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Blu-ray Audio won’t save music biz, but gourmet audiophile format is a step in the right direction
05.13.2014
12:26 pm

Topics:
Music

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If you haven’t noticed—and it would be easy not to, because they aren’t showing up in many retail outlets yet, mostly just Amazon—over the course of the past year UMe, the catalog division of Universal Music Group that puts out all of those “super deluxe” two and three CD sets of classic albums, has started releasing high definition Blu-ray “Pure Audio” discs.

The BD discs contain no video content, although they certainly could (hint, hint), but what they do offer should be considered as close to the master tape, as heard in the recording studio, as is possible to experience in your own home. In terms of their HD-DTS Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD tracks, it’s probably not possible to give any more definition to a digital audio signal and expect the human ear to even be able to detect it. If it’s feasible to add a 5.1 surround mix to the discs, they do so (although when they don’t, it becomes a bit problematic from a consumer standpoint, but more on this below.)

So far UMe’s roster of “High Fidelity Blu-ray Pure Audio” discs include stalwart titles like Nirvana’s Nevermind and In Utero, Supertramp’s Breakfast in America, Miles Davis’ soundtrack album for Louis Malle’s L’Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud, White Light/White Heat and The Velvet Underground & Nico, Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life, Derek & The Dominos’ Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, the fifty song Rolling Stones GRRR! comp, Let It Bleed, and Exile On Main St., Ella & Louis, I Put A Spell On You by Nina Simone, Selling England By The Pound by Genesis, John Lennon’s Imagine, Queen’s A Night At The Opera, Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire De Melody Nelson and a handful of jazz and classical offerings, about fifty in all. 5.1 surround mixes of The Who’s Quadrophenia and an expanded version of the Legend collection of Bob Marley’s greatest hits are scheduled to come out this summer via UMe.

Backing up a bit, the majors began releasing 5.1 surround and high resolution audio in 1999 with the introduction of the Super Audio Compact Disc (SACD) which allowed for the reproduction of DSD audio streams that had the same “warmth” as vinyl. The music industry did such a terrible job of marketing the SACD format that few people even knew it existed before they more or less pulled the plug on it. (Bob Dylan’s entire catalog and all of the Rolling Stones ABKCO albums were released as SACDs, but for whatever reason, this fact was downplayed to the extent that it is barely noticeable in the packaging, although they can be easily identified in used CD racks simply as the ones in the digipaks). Elton John’s classic albums came out remixed in 5.1 surround. Ziggy Stardust was remixed for 5.1 surround in a way that made the album sound totally fresh (and much more muscular). Peter Gabriel’s catalog came out on SACD. Once it went out of print, the SACD surround version of Roxy Music’s Avalon—an album audiophiles have always gravitated towards—started selling used for hundreds of dollars....

The first time I heard an SACD of Blood on the Tracks, I was hooked because not only did it sound like Bob Dylan was actually singing in the room with me, such were the sonic details that you could literally hear the guitarist’s fingertips moving across the ridges of the strings. Back in the days of Napster and Limewire, it was said that SACDs were not only impossible to rip, but that the files were too big for easy transport across the Internet (yeah, they really thought that). SACDs can only be played in a special SACD player but since hardly anyone bought one in the first place, the format was basically DOA. I have a ton of them, they sound great, but… yeah, who cares about SACDs? Cut to a few years later and since everyone has a DVD player, now the new thing is DVD-A. Mute put out Nick Cave’s back catalog remixed to 5.1 surround, setting the bar high for archival releases. Rhino put out a box set of Björk’s albums called Surrounded and the entire Talking Heads discography came out on so-called “Dual Discs” (one side a 5.1 surround DVD, the other a “red book” CD layer). Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson became the undisputed go-to-guy for 5.1 and produced newly created surround mixes of several Jethro Tull and King Crimson albums.

