A Whole New Take on Tubular Bells

Autumn Domtoren
Last night was the last of the Domtoren carillon summer concerts. To close out the series, carillonneur Malgosia Fiebig, along with pianists Sandra Mol, Jeroen van Veen, and Marcel and Elisabeth Bergmann, performed Mike Oldfield’s classic Tubular Bells. Even if you’re not familiar with Mike Oldfield, you’re probably familiar with the part of Tubular Bells that was used in the horror film classic The Exorcist.

The concert, since it’s performed in the Domtoren, is easy to hear throughout much of the city center. Knowing we can hear the Domtoren during its hourly musical interludes, G and I decided to listen to the concert from our back terrace. Unfortunately, we forgot to account for all of the neighbours around us, who were all eating dinner, watering plants, having phone conversations, and generally making the most of the nice weather. Still, we could hear all but the quietest bits and it really was wonderful to hear it played on such an instrument.

I didn’t realize at the time, but they had seating set up at the Buurkerkhof so that people who enjoy the concert. In addition, they projected on a wall in the square a video image of the musicians performing.

Per the short YouTube video of the concert that I found comes the following trivia:

The pianos were amplified using speakers pointing in four directions at a height of 40 meters (the sound you hear comes from the tower and was heard throughout the city!). The performers were playing in a small room at a height of 70 meters.

I didn’t get any video, but fortunately, others did. Here’s a link to a short section of the concert, and below is another short version of various sections of the concert. Enjoy!

The (Gothic) Rolling Stones

Isn't She Pretty
Any excuse to post a picture of the Domtoren …

Today’s midday musical interlude was an homage to The Rolling Stones, as played on the carillon of the Domtoren. I was walking through town to meet up with a friend and got to enjoy some of the music. I heard Start Me Up and Ruby Tuesday, but they also played Wild Horses, Satisfation, and Angie. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaangie!” Sorry, I can’t even see that song mentioned without singing along dramatically. I suspect it might have had something to do with one of my friends at university having the name Angie. “Aaaaaaaaaangie!”

If you’re not sure what a carillon is, here’s the Wikipedia description, which is probably a more succinct explanation than I could provide:

A carillon (/ˈkærɨlɒn/, /ˈkærɨljɒn/, or /kəˈrɪljən/; French: [kaʁijɔ̃]) is a musical instrument that is typically housed in a bell tower, or the belfry of a church or other municipal building. The instrument consists of at least 23 cast bronze, cup-shaped bells, which are played serially to play a melody, or sounded together to play a chord. A carillon is played by striking a keyboard – the keys of which are sometimes called batons – with the fists, and by pressing the keys of a pedal keyboard with the feet. The keys mechanically activate levers and wires that connect to metal clappers that strike the inside of the bells, allowing the performer on the bells, or carillonneur, [1] to vary the intensity of the note according to the force applied to the key.

Thanks to Twitter, I discovered a bit about Malgosia Fiebig, who is now serving as the city carilloneur for Utrecht and Nijmegen, having taken over the position from Arie Abbenes, who retired last year. She’ll be the one performing Tubular Bells at the end of the summer.

Still, there’s nothing like walking down the street, cursing the rain, when you suddenly realize that you’re hearing “Start Me Up” being played on bells ringing out over the city from the bell tower built in the 1300s. That’s one of those random things that I just love about living here. Rock on, Domtoren!

A Square That Should Not Be

The other week, as part of the city’s anniversary celebrations, the Domtoren was playing a variety of songs, including popular local songs. One of my favourites, and the one that you can hear in this video I filmed, is called Utereg Me Stadje, which is a local dialect way of saying Utrecht, My City. It was written and performed in the 1970s by Herman Berkien, an Utrecht folk and cabaret singer. If you want to hear his version, there are a number of options on YouTube, including this one.

