rate.

It probably did not help that my early introduction to Opera was something from Wagner’s Ring Cycle based on German and Norse mythology. It is of course sung in German, and as I remember it, sung by big women wearing fake blond wigs with pig-tails, armoured breasts (like Madonna’s) and horned helmets. Even one of its more famous songs, “The Ride of the Valkyries”, made no sense to me in German. It only became a song that I could really appreciate when it was used in a media that I could appreciate; and that was as the song “Kill the Wabbit” sung by Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny. Now who said Saturday morning cartoons cannot be educational!

However, if Elmer and Bugs helped me to begin to understand opera, the one performance that really opened my eyes to the true wonders and possibility of Opera was the stunning performance of the Albanian songstress, Inva Mula Tchako, who was the voice behind the character Diva Plavalaguna in the movie “The Fifth Element“. In it she sings an aria from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (the mad scene), and “The Diva dance” song. I may still not understand the language but the way it is presented certainly helped me appreciate it. Allow me to share this song with you. For those serious Philistines like me, try to hang on till at least the 3.28 minute mark when a transformation occurs.

Mama Africa

“Miriam Zenzi Makeba, singer and activist, born March 4 1932; died November 10 2008.”

I was thinking of a topic for a post when suddenly “The Click Song” came to mind. This song was made famous by Miriam Zensi Makeba the South African songbird. However when I started searching around for videos of the song, I discovered that this great artist, at the age of 76, collapsed and died just last month in Naples, Italy, while performing on stage at a concert in memory of six Ghanian immigrants killed apparently in a gang slaying.

So now the purpose of this post, is more than introducing an interesting song but to also mark the passing of a great woman. She was known as Mama Africa Makeba and loved not just for her songs but for being one of the most vocal and visible anti-apartheid champions. Shortly after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, Miriam heard that her mother had died, but her own South African passport had been revoked and she was prevented from returning home for the funeral. Thus began 30 years of exile.

She initially stayed in the USA and collaborated with Harry Belafonte on some projects and won a Grammy with him in 1966. Her first return to the continent of Africa came with a visit to Kenya in 1962. The following year she gave the first of several addresses to the UN special committee on apartheid, and South Africa reciprocated by banning her records. Shortly afterwards, she was the only performer to be invited by the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie to perform in Addis Ababa at the inauguration of the Organisation of African Unity.

She also became involved in the civil rights movement in America and was popular in many countries (she was given citizenship by 9 countries). However, some of her actions were also controversial and loss her some popular support. Nevertheless, she remained well known and loved and was called to sing in the concerts celebrating Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.

The Click Song is the English name (“Qongqothwane” in Xhosa) because the song involves the “click” sound which is found in some southern african language but has no equivalent in English.

She also collaborated with Paul Simon in the Graceland album project and took part in a number of his African tour concerts.

Comments, Numskulls and Punk Squirrels

Many moons ago, when I did a post on comics, gledwood asked if I read any British comics. Sure enough I did grow up with a steady intellectual diet of British comics and one particular strip was called the Numbskulls. The Numbskulls are the tiny men inside us that work in the brain department, the ear department, the stomach department etc. The top guy, “Brain” tries to get every Numbskull in every department to work together and get their human to actually achieve things.

Well, I have had a rare weekend of actually resting and no work whatsoever. The result was I slept through to noon on both Saturday and Sunday. Maybe, I was more tired than I thought. Anyway, all this sleeping has only made me even more lazy and dopey (that’s right! even more dopey than normal!). So, I find myself now, looking at the Blog screen and find that my creative Numbskull is still dozing off somewhere and not answering the call to duty. In fact the only persona active in my brain at the moment is my Neanderthal Numbskull. With no other choice, I consulted him and he said,”Nguh! UHH! Oo-gah! Nguh! Nya! Oog!”

Neanderthal Numbskull notes that some of you had comments about the music in my life.
Leslie thinks I need more Rock and Roll ala Jerry Lee Lewis. Ivan thinks I need to have more grit and become more hip and has directed me to John Prine and his soulful Country style. Eastcoastdweller feels I am neglecting my patriotic duty and should be writing and promoting songs about squirrels. Neanderthal Numbskull hates so many comments with differing views. It gives him a headache. So please take the poll on the sidebar so that Neaderthal Numbskull can cope with just one answer.

So with the cupboard totally bare, being completely uninspired and taking advice from Neanderthal Numbskull, I have decided to answer eastcoastdweller’s request for more songs for the squirrel tribe. The big advantage is that I am just copying what someone who is more creative has already done. Neanderthal Numbskull says it is called “Pla-guh Ri Sin.” That might have meant something to my Scientific numbskull but he fell asleep ages ago contemplating simple harmonic motion. Neanderthal Numbskull says squirrel music not so different from the good ol’ prehistoric caveman days. Enjoy.

For the latest Squirrel Music Video, press here.

Ida Wished Me Well

The Wonderful Ms. Ida McBeth

Serendipity is the act of accidentally finding something wonderful. Not too long ago, I found myself with a mixed group of people wandering the streets of Kansas City on a dark, cold autumn night. I have to admit that I did not know much about Kansas City and what little I knew was gleaned from travel books just days before I arrived. I heard they had a Jazz Museum but was disappointed to learn that my group’s itinerary did not enable us to visit the museum. Our group had one night on the town and I was determined to make it a musical one.

The problem was that none of us knew where to go. As we walked, though, we came across an establishment called Jardines. We went in hoping for dinner and music but the place was packed and the waitress told us it was standing room only or an hour wait for a table. The rest of the group did not want to wait and we all left.

After further aimless wanderings and differing opinions and suggestions, I told the group, I wanted to go back to the Jardines and take my chance with the waiting instead of wandering blindly. Only Tracy said she wanted to do the same and so we left the group on the sidewalk still debating their options.

We scurried back to the Jardines and to our surprise, the waitress told us straight off that there was a table for two available for dinner but warned it was a bit loud as it was actually next to the stage and by the loudspeakers. We took it and the position could not be better. These were front row seats. When the guest singer took her seat and started singing, she was practically spitting in our food. It was difficult to hold a conversation except during the interludes but it did not matter as we were here for the music.

They announced that Ms. Ida McBeth was taking the stage. I had no idea who she was at that time but she, her music and the Jardines would be my serendipitous discovery of the trip. She amazed us both with her rich vocals and her range of music genres including jazz, blues, pops, show tunes, R & B and even gospel. We did not at all mind her spitting in our food. Close up we could enjoy the emotions and expressions that lit up her face as she sang. During the intermissions was when the locals, told me that they were very proud of their Ida and many felt she was the best singer in town.

I had a chance to talk to Ms. McBeth, take her photo, and get a signed autographed copy (“Wish You Well! Ida”) of her CD “Special Requests” in which I just love her version of “I can’t make you love me” The Jardines was a warm and friendly place too. The fact that I cannot remember the food merely shows how enraptured I was with the place, people and the music. From now on, Kansas City is music city for me and the lucky place where I got to learn about the wonderful Ida McBeth. The locals say, “Come prepared to be Ida-lized”.

Kansas City – Alive with Music at the Mall