Tuesday, July 31, 2007

State Department Drafts Ozomatli for Tour

U.S. State Dept. drafts Ozomatli for tour
The U.S. sends the antiwar L.A. band on a diplomatic mission to the heart of the Arab world.
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 1, 2007

CAIRO -- No way, the band members told their manager.

Was she really saying that the same U.S. government pursuing an unpopular war in Iraq now wanted to hire the funk-infused Latin Los Angeles band Ozomatli to travel around the world and play music on behalf of America?

Didn't they know that the two-time Grammy-winning band was born at a labor rights demonstration 12 years ago, that it regularly played at antiwar rallies and that its members were outspoken critics of the Bush administration's policies on everything from the war on terror to immigration?

That improbable scenario has become a reality, evidenced here this week when hundreds of fans made their way up to Cairo's Citadel to see Ozomatli perform.

"We are so happy to be in this beautiful city tonight," vocalist and guitarist Raul Pacheco called out to more than 1,000 cheering fans gathered Monday on the site of the same ancient hilltop fortress where Saladin fended off the Crusaders in the 12th century. "We came all the way here from Los Angeles, California!"

Three thousand showed up to hear Ozomatli play in the Egyptian coastal town of Alexandria on Sunday night. On Monday night, the band performed a crisp 90-minute set before young Cairo residents, many of them women dancing while wearing Islamic head scarves. Ozomatli had already played at U.S.-sponsored events this year in India, Nepal, Tunis and Jordan. Now it brought its musical mélange to the heart of the Arab world, which is locked in what some describe as a clash of civilizations with the West.

That's a view of the world the band members reject. Saxophonist Ulises Bella called the odd grouping of Ozomatli and the State Department -- as well as a smattering of corporate sponsors -- a "cry for change all around."

"Our world standing has deteriorated," Bella said just before a short concert for Egyptian orphans at a Cairo park last Saturday. "I'm totally willing and wanting to give a different image of America than America has given over the last five years."

During the Cold War, the State Department recruited jazz musicians as cultural emissaries. Mostly African Americans, who faced discrimination at home, musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman were "jazz ambassadors," playing gigs bankrolled by the U.S. government all over the world, including Communist countries. Such cultural outreach faded over the decades but has been revived in recent years by Karen Hughes, the U.S. undersecretary of State for public diplomacy. Last year, the Washington, D.C., hip-hop quartet Opus Akoben toured Cairo and other places in the Middle East.

"These things cost a little bit of money, but compare it to the cost of not having the standing we had in the past, when people thought they knew us and what we stood for," said U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Francis Ricciardone, who addressed the crowd wearing a black Ozomatli T-shirt. "People talk about it as soft power. But it's real power."

A U.S. Embassy official in Nepal heard about Ozomatli on a radio show while visiting Washington last year and approached band manager Amy Blackman-Romero. U.S. officials are eager to present an image of America and Americans different from the footage of soldiers fighting insurgents in Iraq broadcast on Arab news channels.

Months of haggling ensued. "We wanted them to know the band plays a lot of antiwar rallies," said Blackman-Romero, who joined the group on the tour. "They told us they were completely comfortable with who the band is. But when they're out here, it's about the music, not the politics.' "

Band members didn't need much prodding to accept all- expenses-paid trips to the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. Since shortly before Sept. 11, the band has woven Arabic rhythms, North African musicians and samples of the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan into its Latin sound. A Palestinian friend had turned Bella on to the legendary Egyptian singer Um Kalthoum.

"The press in the U.S. is kind of dehumanizing this whole area," said bassist Wil-Dog Abers "It's one of the reasons we started getting into Middle Eastern and North African music."

So far the tours, through India and Nepal in February and the Middle East this month, have gone without a hitch. In Katmandu, an estimated 12,000 showed up to hear the band play. In India, reporters hammered the band members with questions about U.S. foreign policy, which they said they answered candidly. In Jordan, they played a free show at a Palestinian refugee camp, where children danced to their music.

"Music more than language is a cultural bridge," said Shaymaa Mohammad, a 21-year-old graduate of Cairo University, swaying to the band's Latin-inflected rhythms under a full moon on Monday.

Most fans said they hardly needed to be convinced of Americans' good-hearted nature but that they have many problems with the U.S. government's Middle East policies. "I guess I've never changed my opinion about America," said Damer Haroun, a 19-year-old student at the College of Applied Arts here. "I never had a problem with the people. But sometimes I feel like the people need to feel the mistakes of their government."


Should local radio pay royalties?

LA Times
Bit Player
Should local radio pay royalties?

If you thought the battle over webcasting royalties was hard fought, just wait until the National Assn. of Broadcasters and the RIAA drop the gloves over the issue of performance royalties for over-the-air stations. Having gotten some of the preliminary sparring out of the way, the two behemoths face off Tuesday in D.C. in front of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. Like the chairman of the full committee, Subcommittee Chairman Howard Berman (D-North Hollywood) is very protective of the entertainment industry. On the other hand, there aren't many lobbying groups in D.C. that can match the clout of the NAB, largely because of the role that TV and radio stations continue to play in lawmakers' re-election campaigns.

The title of the hearing suggests where Berman is leaning: it's dubbed "Ensuring Artists Fair Compensation: Update the Performance Right and Platform Parity for the 21st Century." I think it makes a lot of sense to have a common standard for royalty payments among broadcasters regardless of how their signal is delivered. Already, broadcasters of all stripes, whether they be terrestrial, satellite or Internet, pay similar percentage-of-revenue royalties to those who hold copyrights to the public performance of the songs. But the amounts paid to those who hold the recording copyrights are all over the map. At the high end, webcasters have to pay a fraction of a penny for each song streamed to each listener (although some small and non-commercial webcasters get a discount). At the low end, local radio stations pay nothing. XM, Sirius and cable-TV based services fall in between, paying a percentage of their revenues.

Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation has argued, in response to my previous post on this issue, that collecting more royalties wouldn't serve the basic purpose of copyright law. The point of copyrights is to provide an incentive for those who create music. With plenty of music being created, Fred says, there's no reason to obligate terrestrial broadcasters to provide more incentive by paying royalties. If anything, he said, the obligation should be dropped from webcasters so that they'll have parity with local stations.

That's a more persuasive argument than claiming that radio decreases music sales, which the industry lobbying group in favor of the new royalties contends. Geez, I thought it was piracy that was killing music. Or maybe home taping. Still, I think it's fair for record companies to ask Congress for a recalibration of the decades-old deal that allowed local stations to play music without paying for the rights to the recordings. There's no question that radio isn't driving the volume of sales that it used to generate -- nothing is in the file-sharing era. And just from a spectator's point of view, I love the idea of the RIAA and the NAB squaring off. Bring on the steel cage!

A Bayreuth Drama Worthy of, Well, Wagner

July 31, 2007
A Bayreuth Drama Worthy of, Well, Wagner

PARIS, July 30 — Devotees of Richard Wagner’s operas have no trouble sitting through long hours of intense music and convoluted plots, but even they may be tiring of the extended family power struggle over control of the Wagner Festival held in Bayreuth, Germany, every summer.

This year’s festival, which began on July 25, has brought new twists to the plot, suggesting that a final curtain may be nigh — or at least coming closer.

Founded in 1876 by Wagner himself, the Bayreuth Festival has had a colorful and at times unsavory history, not least when it was embraced by Hitler. But despite this, Bayreuth remains a kind of shrine for Wagner lovers, and they care passionately about its future.

At the heart of the current drama is who will succeed the composer’s 87-year-old grandson, Wolfgang Wagner. He took over the festival with his brother, Wieland, in 1951 and has run it as a personal fief since Wieland’s death, in 1966. But his management has come under growing criticism in recent years.

Tradition has it that the festival is always run by a Wagner, and this time round, the main candidates are again all in the family: Eva Wagner-Pasquier, 62, Wolfgang Wagner’s daughter from his first marriage; Katharina Wagner, 29, Wolfgang’s daughter from his second marriage; and Nike Wagner, 62, Wolfgang’s niece and Wieland’s daughter.

At first glance, the choice appears to be between youth and experience. Katharina Wagner has only recently begun directing opera, while Ms. Wagner-Pasquier is artistic adviser to the Aix-en-Provence opera festival in southern France, and Nike Wagner, a musicologist by training, is director of the Weimar Festival in Germany.

But there is a bitter twist: Wolfgang Wagner is so determined to impose Katharina as his successor that he now refuses to speak to Ms. Wagner-Pasquier or to Nike Wagner.

The outcome is in the hands of the Richard Wagner Foundation, which owns the festival’s theater, the Festspielhaus, and subsidizes the event. But while Wolfgang has only one vote on a 24-member board dominated by German, Bavarian and Upper Franconian officials, he has so far had his way with the foundation.

Now, with his health failing and demands for a clear succession mounting in the German press, the question is whether the foundation will take up the issue this fall, and, more specifically, whether it will dare to flout the will of the festival’s ruling patriarch.

The last time it tried to do so, it was simply ignored.

In 2001, after Wolfgang indicated a willingness to step down, the foundation chose Ms. Wagner-Pasquier over Nike Wagner and Wolfgang’s second wife, Gudrun, as the festival’s new director. When his wife was rejected for the job, Mr. Wagner responded by announcing that the position was his for life. He further indicated that if necessary, Gudrun would succeed him until Katharina, then just 23, was ready to take over.

Now, to prove she is ready, Wolfgang has allowed Katharina to direct her first opera at Bayreuth. Her new production of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” opened the monthlong festival last week before an audience packed with Wagner experts and German V.I.P.’s, including Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Although Katharina has previously directed Wagner and Puccini operas in other cities, her maiden show at Bayreuth was widely viewed as a kind of public audition for her father’s job. The intense booing that met her when she appeared onstage at the final curtain suggested that it had become more of a trial by fire.

