Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Story on Jazz Arranger/Composer Sammy Nestico


Musician’s talent takes him places
Superstars and presidents are part of his adventures


Tuesday, December 29, 2009 at 12:01 a.m.

What do you say to the president after he insults your life’s work?

Absolutely nothing.

That was one lesson no one had to teach Sammy Nestico, who was working as the White House chief music arranger when then-President Lyndon Johnson said, “You call this music?”

“I didn’t answer, although I didn’t think his concept of music was worth a damn,” Nestico said.

Nestico, 85, a jazz musician and La Costa resident, was recently nominated for a Grammy in the Best Large Ensemble category, for his album “Fun Time,” which he recorded with the SWR Big Band of Germany.

He composed 11 of the album’s 15 tracks and arranged all 15.

“I’m going to conduct it in March in Germany,” he said.

His living room is occupied by a large composing console. A Yamaha keyboard is plugged into his Macintosh. As he plays chords, the corresponding notes pop onto the screen.

He’s been arranging jazz and big-band pieces on a computer since 1999. He also has drawers full of handwritten music that he produced for some familiar musicians: Barbra Streisand, Bing Crosby, Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Frank Sinatra.

The names are so numerous they would fill a book, so Nestico wrote one “The Gift of Music,” his memoir.

“The Library of Congress came and took 600 of my publications,” Nestico said, standing in the middle of a room full of mementos. It’s the only place in his home where he shows off his achievements. He and his wife, Shirley, call it the “brag room.”

He considers his collaboration with jazz pianist and band leader Count Basie the pinnacle of his musical sojourn.

“Count Basie and I did 10 albums, and four of them won Grammys,” Nestico said. “Count Basie was my favorite person in the world.”

He recalled a recording session when they had to stop to fix an error in the music charts.

After correcting it, “I said (to the sound engineer), ‘Play that back, I want to hear the tempo,’ ” Nestico recalled. But Basie waved him off and started tapping his foot.

“He had radar in his shoes,” Nestico said, marveling at the memory.

The two worked together from 1968 until Basie died in 1984.

Dressed in a cream-colored argyle sweater, brown slacks and white tennis shoes, Nestico looks much younger than his age.

He said he tried to retire, but couldn’t.

His collaboration with SWR Big Band started in 2003, when he and the band were nominated for Grammys separately and met at the awards ceremony.

“Europe still loves big bands,” Nestico said.

Nestico discovered music at age 13, as a high school freshman in Pittsburgh.

“After two years I knew what I wanted to do the rest of my life,” he said.

When he joined the Army in 1941, the big bands of Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Count Basie and Duke Ellington ruled the music world.

“When I came home (in 1946) the swing era was still in bloom, then it all ended,” Nestico said.

So what was a trombonist with dreams of conducting to do?

Re-enlist, this time with the Air Force as arranger for its concert band and jazz ensemble. The Air Force still gives an annual award, The Sammy Nestico Arranging Award, in his honor.

In 1963 he became arranger and leader of the Marine Band in the White House, serving Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

He liked Kennedy and was arranging something for him when the president was assassinated.

“I started in May and with Nov. 22 it was over,” he said.

Asked what music Johnson liked, Nestico grimaced. “Hello, Lyndon,” he said, sung to the tune of “Hello, Dolly.” It was Johnson’s campaign song.

After his White House stint ended, Nestico came to California. “I wanted to make my way in Hollywood.”

He said he got his big break with Capitol Records, but added, “A break is when preparation meets opportunity.”

He recalled recording with some of the great musicians, including Crosby, whom he admired. But he said recording with Crosby was a disappointment.

“Bing came in, sat in a booth and overdubbed,” rather than standing in front of the band and singing. “He lost that spontaneity.”

Sinatra, on the other hand, “stood in front of the orchestra, his hand cupped over his ear,” and let it rip.

“It was electric,” Nestico said. “I thought he was the greatest singer of the 20th century.”

Before his guests left, Nestico logged onto his iTunes library and queued up Michael Bublé singing Nestico’s arrangement of “Mack the Knife.”

As the song played, Nestico’s hands waved in the air as he conducted the virtual musicians from his chair. His face glowed.

“It humbles me, that people like my music,” Nestico said after the song ended.

But, he said, “The more I give the more I get back.”

African Drums as Possible Cause of NH Anthrax Case

Yet another reason to avoid drum circles! :)


Drums probed as possible cause of NH anthrax case
By HOLLY RAMER, Associated Press Writer Holly Ramer, Associated Press Writer Tue Dec 29, 7:45 pm ET

CONCORD, N.H. – A New Hampshire woman diagnosed with a rare gastrointestinal anthrax case may have swallowed spores propelled into the air by vigorous drumming, a state health expert said.

Officials haven't confirmed how the woman contracted the disease but are focusing on a drum circle gathering she attended Dec. 4 at the United Campus Ministry center in Durham shortly before becoming ill. Public health officials who learned of her diagnosis last week immediately began investigating, and earlier this week shut down the ministry center after anthrax spores were found on two drums.

Some health officials believe it's the nation's first case of gastrointestinal anthrax, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is unsure.

Dr. Elizabeth Talbot, an adviser to the state's public health division, said one theory is that the woman ingested airborne spores from a drum's animal-hide covering.

"This was a wild type of anthrax that is found ubiquitously in our environment. It can become stirred up or agitated to a place where it briefly suspends in the air, and this patient likely contacted it on her fingers and introduced it into her mouth or inhaled a ... spore into her mouth and then swallowed it," she said.

Two recent U.S. anthrax cases involved African drums covered with animal hides, but those involved spores that were inhaled or entered through the skin.

On Tuesday, officials said spores also were found on an electrical outlet and that antibiotics and vaccines would be offered to about 80 people, including about 60 who attended the drum circle as well as University of New Hampshire students who lived in the building and those who worked there.

Samples have been sent to the CDC to determine whether the patient's anthrax strain matches that found on the drums or electrical outlet.

The ministry center is not part of the university, but it houses students and runs a variety of campus-based programs. Pastor Larry Brickner-Wood, the center's director, said the monthly drum circles involve people playing hand drums and other percussion instruments to build community spirit and promote well-being.

"Our thoughts and prayers remain with this young woman and her family," he said.

Anthrax is a potentially fatal disease caused by bacteria. There are three types of infection based on where the disease manifests itself: inhalation affecting the lungs, cutaneous affecting the skin and gastrointestinal affecting the digestive tract. Infection from natural sources such as animal skins, soil or contaminated meat is rare in developed countries, but occurs regularly in poor nations. It is not transmitted from person-to-person.

In 2007, two members of a Connecticut family were treated for skin anthrax traced to animal hides used to make African drums. In 2006, a New York dancer and drum maker who collapsed after a performance in Pennsylvania recovered from the first case of naturally occurring inhalation anthrax in the United States since 1976.

According to state public health officials and The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, there have been no previous confirmed cases of gastrointestinal anthrax in the United States. A Minnesota farm family was believed to have symptoms of the disease in 2000 after eating meat from an infected cow, but blood test results from exposed family members were negative, state health officials said.

read the rest HERE

Monday, December 28, 2009

Chile's New Museum of Memory and Human Rights

LAT has a story on Chile's new Museum of Memory and Human Rights:

By Chris Kraul
December 28, 2009

Reporting from Santiago, Chile - What they'll leave in and what they'll leave out -- that question haunts Margarita Iglesias as she considers next month's opening of the Museum of Memory and Human Rights.

That Chile is recognizing victims of its military dictatorship in a striking new "monument to memories" is positive, said Iglesias, both a victim and a historian of Augusto Pinochet's bloody 17-year rule. As a high school student activist in Santiago in 1975, she was tortured before fleeing with her family to France.

"It can't be just a horror show. The political movements and conditions that led to the coup and its aftermath must be explained. If not, how can you understand how state terrorism came about?" said Iglesias, 51, now a University of Chile professor.

The $19-million museum that opens in downtown Santiago on Jan. 11 is dedicated to the 31,000 murder, torture and kidnapping victims of the 1973-90 military dictatorship of Gen. Pinochet.

Museum directors are keeping a tight lid on the specific exhibits, hoping for maximum effect.

read the rest HERE

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Another Liam Clancy obit (NYT)


December 5, 2009
Liam Clancy, Last of the Folk Group, Dies at 74

Liam Clancy, an Irish troubadour and the last surviving member of the singing Clancy Brothers, who found fame in the United States and helped spread the popularity of Irish folk music around the world, died on Thursday in Cork, Ireland. He was 74.

His death was announced by his family and reported on the Web site www.liamclancy.com. He had been treated for pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease, The Associated Press reported.

Wearing white Aran sweaters, the Clancy Brothers, joined by a fellow Irishman, Tommy Makem, won fans with musicality, sentimentality and irreverence, not unlike the Smothers Brothers a few years later, though without their penchant for patter.

Both authentic Irish and expatriate Irish, they were cultural crossovers, and, for a while, celebrities. When they were criticized, it was as the epitome of staged Irishness, as a documentary about Liam Clancy put it.

