Monday, November 24, 2008

Copulatin' Blues

Yesterday I read this NYTimes article about an evangelical pastor in Texas who conducted an exciting "sexperiment," a "Seven Days of Sex" challenge in his church of 20,000, urging married couples to get jiggy as much as possible for a week in order to strengthen their bonds. Finally, a Christian message that makes sense.

If nervous couples needed a little extra help during their week-long sex-quest, perhaps they threw The Copulatin' Blues on the stereo.

Here's the track list:

I need a little sugar in my bowl (Bessie Smith) (2:42) --Get off with me (Coot Grant) (3:06) -- My daddy rocks me (Tampa Red's Hokum Jug Band) (3:18) -- Keep your hands off my mojo (Grant & Wilson) ((2:53) -- Winnin' boy (Jelly Roll Morton) (4:10) -- Shave 'em dry (Lucille Bogan) (3:00) --Barbecue Bess (Lucille Bogan) (2:33) -- I'll keep sittin' on it (Georgia White) (2:48).Preaching blues (Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers) (2:54) -- Stavin' chain (Lil Johnson) (2:52) -- Do your duty (Bessie Smith acc. by Buck and his band (Frankie Newton (tpt), Jack Teagarden (tbn) Benny Goodman (clt), Leon "Chu" Berry (ts), Buck Washington (pno), Bobby Taylor (gtr), Billy Talor (sbs)) (3:17) -- New rubbin' on the darned old thing (Oscars Chicago Swingers) (2:30) -- Press my button (Lil Johnson) (3:04) -- Stavin' chain (Johnny Temple acc, by the Harlem Hamfats) (2:18) -- Don't you make me high (Merlin Johnson) (2:31) -- You stole my cherry (Lil Johnson) (2:30)

Update: In another surprising first, I'm linking to a Tucker Carlson article about this supposed evangelical sexual voracity.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bruno Strikes Again

With three commissions, too much grad school, and tons of politics to keep up with, this blog took a hit. But I'll try to heat it back up starting now.

Bruno in Milan

Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the best performance artists of our time. Lately, as the gay Austrian, Bruno, he's been dabbling in art intervention. Just 10 days ago, Cohen managed to act as an extra in a court scene for NBC's Medium, sitting in the jury and disrupting the shoot. Earlier this fall, he crashed two fashion shows, one in Paris and the Prada show in Milan, for which he actually walked the catwalk wearing a cross between an elementary school diorama and the Derelict line from Zoolander:

Other recent Bruno escapades include a pro-Proposition 8 rally in LA and two cage-fighting matches in Arkansas. Cohen apparently lured people to the fights with promises of chicks and cheap beer, and then proceeded to strip down and kiss another man in the ring. The audience was a bit put off, and many threw chairs and beer at the young lovers.

Hopefully much of this great work will appear in his upcoming film starring Bruno, out this May.

What should we make of him? Is he just a comedian, a brilliant Neo-Dadaist like Pierre Pinoncelli, or somewhere in between? I'm inclined to think his mockery of the fashion and television industries and of homophobia in the past few months alone is more than just laughs.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Originality: not what you think.

Starry Night, by Robert Silvers

Technically speaking, according to current copyright law, the above work is completely unoriginal. It's a replication of a famous Van Gogh painting, and it's made up of NASA images. There's nothing original about it! This is highway robbery!? Let's sue Robert Silvers. Cunningly, Silvers copyrighted his artistic Photomosaic method, and can, I'm sure, wiggle his way out of copyright battles at this point. But many musicians, who aren't millionaires, CEO's, and legal wizards, and who do essentially the same thing with audio, have a lot to worry about. But isn't Silvers' work an originality mindfuck? I applaud him for that.

Ben Franklin said that "originality is the art of concealing your sources." Girltalk, Robert Silvers, and others may have altered this philosophy.

I wrote a pretty long comment on a NewMusicBox post about sampling, Girltalk, and intellectual property law, so I thought I'd just post it here. I'm a little disappointed that no one else responded...The original post, by Carl Stone, brings up the familiar debate over originality, and what defines this concept today versus what it used to mean. You can read my thoughts on the topic below.
I'm glad to read many similar thoughts to my own in an interesting NMB post. Since taking a class on fair use in the music world (and really, before that), I came to realize how the legal system (especially in America) is always so horribly behind mainstream culture. (Gay marriage is still illegal in most states. The death penalty is still legal in many states. The list goes on.) At least in terms of copyright, this is probably largely the result of "case law," which only gets built slowly, over time, and, maybe, less the fault of insane, fundamentalist Supreme Court judges who would be better off behind bars than in a post appointed by the president. Maybe Girltalk is the first one to break through to the next generation of musicians who can sample electronically in just the same manner, as you write, as Brahms and Bach and everyone else did acoustically. I see absolutely no difference in what Girltalk does and what any Baroque or Classical composer did (and what many of these composers' instituational incarnates continue to do now, acoustically). But the world's collective consciousness still won't equate the two - we still haven't accepted the digital as "the real." And it's not. But it's a perfect simulacrum of the real--meaning it resembles the real so accurately as to take its place--and therefore, as far as we can tell, it is the real. That could be why the courts can't change the laws just yet - it is so seemingly real, whereas a reorchestration is somehow so different (but really not). I agree that Girltalk is recontextualizing the hits he mashes up to the point of fair use, or de minimis, or however you want to classify it, but I'm pretty sure if he was taken to court, it'd be copyright infringement for sure. The point at which the legal system's assault on this particular component of our creativity will stop is when it and the record labels realize that allowing this type of creativity is more profitable than the court settlements that prohibit it. Maybe that's finally happening right now--I wouldn't be surprised if Girltalk is getting courted by a couple big labels, or will be soon.

