Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Air guitarists’ rock dreams come true

Air guitarists’ rock dreams come true

* 18:02 28 November 2005
* NewScientist.com news service
* Will Knight

Computer vision software recognises a player’s hands and adds riffs and fret board tricks to match (Image: Helsinki University of Technology)

The Virtual Air Guitar project gives wannabe guitarists the chance to rock out (Image: Helsinki University of Technology)

Aspiring rock gods can at last create their own guitar solos - without ever having to pick up a real instrument, thanks to a group of Finnish computer science students.

The Virtual Air Guitar project, developed at the Helsinki University of Technology, adds genuine electric guitar sounds to the passionately played air guitar.

Using a computer to monitor the hand movements of a "player", the system adds riffs and licks to match frantic mid-air finger work. By responding instantly to a wide variety of gestures it promises to turn even the least musically gifted air guitarist to a virtual fret board virtuoso.

Aki Kanerva, Juha Laitinen and Teemu Mäki-Patola came up with the idea after being invited to develop a virtual instrument as part of their coursework. "The first thing that came to mind was an air guitar," Kanerva told New Scientist.

The resulting system consists of a video camera and a computer hooked up to an appropriately loud set of speakers.

A player then needs only to don a pair of brightly coloured gloves in order to rock out. Computer vision software automatically keeps track of their hands and detects different gestures, as a video of the system in action demonstrates (22MB, requires Windows Media Player and DivX codec for the visual aspect of the footage).
Frenetic strumming

The Finnish team created a library of guitar sounds based around the pentatonic minor scale – a progression commonly used for rock guitar solos – in order to create the right sound for their virtual instrument.

As a player moves their left hand along the neck of their virtual guitar, the computer will run through the scale. Holding it one place while strumming frenetically produces fret board tricks such as hammer-ons – where slapping a finger onto an already vibrating string produces a higher note – and blues bends, which give a distinctive rock twang. And a floor pedal can also be used to switch the system into mode that plays several different chords.

Kanerva says players can easily create unique air guitar style. "No two playing experiences are quite the same," he says. "When you're playing really hard you get a really nasty distortion sound which is great – but you have to work for it."

The project is currently being demonstrated at the Heureka Science Centre in Finland where it has been played more than 5000 times over the last month, Kanerva says. As a follow-up, the researchers are working on a version that will be compatible with a normal webcam and computer, thus giving wannabe rock stars the opportunity to practise their art in the privacy of their bedroom.

For Kanerva, who had to research different guitar playing tricks, the project has had another benefit. "I wasn't a guitarist before I started the project," he says. "But I am now."


Not-so-Petty cash
to rock bat mitzvah


Steve Tyler and the evening's host, businessman David Brooks, Tom Petty (above) and 50 Cent
History will forever record Elizabeth Brooks' bat mitzvah as "Mitzvahpalooza."

For his daughter's coming-of-age celebration last weekend, multimillionaire Long Island defense contractor David H. Brooks booked two floors of the Rainbow Room, hauled in concert-ready equipment, built a stage, installed special carpeting, outfitted the space with Jumbotrons and arranged command performances by everyone from 50 Cent to Tom Petty to Aerosmith.

I hear it was garish display of rock 'n' roll idol worship for which the famously irascible CEO of DHB Industries, a Westbury-based manufacturer of bulletproof vests, sent his company jet to retrieve Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry from their Saturday gig in Pittsburgh.

I'm also told that in honor of Aerosmith (and the $2 million fee I hear he paid for their appearance), the 50-year-old Brooks changed from a black-leather, metal-studded suit - accessorized with biker-chic necklace chains and diamonds from Chrome Hearts jewelers - into a hot-pink suede version of the same lovely outfit.

The party cost an estimated $10 million, including the price of corporate jets to ferry the performers to and from. Also on the bill were The Eagles' Don Henley and Joe Walsh performing with Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks; DJ AM (Nicole Richie's fiance); rap diva Ciara and, sadly perhaps (except that he received an estimated $250,000 for the job), Kenny G blowing on his soprano sax as more than 300 guests strolled and chatted into their pre-dinner cocktails.

"Hey, that guy looks like Kenny G," a disbelieving grownup was overheard remarking - though the 150 kids in attendance seemed more impressed by their $1,000 gift bags, complete with digital cameras and the latest video iPod.

