Hagioscope

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Trombocal

You might want to make a pit stop before you start reading. This is a long one.

PART I: Back by popular demand


There's been some question recently as to whether I've dropped off the face of the earth. No, I haven't, and thanks for asking. I didn't think anyone besides my mother was keeping track, so it's nice to be reminded.

Anyway. On the one hand, it seems like a lot has happened since my last post. On the other hand, the world has kept spinning just fine without my documenting every rotation. Makes me suspect my blog is nothing more than a rambling trombocal solo.

"Trombocal" = trombone + vocal, a word coined by Rockapella (in the liner notes of Comfort & Joy) to describe the use of vocal techniques to simulate the sound of a trombone. "Trombocal" has come, by extension, to mean any vocal imitation of instruments. Good a cappella groups use trombocals to vary their sound with new textures. It's a fine gimmick when used sparingly.

However, less confident a cappella groups — in other words, the 99.9% who aren't Rockapella, Duwende or the House Jacks — use trombocals to prove that they can sound like something other than just singers, and to cover the long instrumental breaks in some of the songs they cover rather than working out a more original arrangement. You know: the "Check this out, I sound just like an electric guitar!" riff every lead singer will toss out at some point to illustrate his coolness. Excessive trombocals take all the fun out of listening to a cappella. If I wanted to hear guitars, I'd fire up the Who, not the Bobs.

NB: Vocal percussion (good vocal percussion) is not trombocal, since it is not imitation, but rather consistent replacement, of instrumentation with voice.

And my point would be?

Trombocalizing means trying to be something you're not. Blogs are trombocal because their writers pretend they're important, but they're not. So I quit blogging for a while because it felt stupid to put effort into something meaningless. But I decided blogging is no dumber a pastime than anything else, and less so if it helps me keep in touch with a friend or two — which is, ironically, increasingly difficult to do in this era of instantaneous communication. So I guess I'll keep posting, and keep wishing for more response from readers, and keep reminding myself how cheesy and obnoxious trombocal solos really are.

PART II: Bring on the blather


Right! So! Interesting things that have happened since my last post:

  • I spent the better part of a week in SD hanging with Mother Media. The main reason for my visit was to demonstrate T'ai Chi to her Inquiry Club. They let me blather on for much longer than my originally allotted time, so I guess they liked it. The interesting part for me was giving a presentation to an audience that included a few of my former teachers, including my high school speech/debate/drama coach. She said I done good. And Mom was proud of me, so the rest really doesn't matter.

  • While in SD, I attended a performance by Cadence, a Canadian a cappella group. They were good, but relied much too heavily on trombocals, especially during their jazz numbers. Cadence has several good arrangements and several good voices, but a regrettable lack of matchup between the two.

    One of their best numbers was a rocking cover of the Cake version of "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps," which I've never heard any other a cappella group do. Kudos for near-originality! And one of their worst was when they tried to cram their pasty-white Canadian selves into a calypso ditty, with the bari/bass wheezing a lead line far outside his power range. If they were aiming for irony there, I missed it. Until they stop trying to be what they're not, they're going to be stuck in small venues, pining after larger ones.

  • If you want to hear some excellent a cappella without pretense, call my cousin Jami's daughter Shali. She knocked out the best national anthem I've heard in years in a busy living room in the middle of the prairie: expressive, vibrant, and 100% on-key. Shali currently performs at local sporting events and, unless I miss my guess, will soon find a larger audience.

    If you want to book her for a special occasion, you'll have to provide transportation; Shali is seven years old and does not yet drive. That we know of.

  • Visiting SD made me realize how much I miss the Black Hills and their crisp pine solidity that reminds me of Dad — and how little I miss the gossip. Seriously, folks. Don't make me preach on this.

  • Last Sunday, I heard ace beatboxer and live looper Kid Beyond do his thing. KB is basically a one-man recording studio live onstage. He records rhythm, melody and harmony tracks and then sings the melody overtop, all while you watch. Very cool! My one complaint is that the songs are so multilayered, it's hard to distinguish what makes each unique.

    Thing is, it's tough to observe KB's intimate process from any seat farther back than about row 10, and he was playing a huge auditorium. All I could see from row 33 was the poetic motion of his left hand as it alternately pounded and painted, conducted and conjured.

    Also, the crowd, slowly trickling in to see the act for which KB was opening, did its best to ignore him and get drunk, so the energy in the house was pretty lame. And the subwoofers were set on "dissolve cell membranes," so what could have been great music instead became physically uncomfortable. That's all bummer stuff. If I get a chance to see KB in a better venue, like a nightclub or a smaller hall, I'll give him another try. He sports a mean Mr. Clean look. I suspect he's hot.

  • The senior director of my department at work made an abrupt departure from the company a few weeks ago. While we were told he had resigned, it's widely assumed that he was fired. Why? Because he was a terrible fit for that particular job, and he did it badly. Square peg/round hole. But I suspect he'd flourish at the head of a start-up venture. Anyway, he's a decent guy and we wish him well.

  • Sifu Paul turned 50 this week. Happy birthday to one of the best teachers I've ever had.

  • I won a lava lamp in a charity fundraising auction. Woo! I've wanted one for like 30 years, and at last I have one. Black base, teal lava. Groovy, man!

  • I'm delighted to report that I had tree roots clogging my sewer line! Why is this good news? Because it's a problem with a solution. In past years, I haven't noticed trouble until the dead of winter, when ice clots around the clog compounded the problem and a steam jet cleared the blockage . . . until next time. But last week, I not only noticed a bit of oddness in the way the washer drained, I also acted upon it promptly. Plumber Al made serious inroads into the roots, and all is now well with the pipes at Sensational Acres.

  • Know what I hate? When disc 1 of a keen sci-fi series I've rented from Netflix gets me hooked, so I eagerly pop in disc 2, only to discover it's cracked and unplayable. Now I have to wait nearly a week until the replacement arrives to find out what happens! GRR!

  • The cats are fine. The car is fine. The iBook is fine. Everything is fine. How 'bout somebody else talk for a while.

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