This quote from the NYTimes opinion piece sounds quite familiar: "All aspects of creativity are basically reconstituted bits and pieces of things we've seen, heard and experienced, finely or not-so-finely chopped and served in a form that hopefully blends the ingredients into something 'new.' The ancient Greeks seemed to know this, expressed in their belief that the Muses of creativity were the daughters of Mnemosyne, Titan goddess of memory."
It resembles Fredric Jameson's extensive writing on originality and "death of the subject" from the 1980s. He apparently agreed with the Greeks. But now, over 20 years after he wrote about these topics, I wonder what he thinks, though I hear he still buys the same music that Adorno was praising in the early to mid 20th century. Still, every piece I've read by Jameson has amazed me with its foresight and analogies. But the realization that Girltalk really is original, that the digital age has spawned an original form of originality in itself, is something that the courts haven't grasped yet, and Jameson couldn't in the 1980s. What the current discussions of originality today are missing is that a) originality has changed--we can't discuss it today with the old definition, and b) it's pointless to discuss originality at all today, because it either doesn't exist, if you buy into Jameson, or it has changed so much in the last few decades that we need a new word for it. Furthermore, maybe Jameson is right--subjects are dead--how can anyone today begin to claim that she's 100% original with no outside influence?

I personally stick to the word "innovation," and wholeheartedly believe in the obsolescence of the greedy, money-driven copyright industry--and that's why I spent most of the day remixing the final movement of Mozart's 40th.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Twin Cities

My favorite line from Hillary's speech tonight:

"It's no surprise that McCain and Bush will be appearing together in the Twin Cities next's pretty hard to tell them apart these days."

And from the NYTimes article about Biden's speech:

Mr. Biden, who referred to his childhood struggle with stuttering, made a few verbal slips, including referring to Mr. McCain as “George.”

“Freudian slip, folks,” he said. “Freudian slip.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

This Week's Bookmarks

A few World Wide Web links for the three to five readers per day who haven't arrived here via a Google image search. (I've never searched the World Wide Web for "world wide web" before. Why isn't Sir Tim Berners-Lee the most famous guy on the planet?)

Sweet bathroom art
A very different way to spruce up the water closet than what the pictures in my previous post illustrate. If I had money, he'd be way up on my commission list.

Composer Charles Wuorinen with his cat.

In the home stretch of an election that I fear might confirm my utter lack of faith in the people of this country, finding this pathetic website has not helped my optimism. Apparently Charles Wuoronin's opera based on the Brokeback Mountain story (or "gay, 12-tone cowboys," as Ross puts it) will be "radical and dangerous" in its "celebration" of the "homosexual lifestyle." I'm surprised these ultra-conservative hominids are able to maintain a website, considering their desperate attempts to exist in a different century than the rest of us.

American sprinter Tyson Homosexual

This is the same news-censoring site that reports on "Tyson Homosexual's" track and field successes and "Rudy Homosexual's" basketball career. Conservatives apparently still like to view being gay as a psychological disorder, rather than a common sexual orientation, and thus prefer the term homosexual - the most clinical and scientific word, and a term that many gays and lesbians consider highly insulting for this reason - to the word gay. So, they use a software program that automatically converts every instance of "gay" to "homosexual" so its readers won't be quite so threatened by this horrible and potentially contagious disorder. Some results are the ridiculous articles about Tyson and Rudy Homosexual. I agree with Michael Scherer that nonfiction writer Homosexual Talese should chime in on the issue.

A couple questions for the homophobic writers: how would they censor their own scientific classification as homo erectus? And shouldn't they censor the name of the Brokeback article's author? Charlie Butts sounds pretty vulgar to me. Maybe Charlie Rears or Charlie Backsides?

I'm constantly baffled at how people who claim to live by a strong moral code can hold such horribly derogatory, completely immoral, vastly inhumane, highly bigoted, overtly frightened, and simply uneducated views. It's a shame, and it's depressing, and I'm embarrassed to share a nation with them. The fact that our country still insists on denying a giant proportion of its citizens the right to get married is preposterous. So is the fact that states can legally murder their inmates. How is it wrong to abort a 2-week old fetus but ok to kill a full grown person or torture a suspect? These are issues that the true, leftist Obama that I hope hides behind his campaign facade will tackle head-on if he does win this election.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Scrawls on the walls

Here's a remarkable bathroom at a dive I hopped into last Saturday night on Rivington Street in NYC. Peeing in this setting was truly an honor and caused me to completely ignore the rancid smells that must have entered my nostrils.

Also, a fun little comment and reply I found on Nico Muhly's blog post on the word "folks":
  • I am from the South and use the word folks many times daily. To take any issue with the word in its normal context, or to compare it to its German version, which has virtually nothing to do with its Southern American rendition, is absurd.

    Moveon’s usage is, however, slightly offensive, but from the perspective of someone who considers himself one of these folks, not someone who thinks the word itself is “horrifying.”

    Nico responds: If I had known to expect the Führer on my blog, I would have worn a clean shirt! No, I think my reaction is a gut one, there’s just something about the idea of a two-part society made of “Heroic Individuals” and “Ordinary Folks” that gets me a little anxious. That said, the Southern branch of my family is a big folks-sayer, and in that usage, it feels more like a regionalism than something designed for wickedness! Thanks for your comments.

Monday, July 14, 2008

NYC Graffiti Sightings This Weekend

I took a couple cell phone pics of excellent graffiti on Saturday. Just before a great tour of the Six Points Brewery in Red Hook, Brooklyn, I caught this consumer culture statement on Van Dyke Street. Reminds me of Banksy, one of my favorite graffiti artists, but the image of the robot/policeman/soldier/?? is a paper cut-out and pasted onto the wall, and all the Banksy tags I've seen are stenciled. I can't tell exactly what's in his hands--some kind of metal stick, maybe--or if he's robot, human, or cyborg. But I think I get the message more or less. The real Ikea is only a couple blocks away.