For his estimated $500,000, I hear that 50 Cent performed only four or five songs - and badly - though he did manage to work in the lyric, "Go shorty, it's your bat miztvah, we gonna party like it's your bat mitzvah."

At one point, I'm told, one of Fitty's beefy bodyguards blocked shots of his boss performing and batted down the kids' cameras, shouting "No pictures! No pictures!" - even preventing Brooks' personal videographers and photographers from capturing 50 Cent's bat-miztvah moment.

"Fitty and his posse smelled like an open bottle of Hennessy," a witness told told me, adding that when the departing rapper prepared to enter his limo in the loading dock, a naked woman was spotted inside.

I'm told that Petty's performance - on acoustic guitar - was fabulous, as was the 45-minute set by Perry and Tyler, who was virtuosic on drums when they took the stage at 2:45 a.m. Sunday.

Henley, I hear, was grumpy at the realization that he'd agreed to play a kids' party.

I'm told that at one point Brooks leapt on the stage with Tyler and Perry, who responded with good grace when their paymaster demanded that his teenage nephew be permitted to sit in on drums. At another point, I'm told, Tyler theatrically wiped sweat off Brooks' forehead - and then dried his hand with a flourish.

Yesterday, Brooks disputed many details provided to me by Lowdown spies at the affair and by other informed sources, scrawling on a fax to me: "All dollar figures vastly exaggerated."

He added: "This was a private event and we do not wish to comment on details of the party."

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Don't believe the hype -- rap anger isn't a meaningful message

LA Times
November 27, 2005

Don't believe the hype -- rap anger isn't a meaningful message
By John McWhorter

Word on the street is that hip-hop is a message, the black CNN. Anyone who questions that winds up at the bottom of a verbal dog pile. Such traitors, we're told, just don't listen to enough of the music — that, in particular, the work of "conscious" rappers would change their minds.

Please. One can take a good dose of Talib Kweli, Common, Mos Def and Kanye "Bush doesn't care about black people" West and still see nothing that resembles any kind of "message" that people truly committed to forging change would recognize. Hip-hop, "conscious" or not, is music, and that's it.

For one thing, a lot of the "conscious" work sounds as much like street fighting as the gangsta stuff — an upturned middle finger set to a beat. Yes, Mos Def and Talib Kweli decorate their raps with calls to stop smoking and drinking, starry-eyed timeouts when they sing the praises of their baby daughters and vague calls for black Americans to look sharp. But there's a decent amount of that even in so-called gangsta rap, such as Tupac Shakur's chronicle of the vicious cycle of urban poverty in "Papa'z Gong," or Nas' hope that he will be able to redeem his past through his child in "The World Is Yours."

Meanwhile, Kweli tells us that when he's at the mike "you get hit like a deer standin' still in the light" and how in one competition he "smacked them in they face with a metaphor."

OK, he means it in the abstract. But why so violent? Why, exactly, must "consciousness" so often sound like a street fight? The "conscious" rappers just relocate 50 Cent's cops-and-robbers battle from the street to the slam contest.

I know: "Politics" means questioning authority. But street battle is not the only metaphor for civil rights activism. Since the '60s, millions of black people have achieved middle-class or even affluent status, founded businesses and attained higher degrees in this country, and very few of them did so by smacking somebody, literally or in the abstract.

It's true that violence is a matter of atmosphere in the "conscious" work. But I have a hard time gleaning exactly what the "message" is beyond, roughly, "wake up" — which does not qualify as constructive counsel in times as complex as ours.

Take Kweli again, in "The Proud." The "message": Blacks are worn down by oppression, the cops are corrupt thugs who either killed Tupac or know who did, and "we survive." But how we get beyond that is, apparently, beside the point.

Mos Def's "Mr. Nigga" first shows us the improper black thug we all could do without, but then argues that whites see all blacks the same way many blacks see the thug. It's a great piece in the formal sense. But how many people's "consciousnesses" in our moment are unaware that racist bias still exists? How does saying it for the nth time teach anyone how to make the best of themselves despite reality's imperfections? Or Kanye West's famous "Jesus Walks" cut is less "inspirational" than catchy. It's about Jesus; that's nice. But one more announcement that black America is in a "war" against racism inspires, well, nothing, nor do other bonbons West gives us on "College Dropout," such as the notion that crack makes white men rich or that blacks are only placed in high positions as window dressing.