As for the video itself, it was filmed in the Domplein, and I’m standing where the nave of the cathedral used to be. You see, Utrecht has a grand, Gothic cathedral … it’s just missing half of it. The nave was destroyed in a heavy storm in 1674. There wasn’t the money to rebuild it, nor it seems, was there money to clean up the mess, since it wasn’t officially cleaned up until 1829. No, that’s not a typo. I thought I procrastinated!

Towering
The large statue in the video and in the photo above is a war memorial and it stands up against the outer wall of what is left of the cathedral. Essentially, all that is left is the transept (the arms part of the cross) and the apse (the part with the altar, etc.). In the photo, you can see that they’ve painted the wall with a trompe l’oeil effect to make it look as if you’re looking toward the apse, giving you the view you’d have if the nave still stood.

Parts of the cathedral ruins were used for other buildings, I’m sure, as they always are. What is interesting about the site now is that they’ve marked out, using different coloured bricks, where parts of the cathedral and other buildings used to stand.  In the following photo, you can see the octagonal shape where one of the columns inside the nave used to stand. Next to it is a floor memorial or some sort of similar marker that echoes the numerous ones inside the cathedral.

Ghost Columns

On one hand, it’s sad that the full Gothic structure doesn’t remain. On the other hand, we’ve got a wonderful square that is used for all sorts of events, as you can perhaps tell from the banging sounds of construction in the background of my video. They were setting up two different stages that day in preparation for the Stadsdag events and the following day’s Cultural Sunday dance events. It’s a wonderful meeting place, and in the end, I’m kind of glad they didn’t rebuild it. The tower may be lonely, as a new song says, and it might be the square that wasn’t meant to be, but it has become a beautiful blend of man and nature, as the trees stand as their own columns now.

Occupy Utrecht

Street Organs on Steroids

On the Move
These large, yet mobile, street organs show up in various spots around town, but this was one of the first times I’d seen them being moved into position. I see — and hear — them most commonly on some of the shopping streets near the Cetraal Station around Christmastime, but they do make occasional appearances throughout the year. In this case, the organ was making the rounds to celebrate stadsdag, the city’s 890th anniversary.

Utrecht has a museum dedicated to these kind of musical boxes that come in all shapes and sizes. The Speelklok museum is one of Utrecht’s most-recommended museums, and with good reason. If you take a guided tour, you can hear the variety of boxes and organs playing their lively tunes. I’ve been a few times now and I always enjoy it.

Legend has it that these particular street organs became particularly popular in the Netherlands because of the flat terrain. I certainly wouldn’t want to push one of these musical beasts up and hill, and I certainly wouldn’t want to have to control it going downhill! Pas op! (Beware!)

This one eventually came to rest in the Flora’s Hof, the site of the former bishop’s palace, which I’ve mentioned recently. Every time I hear one of these organs play, I get a craving for suikerspin (cotton candy/cotton floss), because of the carnival-like sound.
Musical Garden

Koninginnedag, Take Three

Tulip Burnout
Happy Koninginnedag! Queen’s Day is upon us once again, and so far this one, our third, looks to be excellent. Fine weather, no hangover, no tragedy … The music has started back up already, and will probably go all day. It started last night and ran until after 1 a.m. Last night’s performances included a country/rockabilly group, who also did a reggae song called “I’m Allergic to Ganja”, which they amusingly/weirdly pronounced ganya. I know that’s the Dutch pronunciation of -ja, but the song was in English, so I was expecting the English pronunciation. It made me laugh, anyway. There were also a band doing ’80s hits. They ended, not surprisingly, with Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone”. For those not aware, Golden Earring is a Dutch band.

Anyway, we’re off to wander around and check out what’s being offered at the Vrijmarkt, an open flea market of sorts that is going on all across the country. I got some nice mugs and a royal tin the first year. If nothing else, it will be a slight break from all the music. We’ve just been serenaded by a band doing Dutch country of sorts. We’ve heard variations of “Jolene” and now I think they’re doing a version of “Islands in the Stream”. It’s interesting.
Flying Dutch Flag

Countdown to Pot

In just over a week, The Phoenix Foundation will be kicking off their European Tour at the Paradiso in Amsterdam. You can still buy tickets to the show, and I really think you should. They’re from New Zealand after all, so they don’t get out and about quite as much as some of us would like. You should make the most of this opportunity now, while you can, even if you’re not as familiar with their music. If it sounds like something you might like, go ahead and seize the day! You’ll be kicking yourself otherwise! Really!

