Friday, January 30, 2009

Bush shoe attack inspires huge bronze shoe sculpture


Bush shoe attack spawns artwork

A sculpture of an enormous bronze-coloured shoe has been erected in Iraq to honour the journalist who threw his shoes at ex-US President George W Bush.

The sofa-sized artwork was formally unveiled in Tikrit, hometown of late Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein.

Artist Laith al-Amari insisted it was not a political work, but a "source of pride for all Iraqis".

Mr Bush managed to dodge the shoes but the man who threw them, Muntadar al-Zeidi, was arrested and awaits trial.

As he pulled off his shoes, Mr Zeidi, now 30, shouted: "This is from the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq."

He also told Mr Bush, who launched the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was paying a final visit to Iraq last month: "This is a farewell kiss, you dog".

Significant tree?

Mr Zeidi shot to fame as a result of his actions, which signalled extreme contempt in the Arab world, and inspired rallies across the Middle East and beyond.

About 400 people gathered on Thursday to see the monument unveiled - a shoe on a white pedestal, about 3m (10ft) high, with a poem praising Mr Zaidi at its base, AFP said. There is also a tree sticking out of the shoe.

The sculpture stands in the gardens of an Iraqi foundation that looks after children whose parents died in the violence following the US-led invasion.

The foundation's president, Shaha al-Juburi, said the sculpture was not backed by any political party or organisation.

Since his arrest, Mr Zeidi, a TV journalist, has reportedly been beaten in custody, suffering a broken arm, broken ribs and internal bleeding.

He has been charged with aggression against a foreign head of state, and faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted. His family denies he has done anything wrong.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Interview with Peter Max

San Diego Reader

Talking with Peter Max

By Josh Board | Posted January 29, 2009, 9:37 a.m.

Artist Peter Max is arguably the most famous living artist. I talked to him recently, and the conversation seemed to keep going back to music. He talked about his studio in New York, that’s 30,000 square feet. He told me it gives him a view of the Hudson, and this was a few days before a plane landed there. I would’ve loved to ask if he watched that plane land into the water.

Max employs a full-time DJ to play music while he works. He says, “I’m a big music enthusiast. All levels, all genres. The last two months, I re-discovered and re-fell in love with bee bop and boogie woogie. Stuff I loved when I was a kid. I have assistants, and I’ll nod if I like a piece of music or nod. I’m doing a lot of multitasking right now, too. There’s this animated feature film I’m working on, and I’m telling an assistant ideas for it, and words, while I have a paint brush in one hand, and a cloth in my other. All while painting and squinting, on a large canvas.”

I say, “It’s funny that when you’re in galleries, it’s usually smooth jazz or classical music we hear, not the music you described.”

Max laughs and says, “I can sometimes get them to play Stevie Ray Vaughn. I love him. Or that 70s guy…English. Who is he? He sings with that southern girl now…”

Robert Plant?

“Yes. That’s it! He’s unbelievable. But I like all genres, even Chick Corea, jazz, rock.”

I tell him how I once met him at a book signing, and made the mistake of telling him I liked his artwork with the Beatles Yellow Submarine and how I was corrected on the fact that he didn’t do it. He said, “Well, you were kind of right. I styled it for them. Lennon wanted me to do it. We had become good friends. I had met Yoko a year or two before she met John. She was a conceptual artist, and when Lennon went to her show, it was all over the paper and TV, that they left together. She called me two days later saying, “Have you heard?” I said, ‘Have I heard? The whole world has heard.’ I met him a week later in Central Park, and fairly soon at the Dakota, where he ended up being killed. We would talk and meet often. He always had neat lyrics and rhymes. He told me he wanted me to do the art for the movie Yellow Submarine, but at that time I couldn’t. I had gone from having an assistant, and selling one or two paintings, to needing two assistants, 62 people working for me. I was exploding everywhere. I was on Carson three times, Ed Sullivan did a special on me. Life Magazine did a covers tory. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I had never experienced that kind of fame or notoriety. The most press I had gotten was a line or two in a newspaper. My work was being licensed with 72 companies, magazine covers, and posters. I did 650 posters, selling seven million of them. Bill Clinton even told me when he met me, that he and Hillary had my posters when they were in college. So, The Beatles wanted me to do this, and I didn’t have the nine months to go to Germany and England. I found them this other artists who called himself the European Peter Max. His stuff looked enough like me. I also sent my stuff, and they had it in the production room, to see exactly what it looked like, so they could design it that way. So, it was all done in my style. Just recently, I was going through a filing cabinet and just found the contract to Yellow Submarine. I still had that.”

I ask if he ever did any album cover art and he says, “Oh yeah, lots. The Black Crowes, Bad Company. I forget them all. I was more into the poster scene. I did a portrait of Chrissy Hyde from the Pretenders. I did a painting of Elton John that he has in his bedroom.”

Since he’s just painted 44 portraits of Obama, I ask about that. He tells me he’s painted every President from Carter on (and many times, he’s at the White House with them). He said, “When I saw Obama win that night, everyone like Oprah and Jesse Jackson, teary eyed, I was too. The country has come somewhere. Something amazing has happened. He seems like such a nice young guy. And I immediately painted him. So, when someone asked me three weeks ago if I was going to paint him, I said I already did. The painting of him and Michelle I’m going to show on the CBS Morning Show three days before the inauguration.”

He tells me Clinton was impressed with how big his portraits were, and the Obama ones are bigger. They are 4’ high and 11’ across.

If you’d like to buy an Obama painting or one of over 300 he’ll have with him (including his famous Statue of Liberty); or you just want to meet him, he’ll be at the Wentworth Gallery, 1025 Prospect Street, January 31st, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Doc’s confession: We made up ‘cello scrotum’


Doc’s confession: We made up ‘cello scrotum’
Hoax inspired by reports of similar musician’s ailment called ‘guitar nipple’
updated 8:01 a.m. PT, Wed., Jan. 28, 2009

"Cello scrotum," a nasty ailment allegedly suffered by musicians, does not exist and the condition was just a hoax, a senior British doctor has admitted.

In a letter to prominent medical magazine, the British Medical Journal in 1974, Elaine Murphy reported that cellists suffered from the painful complaint caused by their instrument repeatedly rubbing against their body.

The claim had been inspired by reports in the BMJ about the alleged condition "guitar nipple," caused by irritation when the guitar was pressed against the chest.

But Murphy, now a baroness and a former professor of psychiatry of old age at Guy's Hospital in London, has admitted her supposed medical complaint was a spoof.

"Perhaps after 34 years it's time for us to confess we invented cello scrotum," she wrote with her husband John, who had signed the original letter, which was published in the BMJ on Wednesday. "Anyone who has ever watched a cello being played would realize the physical impossibility of our claim."

Murphy, who said the couple had been "dining out" on their story ever since they made it up, said they had decided to reveal the hoax after it was referred to in a recent BMJ article on health problems associated with making music.

She also said she suspected "guitar nipple" had been a joke.

