music, technology & life in pasadena, california


Monday night at the New Moon restaurant in Montrose/La Canada, California:

My wife: “Is this food Cantonese?”

Waitress: “No, it’s Chinese.”

October 28, 2008 | Link to this entry

Dig Me!

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I did a lot of recording on various projects with drummer Jerry Kalaf, now musical director for the Jazz Tap Ensemble, a dance group that is an amazing blend of the two styles. One night while we were talking, Jerry told me he liked to relax and listen to the day’s recording results after having dinner with his family. He called it “The Self-Indulgence Hour”.

So, in the spirit of that hallowed hour, I offer a recording of John Adams’ Gnarly Buttons for which I played banjo, mandolin and guitar, along with the LA Philharmonic New Music Group in February 2007.

The first movement (with banjo) is not included in the broadcast and there is a voiceover interview with John Adams during much of the music, but overall it’s still a great piece on one of America’s most original composers.

Here’s the recording from NPR

Here’s my original blog post about the piece

October 25, 2008 | Link to this entry


Last night as I was driving through Hollywood on my way home from the show, I passed a bicyclist at the corner of Franklin and Western who had a lute strapped to his backpack.

October 25, 2008 | Link to this entry


Austerity. Starkness. Love. Grandeur. Magic.

This week I discovered (much too late I may add) the beauty of the music of Sigur Ros, a band forged in the volcanic magnificence of Iceland. Looking at the trailer of their DVD, Heima, a documentary, concert film, travelogue and art photography experience, I dare anyone to watch it without getting goosebumps. Sigur Ros (the name means victory rose, named for one of the member’s sisters, Sigurros, a common girl’s name in Iceland) is one of the most original bands I’ve heard in a long time. Lyrics are in Icelandic, but sometimes in a wordless sing-song they call hopelandic.

It’s stark simplicity reflects the harsh landscape they grew up with and sometimes seems to summon up the sound of the earth itself crying out. Or maybe that’s the sound of the Icelandic financial system. It’s powerful stuff, and no one can really explain or describe it. You have to listen and be moved.

Watch the trailer

Visit the Sigur Ros site

October 11, 2008 | Link to this entry

Rapture, Color & Grace

Sitting in the middle of the orchestra I could hear absolutely everything unfolding around me, more than a recording, greater than stereo, much more than simple surround sound. It’s a sound most people don’t get the opportunity to hear. Even the biggest fan and audiophile can’t get inside the sound the way I am right now, and when that orchestra is the LA Philharmonic, well…life doesn’t get any better. Sort of…

You could add soprano Dawn Upshaw to the mix and have her sing not one, but two arias, one each by Stravinsky and John Adams. The most positively divine voice (and I mean that most literally) in the universe is back stronger than ever after a bout with breast cancer a few short years ago. She’s always had a special connection with Esa-Pekka as evidenced by their many collaborations together, including the upcoming January 2009 opera premiere (West Coast) of La Passion de Simone by Kaija Saariaho, a Finnish compatriot.

You could add soprano Audra MacDonald belting out a few jazzy numbers to round things out.

And to top it off, yet another soprano, this time coloratura Barbara Hannigan, a Canadian singer whose spellbinding performance of Gyorgy Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre brought the audience to their feet and prompted several curtain calls. Ligeti’s piece for a small chamber ensemble of 17 players, including mandolin, which is why I’m here, is a masterpiece of l’opera surreal, a tour de force of everything that new music could stand for if it were brave enough.

The performance, the opening of the LA Philharmonic season that traditionally benefits the musicians’ pension fund, is the last of its kind for Esa-Pekka Salonen, who leaves his 16-year post after this season to devote more time to composing. The Board of Directors and management surprised him tonight with an extraordinary gift; an endowment of $1.6 million to benefit the Esa-Pekka Salonen Commission Fund, which will foster new music composition for the orchestra. He was visibly touched by the gesture, announced just before the concert began.

During his 16 year tenure, his sense of humor has grown along with his already formidable talent and gift to inspire. At last night’s rehearsal, when a player’s cell phone started ringing (with a loud salsa ringtone), he looked up with his eyes without moving his head, which was buried in the score, and declared, “I think a gig is coming in!”

October 3, 2008 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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