Last year Blu-ray audio releases starting to edge out the DVD-A releases, notably the excellent 5.1 surround mix of Van Morrison’s Moondance album, Steven Wilson’s new mixes of Close to the Edge by Yes and XTC’s Nonsuch and the approximately fifty Blu-ray Pure Audio releases from UMe. After watching them fumble the ball so many times on the surround front for the past decade, I’m finally starting to think they might get it right this time (and I do hope that someone at UMe in the Blu-ray department is reading this.) The UMe BD releases, especially the ones with 5.1 surround mixes (which sadly ain’t all of ‘em) are nothing short of stunning. The two best that I’ve heard, in terms of their audiophile ability to knock your socks off are Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (you can actually hear the sound of his foot on the pedal of his grand piano, it’s sublime) and Beck’s Sea Change (I don’t give a shit about Beck, but this album is the first thing I grab to demonstrate the possibilities of high resolution surround sound.)

Until the newly remastered version of Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing came out a few weeks ago, I believe that UMe’s Blu-ray releases were only being test marketed in France (where they’re manufactured). Perhaps the “Pure Audio” discs were catching on as Nightclubbing is being released worldwide simultaneously on double LP, CD, as a deluxe two CD set, on digital download and as a Blu-ray Pure Audio disc. Apparently the Blu-ray disc is now being seen as another music format and for consumers, and for the record labels themselves, I think this is a good thing. I’ve been evangelical about surround sound—it’s simply the best way to listen to music outside of having the musicians show up at your front door—and high definition audio for years and at long last the industry seems to be sitting up and catering to the consumer wishes of the folks who still can be relied upon to buy music on discs.

Although I have noticed that the prices for the UMe BDs on Amazon tend to be in the $25 to $35 range prior to the street date for some of these discs, once they hit, the price drops to around $15 to $18 per. That’s not bad and considering that they are, in fact, noticeably better than regular CDs, I don’t feel like I am being ripped off for buying something that I have perhaps already owned multiple copies of—if I had to attempt to objectively quantify it in some way, I’d say that the stereo BDs are about 7-10% better than their regular CD equivalents and that the ones with 5.1 surround mixes, compared to CDs and even the best vinyl pressings, is like going from an old tube 20-inch TV set to a 50-inch HD flatscreen.

Consider the sort of leap in quality that gets made when a song like “Bohemian Rhapsody” is opened up from two speakers to six and the data used to reproduce the music employs six times (or better) the data found on a regular compact disc. Since so many homes are now set up with home theater systems, it makes sense that the surround thing finally seems to be catching on to a wider public. You watch movies in 5.1 surround, you can listen to music on that very same system.

At this point, though, as someone on the picky audiophile side of things, I gotta say, there aren’t a lot of titles that I would buy on Blu-ray audio discs unless they’d been remixed to include a 5.1 surround option. It’s THE LEAST the labels can do when asking the public to re-purchase classic albums already in their collections. Want me to upgrade? Sure, I will, and trust me I want to, but only if you can give me a surround mix. If I don’t get that, you don’t get any money from me UMe, it’s that simple (Dear UMe executive who might be reading this, note that I purchased the DVD-A of Histoire de Melody Nelson in 2013 BUT that I would have bought it again (for the fourth or is it fifth time?) had UMe offered the 5.1 mix on the Blu-ray. But you didn’t, which makes no sense because it would have been so easy to do, so I will not be upgrading… and I would have!)

To address Nightclubbing as a product, or rather as a product line, I’d have to say that if you’ve got a Blu-ray player, unless you are a die-hard vinyl person, there is no reason whatsoever to buy either the 2XCD set (it’s more expensive) or to buy a digital download. The BD is a much higher quality piece of software than the CD, hands down, but you also get a free digital download with every UMe BD purchase anyway (there’s a coupon inside each one), so why would you want to go that route and miss out on the vastly superior Blu-ray? It’s easily the best value for the money.