After the PS1 Warm Up in Long Island City, Queens, I checked out this massive collection of tags that spans the entire front of a large building on Jackson Ave.

You can see exact locations of the graffiti on Google Earth because I uploaded the pics on Panoramio and gave them locations, which load directly to Google Earth.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

From Six Points Brewery in Brooklyn

Music Critics (continued)...take a hint from Justin Davidson

In this heated conversation with myself regarding the current distress among classical music critics at their rapid loss of print jobs, I somehow didn't read Justin Davidson's remarks until now, which I have to say are completely right on. I especially like his point that a paper trying to alter its content under the old business model in order to increase readership is about as productive as spitting into an active volcano. Instead of bemoaning the current state of his branch of journalism, he proves that this is the same condition that the entire field of print media is in today, differentiates between sectors of journalism and their respective paths of access to important information, and proposes new fixes to the perceived problem. I'm highly impressed.

I also just read this "plea" that the Music Critics Association of North America sent to a number of newspapers. In their plea, which could maybe have been eloquent and poignant if written by someone like Davidson but instead is dry and hardly justifies its claim to more jobs, they make this presumptuous statement: "What happens culturally says as much about a community as what happens in sports, government and business." This is something I think about every day. And I've never come to this conclusion (in terms of government, and business, which of course is intimately linked with government) with any conviction because maybe it's not true. Davidson writes about freedom of the press, and how newspapers, while firing arts writers, are also downsizing their other departments and squandering America's First Amendment: "Why would the government bother abridging the freedom of the press, when the press is doing such an efficient job of abridging itself?" Americans can go hear concerts for themselves (and blog about it if they so choose), but journalists can't go to Afghanistan or Iraq and effectively cover the news there without the resources of a major news network.

As far as the "arts = government" question, it's probably something that many of us will grapple with our whole lives, and I'm currently not making much headway. I certainly value the arts, as I'm devoting my life to composition, but I can't come up with one solid reason why they are equally as important as our government to the general populace. What I do know is that many music critics, like the newspapers themselves, need to move on from the old business model if they truly want to help their field.

Check out blogger Marc Geelhoed's pro-Bernheimer thoughts from yesterday about the blogosphere's negative effects on music criticism. He's a smart guy and went to great lengths to justify his claims. But, in disagreement with Marc as usual, I have a few questions for him (which I write here because he doesn't allow reader comments on his blog, which are one of the most appealing features of blogs in general):

a) Don't you think many people want the opportunity to choose which critics/bloggers/fans/non-music-educated people/turkeys/etc. they read instead of having to consult the same few critics from a couple newspapers, considering today's increased desire for personal agency and self-efficacy? (See my previous post for more on agency.) And don't you think we should give readers a little credit to critique the critics themselves? Can someone who doesn't have a Master's in Musicology really not discern an idiot from a genius?

b) Marc argues that it's pretty hard to find good classical music criticism on the web, and shows a few Google, Technorati, and Google blogsearch searches. He doesn't like the results. But he does mention blogs linking to other blogs, and how if you don't come across Alex Ross's blog, you're probably not going to find other good ones. But Ross's links, and his, are limited, and most likely reflect their own ideological preferences. I know for a fact that Marc has read my blog and has not put a link to it on his site (and it's mutual, so maybe I'll reconsider). I think this is because he doesn't like my ideas, not because I'm only a Ph.D. student and not a pro music critic, or because I write about uninteresting things, or because I write poorly. And I'm never going to get a link from Alex Ross unless I become the next Nico Muhly first. So those who complain about access should up the ante and provide better access themselves. Readers find a blogger they like and then check out his or her links. It's just like Myspace, when you find a band you like and then check out their "Top Friends." I've discovered hundreds of interesting musicians that way.

Marc does not mention the primary way I've found good blogs: comprehensive, focused blog reader sites like the New Music reblog or Blognoggle. These are way better than a Google search because real people manage the posts; Jeff Harrington and Joseph Drew sift through many, many blogs and post the entries to the reblog. It's a great way to find out what's going on.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Let it happen, dude.

71-year-old Martin Bernheimer is up in arms at the diminishing number of music criticism posts in American print news. The bloggers (AC Douglas, Lisa Hirsch, etc.) are equally appalled at his statements that "anyone can blog" and "anyone can impersonate an expert." But aren't they missing the point?

Firstly, Bernheimer fails to correlate his addressed topic with trends that have been happening for decades in our country: arts programs disappearing in public schools, symphonies on their last's late capitalism, man! It only matters if it makes money! Nothing's gonna change by making self-justifying claims for educated arts criticism. "Essentially, our civilisation is tilting towards anti-authoritarian contests." Yes, Martin--that's right. And there's nothing you can do about it. And it's liberating. People don't want to be told what to think any more. They're turned off by elitism (yes, I meant to use that word). They want a (usually fictional) sense of agency in a world that's moving way too fast for them to comprehend.

In their responses, in which they argue for their own education and cultural authority, the bloggers are doing nothing different than Bernheimer: attempting to perpetuate the sinking role of the critic. Just because music blogs are hot now doesn't mean they won't suffer the same fate as print news some time quite soon. Hirsch does add some relevant insight about the differences between many bloggers and self-proclaimed print music experts:
I cannot say that any of them are in any way "impersonating" experts; the non-pros are perfectly clear about the fact that they're not professionals. I'd really like it if Mr. Bernheimer could point out some people who are impersonating classical music experts or taking jobs away from professional critics. And I hope he'll keep in mind the fact that the blogosphere is more like a salon than like a newspaper: a bunch of people sitting around exchanging opinions with themselves and their readers.
Douglas, however, in an eloquent example of true elitism, writes that the "rise of the rabid equalitarianism and populism that today so malignantly infects our American cultural life" shows up everywhere, "most perniciously in the high arts, a domain in which classical music arguably occupies the highest station."