Maybe these "conscious" lyrics are better than gangsta raps about tying women to beds and shooting them dead. But the politics are a typical brand of self-perpetuating, unfocused leftism. It sounds good set to a narcotic beat full of exciting cut-ins, but it offers nothing to the struggling black woman with children trying to make the best of things after her welfare time limit runs out.

Yes, her. In 1991, Tupac's "Brenda's Got a Baby" told about a single mom who tries to throw her daughter in the trash, turns to prostitution and is murdered. Many Brendas at that time went on welfare only to find that in 1996 it was limited to a five-year cap. So, these days, "Brenda's Just Off Welfare" and is one of the working poor. How about "consciously" rapping — a lot — about the difficulties Brenda faces today.

We do not look to raps for detailed procedural prescriptives, like government reports on how to improve school test scores. But there are places raps could easily go, still blazing with poetic fireworks. What about the black men coming out of jail and trying to find their way after long sentences in the wake of the crack culture 15 years ago? There would be a "message" beyond the usual one simply deploring that the men are in jail in the first place.

Why do "conscious" rappers have so little interest in the political issues that directly affect poor black people's lives? Could it be because those issues do not usually lend themselves to calls for smacking people and making the streets run red? If so, then chalk up one more for people who do not see hip-hop as politically constructive.

The "conscious" rappers themselves make the "message" analysis even harder to fall for because they tend to squirm under the label. "They keep trying to slip the 'conscious rapper' thing on me," Mos Def says. "They try to get me because I'm supposed to be more articulate, I'm supposed to be not like the other Negroes, to get me to say something against my brothers. I'm not going out like that, man." So it would be "going out" even to question the theatrical savagery that hip-hop's critics fail to see the good in?

"Conscious" rap, like gangsta rap, is ultimately all about spitting in the eye of the powers that be. But this is precisely what the millions of blacks making the best of themselves in modern America have not done. And contrary to what we are often led to believe, spitting is not serious activism. It's merely attitude.

There is not a thing wrong with "conscious rap" fans enjoying the beats and the rhymes and even valuing the sprinkles of an awareness of something beyond guns, Hennessy and women's behinds. But if we have gotten to the point that we are treating even this "conscious" work as serious civil rights activism, then black America is in even worse trouble than we thought.

John McWhorter
senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute; his "Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America" will appear in January.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Second Line of Hope in NOLA

Jazz parade marks hope in New Orleans
Traditional ‘second-line’ procession snakes through once-flooded streets
Updated: 6:16 p.m. ET Nov. 26, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - Led by brass bands and filmed by director Spike Lee, New Orleans gave thanks Saturday for things not lost in Hurricane Katrina at a "second-line" jazz procession through once-flooded streets.

The parade, with several hundred participants, started at the headquarters of a benevolent association just beyond the city's famed French Quarter and snaked its way through streets still littered with debris from the hurricane.

"We had to make a statement to the world that our history, that our African-American culture, will continue," said Fred Johnson of the benevolent group Black Men of Labor.

"It's to help the culture become better in life AK (after Katrina) than it was BK."

Joyful music
A second line, like the colorful procession in the James Bond movie "Live and Let Die," traditionally accompanies black funerals in New Orleans, when dancers and musicians follow the coffin through the streets. The music is somber on the way to the cemetery and joyful on the way back.

"There's no other way to be buried from where we came from," said Johnson, who wore a black suit and bright yellow shirt, with a matching yellow umbrella and a black fedora.

"If you got buried with a band, you are going to meet your maker."

Organizers described Saturday's procession as "a second line of thanks" and urged people to bring optimism and hopes to renew the city. Even now, almost three months after the storm, much of New Orleans remains dark and empty, and tens of thousands of people have yet to return home.

"I grew up listening to jazz parades and I grew up dancing in the street and when I heard that this was happening I knew I had to be here," said Sarah Earl, a New Orleans native now living in New York. "I thought it was a jazz funeral for New Orleans. Every single minute you are thinking about the city and the magic of the city. The people are astounding, in fact breath-taking."