Certainly, “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” was a daring assignment for the youngest director in the festival’s history. Not only is it Wagner’s only comedy, but it is also a paean to what it calls “Holy German Art” and, as such, became Hitler’s favorite opera and the only work performed in Bayreuth in 1943 and 1944.

Ms. Wagner tackled the opera’s dark association with German nationalism by satirizing luminaries of German culture like Bach, Beethoven, Goethe, Schiller and even Wagner himself. But European critics said much of the audience turned against her in the last act, when she resorted to topless dancers, full male nudity, plastic phalluses and a bizarre auto-da-fé.

Some critics noted that cheers could be heard among the boos, but their reviews were generally negative. Andrew Clark in The Financial Times of London called it “an intermittently titillating but ultimately depressing show,” and Der Spiegel’s critic was reminded of “a flat Wagner pizza — a thick topping on a thin base.”

Still, it is unclear how the public and critical response will affect Ms. Wagner’s bid to run the festival. In the past, some new productions at Bayreuth have been booed before later being acclaimed. At the same time, Katharina, a statuesque blonde nicknamed Bayreuth Barbie by her traditionalist foes, can probably still count on the support of those who believe that Bayreuth needs a youthful shake-up.

Certainly, during rehearsals, she displayed no insecurity, inviting reporters to watch her work, releasing glamorous studio photographs of herself and telling a news briefing, “I don’t think I’m too young anymore.” After last Wednesday’s opening night, she added, “Being booed belongs to the job description of a director.”

Meanwhile, her two competitors are again preparing to make their cases to the Wagner Foundation. Ms. Wagner-Pasquier has always avoided public mud-slinging, but her cousin Nike has spoken dismissively of Katharina, saying she has a “ready-made nest” and describing her opera productions as “old wine in a new wineskin.”

For the moment, the Wagner Foundation has given no hint that it is ready to name a new festival director, although there is widespread speculation in the German press that its board will meet for this purpose after the current festival ends on Aug. 28.

One fresh sign that change is in the air came last week at the annual meeting of the Friends of the Bayreuth Festival, which has two seats on the Wagner Foundation’s board. For the first time Wolfgang Wagner did not attend the meeting, and for the first time the Friends openly criticized his management style.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Widows of Jazz Greats Perpetuate Legacy

July 29, 2007
Still Married to the Music

IT’S a happy accident that two of the most self-absorbed legends in the history of jazz — the bassist Charles Mingus and the alto saxophonist Art Pepper — married women who wound up equally absorbed in the preservation of their legacies. The men have been dead now for a quarter-century, yet their widows, Sue Graham Mingus and Laurie Pepper, keep unveiling major discoveries.

Their latest finds are three previously unreleased live recordings. “Cornell 1964” (Blue Note) captures Mingus’s most adventurous sextet (including Eric Dolphy on reeds and Jaki Byard on piano) playing at Cornell University in a concert that, until now, no jazz historian even knew about. Volumes 1 and 2 of “Unreleased Art” (Widow’s Taste) feature Pepper’s most lyrical quartet, the first volume at a concert in Abashiri, Japan, in 1981, the second at the 1982 Kool Jazz Festival in Washington, which was his final performance.

All three albums capture the musicians at mesmerizing peaks: Mingus plucking his bass with ferocious merriment, Pepper blowing blues and ballads with a shivering intensity, as if each song recounted his own dreams and disappointments. “I’ve been itching to get the Cornell concert out for years,” Ms. Mingus said. “There’s more tapes where that came from, and I plan to release them soon too.”

Artists’ widows have long been keepers of the flame. John Coltrane’s final works were assiduously controlled by his wife, Alice (who died this year). Jackson Pollock’s posthumous image was heavily shaped by his wife, the artist Lee Krasner. Ernest Hemingway’s widow, Mary, released unfinished works and sued those who tried to publish others. But few widows have devoted themselves as persistently as Ms. Mingus and Ms. Pepper.

“It takes an obsessive personality to do this, and that’s what I am,” Ms. Pepper said with a laugh. Ms. Mingus admits to a passion for “the value of excess, of being blinded by something that matters.”

Sue Graham was a model, indie-film actress and Italian translator when a friend took her to see Mingus play at the Five Spot, a Bowery jazz club, in July 1964 (a few months after the Cornell concert). “I knew nothing about jazz at the time,” she said, sitting in the Midtown apartment that she and Mingus shared toward the end of his life. His piano (which she plays) takes up much of the living room. His bass leans in a corner. Framed sheets of his handwritten scores adorn several walls.

Through most of their 15 years together she published an alternative newspaper and only occasionally got involved in his career. That changed in 1979, after Mingus died of Lou Gehrig’s disease at 56. “Somebody was planning a Mingus tribute concert at Carnegie Hall,” she recalled. “I put together a band called Mingus Dynasty by looking on the back of his albums and calling people who had played on them. I had no idea what I was doing.”

The group went over well, and she took it on the road. She expanded it to the 14-piece Mingus Big Band, which the manager of Fez — a club in the basement of Time Cafe in Greenwich Village — hired to play every Tuesday night. When Fez closed, she moved the band uptown to Iridium, where it still alternates with a revamped 7-piece Mingus Dynasty and a 10-piece Mingus Orchestra, all devoted to playing her husband’s compositions.

Ms. Mingus commissions arrangements, produces the bands’ CDs (10 so far), manages their tours, picks the musicians for each gig (rotating among 100, many of whom were in grade school when Mingus lived) and often selects which songs they play.

It took her a while to grow into her part. During an early road trip a few months after Mingus died, she overheard band members making fun of her inexperience. “It hurt, but I was an outsider,” she said. “I’m not a jazz musician, yet here I was telling seasoned jazz musicians things like, ‘Please make your solo shorter.’ But I soon realized that I did have one power — I paid the checks. And there was the power of Charles’s music, which has an openness that forces musicians to free themselves, and they appreciated that.”

The Cornell tapes were discovered 20 years ago by Ed Michel, then a producer at Fantasy Records, who while putting together a 12-CD box set of Mingus recordings from the 1950s came across the reels in the Fantasy vaults. He urged Ralph Kaffel, Fantasy’s president at the time, to release the tapes as a separate CD. “I said: ‘This is the real deal. There’s nothing better,’ ” Mr. Michel recalled in a phone interview. “But Ralph waved me off.”

Mr. Kaffel, reached by phone in California, explained, “I’d been trying unsuccessfully to get Sue to sell me the rights to the tapes of a Mingus concert at Monterey, so I didn’t want to waste my time trying again with the Cornell tapes.”

Mr. Michel sent the tapes to Ms. Mingus. At the time she was busy producing the concert tour for “Epitaph,” a 500-page Mingus jazz symphony that had recently been unearthed, so she stored them with Nesuhi Ertegun, an old friend and a top executive at Atlantic Records. He died soon after, and the tapes couldn’t be found. After a frantic search, an assistant of Mr. Ertegun’s located them in a mislabeled box. Then Ms. Mingus lost them again, found them again, and finally arranged for Blue Note to release them as a two-CD set to coincide with what would have been Mingus’s 85th birthday.

“It’s all been serendipitous,” she said. “Not just the tapes but everything that’s happened. Either that or it’s all been orchestrated by Charles from the beyond.” She laughed. “He was prescient. He’d say he was receiving messages from the spheres, that the music was waiting for his fingers when he went to the piano.”

Now 77 Ms. Mingus is gradually turning over direction of the bands to selected musicians. Recently she signed with Ted Kurland Associates, a major booking firm, to take control of their tours. “The shame is, you finally learn everything, then you die,” she said with a shrug. “The important thing is, if I walked away today, all of this would survive.”

Laurie Miller grew up listening to her uncle’s collection of jazz records. She briefly studied jazz singing at Westlake College (she dropped out, she said, after realizing she wasn’t the next Billie Holiday) and of course had heard of Art Pepper, who in the early 1950s consistently placed second to Charlie Parker in the polls for best alto saxophonist.

She was a newspaper photographer when they met in 1969 at Synanon, the drug treatment center in Santa Monica, Calif. She had checked in to get off pills and alcohol; he entered to avoid getting sent back to San Quentin prison, where he had spent years locked up on drug charges. While at Synanon, Pepper entertained her with wild stories about his life.

“I became obsessed with the idea of turning these stories into a book,” Ms. Pepper recalled over brunch at a Midtown Manhattan restaurant during a recent visit from her home in Los Angeles. “At the time he had no career. I had no interest in helping him restart one.”

They left Synanon and moved in together in 1972. For the next several years she cajoled him into speaking into her tape recorder and then pieced together his stories. The result was the harrowing autobiography “Straight Life,” published in 1979. During the process, in 1976, they were married, and Pepper returned to playing jazz after a 15-year absence.

“Only then did I get caught up in the music,” Ms. Pepper said. “Every time he did a gig, I would sit there in the audience or at the sound board and say, ‘This is why I’m doing this.’ The glory of the music was overwhelming. It was like a religious experience. I looked at the band on the stage, these guys that I knew, and realized they’d become gods.”

Pepper remained an unrepentant addict, no longer shooting heroin but snorting cocaine on top of his methadone. Yet for the last six years of his life he toured almost constantly and recorded more than 40 albums. His wife booked the gigs, negotiated contracts, handled the money and went with him everywhere. “Art couldn’t organize anything except a drug buy,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Even that he did awkwardly.”

At one point he made her buy a tape-recorder and told her, “Record me every chance you get, so you’ll have something after I’m gone.” He died in 1982 — like Mingus at 56 — from liver disease and a slew of other ailments.

“After Art died, I was completely broke,” Ms. Pepper said. She published his music, produced a major box set of reissues, sold some of the tapes she had made — and made a living.)