We all need to just accept that our opinions are no more important than anyone else's.
People still might want to read them, because we take the time to document, and to provide links to other articles of interest.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Our politics suck but our tunes are good: Part 1

On Independence Day, which I normally celebrate only by drinking a few extra beers, I'm going to try something new: being thankful for many of the great things about this nation. Fortunately, my real passion is one of those things, so I'm going to write about a few excellent, excellent musicians from this country whose music I've beheld in the last few years. I've also enjoying another of those things, our swimming dynasty--the US Olympic Trials have been covered quite well online by NBC. But on to the music:

Steve Lehman
Wowzers. This guy can play (alto sax). He's also a doctoral student in composition at Columbia. I remember visiting their comp program for a seminar, and he had brought in a recording of Ornette Coleman's orchestral works. Really different stuff. Lehman incorporates microtones into his exceptionally quick and dissonant lines, and his compositions' metric structures are often nearly impossible to figure out--he's an example of extreme complexity working very well. The media is eating him up, too, because he's bringing all kinds of new stuff into the jazz world. Check his myspace or lastfm for full tracks.

A couple weeks ago I heard him with Dual Identity, a group co-led by fellow alto player Rudresh Mahanthappa, at The Stone. The other cats were Damion Reid on drums, Matt Brewer on bass, and Liberty Ellman on guitar. The group was incredibly tight and the tunes were dark and groovy. I could have used a little more dynamic variation--they tended to go full force much of the time--but that was about my only real criticism. Mahanthappa and Lehman are both phenomenal saxophonists, but they both have such different sounds and improv styles, so they're a good pair. They'd often play close intervals very low on the instrument, which was a really neat sound and something I hadn't heard much of before. The group is recording their first album next year, so we'll have to wait around for that.

Check out Fieldwork, his group with Tyshawn Sorey and Vijay Iyer. His quintet releases are quite good as well, and apparently he'll be doing some gigs with what I think is a new octet this fall.

I'll do these reviews in separate installments, so next time I'll continue with this (for me, unusual) patriotic music appreciation.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Materialism / Immaterialism


Hooray for Christie's. They've now sold some water lilies for the above sum. Monet's Le bassin aux nympheas went for double the previous record for a Monet, his Le Pont du chemin de fer a Argenteuil, sold not long ago. I guess in the digital era, originals are even more valuable to many. Interestingly--but not surprisingly--Russian and Middle Eastern oil magnates are the top buyers, replacing hedge funds.

In the world of invisible networks, Tim Risher's Second Life performance space is ready for shows. Email him if you're a composer or performer interested in playing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU: Gabriel Prokofiev and Nonclassical

Sergei Prokofiev wrote Neoclassical, and his grandson, Gabriel, writes Nonclassical. The elder was and is still a huge figure in instrumental music, and the younger will certainly be hailed as one of the most important figures in updating the classical tradition.

Gabriel Prokofiev has set up concerts in clubs that include chamber works and remixes, as well as a record label that puts out albums with an instrumental work and a series of remixes. The upcoming release, Cortical Songs, includes mixes by Thom Yorke and others:

Prokofiev describes his frustration with classical music in an interview at timesonline:
I got very frustrated because I knew that at least 50 per cent of the people who came to hear my music had white hair and the other 50 per cent would all be composers or academics themselves...I wanted my friends to hear my music. Classical music has kept itself isolated in a lot of ways. It’s time to loosen up and take a look around and stop being afraid to embrace other genres.
Another producer of 'club classical' talks about his path towards this type of concert setting in the same article:
When Matt Fretton set up This Isn’t For You, he realised he was in uncharted territory. “I felt it needed to be done,” he says. “Someone had to take the initiative and look at the way classical music was being presented. I hated the fact that people were not allowed to clap or make any noise during concerts. And I don’t like the ridiculous waiters’ outfits. Musicians are not there to serve people; they are artists and should be respected.”
So Britain has its counterpart to what Mason Bates and company are doing on the U.S. West Coast. Prokofiev wrote a Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra recently (video below); the orchestra makes vocal noises and plays motives as DJ Yoda scratches similar sounds on his tables. Violinist/composer Daniel Bernard-Roumain has made a lot of music with DJ Scientific, including a piece for turntables and orchestra (performed by Scientific and the ACO) in 2006. Hip things are happening...
again, like nonpop, in nonclassical, we have a term of negation rather than a new word in itself, but I think in this case, it's an important first statement in the postgenre era - the stuff is an embrace of classical music, but a conscious rejection of the entire culture that still surrounds it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Girl Talkin'

New Hampshire Public Radio interviewed DJ Spooky (Paul D. Miller) and Girl Talk (Greg Gillis) recently, about Spooky's Antarctic recording project and Girltalk's new album, Feed the Animals. Spooky's project sounds interesting--though his aim to "create the sound of ice" is a little dubious--and you can hear an extended interview on American Public media here. He'll actually be playing a preview version of this multimedia work at the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this summer.