Lee, who is making a documentary about how race and politics collided in the aftermath of the hurricane, directed a team of cameras at the procession. His documentary will be produced by Time Warner's HBO cable channel. He plans to have it ready for the first anniversary of Katrina.
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.

© 2005 MSNBC.com

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10216748/

Friday, November 25, 2005

Sound Therapy

New York Times
November 24, 2005
What's the Buzz? Sound Therapy

CAROL HARADA lay on her back, eyes closed, on cushions strewn across the floor of a studio in Emeryville, Calif. Several people, some clutching musical instruments, quietly gathered around. It was her turn to receive a group healing.

One person held her feet. Another touched her head. Someone placed a hand on her shoulder. Ms. Harada, 40, then stated that her intention was to release the dull pain in her left shoulder.

"The physical touch was important, to remind me I was safe and directly connected to people doing healing work on my behalf," she wrote in an e-mail describing her experience last spring.

Then, using their voices and acoustic instruments - bowls made from crystals, an Australian didgeridoo, bells and drums - the participants gently bathed Ms. Harada in sound.

When the sonic massage ended several minutes later, Ms. Harada's eyes fluttered open. She felt grateful, peaceful and when she stood up, found that the range of motion in her shoulder had increased.

For decades people have relaxed and meditated to soothing sounds, including recordings of waves lapping, desktop waterfalls and wind chimes. Lately a new kind of sound therapy, often called sound healing, has begun to attract a following. Also known as vibrational medicine, the practice employs the vibrations of the human voice as well as objects that resonate - tuning forks, gongs, Tibetan singing bowls - to go beyond relaxation and stimulate healing. "It's like meditation was 20 years ago and yoga was 10 to 15 years ago," said Amrita Cottrell, the founder and director of the Healing Music Organization in Santa Cruz, Calif., and the leader of the class that Ms. Harada attended.

While many people are only just discovering it, sound healing is actually a return to ancient cultural practices that used chants and singing bowls to restore health and relieve pain. It is often introduced at mind-body or wellness festivals. Thousands of healers from almost every state and many countries have created Web sites about sound healing.

Schools for certification have sprung up too, though certification is hardly standardized. The healers include medical doctors, academics and people with no medical or scientific background at all. What they have in common is a belief in the potency of sound to not only promote relaxation, but relieve ailments, from common aches and pains to the anxiety that accompanies chemotherapy.

People who have tried sound healing say they like it because it is noninvasive and relaxing. And lying on a cushion, exercising only the ears, is decidedly easier than stretching into the downward dog pose.

But can chanting "om lam hu" or blowing into a didgeridoo really loosen a stiff neck?

No controlled clinical trials have been done to show that sound healing works, said Dr. Vijay B. Vad, a sports medicine specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan and a doctor for the P.G.A. Tour. But those who try sound healing may feel their pain diminish, because pain is notoriously subjective, Dr. Vad said. Some 35 percent of people with back pain find relief from a placebo, he noted.

Sound healing, like other mind-body treatments, he said, could act as a placebo, or it may distract the mind, breaking a stress cycle. "Even if it breaks your cycle for 15 minutes, that's sometimes enough to have a therapeutic effect," Dr. Vad said.

Sylvia Pelcz-Larsen of Boulder, Colo., an acupuncturist who was suffering from excruciating back pain, tried a form of sound healing called Acutonics, which involves applying tuning forks to acupressure points on the body.

"I got a 10-minute session, and my back was about 80 percent better," she said. "It changed my life." Ms. Pelcz-Larsen now teaches classes through the Kairos Institute of Sound Healing, which is based in New Mexico but offers classes throughout the world, and has incorporated tuning forks into her acupuncture practice, along with Tibetan singing bowls, planetary gongs and chimes.

Using forks and bowls for anything other than dinner may seem to some people like New Age nonsense. But healers, sometimes called sounders, argue that sound can have physiological effects because its vibrations are not merely heard but also felt. And vibrations, they say, can lower heart rate variability, relax brain wave patterns and reduce respiratory rates.