Mr. Clancy played guitar, sang in a bell-clear baritone, wore a friendly, slightly roguish expression and exuded a humorous world-weariness that made him beloved by his countrymen as quintessentially Irish. But he and his musical clan made their name in America.

It was in 1956 that Mr. Clancy, then 20 or 21 and intending to be an actor, immigrated to the United States, joining two of his older brothers, Tom and Paddy, in New York. He achieved some success as an actor; he and Tom starred as prison guards in a well-received stage dramatization of the Frank O’Connor story “The Guests of the Nation,” and he appeared on Broadway in a short-lived production of James Costigan’s “Little Moon of Alban.”

In the meantime, the brothers and Mr. Makem, a friend of Liam’s who had also immigrated, began singing together, performing rowdy and sentimental Irish folk tunes at clubs and fund-raisers and developing a local following. They recorded on a label established by Paddy Clancy, and in the early 1960s, billed as the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, they made a career-changing appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” They soon found themselves in the midst of the folk music revolution, touring and recording several albums.

Liam Clancy lived in Greenwich Village, where he befriended another young folk singer, Bob Dylan. They dated a pair of sisters, Mr. Clancy told interviewers. Recalling that time in an interview on Irish television two years ago, Mr. Clancy said that he, a Roman Catholic from rural Ireland, and Mr. Dylan, a Jew from a small Minnesota town, shared an important quality.

“People who were trying to escape repressed backgrounds, like mine and Bob Dylan’s, were congregating in Greenwich Village,” he said. “It was a place you could be yourself, where you could get away from the directives of the people who went before you, people who you loved but who you knew had blinkers on.”

Mr. Dylan told an interviewer in 1984: “I never heard a singer as good as Liam ever. He was just the best ballad singer I’d ever heard in my life. Still is, probably.”


read the rest HERE

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Liam Clancy, last of the Clancy Brothers, dies at 74


Irish folk pioneer Liam Clancy dies at 74
He was last member of Clancy Brothers, which took U.S. by storm in ’60s

updated 1:38 p.m. PT, Fri., Dec . 4, 2009

DUBLIN - Irish balladeer Liam Clancy, last of the Clancy Brothers troupe whose feisty, boozy songs of old Ireland struck a sentimental chord worldwide, died Friday in a Cork hospital. He was 74.

Clancy died in his hospital bed flanked by his wife Kim and daughters Siobhan and Fiona, his manager and family said. He suffered for years against incurable pulmonary fibrosis, the same lung-destroying disease that claimed one of his older singing brothers, Bobby, in 2002.

Ireland's arts minister, Martin Cullen, led nationwide tributes to Clancy, praising his "superb singing, warm voice and gift for communicating in a unique storytelling style."

"It was always so obvious with Liam Clancy that he loved what he was doing and his very presence made you feel welcome," Cullen said.

Clancy, the youngest of 11 children in a County Tipperary household filled with folklore and song, emigrated to the U.S. in 1956 to join two elder brothers, Tom and Patrick, in New York City who were singing on the side as they pursued budding careers as Broadway actors.

But after recording a 1956 album of Irish rebel songs, they grew a New York following as musicians and formed a partnership with Northern Ireland immigrant Tommy Makem. Soon they were earning more as weekend singers in Manhattan bars and clubs than as full-time stage actors.

Scouts for U.S. television's flagship “Ed Sullivan Show” spotted them performing in Greenwich Village's White Horse Tavern, and their 16-minute appearance in March 1961 on the program — extended because of the last-minute cancellation of another act — turned them into an Irish-American folk phenomenon.

Their agent cultivated a schmaltzy appeal to Irish emigrants worldwide, encouraging the Clancy Brothers and Makem to perform in cream-white Aran wool sweaters hand-knit from home as well as tweed fishermen's caps.

But their up-tempo resurrection of traditionally slow, sad Irish songs made a deeper impression on much of America's emerging folk artist movement, including Bob Dylan, who paid tribute to Liam Clancy as "the best ballad singer I'd ever heard in my life."

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem performed Carnegie Hall, toured Ireland, Britain, Australia and repeatedly throughout the U.S., and recorded more than a dozen albums before breaking up amid arguments over bills, babes and booze in 1974.


read the rest HERE

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Pakistani rappers


Forget the Taliban – Pakistani teens just wanna rap
Posted: Tuesday, December 01, 2009 11:25 AM
Filed Under: Islamabad, Pakistan
By Carol Grisanti, NBC News Producer

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The beat was good. Even the song's title, "Turn Your Swag Off," was catchy – but the lyrics needed some explanation.

"What does it all mean?" I asked.

"It’s just about me rapping how cool and bad I am," said Adil Omar, an 18-year-old Pakistani rap artist.

"I don’t get it," I told him.

"Look," he tried to explain, "I guess you could call it a protest song, but having fun with it, instead of taking myself too seriously. The violence is all comical and the sex is all comical. It’s just a funny song."

"Oh, I see," I said, pretending to get it.

Omar went on to explain that he often writes fictionalized or outrageous lyrics as metaphors for other things.

"In Pakistan today," Omar explained, "there are certain things you can’t do, you can’t promote. There are certain topics you can’t tap into because it’s a bit dangerous – like religion and politics." He said he is not an activist and stays away from rapping about governments. "You can’t target certain individuals in Pakistan," he said, "but if you speak out against the West, then no one really cares."

Some Pakistani musicians have made headlines by tapping into the anti-Western and especially the anti-American sentiments gripping the country. I asked Omar about the band "co-Ven," and their song, "Ready to Die" which was singled out recently by the New York Times for its anti-American lyrics.

Omar didn’t think that was cause for too much concern. "It [the song] was probably for shock value and people are just taking it too seriously," he said. "It’s has always been either the really violent and explicit side of rock, rap and hip-hop that gets the news coverage or it’s the protest side. It’s always been a genre, its entertainment," he argued with a conviction that belies his years.

Privileged Pakistani rappers
Rap music was born out of rage. It began, over 20 years ago, as a cry against the deprivation and unequal opportunities in America’s urban ghettoes. But today’s Pakistani rappers, by contrast, are from the country’s educated and privileged classes and at least by Omar’s account – they are "just having fun."

Omar is a well-mannered and soft-spoken teenager who lives in a posh suburb of Islamabad. He attends a private high school and is hoping to get into an American university next year. He started to write rap lyrics, as a hobby, when he was 9 years old. But it may well have been the death of his father one year later when Omar decided his life’s ambition was to become a full-time rapper.

"My mother thinks it’s a bit extreme, but she is supportive of my music. She understands that it’s the only thing I am probably good at," he said.

I asked him about the lyrics to his song, "The Writer," which say, "The world hates me so I hate the world."

"That’s pretty strong stuff," I said. Omar laughed. "That was all about being so involved in your work that you have the feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world," he said, grinning.

He advised me not to take his writings so literally. "You thought it was anger," he said. "I’m not angry. I'm actually pretty happy, but maybe if I didn’t have this outlet to write this stuff, I would be angry," he said.

Taking it to the Internet
Omar is not the only Pakistani teenager turning to rap music to voice their feelings. Earlier this year, Bakhtawar Bhutto, the 18-year-old daughter of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, mourned her slain mother in a rap rhythm she released on YouTube.

In her song, "I Would Take the Pain Away," Bhutto rapped about her grief: "Shot in the back of your ear, so young in 54th year, murdered with three kids left behind."// "Why did you have to go?"//" Why did you have to leave?" The teenager sang out her pain over a simple hip hop beat and edited video clips of her mother.

Like young musicians across the world, the Internet is the vehicle of choice for young independent Pakistani artists who are looking for their big breakthrough. Omar uploads his music on YouTube, as well as on Facebook and MySpace for maximum exposure.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

BBC: The Golden Age of Infinite Music

BBC news

The golden age of infinite music

By John Harris

Not long ago, if you wanted music, you had to save up your pocket money, take a trip to the local record shop and lovingly leaf through its racks.

Now, it's almost all free, instant and infinite. And our relationship with music has changed forever.

We all know what the alleged future of music will look like. The record industry will be reduced to a smouldering ruin, the album replaced by endless individual songs and music rendered pretty much worthless by the fact that it's universally free.

Empty record shops will be overrun with weeds and old CDs will be used as coasters. Your Madonnas, U2s and Coldplays will prosper, but for anyone further down the hierarchy, the idea of making much of a living will be a non-starter.

That's the accepted wisdom, at least. Some of it will probably prove to be true.

But that grisly picture ignores subtler and more fascinating changes in our relationship with music that people have barely begun to understand.

Now, just to make this clear from the off: I'm nearly 40. Having recently moved house and consigned my CD collection to cardboard boxes, I've been surprised to find that I don't miss it at all.

I use the free version of the music streaming application Spotify almost every day - and I now understand that it represents a genuine revolution in music consumption (and makes iTunes look pathetically old-fashioned).

Should the music industry finally get its act together and insist on some kind of subscription model, I'll pay for the same kind of service. But I wouldn't imagine that will alter my new listening habits.