Girltalk continues to put out polished, wildly popular, fast-paced mashups. This time, in his fourth album, he's appropriately made it available for free download. I'm surprised, because he uses exclusively others' hit songs as source material, that he hasn't done this in the past. Particularly effective is the track "What's It All About," which combines Busta Rhymes and the Police at one point. GT, as the world's premier mashup artist, has developed an extremely successful genre; the legal system has a lot of catching up to do so musicians like him don't have to publish their work on

He does compose these tracks, with nice transitions and various dynamic and energy levels. My main criticisms have to do first with timing and second with flexibility. He's so good at mixing that I'd actually rather hear some of his superimpositions last a little longer; he tends to get bored quickly, and may underestimate his audience's attention span.
His numerous combinations of tracks are virtuosic, but maybe not as virtuosic as they seem, because he rarely superimposes singing from one song over harmony or basslines from others. Usually, he opts for rap, which, largely unpitched, can sound good on top of anything in the same tempo. I'd like to hear him use more vocal tunes over other tracks that go well with them. Still, this shit is tight. I'm diggin' it. And plus, the cover art is perfect: a giant tag on a suburban lawn.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Human Redundancies

Here's a recent email I got from Zenph Studios:

First, Sony’s new Tatum album with Zenph is getting remarkable reviews. For example, this review appeared in Sunday’s Buffalo News (page down to ‘Jazz’):
Come see the show!! We’re presenting a new production at New York’s Apollo Theater this week. It’s a one-man play; on stage is actor Paul Butler playingm the owner of a jazz club. Throughout the show he’s discussing his lifetime friendship with Art Tatum. As events in Tatum’s life are introduced, the high-resolution reproducing piano on stage plays Tatum’s re-performances. It’s been great watching Paul’s reaction during the rehearsals – he’s truly mesmerized. If you are in New York June 19, 20, or 22, you really should see this historic, world-premiere play. Our Web site has details and a link for buying tickets:
We’re been working closely with the Tatum family, and at the Sunday show, will be donating items from the estate to the Jazz Museum in Harlem – including Tatum’s own grand piano. Here are the details: Artwork! The author and painter Robert Andrew Parker will show his original paintings from his new children’s book on Art Tatum at the Thursday, June 19th show, in the Apollo lobby. Painter and jazz saxophonist Scott Gordley will be showing his jazz paintings at the shows on the 20th and 22nd:
BMI, the music licensing organization, is featuring our show on their MySpace site:
We appreciate your support and feedback at Zenph Studios. Thanks – John Q. Walker, president
In other hands-free news, read about the upcoming robotic 'flying trucks' that will transport supplies to troops, and troops themselves, without a pilot.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Recording Sample-Free

(Image from Evan Ziporyn's excellent solo clarinet album)

In a recent post I wrote on putting electrodes in our brains and using representative computer code to guide machines in playing real instruments; earlier, I wrote on Melodyne software that can pick out individual notes from individual instruments on a recording for pitch shifting or time stretching.

Last month at the International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing, Mark Bocko introduced a new project he's been working on at the University of Rochester that seeks to eliminate sampling from digital recording. Instead of recording live instruments and sampling at the highest rate possible for CD-quality sound, researchers developed two software models: one that replicates every parameter of a clarinet's sound, and another that codes a clarinet player's physical actions in performance. Once they make a real audio recording of a clarinetist, they can use the second model to determine the various performance actions and run this info into the clarinet sound module to produce a virtual rendition of the original performance.

One of the interesting developments here is the tiny amount of information needed to store such a virtual recording; because the audio is not sampled hundreds of times per second but reproduced based on actual physical gestures and frequencies of a player and nothing more, these recordings are quite small. The twenty-second clarinet solo filled under one kilobyte.

Bocko says, "Maybe the future of music recording lies in reproducing performers and not recording them." This to me sounds like a kind of compromise: let's still use real people initially but then convert their sound into something synthetic, better, and with a minimum of information. I have this image of Charlie Chaplin from Modern Times in my head, but now he's miming all the motions while a robot mimics him, actually screwing on the bolts.

So why not ditch real players and instead program virtuosic performances into the physical model, much like MIDI? This could be a whole new, more flexible version of MIDI, in that MIDI has only 128 (0-127) possibilities for each musical parameter, while this new software may have infinite expressive potential. (From the short article, it sounds like these computer models have continuous, non-incremental parameters, like we do.)

A very relevant comparison to make here is with the highly advanced, Hi-Res MIDI-driven live piano recreations of recordings by Zenph Studios - essentially, high tech player piano. (Hi-Res MIDI uses 1024 possibilities, versus 128.) I'm gonna write up a post on this soon, but Zenph can take an old recording of, say, Glenn Gould playing Bach, code it into Hi-Res MIDI, and play it back in a "re-performance" on an actual Yamaha Disklavier Pro concert grand piano. A convergence of Zenph and Rochester could be very interesting: a Disklavier performance of Art Tatum recorded and re-virtualized with Rochester's modeling technology.

The Rochester folks still have a long way to go in terms of sound quality; the demo recording sounds like low quality MIDI; Vienna Symphonic Library, for example, sounds infinitely better. Still, the potential for vast improvement is there, and also for manufacturing technology-esque 'musical redundancies.'