Friday, January 23, 2009

NOLA: Zulu Krewe to present Barack Obama with specially-commissioned coconut

New Orleans Times-Picayune

Zulu to present Barack Obama with specially-commissioned coconut
Susan Poag / The Times-Picayune

The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club hopes to deliver this specially-commissioned coconut to President-elect Barack Obama in honor of his inauguration.

When Charles Hamilton Jr. embarks by train this morning, on his way to witness the inauguration of the nation's first African-American president, he will be bearing a precious and very personal gift.

Packed among his softest articles of clothing is a Zulu coconut, hand-painted with exquisite care and packaged inside a Faberge egg box, which Hamilton hopes to deliver to President-elect Barack Obama during his trip to Washington, D.C.

Hamilton, who is Zulu's president, saw the coconut for the first time Thursday at the studio of Keith Eccles, the Gretna artist who was commissioned to paint it. When Hamilton saw the finished product, his eyes widened with excitement.

"This is awesome, ' he said. "It combines New Orleans and D.C. Red, white and blue, and black and gold."

While many inaugural visitors will likely bring gifts for the new president, Hamilton is confident that this special offering will make it into Obama's hands.

Upon arriving in Washington, he plans to contact Desiree Glapion Rogers, the New Orleans native and former Zulu queen who was named the White House social secretary. Rogers' father, the late New Orleans City Councilman Roy E. Glapion Jr., served as Zulu president for years and her brother is a current member, Hamilton said.

Hamilton figured that a Zulu coconut would be a suitable gift, as they are widely regarded by Carnival parade-goers as the most coveted throw. He also thought it was appropriate, given that Obama's inauguration coincides with the 100th anniversary of Zulu's founding.

"I wanted to bring a piece of New Orleans history and Zulu history, " he said.

For Eccles, an art teacher at Higgins High School in Marrero, the experience was his first use of a coconut as a medium. But the unusual nature of the project hardly fazed him.

"For me to have the opportunity to do something this historically significant -- I'm just honored, " he said.

To prepare the presidential coconut, Zulu member Don E. Washington cut a hole at the base, drained the liquid, scraped out the meat with a drill bit and sealed the hole with wood putty. He then used a wire brush and a belt to sand away the roughness.

When Eccles got his hands on the smooth coconut, he started sketching out his ideas in pencil, directly on it.

"Just like you put a puzzle together, you start to see how the images fit, " he said.

The finished product features a mural-like design, including the face of a Zulu member on one side and a flag rippling over the White House, flanked by Zulu spears, on the other.

Eccles painted a second coconut, which will be included as part of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club's exhibit currently on display at the Louisiana State Museum in the French Quarter.

Coconuts appeared at Zulu parades as early as 1910, and they were pitched off the floats in their natural, hairy states, according to Zulu historians. It wasn't until later that members began scraping, painting and decorating them.

All told, Eccles spent about 27 hours on the coconuts, staying up through the night to finish them in time. He is thrilled to be a part of history, and hopes his art will impart an important message to Obama and the rest of Washington.

"Don't forget about the recovery here. Things are better, but we're not fixed yet, " Eccles said. "Hopefully, when he sees it, he'll be reminded of the people here."

Indians don't feel good about 'Slumdog Millionaire'

Indians don't feel good about 'Slumdog Millionaire'
The story of an impoverished street child in Mumbai, which has won 10 Oscar nods, is a stereotypical Western portrayal, Indians say, that ignores the wealth and progress their country has seen.
By Mark Magnier

4:03 PM PST, January 23, 2009

Reporting from Mumbai, India — Even as American audiences gush over " Slumdog Millionaire," some Indians are groaning over what they see as yet another stereotypical foreign depiction of their nation, accentuating squalor, corruption and resilient-if-impoverished natives.

"Slumdog," which earned 10 Oscar nominations this week, including one for Best Picture, is set in Mumbai, is based on an Indian novel and features many Indian actors. Yet the sensibility is anything but Indian, some critics argue. They attribute the film's sweeping international success in large part to its timing and themes that touch a chord with Western audiences.

"It's a white man's imagined India," said Shyamal Sengupta, a film professor at the Whistling Woods International institute in Mumbai. "It's not quite snake charmers, but it's close. It's a poverty tour."

The story of an orphaned street urchin, Jamal Malik, overcoming hardship to win a fortune on a game show and walk away with his childhood sweetheart -- capped by a Bollywood ending of dance, song, love and fame -- provides a salve for a world beset by collapsing banks, jobs and nest eggs, some here say.

The film, which bagged four Golden Globe awards this month, was released in the United States days before Mumbai came under attack by a team of militants. That may have strengthened its connection with foreign viewers, analysts said.

Mumbai was an ideal backdrop for the international production, wrote Vikram Doctor, a columnist in India's Economic Times, since it is a "cutting edge, if rather crummy, place" that has slums along with the sort of posh restaurants favored by the global glitterati. "Who after all is interested in unremitting squalor, sameness and sadness?" the column said.

"Slumdog's" mix of Indian and foreign talent, and English and Hindi dialogue, has sparked a debate here over whether it's an Indian or foreign film. It was based on a novel by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup, directed by Briton Danny Boyle, best known for "Trainspotting," adapted by British screenwriter Simon Beaufoy of "Full Monty" fame, and acted by Indians and foreigners of Indian descent. Fox Searchlight and Warner Bros. are handling distribution in India.

"These ideas, that there are still moments of joy in the slum, appeal to Western critics," said Aseem Chhabra, an Asia Foundation associate fellow and culture critic.

Others, such as Shekhar Kapur, who directed "Elizabeth" (1998), argue that for all intent and purposes it's Indian. "What's most relevant is that 'Slumdog' is the most successful Indian film ever," he said. "It was directed by a British director and funded by a European company but so what?. . . . Foreign crews are very common in Indian films now."

"Slumdog" cost $15 million to produce but has already earned more than $50 million in the U.S. and other countries abroad. It saw its Indian premiere Thursday, in Mumbai, and began screening in English and Hindi [dubbed] on Friday in 400 theaters in 81 cities.

At the star-studded premiere Boyle responded to criticism here that the film focused too much on prostitution, crime and organized begging rackets, saying that he sought to depict the "breathtaking resilience" of Mumbai and the "joy of people despite their circumstances, that lust for life."

For some, the underdog theme is not so much irrelevant as passe. Rags-to-riches tales dominated Bollywood from the late 1950s through the early 1980s as India worked to lift itself from hunger and poverty.

With India's rising standard of living and greater exposure to foreign culture, Bollywood has increasingly turned its attention to relationships and other middle class concerns.

"Within the film world, there's a desire to move beyond the working class and lower sectors of society," said Tejaswini Ganti, an anthropologist and Bollywood expert at New York University.

The ambivalence some Indians feel toward the movie doesn't preclude it from becoming a roaring commercial success in India, experts said. "There is still a fascination with seeing how we are perceived by white Westerners," said Sengupta, the Mumbai film professor. "It's a kind of voyeurism."

