Thursday, September 21, 2006

Listening with Ornette Coleman

September 22, 2006
Listening With Ornette Coleman
Seeking the Mystical Inside the Music

THE alto saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman, one of the last of the truly imposing figures from a generation of jazz players that was full of them, seldom talks about other people’s music. People generally want to ask him about his own, and that becomes the subject he addresses. Or half-addresses: what he’s really focused on is a set of interrelated questions about music, religion and the nature of being. Sometimes he can seem indirect, or sentimental, or thoroughly confusing. Other times he sounds like one of the world’s killer aphorists.

In any case, other people’s music was what I wanted to talk to him about. I asked what he would like to listen to. “Anything you want,” he said in his fluty Southern voice. “There is no bad music, only bad performances.” He finally offered a few suggestions. The music he likes is simply defined: anything that can’t be summed up in a common term. Any music that is not created as part of a style. “The state of surviving in music is more like ‘what music are you playing,’ ” he said. “But music isn’t a style, it’s an idea. The idea of music, without it being a style — I don’t hear that much anymore.”

Then he went up a level. “I would like to have the same concept of ideas as how people believe in God,” he said. “To me, an idea doesn’t have any master.”

Mr. Coleman was born, in 1930, and raised in Fort Worth, where he attained some skill at playing rhythm and blues in bars, like any decent saxophonist, and some more skill at playing bebop, which was rarer. He arrived in New York in 1959, via Los Angeles, with an original, logical sense of melody and an idea of playing with no preconceived chord changes. Yet his music bore a tight sense of knowing itself, of natural form, and the records he made for Atlantic with his various quartets, from 1959 to 1961, are almost unreasonably beautiful.

Following that initial shock of the new came a short period with a trio, then a two-year hiatus from recording in 1963 and 1964, then the trio again, then a fantastic quartet from 1968 to 1972 with the tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman (who died three weeks ago), then a period of funk-through-the-looking-glass with his electric band, Prime Time. Mr. Coleman is still moving, now with a band including two bassists, Greg Cohen and Tony Falanga, and his son, Denardo Coleman, on drums.

He has a kind of high-end generosity; he said that he wouldn’t think twice about letting me go home with a piece of music he had just written, because he would be interested in what I might make of it. But there is a great pessimism in his talk, too. He said he believes that most of human history has been wasted on building increasingly complicated class structures. “Life is already complete,” he said. “You can’t learn what life is. And the only way you die is if something kills you. So if life and death are already understood, what are we doing?”

A week later we met for several hours at his large, minimal-modernist loft in Manhattan’s garment district. Mr. Coleman is 76 and working often: he is making music with his new quartet that, at heart, is similar to what he made when he was 30. On “Sound Grammar,” his new live album (on his new record label, of the same name), it is a matter of lines traveling together and pulling apart, following the curve of his melodies, tangling and playing in a unison that allows for discrepancies between individual sound and intonation and, sometimes, key.

Unison is one of his key words: he puts an almost mystical significance in it, and he uses it in many ways. “Being a human, you’re required to be in unison: upright,” he said.

Mr. Coleman draws you into the chicken-and-egg questions that he’s asking himself. These questions can become sort of the dark side of Bible class. Many of them are about what happens when you put a name on something, or when you learn some codified knowledge.

Though he is fascinated by music theory, he is suspicious of any construct of thought. Standard Western notation and harmony is a big problem for him, particularly for the fact that the notation for many instruments (including his three instruments — alto saxophone, trumpet and violin) must be transposed to fit the “concert key” of C in Western music.

Mr. Coleman talks about “music” with care and accuracy, but about “sound” with love. He doesn’t understand, he says, how listeners will ever properly understand the power of notes when they are bossed around by the common Western system of harmony and tuning.

He’s not endorsing cacophony: he says making music is a matter of finding euphonious resolutions between different players. (And much of his music keeps referring to, if not actually staying in, a major key.) But the reason he appreciates Louis Armstrong, for example, is that he sees Armstrong as someone who improvised in a realm beyond his own knowledge. “I never heard him play a straight chord in root position for his idea,” he said. “And when he played a high note, it was the finale. It wasn’t just because it was high. In some way, he was telling stories more than improvising.”

MR. COLEMAN’S first request was something by Josef Rosenblatt, the Ukrainian-born cantor who moved to New York in 1911 and became one of the city’s most popular entertainers — as well as a symbol for not selling out your convictions. (He turned down a position with a Chicago opera company, but was persuaded to take a small role in Al Jolson’s film “The Jazz Singer.”) I brought some recordings from 1916 and we listened to “Tikanto Shabbos,” a song from Sabbath services. Rosenblatt’s voice came booming out, strong and clear at the bottom, with miraculous coloratura runs at the top.

“I was once in Chicago, about 20-some years ago,” Mr. Coleman said. “A young man said, ‘I’d like you to come by so I can play something for you.’ I went down to his basement and he put on Josef Rosenblatt, and I started crying like a baby. The record he had was crying, singing and praying, all in the same breath. I said, wait a minute. You can’t find those notes. Those are not ‘notes.’ They don’t exist.”

He listened some more. Rosenblatt was working with text, singing brilliant figures with it, then coming down on a resolving note, which was confirmed and stabilized by a pianist’s chord. “I want to ask something,” he said. “Is the language he’s singing making the resolution? Not the melody. I mean, he’s resolving. He’s not singing a ‘melody.’ ”

It could be that he’s at least singing each little section in relation to a mode, I said.

“I think he’s singing pure spiritual,” he said. “He’s making the sound of what he’s experiencing as a human being, turning it into the quality of his voice, and what he’s singing to is what he’s singing about. We hear it as ‘how he’s singing.’ But he’s singing about something. I don’t know what it is, but it’s bad.”

I wonder how much of it is really improvised, I said. Which up-and-down melodic shapes, and in which orders, were well practiced, and which weren’t.

“Mm-hmm,” he said. “I understand what you’re saying. But it doesn’t sound like it’s going up and down; it sounds like it’s going out. Which means it’s coming from his soul.”

MR. COLEMAN grew up loving Charlie Parker and bebop in general. “It was the most advanced collective way of playing a melody and at the same time improvising on it,” he said. Certainly, he was highly influenced by Parker’s phrasing.

He saw Parker play in Los Angeles in the early 1950’s. “Basically, he had picked up a local rhythm section, and he was playing mostly standards. He didn’t play any of the music that I liked that I’d heard on a record. He looked at his watch and stopped in the middle of what he was playing, put his horn in his case and walked out the door. I said, ohh. I mean, I was trying to figure out what that had to do with music, you know? It taught me something.”

What did it teach him? “He knew the quality of what he could play, and he knew the audience, and he wasn’t impressed enough by the audience to do something that they didn’t know. He wasn’t going to spend any more time trying to prove that.”

We listened to “Cheryl,” a Parker quintet track from 1947. “I was drawn to the way Charlie Parker phrased his ideas,” he said. “It sounded more like he was composing, and I really loved that. Then, when I found out that the minor seventh and the major seventh was the structure of bebop music — well, it’s a sequence. It’s the art of sequences. I kind of felt, like, I got to get out of this.”

He talks a lot about sequences. (John Coltrane, he said, was a good saxophone player who was lost to them.) With regard to his Parker worship, he kept the phrasing but got rid of the sequences. “I first tried to ban all chords,” he said, “and just make music an idea, instead of a set pattern to know where you are.”

I SUGGESTED gospel music, and he was enthusiastic. I brought something I felt he might like: sacred harp music — white, rural, choral music, about 100 voices in loose unison. We listened to “The Last Words of Copernicus,” written in 1869 and recorded by Alan Lomax in Fyffe, Ala., in 1959.

“That’s breath music,” he said, as big groups of singers harmonized in straight eighth-note patterns, singing plainly but with character. “They’re changing the sound with their emotions. Not because they’re hearing something.” But then we were off on another topic — whether a singer should seek a voicelike sound for his voice. “Isn’t it amazing that sound causes the idea to sound the way it is, more than the idea?” he asked.

Finally the listening experiment broke down. It’s hard to keep Mr. Coleman talking about anyone else’s music. His mystical-logical puzzles are too interesting to him.

He is writing new pieces for each concert, and was leaving for European shows. “Right now, I’m trying to play the instrument,” he said, “and I’m trying to write, without any restrictions of chord, keys, time, melody and harmony, but to resolve the idea eternally, where every person receives the same quality from it, without relating it to some person.”

