Vienna Teng talks about “Inland Territory”

What inspired you to get into music?

The shortest answer is that it’s the thing I felt like I was most useful for.  The whole time I was trying to figure out what to do for a living, as a career or job, I was always thinking what could I do that I do pretty well that is kind of unique, and I was interested in medicine and I realized there were so many people who wanted to be doctors that were better at that than I was, and then software engineering was fun, but it was not meant to be.  So I always loved playing music and didn’t think I’d have to call it a job, but I realized more and more well that this is something I really want to do and I’m naturally inclined to do, and it seems to bring some kind of joy or satisfaction to other people.

Do you remember a spark, hearing a record and thinking, “I want to do that”?

That’s a good question.  I think when I started studying classical music I wanted to be a composer more than anything. I thought it was so cool to be able to construct all these pieces in which you had these musicians playing that would create something bigger than themselves.  I really liked the idea of being the person who wrote that, and I haven’t quite got there yet.  Somewhere along the way I thought let me start on a smaller scale then, let me write some songs for me to sing and accompany myself on piano and that’s kind of still what I’m up to.

You made a very well received record with Larry Klein, and I heard you had a large role in directing that.  This time Alex Wong is producing and it seems like you’re even more ambitious in terms of the landscapes of sound you’re building.  You wrote in your journal that you write songs differently now, not melody and chorus, and now you’re leaving space in the songs.

Ambitious is a good term.  Dreaming through the Noise was a very particular experience.  I basically started writing these songs and working with Rounder, and I wanted to work with a producer who I’d never been able to work with before.  So I got connected with Larry and we seemed to be of the same mind, philosophically.  I got very interested in working with him.  Basically that process was trusting what he imagined for it.  When we got together the first time he said the minute I heard your songs I knew what I would want to do with it.  So it was basically like being a scriptwriter and handing the script over to the director and saying let me see what happens with it.  I was involved, but a lot of it was on an observational level, just saying oh is that what he’s gonna do, I hadn’t thought about that.  I watched him bring performances out of musicians, and who he decided to call for things.

So with this record I felt like I wanted to get an education as much as anything.  I wanted to produce it myself at first.  The more I thought about it the more I thought that’s gonna end badly.

Sort of like acting and directing at the same time?

Yeah, I’m gonna learn a lot but the resulting album may not be very good.  We might have to do things over.  It’s better if I have someone who knows what they’re doing in the process with me.  So I asked Alex to work with me because we’d been touring together at that point, and I’d always respected his production work and songwriting.  I thought well maybe if the two of us work together and he lets me get in the way sometimes and try stuff out that will be kind of my way of learning more about the production process.  That was kind of how it was like, the two of us would sit around and imagine this stuff and I would handle part of the production, and he’d do the rest.  It was about 70/30 at the end, but I ended up doing a lot of it.  Which was really fun.

You got to indulge the composer side, doing all the horn charts?

I did some of the arrangements, yeah.  I ran it by him a whole lot (laughs). There was one song I felt I mostly produced (“Kansas”).  I decided what the instrumentation would be and what the horn parts were going to be and used Wurlitzer piano and upright piano, and did overdubs.

I realized I didn’t answer part of your question.  When   I was writing the songs I was trying to be more imaginative and hear production possibilities in the songwriting, to think of it more from beginning to end.  The result was that I wrote some songs that were just impossible to play on the piano.  Sometimes when I’m on tour solo people will shout out a song and I’ll say I don’t know if I can play that just now.  It’s not going to come out right.

On “St. Stephen’s Cross”:

There’s actually no church there called St. Stephen’s Cross, so it’s not factually based.  I was trying to imagine two people being there for some moment in world history, and how personal narrative gets interwoven with larger political events.  That’s what was on my mind.

Some questions about the new record … It seems like you approached this with more of a world view than anything you’ve ever done.  Is that a correct assessment?

