Archive for February, 2011

Green Devil

Vegetables aren’t inherently evil.  Years of real world experience have taught me this seemingly obvious lesson, but when I was a little kid, it wasn’t as cut and dry.

I’ve never been very adventurous when it comes to food. This probably goes back to my understanding that kids were usually punished with vegetables.  I remember cartoons where kids were constantly threatened with Brussels sprouts.




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Food Justice 2011's logo

The University of Oregon‘s Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics wraps up a massive conference on food justice today, with sessions beginning at 9 a.m. PST and ending with a keynote speech by Dr. Vandana Shiva.

Find the program here and see the live blog from yesterday’s conference here.

Students from the #J463Arts (Writing About the Arts) class at the UO, along with me, their professor, will be live-Tweeting and live-blogging almost all sessions at the conference today. We’ll do that using Cover It Live and Twitter, and you can follow the #foodjustice hashtag on Twitter for more info. (Also note that the conference itself has someone Twittering at FoodJustice2011.)

Click on the link below to participate in the Cover It Live blog, or ping me on Twitter (@suzisteffen) so I can add your name to the captured tweets list!

CLICK HERE to participate directly in the live blog of the Food Justice conference for Monday, Feb. 21.

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Food Justice 2011's logo

The University of Oregon‘s Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics is in the middle of hosting a three-day conference on food justice.

Find the program for the day here.

Students from the #J463Arts (Writing About the Arts) class at the UO, along with me, their professor, will be live-Tweeting and live-blogging various sessions at the conference, mostly on Monday but some today as well. We’ll do that using Cover It Live and Twitter, and you can follow the #foodjustice hashtag on Twitter for more info. (Also note that the conference itself has someone Twittering at FoodJustice2011.)

Click on the link below to participate in the Cover It Live blog, or ping me on Twitter (@suzisteffen) so I can add your name to the captured tweets list!

Cover It Live live blog for Food Justice conference Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011

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As Hasni Mubarak steps down from his presidential position, one local musician never thought he’d see the day when Mubarak left this post. The leave of Mubarak is a source of inspiration for musician Karim Hassenien, but he says relating his songs about these events to the general public is difficult for him, which is a goal he sets when he writes music. His family lives in Cairo and other than being worried about his family he is really excited about what is happening. This is the seed that may lead to personal songwriting.

Hassenien, although born in D.C. has lived in Egypt for a good portion of his life because that is where his parents are from and they moved back to Cairo as Hassenien was entering middle school. Because of this, he says he is identifies more as an Egyptian than an American.

His music is a mix of folksy guitar playing, traditional Egyptian style and hip/hop. The mix of folksy guitar playing is nn his solo song, “Gone Across the Valley” the song is remincent of Simon and Garfunkel, all of sudden in the middle of the song Hassenein starts singing in a style that similar to the rap group Bone Thugs and Harmony where he dubs his own voice and raps in a falsetto style and keeps the acoustic guitar going underneath. Hassenien has recorded to solo albums but last year started a band with Shivangi (Shiva) Ramachandran who is of Indian descent.

Ramachandran and Hassenien officially became a band after playing a show last year for International Women’s Day.  Ramachandran was asked to play a show there and she sought out Hassanein for his help because the two worked as Resident Advisors where they met and started jamming together. This show would form what has become an increasingly popular local band: The Manes.

Hassanein says, “I am not really influenced by band’s styles–more by the rebellious attitude, like the underground hip-hop attitude” Hassenein says that Farside, Common and a Tribe Called Quest are groups that have this attitude.

With the manes, Ramachandran sings and while Hassenien plays guitar and does backup vocals. Their style is, Ramachandran says, “a folsky/indie singer songwriter mix.” Sometimes the group says they’re identified as “indie,” a label Hassenein takes issue with: “I don’t like being labeled an ‘indie’ band because being defined by a genre becomes restricting,” he says and when Hassenien jams he says he likes to mix up styles.. Because Ramachandran can sing and play drums at the same time,  Hassenien says they may eventually add another member to their band and play a fully electric show. Something they have never attempted together. Hassensein says the reason for not adding another member is he likes to switch up styles often and he says it is off-putting to some people when you switch between a folksy melody to a hip/hop groove.

