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Getting to the Janet Cardiff installation at The Cloisters was like a modern-day quest for some kind of Holy Grail, which in the end seemed appropriate. After my phone died at the 191st St. subway stop—leaving me with no guide through the unfamiliar paths of Fort Tryon Park—and after circling the labyrinthine rooms and hallways that make up The Cloister’s architecture, I finally found The Forty Part Motet, Cardiff’s sound installation.
For the 11-minute score, Cardiff reworked the Tudor-era composition Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui (In No Other Is My Hope) (1573) by Thomas Tallis. The piece, originally intended for recital in churches and cathedrals, logically suits the religious iconography of The Cloisters, while also mirroring the compound’s collaged nature. Constructed in reference to no singular structure, the Cloisters function as an ensemble of many historical precedents. In the Fuentidueña Chapel, Catalan frescos of the Virgin and Child as well as the Adoration of the Magi cover the walls, and a life-size wooden crucifix hangs at the foot of the 12-century apse. The installation of The Forty Part Motet bridges both centuries and geographic borders.
I had a spectacular John Cage moment on an uptown A train recently.
You know about Cage moments, don’t you? We all have them, whether we think of them that way or not. They occur when happenstance kicks in, and surprising musical experiences take form, seemingly out of nowhere. They can happen anywhere at any time. This year, thanks to the Cage centenary, official Cage moments have been plentiful, with performers of all stripes — students at the Juilliard School; ensembles like So Percussion, Iktus Percussion and the pianist Taka Kigawa, and the Flux Quartet and friends — inducing them through spirited renditions of Cage’s music.
But the unofficial moments are the ones to wait for. My earlier favorite Cage moment occurred just over a year ago, when I sprained an ankle and had an M.R.I. The technicians warned me that I might find the noise annoying, but as it turned out, I couldn’t help focusing on the machine’s repeating rhythmic patterns, pitches and changing overtones. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although in truth I found the M.R.I.’s music closer to early Philip Glass than to Cage.
On the A train I wasn’t thinking about Cage at all. I had just heard an exquisitely turned, energetic performance of Schubert’s String Quintet in C at a church in Greenwich Village, and Cage could not have been further from my thoughts. Nor did the crowded subway car bring him to mind at first. But I noticed that it was unusually noisy.
Typically, most of the noise you hear comes from the subway itself: its din drowns out conversations, and people tend to stare at their feet, or at whatever they are reading, and listen to their portable music players. But this Tuesday evening just about all the people were talking, and working hard to drown out both the subway and the chats taking place around them.
I would normally have tuned all this out, but instead I sat back, closed my eyes and did what Cage so often recommended: I listened. I made no effort to separate the strands of conversation or to focus on what people were saying. I was simply grabbed by the sheer mass of sound, human and mechanical. It sounded intensely musical to me, noisy as it was, and once I began hearing it that way, I couldn’t stop.
New York Times
Which composer exerted the greatest influence on 20th-century American classical music? Thursday and Friday, Other Minds, a San Francisco-based organization dedicated to such music, will make the case for Henry Cowell.
Cowell, who died in 1965, was a prolific composer whose own music was eclipsed by the works of his students. Other Minds director Charles Amirkhanian discovered Cowell through the pioneering percussion music of the composer’s famous pupils John Cage and Lou Harrison. “I found that a lot of the experimentation on the West Coast emanated from him,” he said. “The more I looked at it, the more he seemed like a key figure who gave American music an original vision when it had none.”
Born in Menlo Park, Calif., in 1897, Cowell toured the world in the 1920s as a pianist, winning amazed reviews and publicity when he, for example, smashed rows of adjacent piano keys with a forearm or played directly on the piano strings and sound board. Such techniques added musical color and atmosphere, and “moved music away from the idea that every pitch of a chord should be heard, and toward masses of condensed sound being used for novel kinds of harmony,” Cowell scholar Joel Sachs explains. Cowell would have a profound impact on succeeding generations of American composers, most notably Cage, who won fame with his 1940s “prepared piano” pieces, which were inspired by Cowell’s experiments.
Wall Street Journal
Argentine folk singer Mercedes Sosa, who fought South America’s dictators with her voice and became a giant of contemporary Latin American music, died on Sunday at age 74, her family said in a statement…
Known affectionately as La Negra — ‘the Black One’ due to her dark hair and skin — Sosa was dubbed “the voice of the silent majority” for championing the poor and fighting for political freedom.
