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Lent et douloureux

September 7, 2009

This morning is my last water aerobics class of the summer. At 5 p.m., the pool will close until next Memorial Day. Usually this makes me a little sad, but this year the pool administration has been such a pain in the ass to deal with that I’m happy to see them go. And it’s been so cold, that the pool has been less of an attraction than usual. If it weren’t for water aerobics, I would only have been up there twice this year.

I will, however, miss my class. In honor of the last day, I’ve made one final playlist. This one’s inspired by my recent listening to a lot of French cabaret music and also a discussion about the film Amélie that we had in class a few weeks back. For those who haven’t seen water aerobics lists before, they have to be cadenced to the action. Water aerobics is tricky to score because the water drag means the height of activity is slower than in most other exercise classes. The beginnings and ends need to be slow. I often throw a quirky song in at the beginning while I’m setting up class. I’m usually the only one there for that, so it can be almost anything.

1. George Shearing: “Guilty.” This one is used in the soundtrack to Amélie. Too slow for class, but too fast and rhythmically aggressive for warm up/cool down, it can really only fit in the pre-class portion.

2. Philip Aaberg: “Sentimental Walk” from Diva. From the soundtrack of my favorite French movie, this is Aaberg’s parody of Erik Satie’s famed “Gymnopèdies,” his three short piano pieces with fairly stagnant rhythms and harmony, precursors of ambient music and minimalism.

3. Amélie Lefebvre: “Cousine.” This one has nothing to do with the film Amélie, but comes straight out of my recent French torch song binge.

4. Tom Hagerman: “This Petty Pace.” I discovered Tom Hagerman last summer after another discussion about Amélie in water aerobics. At the time the soundtrack to the film wasn’t available on iTunes, but when you searched, Tom Hagerman’s The Breakfast Playground came up. Aesthetically, it’s very much in the same ballpark. And it really sounds for all the world like a score in search of a film, spurred in part by its use of toy piano on some tracks as well as occasional excerpts of musique concrète (that is, recordings of non-musical elements — e.g. the sounds of children playing on a playground — in musical ways).

5. Loudon Wainwright III: “Feels So Good.” Okay, there’s nothing French about this one. It just fit in well at this point.

6. MC Solaar: “La Belle et le Bad Boy.” Although very definitely French, MC Solaar is pretty far from the film score aesthetic. This is slow and tame for his hip hop artist and therefore fits well with both the demands of the class as it slowly speeds up and also the theme.

7. France Gall: “Ella, elle l’a.” I’ve used this song before (and possibly immediately following the MC Solaar song) because it is the perfect tempo — regular and energetic but not too fast. Also, the word play of the title amuses me.

8. Yann Tiersen, “La valse des monstres.” Here’s another cut from the Amélie soundtrack, this time by the guy who composed most of its music.

9. Soul Coughing: “Circles.” At this point, I had to step away from French music because I didn’t have anything with enough energy to get through the high intensity part of class. But I still tried to choose things that fit with the aesthetic. This one makes it by dint of its off-beat meter (a mix of duple and triple). Uneven meters are not necessarily a good choice for a fitness class, as they tend to throw you off balance. But in the pool, we’re not so synchronized to the beat. At this point we’re generally sprinting in place. For this, the off-kilter meter adds energy and keeps us going.

10. Sleater-Kinney: “Dance Song ’97.” I can’t really justify the presence of this one at all. I just like the song and it keeps us going for the end of our sprints.

11. The Shins: “Spilt Needles (alternative version).” “Spilt Needles is my favorite track off an album of good tracks, Wincing the Night Away. But this version, which came up in a Pandora rotation a couple of weeks ago, is new to me. It’s a much faster dance track version. And it works just as well as the original. It turns down the intensity a notch, while keeping things moving — just what I need as we move to deep water work.

12. Ronan Hardiman: “Run Away.” This is not that interesting a song. Hardiman is best known for writing the music for assorted Michael Flatley vehicles, and he has a tendency to sound like he writes a good tune and then takes out all the interesting stuff. But this song fit the mood — upbeat and rhythmic, but more melodic) and I knew the class would like it — it reminds me in mood of Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy,” which they like a lot.

13. John Jorgenson: “F.A. Swing (alternate mix).” Dr. Geek introduced me to Jorgenson a while back. Although Jorgenson is not French, this track has a very Django Reinhardt-like sound. In fact, Jorgenson’s website says he’ll be playing Reinhardt in an upcoming film about his life.

14. Buena Vista Social Club: “El Cuarto de Tula.” Django-esque music leads nicely into this bit of Cuban music.

15. Dorval: “Le bonheur.” Back to France as things start slowing down. I’m not sure how to describe Dorval. She’s got a breathy voice and sings songs that walk the line between cabaret and pop (if there even is such a line). Check her out.

16. Sufjan Stevens: “The Avalanche.” Here’s another song from outside the theme, but it just seemed to fit perfectly here. I am not at all tired of this album.

17. Astor Piazzolla: “El Choclo.” Back to Latin with the master of the Argentine tango. It fits the night-clubby sound and also amuses the ladies.

18. Yann Tierson: “Comptine d’un autre été, l’après-midi.” Another cut from the Amélie soundtrack. This one’s a simple piano piece that reminds me of things the pianist used to play during ballet classes years ago. Do they even still have live pianists for ballet classes? That was one of my favorite things about dancing. By this point, we’re moving into final stretching, so I like the music to be slow and quiet.

19. Dar Williams: “The End of the Summer.” This has nothing to do with the theme, of course, but the mournful minor key fits well, and, of course, it was a necessary element for the last day of our summer classes.

20. Erik Satie: Gymnopèdies: i. Lent et douloureux. This is the original on which the 2nd track of this mix was based. I like symmetry.

[This actually didn’t get posted until my return. I’ll be posting more about class itself later.]

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