He told a childhood story about his mother, who, he kept reminding me, was born on Christmas Day. After he received his first saxophone, he would go to her when he learned to play something by ear. “I’d be saying: ‘Listen to this! Listen to this!’ ” he remembered. “You know what she’d tell me? ‘Junior, I know who you are. You don’t have to tell me.’ ”

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

top 10 classical music downloads on iTunes

Not straying far from the top forty:

Slate - music box
Clicking for Classics
The top 10 classical music downloads on iTunes.
By Marc Geelhoed
Posted Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2006, at 12:08 PM ET

Beethoven, having died in 1827, is hardly the flavor of the moment. Bach didn't have an alter ego as an MC or sell mixtapes on the street. Pudgy opera singers tend to look less than Beyoncé-esque, and had Vladimir Horowitz paraded into Carnegie Hall in Danger Mouse's outfits, the effect would have made people gasp, and not in a good way.

What I'm trying to say is that classical music has an uneasy relationship with popularity. Listeners with a passing interest tend to value it for its soothing qualities or, conversely, for its extreme volume. The combined timbres of winds, brass, percussion, and strings playing at full volume bring on the gut-wobbles just as surely as five Marshall stacks do. I know a rock critic who couldn't care less about Wagner's operas, but give him the "Ride of the Valkyries," that leaping theme from Wagner's Die Walküre that Francis Ford Coppola used in Apocalypse Now, and he flips out.

The top 10 best-selling classical "songs" on iTunes show exactly this split between calm and stormy. The list also shows an unhealthy obsession with Andrea Bocelli, the blind Italian tenor whose voice adds entire new dimensions to the word lackluster. While he tried to sing both straight classical and crossover material in the mid-'90s, he now plies a musical river that's lined with lira alone these days. And since he's appeared on American Idol, he's hit the jackpot. Recently, I downloaded all the Bocelli and non-Bocelli tracks and spent an afternoon coming to grips with what really sells.

At No. 10 was the opening chorus of Carl Orff's 1936 cantata "Carmina Burana," a setting of lewd poems by a bunch of medieval monks whose only outlet for their desires was to put them in verse. In Latin. The Play Mediatrack takes the solemnity of Latin and makes it defiantly impious and bellicose. And if there's anything people like in their religion these days, it's defiance and impiousness. Check out Christian rock for examples. This recording is on the London Symphony Orchestra's own LSO Live label, conducted by Richard Hickox. It's loud, it's rhythmic; people love it.

I was then whipsawed—quietly, but whipsawed nonetheless—by two recordings of Pachelbel's "Canon." At No. 9 was Raymond Leppard leading the English Chamber Orchestra. From the softly plucked basses and cellos at the opening to the contented plinkings of the harpsichord, it's not difficult to hear why it's so popular. That it's also the de facto choice for bridal marches from Atlanta to Phoenix doesn't hurt, either. However, it's not quite so popular as Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert's interpretation of Pachelbel's "Canon and Gigue in D Major: Canon," as iTunes labels the exact same piece of music. Listeners who went for this one obviously prefer the quicker tempo and use of solo strings instead of a full chamber contingent. Tomato, tomahto.

British conductor John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique held down spot No. 7 with the first movement of Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5," by far Beethoven's most well-known moment. They attack the Play Mediafamously assertive opening and dig those woodwind crescendos. Gardiner is an aggressive interpreter here, and while this recording is one of the first to show up when searching for the "Fifth Symphony," that hard-nosed aggression must tip buyers in his direction.

On to No. 6, and keeping the energy level high, was Aaron Copland and his "Fanfare for the Common Man." With the blood coursing through my veins at this point, I almost saluted the flag outside a museum I was walking past. Again, it's the London Symphony, this time with Copland conducting. From the way the trumpets fudge the opening, it's hard to tell why this one gets downloaded so often; I'd go with Leonard Slatkin's version with the St. Louis Symphony. But when people want their rousing fanfares, it's best not to ask questions. Give them the fanfare and move away quietly.

With No. 5, the light started to dim and I couldn't see straight. Andrea Bocelli's "Con Te Partiro" held that position. This is in the classical section? Bocelli's tenor is, how do you say, unsupported and is about as operatic as Boone's Farm is fine wine. With its synthesizer-sounding string section and chorus, the Play Mediasong is high-class movie music. Like so many terrible tunes, I can't get this one out of my head, especially this mock-heroic Play Mediamodulation from G to A at the end. Ravel does the same thing at the end of "Bolero," so you know Bocelli's arranging team can ID a good model when they hear it.

Bocelli also had position No. 4, though there he had the star power of Céline Dion to help him out in "The Prayer," from Bocelli's Sogno album. Dion coos with an electric keyboard in the background before twittering in Bocelli's ear when he enters. Is easiest listening a genre?

Yo-Yo Ma and the Play Mediafirst movement from Bach's "First Cello Suite" were up at No. 3. The hugely popular cellist has delved into world music and worked with such pop musicians as Bobby McFerrin, so his ranking makes sense. The meditative suites can put the listener in a state of auditory bliss where the outer world and its troubles fade away. The mellow-sounding cello never screeches like a violin, and in a capable cellist's hands, like Ma's, it almost takes on the soothing quality of a voice. Who wouldn't want a little of that in their iPod? And thank God Bach beats, at least a little, Bocelli.

Then it's back to the loud, with Fritz Reiner leading his Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a raucous interpretation of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture." It's a staple at outdoor concerts, where the final sections can be buffed up with cannons for real militaristic power. Like my rock-critic friend and Wagner, this is classical music you can rock out to.

Which brings us to No 1., an alternate version of "Con Te Partiro" featuring Andrea Bocelli and his perfect mate, the soprano Sarah Brightman, titled "Time To Say Goodbye." The Play Mediaarrangement includes the "Bolero" pattern on a drum throughout, along with Brightman's straight-from-a-phonetic-dictionary Italian. That, folks, is the sound of lousy vocal technique.

With its warhorses and canon of great works, classical music is insulated from a lot of fads. Beethoven's Fifth will probably always be popular, and so will "Carmina Burana." But it's not so far from popular culture that a tenor whose calling card is his biography and who is backed by an effective PR machine can grab the spotlight. Beethoven raged at the heavens for letting him lose his hearing, but then, he never heard Andrea Bocelli.
Marc Geelhoed is the classical music writer for Time Out Chicago and blogs at Deceptively Simple.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Somalia station shut down for love songs

Somalia station shut down for love songs

By SALAD DUHUL, Associated Press WriterSun Sep 10, 10:34 PM ET

Islamic militants controlling much of southern Somalia shut down a radio station Sunday for playing love songs and other music, the latest step to impose strict religious rule which has sparked fears of an emerging, Taliban-style regime.

Since sweeping to power over much of southern Somalia, including the capital Mogadishu, in June, the Islamists have banned movie viewing, publicly lashed drug users and broke up a wedding celebration because a band was playing and women and men were socializing together.

The group closed Radio Jowhar because the programs were un-Islamic, Islamic official Sheik Mohamed Mohamoud Abdirahman said. It was the only radio station in Jowhar, some 55 miles from Mogadishu.

"It is useless to air music and love songs for the people," Abdirahman said.

Said Hagaa Ahmed, Radio Jowhar's director, confirmed the station had been closed but declined further comment.

The Islamic militants have brought a semblance of order to Somalia after years of anarchy.

But the United States accuses the Islamic leaders of harboring al-Qaida militants responsible for deadly bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Jowhar resident Ali Musse said closing the radio station was a violation of freedom.

"This directive is like the Taliban," Musse told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "It is censorship against independent media and freedom of expression."

The hardline Islamic Taliban rulers of Afghanistan banned secular music, art, television, and education for girls before they were overthrown by a U.S. invasion in late 2001.

Somalia has not had a police force or judiciary for 16 years since the warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law.

Somalia has a weak transitional government set up two years ago with U.N. backing, but it has been unable to assert its authority beyond Baidoa, 150 miles northwest of Mogadishu, and could only watch helplessly as Islamic militants seized the capital in June.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Airline terror baggage ban hits sour note w/musicians

Airline terror baggage ban hits a bum note: musicians

by Katherine Haddon AFP Sun Sep 10, 12:18 PM ET

A group of top classical musicians has warned of the threat to artistic life from a hand baggage ban introduced after British police foiled an alleged bomb plot against transatlantic airliners.

The issue even struck a false note at the world-renowned Last Night of the Proms concert on Saturday, with one conductor joking that next year audiences may have to put up with "Concerto for Laptop and Orchestra".

"I think it's greatly to be regretted," said Mark Elder, a guest conductor for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, at the Royal Albert Hall. "The time has come really to put an end to this unfairness."