“Musically we come from a lot of places and we meet in the middle,” Hassenien says of the band’s style. Hassanein can sing and plays bass, guitar, and tabla , a traditional Egyptian instrument. He listens to older Egyptian music, not the pop music that has come out of Egypt recently.

While they don’t have any shows scheduled yet, Hassenein says the group is looking for opportunities to perform. The Manes also plan to start recording an album at the end of this term. Hassenein has recorded two solo albums and Ramachandran has her own originals as well.

The Manes have recorded mostly covers but they do have two original numbers. Their song “Pretty Boxes” was featured on The Eugene Weekly’s Next Big Thing, a contest to find the next aspiring musician in Eugene. Listening to pretty boxes underscores Hassenein’s guitar style because of the simple chord progression, but Hassenein can play much more complex riffs, which he could add to the group’s repetioire if they were to switch to electric

It was for that contest that the group picked their name (contest rules required all participants have a title). The duo chose “The Manes” because of their respective huge hairstyles. They do not know where they placed in the contest, but said they were doing well for a while and do not know how where they placed because only the top 16 finalists were announced to the public.

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If I had a time machine, I’d give it to Karl Benedek and tell him to talk to teenage Jody about country music.  I grew up south of the Mason Dixon line where the local law stated that “Thou Shalt Goeth Through A Country Phase”.

I went through my phase around the age of 10, but high school peer pressure forced me to back away from ten-gallon hats and belt buckles, and embrace the more rebellious movement known as alternative rock.  I was allowed to associate with the shock rock kids.  My best friend was a huge Marylin Manson fan.  But wardrobe was the main influencer for high school cliques and my Scooby Snacks t-shirt and super baggy Jnco jeans left me with a musical listening range of Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness to OK Computer.

Benedek would have taught that younger, more naïve Jody to “Please please please please try try try to enjoy your roots, have some fun fun fun fun”  (From Benedek’s Twitter feed).

Benedek hosts a weekly KWVA radio show called Blood on the Saddle.  “ I got into kind of a little bit deeper into college,” Benedek says.  “Like most people I started off with Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, sort of the basic in-roads.”

He mentions the Grateful Dead as a transitional band that helped bridge the distance between his musical tastes.   “I used to hang out with a lot of dead heads and stuff.  The Grateful Dead were known for doing a lot of country tunes,” he says.  Benedek says The Dead’s cover of “Mama Tried” stands out as a good example of their country music attempts.

Certain Blood on the Saddle shows are strictly vinyl.  Benedek is able to accomplish this through his vast record collection.  “I started collecting records in college,” he says.  “I have probably about 15 to 20 linear feet of records.” (more…)

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Space Music

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The usual overcast Oregon skies were on a hiatus and the sunshine was very much welcome in the middle of January. Two friends, Luke Larsen and Grahm Doughty, are goofing around in a back alley, discussing how to pose for photographs.

“I think its funny how bands always go out in the woods and take pictures,” Larsen says. “It just becomes so clichéd.”

“What would be a really not cliché band picture?” Doughty asks. “Next to a car? With the Dumpster!”
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Three years ago, they were joking with another of their roommates in their basement music room. But they never thought they’d actually form a band with the comical concept they came up with.

“One of us, it could have been me, was like, ‘man, wouldn’t that be funny if there was a band that just wrote and sang songs about space?’” Doughty says.

Space Music’s two members are both seniors at the University Of Oregon; Larsen, 22, is a music major and Doughty, also 22, is a History and English double major.

“I do most of the music in the band,” Larsen says.

“And I do most of the history and English,” Doughty, who writes a majority of the lyrics, quips.

Both have been playing music from a young age. Larsen started taking piano lessons at age 5 and Doughty began playing drums in 6th grade. Doughty, however, never thought he’d be singing lead vocals or playing guitar, two instruments he had significantly less confidence in compared to drums or keyboards.

Their musical style is often described as ‘synthpop’, as they use lots of synthesizers, electric drums, and sound and voice effects. Contrary to what their name suggests, their music doesn’t belong to the space music genre. According to Stephen Hill, in his essay Contemplative Music, Broadly Defined, space music is a genre of music within New Age and Ambient music that lacks conventional melodic, rhythmic, or vocal components. Instead the band is known for their up-tempo melodies and quirky lyrics.