Although there is no 5.1 mix included on the Nightclubbing Blu-ray—WHY NOT?—it’s still great and I wholeheartedly recommend it for all of the above reasons. Unlike with many of the UMe “Pure Audio” releases, Nightclubbing isn’t something I already owned, so I think I’m probably being forgiving on the “no surround mix” point simply because I’m listening to the album on repeat twenty times a day and can’t get enough of it. But I do hope that when UMe is considering the next batch of Blu-rays to release, that they’ll opt for giving the discerning consumer the extra added value of a 5.1 mix. For me, it’s practically a requirement, but give me that and I’d be willing to rebuy half my record collection.*

*If my wife would allow this, I mean…

Below, Grace Jones in her A One Man Show live video from 1982.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Today is ‘The Day of the Triffids’
05.08.2014
08:22 am

Topics:
Books
Movies

Tags:

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Bill Masen knew there was something seriously wrong from the moment he awoke in his hospital bed that fateful spring morning. He listened and heard only an eerie, disturbing quiet, occasionally infused with an unsteady shuffling. Last night the skies had been afire with comets burning-up in beautiful, Day-Glo colors. Masen had missed this spectacle, his eyes bandaged, temporarily blinded after a near fatal accident with a Triffid plant. Today his bandages were supposed to come-off, but when he rang for a nurse, no one came; when he called for help, no one answered; the only response was a soft searching of movement somewhere outside in the corridor. He knew it was a Wednesday, but it felt, sounded, more like a Sunday. It may have been mid-week, but this day, May the 8th, became known as the day the world ended, for this was the day of the Triffids!

(Cue dramatic music. Shaggy and Scooby say ‘Zoiks!’)

So begins John Wyndham‘s classic science-fiction novel The Day of the Triffids, which is one of the best known and and most influential sci-fi books of the twentieth century. Published in 1951, Wyndham’s tale of a world made blind after a strange comet shower and the giant, mobile and highly venomous plants that slowly dominate the planet, has inspired small libraries of books, films, TV episodes and series, all based around stories of nature gone awry and the ensuing world devastation. The zombie genre in particular owes much to Wyndham’s book, where zombies are interchangeable for Triffids—take for example Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic zombie movie 28 Days Later, which is almost a direct lift of Wyndham’s story.

That’s not to say Wyndham’s book was wholly original, by his own admission the author had been inspired by H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, which set the bar for apocalyptic fiction. Rather than killer extraterrestrials from Mars, Wyndham offered an enemy taken from a more worldly source, the Russian biologist and agronomist, Trofim Lysenko. In a bid to feed the Soviet population, Lysenko developed a form of “agrobiology,” which mixed genetic modification with graft hybridization to produce new species capable of producing unlimited food supplies. Under Stalin there was a lot of this dubious state sponsored science, including the notorious attempt to breed humans with apes to create a “humanzee” army. Wyndham picked-up on Lysenko’s theories and applied them to a fictional hybrid plant. Or, as Wyndham puts it in his book:

Russia, who shared with the rest of the world the problem of increasing food supplies, was known to have been intensively concerned with attempts to reclaim desert, steppe, and the northern tundra. In the days when information was still exchanged she had reported some successes. Later, however, under a cleavage of methods and views caused biology there, under a man called Lysenko, to take a different course. It, too, then succumbed to the endemic secrecy. The lines it had taken were unknown, and thought to be unsound—but it was anybody’s guess whether very successful, very silly, or very queer things were happening there—if not all three at once.

It turns out, the Russians have created Triffids, which are capable of producing vegetable oil of such quality, it makes the “best fish-oils look like grease-box fillers.” Whether these plants are the product of genetic engineering or have come from outer space is never clear. Whatever their origin, a man called Umberto Christoforo Palanguez, an entrepreneurial crook-cum-businessman, steals a box of Triffid seeds from their heavily guarded nursery in the outer reaches of Siberia. The plane in which he absconds is shot down by the Russians leaving behind “something which looked at first like a white vapor.”

It was not a vapor. It was a cloud of seeds, floating, so infinitely light they were, even in the rarefied air. Millions of gossamer-slung Triffid seeds, free now to drift wherever the winds of the world should take them…

Soon, these plant grow and multiply like Star Trek‘s “Tribbles” or the monsters in Stephen King’s The Mist to gradually inhabit and take over the Earth’s surface.
 