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Museum Music

The exhibition's outside, but the music's still the same:

You can see more of Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman's work here (like the duck below, floating in the Loire River in France). He designed Signpost 5 for the 2006 Schiermonnikoog International Chamber Music Festival. The island sits in the Wadden Sea, between the Netherlands and Denmark. Last year's fest featured works by late composers and one, lone living composer, Polish Hanna Kulenty.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Remix the remix of the remix of the remix

Right now I'm working on a remix for It is an iterative remix project with three original 'parents' and three corresponding 'remix trees.' Now we're in the middle of Round 4. The original three works [including two of John Arroyo's tracks and Charles Dodge's "Canons for Larry (123)"] have generated 36 remixes so far, and the current round will presumably create an even larger number of new tracks than the previous ones. The rounds' numbers of remixes are as follows:

(Originals: 3)
Round 1: 7
Round 2: 12
Round 3: 17

In an interview with Dartmouth's paper, the project's creator, Arroyo, cites a kind of musical Darwinism, in which unpopular remixes will get left in the dust while the better ones will continue to birth new mixes. So far, every track has yielded at least one remix, but with the 17 mixes from Round 3, the current round may begin to reveal the beginnings of musical selection. Some remixers may hear a track they don't like and in fact remix it because they could make it better; in this case, the Darwinism theory doesn't hold up. For now, we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Borrowing/stealing/quoting/reorchestrating/sampling/remixing/etc. are all nothing new in music. Unfortunately, laws that restrict this type of thing have become stricter and stricter in recent years. In remixin's case, we can enjoy the liberties of Creative Commons' NonCommercial Sampling Plus 1.o license, but when it comes time to release an album, things could get tricky.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Taste and Post-Genre

Many folks are talking about the most unwanted song: the 25-minute, schizophrenic work that only about 200 people on Earth are supposed to enjoy. I thought it was pretty cool and cackled to myself quite a bit. But the Zogby Music and Politics Poll (which I found via Avant Music News) on conservative, moderate, and liberal taste in entertainment was a lot more interesting to me. Apparently, conservatives, who favor action films, Fox News, and football video games, hate world music (under 5% would enjoy it), and like, more than any other musical genre, classical music (60% said it was their favorite). While polls are inherently reductionist, we still take them seriously, and the media wouldn't survive without them.

Stats like these make me appreciate even more somebody like Swedish multimedia artist Eric Bünger. In 2002, he put together a fascinating piece called variations on a theme by casey & finch, which I discovered while checking out Icebreaker's myspace page. In this piece for nonet, he emulates a CD skipping on the chorus to KC and the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way I Like It." In picking a disco tune and using a techonological impetus, he's turned on the 'art music' world; to me the piece seems to throw away genre completely, and simply present something that's, well, really cool. Plenty of composers use technology to determine elements of their acoustic music, but I think this fairly simple, direct example is one of the best. Bünger makes all kinds of art, including this neat internet project Let them sing it for you. Here he is (on bass) with his band in action:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Neo-Dada at its best

Disclaimer: I don't support public pie-throwing. But I do support passionate, educated reactions to important issues, especially by 18-22-year-olds. If you want to know why, read the discussion in comments, below.

I was energized today to read that Brown University students launched two green, Cool Whip-topped pies at New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who had just begun an Earth Day speech in one of Brown's largest halls last night. The first pie was right on target, while the second was just shy of its mark. Friedman's talk (called "Hot, Flat and Crowded," after his recent book, The World is Flat) dealt with green technology's economic and foreign policy implications, part of the spring speaker series entitled, “Going Green, Globally: Scientific, Economic and Political Perspectives," sponsored by the school's Environmental Change Initiative. Friedman didn't let the colored whipped cream deter him; after cleaning himself off, he did give the speech. The man isn't too popular with a large contingent at Brown, probably because of his advocacy for questionable petrol alternatives like E85 and his support of the United States' 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Believe it or not, YES: there is a video.

The two culprits, calling themselves "Greenwash Guerrillas" (those who oppose greenwashing through action) threw pamphlets at audience members before their attempted escape. The pamphlets read:

Thomas Friedman deserves a pie in the face…

* because of his sickeningly cheery applaud for free market capitalism’s conquest of the planet

* for telling the world that the free market and techno fixes can save us from climate change. From carbon trading to biofuels, these distractions are dangerous in and of themselves, while encouraging inaction with respect to the true problems at hand.

* for helping turn environmentalism into a fake plastic consumer product for the privileged

* for his pure arrogance.

* as the only way to compensate for the ridiculousness of having this fool speak on Earth Day.

On behalf of the earth and all true environmentalists — we, the Greenwash Guerrillas, declare Thomas Friedman’s “Green” as fake and toxic to human and planetary health as the cool-whip covering his face.

The pamphlet also contained an excerpt from Raymond Lotta's critical review of Friedman's book.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mozart's prophecy

While feeding my sci-fi addiction, I came across this internal monologue in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

...he wondered if Mozart had had any intuition that the future did not exist, that he had already used up his little time...This rehearsal will end, the performance will end, the singers will die, eventually the last score of the music will be destroyed in one way or another; finally the name "Mozart" will vanish, the dust will have won.

Dick (1968), through bounty hunter Rick Deckard (2021), may underestimate recording technology's productivity, and surely the internet's storage potential (though I'm sure he predicted the internet); still, one has to agree with the prophecy in the end. I wonder when it will prove true, and if the process of destruction has already begun.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Politicians' Open Mic!

I posted not too long ago on John Ashcroft's beautiful patriotic crooning, so I decided to put together a U.S. politicians' virtual concert and review! Recently, the conservatives seem to have the edge on the music scene, though my knowledge of performing politicians is about as extensive as my knowledge of molecular biology. Perhaps this is a decent metaphor, though, because right-wingers tend to have more cash, as do the most visible musicians.

Up first is Governor Mike Huckabee. While campaigning over the past year, he's played with lots of rock and blues bands, and a surprising number of high school bands. I only wish he's had his now best bud Chuck Norris choreograph some of his stage acts. He's got a taste for the classic rock hits and the down home blues. In this clip, he exposes his chops by playing some blues basslines in one of those many stores that line the walls and floors with electric guitars and amps, and nothing else. His rhythm's a little vague at times, and his fingering's a little sloppy, but he's not bad on the whole.