Her version of Violeta Parra’s “Gracias a la Vida” (“Thanks to Life”) became an anthem for leftists around the world in the 1970s and 1980s when she was forced into exile and her recordings were banned.
Keyboardist Jordan Rudess makes music with his iPod Touch’s help (Photo: Lance Iversen / The Chronicle)
After progressive metal band Dream Theater finished its hard-charging second song at the San Jose Civic Auditorium, the lights dimmed and three large monitors above the stage flashed to keyboardist Jordan Rudess’ fingers.
hey began sliding over the screen of a small black device, difficult to identify from the audience. The sounds that emerged fell somewhere between a slide guitar and a theremin, that standard eerie accompaniment when UFOs appear in movies, the pitch gliding up and down with his digits.
What Rudess was playing before 1,500 fans was the iPod Touch. Specifically, his fingers were artfully manipulating the sounds of Normalware’s Bebot application, which costs all of $1.99.
Among the tens of thousands of applications created for Apple Inc.’s iPod Touch and iPhone are more than 100 that transform the devices into music makers: synthesizers, guitars and drum machines that allow you to tap out rhythms and melodies, as well as trombones, flutes and ocarinas activated by blowing into the microphone.
Professional musicians are increasingly embracing the more sophisticated digital instruments, using them in live performances, DJ sets and recordings.
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2009/09/09/MN0419DGFS.DTL#ixzz0QkpuWKQq
Clearly, those of us in the business of presenting classical music cannot take any listeners for granted, and in fact should welcome any kind of listening. And I don’t say that because it is economically good for us (though I’ll admit that it is). I say it because any approach to listening means that the listener is at some level appreciative of the music, and most of us are in this business because we are proselytizers. We believe in this music. We believe in its transformative power, its ability to fundamentally reach human beings on a level way beyond words. And therefore any listener, however he or she approaches the music, is something we cherish.
However, it is also our job to make clear that there is much more to this music than lush, rich sounds. And yet much of our industry has encouraged the “just let it wash over us” approach–almost presenting it or talking about it as high-quality background music. Classical music radio in much of the United States is perhaps the prime casualty of this kind of thinking…
On the Record
There’s one big question you need to ask when presented with the technological enhancement of an art form: “Is it Smell-O-Vision?” Remember Smell-O-Vision? No? Well, that’s my point. This revolution in cinema was based on the idea that the experience would be more immersive if, say, a love scene was accompanied by the scent of roses being pumped through the theatre’s air-conditioning; or that when the zombies showed up, the theatre would be alive with rotting haddock. Everyone hated it, of course. They emerged from cinemas smelling of fishy roses.
Likewise, there was a time around the middle of the last century when the world was briefly convinced 3D was the future of cinema. Red and blue spectacles, it was imagined, would be routinely employed to watch a film. Flat projection would be a historical curio. In the event, of course, the 3D craze gave us the nadir of the Jaws franchise and a short-lived comic strip called Adolescent Radioactive Black-Belt Hamsters.
Which brings us to Enhanced Editions, a new e-book project cooked up by Peter Collingridge of the digital design company Apt Studio, currently working in partnership with Canongate. Later this month, Nick Cave’s new novel The Death of Bunny Munro – the story of a sex-maniac travelling salesman taking his last road trip – goes to market through the iPhone App Store, in an enhanced edition that is being launched before the print version.
The Enhanced Edition does some of the things we’re now accustomed to seeing as standard in electronic texts: you can faff with fonts, change colour, bookmark it, and so on; and there’s some smart social networking stuff attached. But it also includes enhancements that could have a noticeable effect on the experience of reading. Instead of paginating the book conventionally, it’s presented as a continuous vertical scroll (one geek-pleasing trick is that you can adjust the scrolling speed with the angle of tilt of the phone), and the App includes an audiobook that syncs with the written text. Pop on the headphones, thumb the screen and Cave’s voice picks up where you left off.