All that said, my musical mindset is still rooted in an increasingly far-off past, where to be a true fan of a band took real dedication, access to obscure information - and, frankly, money.

I've just poured the music-related contents of my brain into a book, and I would imagine that 30-ish year's worth of knowledge about everyone from Funkadelic to The Smiths has probably cost me a five-figure sum, a stupid amount spent on music publications, and endless embarrassed moments spent trying to have a conversation with those arrogant blokes who tend to work in record shops.

Last weekend, by contrast, I had a long chat about music with the 16-year-old son of a friend, and my mind boggled.

At virtually no cost, in precious little time and with zero embarrassment, he had become an expert on all kinds of artists, from English singer-songwriters like Nick Drake and John Martyn to such American indie-rock titans as Pavement and Dinosaur Jr.

Though only a sixth-former, he seemingly knew as much about most of these people as any music writer.

Like any rock-oriented youth, his appetite for music is endless, and so is the opportunity - whether illegally or not - to indulge it. He is a paid-up fan of bands it took me until I was 30 to even discover - and at this rate, by the time he hits his 20s, he'll have reached the true musical outer limits.

What does all this tell us? Clearly, for anyone raised in the old world, the modern way of music consumption has all kinds of unforeseen benefits.

A good example: though I've always heard plenty of talk about the utter awfulness of such infamous albums as Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music (a double album of guitar feedback and white noise) or Deep Purple's Concerto For Group And Orchestra (don't ask), I can now listen to them for nothing, and have an opinion of my own.

“ As one of my music press colleagues use to say, there's no longer any past - just an endless present ”

They're both terrible, incidentally, but that isn't the point. What really matters is the fact that I can so easily tune in - and what that says about a new world of completely risk-free listening.

Most importantly, as the great digital revolution rolls on, bands are no longer having to compete for people's money. Instead, they're jockeying for our time. And the field is huge, crossing not just genres, but eras.

Who do you want to investigate today: TV On The Radio or Crosby, Stills and Nash? Do you fancy losing yourself in the brilliant first album by Florence And The Machine, or deriving no end of entertainment from how awful The Rolling Stones got in the 1980s? Little Richard or La Roux? White Lies or Black Sabbath?

As one of my music press colleagues use to say, there's no longer any past - just an endless present.

For musicians, it's self-evident that there are all kinds of new openings for their music, but even if they break through, much less concerted attention will be paid to it.

They may get an audience, but it will be very easily distracted. After all, endlessly playing the same album so as to extract your "money's worth" is behaviour that will soon seem like something from the dark ages.

Woe betide the act that decides to make the kind of record that tends to be charitably described as a "grower" - something that may account for, say, the scant interest paid to the last U2 album.

Certainly, as a record company MD told me a couple of weeks ago, stuffing your albums with mere filler is no longer a sensible option.

So, yes, the record industry may yet have to comprehensively reinvent itself, or implode. Sooner or later, given that the need to read reviews before deciding what to listen to is fading fast, I rather fear that even music journalists may be rendered irrelevant.

But for now, this is a truly golden age - the era of the teenage expert, albums that will soon have to be full of finely-honed hits and the completely infinite online jukebox.

Even if the music business manages to somehow crack down on illicit downloading and claws back a few quid via annual subscriptions in return for that self-same endless supply of music, the same essential rules will apply. Really: what's not to like?

John Harris is the author of Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll, published by Sphere.

Halloween History from HuffPo

Read full story at HuffPo

The History Of Halloween Plus 5 Things You Didn't Know About The Holiday!

Huffington Post | Katla McGlynn
First Posted: 10-30-09 11:01 AM | Updated: 10-30-09 11:42 AM

Americans love Halloween. We as a country spend over $5 billion a year celebrating it. But where did the holiday come from? And how did traditions like asking strangers for food and dressing up as ghosts develop?

Halloween has its roots in Samhain (pronounced sow-in), an ancient harvest festival held at the end of the Celtic year. The festival marked the end of summer and the beginning of the dark wintertime. It was believed the spirits of the dead returned on this eve to damage crops and play tricks on the living. It was also believed that the Celtic priests, or Druids, were able to make predictions about the future, which they did during large bonfire celebrations where they wore animal skins and sacrificed crops and animals to the spirits.

In early A.D., Romans came to the Celtic territories of modern day England, Scotland and Northern France, and were the first people to influence the celebration of Samhain. They brought their own holidays: Feralia, the Roman day to honor the dead in late October, as well as another holiday to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. It is possible that this Roman influence is the reason apples are given out and bobbed for on Halloween.

By 800 A.D., Christianity spread to the Celtic Territories and brought with it another holiday, "All Saints Day." Pope Boniface IV, the designator of All Saints Day, was likely trying to replace Samhain with a similar but holier holiday meant to honor saints and martyrs. Later on, All Saints Day was renamed "All Hallows" and thus the day of Samhain (Oct. 31st) began to be called "All Hallows Eve," and eventually shortened to "Hallowe'en."

All of the holidays that were melded together to create our modern version of Halloween involved dressing up in one way or another. The celebrators of Samhain wore animal skins at their bonfire celebrations and those that observed "All Saints Day" often dressed as saints or angels. Later on men in Scotland would impersonate the dead on the day, explaining the ghoulish tradition we still observe.

During the mid 1800's, Irish and English immigrants flooded the United States and brought Halloween with them. From these immigrants we received the Halloween traditions we recognize today, however skewed they are now. For instance, the first trick-or-treaters were far from today's smiling children with commercialized costumes. They lived in Medieval England, and practiced "souling," in which poor people would beg for sweet breads, in return for praying for the families' souls. Later, the immigrants who brought Halloween to America would develop their own version of trick-or-treating, but it didn't become popular here until the 1930s.

Read the full story (including the five things) at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/30/the-history-of-halloween_n_321021.html

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wynton Marsalis Interview with CNN

From CNN (click HERE for full story)

Marsalis: Racism and greed put blues at the back of the bus
October 24, 2009 7:14 a.m. EDT

CNN: You have a DVD out called "Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis Play the Music of Ray Charles." That's jazz, country and R&B. What do those styles have in common?

WYNTON MARSALIS: The blues. It runs through all American music. Somebody bending the note. The other is the two-beat groove. It's in New Orleans music, it's in jazz, it's in country music, it's in gospel.

The other is the down-home sensibility that's sophisticated. That's why Louis Armstrong could play with Jimmy Rogers. Ray Charles is actually the embodiment. He and Willie Nelson came 'round in young manhood at a time in the late '40s early 1950s when all of the American music, root music, was all combined. It became segregated in the mid- to late-'50s.

Carl Perkins had a hit in 1955 -- "Blue Suede Shoes." It was on the R&B charts, it was on the country charts, it was No. 1 on the rock and roll charts. [It was] basically the same music, so there was an intersection point. It's like in cuisine, that would be like fried chicken and red beans and rice, it would be like potato salad and barbecued ribs. Someone in Texas not going to eat barbecued ribs?

CNN: What led to the compartmentalization of these kinds of music, that came from the same roots?

MARSALIS: Money and racism. I don't know which one came first.

CNN: Why was blues not regarded as something of value in this country?

MARSALIS: It came from who we didn't like. That's what it was -- it wasn't that we couldn't see it. Who it came from, we did not like them.

CNN: So do you include African-Americans in that? So black people didn't appreciate it?

MARSALIS: They didn't appreciate it. They don't now. That's part of the whole kind of self-hatred that comes from that type of slavery that the black American still labors under. That racism was heavy.

The legacy of it -- it wasn't just 50 years. It was seven generations, and if a generation is 33 years, ... seven or eight [generations]. That's a long time. And to recover from it has proven to be very difficult.

CNN: So is that what's going on with rap?

MARSALIS: No question. Rap is the repetition of the minstrel show.

But it's not going to go away, it was too many people. If it had been 100,000 people, it can go away. ... But it can't be millions of people and their descendants. [Slavery] was a very powerful and successful system. And it went on for a long time.

In the aftermath of slavery ... there was a retrenching, and [it turned into] the type of racism that was experienced by people who came to the North.

That consciousness has begun to shift, in the last 30 years. And that's 20 or 30 years of just thawing and shifting that's attached to 330 years [of slavery], and the thought you can get up and you will be better ... that's just asinine, it's absurd.

CNN: But didn't the blues come from this, being marginalized?

MARSALIS: The blues was like a solution to that, an antidote to it. But the blues is not only Afro-American music.

CNN: So, you've written that it's not just African, it's American. What about America gave rise to the blues?

MARSALIS: It is America. It's that combination, those tensions, the east-west tensions, the kind of tension of being a slave in the land of freedom, and the land of freedom itself, the Western mind, the concept of soloing across time, the call-and-response of democracy, direct call and response, the kind of optimism that is American in nature, is in the blues.

There are elements in it that are African and there are elements of the American take on Europeanism. It's integrated, it's like a person whose DNA is integrated. You start to try to figure it out -- but you can't. That's how the blues is, that's why it fits with everything, country-western, bluegrass -- everybody's playing the same music.