Unfortunately, I can't find much footage of Condaleezza Rice playing piano. Apparently, she's kind of a bad ass. She played a Mozart piano concerto with the Denver Symphony when she was 15. (She graduated from college at age 19 Phi Beta Kappa - some people just get shit done early, I guess.) Now she plays with a chamber group in D.C. It's probably easy to guess she's more partial to Schubert and Brahms than Sciarrino or Rakowski. In fact, here are her picks for the "Ten Best Musical Works" of all time. If you're patient enough, you can watch/hear her rehearse with her quintet in the middle of this video, below.

Everybody's heard of Bill Clinton's sax chops. Let's see him in action.

He's pretty rusty, with a pretty loose embouchure and an old school style, but you can tell that if he wasn't running the country, he might have been pretty decent.
Now, check out this version. He seems to span two totally different styles in almost identical settings!

We can thank Zamzar Bob for this wonderful overdub; perhaps he's a Santeri Ojala fan? The Clapton video on that panopticist post is hilarious. This one, also from Zamzar, is too great not to post. Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony:

Check out this Jimmy Kimmell show, in which the Finnish prankster Ojala interviews and then plays live over a Slash video. (Alternatively, see Slash's 1993 fan site. I think that was the year I first went online, where I used Altavista and Webcrawler.) The real live Slash then joins him on stage.

With Obama's margin against McCain slimming down to 0.2% in the last couple weeks, he should probably start thinking about pulling out a middle school band instrument or something. "B-Rock" has some good stuff to say about current hip hop (below). Despite his criticism of much of hip hop's content, he's definitely well-liked among major hip hop artists. Hilary Clinton also scored some support from Timbaland last year, when the star hosted a controversial fundraiser at his Miami home, netting 800 grand for the candidate.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Performance and the Alphabet of the Brain

I recently posted on newmusicbox on music's slow, idealogical shift away from virtuosic performance. I believe we're in the middle of a long transition away from affirmed virtuosity; part of this shift is caused by a parallel shift in compositional ideals: the 'layman-as-artist,' repetition, computer software, etc. Another angle from which to examine future virtuosity is that of human-machine interaction. Perhaps this interaction will result in 'the return of the virtuosic.'

Duke University professor Miguel Nicolelis placed electrodes in a monkey's brain and represented the electric currents produced from its thoughts in computer code - the 'alphabet of the brain.' He later programmed a computer to use this code to control a robotic arm that moved just like the monkey's real arm. Then, he mapped the monkey's real-time thoughts onto the robotic arm's motion, so a live organism was controlling a machine.

Now here's the craziest part: the monkey realized that it didn't have to move its own arm in order to move the robotic arm. It continued to move the mechanical arm with its brain while keeping its own arm stationary. The monkey had essentially become a computer, motionlessly controlling a machine's movements by means of self-produced code. [The monkey had actually been trained to use a joystick to play a video game, so at this stage, the monkey was playing a video game with its mind only.]

Scientists have also approached the organism-machine connection the other way around. One example is the 'roborat,' a rat similarly wired but controlled remotely by a scientist.

What would improved human-machine interfacing mean for music? It would certainly cause a reevaluation of virtuosity. If we could power machines to play instruments with our brains in ways our physical bodies couldn't, why not? If machines could power our bodies to play what our own minds could not initiate, why not? Ensemble Robot at MIT has been programming robots to play acoustic instruments for a few years now, which is really cool, but as far as I know, they haven't done anything with human brain impulses. Of course acoustic music produced by machines goes back to player pianos/pianolas, maybe even further. But maybe future advancements in electro-brain technology will start a trend back to the virtuosic ideal.

Check out this article on how a brain in a petri dish controlled a flight simulator.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

NonPop with Scott Unrein

What does nonpop mean? Is it some kind of value judgment, like the term 'high art'? Wikipedia's tiny entry calls it a meta-genre, whose classification originated in 2001.

Its originators, Dennis Bathory-Kitsz and David Gunn, likened the term to the fiction/nonfiction duality. In doing so, they're calling nonpop everything that is not pop, in the same way that nonfiction is everything that is not fiction. In thinking about it, it seems to make sense to classify text the other way around, giving 'the real' one term, and the fictitious its negative. Regardless of which way you frame it, this brings up all kinds of questions as to what is real, to which Baudrillard, Hal Foster, and many others would have compelling theories. Most grade school English classes don't get too deep into these types of questions, when they probably should. The nonpop term is problematic because of its enforced binary between pop and everything else; in affirming this duality, it undermines its original intent to describe a meta-genre that may or may not find influence in popular music. In the end, I don't think nonpop constitutes a value judgment but is a transitional term meant to describe the utter genre synthesis happening today. Perhaps in the future a better term will come about, an earlier term will be reawakened (fusion), or (in the best case, I think) the need for such a term will dissolve.

Scott Unrein hosts a great podcast/blog called NonPop. Its name is thought provoking, as is its music, and is thus appropriate.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

50 Cent and the National Symphony

Apparently, this brilliant Vitamin Water commercial aired last year, but I saw it for the first time tonight while watching UNC's painfull loss in the semifinals of the NCAA basketball tourney. I don't watch too much TV outside of March Madness. 50 Cent 'conducts' the 'National Symphony' in a mashup of Beethoven's 9th and his 'In Da Club.' A great way to impose their useless product on the young scene also proved a great way to comment on the esoteric, aged, and anachronistic orchestral tradition. It's pretty awesome. Rappers like 50 Cent are today's Beethovens, because performance/spectacle/bling took over compositional prowess long ago. This commercial hit the blogs a while back, so there are posts like this one, from an offended classical devotee. While seeming to favor the preservation of the orchestra as it stands today, which I am opposed to, he makes great points about the numerous racial stereotypes within the ad, and about 50's image. In particular: "...50 Cent, in the commercial, is only understood, only becomes truly himself, when he upends the great symphonic tradition, and inserts his voice." Much like graffiti, which is often associated with hip hop, it's an abrasive interruption, or superimposition, of one voice on top of another. I think part of the commercial's success is showing this process - how current pop music is entirely more powerful than even one of the most lauded classical composers in history. But at the same time, even these god-like pop figures are subject to major stereotypes and racism.

