Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Dark of Blues

Blues music has always been understood to be a genre that does not strive for perfection in any of its elements. However, a more true statement would be that in the artists’ attempt to convey their angst and humanity, they explore and expand on the imperfections and homely nature of their position. There is no need for wide sweeping and lofty statements about the human condition as they themselves are the case, the example. The virtuosity is twisted by untuned instruments and a heavy handed approach that resembles the chopping of wood but what results is a stark truthfulness that only comes from strength of manhood. Whether it is a drum that refuses to lock up with the guitar, a raspy moan of a voice, sporadic clapping to a nonexistent pulse or the sound of a guitar as an atonal cacophony, there exists a stoic attitude at the core. In its darkness, blues music provides an exposed look into our humanity.

Let’s Get Together and Be Alright

 

Within the institution of the University there exists a very complex and changing attitude that attempts to deal with the relation between musical complexity/intellectualism and visceral displays of self. How does the notion of songwriting compare to the discipline of art music or contemporary composition? Quite simply, songwriting is a community activity in that its necessity lies in the very direct and tangible affect it has on the group. The expression that it deals in can be very abstract or focused on daily activity, but its purpose is always towards personal and group connection. In contrast, the symphony, the string quartet, the improvisational medium, etc. are ultimately a group of disciplines meant for self exploration. Their welcome is reserved for those who pursue it and their concentration on the various mechanisms of form creates an environment that easily distracts the young student from more tangible and popular forms of music, leading to nothing more than a sort of fiddling with the tools of the musical trade.

To put it plainly, the “classical arts” are an idiom which requires a very extensive repertoire and high level of technical ability before the performer’s artistry is spoken through the compositional medium in which they are performing. The same could be said of traditional jazz. The university is not an inherently creative structure and has no active place in the developing arts but to inform new musicians through the teaching of structured and studied idioms. At its greatest height the college atmosphere provides advanced tools, and through personal inspiration of the professors and student atmosphere, encourages creativity while simultaneously being critical of new formats. In its starkest and most true form the conservatory is comparable to a fancy tree house that instructs “Keep Out. Prodigies Only.” It is in fact this very attitude that great musicians and champions of the “Classical” genre, such as Glenn Gould, have rejected. It is an attitude which rejects community and supports notions of hierarchy and structure while boasting traditionalism over experimentalism.

With a popular consumerist music culture built off of the entertainment/beauty industry, the strongholds of music’s advanced studies are rather expected to turn their nose up to less lofty expressions. So the question must be asked, “where is the potential of music most rightly pointed if not towards entertainment or towards academic study?” Well, it would be foolish to completely reject popularism and academia due to the necessity of their opposing extremes. Though, they must be seen as blocks in the construction of something most important to our global experience: community. With the correct application of entertainment and intellectualism we serve to synthesize their  strengths while curbing the great weakness of both extremes: ego.

Yesterday You Said Tomorrow

Recently, within the past week, I decided to dive into an album which I had little experience with. Although I’ve watched a couple Christian Scott interviews and a handful of his performances on youtube, I really hadn’t sat down to explore either of the two albums I have from him sitting on my desktop. Lingering on campus with a coffee and an open feeling, the one song that I knew him for, “Isadora,” came onto my headphones. So, starting from the beginning I jumped into Scott’s second latest album, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow. Now, usually I tend to muse on the importance of modern jazz and its turn towards fusion styling as a crucial step in the survival of it as a growing artform; especially, in relation to the traditionalist view of jazz held by many academics. However, I’ll skip that discourse and go straight into the importance of the record as its own important piece of art. While Christian Scott has displayed heavy use of fusion elements (funk, rock, distorted guitars) in previous recordings, this album is refreshingly introspective. That is not to say that it lacks accessibility, but that it is warmly personal. There is so much space on this album that it practically invites the listener into the room, and the whispering quality of Christian’s horn is a detailed contrast to the live and brooding sound of the rhythm section. What is important is that the emotion that comes from listening to it feels truly crucial to the current moment. There is no struggle or any amount of work necessary to fall into the lines of their music, but yet, you appreciate everything these guys say because it truly means something. Starting with the epic and frantic K.K.P.D. and moving to the inspiring and contemplative “The Eraser,” they let you listener know that you’re listening to something special. Moving onto “Isadora” and “Angola, LA & the 13th Amendment,” they bring the perspective even deeper, exploring something profoundly personal and moving. Nearing the end of the album, you’ll encounter one of the more outwardly driving songs “Jenacide.” In all truthfulness, the last couple of songs on the record aren’t the strongest but they do hold something special, so I hope that these tunes eventually start to bloom for me. Overall, this album has the ability to have a large impact on anyone who gives it sincere attention.The emotion is as rich and complex as the delta blues but with a sound/aesthetic that is vastly exploratory and unique. Pick this album up and take some time with it.