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But there’s a problem: Triffids are as dangerous as they are mobile, moving on three legs (like a man on crutches), and carry a deadly poison dispensed through a long “stinger” which is used to lash out at their victims. They are flesh-eaters and can also communicate with each other by tapping out a tattoo through small twigs on their lower trunk. They also respond to sound, moving towards any source of noise or vibration. At first the Triffids are secured by having their “stingers” docked, and are kept tethered to stakes in factory farms and parklands. This all would have been fine if the Triffids had not been set free the night the sky erupted in color with a comet storm that rendered all humans and animals who witnessed this beautiful event blind.

Bill Masen escaped the fate of billions of others by sheer accident. Temporarily blinded after an incident with a Triffid, Masen missed the night show and was spared complete blindness. Along with hundreds of others, he has to begin a new and brutal stage in human history.

Masen is a bit of a plank, rather pompous, po-faced and often unable to see things that are apparently obvious to everyone else. He is incredulous when a colleague, Walter Lucknor suggests that Triffids have “intelligence,” are able to communicate with each other, and may prove to be a deadly threat to humanity, as Lucknor explains:

‘Of the fact that [Triffids] know what is the surest way to put a man out of action—in other words, they know what they’re doing. Look at it this way. Granted that they do have intelligence; then that would leave us with only one important superiority—sight. We can see, and they can’t. Take away our vision, and the superiority is gone. Worse than that—our position becomes inferior to theirs because they are adapted to a sightless existence, and we are not.’

Of course. Masen’s naivety is a narrative device to filter information to the reader, but there are several instances within the book when this naivety is quite unbelievable. For example, when the child Susan points out that the Triffids respond to sound to locate prey.

Wyndham was probably influenced by the devastation caused during the Second World War, and the recurrent theme of food and its provision relates to impoverishment of food supplies, and the level of food rationing that continued in Britain after the war (this is something also reflected in George Orwell’s 1984, a book Anthony Burgess argued was actually a re-imaging of Britain in 1948). Wyndham’s descriptions of a post-apocalyptic London and rural England reflect how easily human existence can descend to chaos.

My father once told me that before Hitler’s war he used to go around London with his eyes more widely open than ever before, seeing the beauties of buildings that he had never noticed before—saying goodbye to them. And now I had a similar feeling. But this was something far worse. Much more than anyone could have hoped for had survived that war—but this was an enemy they would not survive. It was not wanton smashing and willful burning that they had waited for this time: it was simply the long, slow, inevitable course of decay and collapse.

Standing there, and at that time, my heart still resisted what my head was telling me. Even yet I had the feeling that it was all something too big, too unnatural really to happen. Yet I knew that it was by no means the first time that it had happened. The corpses of other great cities are lying buried in deserts, and obliterated by the jungles of Asia. Some of them fell so long ago that even their names have gone with them. But to those who lived there their dissolution can have seemed no more probable or possible than the necrosis of a great modern city seemed to me…

The Day of the Triffids was one of those set texts for UK schools during the sixties, seventies and early eighties, and that’s when I first read it. Though thrilling and thought-provoking, I found Masen lacked dynamism and appeared to have no natural inquisitiveness to his surroundings, or his engagement with others. He talks about how humans will have to evolve and think differently after the night of comet, but Masen himself hardly changes in his character (well, apart from falling in love) from first page to last. That said, I’d still recommend it.

The Day of the Triffids has been made into several below par TV series, and one enjoyable film, which depicted the Triffids as extraterrestrials, having drifted through space, land on Earth to colonize the planet. The film also suggests the comet show was part of the Triffids’ invasion plan, rather than a possible satellite accident as mentioned in the book. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch the whole thing below. Or, better still give someone the book to read but not the badly edited Kindle version!