Yeah, I think … I always write from what I’m feeling at the time.  When I was younger I wrote from a personal diarist point of view because when you’re 19 you’re thinking about the guy you have a crush on.  Partly because of the move to New York, it became more submerged in current events.  I did a lot more reading of the news and following along, and getting involved.  It was a lot more on my mind.  So songs like Radio I wanted to put myself in that situation even though I’ve led a very sheltered, comfortable life.  There are people who live lives I can’t even imagine, and if I were to try to superimpose that on my own life, what would that look like?  It did get pretty dark sometimes. (laughs) But I feel like overall the album is meant … it’s sort of a composition of gratitude.  Because in imagining these things, I realized how many things have happened to make the life that I have possible.  Like in Grandmother Song, my grandmother is talking about her own life, and how she struggled, and how much she was denied, it made me think about how much freedom I have, and how many people had to pay for that along the way for me to have that.  And that also gives me a certain responsibility to be aware of the people who are still denied a lot, and what I can do about that.

“you’ve got to do this for all of us”?

Yeah, so there’s a lot of posing of questions, like if you have this kind of ultimate freedom what kind of responsibility do you have?

There’s a line in St. Stephen’s Cross that seemed to sum up the spirit of the record for me, when you talked about “a warning of what could be lost”.

Musically you’ve gone in a lot of directions.  You’re compared to Joni Mitchell.  I’ll make a comparison that’s less a musical one than artistic evolution.  This seems like your Hejira, where your earlier records were your Song for a Seagull or For the Roses.  Do you look at your last record with an eye towards being different?

I think it’s partly that.  It’s something less deliberate.  When I make an album, I’m determined not to make that album again.  Just to keep myself interested basically.  I think if I made another album just like the last one, I’d think what have I done with myself for the past couple of years.  So I’m always trying to push myself further in a lot of ways.  With a lot of the songs, I think I deliberately sat down and said let me try and come up with something that I haven’t come up with before.  Or let me try and play something that’s difficult for me to play, or things I have to practice or research.  It’s definltiely my way of staying engaged with the process of writing.

You’ve said that the lyrics are the hardest thing, but it sounds like you made the music a little more difficult this time around.

Yeah, I was trying to make the music match the difficulty of the lyrics.  There’s definitely some piano parts that are hard to pull off and some grooves that are tricky for me, and lot of songs … there are some songs where the words come really fasts so vocally it took some practice.

Which ones?

Grandmother Song took awhile for me to get the hang of, and Stray Italian Greyhoung, both the piano and vocals and the chorus, the words go by so fast, I definitely had to practice it a few times.

I love your analogies, likening a troubled romance to a rescue dog.

(Laughs)  I think some of that came from reading my favorite lyrics from other writers and realizing that sometimes a succinct metaphor was the most powerful for me.  No particular ones are coming to mind, but Leonard Cohen uses them all the time, and Paul Simon will evoke passing trains or scatterlings in orphanages, the sound of cattle in the marketplace. With just a short phrase, you get the full image of the connotation, the whole mood.  I ended up trying to use those a lot.

You talk about the boy in the bubble and I can see a line in radio about spider web windows and bloodstained pagodas.

To move to a different subject, I find it interesting how you engage your audience.  You are revealing your artistic process as it goes on.  Did you make a conscious decision to do that?  Does it help the process?

What do you mean by that?

Well, as new songs are being written, you’re posting lyrics on talking about them in your online journals.  Many artists take the opposite approach – lock themselves up and come out with a finished product.  They don’t share in the process of evolution.

I share whatever I’m comfortable sharing. I wouldn’t share half finished songs. But I do like the idea of writing about the process, because it’s useful for me to remember what it was like to come up with something.  There are times when I write songs and I’m struggling and it becomes a psychological problem.  Maybe I can’t write, I don’t know how to do this, and I’ll look back at a journal and remember oh, yeah, it was this hard last time.  So it’s useful to remember.

With something like Twitter, I laughed when that came out, but then I realized it was cool to send just very brief updates about what you’re up to. Sometimes we’d hit a wall in the studio and I’d say well, I’m feeling frustrated now, so I’ll write about that so people know the ups and downs of how it happens.

Was the dark mood of Inland Territory influenced by New York City (Vienna Teng’s new hometown)?

I think so.  I think New York influenced this album in a pretty profound way, in pretty much every way.  Musically, it’s very much a “what happened when I went to New York” album – topically, very much so.  It’s interesting, I think as I go, I get more bright and more dark at the same time in terms of what I talk about.  It is actually my most hopeful album in a lot of ways, but it’s also one of the most dark and depressing ones.  They kind of go together in a lot of ways.  I think the extremes of New York influenced that a lot.

There’s a production touch where you use vinyl record noise as percussion –

That was all Alex.  That was one of those really cool conversations we had where we were talking about.  One thing I love about Alex Wong is that whenever he’s thinking about production, he always comes at it from a very clever kind of innovative point of view, but it’s always in a way that he’s trying to serve the narrative of a song.  For the Last Snowfall, it’s about this moment in winter where you’re thinking is this the last chance I’ll get to witness this?  How much more would it come into focus?  When he heard that song he immediately thought we should really do something with it where there are noises that evoke something but are actually something else.  It’s a way of kind of existing on two planes at the same time.  So the little vinyl pop noises, he thought that would be cool because it kind of sounds like a fire crackling, a wintry noise, but it’s also a reference so music technology.  So there was a lot of thought that went into it.  It’s also this thing that you’re not really sure what it is at first, but I really like it. We start out the album that you’re not really sure what’s going on.

One spontaneous moment in the album … is there a baby in the room for Grandmother Song?

We’re not really sure who it is.  At the end, the song comes to and end and we’re all being respectfully quiet, waiting for the tape to roll and you hear this little kid go Yay and there were a whole bunch of people in the room at the time, we were recording in this beautiful Victorian house, and it was this wonderful couple, this architect and his wife Sharon, always had guests coming in and out of the house, and lots of artists and musicians.  That day was a Sunday, and all of her friends were over there drinking wine. A couple of them had their kids with them. So we just recruited them all to be on this song.  I’m pretty sure there was an 8-year old, and she was the one who shouted, or maybe it might have been Sharon, because she was feeling so happy about how it all went. But she didn’t want to be too loud.

Don’t Miss Vienna Teng

Picture 17All the pundits who have declared the album dead and gone haven’t heard Vienna Teng. Just as no self-respecting music fan would buy just a single track from “Blue,” “The Wall” or “Abbey Road” and leave it at that, Teng’s newest, “Inland Territory,” deserves a full 50 minute listen.

The sweep of history informs every note.  The sound of a needle on a phonograph record (kids – ask you parents) serves as percussion in the opening bars of “Last Snowfall.”  On that track, old soul Vienna, who only recently turned 30, imagines her dying days – “if this were my last glimpse of winter/what would these eyes see?” – with the clarity of someone twice her age.

Civil War imagery dominates “Antebellum,” which is a love song typical of Teng’s early work – rich, complex and never quite naming a guilty party.  Teng’s soaring soprano is draped in chamber violins, with a lovely descant from Alex Wong (Paper Raincoat), who also co-produced the record.

“Kansas,” imagines the end of romance as a vast, empty landscape, laid to waste by nature and neglect (“every wall I lean on transforms to sliding doors and thin air”).

Wong’s delicate touch and clever choice of instrumentation and effects imbues “Inland Territory” with a timeless quality.  Each listen is a revelation.  “In Another Life” describes the life and afterlife of coal miners, revolutionaries and soldiers, with clarinet and bassoon accompaniment straight out of a New Orleans funeral.

History and humor meet on “Grandmother Song,” where  the Stanford-educated Teng is scolded for her decision to leave a Cisco engineer job – “how you gonna raise a family when you’re out on the road with some tattooed boy with a guitar?” her Chinese elder wonders as she recounts her own hardships in hopes that the granddaughter will reconsider. “You’ve got to do this for all of us,” she says.

She’s downright apocalyptic on “No Gringo” and “Radio,” the former a vision of an American migration, with strange fences along the Mexican border (“now the razor wire keeps us out”).

On the latter, San Francisco is depicted as Baghdad-deadly, with car bombs, sidewalk triage and “gunfire at freeway exits, bridges made barricades.”

The fall of the Berlin Wall frames the epic disc-closer “St. Stephen,” whose beginning swirls out of Miles Davis free jazz riffing, and ends with Gregorian chants and a spare guitar. It provides some of the album’s most beautiful moments.

So don’t give up on the long-player yet. Here’s proof that there are artists who still believe being a musician means creating a body of work.  And yes, her other three albums are just as good in their own way.  But “Inland Territory” is a masterpiece, and it should not be missed – nor should Vienna Teng.

Vienna Teng on Tour – New England and Beyond:

Narrows Center for the Arts – Fall River MA – 8 Jul 09 (Wed) w/ Katie Herzig.

Infinity Hall – Norfolk CT – 9 Jul 09 (Thu) w/ Seth Adam

Newburyport Riverfront Festival – Newburyport MA -10 Jul 09 (Fri) – sold out

Jonathan’s Restaurant – Ogunquit ME -11 Jul 09 (Sat) w/ Katie Herzig

Watercolor Café – Larchmont NY – 15 Jul 09 (Wed) w/ Katie Herzig.

Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center – Westhampton Beach NY – 17 Jul 09 (Fri)

Trio show featuring Ward Williams and Alex Wong. With Ari Hest

Towne Crier Café – Pawling NY – 19 Jul 09 (Sun) w/ Ari Hest

And Just Added – Tupelo Music Hall, Londonderry, NH – 3 Oct 09

Diana Krall @ Meadowbrook

Diana Krall - Photo by Michael Witthaus

Though threatening skies didn’t open up, Diana Krall still had to contend with nature Friday night in Gilford.  Every bullfrog, cricket and critter in the Lakes Region seemed to stir during the quiet moments of her sublime, two-hour set.

Considering Krall’s appearance was in support of a new release called “Quiet Nights,” this occasionally proved problematic.

“I … just … want … silence,” sighed Krall at one point.  “I’m going to meditate on that.”  Despite the intrusions, Krall was in fine form and good humor throughout.

As she prepared to play a Nat King Cole song, a baby’s cry broke through the darkness. Responding to a sound perhaps more familiar to the New York City-dweller and recent mother of twins, she switched up and played a few bars of “When You Wish Upon A Star,” calling it her “Jiminy Cricket” moment.

She then launched into “Deed I Do,” from her 1996 Cole tribute “All For You,” and never looked back. Diana Krall is the proverbial whole package, combining wit, charm and a raw talent that few musicians can match.

She’s able to shape her voice to not only match the mood of whatever song she’s playing, but to unearth previously undetected nuance and meaning.  While there may be more technically proficient piano players around, none owns their instrument quite like Krall.

When she cut loose, on Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” (from her recent “Live in Rio” DVD), or the show closing “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” she was utterly, jaw-droppingly sensational.

The chemistry between Krall and her band – guitarist Tony Wilson, drummer Jeff Hamilton and bass player Robert Hurst – was stunning.  When Krall leaned back from her piano to watch Hurst bow his upright bass or take in one of Wilson’s many amazing solos, it was clear she was having as much fun as the audience.

Other highlights included the sultry “Where Or When” and the title track from “Quiet Nights,” as well as the early favorites “Peel Me A Grape” and the bouncy, buoyant “Let’s Fall In Love.”

Both Krall’s latest CD and DVD are elaborate productions, layered with orchestral flourishes and bright studio wizardry.  But Friday, it was simply Krall and her band on a sparsely furnished stage, lit by moody blue lights.  She nearly succeeded in shrinking the Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion down to the size of a smoky Lower Manhattan jazz club.


The crowd behaved with polite deference, but the insects didn’t quite cooperate.  “It’s a bug’s life up here,” joked Krall after one of them bit her leg mid-song.  Though it was undoubtedly one of the most superlative shows the comfy shed had witnessed, the music was a little too quiet for the rustic amphitheatre.

No complaints about the music, or for that matter the venue, which is by far the best for (most) outdoor music in all of New England.  But next time through, let’s hope Diana Krall plays a smaller room, charging twice as much, for half as many fans.

Local Rhythms – Musical Independence

Picture 6I was all set to write about the Fourth of July until my mood was interrupted by thoughts of a different sort of independence.

A common thread runs through many of the interviews I’ve done with female singer-songwriters – they all cite Patty Griffin as a key influence.  Many have said she’s the reason they started writing songs.

Which brings a special poignancy to the way Griffin’s early career was mismanaged by record companies.

Her label (A&M) tried to turn Griffin’s first album into a country-rock comic book before scrapping the studio sessions and releasing her original demo.  Thank goodness – “Living With Ghosts” is a raw, naked masterpiece, rivaled only by Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” for its seminality.

She wasn’t as lucky with “Silver Bell,” her would-be third album.  It became a hostage of A&M’s sale to Interscope, and has never been released.

Fortunately, Patty Griffin chose not to be beaten down by this situation.  She severed ties with her new label, and signed with Dave Matthews’ ATO Records.

What followed was a career-defining body of work that’s still in progress.

How much more artistic freedom does she have?  Her next album is a collection of gospel covers!

Over the years, “Silver Bell” has become something of a holy grail for me, and I’ve managed to find all but one track online.

But last weekend I was surprised by some great news.

A musician who worked on “Silver Bell” gave a close to perfect copy of the sessions (including a track I didn’t even know existed) to a blogger, who proceeded to leak it the world.

God bless him – great music must be heard.

We are witnessing an era of independence like no other, with artists in control of their destinies, and the checkbook clowns who once owned them dead on the side of the road.

Follow my lead, and steal a copy of “Silver Bell.”

Ask yourself – what’s the possible upside of keeping this music away from the public?

Why waste time, as EMI did recently, refusing to participate in efforts to grow the Internet as a music distribution platform and dreaming of a return to 1990?

Ifhippies can’t bring back Woodstock Nation, what makes the record business think there’s another Michael Jackson out there capable of moving 20 million units?

It’s time to get real – set the music free.

Happy Independence Day – here’s the happenings:

Thursday: Antje Duvekot & Chris O’Brien, Boccelli’s – A wonderful night of folk music in Bellows Falls, featuring Duvekot, a singer-songwriter who gets better every day (her latest, produced by Richard Shindell, is a gem).  O’Brien is a BF favorite who’s working on a new album to follow his scintillating debut, 2007’s “Lighthouse.”  I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time.

Friday: Diana Krall, Meadowbrook U.S, Cellular Pavilion – I confess, I knew a lot about Krall’s interpretive singing style and very little about her musicianship until I saw her on her husband Elvis Costello’s “Spectacle.”   Her piano playing is amazing.  Elton John interviewed her, and his smitten air playing told me all I need to know – this will be a great show.

Saturday: Neil Diamond, Boston Esplanade – OK, there’s a ton of stuff going on today – Woodstock’s old fashioned fourth, Avi & Celia in Bellows Falls (and Brattleboro), fireworks everywhere, Roadhouse at the Anchorage.  But if I could be one place only, it would next to the Charles River experiencing the annual Pops concert featuring the reborn Diamond and an unbelievable show in the sky.

Sunday:  Áine Minogue, St. Gaudens – The summer series of concerts begins in Cornish with this Irish-born harp player, vocalist, folklorist and lecturer. The Boston Globe says Minogue “combines a hypnotic Celtic spirituality and contemporary sophistication in her playing and delicately lovely singing.”  I can’t think of a better instrument to waft through the statuary at Saint Gaudens, a local treasure.

Monday:  Open Mike with Second Wind, Digby’s – There’s a serious open mike scene in the area.  Terry Ray Gould hosts this Sunapee confab with his partner Suzy Hastings, and his Facebook posts about it have been positively giddy.  Serious fun, prizes, drink specials and loads of musical camaraderie.  They must call it “hospitality night” for a reason.  For my money, it’s a perfect way to spend Monday night.

Wednesday: Yvonne & the Reverbs, Lyman Point Band Shell – Outdoor shows seem to be a dodgey venture these days – will the rain ever end?  Fortunately, this weekly free series of summer shows repairs to the Bugbee Senior Center if the skies open up.  This Wednesday, it’s a country rock band with a good reputation in area clubs for keeping the energy level high.

“Fillmore” – Much Graham, some music

Picture 2Carlos Santana’s instrument is the guitar, Ian Anderson’s the flute, and Robert Plant’s the microphone.

Bill Graham’s was the telephone.

Graham would curse, cajole and complain to get his way with the acts playing his venues, and in the recently unearthed 1972 documentary “Fillmore,” he’s in high dudgeon.

Sure, there’s plenty of good music in this chronicle of the last week of shows at Graham’s first big hall, the Fillmore West in San Francisco (his Fillmore East in New York closed around the same time, but wasn’t filmed).

But more memorable than Hot Tuna performing “Uncle Sam Blues” or the Grateful Dead tearing up “Johnny B. Goode” is the sight of Graham arguing with a disgruntled musician, threatening to rip his teeth out and chasing him down a flight of stairs.

More than any other promoter, Graham put a personal stamp on the shows he booked.  He’d pair a Russian poet with the Jefferson Airplane, or put Lenny Bruce and Frank Zappa on the same bill.  Graham fed his patrons breakfast after marathon New Year’s Eve shows, or let them in early to watch Max Fleisher cartoons pre-show when the weather outside was cold.

He orchestrated perhaps the most elaborate rock concert spectacle in history, the Band’s “Last Waltz” in 1976, featuring a who’s who of the music business paired with a turkey dinner.

Graham was a driving force in the world of live music, pioneering the first large-scale stadium shows in the early 1970s, managing massive tours for the Rolling Stones, staging Live Aid and the US Festival in the early 1980s.  He died in a 1991 helicopter crash, flying home from the Concord Pavilion, one of  many venues he bought or built on his way to becoming as important to the business as the bands he presented.

“Fillmore” is really about the end of the (somewhat) innocent trade in which Graham honed his craft, and the beginning of the concert business that dominated the rest of the 20th century.  That industry, both good and bad, was in many ways the creation of Bill Graham – Holocaust survivor, would-be actor and fire-breathing impresario.

A few musical highlights from “Fillmore” – and really, there are only a few:

Santana is in prime form just months after the release of “Abraxas,” and their reading of Miles Davis’s “In A Silent Way” is one of the film’s high points.  Quicksilver Messenger Service, a band that never quite broke out of the San Francisco scene, is also superb.

Neither, however, is a match for Graham’s telephone tantrums.  “I gotta be worried about placating everybody,” he yells into the receiver at one point. “WHAT ABOUT ME?”

Ultimately, that’s the problem with “Fillmore” – it’s mostly about Graham.

Key performances are missing from the film (some appeared on the soundtrack album) – Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tower of Power, New Riders of the Purple Sage.

Cold Blood, Elvin Bishop and the execrable Lamb are all make it into “Fillmore,” however.  Coincidentally, they were also on Graham’s short-lived record label.

So it’s not too hard to sympathize with ex-Charlatan Mike Wilhelm as he begs for a spot on the final shows.  “Look who’s playing,” he says, adding that Grootna, another band closely aligned with Graham’s label aspirations, “sounds like it’s been together two weeks.”

“F**k you and thanks for the memories,” says  Wilhelm finally, prompting the chase down the stairs and a promise form Graham to not be so nice when the cameras aren’t rolling.  One gets them impression, though, that none of it would have happened if it wasn’t being filmed.

A final complaint – reissues should add content, not subtract.  For some inexplicable reason, Boz Scaggs, who did a sublime version of “I’ll Be Long Gone” in the theatrical release, is left off of the Rhino DVD version.

Further, there’s nary a shred of extra content, just a well-written (albeit short) essay from ex-Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres.  Who knows, maybe all the outtakes were lost when a neo-Nazi burned down Graham’s headquarters in the mid-80’s.

