This is exciting news! Our music was recently used in the first video that shows off the amazing 4k video capability of Panasonic’s new LUMIX GH4 camera. Our track “Yamasong (Campagna remix)” from the album “Ume in the Middle” provides the soundtrack to these stunning visuals. The video is titled “Light of the Yucatan” and was done by filmmaker Bryan Harvey.
Over the course of designing the portable wood shop / metal shop to be used to build the Shoebox House, I’ve read a number of very helpful books, all of them available through the Los Angeles Public Library system. Here are reviews of the books!
Title: The Small Wood Shop — The Best of Fine Woodworking
Source: Los Angeles Public Library
Though a bit dated, this collection of articles from Fine Woodworking is an excellent source of inspiration and know-how. I particularly enjoyed Tony Konovaloff’s tool chest, a tightly-packed, beautiful storage solution made possible by a deep understanding of one’s needs in the shop. An article on a DIY dust collector switch is hard-core geeky, explaining how to modify an off-the-shelf transformer to serve as a mains-voltage sensor clamp, and home-made, automatic blast gates for dust-collection ducting. Awesome.
As part of my research in the design phase of the Shoebox House, I am trying to better understand my consumption habits and project what my consumption might be in the new home.
Title: Sustainable Energy — without the hot air
Author: David JC MacKay
This is the best book I’ve read yet on the topic of sustainability. MacKay provides the information and methodologies an individual needs to tabulate one’s consumption and to then make informed decisions. It is full of good data and explanations of the relevant issues. My only minor complaint is that rather than measuring my consumption in kWh, I plan to measure my CO2 production and won’t be able to use some of the book’s data.
Title: Eating Animals
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Source: Los Angeles Public Library
Eating Animals is critical of factory farming – the cramped, cruel, and unhealthy way almost all American beef, pork, fish, and chicken is created. I found Foer’s responses to a number of anti-vegetarian arguments to be particularly lucid, and liked his over-arching wish that more people eat in concert with their own beliefs (whatever those may be).
The book re-invigorated my commitment to trying to eat sustainably and has inspired me to find a cruelty-free (or at least cruelty-reduced) solution to my use of leather for taiko drums. As the only non-vegan material I regularly use, and as something so essential to my work, I would love to find a responsible farmer, slaughterhouse, and tanner from whom to buy skins.
Title: We are the Weather Makers
Author: Tim Flannery
Source: Los Angeles Public Library
We are the Weather Makers provides a good overview of the scientific concepts behind climate change, but was less personally inspiring than I was looking for. It is essentially an assortment of loosely-structured essays on various climate change topics. I am glad I read it but wouldn’t recommend it for someone who is looking for information that informs day-to-day decisions. I can imagine it would be a valuable starting resource for someone wanting to learn more about climate change.
Title: Now or Never
Author: Tim Flannery
Source: Los Angeles Public Library
This is a quick read; less than 170 small pages including a critical responses section. It is less technical than We Are the Weather Makers, with more time spent making the social and ethical case for dealing immediately with climate change, and briefly exploring a few possible climate change solutions. I found it less successful. While I essentially agree with Flannery and am very interested in doing what I can, I was not particularly moved by the book’s ethical foundation – that humans have become the conscious controllers of Gaia, the living earth. I disagreed with a few of the suggested solutions as well, namely that we should purchase meat, dairy, and chicken from places like PolyFace Farms. While PolyFace is indeed a dramatic improvement over standard factory farms, something like 99% of our meat in the US comes from factory farms so “eat PolyFace meat” is only a solution for the handful of people that live in Swoope, Virginia and for some reason cannot find a way to eat organic, local, vegetarian.
Title: How to Grow Fresh Air
Author: Dr B.C. Wolverton
This is an interesting and quick read on how to improve indoor air quality with plants. The first few chapters outline the problem of indoor air quality and the specific mechanisms underlying plants’ purification of air. Unfortunately, the writing is bland and the info-graphics are painfully lacking. Things pick up, however, when the book ranks and describes 50 specific plants and their positive effect on air quality.
For the last year or so, Yuta and I have been working on an approach to playing fast rhythms as a duo. One person plays the downbeats and the other the upbeats, a technique called “sugagaki” in the shamisen world. For On Ensemble’s Works in Progress concert, we took the most successful rhythms thus far (two-person oroshi and drum-and-bass’ Amen break in two voicings) and slapped them together for a short demo we’re calling Sugamen.
I think the technique has lots of exciting potential. Since each person is only doing half the work, two players together can create impossibly fast, powerful strikes. Once you reach about 1000 hits-per-minute, the sound becomes a blur of power. I’m sure there are applications to odaiko and two-person naname and nidan, and multi-taiko set as well. We’ll continue to search for musical applications that benefit from the new-found range (hopefully without devolving into a non-musical skill-fest).
In addition to the musical uses, Yuta and I have felt an improvement in our ability to play complicated, syncopated rhythms and keep constant time. The hours of metronome practice and new way of feeling the pulse are likely helping. We’ve had a great time teaching the sugagaki method to participants of last month’s LATI’s Valentine’s Intensive too.
If you have ideas for how we might use sugagaki, or want to start practicing too*, let us know!
* The first 6 months of practice, for example, can be accomplished playing with an audio recording of the second-person part. Contact me for details.