Happy Day of the Triffids!
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
The socialist politician Aleister Crowley nominated as his successor
04.25.2014
07:23 am

Topics:
History
Occult

Tags:

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The name Tom Driberg might not mean much today, but Driberg was at the center of nearly every major political and cultural event during the twentieth century. He was, as his biographer Francis Wheen described him, like Woody Allen’s fictional creation “Zelig,” for Tom had been:

...on the picket lines of the General Strike, in Spain during the civil war, in America for Pearl Harbor, in Paris for the liberation, in Buchenwald just after it was relieved, in Korea with the Royal Marines, in London when it was Swinging.

Driberg was a respected British politician, a member of parliament and Chairman of the Labour Party. He was also a journalist and author. As a young man at Oxford University he had been part of the gilded “Brideshead” generation, alongside Evelyn Waugh, W. H. Auden (who he introduced to T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland), and Cyril Connolly, who later wrote of this privileged group:

“We were the last generation of womanless Oxford. Men who liked women were apt to get sent down.”

At university, Driberg indulged his sexual tastes and formed his political allegiance to the Communist Party. He had a brief career as a poet and became friends with Sacheverell and Osbert Sitwell.

After university he started his career as a journalist establishing and writing the “William Hickey” gossip column for the conservative Daily Expres. Though Driberg married Ena Mary Binfield in 1951, he was gay and lived a dangerously promiscuous life in the decades before homosexuality was decriminalized in Britain. Driberg mixed with a variety of notorious gay underworld figures, including Ronnie Kray with whom Driberg was rumored to have had an affair. He also mixed with royalty and celebrities, such as Mick Jagger with whom he discussed revolution and politics and tried to convince the singer into standing for parliament as a Labour MP.

Driberg was expelled from the Communist party. He had links to MI5, knew double-agent and Guy Burgess and was always suspected of alleged treachery. In later years, Driberg famously supported the legalisation of cannabis and contributed to satirical magazine Private Eye where he compiled the crossword. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore famously satirized Driberg as a lecherous and predatory homosexual in stockings and suspenders.

Driberg may seem like a mythical figure, but this brief summation only skims the surface of his life. Indeed, one of the more incredible tales in Driberg’s biography was his association with Aleister Crowley and how the “Great Beast” chose Driberg to be his successor.

When Driberg was at university his writing came to the attention of Aleister Crowley who for whatever reason took an interest in his verse poem “Homage to Beethoven” and invited the young man to lunch at the Eiffel Tower restaurant.

Crowley was already there when I got to the Eiffel Tower. He stood up, stout, bald and middle-aged, in a well-cut plus-four suit of green hand-woven tweed, and greeted me. Then, as we sat down, he said, in a rather high cracked, donnish voice: ‘Pardon me while I invoke the Moon.’

We did not on this occasion go into these deeper matters. I asked him whether at this time he was performing any magical ceremonies in London. He took the opportunity to explain that they were very expensive to set up—the pentacle must be just so, et cetera, or it could be dangerous. All the same, a lot of rubbish had been written about his magic. Magic was simply ‘the art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.’ It operated in quite everyday ways: when you used the telephone it was magic, or would have been thought so a century ago.

After their lunch together, Driberg saw Crowley again from time to time. The Great Beast was under the misapprehension Driberg was rich, a belief founded on Driberg being part of the “Brideshead” generation at Christ Church college, Oxford. Crowley kept hinting to the young poet about the great works he still had to achieve, and his need of finance.

One day [Crowley] wrote to tell me that he had found a reference to myself in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The actual quote was: ‘From no expected house shall this child come’—and ‘what house.’ asked Crowley, ‘could be more unexpected than Aedes Christi?’ (Christ Church—the House’). It was hard to tell if he were serious or joking, as when, soon after this, he told me that he had decided to nominate me as his successor as World Teacher. He had assumed this role some years earlier, and dated all his letters from the year and the day of his epiphany.

However, Driberg wasn’t too impressed by Crowley’s proclamation as he had heard of one other man to whom Crowley had made the same offer.

...and I hope that he, rather than I, has inherited the burdensome legacy.