 

Bon Voyage Voyager 1

Voyager 1

Voyager 1

In honor of NASA’s Voyager I leaving our local little region of the Milky Way, you may know it as our solar system, I thought it would be apropos to lend our Earthbound ears to the Earthly sounds chosen to be placed on the real, and actual gold record(s) (designed by astrophysicist Carl Sagan) which Voyager(s) carries with it, now into interstellar space. I vaguely remember when the Voyager crafts (there are two) were launched in 1977 – an interesting little tid bit, Voyager I was launched after Voyager II – and their primary mission was to conduct close flybys of the gas giants that lay at the outer bounds of our solar system, and both of these spacecraft provided a veritable, and venerable, wealth of information on these ginormous planets that are still full of mystery to scientists. Following the completion of the primary mission(s), it was then off to the even greater unknown – interstellar space – and then each of these spacecraft will continue to broadcast their findings back to Earth, until their plutonium fuel is finally diminished (in about 10-15 years) at which point they will simply become drifting pieces of Earthly information; thus the gold records and the recordings on them. Without further ado, here are the recordings that are on board the Voyager spacecraft, may whoever finds either, or both, come in peace.

Voyager Golden Record

Voyager Golden Record

Scenes From Earth

Greetings From Earth

Sounds of Earth

»  Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F. First Movement, Munich Bach Orchestra, Karl Richter, conductor. 4:40
»  Java, court gamelan, “Kinds of Flowers,” recorded by Robert Brown. 4:43
»  Senegal, percussion, recorded by Charles Duvelle. 2:08
»  Zaire, Pygmy girls’ initiation song, recorded by Colin Turnbull. 0:56
»  Australia, Aborigine songs, “Morning Star” and “Devil Bird,” recorded by Sandra LeBrun Holmes. 1:26
»  Mexico, “El Cascabel,” performed by Lorenzo Barcelata and the Mariachi México. 3:14
»  “Johnny B. Goode,” written and performed by Chuck Berry. 2:38
»  New Guinea, men’s house song, recorded by Robert MacLennan. 1:20
»  Japan, shakuhachi, “Tsuru No Sugomori” (“Crane’s Nest,”) performed by Goro Yamaguchi. 4:51
»  Bach, “Gavotte en rondeaux” from the Partita No. 3 in E major for Violin, performed by Arthur Grumiaux. 2:55
»  Mozart, The Magic Flute, Queen of the Night aria, no. 14. Edda Moser, soprano. Bavarian State Opera, Munich, Wolfgang Sawallisch, conductor. 2:55
»  Georgian S.S.R., chorus, “Tchakrulo,” collected by Radio Moscow. 2:18
»  Peru, panpipes and drum, collected by Casa de la Cultura, Lima. 0:52
»  “Melancholy Blues,” performed by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven. 3:05
»  Azerbaijan S.S.R., bagpipes, recorded by Radio Moscow. 2:30
»  Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance, Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Igor Stravinsky, conductor. 4:35
»  Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Prelude and Fugue in C, No.1. Glenn Gould, piano. 4:48
»  Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, First Movement, the Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, conductor. 7:20
»  Bulgaria, “Izlel je Delyo Hagdutin,” sung by Valya Balkanska. 4:59
»  Navajo Indians, Night Chant, recorded by Willard Rhodes. 0:57
»  Holborne, Paueans, Galliards, Almains and Other Short Aeirs, “The Fairie Round,” performed by David Munrow and the Early        Music Consort of London. 1:17
»  Solomon Islands, panpipes, collected by the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Service. 1:12
»  Peru, wedding song, recorded by John Cohen. 0:38
»  China, ch’in, “Flowing Streams,” performed by Kuan P’ing-hu. 7:37
»  India, raga, “Jaat Kahan Ho,” sung by Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar. 3:30
»  “Dark Was the Night,” written and performed by Blind Willie Johnson. 3:15
»  Beethoven, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat, Opus 130, Cavatina, performed by Budapest String Quartet. 6:37