Many in Bollywood also have transferred onto "Slumdog" their hopes for an "Indian" Oscar after homegrown favorite "Taare Zameen Par" failed to garner a nomination. "Taare," about a dyslexic child who finds an outlet through art, was the latest in a string of Oscar letdowns dating to 2002.

Between rolls of their eyes, critics here point to other foreign depictions over the years they consider inaccurate, distorted or obsessed with poverty and squalor, including "Phantom India," "Salaam Bombay" and "City of Joy," in which a Western doctor played by Patrick Swayze arrives to save India.

Some add that the criticism of "Slumdog" may be less about getting it wrong than its focus on issues some in India would rather downplay.

The world's second-most populous country after China has seen enormous benefits from globalization. But "Slumdog" raises questions about the price paid by those left behind and the cost in eroding morality, seen in the portrayal of Salim, Jamal's gangster-in-training brother. For India, this hits a nerve, after a top Indian IT outsourcing firm, Satyam, reported this month that it had faked profits.

"A lot of people felt it was bashing India, but I disagree," said Rochona Majumdar, an Indian film expert at the University of Chicago. "We're too quick to celebrate 'Incredible India,' she said, referring to an Indian tourism slogan. "But there is an underbelly. To say we don't have problems is absurd."

Salman Ali, 12, lives those problems. He's been on his own as long as he can remember, he said. Dressed in a ragged T-shirt, filthy pants and bare feet, he sleeps under Mumbai's Mahim pipeline, a local landmark featured in "Slumdog" amid the Technicolor water, toxic electronic waste and petroleum sludge. He earns a few dollars a week recycling garbage or begging from cars on the nearby overpass.

Sometimes police beat him up, he said. And several times gangs have attacked him and stolen what little he has. Sure, he'd love to appear on a game show like Jamal did in the film and become a millionaire.

But however hard he tries to make money, Salman said, he never gets ahead. His dream is to become a Bollywood star one day. And whenever a film crew shows up to shoot amid the squalor, he tries to get their attention. But he said they never pick him. "Who wouldn't want to be a millionaire?" he said.

A few miles away, in the maze of alleys that make up Dharavi, Asia's largest slum and another backdrop for the film, some said the plot sounded too close to real life and therefore not interesting while others said they wanted to see how it depicted their neighborhood.

Housewife Lakshmi Nagaraj Iyer, 26, said that she had troubles with the get-rich quick premise. "I feel it's a wrong route," she declared. "We barely get by, but the answer is education and hard work, not a quick fix."

Television: Daytime soaps facing their own tragic ending


Daytime soaps facing their own tragic ending
Ad revenue is disappearing, younger viewers are not replacing older ones
By Franz Lidz
updated 12:24 p.m. PT, Fri., Jan. 23, 2009

Later this month, Brad Carlton, a onetime pool boy who married the boss's daughter to become chief executive of a major cosmetics company, will apparently take a bullet and die for a cause.

That cause will not be the woman of his dreams (his former sister-in-law and the estranged wife of his sworn enemy), but daytime soap operas.

For all but one of the last 24 years, Carlton — a onetime Navy Seal and a secret Nazi hunter — has been a character on "The Young & The Restless," the daytime ratings champ for the last two decades.

But Carlton, played by Don Diamont, and three other prominent characters on the CBS show have been axed as part of the severe retrenchment seizing daytime soaps — one of TV's oldest formats, its quintessential advertising vehicle, and the birthplace of product placement.

The financial crisis is hurting daytime soaps more than other shows, and may well doom them. Not so long ago, there were 16 soaps. Today, there are eight — with more cancellations seemingly imminent in the face of TiVo, D.V.R.'s, decreased market share, declining ratings, and the loss of financially pressed auto dealers as local advertisers.

"I see this moment as the turning point for soaps," a top CBS executive told me. "No format has been hit harder than daytime serials."

The executive says that within the next two months the network plans to dramatically slash the licensing fees it pays to the independent production companies that make its soaps. NBC recently did the same to the fees paid for its lone entry, "Days of Our Lives" — which have recently run about $1.8 million a week.

Two longtime (and expensive) "Days" cast members (Deidre Hall and Drake Hogestyn) have been dumped in order to keep the show on NBC for another 18 months. To trim costs, NBC wants producers to reduce actor salaries by as much as 40 percent.

In September 2007, NBC moved another soap, "Passions," to DirecTV before shutting down the program altogether. Insiders at "Days," a daytime staple since 1965, say they won't be surprised if the sands in their show's hourglass run out too.

A similar fate awaits CBS' "Guiding Light," which debuted on radio in 1937 before becoming the longest-running drama in TV history. "That show isn't even treading water," says a network exec. "It's sunk below the waves."

An even more ominous sign for the industry: For the first time, the Daytime Emmys — designed specifically to promote daytime soaps — won't even be broadcast. Major networks deemed the fees too excessive for a show that draws abysmal ratings. Even the cable channel Soapnet isn't airing it.

It used to be that the networks needed the daytime profits to finance the more expensively produced (and unprofitable) prime-time programs. By blending message and melodrama — ads were cunningly buried in the plot — "sudsers" became the perfect subliminal salesmen.

The soap format peaked at the 1981 wedding of Luke and Laura on "General Hospital," with an estimated 30 million viewers tuning in. The show's popularity inspired a Top 30 song called "General Hospi-tale." ("I just can't cope/Without my soap") and the movies "Tootsie" and "Soap Dish."

In recent years, market leader "Y&R" has seen its audience shrink precipitously, to an average of 5 million total viewers in 2008. In the old days, soaps were generational — your grandmother got your mother hooked, and she, in turn, got you hooked.

Today the median age of viewers is rising, but older viewers are dying off (literally) and are not being replaced by younger ones. (The median age for "Y&R" is nearly 60.) If interested, younger viewers can watch soaps in less time on the official network Web sites and, commercial-free, on YouTube.

"There are as many theories about lost viewership as there are cheating spouses in daytime serials," says the blogger Toni Pimentel, who added that her "Y&R" spoiler Web site ( averages 2 million hits a month.

"Most obviously, more women work outside the home — or are otherwise occupied," Pimentel says. "And for those who are at home, and in front of a TV, there are more viewing options — hundreds of cable and 'specialty' channels — and don't forget the increasing popularity of talk shows."

The ratings of ABC's "The View" rose 16 percent in 2008. More than 4 million viewers now watch the gabfest, a comparative bargain.

When the cuts come, producers of the three CBS soaps turning a "marginal" profit may have little choice but to drastically chop production costs, lop off beloved characters, and renegotiate the salaries of those who are left.

Unfortunately for the networks, viewers say they tune in to see the old standbys. Unfortunately for advertisers, network-commissioned surveys have found that a large segment of the soap audience is poor, middle-aged African-American women. "That's definitely not the demo sponsors are targeting," says a network exec.