CNN: You write that jazz leaves room for individual creativity, but you have to listen and allow the other musicians to participate equally. So what's the lesson for the nation?

MARSALIS: We have to have an overall cultural objective, which we don't have. ... We then fight under the flag of a position, the left or the right, black or white, old or young. It's very simplistic. We don't know our cultural history, we don't know we are together, and because we don't know we are together we can't act in that way. And that's the main thing our music, and the history of our music, can teach us as a nation.

The one concept that has to be at the heart of the American experiment is integrity. The integrity of the process is very important. If you come up on the bandstand you have to be at least trying to swing. If you don't really want to swing or play with the musicians, there's nothing they can do, because you have the freedom to destroy it.

CNN: Your father set an example. It sounds like you got a lot of your ideas about integrity from him.

MARSALIS: Yes, he sure did. From him. He wasn't segregated about any music, he didn't care, you could play pop music, funk, he'd say "right, great man." He was a jazz musician. He wasn't uptight and always railing about somebody. What he did was very clear, and what he thought about being a man, he didn't look at a boy like that.

I remember he sat in with our funk band one time. ... We'd go to his gig, there'd be six people. We'd go to our gig, there'd be thousands of people, dancing having a good time. We were playing a dance at a high school, he didn't know any of the music, but he played all of the music we had.

We were laughing, we said, my daddy didn't know any of the music and he didn't know any of the tunes but he was playing better than us.

CNN: When you were playing in a funk band in high school, did you look at your jazz musician dad as old school?

MARSALIS: No, no, never, I never suffered from that misconception, because he was so much hipper than the people I was around. Philosophically, he knew more than we did. I'd bring people to see him. He never tried to act like a child, like a kid. I never thought I knew more than him, he was on the case.

CNN: What are the components of jazz?

MARSALIS: The main three components are the blues, improvisation -- which is some kind of element that people are trying to make it up -- and swing, which means even though they're making up music, they're trying to make it up together. It feels great, like you're having a great conversation with somebody. Sometimes you get in a good coordinated groove, and it just continues to happen.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cover of the Month: Palmplamoose's cover of Beyonce's "Single Ladies"

Viral popular for good reasons:

And here's the Original Beyoncé version:

And for all the parents out there, here is the also viral "Single Ladies Devastation":

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Carl Sagan "A Glorious Dawn"

Autotuning some of Sagan's great lines:

HuffPo: Music Stars Demand Records On Bush Administration's Use Of Music For Torture


Sam Stein
stein@huffingtonpost.com | HuffPost Reporting

Music Stars Demand Records On Bush Administration's Use Of Music For Torture

First Posted: 10-21-09 11:59 PM | Updated: 10-22-09 12:35 AM

A group of prominent musicians are joining a campaign to close Guantanamo Bay and demanding the release of records about what music was used during the potential torture of detainees there and at other facilities.

Some of the more famous names in the music industry are formally lending their prestige to an effort being led by retired generals, progressive groups and a former member of Congress to shut GITMO down. The list includes Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Jackson Browne, Rise Against, Rosanne Cash, Billy Bragg and the Roots, all of whom are joining the broader National Campaign to Close Guantanamo which was launched earlier in the week.

Hoping to cast further light on the potential illegalities that took place at the detention facility, the group is also working to obtain records about why and how music was used (under laws authorized by the Bush administration) to effectively torture suspected terrorists. The musicians have officially endorsed a Freedom of Information Act request for the declassification of all secret government records pertaining to music utilized during interrogations. At least two members of the coalition, Reznor and Morello, have had their music linked to interrogations.

"Guantanamo is known around the world as one of the places where human beings have been tortured -- from water boarding, to stripping, hooding and forcing detainees into humiliating sexual acts -- playing music for 72 hours in a row at volumes just below that to shatter the eardrums," said Morello, in a statement provided by the NCCG. "Guantanamo may be Dick Cheney's idea of America, but it's not mine. The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me -- we need to end torture and close Guantanamo now."

The National Security Archives will be officially filing the FOIA request on behalf of the National Campaign to Close Guantanamo (NCCG).

The FOIA request comes on the heels of a renewed effort on behalf of the NCCG and others to compel Congress to complete GITMO's closure. The group launched a national ad campaign earlier in the week, in which it argued that the continued operation of the detention facility was undermining America's reputation in the world community and Congress' standing as a legislative body.


The FOIA, which is officially being distributed on Thursday, will be sent to the Department of Defense, the Department of the Army, the U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Central Command, U.S. Joint Forces Command, U.S. Army Special Forces Command, DOA Criminal Investigative Task Force, Defense Intelligence Agency, Federal Communications Commission, FBI, CIA, and the Department of Justice.

It requests "all documents, including but not limited to intelligence reports, briefings, transcripts, talking points, meeting minutes, memoranda, cables, audio/visual recordings and emails produced by the Central Intelligence Agency concerning the use of loud music as a technique to interrogate detainees at U.S.-operated prison facilities at Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan during 2002-the present."

The use of jarring music during the interrogation of suspected terrorists has been reported in many works documenting the authorization of torture during the Bush administration. At least 20 declassified documents currently exist that reference the use of "loud" music to "create futility" in uncooperative detainees. Among the artists whose music is believed to have been used include Metallica, Britney Spears, the Drowning Pool, Eminem, Bruce Springsteen and the Bee Gees.

Not all of these bands and musicians signed on to the NCCG FOIA. But others, whose music was not reportedly used, did so out of philosophical objections.

"We have spent the past 30 years supporting causes related to peace and justice," read a statement from REM, "to now learn that some of our friends' music may have been used as part of the torture tactics without their consent or knowledge, is horrific. It's anti-American, period."

Added the hip-hop band The Roots: "When we found out that music was being used as part of the torture going on at Guantanamo, shackling and beating people -- we were angry. Just as we wouldn't be caught dead allowing Dick Cheney to use our music for his campaigns, you can be damn sure, we wouldn't allow him to use it to torture other human beings. Congress needs to shut Guantanamo down."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Defaced Currency Artwork

Abe Lincoln as a ninja turtle is probably my fav. Check them out.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Congolese Sapeur Fashion photographed by Hector Mediavilla

I'm going full Congo for the moment. Check out this posting of Congolese fashionistas known as sapeurs, with wonderful photographs by Hector Mediavilla HERE.

Congolese Painter Monsengwo Kejwamfi Moke

A great little feature story on Congolese painter Monsengwo Kejwamfi Moke available HERE.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Thus Spake Zarathustra

The End of College As We Know It: College for $99/month

Washington Monthly
September / October 2009
College for $99 a Month
The next generation of online education could be great for students—and catastrophic for universities.
by Kevin Carey

Like millions of other Americans, Barbara Solvig lost her job this year. A fifty-year-old mother of three, Solvig had taken college courses at Northeastern Illinois University years ago, but never earned a degree. Ever since, she had been forced to settle for less money than coworkers with similar jobs who had bachelor’s degrees. So when she was laid off from a human resources position at a Chicago-area hospital in January, she knew the time had come to finally get her own credential. Doing that wasn’t going to be easy, because four-year degrees typically require two luxuries Solvig didn’t have: years of time out of the workforce, and a great deal of money.

Luckily for Solvig, there were new options available. She went online looking for something that fit her wallet and her time horizon, and an ad caught her eye: a company called StraighterLine was offering online courses in subjects like accounting, statistics, and math. This was hardly unusual—hundreds of institutions are online hawking degrees. But one thing about StraighterLine stood out: it offered as many courses as she wanted for a flat rate of $99 a month. “It sounds like a scam,” Solvig thought—she’d run into a lot of shady companies and hard-sell tactics on the Internet. But for $99, why not take a risk?

Solvig threw herself into the work, studying up to eighteen hours a day. And contrary to expectations, the courses turned out to be just what she was looking for. Every morning she would sit down at her kitchen table and log on to a Web site where she could access course materials, read text, watch videos, listen to podcasts, work through problem sets, and take exams. Online study groups were available where she could collaborate with other students via listserv and instant messaging. StraighterLine courses were designed and overseen by professors with PhDs, and she was assigned a course adviser who was available by e-mail. And if Solvig got stuck and needed help, real live tutors were available at any time, day or night, just a mouse click away.

Crucially for Solvig—who needed to get back into the workforce as soon as possible—StraighterLine let students move through courses as quickly or slowly as they chose. Once a course was finished, Solvig could move on to the next one, without paying more. In less than two months, she had finished four complete courses, for less than $200 total. The same courses would have cost her over $2,700 at Northeastern Illinois, $4,200 at Kaplan University, $6,300 at the University of Phoenix, and roughly the gross domestic product of a small Central American nation at an elite private university. They also would have taken two or three times as long to complete.

And if Solvig needed any further proof that her online education was the real deal, she found it when her daughter came home from a local community college one day, complaining about her math course. When Solvig looked at the course materials, she realized that her daughter was using exactly the same learning modules that she was using at StraighterLine, both developed by textbook giant McGraw-Hill. The only difference was that her daughter was paying a lot more for them, and could only take them on the college’s schedule. And while she had a professor, he wasn’t doing much teaching. “He just stands there,” Solvig’s daughter said, while students worked through modules on their own.