Last fall, at 66, she started her own label, Widow’s Taste, after an editor from Travel & Leisure magazine called. He was writing an article about Abashiri and had heard that Pepper once played there. “Yes,” she replied, “I’m about to release a recording of that concert.” In fact she wasn’t. “At least I wasn’t until that moment,” she recalled, laughing. “But I figured if I did, that magazine would give it good publicity.”

She never heard from the editor again but went ahead with the CD. She followed up with the Washington concert — she obtained those tapes from Voice of America, which had recorded it — and plans to release many more from her vast archive.

“It sounds kind of woo-woo,” Ms. Pepper said, “but there’s a part of me that’s forever connected to Art. He’s my muse. He made me feel like somebody, and he still does.”

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Book Review: When Great Art Meets Great Evil

Lebrecht Music Library, London--Wilhelm Furtwängler, at the end of a concert in 1939, reaching out to shake hands with Hitler rather than responding with the “Heil Hitler!” salute.

July 29, 2007
When Great Art Meets Great Evil

FOR those who find inspiration and edification in great art, it is always painful to be reminded that artists are not necessarily admirable as people and that art is powerless in the face of great evil. That truth was baldly evident in Nazi Germany and in the way the regime used and abused music and musicians, to say nothing of the way it used and abused human beings of all kinds.

Two new novels touch on these issues in very different ways. In “The Savior” (Simon & Schuster), Eugene Drucker, a violinist in the Emerson String Quartet, creates Gottfried Keller, a violinist made to perform for suffering and often unruly patients in army infirmaries and for doomed inmates in a concentration camp. In “Variations on the Beast” (Dragon Press), Henry Grinberg, a psychoanalyst, posits Hermann Kapp-Dortmunder, a powerful maestro, as a fictional rival of Wilhelm Furtwängler (whose qualms about working under the regime he does not share) and Herbert von Karajan (whose vaulting ambition he does).

Mr. Drucker and Mr. Grinberg recently discussed their books and the issues they raise with James R. Oestreich. An edited transcript of their conversation follows.

OESTREICH Gene, give us a sense of what your book is about, how you came to this.

DRUCKER It’s a story that first came to me when I was preparing for the Queen Elisabeth competition in Belgium about 30 years ago. I played a lot of concerts to prepare myself for any kinds of distractions that might occur during the first two rounds of the competition, in which I knew that the jury was going to be seated directly in front of the stage. I knew that they might be writing comments at a certain point, and I felt that I needed to arm myself with as much experience as possible.

So I arranged a number of concerts in churches and private homes. And I enrolled in an organization called Hospital Audiences, which sent young performers out to hospitals, drug rehabilitation wards, veterans’ hospitals, alcoholics’ wards. And I got experience playing for people from all different strata socioeconomically, a lot of different ethnic backgrounds. And I had some distracting experiences while I was doing that.

In an alcoholics’ ward in the Bronx, when I was unable to play “Flight of the Bumblebee” on request, which is what they seemed to think a violinist should be able to do, they were really ticked off at me. And one woman turned her chair around and faced the wall the whole time I was playing. I could just feel a lot of bad will coming from some of the people as I was playing. I don’t mean to characterize all of the hospital performances like that. Some of the people were very attentive.

So I guess all of these observations were in the back of my mind as I went through the competition. I made it to the finals, and I was preparing for my New York debut recital later that year.

But I knew that I wanted to write something. I thought there was some material here about the relationship between a performer and his audiences. And perhaps it would be interesting to push it to the most extreme possible circumstances to see what effect that would have on the performer, and if music would have a different effect from usual on audiences in extreme situations as well. And somehow the idea of basing a story in Nazi Germany, in which a great deal of the action would take place in a concentration camp, came into my mind.

So I imagined the encounter between the violinist and his audience as a series of performances as part of an experiment. I never intended this to be a completely realistic story. The amount of change that occurs within three or four days in the camp, both in the violinist and in the inmates, is perhaps more metaphorical than intended to be accepted as something that could really happen in such a short span of time.

OESTREICH Your father’s experiences are also reflected.

DRUCKER Absolutely. But those I added somewhat later, as I was trying to flesh out the idea and add some subplots, which involve flashbacks to the period from 1933 to ’35. My father told me a great deal about his experiences as a Jew in Germany. When he graduated from the Hochschule in Cologne, he was supposed to play the Brahms Violin Concerto with the school orchestra. Then one day, after a Nazi administrative director had been appointed, he found his name crossed off the program posted on the bulletin board and went and told his teacher, Bram Eldering, one of the most revered violin teachers in Germany.

Eldering went with my father to the director’s office and said, “If Drucker can’t play the Brahms concerto, I will resign.” And it was early enough in the Third Reich that that kind of thing was not dangerous to do. So they made a compromise: My father was allowed to play the first movement of the concerto. He came out onstage and saw the first three rows of the audience lined with brownshirts. So I can imagine that the vibes he was getting from the audience were a lot more negative than the ones I was getting when I couldn’t play “Flight of the Bumblebee” in the alcoholics’ ward.

OESTREICH I started with Gene because Henry was saying the other day that he intended to write much the same kind of novel, but it went in a different direction once he started writing. Gene’s antihero is just somewhat uncomprehending, it seems to me.

DRUCKER Well, he tends to be naïve. But I tried hard not to make him too naïve, you know. I needed him to be believable.

OESTREICH But Henry’s antihero is grasping and cynical and altogether unpleasant.

GRINBERG He’s altogether unpleasant. But in a similarly — I shouldn’t say similarly, but in a strikingly naïve way. What characterizes him is that he’s an arrant opportunist. And he takes advantage, not too much pleasure, in whatever comes his way. And what doesn’t destroy him permits him to survive.

Can I tell a little about myself?

I was born in London of Eastern European Jewish parents in 1930 and spent the war years there, which did much to shape me. Thank God the British were never occupied by the Germans. But they were only 21 miles away across the channel. And it was hairy.

So I formed an absorption with the war, the events of the war. I didn’t know much about it while it was going on, but I’ve permitted myself to be consumed by histories, biographies, accounts, memoirs and movies of all kinds.

And this has existed on an equal plane with my passion for music, which is also all-consuming. My mother thought I had a good singing voice when I was a small child. And she thought if I only learned to play the piano, I could make myself a good living playing in cabarets. I don’t know why this idea seized her, but I’ve always been absorbed by music. So I was driven by these dual passions: music and the war.

And it soon occurred to me — when I was big, when I was able to sort my thoughts out — that, my God, a lot of the famous, the notable, the moving, the magnificent composers in the 18th and 19th centuries and earlier were Germans. And I tried to understand, how did such a nation turn out to be so bestial and cruel, so indifferent to the suffering of others? And I have no explanation for it.

As a practicing psychoanalyst, I can see individual expressions of rage and their causes and their so-called justifications. But for a whole nation to be consumed, to be seduced by an overwhelming idea — well, there are rationalizations, I guess, but not explanations. There’s no forgiveness for this. And I tried to put together a story of a person who was a participant and a causer of these kinds of things. At first I had it in mind to write a book something like Gene’s, from the point of view of a horrified observer. But I thought that it had been done. I’d read everything. What more could be said?

So I sort of poured my feelings of contempt and rage into the character I was devising. And I have to admit, after having been psychoanalyzed myself in preparation for the training, that something of Hermann Kapp-Dortmunder exists in me. I shudder to think that this may be so, but I have to accept the possibility. Murderous thoughts may have occurred to me, but, thank God, I’ve never killed anyone. Yet. So I framed a story from his young childhood — he is a winning child, a very attractive child — through his progressive deterioration as a contemptible character become more and more despicable.

OESTREICH Both of you, I’m sure, have thought of the larger issues involved in this. It’s almost a cliché to say that great art can’t coexist with cruelty and inhumanity. But, of course, it does. What do you make of those larger issues?

DRUCKER Great art is no protection against cruelty, bestiality. I think that both of our books show that. I do think there’s some possibility, if not for redemption, at least for some kind of solace in great art.

I’m thinking of Adorno’s famous phrase that after Auschwitz there could be no poetry. But the fact is that of course the world picks itself up — never fully recovering from the wounds, but the world picks itself up and goes on with its business in every sense of the word.

Maybe humanity saw in the Second World War, on a larger scale than ever before, the depths of depravity to which human nature could sink. And maybe it was more curious than ever that you could have people so involved with great art and willingly consenting to and ordering horrible mass executions to take place. But the fact is that art has continued. And if art could go forward, that means that people could draw some comfort from it.

And you could also say there’s a possibility for greater humanity through art than if you just let yourself be totally pulled down by the horrible things that have happened in the 20th century and that are now happening in various parts of the world. If you just let yourself get pulled down by it, then there’s even less hope for humanity.

GRINBERG One of the things that intrigues me is that art is devised by individual human beings. National policies or regional policies are products of organizations — governments, communities — for good or ill. And great artists themselves can be, as we say in psychoanalysis, compartmentalized: capable of the most magnificent instincts and thoughts and products, and at the same time capable of the most sordid conduct. So it’s a constant puzzle. And I draw from this no greater or more profound observation than that we’re all capable of it. What prevents us from doing the worst? Or what prevents us from doing our best? Or what doesn’t spur us on to do our best? Circumstance? National pride? Countless things. We all have to watch ourselves.

OESTREICH Is there any lasting effect on the music itself?

DRUCKER I think that classical music may have lost some of its status, position, in society for various reasons. And the main one, in my mind, is that popular culture has diverged, has gone much farther away from classical music, as far as I can tell, than it was 60 or 80 years ago. Whether that has anything to do with the Second World War, I’m not sure. I do know, from watching American movies from the 1940s and ’50s, that classical music was much more part of the general culture then than it is now. I can think of specific examples where people just let casual remarks drop, even if the movie’s not really about music, when you realize: “Oh, these people knew about Jascha Heifetz. They knew about Brahms’s Second Symphony.”