While they’re both religious and are not afraid to bring that aspect of their lives into some their music, they’re not overtly Christian in their lyrics or message. Their songs include unexpected rhymes amid more serious heartfelt lyrics. For example, in Black Hole Dreams, the sensitive chorus, “I’m searching desperate galaxies for a beating heart to soar with me,” and the quirky rap bridge, “space matter, ladder to Saturn, climbin’ on the rungs and I get a bit sadder,” are interesting juxtapositions.
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The Banker, released on January 18th 2011, was the first EP in their new three-chapter series of albums to be digitally released on bandcamp.com in the coming months. This first EP has less to do with intergalactic travel; instead of being just the subject matter, space is now more of the setting of their songs.

While their original songs started at as a parody, they’re now trying to branch out to a genre that is more true to their identity as musicians. The three-chapter series of albums will feature more elements from progressive rock, like intricate instrumental patterns. For example, the first track on The Banker, Light Years Ago, is an instrumental retelling of the main melody lines from their first album.

They explain that each of their albums as a whole has some semblance of a plot, through which all the songs move. They are now trying to be more intentional with the narrative in each album compared to their first CD, Black Hole Dreams, which was put together differently.

“That one was more like taking a bunch of random things out of different articles and magazines and putting it into one storyline and trying to make it work together,” Larsen says.

Space Music has played a number of live shows, mainly at churches or benefit events. Larsen says his favorite gig was a concert in the Onyx House basement. Despite the complicated set-up, he says he enjoyed playing in the small and intimate setting.

However, because they use a large number of recording tracks to build each song, playing live is difficult with only two band members. So, in order to play their musically complex and multi-layered pieces at shows, they have to recruit other talented musician friends to play with them.

“It’s funny to me that our music is so complicated and full,” Doughty says. “I think most bands start with recording something really simple that they can actually play live, instead of something that is almost impossible to play live, especially in a band of two people.”

“We’re always trying to cover ourselves,” Larsen says. “Poor acoustic covers of ourselves.”

Doughty says he wants to continue playing music after graduation, though he’s not sure in what form or capacity.
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“Music is like the thing I really want to do,” Doughty says. “But I also have my degrees, you know, if I need to get a real job.” He currently plays the drums for a few Christian artists based in Portland, such as Mike Honholz, Anna Gilbert and Rend the Heavens, and spends his weekends commuting to various concert venues with them.

Larsen also hopes to pursue a career with music, but he’s planning on possibly doing so through writing. He started a music blog, The Feedback Loop, in November last year where he now regularly posts insightful and well-written music reviews. His review of the TRON: Legacy Soundtrack was featured in Relevant, a Christian online magazine.

“I started that because I realized that I want to apply for a bunch of internship positions at newspapers and websites,” Larsen says. “So, I wanted to have a sort of résumé of writing samples and practice a lot.”

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Regardless of their plans for the band in the future, they continue to set themselves apart with their absurdist humor, which overlays their genuinely well-written songs. In the midst of parody, something sincere in their songs unexpectedly reaches out to listeners.

Some bands take themselves so seriously that it’s hard to take them serious. Space Music, on the other hand, is almost poking fun at themselves, making them endearing and enjoyable artists to listen to. Their close friendship shows in both their music and in the way the two joke around, posing for photographs with an axe they find in the alley and a cell phone.

“I never know if you’re smiling in these!” Larsen says.

“Well, I wasn’t and then you looked at me,” Doughty says. “We’re trying to do serious shots. That’s the problem!”
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Nature on a plate.

“Have you ever noticed when people cook up a slab of brown meat they always add a sprig of parsley to make it more appealing?” Robert Jacobucci asked me as his wife cooked up rice, veggies, and beans for our Sunday night vegan dinner.  A stark contrast to the brown steak Jacobucci was describing, the meal was a rainbow of color and just as delicious as it was beautiful. The meal was a celebration of nature’s perfect resources, which besides a little bit of cooked union were left untouched by unnatural human influence. Food in its rawest form- perfect.

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