Okay, just as I was getting ready to click the publish button I find out that NASA’s Voyager Science Team has declared that Voyager I has not yet left the solar system, but it is still the farthest man made object from Earth, and is hurdling farther away at an approximate speed of over 38,000 MPH, so it is just a matter of time and distance before it crosses wherever that arbitrary and ambiguous demarcation line between interstellar space, and our solar system.  Bon Voyage Voyager I…

Julian Lage. The Young Master.

If you read and watched my last post “The Young Virtuosos of Modern Folk” you may have already had a burning urge to do more research on Julian Lage, the folk jazz prodigy who racked up a grammy nomination with his debut album, Sounding Point.

If not, well… you should get on that.

 

The modern jazz scene is something which is on fire at the moment. Unfortunately, its a highly contained fire burning a scorching blue in NYC and practically no where else; not to mention it may be hot but not very bright. Julian Lage, however, is not only bringing the music in a new direction but the aesthetic as well. He isn’t simply a case of the mega virtuoso prodigy. He has his own style, sound, and feel. While the young lions of todays jazz scene are busy tearing up NYC’s jam sessions and putting out albums of hyper modern intellectualism, Julian has brought it back home with a unique folk music aesthetic that embraces the complete acoustic sound of early jazz while making it totally personal. He incorporates sax and upright bass as well as south american percussion and cello. There are elements of classical, bluegrass, and modern jazz harmony/improvisation. The absolute refreshing nature of Julian’s music comes from his relaxed attitude about not having to sound like any one thing. You just get the feeling that you are listening to some good music; no stretching of expectations based on genre. His virtuosity is at such a high level that it doesn’t simply stop with outward shows of fast lines, but is mostly displayed in his very mature use of dynamics and other subtleties. Through his amazing musicality, compositions, and calm natured sound he attracts an audience that isn’t just made up of young college students; there is really something for everybody.

 

 

Here is a clip from a documentary about him at a very young age. It provides an interesting look at his abilities at the age of just 8 years old.

Forget Rock and Roll; the Blues Will Never Die

I think that most everyone already knows that Rock and Roll music is deeply tied to the blues; and I’ve always been partial to blues music.  I love the emotion that is often conveyed through both the lyrics, and the music – typically driven by the guitar.  I have mentioned before that some of my favorite songs, by one of my favorite bands (Led Zeppelin) were their blues songs and covers.  In fact many of the early rock acts of the British Invasion, were deeply inspired by the blues, and though it may seem hard to believe (based on the music they’re known for), but Pink Floyd’s name is a mash-up of two early blues artists, Pink Anderson (1900-1973) and Floyd Council (1911-1976), because they were heavily influenced by, and were a blues act, prior to their success.  Some of those early bluesmen and their music continue to influence and inspire today, damn near 100 years after they were first heard/recorded.  I believe that is what can be called staying power.  As an example are some songs (Well two actually – maybe three) by early bluesman Huddie William Ledbetter, more commonly known as Lead Belly (1888 – 1949), and their modern cover versions, and mash-ups:

“Where Did You Sleep Last Night” (*Original* Version circa 1940’s):

“My Girl (Where Did you Sleep Last Night)” (Nirvana Cover):

“Black Girl (Where Did You Sleep Last Night)” (Ben Gesserit Remix):

And just because I kind of like this version – “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” (Lead Belly cover, on the piano):

“Black Betty” (Original Version, circa 1933-39):

“Black Betty” (Ram Jam (1977), cover version):

“Woah Black Betty 2012” (DJ Sliink, version):

“Black Betty” (Monophonique, remix version):

“Black Betty” (Laurie Kaye, acoustic cover version):

And that is just two songs from Lead Belly, there are countless other songs by a number of other bluesmen that have been covered by various other artists, and will more than likely be covered by many more artists.

 

*”Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” is believed to be a song dating back to the 1870’s, Lead Belly is believed to be the first to record it in the 1940’s.

Oh, I said there might be three songs, so I guess I better deliver. Below is Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” followed by Led Zeppelin’s version:

The Young Virtuosos of Modern Folk

Each of the artists featured on this post most certainly deserve their own set of posts and introductions. But for now the point is to focus simply on the amazing musicianship exhibited by mandolinist Chris Thile and guitarist Julian Lage. Although their styles and backgrounds are somewhat divergent, they hold a common ground in the practice of acoustic folk music. In each of their performances one can see wide spread elements from Bach to modern jazz harmony built off of the simple structures of American standards or traditional Irish reels. The level of skill that each musician displays is at such a high level that even in the presence of other successful prodigies, they stand out as “top dog.” Sometimes its hard to watch a display of such overwhelming talent but you may just have to sit back and bare it because often its just too hard to look away.

Chris Thile

Julian Lage is the guitarist on the right who plays the melody. The other amazing guitarist is Armand Hirsch with the lighter guitar.

Kiss

KissKiss, one of the biggest band’s of the 1970’s, and arguably one of the biggest bands ever, has always been a bit of an enigma to me.  I bring this up because I heard a Kiss song on Ozzy’s Boneyard, an XM radio station, last night on my way home from a night class that I am taking, and it just got me thinking a bit about these monsters of rock.

Like I said, Kiss was absolutely huge in the 1970’s, I mean think about this for a second, this band had their own lunchboxes, dolls, pinball machines, and countless other knick-knacks, and no other huge band of that era appeared to have such strong merchandising – not Led Zeppelin, not the Beatles (though the Beatles weren’t exactly of that era), not Black Sabbath, not AC/DC, none of them.  In fact, it could be argued, that such a strong merchandising blitz wasn’t seen of a similar magnitude until the advent of the whole New Kids on the Block, and the subsequent ad nauseam, mass produced, Disney, Pop acts that continue to this day.  I’m not saying that the merchandising is a bad thing, quite the contrary, however the merchandising is a part of what has made Kiss kind of enigmatic to me; which I will now try and explain.

It was the late 1970’s, and I was in first grade, this is when I saw my first Kiss lunchbox.  So, here’s this 6-7 years old little boy, with his plastic Peanuts lunchbox, and across the lunchroom is a kid sitting there with a metal lunchbox covered with these guys with their faces painted in kind of a sinister (for the era) like fashion, dressed in a kind of sinister (for the era) fashion, and, when I was told that they were a rock band, I thought something to the effect that they must be pretty dangerous.  That thought stuck with me for years.  As my familiarity of music grew, there was one constant that stuck with me, Kiss must be dangerous, hard, heavy; as such, I thought there would be no way I would like their music (remember this was back in the day when many rock and roll bands [including Kiss] were considered to be satanic) so I never actively sought to hear anything by them.  I mean if you simply based Kiss upon their appearance, they looked like the 1970’s version of what Slipknot looks like today; but that’s the end of the similarities between those two bands.