A few years later, after Driberg had left Oxford and started his career as the gossip columnist “William Hickey” at the Daily Express, he was contacted by a music-hall illusionist called The Great Cosmo who had acquired a trunk (“either as payment in lieu of rent or in the course of a moonlight flit”) that contained a selection of Crowley’s letters and journals.

I went along to see Cosmo. The letters were not ‘compromising’, but I relieved him of them. He also let me have something much more interesting—a small square volume, bound in red morocco and encased in baroque silver which must once must have held a missal or a breviary: this contained Crowley’s manuscript diary, recording his daily magical and sexual doings, for the period covering Loveday’s death at Cefalu and Mussolini’s subsequent expulsion of Crowley from Italy. (He set up another ‘temple’ in Tunis.) It also contained a number of pages bearing what may be called oaths of allegiance, signed in Crowley’s presence by various devotees.

Amongst these devotees was the journalist and “distinguished mathematician”  J. W. N. Sullivan, and on the front page of the diary Crowley had written all the titles he had given himself “Το Μεγα Θηριον” (“The Great Beast”), “The Eternal Word” and “The Wanderer of the Waste.” Having possession of Crowley’s intimate diary gave Driberg the chance to play a trick on the occultist.

One evening Driberg was invited by Crowley to dinner for curry (cooked by himself) and a few bottles of Moët and Chandon’s champagne.

Then Crowley did what he had often done before: he drew the little diagram known as the pentacle, used for telling fortunes by ancient Egyptians, and asked me to stare into the central space between the lines and tell him what I could see. I had never before seen, or pretended to see, anything: but now I recalled the little manuscript diary—which he did not know that I had—and began, in a trance-like voice, to describe it: the shining baroque silver, a monstrance with a Host on one side of it, the red leather, the writing inside which I could not quite read…I had never seen Crowley so staggered: he leaned forward in desperate eagerness. ‘Go on,’ he said, ‘go on!’ But the vision faded. ‘Try again,’ he pleaded. ‘No,’ I said. ‘I can’t see anything more…though perhaps if we had another bottle of Moët…?’

This was, I fear, a rather mean trick to play on the old boy: I excused it to myself by reflecting that it had given him such obvious amazed delight to see one of his own bits of magic actually coming true.

As Francis Wheen notes about the whole affair in his biography of Driberg:

...it was Tom who made the money out of Crowley, not vice versa. By rather dubious means he acquired Crowley’s manuscript diary…many years later Tom sold this for a handsome sum to Jimmy Page, the guitarist with the rock group Led Zeppelin.

In 1973 Tom raised more money by auctioning at Christie’s several volumes presented to him by Crowley. They included a copy of The Book of the Law, inscribed ‘To True Thomas of Eildon Hills with all best wishes from Boleskine and Alertarff’.

Tom Driberg died of a heart attack in 1976. His autobiography Ruling Passions was published posthumously, and the definitive biography The Soul of Indiscretion by Francis Wheen was published in 1990.

Below, the Great Beast speaks: Here’s Aleister Crowley’s recording of “The Call Of The First Ćthyr.”
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Meet the six-foot-tall George Harrison Marionette
04.18.2014
11:42 am

Topics:
Animation
Music

Tags:


 
This is a guest post written by Tabitha Vidaurri.

There exist a series of music videos of a life-sized, hand-made marionette of George Harrison. He sings songs like “Pisces Fish” and “Someplace Else” while strumming the guitar, banjo and ukulele. As a teen, I constructed a puppet of a blue cat wearing sunglasses and taped it singing “Land Down Under” by Men At Work, so when I laid eyes on this lovingly obsessive tribute to the Dark Horse himself, I immediately felt a kinship with whomever was responsible for its creation.

While I was not able to get in touch with the puppeteer, I did some digging and found that her name is Jenn, she has over 35 years of experience as a puppet builder and performer, and it took her six months to complete the George Harrison Marionette.

Jenn has also written about her project extensively on the Muppet and Steve Hoffman Music forums

Originally, ‘George’ was going to be much smaller…more the size of a traditional marionette (2 to 3 feet tall). Because of the complicated animations I had to build for the unique eyes, eyelids, and mouth, the size of ‘George’s’ head ended up being life size.


