Archive for March, 2008

Travel Tip

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

If a $150/night hotel near Central Park in New York City sounds too good to be true….. it probably is!

I’m here for the ‘Sputnik Mania’ premiere at the IFC tonight. I jetted in for only two nights. Looked for a hotel on Expedia. Most hotels in the SoHo area start around $295/night. Last time I was here I found one on Expedia for about $160, close to Central Park, and it was a real score. That one (Park 76) had increased to $280 this time. So I picked another close by, the Belnord on 87th St, which is only $150 per night with free Internet. How for wrong could I go?

I was a little concerned when I walked into the lobby and it looked more like a taxi office. The clerk gave me the key to my room, on the 5th floor. He said he had to warn me there’s no elevator. Boy, I’m feeling glad all I have with me is a small rollaboard, unlike last time I came through NY on my way to TED with a keyboard flightcase packed full of equipment. And my torn calf ligament is close to completely healed. Still, I’ve carrying my laptop and a chunky hard drive as I’m hoping to get a couple more TED tunes mixed over the weekend. So I start climbing the 10 flights of stairs. The place looks like a building site—door framed half finished, dust everywhere, plastic sheeting. I get to the 5th floor, naively hoping that this one will be habitable; but it’s no different from the other floors. Now I realise to my horror that the clerk had pointed me down a different corridor, presumably with its own staircase! Standing there dreading the double trek back down, around and up again, I am approached by a Hispanic workman in overalls. I tell him my room number and he confirms my worst fears. But, ‘come!’ he says, and even picks up my case. I follow him through the rubble to a fire exit, and it opens onto a corridor on what presumably is the correct side of the building.

I find my room, and it’s a bare shell with a bed and a lamp. It’s hot in there, but the window doesn’t want to open, and I can tell that if I was to force it, the mini air conditioner would plummet 80 feet to its peril into the alleyway below. So I turn on the a/c but it’s one of those units that has a terrible, irregular rattle. And there’s no desk—so much for mixing this weekend! Nor, for that matter, is there a bathroom. Ugh. I call down to reception. It appears none of the available $150 rooms have bathrooms, you have to share one with everybody else on your floor. Oh well, at least my room is right opposite it.

But wait, it gets worse: the one shared bathroom has a problem with its lock. You have to slam the door repeatedly to get it closed enough so that you can lock it. So this means that every time anyone goes to the bathroom all night, I hear three minutes of repeated door slamming! This, combined with mild jetlag, assures me a rotten night.

But I’m up again at 6 and I head to a Starbucks around the corner (I know, I know) with my computer. I get some breakfast in me, and now things are looking up. I plug in my MacBook and my brand new MBox ProTools Micro. This is basically a little USB dongle that lets you use ProTools without being connected to any of their hefty hardware.

With occasional refills of capuccino I spent a very happy morning mixing a song of Rachelle Garniez’ called ‘Hello Cruel World’ on headphones. This needs to get done for potential inclusion on a BluRay disk of the TED Conference. It’s amazing what a good mix can do. I saw a QuickTime clip of us playing it at TED with the audio mix that was recorded live to camera. It was a long way from anything Rachelle would have been proud of. And I’m ashamed to say I seriously buggered up the second verse. I was playing a kind of saloon bar honky-tonk piano, and as I’m anything but fluent in that style I had a brain fart in the middle and played utterly the wrong notes. Ah, but that’s the beauty of multitrack recording: I simply cut and pasted 3 beats’ worth of my piano from the first verse into the second, and wa la. I checked it in sync with the QuickTime and it still works fine. Rachelle, incidentally, looks absolutely stunning. She’s one of those naturally videogenic people. And out of her mouth comes a growl like Tom Waits, it’s fantastic.

Now back at the hotel, all is all quiet and there’s just time for a nap before I head down to the Village for David’s premiere. He got a nice review in the New York Times today and he should be well pleased. He asked me to invite some of the ‘influential people’ that I know. I managed to knock off emails to David Byrne, Moby, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, but it remains to see if any of them will show up.

‘Sputnik Mania’ screens for the next 2 weeks at the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village.


'Sputnik Mania' opens in NY this weekend

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

I’ll be flying to New York this weekend to join David Hoffman at the premiere of his feature-length documentary about the launch from the USSR 50 years of the first man-made satellite in space. If you’re around please come! It’s a terrific movie, and terribly relevant to today.

TED is over

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

TED is over for another year. The band is dispersing. I’m still in California but I fly back to the UK tomorrow. We wrapped up the final morning with a Cajun French version of a famous Led Zeppelin song, featuring banjo, accordian, slapped electric cello, myself on tambourine, and Kaki King guesting on bottleneck guitar. Rachelle and I sang in Franglais. I wasn’t sure if the audience would get the joke, but they laughed in all the right places and we got some sincere applause at the end. For the final session we got Kaki, Vusi Mahlesela, Sxip Shirey and Nellie MacKay up onstage, and sang the WW2 classic ‘We’ll Meet Again’, complete with a knees-up and the lyrics up on a screen so the audience could sing along. I’m bummed because I bought a WW2 English army helmet on eBay specially for the occasion, but it only arrived at my hotel while we were onstage!

There were some fantastic speaker highlights, including Al Gore, author Amy Tan, and a spontaneous appearance by Robin Williams who filled in during a technical hitch. He had clearly been at TED incognito, as he was wearing a hat and specs; but when a BBC satellite broadcast went dead he could’nt resist the opportunity to chime in. He had the audience in stitches. I’ve known Robin for a few years and I’ve seen him do that on numerous occasions. He truly switches on like a light bulb.

One of the most unlikely but serendipitous hits of the conference for my band was in a session about the existence of Evil. I had planned to play an instrumental version of (another!) Special AKA tune, ‘Beirut’. But when TED curator Chris Anderson heard it he felt that, with its decidedly middle-Eastern flavour, it might come over as too judgemental, as if we were talking about the ‘Axis of Evil’ as defined by G W Bush. He said he wanted something more ‘concilliatory’. So I took that idea to my band–who of course said, “what the heck is ‘concilliatory’”? I said “oh, you know, something like ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow.’” I was only kidding! I threw that out there as an example. But in an instant they picked up their instruments and started playing this beautiful, floating version of the famous song. Rachelle did a drone on her accordian that sounded almost like bagpipes. Mark came in with a short stumpy wind instrument he calls a Xaphoon. Rufus was sawing away on his cello in a kind of psychedelic modal scale. The melody of the song kind of slowly emerged from the jam like an olive branch, with only the faintest of chord changes. The effect it had worked exactly as I’d hoped. The Evil session had left the audience with a very unpleasant, prickly feeling, and this piece was the perfect antidote.

Adam Theis and Rich Armstrong for the Jazz Mafia Horns drove down from San Francisco and joined us for a couple of tunes on Friday: a brilliant Louisiana-styled song of Rachelle’s called ‘Pre-Post Apocalypse’, and a rousing version by Mark Stewart of the Bonzos’ famous anatomical love song, ‘In The Canyons Of Your Mind’.

After four days of intense energy at TED this wonderful but awful hangover kicks in. You’re feeling this great upswelling of optimism and hope for the planet, and warmth from the incredibly discoveries and performances you’ve just been witness to, yet you’re emotionally drained.

Tomorrow I catch a plane back to England. I have to mix the audio of all the TED music for the DVDs and dowloadable TED talks. But after that my dance card is completely empty. I will have months of peace to write and record my own material–the first time I’ve been able to say that since about 1991! It’s a fine feeling.