Fast forward to the 6th grade, I am now 12/13 years old, it is now the mid 1980’s, and I am a fan of Van Halen, Quiet Riot, Billy Idol, with a burgeoning interest in the now disbanded Led Zeppelin, somewhat heavier music for sure, it was also the era when MTV actually played music videos, and Kiss premiered their new look, sans face paint, also sans original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, with the titular track of their new look/new line-up album, Lick it Up:

With some anticipation, I watched that video, not quite knowing what to expect – again because I thought Kiss must be some hard rock band, based simply upon that very early impression their look made on me – and when I heard “Lick it Up,” I thought, “What, that’s it?  What the hell have I been thinking all these years?”

As I got older, and heard more and more Kiss songs, particularly the songs from their 1970’s hey day, songs like “Detroit Rock City,” “I Love it Loud, “I Was Made For Loving You,” and of course “I Wanna Rock & Roll All Night,” I simply found that their sound belies their look, which is where my enigmatic view of this hugely successful band took root.  Here’s a band that, I thought, looked like they must be the hardest, heaviest, and most dangerous band of their day, and well, quite honestly they weren’t even close to being that.      In a bit of irony though, as I deliberately steered clear of Kiss because of my mistaken impression of them, I became a fan in some fashion or another of bands that were/are decidedly heavier, harder, and maybe even more dangerous than Kiss.  Bands like Motley Crue (particularly their album “Shout at the Devil”), AC/DC (contemporaries of Kiss), Black Sabbath, Metallica, Guns ‘N Roses, Korn, Pantera, Anthrax, and of course, one of my all time favorites, Led Zeppelin (whose sound is tame by today’s standards too).

There is no real point here, other than (I suppose) don’t judge a book by its cover.  I am not saying Kiss isn’t/wasn’t good; their record sales, concert sell-outs, and massive merchandising sales would show that, if I were to dare make such an argument (which I am not), I would definitely be in the minority of such an opinion.  To me, and this is just my opinion here, Kiss’ music is feel good, party rock, plain and simple; which definitely isn’t a bad thing whatsoever.  There’s no pretense in their music, no attempt to make some deep and profound statement, Kiss just wants us to “rock and roll all night, and party everyday;” they just looked like they might have wanted more.

 

3D Audio?

In the study of audio engineering/mixing and psychoacoustics, the stereo image that is created by two correctly positioned monitors is already “3D,” and most mix engineers understand how to place a sound source at various distances in relation to the listener by manipulating reverberation, timbrel detail, and amplitude level. This is no different with Surround Sound except that the listener is inside of the sound field rather than a spectator receiving sound queues from loudspeakers only in the front.

What Edgar Choueiri, the professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University, is actually doing is trying to make the 3D phantom image more detailed (less blurred and smudged by crosstalk), and in some cases, as with the “fly” example, he replicates a surround sound environment. Unfortunately, the video does not attempt to explain much of the science behind crosstalk cancellation. This is because the science is difficult… However, the basic idea is that through analysis of how each ear receives crosstalk, audio filters are implemented to create artificial crosstalk in order to cancel out the real thing. From what I’ve read, there are various methods for creating these filters but the basic idea still holds.

The one problem with this type of recording is that it is essentially an illusion that attempts to make loudspeakers into headphones by restricting the right ear to hear only what is coming from the right speaker (same for left). What you’ll notice when listening to the examples from the video (on actual monitors instead of laptop speakers) is that it feels like there is a wall in the center of your face and this can be slightly disconcerting. It makes it slightly restrictive for creative applications, as well (especially when considering miking techniques). In reality, sound sources don’t choose to affect only one ear, so crosstalk cancellation is an unnatural illusion that actually, in my opinion, draws unnecessary attention to the loudspeakers rather than the material coming from them.

Though, it is such a new technique that it may take some time to get used to as it starts to enter the mainstream.

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