If you can’t make it to the show in Amsterdam, or more likely if you want to go to multiple shows, here’s more info on their current tour dates and locations.

25/01/11: Instore @ Rough Trade East, London info

27/01/11: Paradiso, Amsterdam – Buy Tix
28/01/11: Botanique, Brussels – Buy Tix
03/02/11: Oran Mor, Glasgow (w/The Go!Team) – Buy Tix
04/02/11: Liquid Room, Edinburgh (w/The Go!Team) – Buy Tix
05/02/11: Lemon Tree, Aberdeen (w/The Go!Team) – Buy Tix
06/02/11: The Cluny, Newcastle (w/The Go!Team) – Buy Tix
09/02/11 – The Hope – Brighton, UK – Buy Tix
10/02/11 – The Louisiana – Bristol, UK – Buy Tix
16/02/11: La Fleche d’Or, Paris – Buy Tix
17/02/11: Le Bleu Lezard, Lausanne – Buy Tix
18/02/11: Komplex, Zurich – Buy Tix
22/02/11: Comet, Berlin – Buy Tix
23/02/11: Studio 672, Cologne – Buy Tix
24/02/11: Beatlemania, Hamburg – Buy Tix
26/02/11: The Borderline, London – SOLD OUT… stay tuned!
(more info and links on their website)

Their latest album, Buffalo, has been getting some rave, five-star reviews in the British music press, which is saying something! They’ve also been getting some play on various UK radio shows, including Jarvis Cocker and Guy Garvey (Elbow frontman)! And hey! Buffalo is going to be released in the UK/Europe on Monday, 24 January! You can pre-order through sites like Amazon and such. You could also probably pick up a copy at the show. *nudge nudge*

In the meantime, here’s a cool video for their song Pot:

Music Giveaway

The Phoenix Foundation
I’ve mentioned them here before, and it’s time to mention them again, because they’re awesomesauce. The Phoenix Foundation, a wonderful band from New Zealand, is going to be invading Europe in the beginning of the new year. Between now and then, I will be doing my best to win them new fans and acolytes, as they so richly deserve. You can find the full list of tour dates on their website.

I was lucky to see them for three shows in New York during their first mini American tour back in 2006, and I’m thrilled to finally get to see them again. They’re opening their European tour here in the Netherlands with a show at the Paradiso in Amsterdam. Sure, I was hoping for a gig here in Utrecht, but considering I had to take a plane to see them in New York, just taking a short train ride (weather permitting!) to Amsterdam is nothing! If you’re in the general Netherlands region on January 27, you too should go see them. I insist!

To get you more interested and exposed to their music, I thought I’d post a few of their videos from their four albums and give you a chance to win a free download of their latest album, Buffalo. Free, excellent music! Think of it as a Christmas gift from your favorite Utrecht Flamingo.

To enter, just leave a comment and tell me which song/video you liked best. Entrants must be from Europe (since it’s a European tour). I’ll do a random drawing Wednesday and post the winner. I’ll then e-mail a link and download code to the lucky recipient.

Let Me Die A Woman from the album Horsepower

Damn The River from the album Pegasus

Bleaching Sun from the album Happy Ending

Buffalo, from their latest album of the same name

Bonus video for the song 40 Years, on the Happy Ending album. The video was directed by, and stars, Taika Waititi, and was all done in one shot. Impressive and entertaining! Waititi wrote and directed Eagle vs Shark, as well as an episode of the Flight of the Conchords tv series.

