Space is the Place: Arn Hao at the UNC v. Duke Battle of the Bands

The two band members mounted the stage with a casual clumsiness—laughing, almost, at the nature of the setting. The singer wore a sparkling silver cape that aimed its reference at Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes, or Sun Ra, but more closely recalled a child playing glam superhero. He set up one keyboard for each of his hands, and the t-shirt and jeans guitarist set up his amp—reverb all the way up—behind himself. A sound check proceeded thus, and it flowed directly into the actual set with no announcement. This is Chapel Hill’s ArnHao.

It always seems nice to mention that an audience was caught unawares by a performance, and I feel in this case—this battle of the bands rife with Beatles t-shirts and Christmas present guitars—it really was true. A backing beat began, new wave synths soaring above it, and when the guitarist smacked his instrument for the first time—the sound like a booming echo of shattered glass—I felt a wave of eyebrows flex with surprise and confusion.

The singer’s vocals glided over the music like smooth, soulful frosting. His voice was dynamic. Within each song, he played the tender crooner, the screeching, desirous spaceman, the falsetto 80s dance sexpot, as his fingers skillfully coordinated themselves on the bass and soprano keyboards. The synth voices were cheesy in a way that was coolly ironic. I am not at all deriding them—they were a backbone of the sound. Also supporting this aesthetic were the lyrics, accented by bizarre images—riding bicycles to outer space, meeting women in lairs. The songs are playful, modern love narratives that twist pop and dance music themes of self-indulgence and casual attraction—like an indie rock take on Prince.

Keeping this sound in mind, the most joyfully surprising part of the performance was in fact the harsh electric guitar. Iconoclast of the genre, slashing away at the synth, the guitarist made an experimental critique of his band’s own performance. Indeed, ArnHao’s recordings proclaim a much smoother and streamlined electronic dance sound than does the raucous live set. This duality of the band’s sound is sure to make ArnHao palatable to both cursory and discerning music listeners. It’s this originality that impressed the judges and made ArnHao the ultimate winner of the Battle of the Bands—of course, not without some audience objection.

The Triangle music scene, mired in its share of conventional rock and punk bands, will be greatly enriched by ArnHao’s sound—an easing of experimentation and innovation into accessible dance music.

ArnHao has not yet promoted themselves with a MySpace, but the band plans to release a single and remix soon.

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Here is a rough sketch of my potential post-graduate life:

a) work during the summer for a state Governor’s School program;

b) WWOOF abroad at various farms, learning and practicing new languages;

c) foster my sub-career as a musical artist: writing music, recording albums, touring and collaborating with others while working happily at a coffee shop or something;

d) AmeriCorps VISTA, working at a university service organization;

e) journalist at a small community newspaper in an interesting part of the US;

f) eventually, graduate school, perhaps to study law or a focused international study;

g) do I want to be a lawyer??;

h) write grants for extended research trips, publish in academic journals or make documentaries;

i) learn to forage and live off the land in a warm part of the earth where it wouldn’t be weird that I am white and where there are enough nutritious plant and animal species to eat;

j) always, always keep working on something, thinking creatively, learning new things, experimenting, and following my interests;

k) marriage? kids? pets? cat sanctuary? college professorship? book publication? homelessness? unibomber revival? piracy?

l) BE HAPPY.

It is the second day of the spring 2010 semester here at UNC. Things are awesome. I am finally taking a class on environment and development, in which I will (here’s to hoping) strengthen my understanding of the delicate and complicated relationships between policy, economics, quality of life and quality of environment in developing countries.

I am posting fliers for my fourth big ol’ fundraising house show, which will be on January 23rd. Soon, also, I’ll be working with a composition class in the School of Music. They’re arranging a digital piece of music of which my song “Landfill Lot” is the centerpiece. I hope I make for good inspiration. I am forever doubting myself here, in the midst of lots of other talented (and less weird) musical artists in the Triangle area.

Continuing my efforts to try to make people care about Jacquelyn Lee. Also trying to finish my goddamn album. The EP and Vinyl Records Presents concert will be released for February, which is very very close to now!