The world will continue to turn, but soaps may not be slippery enough to escape the current crunch.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

CSM on the death of local radio

Your local DJ – a few time zones away
Radio stations are axing staff and subbing in syndicated hosts to cut costs.
By Randy Dotinga | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

from the January 23, 2009 edition

You could call it the culling of the heard.

In Boston, a popular AM station has stopped broadcasting live overnight for the first time since 1952. In San Diego, the nation's ninth-largest city, just two major local talk-show hosts remain on the air after cutbacks. And across the country, stations are banishing local disc jockeys to the unemployment line in favor of nationally syndicated hosts like Ryan Seacrest and John Tesh.

There's a common theme here: With all of its costs, live and local radio programming is in decline. In essence, many in the radio industry are concluding that it doesn't matter if the voice introducing the next "seven-song rock bloc" is in the same time zone.

But observers fear radio is dooming itself to irrelevance in a world full of rivals like satellite radio and iPods.

Local programming is the only thing that sets radio stations apart, says radio consultant Donna Halper, an assistant professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. "I want something I can't get anywhere else," she says.

The radio industry, just like newspapers and books and other forms of media, is facing an unprecedented financial crunch. Radio advertising revenue dropped by9 percent in the third quarter of 2008 compared with the same period in the previous year, and many radio companies are saddled with huge amounts of debt.

Just this week, the giant Clear Channel Communications company, which owns more than 1,200 US radio stations, laid off 1,850 workers, many of them radio personalities and executives. The cuts account for 9 percent of the company's employees.

Then there's the matter of precedent: Radio stations have been moving away from live and local programming for more than a decade without falling apart. Owners have centralized operations, leaving many smaller stations with few – or any – local radio personalities. Live request shows and call-in contests have become rarer than ever; in some cases, disc jockeys try to fool listeners into thinking they're local even though they prerecord their between-song patter in faraway cities.

Still, many stations tried to remain local, at least during daytime and evening hours on weekdays. But then the economy slumped in 2008, and more cuts came.

"These are tough decisions people are making in a real scary time," says Charlie Quinn, a CBS Radio executive who works at KyXy, a soft-rock station in San Diego.

The station is one of only two in the city of 1.3 million that airs live and local programming 24 hours a day. But Mr. Quinn acknowledges that his station may soon begin airing a syndicated show in the evening.

Quinn has plenty of company. More stations are turning to syndicated programming. Radio stations typically can broadcast syndicated shows at no cost; they just have to allow a distributor to sell some of the commercials on the show. In some cases, it's cheaper for a station to air syndicated programming than to hire a local disc jockey or talk show host.

As a result of cutbacks, national radio personalities such as Mr. Seacrest – who hosts a weekday music show in addition to his duties as host of "American Idol" – are now heard in cities like Atlanta and San Diego, where local disc jockeys lost their jobs to make room for him.

Talk show hosts are suffering, too, finding themselves replaced by national hosts who only talk about national issues. Boston's WBZ, for instance, dumped a local overnight host earlier this month in favor of a syndicated show.

Some listeners were unhappy. One online commenter said the show was an oasis amid shows that have "no connection to life in Boston, or New England, for that matter. Not local; not relevant; annoying; boring; repetitive; disconnected. That's the bottom line."

But some argue that radio doesn't need to be local to be compelling. "I have a very simple philosophy ... put the very best product you can on the air, regardless of origin," says Gabe Hobbs, a senior vice president for programming at Clear Channel.

That may be a wise strategy, but a heavy focus on national shows creates another problem: The next generations of Rush Limbaughs and Ryan Seacrests won't have the opportunity to learn their craft at small radio stations if there are no on-air shifts for them to take.

For now, the radio industry seems likely to continue what a San Diego radio executive calls a "terrific experiment" in moving away from a local focus.

"There are a couple of us left who will continue doing it the way it's always been done," says Darrel Goodin, general manager of three San Diego music stations that retain a local focus.

"It's what I'll call the right way."

Inauguration Classical Quartet Was Not Live

January 23, 2009
Frigid Fingers Were Live but the Music Wasn’t

It was not precisely lip-synching, but pretty close.

The somber, elegiac tones before President Obama’s oath of office at the inauguration on Tuesday came from the instruments of Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and two colleagues. But what the millions on the Mall and watching on television heard was in fact a recording, made two days earlier by the quartet and matched tone for tone by the musicians playing along.

The players and the inauguration organizing committee said the arrangement was necessary because of the extreme cold and wind during Tuesday’s ceremony. The conditions raised the possibility of broken piano strings, cracked instruments and wacky intonation minutes before the president’s swearing in (which had problems of its own).

“Truly, weather just made it impossible,” Carole Florman, a spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said on Thursday. “No one’s trying to fool anybody. This isn’t a matter of Milli Vanilli,” Ms. Florman added, referring to the pop band that was stripped of a 1989 Grammy because of its lip-synching, making it synonymous with the practice.

Ms. Florman said that the use of a recording was not disclosed beforehand but that the NBC producers handling the television pool were told of its likelihood the day before.

The network said it sent a note to pool members saying that the use of recordings in the musical numbers was possible. Inaugural musical performances are routinely recorded ahead of time for just such an eventuality, Ms. Florman said. The Marine Band and choruses, which performed throughout the ceremony, did not use a recording, she said.

“It’s not something we would announce, but it’s not something we would try to hide,” Ms. Florman said. “Frankly, it would never have occurred to me to announce it. The fact they were forced to perform to tape because of the weather did not seem relevant, nor would we want to draw attention away from what we believed the news is, that we were having a peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next.”

Anthony McGill, a principal clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera, and the pianist Gabriela Montero joined Mr. Ma and Mr. Perlman in “Air and Simple Gifts,” a piece written for the occasion by John Williams. While not all music critics agreed about the quality of the piece, some took note of the frigid circumstances for the performers. And the classical music world was heartened by the prominent place given to its field.

Mr. Perlman said the recording, which was made Sunday at the Marine Barracks in Washington, was used as a last resort.

“It would have been a disaster if we had done it any other way,” he said Thursday in a telephone interview. “This occasion’s got to be perfect. You can’t have any slip-ups.”

The musicians wore earpieces to hear the playback.

Performing along to recordings of oneself is a venerable practice, and it is usually accompanied by a whiff of critical disapproval. Famous practitioners since the Milli Vanilli affair include Ashlee Simpson, caught doing it on “Saturday Night Live,” and Luciano Pavarotti, discovered lip-synching during a concert in Modena, Italy. More recently, Chinese organizers superimposed the voice of a sweeter-singing little girl on that of a 9-year-old performer featured at the opening ceremony of last summer’s Olympic Games.

In the case of the inauguration, the musicians argued that the magnitude of the occasion and the harsh weather made the dubbing necessary and that there was no shame in it.

“I really wanted to do something that was absolutely physically and emotionally and, timing-wise, genuine,” Mr. Ma said. “We also knew we couldn’t have any technical or instrumental malfunction on that occasion. A broken string was not an option. It was wicked cold.”