I love it when they show DJ Whoo Kid make the first viola take a hike. Whoo is the self-proclaimed 'Mixtape King', DJ of the group G-Unit (myspace), and host of his own radio show at Hot 97 in New York City. Whoo's myspace page features songs such as "Fucked Your Girl."

Check out some great outtakes:

Also in the world of hip hop media, watch this alternate take of Kanye West's new single, "Can't Tell Me Nothin," featuring bearded comedian Zach Galifianakis on lipsinc and Will Oldham on, well, being bald and in the background. Galilfianakis is from Wilkesboro, NC, and one of his two homes sits on the 60-acre farm where they filmed this video. The song is about money and motherfuckers and stuff like that. I'm not even gonna start analyzing this one right now. You can watch the original 'Can't Tell Me Nothin' video here.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Let the Mighty Eagle Soar...from rocky coast to golden shore.

I had to bring it back. It's just too good. It seemed an appropriate contrast to the current plummet of America's coveted eagle. I think I'm going to apply for a Javits grant to study composition with Mr. John Ashcroft.

"Let the mighty eagle soar, soar with healing in her wings, as the land beneath her sings. Only god, no other kings. Let the mighty eagle soar."

And a wonderful 'fast' rendition:

Oh, and why not backwards?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Exploitation or Empowerment?

In my former home of Providence, RI, this recent ad for restaurant Chinese Laundry appeared in the Providence Monthly magazine. One of my first thoughts was why would a Chinese restaurant, presumably staffed and managed by Chinese people, use Western, patriarchal hyper-sexualization of East Asian women to bring in business? Then I looked up its owners, who form the Chow Fun Food Group. They own five restaurants in the city. My presumption of ownership was wrong: Chow Fun's three owners are John Elkhay, Teddy Newcomer, and Nicholas Raber. These names don't sound Asian American, and they're not. Mr. Elkhay claims this ad, like the numerous scandalous photos on the restaurant's walls, is a celebration of the female figure. More like exploitation.

A nude, headless representation of an East Asian woman is quite appropriate in terms of the Chinese Laundry restaurant - it sits on the site of an actual, long-time laundry business owned by Chinese Americans and forced out about six years ago because of urban gentrification and the resulting rent increases. Much like the powerful, white businesses that smothered the laundry, this powerful, white, objectifying and fetishistic image of an Asian woman covers up any remnant of her own voice.

Click here to sign the petition against these racists!

Elkhay has recently proceeded to release a new version of the original add. He obviously just doesn't get it, or is happy with his racist/male chauvinist public image.

But let's get back to my initial thought, that an Asian American was using the mute, sexualized stereotype to promote his/her business. In classical music, perhaps something along these lines is happening. As a white male myself, I can't begin to analyze things with any kind of accuracy; I can only present possibilities. But our visual culture has always congratulated those who embody the day's constructed qualities of physical beauty. Let's take a look at Tina Guo, a 22-year-old cellist who performs Romantic-era concertos and in a metal band.

Is she succumbing to the Western white male fetishization of East Asian women in order to gain acclaim? Is she recasting this fetish and using it as a kind of reverse-exploitation? Is she just free with her body? Or are her band mates exploiting her? They are, like the Chow Fun Food Group, three men. Different waves of feminist theory would have different interpretations; some would accept her empowerment, and others would negate this empowerment because it only functions within the patriarchal discourse from which it originated. Some are advocates of the cyborg as the empowered woman (Donna Harroway), and others support androgyny as the prime method to subvert the socially constructed gender binaries. Here are Guo's words:

"When I play my cello, I am completely pure, naked, and open. I long for the moments when my outer shell no longer matters. I hunger for every genuine tear of sorrow, joy, or understanding shared. When you can hear me for who I am, and see me in a way that doesn't involve looking at me, but rather looking through me, only then can I be satisfied."

It's touching, but might be a bit easier to look through her, as opposed to at her, if she tried to look just a little less sexy, and less naked. Her photo on the first page of her site kinda reminds me of Christina Aguilera's 2002 Rolling Stone cover:

Monday, March 31, 2008


Many artists impose on themselves a moral system. Banksy only mounts shows in "warehouses, war zones, or places full of live animals" - a gallant policy which I respect. Neckface, my second favorite graffitist, regards his art with an almost opposite mentality, a mentality I respect equally; he tags billboards, puts on shows in numerous galleries, and designs T-shirts and shoe lines. Neckface seems to transcend a self-fragmentation that often occurs when artists engage in different mediums - take Johnny Greenwood, for example, whose Radiohead songs are nothing like his film score to There Will Be Blood - everything blends together in one continuous mode of expression. One could easily critique the graffitist for an old-fashioned organicism, but I wouldn't go so far. I think he just figured out a provocative, transmutable style - that of a 'very naughty boy' - and stuck with it. He can operate on a very small scale (this is the coolest shoe I've ever seen):

And a very large one:

The basic hypocrisy of a graffiti artist's work appearing galleries is the negation of graffiti's power: to evade the canonizing, self-affirming museum culture. At the same time, if someone can do both quite well, I say what the hell. Interesting tidbit: it's rumored that Neckface's cousin is serial killer Richard Ramirez - perhaps why his imagery is pretty morbid. A few more great tags:

Delta (Boris Tellegen) is another fantastic graffitist/gallery artist. Based in the Netherlands, he combines an industrial design background with a polished aesthetic. Two of his outdoor examples: