Inside The Video: Lowell, "The Bells"

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Norman Wong
Lowell, relaxing after a hard day
Lowell, playing a pair of shows in town this week (9/4 at Mercury Lounge, 9/5 at Glasslands) is a Toronto-based band made up of just one person (also named Lowell, conveniently/confusingly) that makes music in the form of very delicate electro clouds over which she sings in a very high, sweet voice. She is also really into making videos! While in the past she has had a pretty strong video art aesthetic, all crazily overlaid images that honestly get kind of boring pretty quickly (one video ends with a solid minute-and-a-half-long shot of her butt, filmed closer than is normally advisable), for her latest one, recently she has gone much, much bigger.


The clip for her sing-songy "The Bells" was filmed in one continuous take in the heart of the suburbs: under floodlights on a football field in the middle of the night. Over the course of an impeccably choreographed few minutes, Lowell shares the screen with an undead street gang, a roller derby team, a squad of cheerleaders, a marching band, and a few ancillary people in shimmering bodysuits. There's an undercurrent of menace through the whole thing, with unexplained gashes on many characters, and Lowell lazily swinging a baseball bat throughout. By the end, it seems that she may have beaten the viewer to death.

We were intrigued! So we caught up with her to get the inside story.


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Cast In Concrete #9: Sailing To Brooklyn With Stefan Fink

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Vijith Assar

Cast In Concrete tracks Vijith Assar as he records New York City's street musicians. If you'll be busking nearby soon and would like to appear in a future installment, please let him know.

See also: Cast In Concrete #6: Scott Stenten And The Sound Of Two Hands Tapping (On A Guitar)

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Cast In Concrete #8: Scottish Octopus Modernize the Bagpipes

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Vijith Assar
Cast In Concrete tracks Vijith Assar as he records New York City's street musicians. If you'll be busking nearby soon and would like to appear in a future installment, please let him know.

Who: Scottish Octopus
Where: intersection of Lafayette Street and 8th Street, in front of the cube sculpture
When: 11/17/2012, about 5pm.

Things didn't go so well when I tried to record Andrew Forbes a few weeks ago over near NYU. A second expected bagpiper didn't show up, whooshing wind noises made my recording unusable, and there was also one unpleasant incident wherein a particularly nasty gust made off with a big chunk of the money in his case, forcing his enchanted onlookers to break free of their trances and run around trying to gather up the fluttering bills. I gave up pretty quickly, and then he disappeared into the wind himself, so to speak.

See Also:
- Cast In Concrete Archive

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Cast In Concrete #7: Lenna Pierce Reminds Us Why the Worst Parts of the Subway System Should Still Be Saved

Categories: Caught On Tape

Cast In Concrete tracks Vijith Assar as he records New York City's street musicians. If you'll be busking nearby soon and would like to appear in a future installment, please let him know.

Who: Lenna Pierce, d.b.a. Meaner Pencil

When: November 1st, 11:30pm

Where: C line, Nostrand Avenue station, Manhattan-bound platform

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It's just about midnight on the day the New York City subway system has finally started to reopen after its thrashing at the hands of Hurricane Sandy earlier this week, and I have no earthly business being on the C platform at the Nostrand Avenue station. Even compared to other subway platforms, this is an unpleasant place. The rats here seem bigger than usual, and they sure as hell run up closer to me; even setting my bag down on the ground makes me wish I had brought a half-gallon jug of Purell.



See Also:
- Cast In Concrete Archives

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Cast In Concrete #6: Scott Stenten And The Sound Of Two Hands Tapping (On A Guitar)

Cast In Concrete tracks Vijith Assar as he records New York City's street musicians. If you'll be busking nearby soon and would like to appear in a future installment, please let him know.

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Who: Scott Stenten
Where: Grand Central Terminal, Graybar Passage
When: November 10th, 2011, around 9 p.m.

I first scouted out Scott Stenten for this column late last fall, when the chilly weather cost me three solid evenings wandering around midtown and the East Village looking for musicians, who apparently had all already packed it in for the winter by then. But Stenten was bravely soldiering on into the cold; by the time we caught up again last week, that situation had completely reversed, and we found ourselves in the sweltering passageway between Grand Central and the Graybar Building.

Using a doubleneck acoustic—two identical steel six-strings, with additional electronics behind a detachable flap on the back—Stenten plays entirely via an unusual two-handed fretboard tapping technique. It's sort of like Eddie Van Halen's embellishing trick, except that it's applied at all times to create fully independent chord and melody voices for each hand, much like a pianist.

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Cast In Concrete #5: Taking In Bluegrass While Sitting On Prospect Park's Grass

Categories: Caught On Tape

Cast In Concrete tracks Vijith Assar as he records New York City's street musicians. If you'll be busking nearby soon and would like to appear in a future installment, please let him know.

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Who: Five dudes and one woman who do not have an official name
When: July 2, 9 p.m.
Where: Prospect Park, Great Meadow, northern end

I will ride hard for Prospect Park even under normal circumstances, so when you also plop a great band down in the middle of it, you've probably made my week. Upon spying an informal jam session unfolding beneath a tree, I immediately dashed back to my nearby apartment to pick up the recording gear, which is why here you're hearing some delightful new condenser mics that I usually don't bother to bring along when I'm just aimlessly wandering. By the time I made it back the band had relocated a few yards due west, since in the intervening half hour a bird had taken a shit on guitarist Jordan Shapiro's fretboard. This took him a while to clean up.

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Cast In Concrete #4: CINEMA dub MONKS Add An Air Of The Abstract To Washington Square Park

Categories: Caught On Tape

Cast In Concrete tracks Vijith Assar as he records the musical offerings of New York City's street musicians.

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Who: CINEMA dub MONKS
Where: Washington Square Park
When: June 20, 9 p.m.

I guess all the musicians in this city are better about checking the forecasts than I am, because a sizable loop through the East Village last week just left me sweaty and exhausted and still empty-handed. I gave up on the wanderlust and just made a beeline for the reliable Washington Square Park, where the Sistine Criminals inaugurated this enterprise a year ago. And what do you know! In the exact same spot, just in front of the statue on the western side of the park, I found another group likewise commanding a crowd's attention.

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Cast In Concrete #3: Zack Orion, The One-Man Band Who Has The Whole City Open To Him

Cast In Concrete tracks Vijith Assar as he records the musical offerings of New York City's street musicians.

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Who: Zack Orion
When: 8/16, about 11:30pm
Where: Bedford Avenue L train platform

It's been a very long time since I've seen anybody pull off the one-man band thing quite like this guy—his ability sucks you in from all the way up by the turnstiles. Right foot stuck to a tambourine which is substituting quite effectively for the snare crack, left foot perched on a kick pedal that's aimed backwards at the suitcase/drum he's sitting on, harmonica around his neck ready to go for the times when he's not singing, and all this still leaves both hands free for the banjo. Imagine my surprise when I ambled up alongside him and saw the name on the CDs he was hocking—Zack Orion. I vaguely recognized it from the time I spent down in Virginia, where we sort of traveled in the same circles without ever actually meeting.

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Cast In Concrete #2: Meet Dan Bellen And The Hare Krishnas

Categories: Caught On Tape

Cast In Concrete tracks Vijith Assar as he records the musical offerings of New York City's street musicians.

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Who: Dan Bellen And The Hare Krishnas
When: 6/8/11, about 6:15pm
Where: Union Square

Scorcher of a day out at the Union Square Greenmarket, which is the best I can do by way of explanation for my complete and utter snark failure here. When I was about halfway through recording these white dudes singing an Indian devotional chant, a husky and apparently quite confused West African fella approached me to ask, "Hey, what you believe in?"

Now, granted, I am a full-blooded Indian guy, and there was even a phase of my life during which music like this was a constant background presence—house parties with other suburban Indian families where the adults would sing this stuff in the living room while the kids played NES in the basement, and then all the above parties would eat tandoori chicken and aloo parathas together. But here I was standing off to the side, wasn't singing, and was wearing a polo shirt, sneakers, and a considerably more conventional haircut.


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Cast In Concrete #1: Meet The Jittery Improv Quartet Sistine Criminals

Cast In Concrete tracks Vijith Assar as he records the musical offerings of New York City's street musicians.

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Who: Sistine Criminals
When: 6/4/11, about 5 p.m.
Where: Washington Square Park

Quite the debatably fortuitous beginning to this enterprise, getting run over by a mobile mariachi quartet's accordionista the moment I jumped on the subway out by Prospect Park. But they declined to participate because they didn't have their uniforms, which seemed to me a very good reason to refuse. So instead I was off to Washington Square.

If you're lucky, Greg "Torch" Sgrulloni's drums will pretty much rule the park when you arrive, jumping out over the fountain and right through the crowds milling about with their ice creams or homework or whatever it is the NYU kids do out there. What could otherwise probably pass for a straightforward jazz head with a slight Middle Eastern modal flavor gets warped into a nerve-wracking monument to paranoia by jittery mile-a-minute jungle breakbeats that you'd assume were programmed specifically to sound inhuman if you weren't right there watching it all unfold from a park bench.


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