Along with admiration for the musicians’ yeoman work in the cold, questions had swirled in the classical music world about whether Mr. Ma and Mr. Perlman would use their valuable cello and violin in the subfreezing weather. Both used modern instruments. Mr. Ma said he had considered using a hardy carbon-fiber cello, but rejected the idea to avoid distracting viewers with its unorthodox appearance.

“What we were there for,” he said, “was to really serve the moment.”

Music for Many Firsts at Inauguration Events

January 22, 2009
Music Review
Music for Many Firsts at Inauguration Events

President Obama danced his way through 10 official inaugural balls on Tuesday night to the song “At Last,” which was a hit for Glenn Miller in 1941 and, more influentially, in 1961 for Etta James. Her version made the song, written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, an R&B standard and a wedding perennial. It has been revived and recorded steadily ever since by performers including, most recently, Beyoncé, who sang it for Mr. Obama’s first public dance as president at the Neighborhood Ball, broadcast on ABC.

A good campaigner wields symbols deftly, and Mr. Obama chose brilliantly with “At Last.” It’s an adoring, slow-dance love song with a title that can evoke far more. Politicos can take it to mean the end of the Bush administration and the Democrats taking control. And Americans of all ethnicities can take it as a clear reference to Mr. Obama becoming the first African-American president: a decisive turning point in a history of slavery and racial discrimination. The song treats the moment not with self-righteousness or resentment, but as a long-awaited embrace: “Here we are in heaven/for you are mine at last.”

Music had long anticipated this moment. African-Americans repaid the historical injustice of slavery with generous and profound cultural gifts, making American music a free-for-all where fertile, powerful ideas — like swing, call-and-response, the modes and phrasing of the blues, the drive and dynamics of gospel and the immediacy of hip-hop — could triumph in the marketplace and on the dance floor.

For performers of every background, American popular music (and much of the world’s popular music) is, unmistakably, African-American music. Americans have long accepted black musicians as stars; sooner or later, politics had to follow. And Mr. Obama’s inaugural events, which strove to involve everyone, were suffused with African-American soul like the rest of American pop culture. Aretha Franklin, wearing an outsized, glamorized church-lady hat, sang “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” at the swearing-in ceremony with the flamboyance of a gospel hymn: “Let freedom ring, let it ring!”

The evening before, at a concert to mark Martin Luther King’s Birthday, Ms. Franklin treated her free concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts like a gospel service, including only one secular song (“Chain of Fools”) and hurling her voice skyward while promising to praise Jesus everywhere. “I’ll stand up and tell it in the White House!” she declared.

The language of gospel, blended with secular American optimism, emerged in Mr. Obama’s campaign slogans, like “Change you can believe in.” Now, savoring the outcome of that campaign while considering the state of the nation, the inaugural music drew on another cornerstone of African-American tradition: the determination to face troubles and hard times with hope. The inauguration’s official face was bookended with those two aspects of the music, moving in two days from a somber introduction to a joyful finale.

The earnest opening ceremony televised on Sunday from the Lincoln Memorial, which HBO telecast free for cable and satellite viewers, was more than aware of the symbolism of Lincoln as emancipator and of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington.

The chords and choirs of gospel music were used by Bruce Springsteen (with “The Rising”) and even the country singer Garth Brooks to sing about striving for better times. Stevie Wonder (with Usher and Shakira) sang his socially conscious “Higher Ground” at the Lincoln Memorial, then returned at the determinedly upbeat Neighborhood Ball, with an all-star singalong on his “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.”

Song titles told the story at the Neighborhood Ball: Sting (with Mr. Wonder on harmonica) with “Brand New Day,” Shakira singing Van Morrison’s “Bright Side of the Road,” Mariah Carey with “Hero.”

Bill Clinton’s 1993 pre-inaugural concert showed his baby-boomer taste, for good and bad. Bob Dylan performed “Chimes of Freedom” on the Lincoln Memorial steps, followed two days later by an Inauguration Eve concert filled with presumably reassuring 1970s soft rock from Fleetwood Mac and Barry Manilow. Political differences offered George W. Bush less of a talent pool; Wayne Newton, the country duo Brooks & Dunn and the Latin pop singer Ricky Martin (who would later turn against Mr. Bush over the Iraq war) performed at his pre-inaugural event.

Stars who had shunned the politics of the Bush administration happily flocked to Washington for Mr. Obama’s inauguration. “Today is the beginning of no more separation, no more segregation!” Mary J. Blige exulted at the Neighborhood Ball before singing her own “Just Fine,” a song about hard-won self-esteem. (Two days earlier, at the Lincoln Memorial, she had poured emotion into Bill Withers’s comforting song “Lean On Me.”)

While it was a gospel and soul inauguration, it was also a hip-hop inauguration. Rappers who are charismatic, articulate, self-made successes may well see Mr. Obama as one of their own; he also gives them someone to boast about besides themselves.

Jay-Z, who performed his “History” at the Neighborhood Ball, also headlined a premium-priced concert on Monday night at the Warner Theater, a few blocks from the White House. Among his guests was Young Jeezy, who has a song called “My President Is Black”; Jay-Z added verses of his own: “My president is black/In fact he’s half white/So even in the racist mind/he’s half right.”

It continued, “My president is black/but his house is all white.”

The Youth Ball, an official inaugural event telecast on MTV, featured Kanye West — a Chicagoan, like Mr. Obama — who rewrote his song “Heartless” to pay tribute to the new president: “From miles around they came to see him speak/The story that he told/to save a country that’s so blue/that they thought had lost its soul/the American dream come true tonight.”

Other constituencies presented unofficial events, celebrating their new sense of inclusion and, perhaps, reminding the incoming administration of their clout and attention. There were musical celebrations from Chicago independent rockers, from the voter-registration group Rock the Vote and from the gay, lesbian and transgender voters of the Human Rights Campaign. At a Latino Inaugural Gala on Sunday night, more than a dozen legislators and two cabinet nominees turned out along with salsa, pop, mariachi and Latin rock bands to celebrate a Hispanic turnout that voted 2 to 1 for Mr. Obama, which provided the margin of victory in Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.

In pop as in politics, self-promotion is never off the agenda. Michelle, Sasha and Malia Obama were dancing in the front row at the Kids’ Inaugural on Monday, telecast on the Disney Channel, where Disney-nurtured stars of tween-pop including the Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato sang their peppy hits about “burning up” and breaking up. With sublime shamelessness, Miley Cyrus looked at Mr. Obama’s daughters and said, “Girls, I know you guys must be awful proud of your dad, and so am I,” then brought her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, onstage to sing.

While the new president’s politics and identity were the overwhelming draws for so many musical celebrants — bringing out countless performances electrified by the moment — he also has a musical ace in the hole: his name.

The percussive “Barack” followed by the three open-voweled syllables of “Obama” give him the most singable name in presidential history, and from the National Mall to the inaugural balls, amateurs and stars alike kept finding new ways to chant, sing and shout it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Pop Music as Punishment


He writes the rules that make their eardrums ring
In Colorado, Municipal Judge Paul Sacco has a special punishment for people who blast their stereos: a night listening to Barry Manilow.
By DeeDee Correll

January 21, 2009

Reporting from Fort Lupton, Colo. — The guiding principle in Municipal Judge Paul Sacco's courtroom is an eye for an eye. Or rather, an ear for an ear.