StraighterLine is the brainchild of a man named Burck Smith, an Internet entrepreneur bent on altering the DNA of higher education as we have known it for the better part of 500 years. Rather than students being tethered to ivy-covered quads or an anonymous commuter campus, Smith envisions a world where they can seamlessly assemble credits and degrees from multiple online providers, each specializing in certain subjects and—most importantly—fiercely competing on price. Smith himself may be the person who revolutionizes the university, or he may not be. But someone with the means and vision to fundamentally reorder the way students experience and pay for higher education is bound to emerge.

In recent years, Americans have grown accustomed to living amid the smoking wreckage of various once-proud industries—automakers bankrupt, brand-name Wall Street banks in ruins, newspapers dying by the dozen. It’s tempting in such circumstances to take comfort in the seeming permanency of our colleges and universities, in the notion that our world-beating higher education system will reliably produce research and knowledge workers for decades to come. But this is an illusion. Colleges are caught in the same kind of debt-fueled price spiral that just blew up the real estate market. They’re also in the information business in a time when technology is driving down the cost of selling information to record, destabilizing lows.

In combination, these two trends threaten to shake the foundation of the modern university, in much the same way that other seemingly impregnable institutions have been torn apart. In some ways, the upheaval will be a welcome one. Students will benefit enormously from radically lower prices—particularly people like Solvig who lack disposable income and need higher learning to compete in an ever-more treacherous economy. But these huge changes will also seriously threaten the ability of universities to provide all the things beyond teaching on which society depends: science, culture, the transmission of our civilization from one generation to the next.

Whether this transformation is a good or a bad thing is something of a moot point—it’s coming, and sooner than you think.

It's a lengthy article; read the rest HERE.

Scientific American: Why Does Music Make Us Feel?

Scientific American

See original for images and links to further readings

Mind Matters - September 15, 2009
Why Does Music Make Us Feel?
A new study demonstrates the power of music to alter our emotional perceptions of other people

By Mark Changizi

As a young man I enjoyed listening to a particular series of French instructional programs. I didn’t understand a word, but was nevertheless enthralled. Was it because the sounds of human speech are thrilling? Not really. Speech sounds alone, stripped of their meaning, don’t inspire. We don’t wake up to alarm clocks blaring German speech. We don’t drive to work listening to native spoken Eskimo, and then switch it to the Bushmen Click station during the commercials. Speech sounds don’t give us the chills, and they don’t make us cry – not even French.

But music does emanate from our alarm clocks in the morning, and fill our cars, and give us chills, and make us cry. According to a recent paper by Nidhya Logeswaran and Joydeep Bhattacharya from the University of London, music even affects how we see visual images. In the experiment, 30 subjects were presented with a series of happy or sad musical excerpts. After listening to the snippets, the subjects were shown a photograph of a face. Some people were shown a happy face – the person was smiling - while others were exposed to a sad or neutral facial expression. The participants were then asked to rate the emotional content of the face on a 7-point scale, where 1 mean extremely sad and 7 extremely happy.

The researchers found that music powerfully influenced the emotional ratings of the faces. Happy music made happy faces seem even happier while sad music exaggerated the melancholy of a frown. A similar effect was also observed with neutral faces. The simple moral is that the emotions of music are “cross-modal,” and can easily spread from sensory system to another. Now I never sit down to my wife’s meals without first putting on a jolly Sousa march.

Although it probably seems obvious that music can evoke emotions, it is to this day not clear why. Why doesn’t music feel like listening to speech sounds, or animal calls, or garbage disposals? Why is music nice to listen to? Why does music get blessed with a multi-billion dollar industry, whereas there is no market for “easy listening” speech sounds?

In an effort to answer, let’s first ask why I was listening to French instructional programs in the first place. The truth is, I wasn’t just listening. I was watching them on public television. What kept my attention was not the meaningless-to-me speech sounds (I was a slow learner), but the young French actress. Her hair, her smile, her mannerisms, her pout… I digress. The show was a pleasure to watch because of the humans it showed, especially the exhibited expressions and behaviors.

The lion share of emotionally evocative stimuli in the lives of our ancestors would have been from the faces and bodies of other people, and if one finds human artifacts that are highly evocative, it is a good hunch that it looks or sounds human in some way.

As evidence that humans are the principal source of emotionality among human artifacts, consider human visual signs. Visual signs, I have argued, have culturally evolved to look like natural objects, and have the kinds of contour combinations found in a three-dimensional world of opaque objects. Three-dimensional world of opaque objects? Nothing particularly human about that, and that’s why most linguistic signs – like the letters and words on this page – are not emotionally evocative to look at.

But visual signs do sometimes have emotional associations. For example, colors are notoriously emotionally evocative, and arguments about what color something should be painted are the source of an alarming number of marital arguments. And “V” stimuli, such as that yield sign on the street, have long been realized (within the human factors literature) to serve as the most evocative geometrical shape for warning symbols. But notice that color and “V” stimuli are plausibly about human expression. In particular, color has recently been argued to be “about” human skin and the exhibited emotions – which is why red grabs our attention, since it's associated with blushing and blood - and “V” stimuli have been suggested to be “about” angry faces (namely, angry eyebrows).

Which brings us back to music and the Logeswaran paper. Music is exquisitely emotionally evocative, which is why a touch of happy music makes even unrelated pictures seem more pleasant. In light of the above, then, we are led to the conclusion that the artifact of music should contain some distinctly human elements.

The question, of course, is what those elements are. One candidate is our expressive speech – perhaps music is just an abstract form of language. However, most of the emotion of language is in the meaning, which is why foreign languages that we don’t understand rarely make us swoon with pleasure or get angry. That’s also why emotional speech from an unfamiliar language isn’t featured on the radio!

But there is a second auditory expressive behavior we humans carry out – our bodily movements themselves. Human movement has been conjectured to underlie music as far back as the Greeks. As a hypothesis this has the advantage that we have auditory systems capable of making sense of the sounds of people moving in our midst – an angry stomper approaching, a delicate lilter passing, and so on. Some of these movements trigger positive emotions – they conjure up images of pleasant activities – while others might be automatically associated with fear or anxiety. (The sound of running makes us wonder what we’re running from.) If music were speech-driven, then it is missing out on the largest part of speech’s expressiveness – the meaning. But if music sounds like human expressive movements, then it sounds like something that, all by itself, is rich in emotional expressiveness, and can be easily interpreted by the auditory system.

Regardless of whether music is emotional intonation from speech or a summary of expressive movements – or something else altogether – the new research by Logeswaran and Bhattacharya adds yet more fuel to the expectation that music has been culturally selected to sound like an emotionally expressive human. While it is not easy for us to see the human ingredients in the modulations of pitch, intensity, tempo and rhythm that make music, perhaps it is obvious to our auditory homunculus.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tarantino on Selecting Music for His Films

From a very long and very good interview from the Village Voice:

At what point do you score a movie?

In three stages. I pick a lot of music as I'm writing, some of it even before I write. I have a vinyl room, like a record store, in my house—that's one of the perks of being me. I dive into my record collection, I have a turntable already set up to make tapes, and I'm trying to find the rhythm, the beat of the movie. For instance, I wanted to set Jackie Brown in a more black world than the book took place in—even if it's not a blaxploitation movie, it will have that energy or vibe. So then I go diving into '70s soul music. Usually, I'm trying to find that opening credit sequence and once I find that, then I'm like, "OK, I can do this now," 'cause that gives me enough to be excited by it. Also, if I get tired writing, or whenever I just need enthusiasm, I go into that room, play those songs, and imagine watching the movie with my friends and everyone's oohing and aahing, and that gets me going again. I might even play those on the set. Then I'm always looking for music while I'm doing the movie, and then that last thing is in the editing, I'm diving for more stuff. And Harvey [Weinstein] always wants me to put more music in. I'm like, "Harvey, the reason it works so good is that there's not wall-to-wall noise, [so] when it comes on, it's cool." [It's] the last little thing before we lock picture—because Harvey pays a lot of money for my movies so let me give him a little respect. I dive in, and if I find something [else], it's good, and if I don't, I don't. But I know that if I look hard enough, I'm going to find something.

Read the whole interview HERE.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jim O'Rourke's new recording and ideas regarding context


Once Insider, Now Outsider, and Liking It
by Ben Ratliff
Published: September 2, 2009

Singer, composer, producer Jim O'Rourke, now living in Japan. Most interesting part of the story:

That, and working on “The Visitor,” released this week by Drag City. It’s a nearly orchestral, fully instrumental album, his first in eight years. He made it alone in his home studio — except for the piano tracks, which he recorded in a rented rehearsal space — so it takes its place alongside the small number of other high-level pop records made completely or mostly by one person, including Todd Rundgren’s “Something/Anything?” and Stevie Wonder’s “Music of My Mind.” Mr. O’Rourke gives the sense that its gingerly dynamics were dictated by thin walls and respect for his neighbors.

