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Exclusive video premiere: The acoustic majesty of Alexander Turnquist’s “Hallway of Mirrors”

Exclusive video premiere: The acoustic majesty of Alexander Turnquist’s “Hallway of Mirrors” (photo)

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Watching the video for “Hallway of Mirrors,” the title track from the new album by New York State guitarist Alexander Turnquist, you might get the sense that you’re watching the preamble to a love story. A woman walks into a park and begins hula hooping, her lithe, black-clad figure offering a provocative contrast to the sunny German day. Turnquist, meanwhile, sits in a grove, the studied coil of his body behind his 12-string acoustic guitar offering a provocative contrast to the open woods around him. You get the sense that these two will save one another from introversion, that they’ll pull each other from their own isolated worlds. And maybe they will. We’d hate to spoil it.

We spoke with Turnquist, whose excellent and concentrated Hallway of Mirrors is out now, during his lunch break at a bookshop in Hudson, N.Y.

Something that’s certainly different on this album, Hallway of Mirrors, is your focus on a set of sounds and a sense of momentum and movement. Previously, you’ve tinkered around a bit on albums. Was that a priority for you, in terms of minimizing distractions?

Definitely. The difference from the first two records is that I spent a lot more time with the writing and performing on this album before recording, getting it set with the other players that have been playing with me live, like the vibraphone player Matthew O’Koren. Oftentimes, I have my friend Liam Singer play piano and Christopher Tignor play violin. They were all with me when I was writing the songs. When they were ready to be played live, I could play them in full instead of as a solo guitar album.

Someone known for solo guitar adding a full-band approach is an interesting development. Why is it important to you to add these other musicians, when the music is so dependent on the guitar as a centerpiece?

In making the kind of music that I’ve been trying to get at, when there’s so much repetition and speed sometimes, without accenting it with other instruments, you don’t really hear the melody as much–at least to me, the important parts. I’ve been trying to add an element of surprise for the listener, if they hear something that comes up that’s a bit new and not just my guitar. I wanted to use the vibraphone in that way because it carries above most other instruments, especially in the lower octave. It adds an elemental flow to it. After those parts come in, it makes it easier for me to see where other counterpoints and interesting sounds can be added in that I wouldn’t have otherwise heard.

The track lengths are of note here. There is a 16-minute piece, “Waiting at the Departure Gate,” and some mid-length pieces just before it. But you begin and end with tracks that don’t break the three-minute mark. Why?

The first and the last songs are just harmonics on the guitar, and that’s been a real interest of mine lately. The next project that I’m doing, which I just started working on, is going to be entirely all harmonics, in a way–not just on guitar but also with other instruments. I wanted to use that as a bookending to the album because it’s sort of an intro and conclusion that are similar. They’re in different keys. I did want an overall start and finish, so it was very structured in that sense.

I wanted to keep that same theme with it and with the shorter pieces leading up to the lengthy “Waiting at the Departure Gate.” That was the first piece that I wrote for the record, “Waiting at the Departure Gate.” It had various evolutions by the time it finished and became what it is now. But the other two came along when I was in my down time, sitting at the vibes playing around with them, using a bow on them to get the sort of resonance. They started to take shape around that.

The meaning of the record has a little more to do with self-reflection of the listener–or of myself, really. That has to do with the whole mirrors concept.

You mention self-reflection. This record does have a ruminative quality, where you can get inside and just think. As the player, does it allow you to engage in the same way?

The record that came before this was a little more dreamy, so that you can drift away and not have to focus quite as much. But with Hallway of Mirrors, there’s definitely more energy. “Spherical Aberrations,” for me, is a running song. I like to distance-run as a hobby, so I wanted to write a song I imagined a runner listening to when they’re coming to the closing stages of a marathon and they really just want to fall over and not have the ability to finish. But the rest of that helps the runner carry themselves through.

Have you run any marathons?

I haven’t run any full marathons yet. I’m planning on doing one within the next year. That’s the goal. I’ve run half-marathons so far. I was running all throughout high school. I don’t like going to gyms and being inside. There’s a mental aspect of it for me. When I need to think and reflect and leave my general, day-to-day life, I run. I get a lot of musical ideas from doing that. When I’m working on pieces, I’ll record demos, put it on my iPod and just listen to it when I’m running.

How does the idea of “Hallway of Mirrors” and self-reflection relate to the video, or is it meant only as an accompaniment?

With the video, as a choice, I was not directly involved in the concept. I had done some stuff with [directors] Derek Van Gorder and Otto Stockmeier in the past. They used some of my music for a little short film that they did. I really like the narrative quality they get out of their videos and out of their films, though they don’t have any dialogue or speaking in them. It leaves it open to the viewer’s interpretation of the story. That’s, in a way, how my music is: There are no lyrics, and I want to leave it open for the listener’s interpretation of what it means to them. I do spend a lot of time thinking about the song titles and specifically trying to capture what it means to me in the song titles, but I don’t want that to be the literal definition for the person that is listening to it.

When they said they wanted to make the video for this, they said they wanted to be fully responsible for the writing. They came up with the idea all on their own. The woman who is hula hooping was shot in Berlin, where Otto is living. They gave me a rough idea of what they wanted to do, and I thought it was interesting. I wasn’t sure about being in it and actually playing guitar, but they were adamant about that. I was open to their vision.

I suppose hula hooping does make sense, as it’s a repetitive outlet that really allows you to think about one thing over and over again. Is it important for people to have those in their daily lives?

I definitely think so. It is for me. To have some sort of anchor, whether it be a hobby or whether it be a spiritual thing, everyone needs an outlet to lose themselves in.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.