Usually nowadays when there’s a reference to classical music, I find it very stereotyped. It’s meant to almost caricature the way classical musicians might seem. And I don’t know if that has anything to do with what happened in the Second World War. I would tend to doubt it.

OESTREICH Are there any other thoughts on any of these issues?

GRINBERG I took great pains in trying to sketch out and to develop a character unable to form an independent conviction: political, social, moral. Because I don’t think the bulk of the German nation was psychopathic. But they, in the popular phrase, went along. And that’s a great bafflement to me: Why do people go along? And if I can refer to the current political situation, lots of people simply, to my mind, just go along for the sake of good old slogans, good old traditions and a blind belief that if we do it, it’s O.K.

Salsa dancing in the post-salsa era

July 29, 2007
Salsa Spins Beyond Its Roots

SOON after Héctor Lavoe, the great salsa singer, arrives in New York in the new biopic, “El Cantante,” he finds himself immersed in a vibrant scene in the Bronx: a nightclub crammed with bodies drenched in sweat moving to the pounding beat of congas. As the film, which is to open nationwide Aug. 3 and stars Marc Anthony as Mr. Lavoe, shows, it could have been any night in New York in the late 1960s, when dancing was a genuine physical manifestation of the energy of the streets.

But salsa dancing has changed dramatically since the heyday of Mr. Lavoe, whose career thrived throughout the 1970s and early ’80s, when hundreds of clubs throughout New York were packed nightly with Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans and other Latinos dancing to the music of people like Mr. Lavoe, Willie Colón and Ray Barretto.

Salsa is experiencing a revival in popular culture, with “El Cantante,” and “In the Heights,” the Broadway-bound musical that’s set in Washington Heights, along with moves spotted nightly on television shows like “So You Think You Can Dance.” But the dance form has largely disappeared from the New York clubs where it was born. The Cheetah Discotheque, Ochentas, Corso Ballroom have all long been closed. The last holdout, the Copacabana, was shuttered early this month. Like many mercurial dance trends, the demise of salsa’s club life was due in part to the changing times. Hip-hop began to attract young Hispanic-Americans who might otherwise have gravitated to Latin music. At the same time ballroom denizens began to embrace salsa as a serious dance form, which further alienated young clubgoers. Today salsa is kept alive by an ardent band of semiprofessional dancers, not only in New York but around the world.

“Salsa has gotten bigger in the sense that more people are taking lessons, but the people who came up in the streets and know about the music aren’t dancing,” said Henry Knowles, a D.J. who has been spinning salsa for more than 30 years. “In the ’80s and ’90s you could go out every night of the week in New York and have four or five places to choose from, and all of them had live music, and you don’t find that, especially in the Bronx, which used to be known as the barrio of the salsa.”

Maria Torres, the woman responsible for bringing the dance scenes in “El Cantante” to life, has lived through the evolution firsthand through 20-plus years as a salsa dancer and choreographer. She danced on Broadway in “Swing!” in 1999, choreographed “4 Guys Named José ... and Una Mujer Named Maria!” in 2000 and now teaches salsa and her own brand of Latin jazz throughout the world.

Over cups of café con leche at a Cuban coffeehouse near her home in Edgewater, N.J., Ms. Torres, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, recalled the days when salsa emerged.

“My father played the congas and on Saturdays my mom would cook and then we would spend the rest of the evening, all five of us, dancing,” she said of her early childhood in the ’60s. “The music and the dancing was a norm, and I knew young that I wanted to be a performer.”

When she was 12, she got her mother to sign her working papers early — the legal age was 13 — so that she could earn money to take dance lessons. Still, “there was no salsa at the time,” she said. “There was African, there was ballet, there was jazz. But there was no Latin.”

By the mid-1970s the 15-year-old Ms. Torres and her peers had begun to fuse mambo steps and movements with a grittier street style that reflected the changes people like Mr. Lavoe were making to salsa, giving it a harder edge.

Until then, she said, there were primarily only two styles of Latin dance known to the public: mambo and cha cha. “I went to this competition, it was freestyle, they were doing mambo, and I started laughing because I was like, ‘You don’t know what the kids are doing,’ so I started doing street stuff.”

With a new freestyle club background and formal dance training, Ms. Torres and others represented a new era of Latin dance, what has come to be recognized as salsa today.

Still, salsa remained a dance of the street, not taught but absorbed. That changed when Eddie Torres (no relation to Ms. Torres), brought the street into the studio in 1987. Mr. Torres, who runs the Eddie Torres Latin Dance Studio in Midtown Manhattan, grew up in Spanish Harlem and performed as a dancer with Tito Puente in New York throughout the 1980s.

“During the ’70s there was such a need for the education of this dance, and I was one of the guys that wanted to learn this, but there were no schools available,” he said in a phone interview.

Mr. Torres began teaching salsa as a dance technique after he choreographed a show for Puente at the Apollo Theater in 1987. “I hand-picked about 60 dancers from the nightclubs and I started teaching these dancers a routine. Afterwards I asked 12 dancers to stay with me and we formed the Eddie Torres Dance Company.”

For the most part Mr. Torres taught the dance as it was performed in clubs and on the street, but he made it more sophisticated by changing the emphasis of the steps to the music’s second beat, now known as breaking on two.

“There’s something in the rhythm section in a Latin dance called the tumbao,” he said. “It’s a time pattern that the conga player plays, and you’ll hear an accent, and it’s always on the second beat. This is why Tito Puente said breaking on two is natural, there’s a feeling in that beat that you gravitate to.”

Mr. Torres’s dancers soon started their own schools, spreading the more formal approach to salsa that is practiced today.

All the emphasis on technique has had a negative effect on the clubs. That change is evident at the Taj Lounge. For the past year this Indian restaurant in the Flatiron district has converted itself every Monday night into one of the city’s few remaining salsa clubs with live music.

Under billowing saffron canopies one recent Monday, one couple moved seductively around the dance floor, the man guiding his partner with his fingertips. The band, members of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and well-known salsa musicians like Bobby Allende and William Torres, played for no more that 15 people, all at some point expertly spinning and snapping around the dance floor.

Mr. Knowles, the D.J., was lukewarm about this new, serious breed of dancer. Most focus more on moves than on socializing and drinking. “The clubs depend on the bar,” he said, adding that if the dancers “want nice venues to go to, they need to understand what it takes to run a venue and support it and buy a few bottles.”

Franklin Ayala, a professional dance instructor who had come that night to perform a salsa routine for the other clubgoers, was also nostalgic about salsa’s grittier beginnings. “In the new age of dancing salsa mambo, the heart and soul are disappearing,” he said, sipping a bottle of Perrier. “Most of the people lack the cultural knowledge. The Copa used to be really great. Now everything is in the studio.”

But Mr. Torres said he believed that the changes are for the better. “Young salsa dancers are becoming Olympians, athletes in the dance, so they’re not thinking of drinking and doing drugs, like we did years ago.”

He admits that dancers with such strong technique can be intimidating. “You see people spinning like tops and flying in the air and gyrating, and doing this amazing movement and you want to run for your life,” he said. “It’s gotten so sophisticated. Before, we’d give the girls a little turn here, a little turn there. Now we start her off with 14 spins in the first bar.”

Besides the studios, salsa dancing is also thriving at salsa congresses, several days of workshops and performances that attract thousands of dancers from around the world. The original Salsa Congresso started in Puerto Rico in 1997; there are now congresses held in places as diverse as Los Angeles, Chicago, Britain, Romania, Dubai, Israel and Japan. New York’s annual congress is set for Aug. 30 to Sept. 2 at the Hilton New York.

John (Choco) Knight, who started as a vendor at the salsa congresses selling T-shirts and is now the promoter for this year’s New York congress, hopes that the presence of salsa in pop culture will encourage young people to return to the clubs and reinvigorate the scene. “The youth like the hip-hop culture,” he said, “so we have a program for kids all over New York City and part of this is going to be the basics of salsa dancing and the other part is showing the kids how to play the congas.” The name of the seminar, he added, is “Salsa Is the New Hip-Hop.”

Ms. Torres joins Mr. Knight and Mr. Knowles in hoping that a resurgence of salsa in the mainstream draws back people who have turned away from it. “It’s not about 5, 6, 7, 8,” Ms. Torres said, “I tell people, ‘Close your eyes, move.’ Right or wrong, with that music, you can’t help it. I feel that, now more than ever, this generation wants to go back. We need to relax, simplify it, and hopefully it will come back here.”

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Alan Watts on Music and Life (Animated)

Music, Teleology, and Life, a lecture by Alan Watts (1915-1973) animated by South Park's Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Also available here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Human Sound Conduit from Force Theory Productions

This interesting project comes from Force Theory Productions (hat tip to Music Thing) and involves sending low level electric currents through the human body, which is then used to activate synthesizers. They call it the Human Piano.

21st century Kabuki

Tradition With A Wry Twist
18th in a Line of Kabuki Masters, Kanzaburo Tries Out a Few Firsts

By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 26, 2007; C01

NEW YORK-- He is comfortable in chalk-white pancake makeup and lavish silk kimonos. He has mastered specialized styles of Japanese dance. He is an expressive actor, his red-lipped face going cross-eyed and his gestures freezing at moments of high drama.

And taking the stage at the Lincoln Center to play a shyster lecher of a monk, Nakamura Kanzaburo, 18th in a line of Kabuki masters, stands as the very symbol of Kabuki theater's 400 years of tradition.

Then he opens those lips.

