Music more people should know about: Mark Ettinger

Twice in the past week, I’ve had occasion to share songs by Mark Ettinger with people in totally unrelated contexts, and it occurs to me to write more generally about it.

Backstory: The last social outing I ever had with my ex-spouse J was to go with him and his sister to see the Flying Karamazov Brothers (October 1, 2009) at the Merrimack Rep in Lowell, MA.

I’d seen the FKBs a couple times over the years: I know I saw L’Universe at the Wang Center in Boston back in 2000-2001, and I’m pretty sure there was another in the interim, maybe Life: A Guide for the Perplexed? J, who is a juggler himself, was actually acquainted with one of the guys (Rod, a.k.a. Pavel) from the local juggling shop back in DC. So we had gotten these tickets and, well, despite having just split up, we were certainly still going.

This particular show was called Flings and Eros. It was a riff on Romeo and Juliet (partly a four-man retelling, partly a convoluted and slightly bizarre but charming frame story), and it got some bad press, but I totally loved it. I may have been a little primed for the Shakespearean theme right at that moment. But part of what I dug about it were the songs, which, it turned out, were mostly written by Alexei, a.k.a. Mark, the resident songwriter.

There was a talkback/Q&A after the show, and one of the things I raised my hand to ask was “Are you going to put out the soundtrack?” That got a smile from Mark. “Oh, did you like it? Yeah, we’re totally going to record it… real soon now…”

They never did, of course, but there is some stuff on YouTube courtesy of the Merrimack Rep:

Anyway, so, we ended up hanging around the theater lobby waiting for them all to come out and chat, and among the swag for sale were Mark’s solo CDs. There were two, and Mark himself talked me into taking the newer one, In This World  ( Amazon | CDBaby ).

It’s been on my regular rotation ever since. It’s great. A bit folksy, a bit bluesy, a bit James-Taylor-y, a bit silly in places, pensive or tender in others. Lots of great instrumentation, lots of evocative sound pictures. Terrific road-trip music. I was hooked.

Come to find out, I should have also grabbed the older disc (Songbirds of Tralfamador, a Kurt Vonnegut reference) while I had the chance, because it apparently was never actually “released” as such, and now it can’t be obtained for money nor love. Literally. In 2010 and 2011 the FKBs had a long-term gig in NYC, at the Minetta Lane Theatre in the West Village, and one day while on a spring-break visit to my now-partner T, I treated myself to a ticket and went. (March 26, 2011: that was 4PLAY. It was quite awesome.) I stuck around and chatted with Mark afterwards and told him I’d bought In This World 2.5 years previously and was now keen to buy the other album. “Oh,” he said, “I’ll send it to you! Email me!” But I did (with some fangirly* trepidation) and, of course, he never did.

*Fangirl much? Me? Point of evidence: last spring I finally read Dostoyevsky’s actual, factual The Brothers Karamazov, both for general literary exposure and also, I admit, to get the full effect of the “source material”. I have to say it enhanced the effect to keep mentally mapping the FKB to the written characters. :-) But don’t read the cheapo translation by Constance Garnett, spring for the David Macduff from Penguin Classics. You’re welcome.

Mark is actually based here on the UWS (not exactly right in our neighborhood; the other side of the park, over on the Columbia side toward West End), and while Google stalking research suggests that he’s doing occasional house concerts and the like, his own website is woefully out of date. He’s got a MySpace playlist up with some full-length songs, but no events calendar, no Facebook fan page, no YouTube channel, etc etc. (I apparently need more hobbies, because I’m fighting off the impulse to contact him saying “You need a marketing and social media team! Pick me!”)

In fact, it’s only LinkedIn (of all things) which suggests that he has perhaps ceased touring with the FKB as of last year, and among any other gigs is currently in Seattle through April 14 heading the band The Naked Truth for the Moisture Festival burlesque/variety series. Now there’s something I bet is worth seeing.

Anyway, enough. Go listen. I won’t tell you which 2 tracks are my favorites. — Okay, maybe in comments.

Art Gift Project: The First Folio Panels

Now that I’m back from the holiday visit to my partner T’s family homestead, I can write about what I made him for Christmas. :-)

Earlier this fall, I went with a friend on an art-gallery outing to Chelsea, and one of the exhibits we saw was a display of text panels — letters and book pages and such in large-format colorful frames — which made me go “OMG totally up my alley,” and on very little further reflection, it produced the inspiration for this.

T is a major Shakespeare geek, currently in the final year of pursuing his MFA in Acting at Columbia. We moved in together last fall, and while I have a lot of artwork, he doesn’t really have much. I’ve resisted the impulse to cover the whole apartment in my own stuff, but that mostly means we have a lot of empty walls in the meantime.

So I wanted to create something that would be very personal for both of us.

Jn_F1_0326s_v1There are a handful of online archive facsimile editions of Shakespeare’s First Folio (interestingly, one of them is at Brandeis, my alma mater; the other one I used is hosted at New South Wales). I went through these and picked out 9 sheets with scenes that I associate with T. Most of these are roles he’s had in plays he’s been in; one is a role I had that he came to see me in (Winter’s Tale); some are plays we saw together with lines that we quote a lot (Much Ado) or that particularly touched me (Merchant of Venice).

Jn_F1_0326s_v2aI saved the scanned JPEG images of each target page off the online archives, opened them in Photoshop, converted them to grayscale TIFFs, and messed around with the levels to get the clearest, most high-contrast image out of it I could (producing white text on black background). I also cropped off the page headers (with the titles) to make the pages a little more uniform and, okay, obscure: you have to read and be able to identify the scenes to know what they are!

There are a number of online shops that do custom canvas printing; I found a really good deal on canvasdiscount.com, which had a 10×14″ size that was just the right proportions for these pages (with the headers cropped off).

With my measurements determined, I created an InDesign document to the correct size and margins, and imported a rainbow of color swatches I’d set up for an earlier project. I placed each of the TIFFs on a separate page and applied a different solid color to each one, leaving the text content to reverse out in white. I then exported each page as a high-res color JPEG. (I could have just done all this in Photoshop, too, but I found it easier to work with my margins and desired swatch library in InDesign.) I uploaded all 9 to the canvasdiscount.com site and placed my order!

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The colors are arranged down the palette, from magenta to violet, in chronological order in terms of their relevance to him/us: when he was in them or when we saw them. They could be hung up in any sequence he wants, though. And I figure I can create additional ones in future (probably neutrals: black, grey, taupe) for the plays that are making an appearance in this year’s history, or next year’s.

On receipt, I found that the canvases really are of pretty cheap quality; notably, they’re fairly loose on the frame, so they bag out a bit. But I think for these purposes, they’re effective enough, and the color printing is nice and even.

Lastly, I knew I didn’t want to carry the whole set up to Boston in order to give them as a Christmas gift (much as it would have been really fun to make him unwrap them all individually). So I waited for an afternoon when he was out of the house, hung them all up on the wall where I intended them to go, and took pictures. Then I made a little 5.5×8.5″ booklet including the photographs of the finished canvases in situ as well as the color images of each panel, labeled with what scenes they are. I printed this (imposed with InBooklet), folded and stapled it into a booklet, put it in a 6×9″ red envelope, and that’s what I put under the tree. (But since he left town before me, I hung them all up on the wall before I left, so they’re all up for him to see as soon as he gets home tonight.)

Merry Christmas, love.

P.S.: Note that, ours being an interfaith household, for Chanukah I gave him actual theater tickets… including the Actors’ Shakespeare Project‘s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona, which we were able to catch during our trip to Boston. ;-)