Nederlands Film Festival Festivities

Nederlands Film Festival
The annual Nederlands Film Festival has returned. Every year, for a week and a half, Utrecht is overrun with film makers and film buffs as a variety of films are shown at cinemas and theaters around the city. I’ve not gone to see any of the films yet, but I always look forward to the arrival of the huge Gouden Kalf (golden calf) statue’s arrival in the grounds in front of the Stadsschouwburg. The golden calf is the symbol of the film festival and a miniature version is given out to award recipients. It’s essentially the Dutch version of the Oscar.
Golden Achievement
They literally roll out the red carpet at many of the theaters around town, and this year they’ve rolled out the red bikes, as well. At various spots around town, you’ll see a bicycle painted red and with theater names and directional arrows — along with the calf symbol — to direct visitors to the event locations. As you’ll see in the next photo, this bike is directing visitors to the City Theater on Voorstraat, and to the Stadsschouwburg off Lucasbolwerk.
Go By Bike
This evening, as we were relaxing on the sofa, watching the news about the austerity protests taking place in cities around Europe, we suddenly saw large groups of people walking past our own window. Was there an austerity protest going on right in front of us? An ironic one, considering the marchers seemed to be wearing golden cloaks? Nope! It was some sort of parade related to the film festival!
Golden Parade
I’m not exactly sure what the parade was for, but it might have something to do with the Jubilee Evening festivities taking place tonight. I found a mention of a parade of fashion artist Aziz Bekkaoui, but I’m not sure they literally meant a parade. Either way, there are music, art and film celebrations at the Stadsschouwburg tonight, and that seemed to be the direction in which they were heading.
Film Festival Parade
They were also singing as they walked along, and I realized that I knew the song! It’s a Dutch classic, although I admit that I know best the version that was performed at the first Nacht Van Het Vieze Lied (night of the dirty song) I attended. The song was Zing, Vecht, Huil, Bid, Lach, Werk en Bewonder (Sing, fight, cry, pray, laugh, work and admire) by Ramses Shaffy. I really do like this song, so for your listening pleasure, here it is!

Foto Vrijdag 2.37 Sunday Edition

Rhythm & Balloons
Best laid plans of mice and men and all that …

I had intentions of doing some writing here this week, but somehow it just didn’t materialize. It’s been one of those weeks. I spent all week meaning to upload my photos from last Sunday’s Uitfeest event here in town, but didn’t get that done until this morning. Oh well. Better late than never!

Now that I’ve used up all sorts of clichés and trite expressions, here’s your belated Foto Vrijdag picture. There was a Spanish group performing at the Domplein last Sunday, and I caught this shot of the bass player and the colorful balloons that were all over the Domplein. The Uitfeest is the annual opening celebration of the start of the cultural season. In fact, the Netherlands Film Festival opens this week here in town. Maybe I’ll get to see a celebrity again this year. Is Michiel Huisman in town this year?

Back in the Saddle

Mijn Fiets [Day 171/365]
You know the old adage “It’s like riding a bicycle”, meaning it’s something you don’t forget? Yeah, I may have proved that one wrong. I finally bought my very own bicycle today, but I’ve yet to ride it properly. I had G end up testing it out for me when I failed to get it going without almost riding it into a wall. It was lunchtime and there were tons of people around and I was fast running out of any ability to not be horribly embarrassed and mortified. Plus, I was worried about running over the mail delivery people nearby who were doing a good job at not laughing and pointing at me.

I was up by 5 a.m. this morning, albeit unintentionally. Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll get up early again — this time on purpose — and go practice when fewer people can see me wobbling all over the place. My memories of riding a bike and the reality of it were two drastically different things! I used to ride my bicycle for hours on end, practically flying on the wind. Unfortunately, that was 20+ years ago.

Still, I finally have a bike again and I’m sure it will come back to me eventually. Hopefully without anything getting broken! I’m thinking of naming my bike Sally after the song by The Phoenix Foundation (you can hear the song and the whole album at that link), partly because of the line “you look like Kodachrome, you’ve gone a little yellow”, in honor of my very first bike, which was a yellow one.