“The Visitor” is so easy on the ears that it disguises its density. “There are parts where there are almost 200 tracks of instruments, but I didn’t want it to sound difficult,” he said. “I didn’t want itto be virtuosic.”

Consisting of one 32-minute track, “The Visitor” took three years to make, including a year to mix. Mr. O’Rourke had exhausted his savings, and for one of those years, he said, he was prevented from earning an income in Japan because he didn’t have a work visa. (It finally came through early last year.) He lived off royalties from his past albums, some of which have sold upward of 50,000 copies in America.

“The Visitor” runs through chapters of folk, chamber-pop, progressive rock and jazz bucolia, and it’s crazily broad: a Leo Kottke fan might like it, a Pat Metheny fan might like it, a Morton Feldman fan might like it. As the piece moves along, holding together with its long-form logic, it can be difficult to discern that most of the music relates back to the album’s simple opening chords and theme. That theme develops through different rhythms and arrangements for an array of instruments — piano, pedal-steel guitar, organ, cello, banjo, clarinet — some of which he learned how to play for the purposes of this record.

The trombone, for example, which comes in after about 20 minutes, took six months of practice before Mr. O’Rourke could play the lines he’d written for it in a perfect take. (He kept a no-edit rule.) The trombone is mixed low, but it’s the loudest instrument he used; when he was ready to record it, he waited until his next-door neighbor left for her grocery run.

Mr. O’Rourke’s production style is precise and dry; he creates a sound picture in which tiny sonic details matter. But where his Drag City records are concerned, everything matters: the pacing, the length, the sound, the cover images. For this reason he won’t allow “The Visitor,” or any of his albums, to be sold as downloads, on iTunes or anywhere else. He’s taking a stand against the sound quality of MP3s; he’s also taking a stand in favor of artists being able to control the medium and reception of their work.

“You can no longer use context as part of your work,” he said, glumly, “because it doesn’t matter what you do, somebody’s going to change the context of it. The confusion of creativity, making something, with this Internet idea of democratization ...” he trailed off, disgusted. “It sounds like old-man stuff, but I think it’s disastrous for the possibilities of any art form.”

His record company approves, perhaps a reflection of his being one of Drag City’s best-selling artists. “Frankly I’m really pleased about it,” said Rian Murphy, the label’s director of sales. “It may affect the way we’re able to promote it, and it may affect the wider range of listeners that come to get the record — if they can’t point and click to it — but it’s good to have someone standing up for that.”

Read the full story HERE.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Neurosonics Audiomedical Labs Inc.

Neurosonics Audiomedical Labs Inc. from Chris Cairns on Vimeo.

NYT Review of Trey Anastasio and NY Phil

Love the last two sentences...


September 14, 2009
Music Review
Classical and Rock, Blended Pleasingly

If there was a single moment that best illustrated the difference between a routine concert by the New York Philharmonic and the one it presented at Carnegie Hall on Saturday night, that moment came when Sheryl Staples, the concertmaster for the evening, returned to the stage after intermission. Ms. Staples was greeted with warm applause, as tradition mandates. Just before it faded, a coyotelike howl of approval sounded from a balcony. Ms. Staples gamely acknowledged her admirer with a smile that was surely as incredulous as it was appreciative.

The occasion was a concert with Trey Anastasio, the singer and guitarist for the rock band Phish, benefiting a foundation named for his sister, Kristine Anastasio Manning, an environmentalist and author who died of cancer in April. Mr. Anastasio enjoys a rabidly devoted following among jam-band devotees. But curiosity seekers anticipating a blissed-out legion in henna and hemp would have been disappointed by an uncommonly diverse, entirelywell-behaved throng of listeners, some of whom could be overheard marveling at their first sight of Carnegie Hall.

Playing with an orchestra is nothing new for Mr. Anastasio, who studied composition and arranging in college and has made several recordings with classical players. The most recent, “Time Turns Elastic” (Rubber Jungle), features a 29-minute work of the same name that Mr. Anastasio wrote with Don Hart, a commercial arranger and orchestrator who is also the composer in residence for Orchestra Nashville.

A shortened “Time Turns Elastic” has found a place in Phish’s live sets and appears on the group’s new album, “Joy” (JEMP). Heard in its original form at Carnegie, the piece was both an electric-guitar concerto and a song cycle, its three movements broken into nine sections, in which the languorous eloquence of Mr. Anastasio’s guitar playing alternated with his gentle, plain-spoken singing. (The dreamily impressionistic lyrics were Mr. Anastasio’s as well.)

Mr. Hart’s appealing orchestration touched on cinematic lushness and musical-theater dazzle, with episodes of Disneyesque twinkle and “Classical Gas”-style kitsch. In that context the brief fugue that opened “Splinters of Hail” (the second part of the last movement) felt almost jarring, like a plea to be taken seriously.

No such pleading was necessary: what Mr. Anastasio and Mr. Hart have created is that rarest of rarities, a classical-rock hybrid that might please partisans from both constituencies. Set amid a generous group of popular Phish songs — gentle, string-cushioned ballads like “Brian and Robert” and “Let Me Lie,” as well as the audacious, intricate instrumentals “Guyute Orchestral” and “You Enjoy Myself” — the new piece could hardly have gone wrong.

The orchestra, conducted by Asher Fisch, played brilliantly throughout the evening, with the trombones dipping into deep reserves of raucousness for “You Enjoy Myself.” The concert was liberally punctuated with whoops and cheers; the final ovation for the orchestra before the encore — another Phish song, “If I Could” — was the loudest, wildest response I have ever heard for anything at Carnegie. That so many of the players could remain stone-faced during the tumult is a phenomenon beyond my comprehension.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Zimbabwe's Zombie Currency

It's dead, but lives on:


The "Zimdollar:" Dead, but still used for bus fare
By ANGUS SHAW, Associated Press Writer Angus Shaw, Associated Press Writer Sun Aug 16, 12:32 am ET

HARARE, Zimbabwe – A woman pays her bus fare with 3 trillion in old Zimbabwe dollars — the equivalent of 50 U.S. cents. The collector accepts the brick of neatly folded bundles of a trillion each without bothering to count the notes.

"No one seems to worry, and it works," said the woman, Lucy Denya, a Harare secretary who says she's seen police officers using old notes to board buses.

The Zimbabwe dollar is officially dead. It was killed off in hopes of curbing record world inflation of billions of percentage points, and Zimbabwe has replaced it with the U.S. dollar and the South African rand.

Yet the role of the old Zimdollar, as it is known, remains in flux. It is still used, and has become another point of contention for the divided leadership of the country, now one of the poorest in the world.

President Robert Mugabe has called for the return of the Zimdollar as legal tender, complaining that most Zimbabweans lack the hard currency needed to buy basic goods. The central bank under governor Gideon Gono, a Mugabe loyalist, has acknowledged printing extra local money to fund government spending that fueled inflation.

But Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who joined the government as part of a power-sharing agreement between his Movement for Democratic Change and Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, has declared the local dollar indefinitely obsolete. He has threatened to quit if a return to the local currency is forced upon him.

"We are putting the tombstone on the corpse of the Zimbabwe dollar," Biti told lawmakers in a midyear fiscal policy statement. In a speech to business leaders, he said, "We are no longer printing our own money."

Biti said monthly inflation rose slightly in June to 0.6 percent, up from zero the month before. He blamed the rise on price hikes in property rentals, gasoline and other nonfood items. He also noted that GDP per capita has plunged from $720 in 2002 to $265 last year, reflecting the shortage of hard cash in the economy.

That shortage is not helped by the state of the global economy, on which Zimbabwe depends.

With the collapse of the country's agricultural economy after the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms beginning in 2000, an estimated 4 million Zimbabweans — many of them skilled — left the country to find jobs in neighboring South Africa and further afield. The so-called "diaspora dollar" became by far the nation's biggest source of hard currency.

But in the global recession, those inflows are diminishing, bankers say. In a typical case, a businessman's daughter in Britain e-mailed him in June that she was halving her monthly remittance of $400.

The independent Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce blamed acute shortages of hard currency on payments to buy imported basic goods previously manufactured in Zimbabwe, such as soap and cooking oil from South Africa.

Without enough cash no matter how they cut it, Zimbabweans survive on a mish-mash of currencies.

All the bus drivers can do with Zimdollars is give them back to other passengers in change for American bills. In one reported incident, a passenger pulled a gun on a bus driver who insisted on paying change in local notes.

Outside the cities, where hard currency can be hard to come by, Zimbabwe dollars are used like promissory notes in small transactions. And trillion Zimbabwe dollar notes, the world's biggest denomination bills, are a hit with collectors, selling briskly on eBay. In Zimbabwe, they change hands like tokens or IOUs.

Stores without small change in hard currency don't offer obsolete Zimbabwe dollars in change like the bus drivers do, but routinely provide candies and chocolate bars or "coupons" handwritten on check-out slips to be redeemed on future purchases.

Irene Gwata, owner of a small trading store in rural northwestern Zimbabwe, said hard currency has stopped filtering down to her customers in recent weeks. Locals trade goat meat, chickens and pails of corn for goods, she said.