When the heart rate is relatively steady, and breathing is deep and slow, stress hormones decrease, said Dr. Mitchell L. Gaynor, an oncologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York and the author of "The Healing Power of Sound." That is significant, he said, because stress can depress every aspect of the immune system, "including those that protect us against flu and against cancer."

Ms. Cottrell pointed out that ultrasound, which employs vibrations in frequencies above the range of human hearing, has been used therapeutically. "When the body is sick - it could be a cold, a broken bone, an ulcer, a tumor, or an emotional or mental illness - it's all a matter of the frequencies of the body being out of tune, off balance, out of synch," she said. "Vibration can help bring that back into balance."

Sound healing works like the cry you make when you stub your toe, said Jonathan Goldman, the director of the Sound Healers Association in Boulder, and the author of "Healing Sounds: The Power of Harmonics." "Have you ever been able to stub your toe and not make a sound?" he asked. "It hurts a lot more."

The cry, he suggested, may stimulate endorphins or create resonance with the part of the body that is in pain and lessen it. Or, he said, the cry you emit may simply distract you from the pain.

Dr. Gaynor distinguishes between curing and healing. To "cure" means physically to fix something, whereas "healing" refers to wholeness, a union of the mind, body and spirit, he said. Dr. Gaynor, who has an oncology practice in Manhattan, considers sound healing integrative medicine: not an alternative to science but a complement to it.

He leads free biweekly support groups for his patients that involve chanting and playing Tibetan singing bowls. The bowls are made of several kinds of metal; when struck gently on the rim with a wood baton, they vibrate at different frequencies, making sounds not unlike church bells.

When Marisa Harris of Manhattan first saw Dr. Gaynor with one of his Tibetan bowls she thought he was going to prepare pasta. But when he began to play them, she said, it was the first time since she had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer that she could hear something other than the words "you're going to die."

"It was as if all of a sudden there was room for possibility," she said. The sound, Ms. Harris said, penetrated her body and made her feel as if it were not only her thoughts about death that were breaking up, "but these poisonous cells, these cancer cells, were breaking up and I experienced something very healing."

More than seven years later she plays her own singing bowls every day, often chanting the names of her three children, her husband and other loved ones. The bowls, she said, helped her express feelings she had bottled up inside. Sometimes, she said, she talks to the bowls about her fears. "The sound would take them away," she said, "out of my being, out of my existence."

Mr. Goldman draws an analogy between sound healing and prayer. Many cultures, he said, believe that vocalizing a prayer amplifies it. By the same token, he said, expressing what you want a sound to accomplish (Ms. Harada's wish to release the pain in her left shoulder, for example), can help you heal yourself - or someone else.

Dr. Gaynor likens sound healing to music therapy. In "The Healing Power of Sound" he cites studies indicating that music can lower blood pressure, reduce cardiac complications among patients who have recently suffered heart attacks, reduce stress hormones during medical testing and boost natural opiates.

But not everyone who partakes in sound healing is in need of medical treatment. Ms. Harada's husband, Greg Bergere, attended the sound healing classes in Emeryville even though he had no physical ailments. They left him feeling refreshed. "It felt like I just had a really relaxing night's sleep," he said. For some people, that alone may be worth the price of a singing bowl.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

In France, Artists Have Sounded the Warning Bells for Years

"Hate," a visionary French Film that anticipated the French riots in much the way "Do the Right Thing" did in the US.

New York Times
November 24, 2005
News Analysis
In France, Artists Have Sounded the Warning Bells for Years

PARIS, Nov. 23 - So life often imitates art. Yet with the recent uprisings in some French immigrant neighborhoods, this cliché came with a new twist: art, in the form of movies and rap music, has long been warning that French-born Arab and black youths felt increasingly alienated from French society and that their communities were ripe for explosion.

Certainly anyone who saw Mathieu Kassovitz's 1995 film "Hate" had no reason to be surprised by this fall's violence. At the time, Mr. Kassovitz's portrayal of a seething immigrant Paris banlieue (or suburb), even his choice of title, seemed shocking and exaggerated. Today, the movie could almost pass for a documentary.

In "Hate," burning cars light up the soulless space between high-rise public housing projects as residents protest the beating of a young Arab, Ahmed. "Don't forget, the police kill," graffiti on the wall proclaim. Three angry, restless youths - a Jew, an Arab and a black - visit Ahmed at the hospital and are themselves beaten by the police. They plan revenge.