"He's a metrosexual!" he says suddenly in an aside onstage.

"He only has a limited high school education," he says of a play's character.

"Who writes this crap?" he asks in his minimal English.

Kanzaburo, it seems, has gone 21st century on Kabuki.

"We want to create new ways of Kabuki," he says in Japanese through a translator while sitting in a midtown Manhattan restaurant, his soft-featured and smooth-shaven countenance well suited for his art's facial demands. Then, he adds, eyebrows raised: "But it has to be successful."

In 2000, he created his company, Heisei Nakamura-za -- which is scheduled to perform two pieces today at the Warner Theatre -- to try to recapture the feel of the earliest years of Kabuki. Back in Edo-period Japan, beginning about 1603, the art form was new and raw and raucous -- and so weird that its very name meant "tilted."

Kanzaburo and his director, Kushida Kazuyoshi, infuse the classics with contemporary details to re-create that edginess of centuries ago. By doing so, they hope to appeal to the generation of Japan's vid-kids reared on Hollywood films and anime.

The tradition of Kabuki is innovation, Kanzaburo likes to say. But the other tradition of that early, populist Kabuki is scorn from upper-caste tastemakers. Kanzaburo, 52, has faced such criticism.

Still, he continues to perform at Kabuki-za, the venerated Tokyo theater that shows unadulterated productions of the classics. And he teaches his two sons with the same orthodoxy that his father taught him.

The Kanzaburo dynasty dates to the 18th century, when three major theaters dominated Edo (now Tokyo), including the original Nakamura-za, run by the first Nakamura Kanzaburo.

Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII made his stage debut at age 4, after learning from his father, who was just beginning to export Kabuki after the neglect and isolation of World War II. Nakamura Kanzaburo XVII first performed in the United States in 1960, when Japanese-American relations were frayed. "Love, love, love," legend says Greta Garbo telegraphed after the performance.

Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII began training each of his sons, Kantaro, 25, and Shichinosuke, 24, in music and dance when they were 2, and they made theatrical debuts at 5 and 4, respectively.

Throughout their childhoods, they were cajoled with sweets and disciplined to perform. Dinner conversation at home has always revolved around recent Kabuki performances.

"In my father's mind, that's all there is -- it's all about theater," says Kantaro outside his Lincoln Center dressing room. "He's crazy! Totally crazy."

"In addition to being my children's father, I am also their master," says Kanzaburo, during a separate interview. "Even in the home, the language is very formal."

The work "Renjishi," which the company performed last week in New York, is a parable of a lion who throws his cub off a cliff and will rear him only if he can climb back up and prove he is strong enough to survive.

Kanzaburo used to perform it with his father, playing the cub to his father's lion. Now he performs with both his sons, playing the lion to their cubs.

"There's a part where we stomp our feet and there's a specific timing of when we stomp," he says. "I learned that from my father, but the timing was very specific to us. We would listen to each other. It goes beyond something you can actually teach. My sons would stomp at the same moment, do the stomp at the exact same time -- it's in their bodies, in their DNA.

"My father used to perform it and I would follow. I would be watching my father's back. Now that my father's gone, I have taken his role and my sons watch my back."

In "Hokaibo," a thrilling, raunchy comedy the company performed last week in New York, the core of Kabuki was apparent in all its melodrama, gore and profanity, along with extreme beauty, oddness and savage luxe.

Kanzaburo's humorous English-language additions fit right in a play in which a man waves a stick below his robes to indicate an erection, and in which a face is sliced off from its head to dangle midair, red and gory.

The play got an ovation, but there were critics in the house.

"It's a little too much," whispered an American usher, who said that she wrote her college thesis on Kabuki, and that Kanzaburo has departed too much from tradition.

Kanzaburo said conservatives in Japan initially ignored his new company. But then he garnered acclaim during his New York debut in 2004, in which the play called for him to be chased over miniature rooftops to end up in the arms of New York police.

"We got a rave review in the New York Times," he said. "That changed everything in Japan."

The latest production of Heisei Nakamura-za in Japan involved an electric guitar and female singers. Kanzaburo said even his wife -- who is the daughter, sister and mother of Kabuki actors -- had her qualms.

"My wife's family is very traditional -- whenever I do something new, she says, 'Is it a little too much?' Like electric guitar -- 'Is it too much?' Each time, we do a little more," he said.

The 900-seat theater, whose tickets cost roughly $125, sold out, said Toru Tanaka, Kanzaburo's manager. Gross ticket sales have been more than $1 million over the season's eight months, he says.

Original Kabuki stories were often dramatic versions of sensational events -- lovers' suicides, public vendettas, scandalous murders -- a kind of living newspaper performed by the river. "The Love Suicides at Sonezaki," for instance, was based on the true story of a young couple who took their own lives in a nearby forest. A low-caste Romeo and Juliet, he was a clerk in a soy-sauce business, she was a prostitute.

Kanzaburo says he has considered adapting contemporary events into plays, but life these days has become too easy to make good Kabuki.

"You can fly [for] hours and get to New York," he says. "In the past, you would have to really journey, walk, ride, take a boat -- even getting together for a simple meeting was full of confusion and complexity.

"If they had had cellphones, Romeo and Juliet would not have had to die. He would have called her, and said: 'Don't take the medicine! I'm going to take a potion that'll make me only look dead!' "

But Kanzaburo's sons have visions of adapting tales from splatter movies and comic books.

"Night of the Living Dead," suggests a smiling Kantaro, who is also a popular television and film actor in Japan. "Zombie."

"I can make those kinds of films into Kabuki," Kantaro says. "I want to do it from midnight till the first train starts running in the early morning. I'd have blood spurt on the audience. I'd call it 'Midnight Kabuki.' "

"Comics," adds Shichinosuke -- who appeared in the film "The Last Samurai" with Tom Cruise -- suggesting absurd and gruesome manga stories about cannibals who gain special powers when they consume human flesh.

"Kabuki is already violent, very dark," Kantaro says. "There's no light in the Edo period, no electricity, night is very dark, there's only moonlight -- and on nights without moonlight, there's only stars and lots of spirits."

Will their father accept these ideas as legitimate Kabuki?

"I haven't talked to my father about it," he says, raising his index finger to his lips. "Shhh. It's a secret."

And so the sons take up the tradition and the change -- and the risk.

"I try to teach them exactly as I was taught," says Kanzaburo. "I don't like distorting. But it's like the telephone game -- the same things always have to come out differently."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Reactable

The reactable is an amazing musical instrument interface:

Bjork's tour is really raising the profile of this instrument, which unfortunately is not commercially available.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Review of Debussy's Piano Roll Performances

July 24, 2007
Debussy’s Ghost Is Playing, So What Can a Critic Say?

Debussy left behind piano music in the form of black marks printed on a page. He also left behind a little of himself: piano rolls of Debussy playing Debussy. So elegantly conceived is the first part of this legacy that we sometimes wish the second part did not exist.

The scores imply a “this is it” permanence. The composer’s playing of them (now on a CD from the Pierian Recording Society) could just as well be the impulse of a moment. Copyright laws, in other words, are pretty clear about who owns what has been written. The rights to what it means are another matter.

James Joyce said that he took credit for all the interpretations by every “Ulysses” scholar in the world, whether any of them had occurred to him personally or not. The same idea coming from the opposite direction suggests that publishing something — laying it out before an audience — is an act of surrender, a loss of control that puts composers or writers at the mercy of interpreters. One can only appeal to good sense and good will.

This surrender of power is not the ghastly assault on artistic integrity that it seems. Letting go can do all sides a lot of good. In slow pieces like “Danseuses de Delphe,” Debussy the interpreter confirms the elegant classicism of his score-writing: simple movement without gimmicky flourishes, rhythm observed with a dignified precision.

When the tempos go up, so too do the pianist’s impetuosity levels. At one point in “La Cathédrale Engloutie,” Debussy nearly doubles the written tempo in relation to the note values around it. He throws himself at “La Danse de Puck” and “Minstrels.” “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” is a mad rush, perhaps intended as a comic portrayal of young pupils feverishly engaged in finger exercises. I don’t think the piece is a mad rush but rather a wistful, deftly accented and, above all, slightly slower bit of nostalgia. And if I can play it this way without contravening the written score, who says I can’t love the piece and declare its composer wrong?

In weaker moments, I even think I could get Debussy to like my way just fine, although I admit to feeling a little queasy every time I hear him play the piece for himself. The rolls were made in 1913, when the thought of performances frozen in time to be repeated verbatim and at will had scarcely occurred to anyone. The recording as snapshot was an idea that continued as far as the 1930s, when Artur Schnabel, recording Beethoven sonatas in Paris, declined to redo questionable takes. Dinu Lipatti’s recordings 10 years later were among the first to recognize that permanence without impregnability was not very permanent at all.

The Welte-Mignon mechanism used in the Debussy recordings represents an extreme sophistication of the player piano’s perforations on paper and pumping feet. Sensors measure the pressures exerted on individual notes. Other systems, the program notes for the Pierian CD say, added musical nuances after the rolls were made. Unlike Ampico and Duo-Art, Welte recorded them in real time. Listening, one looks over the shoulder for ghosts. One is at a séance, with the great man rapping on the table from a distance to make his presence known.

Kenneth Caswell of Austin, Tex., refurbishes these early performances and the machines to reproduce them. This CD has five of the Book 1 “Préludes,” the “Children’s Corner,” “La Plus Que Lente,” “La Soirée dans Grenade” and “D’un Cahier d’Esquisses,” all reperformed on a restored Feurich Welte piano in Mr. Caswell’s home. Also included are acoustical recordings of Debussy and the soprano Mary Garden in 1904 performing the “Ariettes Oubliées” and a snippet from “Pelléas et Mélisande.” Both sound significantly remote, the equivalent of ruins.

