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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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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