Many performers refuse to let their instruments, often centuries old and extremely valuable, out of their sight when they travel on planes in case they are damaged in the hold.

But now they are falling foul of strict rules introduced in August amid fears that apparently innocuous materials could be used to build and detonate bombs on flights to and from the United States.

It is not only high art which is suffering -- a spokesman for Scotland's oldest bagpipe teaching college said tourism could be hit as the regulations deter pipers from the United States and Canada from coming to competitions.

In a letter to The Times newspaper on Friday, seven artists including the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis, and cellists Julian Lloyd Webber and Ralph Kirshbaum, warned that terrorists must not be allowed to threaten Britain's place in the artistic world.

"This enviable position is now under serious threat from draconian new rules that forbid any article exceeding the specified dimensions for hand luggage to be carried on planes," the letter said.

"It is now effectively impossible for musicians to travel by air, since there is no way that priceless 18th-century violins or cellos, for example, can ever travel without unacceptable risk in the hold of an aircraft."

Kirshbaum, an American, later told the BBC: "When you have an instrument, as I do, that was made in 1729, worth over three million pounds (5.6 million dollars, 4.4 million euros), you have a responsibility obviously for that but it's also our voice.

"And without that voice, we can't create our artistic world for those who we perform for."

Passengers travelling from Britain are only allowed to carry on a laptop-sized bag. However, Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander said Sunday that the restrictions may soon be eased.

He has been working with British airports and airlines on the possibility of relaxing hand baggage size rules and the restrictions on taking certain liquids on board, he told Sky News television.

Further meetings are expected this week to determine whether any changes can be made.

The Musicians' Union is planning to lobby parliament over the airline security measures, calling for a dispensation on all flights to let musicians carry instruments into the cabin.

Spokesman Keith Ames said Sunday: "It is a risk putting instruments in the hold because they could get damaged -- no insurance company will cover it.

"Nobody expects a slackening in security but the fact that musical instruments... have to go into the hold means that musicians will just not fly."

Some of the best known companies and events in the arts world, including the BBC Proms, an annual two-month season of classical concerts in London, have been affected.

The Orchestra of St Luke's, from New York, pulled out of a concert shortly after the alleged plot was discovered, while soloists including Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov ditched the plane for the train to get there.

Russia's Bolshoi Theatre, which was performing in London when the restrictions came in, pledged to use the London-Paris Eurostar service because they refused to check in their instruments on an airplane.

And Willie Park, a piper at the College of Piping in Glasgow, said he knew of Russian and Japanese pipers who had posted their instruments home rather than putting them in an aeroplane hold.

"We've got pipers coming from all over the world to compete in championships and this puts people off," he said.

"Bagpipes are sensitive to temperature variation in the hold because if the wood shrinks it can split, apart from the rough handling they might get."

Stringent baggage restrictions have come in across the European Union and in the United States, Australia, Canada, Ghana, Kenya and Switzerland in the wake of the alleged plot.

Seventeen people have been charged with terrorism-related offences and 11 with conspiring to murder and preparing acts of terrorism following police raids in Britain on August 10.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Katie Couric's New Groove (music theme)

LA Times
Katie Couric's New Groove
CBS News' orchestral theme captures the oxymoronic expectations surrounding its new anchor.
By Anne Midgette
ANNE MIDGETTE reviews and writes on classical music for the New York Times and other publications.

September 7, 2006

AT NO OTHER TIME in our new century has so much attention been paid to the world premiere of an orchestral work. Too bad it only lasted 10 seconds.

The piece in question, by James Horner, the Oscar-winning composer of the film score for "Titanic" and other popular soundtracks, is the new theme of the "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric." Call it (in the absence of any other published title) "Katie's Theme."

Certainly the expectations for this brief flourish of sound, on the part of the CBS executives who paid for it, approached those for Couric herself. In a Wall Street Journal article Tuesday, the executive producer of the program, Rome Hartman, said the music needed to be "urgent and serious, yet light…. Flexible, yet memorable," and some further contradictory-sounding pairings of adjectives that mirror the implicit and near-impossible demands placed on Couric: to be serious yet perky, sober yet feminine, informative yet (to judge from the content of the maiden broadcast) fluffy, solid yet (in that now-infamous photo) airbrushed.

As for Couric: According to the Wall Street Journal article, she wanted music that evoked "wheat fields blowing rather than Manhattan skyline."

There's something touching about the unshaken faith that a piece of orchestral music can express so much, so literally. The question of what music can or can't express has been around for as long as instrumental music has been played, from the Greeks — who held that music expressed (even induced) specific emotional states — to 19th century tone poems illustrating things such as thunderstorms (think Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony).

But it was the 20th century, with the film soundtrack, that saw the true exploitation of music's illustrative potential. A soundtrack at once lets the audience know where it is and how it is supposed to react at a particular moment. Viewers have come to rely on music to explain what it is they are feeling — something CBS, like all contemporary broadcasters, is well aware of.

For his assignment (which required him to create more than 100 snippets of music), Horner had to prepare different versions of his theme for different kinds of news: A bad news day (such as a day in which the Iranians obtain a nuclear device, Horner explained to the Journal) might get more drums; a "more reflective" version closes with a trumpet solo.

Yet however evocative music may be, it remains true that when it appears to illustrate something specific, it is often because it appears in tandem with something else (a note in a program, an actor's face on a screen). I'd venture that this is one reason soundtracks are more popular today than abstract art music. The same people who flock to Howard Shore's "Lord of the Rings" symphony because they can follow the story may be slightly discomfited in a "straight" classical concert, precisely because they are not sure what they are supposed to be getting out of it.

So whatever Horner's music may communicate, it's hard to separate it from all the other elements — new graphics, Couric's makeup, weeks of national media hype — that went into shaping the moment on Tuesday evening when it was first heard by a national audience. What it conveyed, in this context, was a sense of monumentality, of America, of slickness. This theme would be right at home at the start of a Hollywood blockbuster about World War II — which is to say that Horner fulfilled the "waving wheat" part of his mandate, with all the American-heartland baggage the term implies, pretty well.

The unspoken directive to be new yet safe, original yet familiar, may have been the hardest part of Horner's assignment. Not for him the relative freedom John Williams had when he wrote the "NBC Nightly News" theme in 1985. Much of Horner's music seemed drawn from something else, starting with the two-chord exclamation at the very beginning of the broadcast (shades of Puccini's "La Boheme"), and continuing with echoes of the old theme featured in CBS broadcasts for the last 17 years. Although the composer spoke of breaking the mold, the music sounded as if he were carefully adhering to it.

So what does "Katie's Theme" tell us? To this ear, its strongest message is: I'm pretty, I'm packaged, I'm slick, I'm new, I'm careful. In other words, Horner has succeeded admirably. His theme is a perfect embodiment of what Katie Couric, so far, has meant to the evening news landscape.,1,5091520.story?coll=la-news-comment

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Village Voice fires music critic Robert Christgau

Slate music box
X-ed Out
The Village Voice fires a famous music critic.
By Jody Rosen
Posted Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2006, at 5:54 PM ET

When Robert Christgau appointed himself Dean of American Rock Critics, he was "slightly soused at a 5th Dimension press party" in the early 1970s. Christgau was in his late 20s at the time—not exactly an éminence grise—so maybe it was the booze talking, or maybe he was just a very arrogant young man. In any case, as the years passed, the quip became a fact. From his perch at the Village Voice, Christgau reigned as the country's foremost popular-music writer. In the 1970s and early '80s, when rock criticism was arguably at its height of cultural influence, Christgau was formidable enough to inspire in-concert tirades by Billy Joel, who ripped up his Voice reviews onstage, and Lou Reed, who wondered aloud on the live LP Take No Prisoners, "What does Robert Christgau do in bed? Is he a toe fucker?" Unlike other first-generation pop critics, who drifted into other kinds of work, lost interest in current pop, or, in the case of Lester Bangs, died, Christgau was persistent. He continued to write about the records that arrived in his mailbox every day, keeping his ears and mind open to new music more than most critics 40 years his junior. He also earned the "dean" title by teaching. A huge percentage of the working rock critics of the last three decades are graduates of the Voice music section, shaped by Christgau's mentoring and fearsome line-editing.

Last week, the Voice fired Christgau. This wasn't altogether unexpected—the paper has been in turmoil since its purchase last October by Phoenix-based New Times Media, with dozens of employees quitting or getting the sack—but it still came as a shock. Christgau's dismissal leaves a big hole in the pop critical community. One of Christgau's signal achievements was the Voice's annual Jazz & Pop critics poll, which, in addition to being the definitive annual best-of list, served, both before and after the Internet, as a kind of virtual powwow, a way for critics to "gather" each year to talk about music and their perennially embattled profession. With the dean deposed, pop critics have lost their clubhouse.