So when teenagers land in front of him for blasting their car stereos or otherwise disturbing the peace in this small northern Colorado city, Sacco informs them that they will spend a Friday evening in his courtroom listening to music -- of his choosing.

No, they can't pay a fine instead, he tells them. So, he adds with a snicker, ever heard of Barry Manilow?

For the last decade, Sacco, 55, has administered a brand of justice somewhere between "cruel" and "unusual."

Young people in Fort Lupton know that if they're caught, they're in for a night that could begin with the "Barney" theme song, move on to an opera selection and end with Boy George's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me."

Sacco's answer to that last question: Yes, he does.

Or rather, he wants a little payback to the scofflaws blaring their tunes without regard for their neighbors -- a vexing habit in this blue-collar community of about 8,000, said Police Chief Ron Grannis.

For a while, Sacco -- a part-time judge who also has a law practice -- issued tickets, $95 apiece, to the noise violators. But one day, as he ordered a teenager to pay a fine, he realized the kid's parents, flanking him, would probably just pay it for him.

"It just seemed I was a rubber-stamper," he said. "I hate that."

What he really wanted to do, Sacco thought, was give the kid a dose of his own medicine. And the "music immersion" sentence was born.

The concept was simple: Stick the kids in a room -- on a night they'd rather be out socializing -- and turn up the volume.

Manilow immediately came to Sacco's mind. Not because he disliked Manilow, but because he knew they would. But the playlist also features other artists, mostly selected for their ability to annoy the younger set.

While Sacco -- himself a musician whose tastes run to Pink Floyd and Simon & Garfunkel -- acknowledges that vengeance is one motive, he has others. "The kids are exposed to music they would otherwise not hear," he said.

It's also his way of letting young people know he cares. Growing up in the Chicago area, he too had his share of scrapes, Sacco said. "But the cops cared about me. They didn't just throw a book at my head."

His music immersion program, he said, is his attempt to emulate that.

"They know I like them and care about them," said Sacco, although he did once make the offenders listen to a song he wrote and performed.

The Friday night sessions are run by Sacco's court administrator, Karen Cade, accompanied by a Taser-carrying bailiff.

On a recent Friday night, they greeted their offenders as they walked, slumped and scowling, through the metal detector at City Hall. While the ticketed are often teenagers, they include some adults.

Tyler North, 18, a high school senior, looked grim. "I wish I wasn't here," he said as he took a seat facing the speakers.

Eric Hart, 20, was more optimistic. How bad could it be? he wondered. "It's only an hour." Cade introduced herself, then pressed the play button on the small CD player in the center of the conference table. As the opening notes of the "Barney" song blared, her lips twitched.

Then came the "All In the Family" theme song and a nameless, screeching harmonica solo. The men squirmed. The bailiff did paperwork.

As Manilow crooned, "I write the songs that make the young girls cry," a couple of them looked like they might do just that. Gabriel Rocha, a 31-year-old construction worker, cracked his knuckles. Only Andrew Gehrig, 21, mouthed the words along with Manilow.

Bing Crosby. Beethoven's Ninth. When Branden Stinehelfer's head slumped toward his chest, the bailiff nudged him.

By the time Melanie sang "Brand New Key" (chorus: "I've got a brand new pair of roller skates"), every face looked pained.

At 8 p.m., there were still four songs to go, but the time was up. Cade hit stop, cutting off Willie Nelson mid-song.

"OK, we're done," she said. "I hope you've learned something from this."

The program's recidivism rate is less than 5%; once subjected to a night in City Hall, the offenders rarely return. Interestingly, the offense rate also seems to have plummeted recently, Cade said. Sacco sentenced 56 people to music in 2007; by 2008, that number had dropped to 20.

It works in the short term, said Grannis, the police chief. "They go back to doing what they're doing," he said, but they're more cautious about it.

"As soon as they see you, [the blaring car stereo] shuts off," said Grannis. "I really think it's a deterrent." He counts himself a fan of the program, though as a country music fan, he doesn't think Willie Nelson belongs on the playlist.

The latest crop of offenders said they won't let themselves get caught again.

"If you see a cop car, turn your volume down," said Gehrig, a convenience store clerk.

It could've been worse, he pointed out, with ABBA or 1980s hair metal.

"A little Manilow here and there," he confided, "isn't too terrible."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Olmec giant heads in Mexico damaged by ritual


Olmec giant heads in Mexico damaged by ritual
By MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press Writer Mark Stevenson, Associated Press Writer Tue Jan 13, 12:07 am ET

MEXICO CITY – A group performing a ritual poured grape juice, oil and other liquids over four Olmec "colossal head" stone sculptures, badly damaging some of Mexico's most prized archaeological relics, authorities said Monday.

Experts will try to remove the stains from the porous stone using special solvents but warn the treatments could be time-consuming and costly, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History said in a statement.

Two people were detained for damaging the pre-Hispanic sculptures, which are displayed in the La Venta park in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco, the institute said. It did not give details on the group or what ritual they were trying to perform.

Four of the thick-lipped, glowering carved heads and 19 other Olmec carvings were heavily stained by the suspects on Sunday.

"This act was carried out by persons performing an apparent ritual," the institute said. "As part of the 'ceremony," they poured oil, grape juice, salt water and other substances" over the heads, a tomb, altars and other structures.

The artifacts are displayed in an open-air setting meant to replicate the jungle region in which the Olmec culture flourished starting about 3,200 years ago.

The Olmecs are often referred to as the "mother culture" of the region that later saw the rise of the Mayas and Aztecs, and the colossal stone heads are often considered the most emblematic pieces of their art.

The government news agency Notimex quoted Tabasco Gov. Andres Granier as saying the park would have to be temporarily closed until the statues are restored.

The Aztecs and Mayas daubed ceremonial structures with the blood of human sacrifice victims. But pouring substances like grape juice and oil over statues does not figure in most historical accounts of pre-Hispanic religions.

The institute said the treatments might have to be applied repeatedly and could cost about 300,000 pesos ($21,750).

In a statement, it said that the grape juice "stains any surface almost permanently."

The heads appear to wear helmets and a total of 17 have been unearthed to date in Tabasco and Veracruz state. No two are alike. They range in size from 1.5 to 3.4 meters (5 to 11 feet) and the largest heads have been estimated to weigh between 25 and 55 tons.

The institute said it had filed a criminal complaint with federal prosecutors.

The incident comes amid a growing debate about how to protect Mexico's archaeological artifacts from human intervention. A project to install illumination equipment for a nighttime light show at the famed Teotihuacan pyramids outside of Mexico City has drawn criticism from preservationist groups, who argue the pyramids are being damaged by holes drilled into the stone to anchor the gear.

