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Generally Recognized As True: November 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Paranormal Show review : Campbell House : Toronto, Ontario : November 29, 2008

Last night, I went to "The Paranormal Show" at Campbell House. What a very interesting show!

First of all, the setting was great. Campbell House is a small Victorian mansion within the city -- the oldest original building still standing. Upon travelling the cobblestone walkway to get to the wooden front door, I went inside to find a candlelit foyer where the attendees were gathered at the foot of the spiral staircase waiting to go upstairs for the show. A man in Victorian outfit was just inside the door selling tickets and handling reservations by candlelight.

After the clock chimed 9pm, the group of 40 people made their way up the dark spiral staircase to the small ballroom where the guests were to be seated. Soon after, Vladimir Eisengrimm entered the room and began the show. The show began with a series of mind-reading and psychokinesis activities with a lot of audience participation. I think maybe 10 people altogether had been pulled from the audience at various times to participate. Thankfully, I was not one of them (although I don't really say that for any reason in particular -- it was all good fun -- I just don't like being called on without preparation :)). These activities were impressive and I wonder how many of them were done!

Vladimir Eisengrimm was essentially the same character that I had seen as Nikolai Diablo at the Carnival Diablo sideshow at Carnival Lune Bleue back in August. It's a great character and the makeup and voice are great. This show had the addition of maltuned cello ambient music in the background which added to the disarray. The smell of incense in the room also contributed (and I can still smell it, actually!). The atmosphere of the old house and its acoustics also added a lot. The chimes of the grandfather clock in the background marked the passing of every hour, too, which was a nice artifact.

After the mind tricks, Vladimir moved on to some of the same tricks I'd seen at Carnival Diablo, but they were no less interesting the second time around. The performance is what's interesting and he's interesting to watch!

Next, and after a warning and 10-minute reprieve to decide if you want to stay for the next part, the group walks back down the dark spiral staircase and continues down to the cellar of the house for a séance to try and communicate with the female ghost of the Campbell House. The audience participation aspect is really well done: how many other shows do you participate to this extent?

In the cellar, and around an old wooden table, the people that could fit around the table did so and Vladimir introduced the concept of séance and to his instruments -- essentially, to try and capture the energy of the spirit and focus it into a number of objects through which the spirit can communicate. The people around the table were asked to join hands and everyone in the room focused their energy on the task at hand. I won't go into too much detail because I don't want to ruin it for anyone.

After the séance, it was back upstairs for Vladimir's reading of "How The Grinch Stole Christmas". I enjoyed it -- very well done!

Overall, it was a great show, and about 2 hours long. A lot of time and effort was obviously taken to bring the best out of the atmosphere possible at Campbell House and the small audience makes it feel rather special -- a limit of 40 people was probably just about right, and anything much larger would have made you feel lost in the audience. As it stood, you felt like a central part. If you're interested in a creepy atmosphere or just an over-the-top sideshow type of performance, it's definitely something to see!

Last night was supposed to be the final show, but the run at Campbell House has apparently been extended through to December 20th. Here's the flyer, although it doesn't show the new dates yet; but, there's a Facebook page for the extended run. Highly recommended!

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Two new solo piano CDs: Mark Pinkus's "Touching" and Laura Sullivan's "Close to Home"

Once in awhile, I go and pick up some independent music from CD Baby. I've found quite a few good CDs there over the years. In this case, I found one great and one not so great, although they were both by independent artists that I'm already familiar with

Mark Pinkus - Touching

I have all of Mark Pinkus's CDs and like every one of them quite a bit. His new CD, "Touching", isn't an exception to this -- I like it very much. As far as I know, they are all original compositions. Some of the tracks remind you a bit of Kevin Kern, but with one important difference -- they never fall into clichés, which Kern's music often does. When you think you know where a melody is going, it usually doesn't go there, and to me (and perhaps many) this is important: if I can remember a song, it just plays over and over again in my head until I'm sick of it. When the details aren't memorable, it's more likely to be timeless. There's some obvious classical influence in his work, too -- some complexity and sense of long-term construction of a song as opposed to the song that has a moving window of attention of about 15-30 seconds. This further separates him from the wishy-washy new age stuff that he'll probably still be associated with due to a lack of a better mainstream description.