This is interesting. It could be regarded as a gimmick, but if it catches on, it will subtly change the way we experience fiction. If you half-read, half-listen to a book, your experience of reading will partly be shaped by the voice of the audiobook; your memories of the text will be coloured by how you took it in, passage by passage. The other thing is that it comes with a soundtrack, composed by Cave and Warren Ellis, one of his Bad Seeds. Soundtracked novels: now that really will change the experience. Could the soundtracked novel be to fiction what song is to verse? Or could it be what Smell-O-Vision was to cinema? Inevitably, some authors – like Cave – will be more suitable for the treatment than others. I can’t see a huge market for an iPhone edition of Hotel du Lac, with Anita Brookner improvising scat jazz accompanied by a steel band.
So, some whiffs of roses and haddock. But the breadth of the package, it seems to me, is at the very least a weathervane. There’s no ignoring the fact that the e-book will, not too far from now, compete with the paperback; and the likelihood is that some readers won’t just use them to read. It’s a longstanding truism to say that every reader reads a different book. As more packages like this find their way to market, the book itself, as well as its readings, will become more plural, more blurred, and less monolithically booky. Smells good to me.
Jean-Guihen Queyras plays one of Bach’s cello suites at a specially designed space at the Manchester Art Gallery (Duncan Elliott)
A rewarding experiment in creating an ideal space to hear some of Bach’s most intimate music — the solo suites for piano, for cello and for violin — is taking place here at the Manchester International Festival. Zaha Hadid Architects was commissioned by the festival to take a top-floor exhibition room at the Manchester Art Gallery and turn what is basically a big black box into an acoustically and visually perfect place for performances of the Bach works.
When the festival opened on July 3 (before I arrived), the Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski played three programs offering three solo keyboard suites. On Saturday night, for the second installment in this series, I heard the elegant French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras play four of Bach’s six solo cello suites in this specially conceived environment.
Working with Sandy Brown Associates, an acoustical company, the team from Zaha Hadid has temporarily created a space within a space. Like an enormous, puffy ribbon, a long span of translucent off-white fabric with an inner metal skeleton twirls down from the ceiling in expanding circles, until it nearly surrounds the low platform stage and the seating area for some 200 listeners. The fabric, which undulates against the metal frame, both absorbs and deflects the sound. Clear acrylic acoustical panels, blended seamlessly into the overall design, hover over the stage area to further diffuse the sound.
Sitting in the enclosure was like hearing music from inside a supersize conical seashell. Between the gaps in the ribbon you could see the black gallery walls, so the effect was to create a sort of safe listening enclave within a much larger room.
In a program note Zaha Hadid, founding partner of the firm that bears her name, writes that she and her associates tried to articulate the “rhythmic and harmonic range” that Bach achieved “within the mathematical framework” of his music by exploring “a coherent integration of formal and structural logic.” I will have to take her word on this. All I know is that the space was a delight to be in and that the music sounded up-close and exceptionally vibrant.
New York Times
Theatre of miseries … Anselm Kiefer on stage with the cast. Photograph: Charles Duprat/Opera National de Paris
The 20th anniversary of the Opéra Bastille in Paris is marked by a spectacle of ruins: dust, more dust and the tottering towers of a city in a grey desert. In the Beginning, which premiered earlier this week, is directed and devised by the artist Anselm Kiefer, working in collaboration with the composer and clarinetist Jörg Widmann.
The music rustles like dry leaves, rattles like a bag of bones. There are parched yelps, like jackals among the ruins, and crescendos and musical crises that seem to interrupt nothing at all. The atmosphere is restrained, yet full of portent. There is no singing, only declamatory recitations from the Bible, the occasional muffled wail, some low-key humming. Verses from Isaiah and Jeremiah are spoken by a disembodied voice, as if one were hearing in one’s head. It is hard to tell if the recitations are being spoken by Lilith, the first wife of Adam, played by Geneviève Motard, or by Shekhinah, Geneviève Boivin, who Kiefer uses as a representation of the wandering holy people of the diaspora.
The words hang in the air, along with the dust. There is no plot, only lamentation after lamentation. “Even the carcasses of men shall fall as refuse on the open field, like cuttings after the harvester, and no one shall gather them,” a voice says. There are images of broken vessels, of a world in ruins, of rivers turned foul, and of things that cannot be made whole again. These are desolate, homeless prophecies that might make men stop up their ears and drive them mad. As Kiefer wrote to Widmann when they were preparing this theatre of miseries, a letter that appears in the book accompanying the work, “everything has already occurred at the beginning, because the beginning is the end”. In the Beginning feels like the end of the world.