The even larger loss, for the moment at least, is a regular outlet for the eloquent, often maddening, always thought-provoking words of Robert Christgau. Christgau's project at the Voice was to create a venue for popular-music writing that assumed a certain readership—one equipped not just with broad cultural knowledge but with a fluency in music history, the pop canon, and all the little meta-narratives of individual artists and their discographies. The goal, in other words, was to talk about pop music in the way literary critics talked about books. Christgau succeeded in making the Voice the indispensable source for serious music writing—in the '70s and '80s, it was a local alternative weekly read by music nuts from coast to coast. The critical ideal of serious music writing was best exemplified in his own pieces, packed tight with erudition and insight.

Packed is the operative term: Christgau's craft is all about compression. He has published hundreds of terrific, expansive essays over the years, but his signature column is the Consumer Guide, a monthly compendium of capsule record reviews that he's been writing since 1969. To date, Christgau has produced more than 13,000 mini-reviews, a testament to his legendarily voracious listening habits. (On the few occasions I've seen Christgau in the flesh, he's either been wearing headphones or had them at the ready around his neck.) With Pauline Kael, Christgau is arguably one of the two most important American mass-culture critics of the second half of the 20th century—yet he's devoted the majority of his working life to fashioning 100-word blurbs with letter grades. He's a public intellectual who unwittingly invented the reviews section of Entertainment Weekly.

Of course, Christgau's blurbs are like no one else's—dense with ideas and allusions, first-person confessions and invective, highbrow references and slang. They are far too insidery for general readers, and even the biggest music geek can find his writing hard to decipher. Take the 2000 review of Radiohead's Kid A. It reads, in full:

I guess the fools who ceded these bummed-out Brits U2's world's-greatest-rock-band slot actually did care about what bigger fool Thom Yorke had to say as well as how he made it sound. Why else the controversy over this bag of sonics? Me, I'm so relieved Yorke's doing without lyrics. Presaging too damn much but no more a death knell for song than OK Computer was for organic life, this is an imaginative, imitative variation on a pop staple: sadness made pretty. Alienated masterpiece nothing—it's dinner music. More claret? A-

Like many Consumer Guide entries, this assumes lots of knowledge—about Radiohead and the larger rock-critical discourse surrounding them, not to mention the album Kid A itself, whose music Christgau glancingly describes as a "bag of sonics." But if you catch the references, you'll get Christgau's contrarian take on Radiohead: why they're overrated (they're pretentious and bombastic and the lyrics stink) and what's actually good about them (they make very pretty mood music). And come to think of it, that judgment rings true. It's no mean feat to boil a nuanced argument down to a bagatelle of six sentences and 89 words, and to crack a good joke while you're at it. It takes a great listener and a writer who has learned, through years of practice and self-discipline, to write smart and short.

All rock critics working today, at least the ones who want to do more than rewrite PR copy, are in some sense Christigauians. But like Kael and her Paulettes, Christgau has his hard-core cultists. At various times, the Voice music section embodied the worst aspects of Christgau's influence, publishing articles that were lumpy goulashes of rock-crit arcana and in-jokes. Christgau is probably too peculiar a writer to be an ideal model. His imitators can't match his chops. Christgau's secret weapon, though, is old-fashioned lefty-secular-humanist warmth. He overflows with love for music and a joie de vivre that makes his fits of critical pique more principled than mere hipsterish provocations. The truth is, Christgau's writing does shut out a lot of readers, but it has helped to create, and to fortify, a community—the brotherhood and sisterhood of music obsessives.

Consumer Guide, of course, is a misnomer. You don't go to Christgau for CD shopping advice any more than you read Kael to decide whether or not to rent The Seven Samurai. The idea is to revel in the whirling of the critic's mind—and to argue with him. You can discover almost the entire Christgau oeuvre on his eponymous Web site. Breezing through three-plus decades of Consumer Guides, it's possible to tease out some aspects of Christgau's tastes. He gravitates toward song-oriented forms, wit, formal rigor, and musicianship in unlikely places. When I asked writer and critic Eric Weisbard, Christgau's former colleague at the Voice, to describe Christgau's musical aesthetics, he replied, "Chuck Berry." That about sums it up.

Of course, the dean's loathings are at least as much fun. He's been on the record about his dislike of metal, art rock, bluegrass, and techno, among other genres. He's engaged the tough moral and aesthetic questions raised by gansta rap more doggedly than anyone else, and he's given Dr. Dre a very hard time in the process. He really dislikes laid-back '70s songwriters—it's a riot reading Christgau on the Eagles and other, as he calls them, "El Lay" types. I have to agree with Christgau there, but I can't fathom his dislike for salsa or U2, and a few thousand words later, I still don't understand why Ice Cube's violent misogynist fantasies are so bad but Eminem's aren't. And the Christgau style can rankle—his bursts of jive talk and abbreviations jar my ear like an ill-tuned piano. Why, oh why, Bob, must you call keyboards "keybs"?

But reading through the old Consumer Guides brings all kinds of pleasure and edification. The run of Prince Consumer Guide pieces is as good an overview as I've seen of his career—a book's worth of revelations delivered in 1,700 words—and Christgau's kicker to his review of Prince's breakthrough album Dirty Mind may be the funniest line ever written by a rock critic: "Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home."

For now, Christgau is job hunting. He teaches a course at NYU, and, who knows, he may end up with an academic job. But I hope he still finds time to review records. In an e-mail a couple of days ago, Christgau told me, "I want to continue the Consumer Guide, am getting ready to write up the underrated new OutKast album." I'd like to read that column, and I'm reasonably sure I will. Christgau's clip file shows great promise—there's got to be a couple of editors in this town ready to do themselves and the rest of us a favor and give the kid a gig.
Jody Rosen is Slate's music critic. He lives in New York City. He can be reached at

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Copyright 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC

Saxophonist Dewey Redman dies at 75

September 4, 2006
Dewey Redman, 75, Jazz Saxophonist, Dies

Dewey Redman, an expansive and poetic tenor saxophonist and bandleader who had been at the aesthetic frontiers of jazz since the 1960’s, died on Saturday in Brooklyn. He was 75 and lived in Brooklyn.

The cause was liver failure, said Velibor Pedevski, his brother-in-law.

Walter Redman was born and grew up in Fort Worth. He started off on clarinet at 13, playing in a church band. Not long after, he met Ornette Coleman when they both played in the high school marching band. Their friendship would become one of the crucial links in his life.

Typical of late-1950’s jazz tenor saxophone players, Mr. Redman was informed by the sound and style of Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. But he didn’t immerse himself in technique and harmonic theory, as those musicians did, or lead a band until his mid-30’s. Until then, he said, he was largely playing by ear.

Consequently his playing always kept a rawness, a willingness to play outside tonality, a closeness to the blues and above all a powerful sound: an expressive, dark-toned, vocalized expression that he could apply in any situation. (This power could also come through his second instrument — he played a double-reed instrument he called a musette.) He has often been called a free-jazz musician, and he could indeed put a logic and personality into music that had no chord changes. But that designation doesn’t acknowledge how authoritatively Mr. Redman could play a traditional ballad like “The Very Thought of You,” or how his solos could become dramatic diversions in someone else’s written music, as in parts of Tom Harrell’s 1998 album “The Art of Rhythm.”

After attending Prairie View A&M University in Texas, where he played alto and tenor saxophone in the college band, and then a stint in the Army, Mr. Redman taught fifth grade in Bastrop, Tex., near Austin. In 1959 he moved to Los Angeles and then San Francisco, playing with Pharoah Sanders, Donald Rafael Garrett and others.

Mr. Redman missed the ascension of his old friend Ornette Coleman, moving to New York to join the band only in 1967. His performances with Mr. Coleman over the next seven years, on albums like “New York Is Now!,” “Love Call” and “Science Fiction,” on which his tenor saxophone meshes with Mr. Coleman’s alto, are good ways to understand some of the great jazz of the period, intuitively finding a third way between general conceptions of the jazz tradition and the avant-garde.

Mr. Redman also recorded with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra in 1969 and then, beginning in 1971, spent five years off and on with a band known to historians as Keith Jarrett’s American quartet, which included Mr. Jarrett, Mr. Haden and the drummer Paul Motian. Underrated by the public and ever important to musicians, it played a music that was more determined by harmonic structure than Mr. Coleman’s, but equally challenging and prescient in its drive to make organic sense of various schisms in jazz since post-bop.