The puppet is is fully clothed in a store-bought two-piece suit, though Jenn notes she had some trouble finding non-leather, vegetarian-friendly men’s dress shoes. You Harrison fans will notice that the electric guitar used isn’t accurate, which is due to the fact that this was such a low-budget production. At $80, the tiny Dark Horse Records lapel pin on ‘George’s’ jacket was the single most expensive item used in the project.

A lot of love and nitpicky detailing went into this project to give ‘George’ a realistic appearance both in looks and movement.  His hands are completely pose-able thanks to an eternal ‘skeleton’ of stiff wires in his fingers. This enables him to mimic any playing position. His hands are also rich in detail, with knuckles, veins, and palm lines sculpted into them. The LP record cover of ‘Living in the Material World’ was used to insure his hands were correct to size.  I was adamant about having him be portrayed as himself, as a solo artist, instead of the far more common representation one sees of ‘Beatle George.’

The puppet is modeled off of late ‘80s/early ‘90s Harrison, a period when he was absent of facial hair and prone to wearing blazers. This era was chosen so ‘George’ would have the option to sing selections from the Traveling Wilburys catalog.

I admire Jenn’s devotion and peaceful attitude. She acknowledges that a 6-foot tall puppet—or puppets in general—may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but if it does happen to be your mug of Earl Grey, then this is just the tip of the iceberg:

‘George’ is wonderful company…a bit quiet though, and seems perpetually content. He is definitely a ‘presence’ in the room, which some might find disturbing (in a spooky sense) while others may find it charming. The few people who have been able to see him in person have noted this.


To learn more, visit the George Harrison Marionette Facebook Page.

The video for “My Sweet Lord” features a behind-the-scenes look at how the marionette works; ‘George’ is operated Thunderbirds-style, meaning there are no electronic elements used, and a total of fifteen strings control his movements:
 

 
Jenn also filmed a music video for “Life Itself” as a bigger production with multiple camera angles, even creating storyboards. The final product has candles and moody lighting, very much in the style of the early days of VH1:
 

 
This is a guest post written by Tabitha Vidaurri.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Who was that masked man? ORION: The Man Who Would Be King
04.14.2014
03:52 pm

Topics:
Music
Pop Culture
Superstar

Tags:


 
This is a guest post by Jeanie Finlay, director of ORION: The Man Who Would Be King

Ten years ago I was at a garage sale with my husband Steven in our hometown of Nottingham, England. On a stall filled with cheap ornaments and dog-eared paperbacks, standing proudly at the front of a box of faded vinyl records, we found the above album.

Orion: Reborn. Sun Records. Collector’s gold vinyl. Release date on the back said 1979. No songs we’d ever heard of, but that coverWho was this mysterious masked man, standing hand on hips, with his perfect raven hair and sta-press trousers? What the hell was his story?

We took the record home, put it on and within seconds the mystery deepened. Whoever this guy was, he sounded exactly–and I mean exactly—like Elvis. Except these weren’t songs that Elvis ever recorded, and there was no mention of the King on the record. But there was the fact of Sun Records and this odd story on the back sleeve about this guy called Orion Eckley Darnell and something about a coffin, and a book… Most of all, though, there was this guy in the blue rhinestone-studded mask with the voice of Elvis. I had to know more.
 

  

The story I uncovered was one of the strangest I’ve ever encountered. As a documentary-maker, I’ve long been fascinated with stories that peek under the surface of popular culture and the machinations of the music industry, or explore just how important music is in our lives. Stories like The Great Hip Hop Hoax–about two Scottish chancers who faked their way to a record deal by pretending to be American rappers; SOUND IT OUT about the very last record shop in my home town in Teesside or Goth Cruise a documentary about 150 goths (along with 2500 “norms”) taking a cruise in the sunshine to Bermuda.

