Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Welcome to the surreal zone, part 2

So we've become kinda connosieurs of street music over the course of this trip and have noticed a couple of trends as we travel.

1) Music minus one.....karaoke for street musicians.

I don't know if you are familiar with these CDs; they're basically like a karoake CD but instead of the voice track being left out, they leave out one of the instrumental tracks. Thus a violinist practicing for a performance with an orchestra could practice her solo and hear what it would sound like with the rest of the music. Well, street musicians have moved with the times, and we lost count of the number of them playing their part accompanied by a the rest of the instruments blaring out through a boom box or an ipod connected to an amp with a battery pack. In some cases this makes for very pleasant and very impressive performances. There a lot of pretty darn good classical musicans playing out on the streets (often conservatory students or music performance majors who figure they might as well make a little money from their practice time), and you appreciate the solo work even more against the backdrop of the orchestral play.

However, we have also seen this being used for evil. In Madrid, one of our nice tapas dinners was assaulted by somebody coaxing excrutiating tones from an accordian while flipping through his music minus one cd, trying to find a song he could manage to play along with (while his wife half-heartedly shook her tambourine). They had their cute little girl with, which bought them some sympathy and money when they walked around the diners to collect, though the Germans next to use used the line we wished we'd had the guts to say. After tossing some coins in her tambourine, the diner asked if that could pay for him to "Please god stop playing".

2) 'Yesterday'.....official theme song of the European street musician.

When Paul McCartney wrote "Yesterday", I don't think his plan was for it to become the plague of metro travellers worldwide. Despite the fact that according to the Guinness Book of Records, "Yesterday" has the most cover versions of any song ever written (over 3000 recorded), I don't think I had fully grasped its popularity until this trip. In a one month plus period travelling in France and Spain, I think we heard it performed (usually badly) in 8 cities/towns in a row on all manner of instruments, from guitar to sitar, accordian to pan pipes, voice alone to saxophone. The most impressively excrutiating was a gentleman with his Casio keyboard in the Madrid metro. He was haltingly playing the tune, stopping occasionally to try and fix a chord as we walked past on the way to taking Mom to the airport. More than 2.5 hours later we came back through the station and he was STILL playing Yesterday. Badly.

3) What the bleep?.....Chief Plays-His-Pan-Pipes says 'How.'

Now for the surreal part of today's show. World travelers over the years are probably familiar with the South American pan pipe groups that used to pop up on every street corner. You know the ones: they were dressed in colorful ponchos, they played various pan pipe type instruments, they always played the same sort of tunes and sounded the same and sounded good, and they never played without mikes and amps, leading me to come to the conclusion a few years ago that they weren't actually playing. Personally I believed that a CD was pumping out the music through the amps and the colorful native types were just playing "air pipes" and looking good.

We've discovered a new twist on this that is more disturbing. In Krakow, we saw a band with much the same set up as the south american groups, except that they were dressed as Native Americans (of the North American variety) complete with long headresses and the amped music was of the hey-hey-naw-naw type with chanting and drums. Perhaps a bit disturbing and stereotypical, but still understandable. But what we saw in Seville really upped the ridiculous scale.

The band was dressed as Native Americans, complete with leather clothing with fringes and long feathered headresses. However, ethnically they looked Spanish and the instruments they were playing were the classical guitar (complete with long fingernails, etc) and the pan pipes. The topper though--the song they were playing was the classic Native American anthem "My Heart Will Go On" as performed by Celine Dion in Titanic. I'm all for cross-cultural pollination (and lord knows I love fusion food), but this was ridiculous.



Anonymous said...

oooohhh---almost as bad as john wayne playin ghengis kahn...

Anonymous said...

ya, i cannot spell

Anonymous said...

wow, that's the funniest thing I've seen in awhile...

and funny how you can find these same groups playing the same music in places like the UW-Madison campus to places like Krakow...

...mmmm... fusion food... halalamph *burp*