For the player piano pieces, Mr. Caswell says, he has adjusted piano and mechanism to the style and character of the piece at hand. But are the fast tempos here simply mechanical aberrations that misrepresent Debussy? Do we trust a reproductive process that has gone through so many middlemen and so much time? In any case, a listener not knowing that a machine was at work could easily be convinced that these performances come not from a ghost but from flesh and blood at the piano. Don’t underestimate the power of the mind to talk its owner into anything.

I’ll trust my old Durand editions, despite the misprints. Good Debussy players today begin as literal readers of these scores. Play the rhythms as if they were Mozart’s, and you are on the way to making them sound like Debussy. But written music can also tell us too much, the victim of overly possessive and micromanaging composers.

Mahler was one of those, but then he was a practicing conductor whose job it was to manage details. Paradoxically, Mahler the conductor continually rewrote the standard repertory to suit his needs and tastes. Interpreters make a mistake when they see written music as a kind of instruction book. (“Read this manual carefully, and put this wire there.”) Scores tells us what the listener can expect to hear. They are a kind of contract waiting to be signed.

So what part of Debussy’s “Gradus ad Parnassum” belongs to him and what part to me? A good question. Artistic property cases are starting to show up in the courts. I hope lawyers don’t get ahold of this one.

M&C NOTE: original post has two audio samples.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Anthiel's Ballet Mechanique performed by robots

Remarkable performance by instruments/machines of LEMUR: League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots:

Copyright Criminals: This Is a Sampling Sport

Great video (labeled a work in progress) with artists and scholars discussing audio sampling. Saw it first on Audio Lemon via Copyright Criminals.

Study: Airplay hurts sales

July 23, 2007
Drilling Down
Radio Listeners Seem to Buy Less Music

During the past month, musicians and record labels have resumed their decades-old fight to make AM and FM stations pay royalties to performers. A new group, the MusicFirst Coalition, has publicized a six-month-old study that suggests that radio play hurts record sales.

The study, written by Stan Liebowitz, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, compared record sales and music radio listening in some 100 American cities from 1998 to 2003. It found that, very roughly, an hour’s worth of radio listening per person per day, over the course of a year, corresponded with a 0.75 drop in the number of albums purchased per capita in a given city. Professor Liebowitz has proposed that people use radio listening as a substitute for buying music.

The broadcast industry has pointed to radio’s power to create top-selling songs. But Professor Liebowitz said that while radio could elevate some songs above others, its overall effect was to depress the market for albums.

Ethnomusicological Qu'ran Project in Philadelphia

An interesting sketch (five pages long) in the University of Pennsylvania Gazette of how ethnomusicology academia partners with and studies the musical elements of the Islamic Call to Prayer.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

From the Onion:

Prince as 21st-Century Pop Star/Multiplatform Corporation

July 22, 2007
The Once and Future Prince

I’VE got lots of money!” Prince exults in “The One U Wanna C,” a come-on from his new album, “Planet Earth” (Columbia). There’s no reason to disbelieve him. With a sponsorship deal here and an exclusive show there, worldwide television appearances and music given away, Prince has remade himself as a 21st-century pop star. As recording companies bemoan a crumbling market, Prince is demonstrating that charisma and the willingness to go out and perform are still bankable. He doesn’t have to go multiplatinum — he’s multiplatform.

Although Prince declined to be interviewed about “Planet Earth,” he has been highly visible lately. His career is heading into its third decade, and he could have long since become a nostalgia act. Instead he figured out early how to do what he wants in a 21st-century music business, and clearly what he wants is to make more music. Despite his flamboyant wardrobe and his fixation on the color purple, his career choices have been savvy ones, especially for someone so compulsively prolific.

Like most pop stars, he goes on major tours to coincide with album releases, which for Prince are frequent. But he also gets out and performs whenever he chooses. Last year he took over a club in Las Vegas and renamed it 3121, after his 2006 album “3121,” which briefly hit No. 1 and spawned multiple conflicting theories about the significance of the number. He started playing there twice a week for 900 people at $125 a ticket. In February he had an audience in the millions as the halftime entertainment for the Super Bowl. He has gone on to play well-publicized shows at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood for a few hundred people paying $3,121 per couple, and another elite show last weekend in East Hampton for about $3,000 per person.

Meanwhile Verizon put Prince in commercials that use “Guitar,” another song from “Planet Earth,” as bait for its V Cast Song ID service, making the song a free download to certain cellphones. On July 7 Prince introduced a perfume, 3121, by performing at Macy’s in Minneapolis.

In Britain he infuriated retailers by agreeing to have a newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, include the complete “Planet Earth” CD in copies on July 15. (The album is due for American release this Tuesday.) Presumably The Mail paid him something in the range of what he could have earned, much more slowly, through album sales. British fans have remunerated him in other ways. On Aug. 1 he starts a string of no fewer than 21 sold-out arena concerts, 20,000 seats each, at the O2 (formerly the Millennium Dome) in London at the relatively low ticket price of £31.21, about $64. The O2 ticket price also includes a copy of the album; Prince did the same thing with his tour for “Musicology” in 2004. Those “Musicology” albums were counted toward the pop charts, which then changed their rules; the “Planet Earth” albums will not be. But fans will have the record.

Prince’s priorities are obvious. The main one is getting his music to an audience, whether it’s purchased or not. “Prince’s only aim is to get music direct to those that want to hear it,” his spokesman said when announcing that The Mail would include the CD. (After the newspaper giveaway was announced, Columbia Records’ corporate parent, Sony Music, chose not to release “Planet Earth” for retail sale in Britain.) Other musicians may think that their best chance at a livelihood is locking away their music — impossible as that is in the digital era — and demanding that fans buy everything they want to hear. But Prince is confident that his listeners will support him, if not through CD sales then at shows or through other deals.

This is how most pop stars operate now: as brand-name corporations taking in revenue streams from publishing, touring, merchandising, advertising, ringtones, fashion, satellite radio gigs or whatever else their advisers can come up with. Rare indeed are holdouts like Bruce Springsteen who simply perform and record. The usual rationale is that hearing a U2 song in an iPod commercial or seeing Shakira’s face on a cellphone billboard will get listeners interested in the albums that these artists release every few years after much painstaking effort.

But Prince is different. His way of working has nothing to do with scarcity. In the studio — he has his own recording complex, Paisley Park near Minneapolis — he is a torrent of new songs, while older, unreleased ones fill the archive he calls the Vault. Prince apparently has to hold himself back to release only one album a year. He’s equally indefatigable in concert. On the road he regularly follows full-tilt shows — singing, playing, dancing, sweating — with jam sessions that stretch into the night. It doesn’t hurt that at 49 he can still act like a sex symbol and that his stage shows are unpredictable.

Through it all he still aims for hit singles. Although he has delved into all sorts of music, his favorite form is clearly the four-minute pop tune full of hooks. But his career choices don’t revolve around squeezing the maximum return out of a few precious songs. They’re about letting the music flow.

Prince gravitated early to the Internet. Even in the days of dial-up he sought to make his music available online, first as a way of ordering albums and then through digital distribution. (He was also ahead of his time with another form of communication: text messaging abbreviations, having long ago traded “you” for “U.”) Where the Internet truism is that information wants to be free, Prince’s corollary is that music wants to be heard.

How much he makes from his various efforts is a closely guarded secret. But he’s not dependent on royalties trickling in from retail album sales after being filtered through major-label accounting procedures. Instead someone — a sponsor, a newspaper, a promoter — pays him upfront, making disc sales less important. Which is not to say that he’s doing badly on that front: “3121” sold about 520,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and “Musicology,” with its concert giveaways, was certified multiplatinum.

Prince ended a two-decade contract with Warner Brothers Records in 1996 after a very public falling out with the label. During the mid-1990s he appeared with the word “Slave” painted on his face and said the label was holding back material he wanted to release. For a while he dropped the name Prince — which was under contract to Warner Brothers and Warner/Chappell Music — for an unpronounceable glyph; when the contracts ran out, he was Prince again. And since leaving Warner Brothers he has been independent. He owns his recordings himself, beginning with a three-CD set called “Emancipation” from 1996. He has released albums on his own NPG label and Web site or has licensed them, one by one, for distribution by major labels, presumably letting them compete for each title. Over the past decade he has had albums released through EMI, Arista, Universal and Sony.

The idea behind long-term recording contracts is that a label will invest in building a career. But Prince (in part because of Warner Brothers’ promotion) has been a full-fledged star since the ’80s. So now a label’s main job for him is to get the CDs into stores.

Prince also experimented with having fans subscribe directly to receive his music online, which turned out to be a better idea in theory than in execution. After five years he quietly shut down his NPG Music Club in 2006. Still, his Web site (which is now 3121.com) usually has a rare recording or two for streaming or downloading. Why not? There’s plenty more.

“Planet Earth” is a good but not great Prince album. Unlike “3121,” which built many of its tracks around zinging, programmed electronic sounds, “Planet Earth” sounds largely handmade, even retro. “In this digital age you could just page me,” Prince sings in “Somewhere Here on Earth,” a slow-motion falsetto ballad. “I know it’s the rage but it just don’t engage me like a face-to-face.”

Prince, as usual, is a one-man studio band — drums, keyboards, guitars, vocals — joined here and there by a horn section or a cooing female voice. This time he leans toward rock rather than funk. Serious songs begin and end the album. It starts with “Planet Earth,” an earnest environmental piano anthem with an orchestral buildup, and winds up with the devout “Lion of Judah” and with “Resolution,” an antiwar song. In between, Prince flirts a lot, playing hard-to-get as he rocks through “Guitar” (“I love you baby, but not like I love my guitar”) and promising sensual delights in the upbeat “One U Wanna C” and the slow-grinding “Mr. Goodnight.” There’s also a catchy, nutty song about a model, “Chelsea Rodgers,” who’s both hard-partying and erudite; Prince sings that she knows about how “Rome was chillin’ in Carthage in 33 B.C.E.”