“I am against the idea of the end, that everything culminates in paradise or judgement,” Kiefer told me when we met in his studio in Le Marais the morning after the premiere. “The communists in East Germany also thought history would one day come to an end.” History is cyclical, he suggests, “but we need some illusions to survive”. He is planning a move to Portugal, where he can work with the sea on one side, a dying forest on the other. “It’s the kind of situation that interests me,” he says.
Born in 1945 and brought up a Catholic, Kiefer has never been afraid of big subjects or complex allusions. He has plenty of serious discussions when he’s at work, he says, most of them with dead poets – many of whose words find their way into his paintings – Friedrich Hölderlin, Paul Celan, Goethe. “I ask them what they think of what I’m doing. Mostly it’s not very complimentary,” he laughs.
If the prospect of a single company mounting a Guns n’ Madonna tour worries you, it also concerns some in the business. Via e-mail, Tom Morello, the guitarist in Rage Against the Machine, told me that a Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger could have huge consequences.
“Fewer and fewer gatekeepers mean fewer choices and higher prices for fans,” he wrote. “One huge monolith means no choice at all. Fans and artists must develop some organized counterweight quickly or resign themselves to their fate.”
A pretty grim forecast. Then on Thursday, a new CD by Jill Sobule arrived in the mail. “The California Years, Vol. 1” is a wonderful record, but the back story is just as good and a reminder that in among the giants, new models are emerging.
Ms. Sobule is a Denver native, a singer-songwriter who has been in the business for more than two decades and is probably best known for her 1995 song, “I Kissed a Girl.” In that time, she has been signed and dropped by two major labels and had two independent labels sign her, then go belly up.
Reluctant to go the label route again, she posted a question in a blog on allthingsd.com, the digital technology site owned by Dow Jones:
“How do I pay the rent?”
After listening to her fans, she came up with an updated version of the Medici model. To raise the $75,000 she needed for an album, she set up a Web site — jillsnextrecord.com — in which her fans would serve as patrons for her next record in return for various rewards.
Ten bucks earned them a digital download of the record, $50 an advance copy and a thank you in the liner notes, while $1,000 got them a personalized theme song written by the artist. Three people who paid $5,000 had Ms. Sobule play at their house. The person who gave $10,000 sang on the record.
If it sounds cheesy, like a virtual Tupperware party, consider that the record was produced by Don Was, who has produced Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. The sessions, recorded in Hollywood at Henson Recording Studios, were available for streaming and comment on Ms. Sobule’s Web site before she chose the final songs. (One listener’s verdict? More cowbell, please.)
Reached at the TED conference (Technology, Education, Design) in Palm Springs — Ms. Sobule is that rare plugged-in folkie — she said her version of digital busking had real benefits.
“I have never received a single cent on a record that I have ever made,” she said, because sales never seemed to pay back the money she owed for an advance. “With all of this talk of new models and all of these big companies like Clear Channel and Live Nation trying to figure out a way to make a buck, this is one thing that makes sense for an artist like me. I have a small group of fans, but they are mighty.”
Ms. Sobule said that while the top of the business is busy finding ways to own more and more of what seems to be a shrinking pie, artists like her were tunneling their way to a direct route with their public. In a sense, the diminution in value of the CD has allowed musicians to re-examine what a contract with a label or a promoter really means.
A year ago, Ms. Sobule sold thumb drives to people at her shows and gave them a password so that within a week, they could download a version of the live show. “The people who come to your shows are going to want to share an experience, to have something to remember, and it just makes sense that you give them that kind of opportunity.”
Ms. Sobule is less the tech evangelist than a working musician who likes what she does. Jillsnextrecord.com is not always as earnest as it sounds: It offered a $500 “Gold” level of donation in which your name was to be sung at the end of the record, but also a cheeky “Gold Doubloons Level”: “Exactly like the gold level, but you give me more money.”
“I am never going to be a top 10, MTV person at this stage of my career, but this approach allowed me to make a record that I am proud of and I don’t owe anybody,” she said, and then corrected herself. “I still owe about 10 people theme songs.”
New York Times