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Art of the State



Orchestrated Madness

If you're in a band, you get used to the sour looks of the drummer or the hapless buffoonery of the bassist. That's your world, whether or not it ranges outside your garage. But imagine that the walls suddenly spring open and reveal an entire symphony, geared up to build a mountain of sound out of your molehill of music.

For the third year, Page Wilson of the 88.9-FM WCVE show "Out o' the Blue Radio Revue" gathers the forces of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra and makes massive the sounds of local bands on the Landmark stage.

Songs by country outfit Page Wilson with Reckless Abandon, party jazz folk Piedmont Souprize (with Sara Arthur) and roots rockists Billy Ray Hatley and The Show Dogs go Technicolor, with the aid of VCU's jazz guru Doug Richards arranging the music for the symphony. The RSO will play a few of its own during the two-hour show, broadcast live on WCVE and streamed online.

Word from the Show Dogs is that Richards' arrangement of the song "Things" opens right up with vibraphone, marimba and a Fender Rhodes electric piano. It's a sudden apotheosis for the bluesy foursome. "How often do you get to play with a symphony orchestra?" organizer Wilson says.

But some of the improvisational licks of the bands have crept into the symphony's organized world. And arranger Richards is no stranger to the jazzman's live-in-the-moment approach. This show will end with everyone coming together to play "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" from an arrangement that, at practice, just wasn't working. So it was decided Sept. 19, with a little more than a week to go, that Richards would come up with his own arrangement. Which, for a French horn, is living dangerously.

The show is Saturday, Sept. 29, 8-10 p.m., at the Landmark. Tickets are $35-$60. Call 788-1212 or visit (Say or enter "Page" and get a discount.)

Science Slouches On

Straight from the gawker file, a bit of gape-mouthed journalism that is hard to resist: deep-fried Pepsi. It's one of the new fancy offerings from the State Fair (Sept. 27-Oct. 7), along with the high-diver who sets himself on fire. It's a scientific breakthrough of a sort: Quench your thirst with a tall frosty lump of dough.

Funnel-cake dough is infused with Pepsi syrup, fried into little balls and coated with more Pepsi syrup. Or, save a few bucks and punch yourself in the kidneys. Have we really checked everything off the to-do list for scientific accomplishments? We cured blindness yet? Cancer still out there? Wireless underwear? Come on.

On the other hand, it does pair well with another State Fair offering, the hickory-smoked goat burger.

Voice of the People-Mover

Maybe the reason people don't ride the bus more is because they don't like its attitude. It's all, "Next stop, Broad Street" and "Please use caution when stepping off the bus," like it thinks it's so great.

Well now the bus's tone will be changing. Local actress Irene Ziegler has finished recording a batch of "Cary Streets" and "Next stops" for a company called Clever Devices, which works on city bus programs in places like Baltimore and Chicago. That company called up Audio Image looking for local female talent and Ziegler's name came up. She got the gig partly, she thinks, because she's concatenated before. Yes, it's time for a new term.

Ziegler says concatenating is "where you just record each of the little bits, one bit at a time" and then a computer puts the bits together, what they call "character strings." The trick, she says, is in controlling your voice so that the string sounds consistent, rather than that high-low thing that sounds like a robot having a seizure. "I have to focus on this little space on the podium," she says. "It's mental work. It's not hard work, but it takes a lot of focus."

If Ziegler's voice sounds familiar, it's because it's come out of machines in other places -- she'll tell you where to go care of Sprint's and Verizon's car navigation systems. She once spent three hours recording street names in California, going quite nearly crazy so you can be gently reminded that you took a wrong turn in Barstow. You might also have heard that voice hosting Virginia Arts and Letters Live, the actors-reading-writers show in March at the Barksdale that benefits adult literacy program The Read Center (which is appropriate when you think about it).

She'll also be acting in the Barksdale's production of "Doubt" in February, but before that she'll premiere as a kinder, gentler bus voice sometime this fall.

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