I first heard Mark's music with the first track of his "Quiet Place" CD (now renamed to "Simplicity") some years ago and I was looking forward to hearing something new from him, because it's been awhile! There are a number of things that "work" with his music: first of all, he isn't afraid to make short songs if they nothing longer is justified and so nothing is longer than it needs to be; second, as I said above, he doesn't fall into clichés and there is no lazy composing involved; finally, he clearly knows how he wants the piano to be recorded because it is a very rich-sounding solo piano recording.

So, this is an excellent CD and I think I'll be listening to it a lot!

Laura Sullivan - Close to Home

I'll start off by saying that I didn't like this CD very much. I first heard Laura Sullivan with her "Mystical America" CD which is still one of my favourite solo piano CDs by any artist: there is some truly great original music there with excellent atmosphere that is cohesive across all of the tracks on the album, and all of the non-piano elements such as the synthesizer pads to fill in some of the space work together very well. "Bighorn Medicine Wheel" from that album would be on my list of favorite solo piano tracks. The album that preceded "Mystical America" ("Pianoscapes") was also good.

But, since these albums, I haven't really enjoyed anything she's done. The previous CD was bland and introduced dreamy vocals that interfered with the piano, and this latest CD, "Close to Home" is made up of arrangements of traditional songs. But, none of the arrangements are as good or better than those that I've heard elsewhere. If you're going to do "Scarborough Fair" on piano then I think it has to be something really special because it has been done so many times before, but here it's just average and thin. The second track, "She Moved Through The Fair" is an obvious attempt at an Enya clone that isn't as good as Enya (mostly due to production values and not artist talent, though) and sounds a bit like a spectre is loose in the room. I don't understand why you'd want to emulate something that already exists if you're not going to try and be better than what you emulate.

Another problem with this CD is that the recording is not very good. The piano is flat and bland -- it has none of the body that Mark Pinkus's CD above has. I'm a bit worried that this is a mixing and engineering problem -- an amateur mixer, maybe? -- and that the piano quality was sacrificed to make room for the vocals and other elements which, to a fan of relatively uncluttered solo piano, detract from the experience to begin with. One of the numerous reasons I like Tori Amos, for example, is that she knows how she wants to record a piano -- the recording quality is masterful on her CDs. There doesn't seem to be much respect for the piano on "Close to Home", though if you're listening to it on an MP3 player or in the elevator then you probably won't notice.

I mentioned clichés in my Mark Pinkus review above, and though there are no piano clichés here , there are a lot of vocal clichés. They're the type that Sarah Brightman often makes that grate against your nerves a bit but are tolerable when the voice is otherwise impressive as in Sarah's case, but on this CD the voice is masked with effects and bathroom reverb to hide the fact that it isn't that impressive.

So, for now, I'm hoping that Laura Sullivan will one day put something together to rival "Mystical America", and I'll keep waiting. But I'll probably be more hesitant about buying the next CD, having not been too enthusiastic about the last two.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Paranormal Show : Campbell House : November 2008

[ 2008/11/30 update: my review is here ]

It looks like the fellow that put on the great Carnival Diablo at
Carnivale Lune Bleue is doing his Paranormal Show at Campbell House in Toronto this month.

Campbell House should be an interesting venue, being build in 1822 and the oldest original building still standing from the former town of York. The show is limited to 40 seats, which means the atmosphere will be great.

A third show to add to my November itinerary??

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

All good things... (the end of the St Jacobs summer sausage)

Well, it is with a heavy heart that I mention that the end of the St Jacobs summer sausage is nigh. The penultimate slice will soon be taken from the stump, and there will be no more possible forthwith. I will fondly remember our time together.

It is important to remember in these difficult times that these things we eat are never lost. They become a part of us and we carry them far into the future.

I am not joking when I say I think I am having withdrawal symptoms. Since I got it, I'd been having about a slice a day and then I slowed recently as I saw the train light at the end of the tunnel... and I think I feel a difference. Maybe it's lower blood pressure :)

Anyway, I am really wondering about going out to get another one. All kinds of rationalizations are taking place...

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