But this story had it all. A roller coaster tale of the Nashville music scene in the wake of Elvis Presley’s death, taking in deception, a quest for success, a search for identity and ending in brutal and tragic murder.

Even if you’ve never heard of Orion, you probably know about the “Elvis is Alive” myth. What I uncovered was that the story of Orion is the story of how that myth got started. 
In the marketing offices of Sun Records, maverick producer Shelby Singleton came up with the plan to utilize the incredible pipes of Alabama singer Jimmy Ellis – a voice which was both a blessing and a curse to the singer. Ellis had found it hard to get a solid foothold in the industry because of the similarity of his voice to Elvis’ –a similarity which was wholly unpracticed. Jimmy didn’t try to sound like Elvis, he just did. That made it hard for any record company to use him.
 

 
Shelby had already tried one tack, dubbing Jimmy Ellis’ vocals uncredited onto the Jerry Lee Lewis tracks in the Sun catalog, releasing the recording under the name of Jerry Lee Lewis “and friends.” He’d leave it up to the audience to come to the conclusion –if they saw fit—that it might just be a previously unheard recording from the depths of the Sun vaults. After all, it sounded just like Elvis…

 

“I was born in Sun Records, in the studio.”

But it wasn’t until Shelby came across a novel by Georgia writer Gail Brewer Giorgio that the stars aligned for Jimmy Ellis.  Orion was the story of the world’s greatest rock star and how he fakes his own death. As a character, her “Orion” was not a million miles away from a certain Memphis-dwelling King. It was a fantasy that so easily could be true. A fantasy that could be made true… In a move that Shelby himself later described as “part madman, part genius,” Sun Records put a mask on Jimmy Ellis, rechristened him “Orion” and unleashed him on an unsuspecting world. In Jimmy Ellis, Shelby had “The Voice.” And the book gave him a name, and a backstory.
 

A copy of the letter announcing the name “ORION” for the first time. The mask was the beginning of the Orion mystery.

In May of 1979, one month after his announcement of the imminent arrival of “ORION,” Shelby Singleton sent the first single to the radio stations. The cuts were “Ebony Eyes” and “Honey,” but there was no label on either side. Shelby wanted to build the mystery. The voice was the thing. He knew that the moment they heard that voice, they would have a million questions. And they’d want to see the mouth it came from…
 

 
Orion’s first album was readied – but hit controversy when there were complaints about the depiction of the masked singer appearing to rise from the dead from an open casket. (It was replaced by the blue cover above, which was later to catch my eye.)

Orion was now out in the world. Performing across America, always in the mask, always in character (legend was that Shelby would fine Jimmy if he were caught not wearing the mask at any time). And the crowds came. Hundreds and thousands of them, many coming for that voice–and many simply coming for the fantasy, the fantasy that the thin mask kept precariously in place. But for Jimmy, it was a frustrating ride.
 

 
Orion traveled the world while on Sun–including, bizarrely, performing with Kiss in Germany—putting out seven albums on Sun in just five years, but Jimmy hated the mask; the gimmick that provided the all-important mystery was ultimately a trap.  He could never be himself.
 

“Look Me Up”

When the gimmick wore thin, Ellis discarded the mask. The fragile spell was broken – but Jimmy was free. However, he struggled to step out of the shadow of Presley and the voice he was “blessed and cursed” with. He tried out many different identities – Ellis James, Mister E – he put the mask back on, then took it off again - but he never really found the same bright spotlight again. In December 1998, back in Orrville Alabama, the town he had left many years before to find success in music, Ellis was brutally murdered in his pawnshop during an armed robbery. A tragic ending for the man with the voice of a legend.
 

 
For the past four years, I have tracked down the people that were close to Orion to discover his story and I am raising finishing funds for ORION: The Man Who Would Be King on Indiegogo so that I can finish the documentary. You can support getting this story to the screen by pre-ordering the film, getting some original Orion memorabilia or even a bejeweled Orion mask.
 

Orion and author Gail Brewer Giorgio interviewed in 1979 TV news report.
 
More Orion, the man who would be King, after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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