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Medicare set co-opts youth advocacy campaign techniques; plus benefit house shows! Yeah!

Today, NYT blogger David M. Herszenhorn posted On the Hill, Protesters Chant ‘Kill the Bill’ to his Prescriptions blog. It’s a mood piece with interviews of some select protesters in the anti-health reform “tea party” protest (my environmental communication professor calls them “tea baggers”).

Called there by anti-reform pedagogue Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.), the protestors wave signs and yell. A lot of the things they are saying in defiance of the pending bill are fairly erroneous, and they reject any of the responses Herszenhorn gives to their critiques, like (paraphrase), “Didn’t you hear about Max Baucus’s efforts to work with Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee in order to draft a bipartisan health care bill?” A man named Jerry Hershberger from Texas says something like, “Yeah, whatever, it was lame, and it proves that thing didn’t work, but yeah, still, we want some conservatism reflected in the bill. Give us what we want.” Another protester says that the lack of expediency associated with getting out the H1N1 vaccine proves that the government would do a horrible job at… doing anything for the benefit of her health.

It’s your usual protesting scene, you know, but what is really striking to me is how the older citizenry is beginning to co-opt grassroots organizing–or at least protesting–as a strategy. There has been some controversy about the legitimacy of this organizing however, because of the business-organized “astroturf” protests present at some health care town hall meetings in the past. It is amusing to see the white collars, the clean blazers, the wrinkles at these protests.

I am troubled to think that the national health care debate will be manipulated by a demographic of Americans who are not only wealthy enough now to afford decent health care from private providers, but who will also soon be dead. This is why it is so important for young adults to show their support for health care reform. It is they who must face the good or bad consequences of any future actions.

On a completely different note, I have organized two more fundraising house shows at Kraft Haus, 505 C. N. Greensboro St, Carrboro. No, they’re not to benefit Barack Obama and his evil socialist regime. Profits will go to “Help Jacquelyn Lee Make an Album,” my poorly but unambiguously named charity (really, it’s just me, you know) to raise at least $500 to pay for the printing, packaging and promoting costs of releasing my album. Albums are expensive business. It is already being recorded for free by the gracious, talented and easy to talk to David Harper of Vinyl Records UNC, but you wouldn’t believe how much all of the other stuff can cost. I won’t even be able to purchase digipaks, which go for a little more than a dollar a piece… if you buy 1000. I’ll need to think of something more artsy and homemade.

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November is stale

Junior year arrives like a mid-life crisis in the four-year life span of the undergraduate. Just last week I was vivacious with grandiose ambitions to speed to a research topic and apply for different summer research grants. I am not out of steam, but the Halloween weekend has left a tired taste in my mind. My body, too, is lethargic, and I find that it is just a bit harder to bike to school each day.

I feel drained without reason, and I am left suspended right now. I am waiting for word about a possible service learning internship with Shakori Hills or Orange County Economic Development. Decisions of strangers will determine whether or not I will have the money to buy a nice “investment” guitar! A petty expense it seems, but I am making small, steady steps to legitimizing myself as a musician. Soon, I will have an album. Someday, I will have a good amplifier. Later, I’ll get a record deal, etc… It’s some heavy wishing.

Recording has gone well so far. David Harper and I are making steady progress, laying down basic vocal and guitar (and toy accordion!) tracks. On November 13, I’ll take to the Vinyl Records studio again with my old friend Danny Resner (formerly of the Asheville turned Austin, TX based Baker Family Band), who is always a dedicated, creative and passionate person to work with. He knows my music, what I do, and I’m sure he’ll make really valuable contributions to the album’s overall sound.

Here’s a rough mix of “Landfill Lot.” Please keep in mind that it is by no means the final version.


The Landfill Lot (Mix 1)

What sound? I am not sure. Right now, I only want it to sound REAL. It’s a feeling that a lot of music is lacking these days. I do not mean to trash electro/dance folks, but slick production does not have any business screwing with my voice or the strange, bluegrassish way I play guitar. My sound must not be created in the vacuum of computer space.

Because I’ve been busy, my MySpace page has not been updated in quite a long time. See here.

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