Mr. Coleman then provided the impetus for the next phase of Mr. Redman’s work, but in absentia. Old and New Dreams was a quartet of mainstays from different Coleman bands: Mr. Redman, Mr. Haden, Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell. They recorded and toured from 1976 to 1984, relying mostly on Mr. Coleman’s repertory. Though he had stopped playing with Mr. Coleman’s bands, he never stopped proclaiming his admiration for his old friend’s work and performed brilliantly during Jazz at Lincoln Center’s 2004 concert of Coleman music, with Mr. Coleman in the audience.

From the mid-60’s on, Mr. Redman often led his own bands, usually quartets with piano, bass and drums; he recorded twice with his son Joshua Redman, the popular jazz saxophonist. Most recently his band included the pianist Frank Kimbrough, the bassist John Menegon and the drummer Matt Wilson. He played his final concert on Aug. 27 at the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Tompkins Square Park on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

He is survived by his wife, Lidija Pedevska-Redman, and two sons Joshua, of Berkeley, Calif., and Tarik.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Marni Nixon: Hollywood's Invisible Voice

Marni Nixon: Hollywood's Invisible Voice
by Jeff Lunden

NPR Weekend Edition Sunday, September 3, 2006 ·

You might not know Marni Nixon's name, or recognize her face. But it's very likely that you have heard her sing.

Nixon dubbed the voices for Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady -- three of Hollywood's biggest movie musicals. Her new memoir, I Could Have Sung All Night, is being published this week.

Nixon, 76, has had a career that defies categorization. She has performed on Broadway and in opera houses, hosted an Emmy Award-winning children's television show and is a well-regarded singing teacher in New York.

Born in Southern California, Nixon had become a sought-after singer by the time she was a teenager. She had perfect pitch, and an ability to read any piece of music handed to her, no matter how difficult. She even premiered works by composers such as Igor Stravinsky.

Because she was such an excellent musician, Marni Nixon worked constantly, dubbing voices for Hollywood studios. In 1954, she got a call to ghost Deborah Kerr's voice in The King and I. Kerr understood that she needed to be dubbed, and Nixon says their relationship was very collegial.

"Whenever there was a song to be sung in a scene, I would get up and stand next to her and watch her while she sang and she would watch me while I sang," Nixon says. "After we recorded that song, she would have to go to the filming of it and mouth to that performance."

Twentieth Century Fox was so protective of Kerr that Nixon had to sign a contract saying she would never reveal the ghost-singing on The King and I. The story later came out in the press, when Kerr herself credited Nixon's work in an interview.

In the more than 40 years since My Fair Lady, Nixon has only appeared in one movie. In The Sound of Music, she plays Sister Sophia, one of the nuns singing "How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?"

Nixon never became as famous as the actresses she worked with. But she is hoping her new book will set the record straight about her very recognizable voice.

It's Raining Concert Halls

The Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

Top, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, and the view from a balcony inside. This season, its orchestra has more than doubled its ticket revenue.

New York Times
September 3, 2006
In Cities Across the United States, It’s Raining Concert Halls

Correction Appended

Costa Mesa, Calif.

TALL and silver-haired, wearing a pin-striped suit and the prosperous air of Orange County, Calif., Henry Segerstrom made his way recently to the conductor’s podium of the concert hall that bears his and his wife’s name. Before he could speak, the musicians of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, who were there for the hall’s baptismal rehearsal, applauded and cheered. Mr. Segerstrom, a prominent real estate developer, bowed and addressed them in a soft but steady voice.

“You have been an inspiration from the start,” he said. “We’re in complete control of our artistic destiny. This hall can do anything you guys can do.”

Designed by Cesar Pelli, it has already done something: it has made a splash, with its undulating glass walls, curvaceous tiers, silver-leafed foyer ceiling, chandelier of 300 individual hanging crystal lights and well-coifed public plaza.

But such architecture does not come cheap. The new Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall cost $200 million. Mr. Segerstrom led the drive to have it built and provided about a quarter of the money; other donations came from the county’s wealthy business class. Several of the donors were there with him at the rehearsal that evening, joined by orchestra administrators, builders, designers and the elated music director of the Pacific Symphony, Carl St. Clair.

All in all, it was a scene in an increasingly familiar American civic drama: the building of a new concert hall, a lavish statement of civic pride and cultural ambition.

The new hall (not to be confused with the existing Segerstrom Hall, across a plaza at the Orange County Performing Arts Center) opens on Sept. 14, in the beginning of what will be a banner season for major new performance spaces. Five are opening in North America this fall, at a total cost of nearly $1 billion. They include the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, the new home of the Nashville Symphony, which opens next Saturday; the Four Seasons Center for the Performing Arts in Toronto, the new house of the Canadian Opera Company, which had special inaugural concerts in June and opens its first season with a Wagner “Ring” cycle later this month; and the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, which comprises both a house for opera and ballet and a concert hall and opens officially on Oct. 5.

The stories behind these buildings show the wide array of hopes that a community invests in a new performing space, even at a time when many fret that classical music is becoming less relevant.

As concert halls have evolved into multipurpose destinations — complete with chic restaurants, bars and the inevitable education centers — local officials and business leaders have come to view them as a chance to revive a downtown or add luster to their city. Orchestra administrators see a draw for new audiences and a means of raising their group’s profile. Music directors envision a platform to artistic greatness. Orchestra members hear wonderful new acoustics. The music-loving public looks forward to more and better concerts.

“There’s a sense that a concert hall can truly enrich a community,” said Deborah Borda, the president of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. “People have seen successful examples of that, and they aspire to it.” She should know: the orchestra’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, which opened in 2003 and was designed by Frank Gehry, has quickly become a cultural touchstone, attracting full houses and plenty of buzz.

Visually arresting concert halls with sophisticated acoustical setups have also opened in Philadelphia; North Bethesda, Md.; Fort Worth; and Omaha in the last eight years. Atlanta is raising funds to build a hall designed by Santiago Calatrava.

“It’s a great expression of optimism in the art form,” said Gary Hanson, the executive director of the Cleveland Orchestra. For any orchestra that aspires to greatness, he added, a hall to match is a prerequisite.

Yet for all the boosterism behind new halls and the hoopla surrounding their openings, some observers call for tempered expectations.

“A new theater is not automatically simply great news,” said Marc Scorca, the president of Opera America, an organization serving opera companies nationwide. When a hall is added, he said, it may just divert audiences and their dollars from other performance and cultural institutions.

“This is all redistributing people’s expenditures from one activity to another,” said David Galenson, an economist at the University of Chicago who focuses on the arts.

Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University and the author of “Good and Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding,” said there was little solid research measuring the economic impact of arts centers on a city, although there was for sports stadiums. Such research shows no benefit for a city’s growth, he said, adding that he was skeptical about economic claims for new concert halls.

“The glorious tales are typically exaggerations,” said Mr. Cowen, who also contributes a monthly economics column to The New York Times.

A look at how the new halls came into being reveals a pattern.

An orchestra outgrows its old multipurpose hall. A powerful person steps up with drive and money. The planners woo local officials and donors. A celebrity architect is engaged. A large public relations firm begins an expensive campaign trumpeting the architectural and acoustic glories of the new hall.

Nashville followed much of this script. In the spring of 2000 the Nashville Chamber of Commerce arranged for city leaders to visit Seattle in search of ideas about civic improvement. The last stop was a visit to Benaroya Hall, the home of the Seattle Symphony since 1998. The visitors heard a rehearsal of a Beethoven symphony, said Alan D. Valentine, the president of the 60-year-old Nashville Symphony and a member of the touring group.

“They were just blown away by the quality of the building,” he said. The visitors were then polled on the top five ideas they could take back to Nashville. A dedicated concert hall was No. 2, behind public transportation. “I said, ‘Oh my God, they got it,’ ” Mr. Valentine recounted.

That September he took the orchestra, which used to play in the acoustically and architecturally drab Tennessee Performing Arts Center, to Carnegie Hall, and 1,100 Nashville citizens and orchestra supporters went along. “It was the Carnegie Hall concert which really helped the board and leaders of the community to understand how a good orchestra can sound in a good space,” Mr. Valentine said.

Board members, administrators and designers toured Europe’s best halls. Martha Ingram, a wealthy orchestra supporter who was the companion of Kenneth Schermerhorn, the orchestra’s music director for 22 years, provided $30 million to the project. Mr. Schermerhorn, who died last year, was instrumental in building the orchestra’s quality and reputation.