After "Hate" had been shown around the world, Mr. Kassovitz wrote, "I made this film with the conviction that the police brutality of the time should be denounced, and that we should point our fingers at it, but also to dissect it, to understand what its inner workings are." In other words, a movie director, then in his late 20's, recognized something politicians chose to ignore.

This month, Mr. Kassovitz went further, accusing France's hard-line interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, of provoking the latest troubles. "As much as I would like to distance myself from politics," Mr. Kassovitz wrote on his Web site (mathieukassovitz.com), "it is difficult to remain distant in the face of the depravations of politicians. And when these depravations draw the hate of all youth, I have to restrain myself from encouraging the rioters."

Even in the mid-1990's, though, "Hate" was hardly an isolated protest. Rather, it spawned a genre known as banlieue movies, which explored the problems of children of Arab and African immigrants and effectively announced the birth of a new "lost generation." (Coline Serreau's "Chaos" also focused on young Arab women trying to escape male-run households.) The message of these films was uniformly disturbing.

Why did these movies not ring alarm bells? Clearly, screen fiction has a distancing effect: it is "only" telling a story. Yet television documentaries and news reports can have much the same result. For most middle-class French, nightly car burnings and police clashes with stone-throwing youths have been taking place on their television screens, not in their neighborhoods.

Where fiction has an advantage portraying reality is in giving individual faces to well-documented social and economic problems. Banlieue movies have also proved more effective in analyzing these problems than have newspapers and politicians, who, of late, have variously expressed shock and surprise, as if the riots were as unpredictable as a natural disaster.

French artists are not alone in taking a lead. In Britain, for instance, Udayan Prasad's movie "My Son the Fanatic" (1997) explored Islamic fundamentalism in a Pakistani community eight years before this summer's suicide bombings in London. And many Britons only discovered their society's multiculturalism through Zadie Smith's best-selling novel "White Teeth" and Monica Ali's "Brick Lane."

In Germany and the Netherlands too, fiction - cinema and literature - is helping to record societies being irreversibly altered by immigrants and their locally born children and grandchildren. And here's the point: across Western Europe, de facto segregation exists, reinforced by the fact that immigrants usually live in their own communities and do lower-paid jobs. Only through fiction do many Europeans meet the "foreigners" in their midst.

The French banlieues, though, have found a voice in talented rap musicians. They burst on the scene here 15 years ago, borrowing a musical style from African-Americans, but using lyrics that spoke to the irate, frustrated and unemployed youth of immigrant extraction in the very banlieues where many of the rappers were raised.

This month, the left-of-center Paris daily Libération had the clever idea of revisiting popular rap songs and interviewing the artists about their sentiments today. As with the banlieue movies, the warning signs were clear in some lyrics.

As far back as 1991, for instance, a group called NTM addressed politicians in one song:

Go visit the banlieues
Look at young people in their eyes
You who command from on high
My appeal is serious, don't take it as a game
Young people are changing, that's what is worrying.
And, four years later, NTM sang: "How long will this last?/ It's been years since everything could explode."

Rim-K of the group 113 was just 20 in 1999 when he wrote "Facing the Police," which included these lines: "There'd better be no atrocity or the town will explode/ The community is a time-bomb that will go off/ From the commander to the intern, everyone of them is hated." Rim-K told Libération that he had expected trouble after dozens of African immigrants housed in run-down Paris hotels died in fires this summer.

For Henri Gaudin, a prominent French architect, along with discrimination, poverty and unemployment, the architecture of the banlieue housing projects, or cités, has also contributed to the uprising. Inspired by Le Corbusier, these stand-alone high-rises promised low-cost housing, but lack urban infrastructure, like streets.

"The youths in the cités have nowhere to be anonymous; they are constantly viewed," Mr. Gaudin said in an interview. "The only places they can go to escape their family is to hang out in hallways or in basements, or form groups at the foot of buildings. They have no city, no public space."

Disiz la Peste, a black rap singer, captured this sense of hopelessness just a few months ago in lyrics that ended:

Those who treat me with disdain
Who make rotten jokes
Which don't even make sense
Neither humor nor love
And France cares little what I do
Forever in its mind
I'll just be a young man from the banlieue.

