Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Ask Erik: Episode 1

That's right, folks, it's time for the first ever episode of "Ask Erik," a column where I'll take on your questions, respond to your comments, and do my best to not simply spend another 2000 words doting on ponies.  ...unless you ask me to, of course.

So, on with the questions!

To Erik: I'm interested in your take on Lindsey Stirling.

Time to be up front...I completely forgot who this girl was.  I was convinced that, for my first question, I was going to have to read an entire novel or something before being able to give my opinion, but then I remembered there's this thing call the "Internet."  A quick Google search later, and I remember why I know her name:

She's the girl who blew it on America's Got Talent!


I have a love for musicians and bands who play string instruments, especially those who don't just play traditional classical music.  My favorite rendition ever of the Bruce Springsteen hit Because The Night was performed by 10,000 Maniacs:

The fact that the Bottom Line Duo can combine Ozzy Osbourne's Crazy Train with the disco hit YMCA just simply blows me away:

And I was a huge fan of the other huge violin act on America's Got Talent, Nuttin' But Stringz.  Those two, I felt, managed to bring violin music into modern times while still carrying some of the class the instrument just seems to grant to any song it performs.

And then there's the music group Bond.

There are simply not enough words to express how much I love this group.  One of my biggest rules for buying music ("never buy a "best of" album if you own every other album") was broken for them, and I even own their stage show DVD.  They do music that's a strong blend of pop, rock, and classical (their first album was on the classical charts before being taken down for being "too much like pop music") that is like nothing else I hear anywhere else.  First of all, a few song examples:

Their biggest hit (last I heard) was titled Explosive.

Another song I love, Victory

And just in case you want a tango?  Here you go:

 These girls have performed at the Olympics, and had appearances in two movies (granted, one of them was Johnny English, but I don't blame them for that movie not doing well in the box office).  I'll freely admit, they were originally formed to be "some attractive women playing string instruments," but I think the natural talent they have overshadows everything else.  They've done remixes of some of their songs, too, and while they don't blow me away as much as some other remixes have, they are still on my iPod.

This many words, and I still haven't even really talked about Lindsey Stirling yet.  Don't worry, I'm not trying to dodge the issue here.

Let's start with some simple facts:  Lindsey Stirling is talented.  I cannot and would not deny that fact, and to say anything else would be a bald-faced lie.  She's also cute, but Bond has four gorgeous women so they win that isn't what we're discussing here.  As I said before, the reason I know her is primarily from her appearance on the TV reality show America's Got Talent.  I liked her, I really did.

And then this happened.

I agree with Piers.  The girl has talent, but that song did not require a violin back-up, and it certainly didn't require her dressing up like the dorkiest girl in school, being carried around while playing, and doing an awkward jig while trying to keep the notes straight.  For it, the song suffered.  And it suffered hard.  I actually remember, when she played those first (to my ears) slightly sour notes at the very beginning of the song, going, "Oh, no."

A quick Google search also brings up what appears to be a new video for her doing a "Dubstep Violin Original" called Elements...and I have no idea what I'm watching in this video.  

See, what I love about the Bond videos is that, barring the moments the camera decides to show off their looks or when they're being chased by soldiers, the women play their instruments.  You can see where each note comes from as they play the instrument.  They don't jump around, they don't slide into slow motion Matrix effects, and they don't hide in darkness lit only by insufficient fire.  Most of the time they're just standing or sitting in a circle playing instruments that sometimes look like pieces of modern art.  

What this video sounds (and looks) like is a song recorded in a studio, and she's just going through vague violin-y motions as the cameras record her.  I mean, really, you expect me to believe (having never played a violin before in my life, granted) that you can do bursts of staccato notes when the bow is moving in a smooth motion across the strings?  I'd have to see that in person, thank you.

Going through the videos, I get the same effect.  There's obvious talent in the music, but the videos just seem to pull away from her talent by focusing too much on the "quirky young woman" aspect. In one we have a direct rip-off homage to Michael Jackson's Thriller, and again, I seriously doubt she could hit all those notes while jumping around that way.  The one for the most well-known song from Phantom Of The Opera has me waiting for an outtakes reel showing her tripping over that white dress repeatedly.

The song at the street festival, however?  Amazing.  I'll admit it.  But there's no flash, nothing mind-blowing about how she performs it, she just plays good music

And I think that's what I'd want from her before I put her up with my favorite string acts, is for there to be a little less focus on showing off the athletic side of playing the instrument and just let me hear how good she is.

To quote poet Robert Browning, "Less is more."

...which is ironic when you consider how many words it took me to reach that conclusion.

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