“What really matters is doing this project in a way that will benefit Nashvillians and make things better here,” Mr. Valentine said. “That’s ultimately what we are, community servants.”

The neo-Classical limestone-clad hall is in keeping with the character of Nashville’s other civic buildings. It has the natural light of the Musikvereinsaal in Vienna and the alcoves and intimate lobby seating of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

“They were looking for a building that would appear timeless and not be dated 10 years after opening,” said Craig P. Williams, the project manager for the architectural firm, David M. Schwarz.

Then the Nashville Symphony, like the Orange County Performing Arts Center, hired an outside public relations firm, Ruder Finn, to promote the hall, arranging meetings with reporters in New York well in advance.

Mayor Bill Purcell of Nashville said the city’s investment of $16 million so far and the private money spent on the hall were worth it. “For me, this is really the last essential part for our being the Music City,” he said. Along with the Grand Ole Opry and other bluegrass and country music sites, “this particular symphony hall frankly finishes out that range of venues, of special places, that we had to have,” he said. “We needed this, and we needed it now.”

Mr. Valentine added: “The hall itself is a great reflection of what Nashville feels about its orchestra. That’s good for our long-term well-being, financially and otherwise.” This season the orchestra has more than doubled its ticket revenue, a development that Mr. Valentine attributes to excitement over the hall. The orchestra will present about 100 concerts a season, instead of the previous 65.

But the hall will cost more to run: about $2.5 million in the orchestra’s budget. The orchestra hopes to make up the difference with rentals, more ticket and endowment income and annual giving increases, Mr. Valentine said.

BEFORE construction of the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts could begin in Miami, backers commissioned at least three economic impact statements to convince public officials that it would improve depressed downtown Miami streets the way Lincoln Center did for part of the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

“That’s been a strong argument here,” said Michael Hardy, the Carnival Center’s president and chief executive. “We’ve used it a lot.”

A study by Michael Connolly, an economics professor at the University of Miami, said the center would generate $122 million annually for businesses in the area and $6 million in taxes, and add 1,059 jobs. Professor Connolly said it had stimulated development in the depressed area around it and had helped push up property values at a faster rate than in the rest of Miami. Already 35,000 condominium units have been built within a 15-block radius of the center, Mr. Hardy said. But Professor Connolly’s estimate of $491 million in new building investment fell below the expectations of its backers.

The Carnival Center also came with huge cost overruns. It was budgeted at $255 million but rose to $461 million. “It was a much harder building to build than people realized,” Mr. Hardy said. Most of that money came from the proceeds of a local hotel tax, along with $85 million in private, corporate and foundation money.

The Miami center is an anomaly. There is no resident orchestra, although the Cleveland Orchestra will have a yearly three-week residency, and the New World Orchestra, a training group, will also play there regularly. Barely two-dozen classical concerts will be presented this season. The rest is mostly jazz, world music, Broadway shows and popular entertainers. The resident Florida Grand Opera and the Miami City Ballet will benefit the most.

Some arts groups in Miami have argued that some of the vast amount of money raised for the center could have gone to pay musicians, dancers and singers.

“Concert halls are needed, but when concert halls are sucking up all the money of a community, I don’t believe they are really serving the community,” said Luciano Magnanini, the former principal bassoonist of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, which declared bankruptcy in 2003. “Great civilizations are known for their culture. They’re not known for the money. I don’t know anybody who goes to Florence because the Medicis were great bankers.”

One important motivation in Orange County was to free up space in the existing Segerstrom Hall, which plays host to touring Broadway shows, a concert series and the Pacific Symphony: more than 350 performances a year. Since the old hall was built in 1986, the county’s population has increased 50 percent, to three million, creating more demand for seats.

The orchestra was chafing. The hall was so overscheduled that musicians had to rehearse in a former church. And it was so big that it did not fit smaller works, like Mozart and Haydn symphonies, putting a damper on the orchestra’s development, said Mr. St. Clair, the longtime music director. Founded only in 1978, the Pacific Symphony lacks a major national profile and pays by the service, meaning that the members, many of them crack Los Angeles studio musicians, do not receive fixed salaries like players in major orchestras. But it has big ambitions and has come up with innovative programming.

“We had reached our plateau,” said John Forsyte, the orchestra’s executive director. “We’re just trying to catch up to where an orchestra like the Boston Symphony is.”

Mr. St. Clair holds a yearly American composers festival and has released several recordings and produced important commissions. The orchestra’s patrons raised money to send it on a European tour this summer, a calculated maneuver to attract attention, lift orchestra morale by letting it play in first-rate halls and give it experience in adjusting to new spaces.

“We have a golden opportunity to take our young history and mold ourselves,” Mr. St. Clair said. “This is much more than a building. I really hope this will be the breath and soul of Orange County.”

But the orchestra’s situation is not ideal. It holds a year-to-year lease with the center, which has ultimate say in programming.

The hall was built on former lima bean fields owned by the Segerstrom family, which transformed farmland into the sleek office buildings, malls and arts hub of Costa Mesa’s downtown. Mr. Segerstrom, 83, a competitive man beneath his patrician exterior, says the performing arts center is part of his vision for Orange County. He calls it the “symbol of Orange County’s pride and self-esteem.”

He and other backers also hope that it will give a focus to the county, an agglomeration of nearly three dozen towns flung south and east of Los Angeles, and help lift it out of that city’s shadow. Mr. Segerstrom said the new hall was mainly a source of cultural distinction but acknowledged that well-heeled concertgoers would be welcome in his company’s luxury South Coast Plaza shopping mall next door.

All told, he put up $50 million for the new hall. But later fund-raising lagged, forcing backers to scrape up donations to meet interest payments on construction bonds. Still, few expect Orange County’s wealthy pillars to let the campaign fail.

During the first rehearsal, of Holst’s “Planets” and “Shooting Stars” by Frank Ticheli, the orchestra came out full of smiles. Backstage, wine bottles with yellow caution-tape bows stood in rows.

Mr. St. Clair, began the rehearsal with a carefully considered passage, the lush, regal theme from the “Jupiter” movement of “The Planets.” The musicians were impressed by the sound, some saying they could hear one another for the first time and play softly with ease.

Mindy Ball, a harpist, teared up. “It’s a musical jewel,” she said. “It’s for the 21st century, and it’s all ours.”

Correction: September 3, 2006

Because of an editing error, an article today on the cover of Arts & Leisure about new performance spaces opening this season misstates the date of the debut of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, Calif. It is Friday, Sept. 15, not Sept. 14.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Classic Mellotron promo video

This has been making the rounds for a while, but it is too cool to resist. Behold, the nifty promo film for the Mellotron, circa mid-/late 1960s(?):

The New Tastemakers: interactive music recommendations

September 3, 2006
The New Tastemakers


SETH FORD-YOUNG is a professional bass player who performs up to five nights a week with local jazz and rock bands and occasionally lends his talents to recording sessions for artists like Tom Waits. But these days he has an unusual second gig.

As a senior music analyst at Pandora Media, he spends roughly 25 hours a week wearing headphones in an office suite here, listening to songs by artists like Sonny Boy Williamson and Memphis Slim and dicing them into data points. Is the singer’s voice gravelly or silky? Is the scope of the song modest or epic? Does the electric guitar sound clean or distorted?

As he listens, in a room not far from an elevated stage with drums, guitars and amps for employee jam sessions, Mr. Ford-Young fills out a scorecard on which he can rate hundreds of traits in each song on a five-point scale. Bit by bit, Pandora’s music analysts have built a massive archive of data, cataloging the minute characteristics of more than 500,000 songs, from alt-country to bossa nova to metal to gospel, for what is known as the Music Genome Project.

At visitors are invited to enter the name of their favorite artist or song and to get in return a stream of music with similar “DNA,” in effect a private Internet radio station microtailored to each user’s tastes. Since the service made its debut last November, more than three million people have signed up.

But they are tuning in to more than a musicologist’s online toy: services like Pandora have become the latest example of how technology is shaking up the hierarchy of tastemakers across popular culture. In music the shift began when unauthorized file-sharing networks like the original Napster allowed fans to snatch up the songs they wanted, instantly and free.

But the field is also full of new guideposts: music blogs and review sites like the hipster darling Pitchfork have gained influence without major corporate backing. And customizable Internet radio services like Pandora,, Yahoo’s Launchcast and RealNetworks’ Rhapsody are pointing users to music far beyond the playlists that confine most FM radio broadcasts.

