About Nick DeSantis

Nick DeSantis is a multimedia culture journalist and graphic artist with specialties in music, film, video and infographics. He returned to Syracuse University (his alma mater) in 2012 to pursue a master’s degree in Arts Journalism through the Newhouse School of Public Communications. Since then, he has served as a lead producer for the SU community website The Newshouse and as an editorial intern for the Syracuse New Times. He currently writes and creates infographics for the websites NextMovie and Film.com as an editorial and design contributor at MTV Networks.

Review: Pamela Z

Review of ‘Music In Time I’ by Pamela Z at the Memminger Auditorium.

The crackle of popped bubble-wrap and the dainty ding of two metal rods, carefully sampled live onstage at the Memminger Auditorium, have become two more looped elements added to Pamela Z’s cauldron of sound. The multilayered, droning mix contains samples of lyrics and the occasional soaring operatic vocal, elements that the abstract shapes in the projected video behind Z respond to in every instance. It is a hypnotic experience, with multimedia singer and performer Pamela Z serving as both musical alchemist and gatekeeper for the audience into her signature soundscapes.

The ensuing chaos can sometimes be overwhelming, with all of the aural stimuli building to a cacophonous, overpowering crescendo that threatens to spin out of control. But then, with a wave of her hand or the subtle press of a pedal, Pamela Z reins in her noisy creation, proving once again that every sound was indeed in its intended place.

Her technique of building abstract collages of sound—sometimes rhythmic, sometimes atonal—makes the process and the performance and integral part of her compositions (I don’t imagine a Pamela Z CD would be nearly as enthralling.) In that regard, her show is almost geeky. I found myself at certain points straining to see when she was starting to capture specific vocals and sounds, and trying to identify the pace of specific loops of songs. Her performance dares you to decode it, to dig down into the bed of music as it occurs to discover her secrets. In that regard, she is not only a performer, but a shepherd, controlling what direction we move within the soundscape and inviting a strong analysis of her process rather than relishing in the performance of the final product.

However, it was when she didn’t provide an entry point—whether it be a consistent beat, a new vocal or an overarching theme—that her work began to falter. One particular piece, in which she used a laptop camera to record a short video series of brief motions and sounds that she then controlled using waves of her hands, never seemed to come together as a composition itself, and played more like a technological demonstration than an artistic work using a compelling audio-visual tool.

The audibly shuffling feet of exiting patrons punctuating the end of each of her first five works made it abundantly clear that Pamela Z isn’t for everyone. Her approach can be hypnotic, cacophonous, atonal, and even comical at times. However, it isn’t entirely accessible. Even “Broom,” her final performance that she quasi-jokingly declared her “pop song,” had a hint of soul and verse/chorus/verse song structure, but it still leaned heavily toward her signature piecework aesthetic.

With the very nature of her work being predicated on live sampling, I can’t imagine two Pamela Z performances ever being exactly alike, even if the blueprints are generally the same. It’s with this in mind that the process itself becomes more enthralling than the end results. I have to admit, it sure was fun watching her hands pluck, pry and stretch the noises she’s created using a small, mysterious custom made theremin-esque box. It’s her most fascinating onstage piece of equipment, but it’s the ingenuity of Pamela Z itself that proves to be her most valuable instrument.

Southern Eats: Butcher & Bee

A restaurant review by Nick DeSantis

Butcher & Bee doesn’t have the most inviting entrance. Set far back from the road on 654 King Street past a barbed-wire fence, the sandwich shop’s humble exterior would be easily missed by a passerby if it weren’t for the restaurant’s circular logo unassumingly painted right above the door.

Those that stroll through the entrance, however, are instantly greeted with a relaxed, stylishly hodgepodge atmosphere. With no two metal seats looking like they match, the décor seems as if it were cobbled together from a scrap heap of chairs, stools and large, wooden tables of assorted heights.

In fact, the space’s high-ceiling and weathered interior makes it seem as if a sandwich joint popped up within an old factory. There is not a single whiff of high-brow pretension about Butcher & Bee (right down to the rolls of paper towels provided in lieu of napkins), but make no mistake: the food is truly premium, gourmet quality.

Butcher & Bee’s focus on fresh, local ingredients is evident in their curated menu, which is carefully scrawled out daily on a wall-sized chalkboard. It offers a limited number of eight sandwiches for lunch, but the selection changes daily and definitely slants more towards the unique rather than the familiar.

The Chana Masala sandwich, for example, brings together spiced chick peas, coconut jam and tomato curry within two halves of a deliciously brittle ciabatta roll to create a dinner plate sized Indian inspired sandwich that packed a spicy kick even when a bulk of my bites proved to be a bit too bready.

The best bet on the menu at the time I visited (12:30 p.m. to be exact, before the lunch rush, but after four sandwiches had already sold out), was the Korean Shortrib. It was a messy endeavor, with juicy short ribs slathered in spicy slaw and crowned with a fried egg within a spongy, absorbent brioche roll.

The sticky hands and balls of paper towel required to down this thing will be forgiven once the explosive flavor of the first taste is experienced. It’s even worth its rather hefty $12 pricetag, which will sadly be responsible for relegating this selection as an occasional indulgence rather than a lunchtime standby.

A selection of quirky beverages (like a surprisingly good cucumber soda), and simple, flavorful side dishes like a tasty asparagus and garlic and a fresh kale slaw round out the abbreviated menu, earning Butcher & Bee all of the local raves and national accolades it has received from publications such as GQ, New York Magazine and Food & Wine since it opened only 2 years ago.

Tourists and locals with plump wallets looking to reward their midday hunger with a unique Charleston original will find their lunchtime salvation with Butcher & Bee.