Although Columbia probably thinks otherwise, how the album fares commercially is almost incidental. With or without the CD business, Prince gets to keep making music: in arenas, in clubs, in the studio. Fans buy concert tickets, companies rent his panache, pleasure is shared. It’s a party that can go on a long time.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Chachá's Obituary in Cuban Newspaper

Murió uno de los fundadores de Los muñequitos de Matanzas

Matanzas, Cuba, 19 julio.— Los tambores tocaron con sentimiento "Cuando se pierde a un amigo" para despedir a uno de sus más emblemáticos cultores, Esteban "Chachá" Vega, quien murió hoy aquí a los 82 años de edad.

Fue uno de los fundadores de la agrupación Los muñequitos de Matanzas, ganadora de un Grammy Latino, y reverenciada por el público y la crítica especializada internacional.

La salud de Vega se resintió a principios de año cuando severos trastornos circulatorios requirieron la amputación de una de sus piernas.

Con su muerte se cierra el capítulo de los ocho músicos que en octubre de 1952, en la humilde barriada La Marina de esta ciudad -100 kilómetros al este de la Habana- dieron vida a la agrupación de ritmos afrocubanos Los Muñequitos.

"Mi paso por Los muñequitos fue uno de los mayores sucesos en mi vida", confesó Vega en una ocasión cuando destacó también: todo lo que aprendí, lo aprendí en mi barrio.

El etnólogo Juan García comentó a Prensa Latina que Chachá fue una importante representación de la cultura popular afrocubana, y por su destreza y limpieza en los toques revolucionó estos ritmos.

No tuvo hijos pero sí muchos descendientes y dejó sembrado sus conocimientos en esos muchachos. Los mejores percusionistas que tiene Matanzas en la actualidad son prueba viviente de ello, señaló.

No fue egoísta y brindó su sabiduría como a él también se la transmitieron antes. Fue consecuente con la tradición de que "un solo palo no hace monte", destacó.

El sepelio del tamborero más viejo de la mayor de las Antillas tendrá lugar en el cementerio San Carlos de la urbe matancera. Entre las ofrendas florales enviadas figuró una a nombre de Abel Prieto, ministro de Cultura de la isla.

Friday, July 20, 2007

"Chachá" Esteban Domingo Vega Bacallao (1925-2007)

Esteban Vega Bacallao, better known as Chachá, passed away on July 18. Born in 1925, Chachá was a giant of Afro-Cuban music, a man without peer in terms of his experience with Afro-Cuban drumming and religion. I saw him last three weeks ago, and he was in bad shape. I had the opportunity to thank him for all he had taught me. I am honored to have known him.

A Stax Records Celebration in Los Angeles

From the Los Angeles Times
Nostalgia reigns, future beckons at Stax celebration
A 50th anniversary show for the revived record label just touches on the glory of its beginnings while hinting at what might be ahead.
By Ann Powers
Times Staff Writer

July 20, 2007

Isaac Hayes must have felt a wave of déjà vu as he sat behind his Korg keyboard Wednesday at the Hollywood Bowl. The soul music sovereign was headlining a celebration of Stax Records — something he'd also done 35 years before. Wednesday's event was a landmark, celebrating the Memphis label's 50th anniversary. But the earlier show actually made history: It was Wattstax, the Black Woodstock.

That August day in 1972, the Rev. Jesse Jackson led the mostly black crowd in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in a chant of "I am somebody"; gospel and blues music fed the feeling of community pride. Six years after the Watts riots, Wattstax was a statement of renewed pride and hope, and Hayes stood proudly at its center, Black Moses at the mountaintop.

Much has happened since those heady days of liberation. Hayes himself pioneered a synthesis that set the stage for disco and hip-hop — which soon relegated classic soul to the oldies bins. Baby boomers became the main champions of the earthy sound Stax embodied, while the children of the Wattstax audience invented "urban" music. Today, white hipsters such as Amy Winehouse adopt the Stax vernacular while its originators hit the casino circuit and PBS telethons. The man who wrote the theme from "Shaft" almost became better known as the voice of a cartoon chef.

Onstage Wednesday, though, Hayes looked to the future. He's recently signed to the Stax imprint, which was reinstated this year. "I have a new record coming out," he murmured. "It's going to be the joint. You know this next song, though." And he offered another familiar groove to the Bowl's mostly baby boomer picnickers.

The very fact of Hayes' performance was reason to cheer: Last year, he suffered a stroke, and he is clearly still recovering. Leading a brawny band that featured two drummers, three additional keyboardists and itchy-fingered guitarist Charles "Skip" Pitts, Hayes labored to focus as his trademark lush arrangements unfolded. His baritone croon cracked on the high notes, and he needed a notebook for lyrics; yet even when stumbling, he maintained his cool.

Hayes' set was a poignant conclusion to an evening that offered a somewhat skewed view of the label's legacy, while tentatively asserting its future. With major Stax artists such as Otis Redding and Rufus Thomas deceased, and others, such as Sam Moore, apparently unavailable, the roster beyond Hayes mostly consisted of lesser-known label stalwarts.

Eddie Floyd zealously shouted out his career-topper "Knock on Wood"; William Bell, a key Stax songwriter, affably vamped through "I Forgot to Be Your Lover." Dr. Mable John — the doctorate is in divinity — drew on her ministerial experience to wring drama from "Your Good Thing (Is About to End)." Keyboardist and bandleader Booker T. Jones, a crucial player in the Stax story, led a revamped lineup of the MGs through a couple of tight, bright instrumentals.

These veterans, feted by enthusiastic host Randy Jackson, did their best to argue for the enduring importance of Stax. The absence of the label's biggest legends inevitably weakened the case. Tribute concerts are overdone these days, but a few upstart stars trying to fill those giant shoes might have offered support to the elder voices.

The younger artists who did appear are neo-soul veterans whose careers Stax may reboot. Angie Stone and Lalah Hathaway could be perfect for the label's revival. Each has a trend-resistant style that makes sense within its lineage.

Hathaway's steamy version of Luther Ingram's "(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right" showed serious intelligence, while Stone, making her way through Shirley Brown's "Woman to Woman," exhibited the grace and good humor that already should have made her a bigger star.

If Hathaway and Stone succeed, Stax could be the label that finally reinstates black voices within the "retro soul" trend exemplified by Winehouse. Their upcoming releases will tell; for now, rich history must suffice.

The Bowl concert wasn't the only way to get a fix of that history. A 50th anniversary boxed set was issued last March. On Aug. 1, PBS will air "Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story," part of its "American Masters" series. And this weekend, American Cinematheque's Mods & Rockers Festival brings five Stax-related films — including Mel Stuart's mesmerizing documentary about Wattstax — to the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Anyone who's sung along wistfully to a Stax song should see these films, and witness the music as it was when nostalgia didn't apply.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Commentary on Prince's CD giveaway in Britain

KCRW - On The Beat
Princely Guidance
WED JUL 18, 2007

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Prince, the irrepressible Prince. He defies convention at every turn. His latest twist sent the UK record business into a tailspin. For the launch of his new album, Prince broke his own street date to give millions of copies of his new CD away. Last weekend, the British newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, gave away nearly 3 million copies of Prince's new album, as a promotion. The album was scheduled for record-store release ten days later. The Mail on Sunday proudly boasted the feat on their cover, announcing in bold letters that all ten tracks were the exact same ones to be sold in stores. For the price of their ordinary Sunday newspaper, consumers in the UK were treated to a free copy of Prince's new album without any digital rights management code attached.

For Prince, it was a stroke of genius. His last album only sold 80,000 copies in the UK. Now, with one promotion, he got his music into more UK homes, than he did during the entire 1980s. Record stores were furious. His UK label, Sony/BMG, shelved plans to release the new CD, in solidarity with retailers.

It's actually not that surprising, if you look at it logically. CDs are easy to manufacture now and if you're valued and willing to give something away, a joint promotion with a large media outlet would not be difficult to organize. And since artists like Prince earn exponentially more money live than they do on record sales, building a giant new live audience base is just good business.

I suppose the biggest reason stars have avoided the promotional giveaway route in the past, is the promise of a cold shoulder from the trade. Artists who do not play nice with the record industry have faced sizeable retribution. The code of, 'You Scratch My Back, I'll Scratch Yours' is more than a clich' in the record business. It's a way of life. Record labels have banked on it for years. Retailers, radio stations and television networks have fed off it. Here in this country, artists like the Rolling Stones, the Eagles and Bon Jovi--in other words, mainstream superstars--have all made exclusive retail deals in recent years and faced retaliation from the retailer community.

But times are changing, and fast. Record labels are quickly learning just how little control they have over their future. They can't tell radio stations what to play, they can't tell retailers what to stock, and they most definitely can't tell consumers what to buy. Instead, labels must settle for what they can do. First order of business is to change expectations. The standards by which labels judge success today were seen as dismal failures ten years ago.

Secondly, labels must analyze the business model they've chosen. If an artist like Prince can go directly to his audience, what value does a record label really offer? Thirdly, they have to analyze their economy. Superstar sales fed the machine for baby bands. No superstars where does that leave artist development?

Prince's promotion underscores just how vunerable the record business is. Behind all the rhetoric and positioning, the artist still runs the show. Yes, middlemen will have roles, but the golden era of music business kingmakers has largely declined. So goes the kingdom.