In my last post I mentioned my daughter adores the ballet Don Quixote and will often pretend to be Kitri, the main heroine in the story. It’s become pretty elaborate. I downloaded the music of the ballet for her and she’ll dance through the entire thing on our little rug that serves as her stage complete with three acts and the necessary costume changes. Here’s a transcript of our conversation as best as I can remember it from the other night:
Momma (calling from the bathroom) : “Time to brush teeth!”
Little one ignores Momma continues dancing.
Dadda : “Little one you heard Momma it’s time to brush your teeth.”
Little one : “But I’m dancing.”
Dadda more sternly : “Little one listen to your Momma and go brush your teeth!”
Little one : “I’m not Little One I’m Kitri!”
Dadda : “Okay Kitri it’s time to brush your teeth.”
Little one : “But Kitri doesn’t brush her teeth.”
Dadda : “Yes she does everybody brushes their teeth.”
Little one : “But I don’t see her brush her teeth.”
Dadda : “That’s because she brushes her teeth off stage. Nobody wants to watch a dancer brush her teeth on stage but when you see her run off stage she goes to brush her teeth.”
Little one continues dancing but is now starting to think about it. The music stops and she runs off stage to brush her teeth.
Dadda: 1 Little One: 45,731 (rough estimate)
Okay. So round one of soba making did not go well. It was an unmitigated disaster. A catastrophic failure of epic proportions. And let’s set one thing straight. This isn’t a “hahaha isn’t it funny when you let your husband into the kitchen” kind of post. No not at all. In my family I’m the one that does the cooking and I take a certain amount of pride in my domestic abilities. But not this night. No. The gods of soba have seen my pride and have humbled me.
I have a few excuses. But none worth writing about. It turns out that soba actually being noodles is kind of key. Soba pellets are not nearly as delicious. Not at all.
I actually made my wife laugh out loud at the dinner table. She was really trying to be a sport. She knew I’d be upset at how it turned out and was trying to not make eye contact. I took one bite and said “this is a disaster” and she burst out laughing. Yep. Soba pellet comedy.
She opened a can of refried beans and made a burrito for dinner. A bean frigging burrito. I couldn’t cook something better than a bean burrito… from a can. I just embarrassed a thousand generations of my ancestors.
I’m am humbled but undeterred. I will give the wife a little break from having to eat soba disasters but will be back at it after the weekend. What is that saying about a thousand mile journey starting with… an unmitigated disaster.
We had a great weekend of performances at the Getty Center for the Sounds of LA series with special guest Sumie Kaneko. The performances were free and reservations for tickets for both shows were sold out. Personally I couldn’t think of a better series to play for than “Sounds of LA”. I always feel like On Ensemble has a very Los Angeles sound. We are all about the particular mix of cultures and influences that happen here in SoCal. Where else would a taiko, throat singing, drum kit, koto, shamisen, vibraphone playing band seem so natural?
We brought out a special guest Sumie Kaneko from NY for this performance and it was really great performing with her. I had performed with her for a separate project in Houston but this was the first time she came to perform with On Ensemble and it was a perfect match. Sumie really adds a whole other layer of possibility and depth to our music and I’m really excited about working with her again in the future.
Lastly we’d like to give a shout out to Sabrina and Laurel for bringing us to the Getty Center. To Sarah, Caitlin and Tony for taking such good care of us and to Chris, Gus, Michael and Bill for making us sound and look great on stage! Thank you!
Also thank you to Kim, Ayano and Joe for volunteering and helping us sell merch! Kim also took these great photos of the performance and rehearsal. Thanks Kim!
It all started from a text from my mom. She had just heard an NPR story about Sonoko Sakai’s quest for soba and teaching soba making workshops in LA and knew it would be something I’d be interested in. I immediately took to the internet and found her website and signed up for her next soba making workshop. I love soba and in my on going quest to get geekier about food the opportunity to learn how to make homemade soba was something I couldn’t pass up! It wasn’t until two days after I signed up for the class did I realize it was on Super Bowl Sunday right during the game. I mean I love football and all but soba vs. football is no competition. So off I went to the soba making class.
There is a lot of overlap between cooking and music. Both are about improvisation, aesthetic and craft. There are so many parallels that I firmly believe that taking cooking more seriously has made me a better musician and I can apply many of the things I’m thinking about music to my cooking. Of course I’m far from the first musician who fancies himself a chef… I often wonder if chefs also fancy themselves musicians…
One of the many things I’m constantly working on as a musician is to be able to do something very simply very well. It’s not really in my nature to gravitate toward simplicity. I’m much more prone to over think and over complicate things. Though recently I’ve started to understand more deeply the beauty of doing something simply very well. It has also occurred to me fairly recently that I should work on this in my food as well.
All these ideas have been swirling around in my head and they crystalized into a plan when I read my mom’s text. I’ll do it with soba! I had already started trying to prepare dashi from scratch. Eien had already been doing this and during our last trip to Japan we took a trip to the Narita fish market with his father to find a bonito shaver so I could shave my own katsuobushi. I now have a dream to make the perfect bowl of soba before I die. Not sure if I’ll ever get there but I’m sure the journey will be well worth it.
If you interested in taking soba workshop Sonoko will be teaching a workshop in Highland Park on Feb 22nd. Find out more at on her website commongrains.com.
I was going to post a pic of my noodles but they were embarrassingly bad! They did taste good but I definitely must up my game. Right now I’m not even a padawan learner. I’m like a level zero soba ninja with a -3 skill check penalty. Sheesh.