Monday, January 12, 2009

How the Music Industry Died: Steve Knopper's Appetite for Self-Destruction

Village Voice

How the Music Industry Died: Steve Knopper's Appetite for Self-Destruction
A Rolling Stone reporter charts the doomed path from Thriller to Internet-based horror
By Rob Harvilla
published: January 07, 2009

Congrats to Lil Wayne, whose Tha Carter III was the best-selling record of 2008—and the weakest-selling yearly bestseller since SoundScan started tracking these things nearly two decades ago. Couldn't crack three million. The music industry is toast, my friends. And congrats to Rolling Stone vet Steve Knopper, whose fantastic new book Appetite for Self-Destruction explains why, as it charts the dizzying highs (Thriller, the CD boom, boy bands) and brutal lows (payola, Napster hysteria, the "rootkit" debacle) of an oft-amoral biz whose legendary coke-fueled boom times now read as ancient history and/or science fiction. I rang up Steve recently to talk about it; here are some excerpts.

This book vacillates between sympathy for the music industry and outright contempt—you sincerely try to rationalize why the labels decided to start suing junior high students for illegal downloading, but you still conclude it was a horrible, horrible idea. How much pity do you have for these guys? Is this book a tragedy or a comedy?

I would make it a little bit more gray than that. I have a fondness for the record industry. Obviously, I'm a huge fan of [Fredric Dannen's 1990 music-biz tell-all] Hit Men—it's one of my favorite books ever, but I feel that that book was so tough on the music industry, it ventured several times into contemptuousness. My feeling was, I wanted to be very critical, and call a spade a spade, and say what they did wrong, but at the same time, I've covered music and the music industry for a long time, and I have a fondness for, you know, that whole sort of—this is gonna sound cynical; I don't mean it to—but that whole sort of "hookers and blow" era.

I was really getting into the chapter about the CD boom, where you've got these crazy Mafia characters, and you've got these coke addicts like Walter Yetnikoff at the head of these companies, running into offices and screaming at people. Guys who talk like this: raaaowr, raaaowr, raaaowr, like the Penguin in the Batman show. In Hit Men, I think it came across like, "These people are evil." To an extent, that's true. But my feeling was, I bet that was pretty cool, too.

You keep returning to the idea that lots of people, and I'm pretty sure I'm among them, consider a lot of the industry's troubles to be divine retribution—payback for decades of lousy artist contracts and $18.99 CDs. But given the technology, would it have made any difference if this industry had always been fair and benevolent and lovable? You and I both can find pretty much any album we like for free online in a couple of minutes—was there ever any way to stop this?

I'm trying to think of an analogy of another industry that was abused by technology that didn't do all those terrible things that the music industry did, and the only one that comes to mind is the newspaper industry. It seems like the newspaper industry wasn't as evil and stonewalling, and still may face the same inevitable just desserts because of technology. The point I make in the Napster chapter (and I'm not the first one to make this point): Had the record labels jumped into a deal with Napster when the time was right, when Napster was at its peak, I really do think that could've been a business model. Maybe it wouldn't have sent them back to 1994 levels of business, but I think they wouldn't be in the horrible position they're in today.

You're right that people embraced Napster and Kazaa and Torrents because of spite, but I actually think that was a relatively small contingent of people. I think that the people who embraced it most embraced it because, "What a cool thing. I don't have to get in my car and go to Tower Records and buy the $18 CD if I want this song. I can just get it in my home and mess around." And then you start fantasizing a little bit. What if Napster did become a real, legit thing? It would have anticipated Facebook and Friendster and MySpace. It would have been social networking. It would have allowed you to make mixtapes and trade playlists. It would have eventually gone to cell phones; it would have predated the iPhone. It could have been an incredibly powerful service—and not just because everything was free. You charge people a fair price for that, maybe that anti-music-industry contingent wouldn't have taken it, but a lot of people would have.

Did you mess around with Napster yourself at the time? Have you ever been swayed by the "music wants to be free" crowd, ever buy into the theory that this was a people's revolution to overthrow an evil, outdated industry?

No. Basically not. I did tinker around with Napster, yes. I got a lot of good, free music at the time—I guess I won't be sued anymore for that. But, basically, I thought it was theft. I still think it was piracy. I realize I'm walking a bit of a fine line in the book, because I'm not ripping on the music industry for just saying, "Oh, my God, this is piracy. We need better locks." I'm not criticizing that impetus, that notion. I'm basically saying they should've taken the next step and gone, "Oh wait, this'll revolutionize our industry."

The last chapter lists everything the music industry should do—needs to do—to survive. What percentage of that do you think will actually come to pass? How optimistic are you? What percentage of the people you interviewed will still hold the same job five years from now?

I just think that the smaller labels are going to continue to stumble, if they're not bought outright. EMI seems to be reeling right now. Warner's stock price is way down, although they've had some success. Probably, you're going to wind up with a couple hit machines: Universal, maybe Sony-BMG. You still are going to need those kinds of companies, that expertise, to find the proverbial Toni Braxton singing in the gas station, discovered by some label talent scout. But those companies are going to make less and less money, and get smaller and smaller, and get less and less influential, and I think that maybe Live Nation or Ticketmaster or my mythical Apple-EMI is going to pop up and change the model and be more nimble.

Another point I want to make is that these labels will always own some really incredible assets. EMI owns the Beatles catalog, so they're always going to be a player. You or I could own the Beatles catalog and make money. Just not make enough money to have hookers and blow.
More Q's and longer A's from this interview are available HERE.

A Music School Silenced in Gaza

From the political website Counterpunch

Israel's Cultural Warriors
A Music School Silenced in Gaza


There was a music school in Gaza. It was just six months old. The 31 children aged seven to 11 could choose one of five instruments, including the guitar, oud (lute), and piano. Most of the 19 girls gravitated to the guitar and piano while many of the 12 boys showed a preference for the oud.

The school worked out of rented premises in the Palestinian Red Crescent Society building just across the street from the Preventive Security Forces compound in Gaza City. The compound was targeted in the first wave of Israeli bombardments on December 27, and twice more the next day. The five-story building was vaporized; a flat gravel surface is all that remains.

Like other buildings in the neighborhood, the Gaza Music School was shattered; window frames and doors were blown out, and holes were punched in the walls. The force of the blast imploded the four ouds, just like it had the compound.

By some miracle, the children had not yet arrived for their lessons and so were spared the fate of those in other schools in the path of Israeli bombs.

In the midst of all the death and destruction in Gaza, the school's short life rouses particular emotion. That there was such a school at all is astonishing, not just because of the 18 month siege that followed the decades of "de-development" of Gaza under Israeli occupation but also because one might expect it to be contrary to an Islamist social program.

There is almost no musical education in Gaza. The school project was developed in response to community demand, particularly from among the 11,600 children who are members of the Qattan Center for the Child. The Center provides extra-curricular activities and a library for the children. It is impressive: With its 103,000 books, it is one of the largest children's libraries in the Arab world.