All told, music consumers are increasingly turning away from the traditional gatekeepers and looking instead to one another — to fellow fans, even those they’ve never met — to guide their choices. Before long, wireless Internet connections will let them chatter not only on desktops, but in cars and coffee shops, too. And radio conglomerates and MTV, used to being the most influential voices around, are beginning to wonder how to keep themselves heard.

“The tools for programming are in the hands of consumers,” said Courtney Holt, executive vice president for digital music at MTV Networks’ Music and Logo Group, who formerly ran the new-media department for Interscope Records. “Right now it almost feels like a fanzine culture, but it’s going to turn into mainstream culture. The consumer is looking for it.”

If Pandora and other customizable services take off (and so far that’s a big if), they could shift the balance of power not just in how music is consumed, but in how it is made. “You now have music fans that are completely enabled as editorial voices,” said Michael Nash, senior vice president for digital strategy and business development at Warner Music Group, one of the four major music conglomerates. “You can’t fool those people. You can’t put out an album with one good single on it. Those days are over.”

But if fans become their own gatekeepers, the emerging question is what sort they will be. Will they use services like Pandora to refine their choices so narrowly that they close themselves off to new surprises? Or will they use the services to seek out mass shared experiences in an increasingly atomized music world?

THE idea behind a recommendation engine is essentially to create an online version of a knowledgeable retail salesman, someone to help consumers navigate the dizzyingly vast digital marketplace. The most familiar form uses so-called collaborative filtering, software that makes recommendations based on the buying patterns of like-minded consumers. Think of the “customers who bought items like this also bought ...” function on

Pandora’s innovation is to focus on the formal elements of songs, rather than their popular appeal. Say your favorite song is Aretha Franklin’s recording of “Respect.” Pandora will make you a personalized soundtrack that could include Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination” and Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” (Why? Click twice and learn that Pandora thinks the Gladys Knight tune resembles “Respect” because it includes “classic soul qualities, blues influences, acoustic rhythm piano, call and answer vocal harmony and extensive vamping.”)

It may not take 21st-century technology to deduce a link between Ms. Franklin and Ms. Knight. But the more you tell Pandora about your tastes, the more creative it can get.

For some devotees the core of the experience is being led in directions they did not know they wanted to go. Tara Smith, 43, is a fan of the relaxed rock of Jack Johnson and Jimmy Buffett. After she started toying with Pandora about a month ago, she learned her taste was more diverse than she knew.

“I would never really listen to a country music radio station,” said Ms. Smith, who runs a rescue-equipment sales business with her husband in Santa Barbara, Calif. “But because Jimmy Buffett’s music has kind of a country bent, it’s just played Tim McGraw and Randy Travis. It really goes into some serious country, and I’m surprised I like it as much as I do.”

Mrs. Smith said she no longer listened to old-style terrestrial radio, not least because she prefers the Internet’s “nonpartisan approach to finding good music.”

“Myself, I’ve always been of the ilk that it’s much better to take the broader approach and use my own judgment on what I like and what I don’t like,” she said. “I’d much rather have five strangers rather than one expert” — like a professional radio programmer — “because you get a much better variety.”

Even Mr. Ford-Young, the jazz bassist who is one of Pandora’s more than 40 music analysts, has discovered some new favorites, like the indie-rock band the Shins. The appeal of the service’s computer-generated stations is that “popularity has nothing to do with it,” he said. “A song that hasn’t ever gotten played on terrestrial radio is going to get played as soon as a No. 1 hit song.”

And unlike the stuff that comes across terrestrial radio, Pandora’s suggestions are just that: users get to rate new songs with a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down,” so if they don’t like what they’re hearing, they won’t hear it again. That has a big effect.

“It’s interactive so you feel like it’s more yours,” said Michael Dory, 26, who until recently worked as a public relations executive in the technology industry and is now entering graduate school in New York. “If a faceless corporation is telling me I should like this music, even if it’s the best band in the world, I’ll probably be skeptical.”

Mr. Dory said he shared suggestions of new bands with his friends via instant messaging and by sharing Web links. But Pandora and similar services, he said, are “creating this atmosphere like you’re talking to the clerk at your favorite record shop.”

That is exactly the role envisioned by Tim Westergren, who was a founder of Pandora, originally known as Savage Beast, in 1999. The first step was creating the genome, as he calls the musical database, and licensing it to Best Buy and America Online. It wasn’t until last year that the company decided to offer a radio service aimed squarely at fans themselves. Now the site is adding about 15,000 new songs a month to the database.

Mr. Westergren, a former rock keyboardist and film composer, says he is particularly proud of the obscure artists in Pandora’s library. “I don’t have any bone to pick with the hits, but I think what’s missing,” he said, referring to the music market, “is that a huge wealth of artists never get a crack at it. In any given year there are maybe 100 records that really do big sales. I think there’s room for 10,000 artists” to reach a broader audience.

He sees the thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down voting as a concession to human subjectivity, an exception to the algorithms on which the genome is primarily based. But that human element — along with the chance for users of some music services to publicize their own taste, by posting their playlists for other fans to see — may be the most powerful part of the new technology.

It’s the same story across the spectrum of these new Internet services. At iTunes, Apple’s digital music store, fans have posted more than 898,000 individual playlists. And eMusic, a service specializing in independent-label releases, identifies users’ “neighbors”— people who have downloaded tracks from the same artists — and allows them to view a list of everything their neighbors have been listening to.

Pandora has its own take on the trend, allowing fans to create stations and then e-mail them to a friend; other sharing features are in development. As a tool for discovery, it seems to show promise: Mr. Westergren said that 10 percent of the time people tune in to a Pandora station, they end up clicking through to buy a song or album from iTunes or Amazon. That’s a much better rate than standard online retailers can claim.

Pandora receives a commission on such sales, and charges for advertising on its Web site. But so far it has not been enough to turn a profit.

These are still early days for digital music over all: digital singles are selling briskly, but more than 94 percent of the recording industry’s album sales still involve pieces of plastic, not megabytes. And that leads to a central problem for makers of recommendation and sharing tools: unless consumers become more active and embrace them, these services may exist as the limited province of music geeks.

The heaviest buyers of music — fans who spend more than $100 a year on new recordings — compose 10 percent of all music consumers but account for more than 40 percent of the industry’s CD sales, according to the NPD Group, a research company in Port Washington, N.Y. Most of the audience is far less engaged, and may be less inclined to rummage for recommendations.

Still, Gartner Inc., a media analysis company, predicted in a report last year that by 2010, 25 percent of online music retail transactions will be driven by applications that allow fans to compare their tastes and by recommendation engines tracking their preferences.

Mike McGuire, a Gartner analyst and co-author of the report, said the emergence of the empowered fan represented “the slow death of programmed content.” He added, “Unless and until the D.J.’s and programmers can start realizing that, they’re going to find themselves inexorably pulled further and further apart from their audiences.”

They’ve started realizing. In Seattle for example the modern-rock station KNDD has offered visitors to its Web site the chance to submit a list of 10 songs. A few of the lists are selected and played on a weekend segment. As a result of these suggestions, says Lazlo, the program director, at least two bands, Band of Horses and the Long Winters, have been added to the station’s regular rotation.

“It’s about listening to someone else’s thoughts on music, and having the input and ability to then share your thoughts on music,” he said.

Clear Channel, the nation’s biggest radio conglomerate, seized on the trend early with a feature called “MyPod.” WKQI, a Clear Channel pop station in Detroit, plays listener-submitted playlists every day. WEND, a rock station in Charlotte, N.C., airs a “MyPod Lunch” feature, in which a listener, chosen on the basis of four favorite songs, records a segment “taking over” the station. “There’s an image value, in terms of the listener involvement,” said Tom Owens, Clear Channel’s executive vice president for content.

The customizable online radio networks of the current crop are still far too small to be direct competitors, but Mr. Owens acknowledges that they “have the potential to change the game to some degree.” As for listeners, he said, “If you don’t continually challenge them in some way, and provide some degree of unexpectedness, inevitably it’s going to lead to an erosion.”

IN the next phase of the battle over who determines what’s hot, combat is about to cross from the desktop to the street.

New generations of wireless Internet-connected devices will vault the Web’s customized radio services into places where broadcast radio is still dominant: in cars for example. “All of a sudden the competition for your ear there changes dramatically,” Mr. Westergren said. “The FM station then has to compete with a personalized service that you’ve crafted for yourself. That’s a watershed moment.”

Personalized recommendation services like MyStrands are already building a presence on hand-held mobile devices. Microsoft plans to make fan recommendations a key feature in the device it is designing in hopes of unseating Apple Computer’s iPod. According to regulatory filings, its as-yet-unreleased Zune portable music player will enable fans to play D.J., letting users stream music to others with devices nearby.