She saw a village woman board a bus and pay with a live chicken trussed in wire for the 150-kilometer (90-mile) trip to Harare.

With characteristic Zimbabwean humor in adversity, Gwata said, "people wanted to know if she was going to get eggs for change."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ripped (music industry book excerpt)

NYT has an excerpt from the book Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music by Greg Kot. Check it out.

While My Guitar Gently Beeps: Beatles Go Gaming

The New York Times Magazine has a huge article on the coming Beatles Rock Band game, and the potential business changes it may influence:

Music games are also a serious business. Together, Rock Band and Guitar Hero have earned more than $3 billion. The money comes not just from initial sales but also from a continuing stream of new songs that can be downloaded for about $2 a piece. The Rock Band catalog contains more than 800 songs by bands as disparate as the Grateful Dead and Megadeth. Early on, artists noticed that people were discovering music in games and then buying it elsewhere. On iTunes, downloads of the 1978 Cheap Trick song “Surrender” tripled after it appeared in Guitar Hero 2, and sales of a 1994 Weezer song from Guitar Hero 3 increased tenfold. Increasingly, games are also seen as a significant distribution platform in their own right. In its first week, Motley Crue’s 2008 single “Saints of Los Angeles” sold nearly five times as many copies on Rock Band as it did on iTunes, and at twice the price. Next month, Pearl Jam plans to release its new album simultaneously on CD and in Rock Band.In perhaps the surest sign that the music industry has started to take games seriously, feuds have erupted over which parties are stealing the others’ profits.

At the moment, the game companies decide which music to sell, and there is a bottleneck of record labels pushing to get their artists into the games. But last month Harmonix announced that it will license software tools and provide training for anyone to create and distribute interactive versions of their own songs on a new Rock Band Network, which will drastically expand the amount and variety of interactive music available. Already the Sub Pop label, which released the first Nirvana album, has said it plans to put parts of its catalog and future releases into game format. The Rock Band Network is so potentially consequential that Harmonix went to great lengths to keep its development secret, including giving it the unofficial in-house code name Rock Band: Nickelback, on the theory that the name of the quintessentially generic modern rock group would be enough to deflect all curiosity. After a polite gesture in the direction of modesty, Rigopulos predicted, “We’re really going to explode this thing to be the new music industry.” People who have never played a video game will buy The Beatles: Rock Band, he said, and once they do, they’ll want interactive songs from their other favorite artists. “As huge as Guitar Hero and Rock Band have been over the past few years, I still think we’re on the shy side of the chasm,” Rigopulos maintains, “because the Beatles have a reach and power that transcends any other band.”

Read the full article HERE.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Healing Power of Death Metal (music program for disabled veterans)

The Healing Power of Death Metal
An innovative new music program for disabled veterans.
By Anne Applebaum
Posted Monday, Aug. 3, 2009, at 8:01 PM ET

[see original for images and hyperlinks]

Two years ago, someone called up Arthur Bloom and made an unusual request: A badly wounded soldier, a former drummer, wanted to start playing music again. Trouble was, he'd lost a leg in Iraq and couldn't use his old drum kit. Did Bloom have any ideas?

As it happened, he did. Bloom is a classically trained pianist who can mix a rap song, a composer whose work has been performed by the Israel Chamber Orchestra, Def Jam Records, and everything in between. Tinkering with musical instruments is the kind of thing he does for fun. Bloom went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, met the drummer, and rigged up a drum set. Then he went back—again, and then again—until finally he founded a program, Musicorps, designed to teach music to disabled soldiers. It wasn't just the appeal of "helping veterans" that drew him in. It was also what he learned about what one of his protégés has memorably described as "the healing power of death metal."

As that phrase perhaps conveys, Bloom's project isn't standard music therapy. On the contrary, after working with a few Walter Reed patients, he realized that what a severely injured person needs isn't just a few guitar lessons or some soothing sounds, but rather what he calls "real" music: serious, one-on-one, customized training, ongoing collaboration, professional mentors. In pursuit of this idea, he persuaded donors to give him instruments, got Steve Jobs to donate computers, and set up what looks like a small recording studio in one of the residential houses at Walter Reed. Bloom started hanging around the house, ready to teach, practice, or produce original music with the vets—or, if so required, to rewrite a piece of piano music so that a one-armed veteran could play it with his artificial hand.

The result? Well, there are halls of residence at Walter Reed where depressed young men sit in their rooms and stare at the walls. And then there is the music session I watched, during which a young soldier with an artificial leg, shrapnel wounds, and no prior musical training practiced complex electric guitar riffs to the pace of an electronic drumbeat. A visiting guitarist kept setting that beat faster and faster, forcing the vet to play faster and faster, until all broke out in howls of laughter. Meanwhile, another soldier, also with an artificial leg, tinkered with his rap lyrics. He hopes to get one of his songs, mixed and recorded at Walter Reed ("it's about being blown up in Iraq"), played on the radio.

It was a cheerful scene, but it was more than that, too. Many of the soldiers at Walter Reed sustained some level of brain damage in the explosions that ripped off their arms or legs; almost by definition, they all have psychological issues stemming from the injury and their war experiences. Dr. Allen Brown, director of brain research and rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic—and a Musicorps adviser—reckons that because the process of learning to play music requires the use of so many different parts of the brain, it might literally help the brain recover, to compensate for severe injury. Dr. Brown is now working with Bloom, he told me, in order to come up with a way to "clinically evaluate this process," not least so that it can be repeated elsewhere. So far, more than a dozen veterans have been helped by Musicorps. Thousands more could benefit—though nothing involving professional musicians can run on volunteer energy forever.

The project is extraordinary on its own—look at the Musicorps Web site for more details—but it carries a whole constellation of implications. In the spring of 2007, Congress agonized over the fate of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed after a Washington Post investigation into shabby buildings and shabbier bureaucracy at the nation's main military hospital. The fresh paint and better services that resulted from that scandal are only the beginning of what needs to be done.

In truth, it's been a long, long time since there have been so many wounded Americans to care for, and neither our military nor our government is good at inventing customized recovery programs like Musicorps. Entrepreneurs like Bloom can come up with new solutions; the question is whether our health care system and our philanthropic organizations have become too ossified to support them. In its narrow way, the fate of Bloom's program will tell us a lot about how well we are going to care for the thousands of men and women severely wounded in the wars of the last decade, men and women who will go on needing care for many decades to come.
Anne Applebaum is a Washington Post and Slate columnist. Her most recent book is Gulag: A History.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Today I feel...

Today I feel like a quarter-note rest in the symphony of life.

Friday, July 31, 2009

What Nonsense: Jury awards $675K in Boston music downloading case

Jury awards $675K in Boston music downloading case

by DENISE LAVOIE, Associated Press Writer - Sat Aug 1, 2009 12:57AM EDT

BOSTON - A federal jury on Friday ordered a Boston University graduate student who admitted illegally downloading and sharing music online to pay $675,000 to four record labels.

Joel Tenenbaum, of Providence, R.I., admitted in court that he downloaded and distributed 30 songs. The only issue for the jury to decide was how much in damages to award the record labels. Under federal law, the recording companies were entitled to $750 to $30,000 per infringement. But the law allows as much as $150,000 per track if the jury finds the infringements were willful. The maximum jurors could have awarded in Tenenbaum's case was $4.5 million. Jurors ordered Tenenbaum to pay $22,500 for each incident of copyright infringement, effectively finding that his actions were willful. The attorney for the 25-year-old student had asked the jury earlier Friday to "send a message" to the music industry by awarding only minimal damages. Tenenbaum said he was thankful that the case wasn't in the millions and contrasted the significance of his fine with the maximum. "That to me sends a message of 'We considered your side with some legitimacy,'" he said. "$4.5 million would have been, 'We don't buy it at all.'" He added he will file for bankruptcy if the verdict stands.

read the rest here:

What nonsense. If some guy stole 18 compact disc from Costco would he have been fined $675K? Of course not. Heck, if someone stole the equivalent of thirty songs--about $30--and it was a Federal crime, would the fine have been this high? Of course not. Even the minimum fine of $750 per song would have been a pretty stiff penalty: $22,500. This fine is crap.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nostalgia and Fieldwork

A nice post on the topic by anthropolgist Kimberly Christen at her blog.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Another Racist Message Made Public

It seems like every other day we read about someone who creates or forwards racist emails, mostly about African Americans. In the political arena, the messages are mostly about President Obama (recent examples include politicians and political operative, as well as a doctor active in the health care reform debate). Today it's a policeman in Boston who calls Henry Louis Gates a "banana-eating jungle monkey." He uses the term "jungle monkey" at least three times. And, predictably, he declares that he is not a racist. He was relieved of his duties and may be terminated. Not singling out that case specifically, but looking at all of the recent cases overall, there seems to be a real ignorance on the part of these people that not only do a lot of people of all colors find this offensive, but also that not everyone does this kind of stuff. The main line of defense tends to be, "I didn't make it up, I just forwarded it" or "everybody does it." What these people don't understand is that, no, everybody does not do it. While this defense does not apply to the policeman's case (he wrote the email with the intent to publish), these weekly incidents serve as reminder of the disconnect between sectors of our society on race. A lot of people just don't get it that these things are not cool, not everybody does them or likes them. There is an evolution of attitudes regarding race (particularly among the youngest adults in this country), but as these stories remind me, evolution is awfully slow.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

William Shatner's Sarah Palin Beat Poetry

The three biggest reasons music magazines are dying [SLATE]


Spinning in the Grave
The three biggest reasons music magazines are dying.
By Jonah Weiner
Updated Tuesday, July 28, 2009, at 6:47 AM ET

To the varied signs of the economic collapse we can now add a small but notable subspecies of urbanite: You'll recognize him (or her) by the ear buds burrowing into his head, the freebie SXSW tote bag slung over his shoulder, and the unintelligible mutterings about "melisma" and "twee-core" crossing his lips. If you see such a person out and about—likely wandering a neighborhood rich with coffee shops or, even better, two-for-one happy hours—remain calm but keep your distance. This is a music journalist, a type never famous for social skills, and he's in an especially bad mood these days.