Maybe Rhino’s hoarding everything for a 2011 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition.

Still, “Fillmore” is a documentary every music fan should see, even if it’s not as perfect as it could have been.

Fillmore Bonus Tracks

To commemorate the 38th anniversary of the closing of the Fillmore West, the Wolfgang’s Vault website recently made nearly all of the performances from the last week available for free streaming – including the previously unheard final set from Creedence Clearwater Revival.  Included are:

June 30, 1971
Boz Scaggs, Cold Blood, Elvin Bishop & Stoneground – plus an end of the night jam session featuring Bishop, Scaggs, Santana drummer Michael Shrieve, Taj Mahal and the Pointer Sisters (two years prior to recording their first album)

July 1, 1971
It’s a Beautiful Day and Lamb

July 2, 1971
Grateful Dead, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Rowan Brothers

July 3, 1971
Hot Tuna, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Sons of Champlin (performing as Yogi Phlegm)

July 4, 1971
Creedence Clearwater Revival, Santana, Tower of Power

“Music Box in the Moore” brings cutting edge upcountry



A lower Manhattan vibe will permeate downtown Hanover for three midsummer evenings with  “Music Box in the Moore,” a musical showcase of cutting edge talent, presented in a unique and intimate setting.

Performing July 14 is QQQ,  playing what HOP Publicity Coordinator Becky Bailey terms “revved up acoustic music” with many disparate influences.  Picture a Norwegian wedding march performed during a key scene of “Deliverance” to get a sense of QQQ’s sound, which NPR termed “an odd sort of Americana,” existing “somewhere between Brooklyn, Oslo and the hills of Appalachia.”

Next up on July 23 is Die Roten Punkte.  This wry and funny duo could have been the house band for “Sprockets,” the old Mike Myers SNL bit with Dieter, the German fashionista who constantly asked guests if they’d like to touch his monkey.

Otto and Astrid Rot are a Berlin-based brother and sister act touched with, shall we say, affection issues.   Their name is German for “Red Dots,” a playful homage to another (faux) sibling act.  Don’t be alarmed if their frequent familial hugging devolves into tongue wrestling, though.  It’s a guise – a brilliant, hilarious one at that.

Their music is Kraftwerk meets Spinal Tap, with instruments made by Mattel.    They employ a fractured dialect, which exudes an ‘’even though English is not my native tongue, I speak it better than you’ arrogance that’s totally winning, making for a must-see appearance.

Finally, cellist Erik Friedlander, who plays his instrument in ways Yo-Yo Ma never dreamed of, arrives August 1.  He’ll perform a suite of compositions backed by an inventive multimedia show that’s a slice of pre-Interstate Americana.   Friedlander’s father is famed photographer Lee Friedlander, recently the subject of a Museum of Modern Art retrospective.   The show, entitled “Block Ice and Propane,” features pictures taken by the elder Friedlander during family cross-country car trips in the mid-1960s.

Friedlander’s blend of history, art and experimental sound is consistent with the Hopkins Center mission to give the local scene a contemporary edge, says Bailey

“We brought in performers who are more like the kind you’d see in an urban club,” she says, “ to try to give people in the Upper Valley access to new artists in a variety of genres – music that’s new and unconventional.”

The venue choice was a bold stroke borne out of necessity.  “We were losing Spaulding Auditorium due to construction.  Moore is good for dance but not for music,” says Bailey.  Using a successful run of avant-garde puppet shows last winter as a “theatre within a theatre” template, the space will be transformed – drawing the stage curtain to shrink the room, and setting up tiered seating, four rows deep on three sides.

“It has really nice sound, it’s really intimate, and you’re right there with the performers,” says Bailey.

QQQ, Die Roten Punkte and Erik Friedlander will each do a 7 and 9 pm show (tickets are $15, $10 for Dartmouth students), The late shows will be followed by an after-hours “lounge” open to all patrons, with free light refreshments, and a chance to mingle with the artists.