So, in truth, life has not been imitating art. Rather, cinema and rap music have been mirroring the life and mood of France's immigrant underclass. The problem is that, in the corridors of power in central Paris, no one was paying heed. Until now, that is. This week, a group of conservative legislators asked the Justice Ministry to investigate whether seven rap groups had incited violence and racism through their lyrics. Shooting the messengers, though, may not be the most effective solution.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Music Isn't Live, but Rockettes Keep Kicking

New York Times
November 4, 2005
Music Isn't Live, but Rockettes Keep Kicking

The only live music yesterday at Radio City Music Hall was this: A lonesome saxophone player, belting out "Joy to the World" on the street to the accompaniment of Midtown traffic.

For what hall officials said was the first time in memory in the 73-year history of the annual "Christmas Spectacular," Radio City's 35-piece orchestra was silent. Live musicians were replaced with a digitalized, prerecorded score as the backdrop for the famously lifted legs of the Rockettes.

The musicians' union, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, is either locked out, or, according to the musicians' employer, Radio City Entertainment, on strike. The two sides held dueling news conferences that left reporters scurrying from stage door to marquee, while tourists filed in for a show without an orchestra.

No calamity appeared to befall the theatergoers. "It was really good," said Wendy Coulson, of State College, Pa., who had come to see the show with her daughters, Madeline, 14, and Rebecca, 12. "I didn't notice a difference at all."

Union members, in tuxedo, showed up with their instruments for the early show and said they would go on, with or without a contract. "We're here to give our gift for the holiday season to the tourists of New York," said David Lennon, the union president, as musicians toting black-cased horns and such gathered round. "We're here on good faith to play. We intend to go to work."

But officials at Radio City, owned by the media giant Cablevision, say the musicians are on strike - apparently because the two sides have yet to agree on a final contract - and will not be permitted to play until a final deal is signed. Barry Watkins, a spokesman for Radio City Entertainment, said that the musicians had walked off the job on Wednesday night and had missed a crucial Sunday rehearsal. Union officials said the dispute left workers unclear about whether the rehearsal would be held.

"It's a nice idea to come in and put on a tuxedo and say you want to go to work," Mr. Watkins said.

But the fact is, he said, Radio City has no guarantee that musicians working without a contract will return for future shows.

The musicians have been working without a contract since May, and negotiations between the union and Radio City stalled as the holiday season approached. On Wednesday night, the Rockettes followed the orchestra in protest, marching out of the theater during the final rehearsal for the Christmas show.

Yesterday, the musicians lingered on the sidewalk outside Radio City during the 11 a.m. debut show. When the 3 p.m. show rolled around, a tuba player, Andy Rogers, played a battle charge of "Ride of the Valkyries" and led the orchestra toward the stage door. Two large guards stopped them from entering. "We're late; let us in for work," Mr. Rogers called. Some tiny Christmas elves looked from a window with a laugh.

The Radio City dispute is somewhat murky. The union says it has agreed to Radio City's last offer of a two-year contract with annual salary increases of 3 and 4 percent. Radio City denies the offer was accepted.

Mr. Watkins said the musicians, an eclectic mix of top classical freelancers, Broadway artists and jazz players, make about $3,000 a week and have year-round health benefits for what is essentially 10 weeks of work.

John Babich, a bass player, said the union had agreed to all contractual terms, but nothing had been signed because "an unreasonable entity is trying to emasculate the orchestra" by refusing to let it play.

Two years ago, Broadway musicians darkened most theaters for four days with their own strike. At the time, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg urged both sides to resolve their differences quickly, but did not get directly involved in the negotiations. Mr. Bloomberg said yesterday that he would take the same tack now, while nonetheless ruing the lack of live music at the show. "New York City is about live music," he said. "Nobody suggests for a second that you would have the same quality performance if you just play a tape."

Yesterday, that tape was a "world-class musical score" played "through the most advanced sound system available," as Radio City's statement put it.

Julie Hoyt, from Springfield, Mass., found the performance flawless and said that, although she would have liked to have heard a live orchestra, the sound was great.

Billy Ward, age 9, had a big smile. "It was really good," he said.