Late last month, Vibe magazine announced that it was ceasing publication. The next day, word arrived that Spin was laying off a half-dozen staffers. In late March, Blender folded outright, and a few months before that, Rolling Stone trimmed its masthead. (Blender hired me out of college in 2002, and I worked there until its demise.) For this strange moment, at least, many onetime professional music nerds share a common experience with many onetime investment bankers: whiplash.

Some of the problems that have beset music magazines are familiar from discussions about the publishing industry's woes in general: Readership's down, advertising's down, the old guard has been slow in adapting to the Internet. But like newspapers and shelter titles, music magazines have proven especially vulnerable.

I'm going to leave aside the question of whether Blender and Vibe somehow deserved their undoing, via editorial missteps or poor business-side decisions, and whether Rolling Stone and Spin deserve their present difficulties. Criticisms attach to every title, and while such factors play a part in the music-mag death march, they're negligible when considered alongside three bigger problems that cut deep and wide across the medium:

1. There are fewer superstars, and the same musicians show up on every magazine cover.

Say Beyoncé—or Kanye, or Kelly Clarkson, or any of the few musical acts that still command massive appeal—announces a new album. Rolling Stone may try to book her for a cover, but even if it gets a guarantee she won't appear on the cover of another music magazine, readers will have plenty of time to tire of her face as it beams from the covers of "urban" magazines, women's magazines, teen magazines, fashion magazines, and tabloids (to say nothing of gossip blogs, Access Hollywood, etc.). No matter how striking your cover is, it will pop from the racks that much less thanks to the inevitable media saturation of its star. My former editor at Blender, Craig Marks, identified this phenomenon as "cover fatigue": In trying to book covers with maximum reach, music magazines dunk month after month into the same shrinking pool of monolithic stars.

Different strategies for dealing with this have emerged, but nothing surefire. Not long ago, a Spin editor told me they'd realized that a cover featuring a multiplatinum rocker sold only slightly better than one featuring a critic's darling like Vampire Weekend. Spin decided they might as well choose more acts they loved as cover stars rather than focusing on bands that sold millions. This niche-targeting logic drives the indie-music Web site Pitchfork, whose core audience is perfectly happy to read a 650-word review of, say, the new Black Moth Super Rainbow album. But it's unclear whether the same thinking can sustain a magazine with a circulation of half a million copies a month—and it bears emphasizing that Pitchfork doesn't need to draw readers in with a single image.

2. Music mags have less to offer music lovers, and music lovers need them less than ever anyway.

Time was, record companies sent advance copies of albums to music journalists. They, in turn, offered a distinct service to fans with timely, expert evaluations of new music. In the early aughts, labels, frightened by online leaks, tightened their grip on advance music, and listening sessions became the norm for most popular acts. Often held without the complete CD, these sessions encourage partially informed, snap judgments. They're less than ideal in other ways, too: A colleague once reviewed a G-Unit album while 50 Cent sat directly across from him, nodding vigorously to the beat. Along the way, labels have tried other experiments. I've seen album advances come as preloaded iPods (the Pussycat Dolls), vinyl (the White Stripes), cassettes (Justin Timberlake), and a Discman glued shut (Tori Amos). As advances of high-profile records slowed to a trickle, Blender and other magazines working with long lead times were forced to run many big reviews several months late or skip them altogether.

Meanwhile, with the proliferation of online music, sanctioned and otherwise, music fans don't need critics to play middleman the way they once did: If a fan wants to decide whether he likes a new album, there are far easier ways than waiting for a critic to weigh in, from streaming tracks on MySpace and YouTube to downloading the whole thing on a torrent site or .rar blog. The value of the music reviewer has always been split between consumer service (should people plunk down cash for this CD?) and art criticism (what's the CD about?), but of late the balance has shifted from the former toward the latter—answering the question of whether to buy an album isn't much use when, for a lot of listeners, the music is effectively free. It's a valid point that the professional critic still wields an aura of authority rare in the cacophonous world of online music, but between taste-making blogs and ever-smarter music-recommendation algorithms like Apple Genius and Pandora, the critic's importance is being whittled down.

Reviews are one thing; what about features and interviews, where music journalists get access to stars that their online counterparts can only dream of? Unfortunately, the days when Cameron Crowe could spend months reporting a story from Led Zeppelin's tour bus are long gone. Tabloids have helped make stars wary, if not scornful, of journalists of all stripes, print doesn't fill artists' coffers (many high-powered publicists have repeated the mantra to me that press doesn't sell albums), and so artists big and medium give music magazines less of themselves than ever. Yes, a music-magazine cover can contribute to credibility and prestige, but the best access is often reserved for a title beyond the music ghetto, like Vanity Fair, GQ, or, should it come calling, The New Yorker. When I profiled Beyoncé for a 2006 Blender cover story, I was granted one hour to interview her and one hour to observe her at a video shoot. I stayed on the set for three hours, hoping to wring some lively detail from the mundane proceedings, until a bodyguard showed me the door. Beyoncé's mother, Tina, gave me a warm goodbye, then called a publicist to chew her out for letting me hang around so long and accused me of "going through Beyoncé's underwear." (I'd quizzed a seamstress about a pair of hot pants she was mending.) The writing that arises from situations like these invariably suffers, and readers notice.

3. Music magazines were an early version of social networking. But now there's this thing called "social networking" …

Many readers who are otherwise passionate about culture have little time for music writing, irritated that it speaks in abstract, jargon-stuffed language about ostensibly mainstream entertainment. Movie and TV reviewers can talk about plotlines and acting; video game reviewers can talk about graphics and game play. Music writers are charged with describing more ineffable things, and the frequent result is a pile-up of slang and shorthand references, purplish gushing, and tedious emphasis on lyrics. Even when the writing crackles, for every reader who is confronted with a culture-moving enigma like the Jonas Brothers and hungers for someone to come along with a magnifying glass and fine-toothed comb, there are those who insist that pop just isn't worth the effort—there's dancing about architecture, you see, and then there's hyperventilating about crap.

This has always been an issue for music magazines, but traditionally they've been able to make it an asset, too. One of the most important historical functions of music magazines has been precisely to speak in a semisecret language that separates in-the-know us from square them. Rolling Stone, Spin, and Vibe made their names on the backs of outsider music movements that were storming the mainstream: '60s rock counterculture, '90s alternative, and '90s hip-hop, respectively. (Blender aligned itself with a less oppositional, "poptimist" perspective.) Picture that mythical orange-haired girl walking around a nowheresville suburb in 1994 with a rolled-up Spin in her back pocket—it's not just a magazine but a badge, an amulet, a pipeline to a world far removed from her local food court. At least since the '60s, music has been more integral to youthful identity building than any other part of popular culture, and, at their most successful, music magazines have institutionalized, codified, and made themselves indispensable to that process. Teens trying to hash out (sub)cultural identities today have message boards, fan sites, and YouTube diaries to turn to, not to mention Facebook groups and musicians' MySpace pages. And that's perhaps the greatest crisis facing music magazines: They're being phased out, to a significant degree, by social-networking media, too.

So should we mourn dead music magazines or simply shrug as we pass the funeral? If they were to disappear entirely, people would still find out about new music, after all, and criticism would doubtless live on, online and in general-interest publications. It's the more costly reporting that would be harder to find, and this shouldn't be taken lightly. Although people are buying music at record lows, it's likely that we're listening to more of it than ever before. For every artist profile reduced to a charade (my hour with Beyoncé), there's a piece like David Peisner's fascinating 2006 Spin article on the role of music as torture in the war on terror or 2008 Britney Spears stories by Michael Joseph Gross in Blender and Vanessa Grigoriadis in Rolling Stone, which offered engrossing, intelligent reporting into Spears' nadir without a smidge of "access" to the star herself. In the absence of the great feature writing that music magazines do underwrite (and unless Web writing, video interviews, artists' blogs, and other new forms fill the void), we'll be hearing only part of the song.
Jonah Weiner is a pop critic for Slate.