MyStrands, based in Corvallis, Ore., plans to allow fans to influence the music played at nightclubs equipped with its new application. The system, currently being tested at a handful of outlets like DoHwa, a Korean restaurant in the West Village, lets patrons send a text message to a screen, identifying their favorite artist. The screen displays album artwork from the selected artist and the name of the fan who entered it. As conversational icebreakers go, most bars have seen a lot worse.

“Instead of trying to personalize a stream of music to one person, what we’re trying to do is create a sequence of music that a group of people can be liking,” said Francisco Martin, MyStrands’ chief executive. Then, turning philosophical, he added: “The human being is very social. Music is not only for yourself. What people really want is to share their tastes.”

'Guerrilla artist' replaces Paris Hilton's CDs in shops

Probably a noticeable improvement. From The Independent Online:

Banksy targets Paris Hilton
'Guerrilla artist' replaces heiress's CDs in shops with doctored versions
By Claire Truscott and Martin Hodgson
Published: 03 September 2006

He has smuggled fake artwork into Tate Britain, and sprayed a vision of paradise on the Palestinian side of Israel's "security wall".

Now, the "guerrilla graffiti" artist Banksy has taken aim at the cult of empty celebrity and its current poster child, Paris Hilton.

The secretive artist has smuggled 500 doctored copies of Paris Hilton's debut album into music stores throughout the UK, where they have sold without the shops' knowledge.

In place of Ms Hilton's bubble-gum pop songs, the CDs feature Banksy's own rudimentary compositions. On the cover of the doctored CD, Ms Hilton's dress has been digitally repositioned to reveal her bare breasts; on an inside photo, her head has been replaced with that of her dog.

On the back cover, the original song titles have been replaced with a list of questions: "Why am I famous?", "What have I done?" and "What am I for?"

Inside the accompanying booklet, a picture of the heiress emerging from a luxury car has been retouched to include a group of homeless people.

In another shot, Ms Hilton's head has been superimposed on a shop window mannequin beneath a banner reading: "Thou Shalt Not Worship False Icons."

Instead of Ms Hilton's own compositions, the replacement CD features 40 minutes of a basic rhythm track over which Banksy has dubbed Ms Hilton's catchphrase "That's hot!" and other extracts from her reality TV programme The Simple Life.

The record credits have been re-edited to include thanks to the artist for his "wonderful work".

The bogus CD is not the first time he has branched out beyond the stencil graffiti that made his name. In 2003, Banksy glued one of his paintings on to a wall in Tate Britain, where it went unnoticed by staff for hours. The following year he smuggled a display case with a stuffed rat wearing sunglasses and a backpack into the Natural History Museum. At New York's Museum of Modern Art, he placed an Andy Warhol-style print depicting a tin of Tesco Value soup. Last year, he sprayed paintings on the Israeli security wall around the West Bank.

He has smuggled fake artwork into Tate Britain, and sprayed a vision of paradise on the Palestinian side of Israel's "security wall".

Now, the "guerrilla graffiti" artist Banksy has taken aim at the cult of empty celebrity and its current poster child, Paris Hilton.

The secretive artist has smuggled 500 doctored copies of Paris Hilton's debut album into music stores throughout the UK, where they have sold without the shops' knowledge.

In place of Ms Hilton's bubble-gum pop songs, the CDs feature Banksy's own rudimentary compositions. On the cover of the doctored CD, Ms Hilton's dress has been digitally repositioned to reveal her bare breasts; on an inside photo, her head has been replaced with that of her dog.

On the back cover, the original song titles have been replaced with a list of questions: "Why am I famous?", "What have I done?" and "What am I for?"

Inside the accompanying booklet, a picture of the heiress emerging from a luxury car has been retouched to include a group of homeless people.

In another shot, Ms Hilton's head has been superimposed on a shop window mannequin beneath a banner reading: "Thou Shalt Not Worship False Icons."

Instead of Ms Hilton's own compositions, the replacement CD features 40 minutes of a basic rhythm track over which Banksy has dubbed Ms Hilton's catchphrase "That's hot!" and other extracts from her reality TV programme The Simple Life.

The record credits have been re-edited to include thanks to the artist for his "wonderful work".

The bogus CD is not the first time he has branched out beyond the stencil graffiti that made his name. In 2003, Banksy glued one of his paintings on to a wall in Tate Britain, where it went unnoticed by staff for hours. The following year he smuggled a display case with a stuffed rat wearing sunglasses and a backpack into the Natural History Museum. At New York's Museum of Modern Art, he placed an Andy Warhol-style print depicting a tin of Tesco Value soup. Last year, he sprayed paintings on the Israeli security wall around the West Bank.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Specific Secrets of Geezer Rock

The Times UK
September 02, 2006

Jagger keeps on rocking as the lyrics roll up his auto-prompter
By Adam Sherwin, Media Correspondent

IT’S hard not to feel sympathy for the old devil. Sir Mick Jagger has succumbed to an on-stage Autocue in the battle against rock’n’roll amnesia.

A screen secreted among the 63-year-old rocker’s onstage monitors scrolls through the lyrics to the Rolling Stones’ classic songs in time with Jagger’s delivery. The prompt, used during the band’s £250 million-grossing tour, even tells him the name of the city where he is performing, and cues his between-song ad-libs.

Representatives of the band said that the screen was simply a prompt, allowing him to keep up the high-energy performances for which he is famed.

“He’s running all over the stage but if he gets a memory blank he can get back to the screen quickly,” a Stones source said. “He rarely needs it but it’s a back-up.”

A technician keeps pace with Jagger’s delivery, but after 40 years on the road, the screen may require close reading. He sang the same verse of Ruby Tuesday twice at last week’s concert in Glasgow during a show broadcast across the world by BBC Radio 2.

The Autocue allows Sir Mick to greet overseas crowds in their own language at prearranged breaks. The script suggested “Good evening London” at last month’s Twickenham shows.

The revelation cast new light on the lengths required to keep ageing rockers on the road. Oxygen masks are on permanent standby for Ozzy Osbourne, while the Beach Boys require backstage deep muscle massage from a licensed practitioner.

Autocues are a guilty secret. “Everyone uses them, from Macca to Elton,” said Brian Larter, managing director of Autoscript UK, which provides prompts for BBC newsreaders and rock stars. But discretion is vital. “Singers like to hide them in a front-of-stage monitor,” Mr Larter said. “You don’t want cameras to pick them up or let the audience see them or the gig can turn into karaoke.”

Like Jagger, most frontmen use the cue to cover for a brief mental blank or to prompt them to announce the next song on the set list. Reliance on a prompt, however, would seem to rise in proportion to career intake of drink and drugs. Brian Wilson, the Beach Boy who suffered mental illness through his experimentation with LSD, can perform only by sitting at a piano and reading the lyrics from a screen.

Axl Rose, of Guns N’Roses, has three cues placed strategically along the stage, alongside the band’s flame-throwers and explosives. Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays also requires onstage assistance.

Frank Sinatra pioneered the onstage teleprompter, continuing to perform until he was 80, despite a fading memory. Divas such as Barbra Streisand use a cue for their script and lyrics.

Some stars can turn failing memories into an artistic statement. David Bowie has an onstage lectern containing the lyrics to his most recent songs. Michael Stipe, of R.E.M, adopted the lectern, screwing up the paper lyrics and throwing them into the crowd at the end of each song.

But a spokesman for The Who, the latest 60-plus rock legends returning to the stage, said that Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend needed no onstage prompting to help them to perform their back catalogue.


Ozzy Osbourne An eye, ear, nose and throat doctor must be on site when Ozzy arrives at the venue. The doctor must be able to administer a B12 shot and Decadron (anti-inflammatory) shot. The venue must provide two oxygen tanks, two masks and two regulators

The Beach Boys A licensed masseur/masseuse, qualified in either Swedish or Oriental deep muscle massage, must be available on day of engagement or any day off the artists have in the city. No form of advertising shall contain the word “oldies” in conjunction with the artists’ logo.

Meat Loaf A mask and one small tank of oxygen, which needs to be charged and ready

Aerosmith The venue must provide names and phone numbers of a throat specialist, a physician fully qualified in internal medicine, an osteo-podiatrist and a licensed chiropractor

David Bowie The venue must ensure a dressing room temperature of between 14C and 18C

Paul McCartney One large arrangement of white Casablanca lilies with lots of foliage for a dressing room containing off-white furniture

Metallica Four oxygen tanks. These shall be portable and equipped with masks and regulators if not inclusive of tank. Very important that bacon be available at every meal and during the day