Miles Davis, in his autobiography, said that Prince was the only musician in the world capable of moving music forward. He may have meant that creatively, but Prince has done a fine job of opening our eyes to the business world as well.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Science of Corporate DJs

LA Times
The science of corporate DJs
Prescriptive Music sets the the desired tone at restaurants and hotels.
By Kimi Yoshino , Times Staff Writer
Times Staff Writer

July 18, 2007

Allen Klevens and Jason Shapiro don't spin vinyl at parties or nightclubs, but they might just be the ultimate DJs.

If you've checked into a Marriott recently, eaten at Wolfgang Puck's Cut or gotten a facial at Spa Nordstrom, you've probably heard their mixes.

It's a science, said Klevens, a former musician who started his Woodland Hills-based Prescriptive Music business by compiling and peddling soothing CDs for surgeons to play in operating rooms.

Today, Klevens and Shapiro help hotels and restaurants create a vibe. Don't think it matters? Listen to the music next time you're out to dinner, or checking into a resort.

"Music sets the tone for any place — whether you're in the car, whether you're in the home or in a hotel," said Klevens, 34. "However the client wants them to feel, we can portray with music."

Too loud and it overtakes conversations. Too soft and it adds nothing. If it's the morning, it should be mellow. Think Michael Buble and Norah Jones, not the Rolling Stones or Madonna, who are better suited for the afternoon.

"You notice it when it's not good or you notice it when it's not there," said Klevens, sitting with Shapiro in The Blvd restaurant and lounge at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire. "Put it back on and it changes the whole vibe."

To make their point, they tap into their laptop wired into the hotel's sound system and turn the music off.

In an instant, the room turns loud and hectic — lots of jumbled conversation and noise. Music, they contend, can make all the difference.

Unlike Muzak, in which playlists cannot be altered on site at a moment's notice, Prescriptive Music offers clients a licensed on-demand music system, which allows them to hear what they want, wherever and whenever they want. They also can manipulate playlists to delete songs or play them at a specific time.

A pianist since age 4, Klevens said music is "in my blood." But after graduating from UNLV with a degree in music and communications, he didn't have a plan for how to turn it into a career.

For a while, he sold pianos and television advertising time. Neither made him happy. One day, bored, he went with his dad to a convention in Anaheim for the American Assn. of Operating Room Nurses.

One booth had people lined up to buy a CD, "Music for the O.R.," and the idea hit him.

He formed Prescriptive Music in 1999, with the slogan: "Bringing music to health." He compiled six CDs, finding musicians to create and record music suitable for doctors. One album was a mix of piano and cello music. Cellos are the closest instrument to the human voice and relaxing in tone, Klevens said.

At a trade show, he met someone who introduced him to the Venetian hotel's Canyon Ranch SpaClub.

The Las Vegas spa wanted a new CD and new packaging. It became Klevens' first private-label CD, tailored specifically for the destination.

The Venetian began leaving the CD on pillows in some of its suites. Pretty soon, other spas and hotels started calling Prescriptive to do the same thing for them.

Klevens and Shapiro sift through Internet sites such as MySpace and Facebook for emerging artists, and they sign musicians from other countries. Often, customers don't want recognizable songs. They want music that sets a tone and reinforces the message of the place.

One mountain spa in Utah, for example, asked for yodeling music. "I tell you, we scoured everywhere and we found it," Klevens said.

Klevens struck up a friendship with Shapiro through their children and in 2005, they teamed up. Shapiro, a former baseball player for the Chicago White Sox farm system and a real estate lender, helped focus on the business side.

Sales in 2006 ballooned by nearly 300% to $1.35 million. They expect to double that in 2007. With six employees, including an art director, music director and salesperson, their team is "lean and mean," Shapiro said.

The business has branched out well beyond the branded CDs. Last September, they pioneered what they call "On Key," packaging a CD with a special slot for a hotel key. The CDs are given to guests when they check in. The Flamingo casino in Las Vegas rolled out the CDs as part of their new "Go Rooms" with flat-panel televisions, iPod docking stations and a CD and DVD player. Among their other clients are San Diego's new Ivy Hotel and the Noble House Hotel & Resorts, which has 11 properties in the U.S.

"We're pretty much redefining the Flamingo," said Jay Franken, the hotel's vice president of operations. "We opened in the '50s and we were at the top, but it's gone downhill. Now we're trying to get it back on top again."

With hotel guests, Franken said, "You only have one chance at a first impression." Customers checking into the renovated rooms are handed their key, tucked inside the CD case.

The case also contains a message from the Flamingo's president: "Settle in, unpack and enjoy the music!"

Once in their room, guests can listen to the music, which Franken describes as "down-tempo lounge music." The 15-minute CD includes three mixes and a fourth song by Nils Lofgren, the guitarist from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.

"The guests love" the CD, Franken said. "A lot of people are taking it with them. We're not getting very many of them back. And customers are asking, 'The music's cool, can we get more?' "

Flamingo may have Klevens and Shapiro put together a full CD of 20 tracks and offer it for sale in the hotel's gift shop.

Besides the private-label and On Key CDs, Prescriptive Music offers music consulting and custom playlists. Right now, they're helping Marriott International Inc. install music systems at 400 hotels across the country.

Typically, they meet with hotel managers to find out what kind of environment they want to create, then they start building a playlist.

"It's an iPod on steroids," Klevens said. "We can access over 100,000 tracks."

As part of their consulting, Klevens and Shapiro usually tell hotels to turn up the volume. The music is also zoned into chunks of time and types of music. At the Beverly Wilshire, they've created a special jazz-meets-'80s happy hour selection for The Blvd lounge.

In the hotel's spa, the music had to be soothing, but not sleep inducing. After a brief experiment with a vocal track or two, those were ditched in favor of more instrumental tunes. The system is so personalized that spa director Daisy Tepper said the staff could create custom playlists for frequent clients.

"We had 10 CD players playing five CDs and people would say, 'I'm so sick and tired of this music,' " Tepper said. "When I found these guys, I was in heaven."


Monday, July 16, 2007

Music Business Still Groping for a Digital-Age Plan

Digital Culture
Music Business Still Groping for a Digital-Age Plan

by Neda Ulaby

All Things Considered, July 12, 2007 · R&B singer Ne-Yo, by most measures, is having a very good year. His latest CD hit No. 1, and has sold more than half a million copies since it came out in May. And Ne-Yo has sold more than two million individual tracks online.

Not that he's bragging.

"I don't look at this like, 'Let me try and sell as many albums as I possibly,'" says Ne-Yo, aka Shaffer Chimere Smith. "I mean, that's what everyone wants you to do, that's what everybody prays for. But at the same time, that's not what you're thinking about when you're making the music. ... You're just thinking about trying to create a piece of art, something that will outlive you and your kids, and your kids' kids."

Goal or not, Ne-Yo's sales numbers are especially impressive in today's music-industry landscape. According to midyear record-sales figures, many of his fellow artists aren't doing nearly as well.

Nielsen SoundScan data shows that CD sales for this year have fallen 19 percent compared with the same period last year. That's after a roughly 7 percent drop from all of last year. And while more people are legitimately buying music online, 10 times as many songs are still downloaded for free.

According to Michael Bracy, policy director of an indie-artist advocacy group called the Future of Music Coalition, the basic, age-old question about attracting attention to performers remains the same. But there's a newer problem, too: "How do you 'monetize' the digital-music industry?" he asks.

Not that CDs and other physical products are going away just yet. Mitch Bainwohl, head of the Recording Industry Association of America, says neither the industry nor consumers are willing to toss out their shiny plastic discs.

"There's an appetite for physical product there," Bainwohl says. "There's still something, when you can touch and feel and read and own, that's still of value to people. But they'll be looking for products different from the traditional CD, and we'll see over the course of the next six months a range of these products come out."

The newest big innovation is called the Music Video Interactive disc, loaded with extras like downloadable MP3s. But according to some, the MVI and other physical products represent an attachment to an obsolete sales model.

In part, it's a generational divide. Bracy, from the Future of Music Coalition, says there's now an entire generation of listeners who grew up fully digital. And sales of digital songs have risen 49 percent.

But according to Eric Garland, who runs a Web site called Big Champagne that tracks music online, digital hits tend to be purchased by older listeners, either for themselves or for their kids and grandkids — so the top sellers in a given year might be standards by Rod Stewart, or songs from Disney's High School Musical.

Younger consumers who want to hear Ne-Yo's latest hit, meanwhile, can just visit his MySpace page and hear it streamed for free.

"More and more what we hear from young people is, 'I really have no need to buy that song from iTunes, or really I can't even be bothered to steal it, because I've listened to it on MySpace now a thousand times and if I ever hear it again it will be too soon," Garland says.

Young people increasingly discover new songs and artists by reading music blogs and listening to Web radio. But Bracy warns that the fate of the music industry — in particular, the future of independent artists — hinges on the unencumbered availability of music online — specifically, the issue of network neutrality.

Net neutrality is the idea that Internet providers must treat all content equally. It's the subject of pending legislation, and it's opposed by cable and telecom companies that want to offer different tiers of service — and prioritize their premium customers' content. (See a primer.)

If Net neutrality goes the way of the LP, Bracy says, it would be a tough, new atmosphere for independent musicians.

"It is absolutely vital for the future of the music community that we don't allow these two industries to basically lock down the Internet in the same way that Clear Channel and several other large corporations locked down commercial radio," Bracy says.

Bracy is referring to the change heard on the airwaves after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed Clear Channel and other big broadcasters to purchase thousands of radio stations nationwide. Recently, Clear Channel and three other broadcasters reached a payola settlement with the Federal Communication Commission; as a result, the four agreed to devote airtime to independent musicians.

Of those four, only CBS Radio has been willing to give NPR examples of actual programs featuring independent musicians. Among the initiatives they showcased are entire shows on local CBS stations featuring only local indie acts — that air when local audiences are actually listening.