The children who attended the Center's music workshops and concerts started asking for more. "They said, 'We want to play instruments too,'" explained Ziad Khalaf, the Ramallah-based director of the Qattan Foundation, which established the school with co-funding from the Swedish development organization SIDA.

The school provided a window on another world for the besieged Gazans. "Many parents sat in on the theory lessons so they could better support their kids' homework," said Khalaf.

The five music teachers include two Russian women married to Palestinian men. They refused to leave Gaza when the border was briefly opened to enable foreigners to flee. For them, Gaza with all its misery and deprivation is still home, just as it is for the 1.5 million other Palestinians living there.

And what about Hamas' supposed social rigidity? Some websites did take a strong line against musical education, complaining that Hamas was allowing music to be taught under its rule instead of the Sharia. But they were ignored. Khalaf emphasizes that the Foundation has experienced full support from all authorities and communities in its different places of operation.

The day after the music school was hit, its coordinator called each of the children and their parents to make sure they were safe, and also to assure them that the school would be repaired, restocked, and reopened as soon as possible.

In Ramallah, the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music is planning a fundraiser soon to help rebuild the school. "Some friends from Amsterdam and London who saw the damage to Gaza music school on the Foundation's website said they will be fundraising to help," Khalaf said.

These plans, too, arouse emotion: Palestinians rebuild even as the rubble rises around them. They have had 60 years to learn how to do so, and show no signs of giving up their quest for their rights -- not even the right to learn how to play a musical instrument.

Nadia Hijab is a senior fellow at the Insitute for Palestine Studies.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Terence Blanchard interview and composition

All About Jazz

Terence Blanchard: Requiem for Katrina

By Lloyd Peterson

During a brief period of four years, two events took place that could define how world history will view America during the early part of the 21st century. The first was 9/11 and the other, Hurricane Katrina. But perhaps most surprising from a global point of view, was how powerless America appeared to be in helping its own citizens who were left destitute during the aftermath of Katrina.

How could the United States, the nation who has been there to support others globally in a time of need, appear so uncaring and insensitive towards its very own people? The question, “What has happened to America?” rang out throughout the world during those dark hours and continues to echo as a new president and administration come into office.

Perhaps one of the most empathetic and compassionate memoirs in reverence to the people of New Orleans came from the brilliant composer and trumpeter, Terence Blanchard. His recording, A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina) (Blue Note, 2007), speaks loudly, though without words, reflecting the pain and frustration of people that were forgotten during their greatest time of need.

All About Jazz spoke to Blanchard took place in two parts on Nov. 30 and Dec. 7 of 2007. Though it has now been a little over a year since the interview took place, the importance and weight of these words still resonate more today than ever before.

All About Jazz: Is the pain and passion in the recording, “A Tale of God's Will” (Requiem for Katrina) for the people of New Orleans?

Terrence Blanchard: It's a passion for the people of New Orleans and it's a cry of frustration for all our hopes and dreams. It's a sense that we have had enough and we are not going to take it anymore. What else can happen? We have been embarrassed as a nation and I could go on and on and on.

AAJ: There also seems to be a telling peacefulness with a suggested common understanding that we do understand, that we still have each other, in a certain gospel sense.

TB: Well, that's exactly it, that's exactly it. Because at the end of the day, when people ask me why it's called A Tale of God's Will, I say look: when we all came back to New Orleans for the first time and saw the level of devastation, our hearts were broken. We all asked ourselves how this could have happened. Why did this have to happen and who is responsible? You end up going through the whole scenario and you don't get answers to most of the questions. And the only thing you can rest with is your faith and a sense of family because here is the deal about Katrina: Katrina didn't give a shit about how much money you made or who you were. We were all put into the same boat in a matter of hours, all of us.

There was an amazing moment during the Higher Ground benefit that took place at the Lincoln Center (Jazz at Lincoln Center's Higher ground Hurricane Relief benefit, Sept. 17, 2007, an all-star jazz event). There were all these musicians from New Orleans who were performing, but very few heard any of the night's performances. And that's because we were all backstage wondering how we and our families were doing. Where are you living now? Are you going back? And that was the mantra that was heard and we only went to the stage when it was time for us to play. So the sense of community in what you are talking about had already begun.

Read the full interview HERE.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Anthropology controversy: Human Terrain program

Academics Turn On "Human Terrain" Whistleblower
By Noah Shachtman EmailDecember 03, 2007 | 3:52:42 PMCategories: Human Terrain

The fight between the Army and academics over the military's social science projects has taken a strange, ugly new turn.

On Thursday, Zenia Helbig, a former researcher with the Army's "Human Terrain System," took the stage at the annual meeting of the American Association of Anthropologists. The executive board of the organization had already spoken out against the program, to embed social scientists into combat units as cultural advisers. And so when Helbig began taking the the military to task for its "inept management and execution at every level" of the Human Terrain effort, audience members nodded their heads in approval. (Here is the text of Helbig's talk.)

But as Helbig started answering questions, the mood turned ugly. Turns out Helbig still backed the idea of boosting the military's cultural IQ -- she just didn't think the Human Terrain program was doing a particularly good job at making it happen. That set some in the audience off. Why, they demanded to know, was she still sticking with the military? And wasn't she "embarrassed" by her fiancee, Captain Matthew Tompkins, for continuing to serving as a Human Terrain team leader in Iraq?

People in the audience began to clap. Helbig began to cry. And one of the biggest critics of the Human Terrain System, George Mason University professor Hugh Gusterson, had to stand up, and tell the collected academics to stop their jeering.

"They just didn't want to hear anything that didn't jive with their conspiracy theories," Helbig tells DANGER ROOM.

Inside Higher Education has more from the meeting. After the jump: excerpts from Helbig's speech.

Having spent four months with the Army, I can’t stress to you the tremendous need for both social science and academic rigor in the military. More particularly... the Army is in need of regional experts, who possess a knowledge of the history, culture and languages of both Iraq and Afghanistan... Yet even HTS, despite its millions of dollars of funding, is proving incapable of delivering those much needed skills to the military in Iraq. HTS has proven unable to deliver because of its own internal tensions, and due to a lack of professionalism, organization, and general competence on the part of its staff, contractors and administrators.

HTS’ greatest problem is its own desperation. The program is desperate to hire anyone or anything that remotely falls into the category of “academic”, “social science”, “regional expert”, or “PhD”. As such, the program has made numerous regrettable decisions regarding both its civilian and military personnel. HTS currentl y has 18 individuals serving down range – 8 in uniform and 10 civilians in Iraq, working as social scientists, linguists and analysts. The 10 civilians include:

* 3 PhDs in Anthropology, none of whom have prior regional knowledge

* 1 civilian with “Arabic proficiency” and an MA in something IR-related, currently serving as a Social Scientist

* 2 native Arabs working as analysts, one of which has relatively poor English, and neither of which seems to have prior work experience as a linguist or analyst

* and 2 prior-service individuals working as team leaders, both of which seem to have served in the Middle East, but neither of which has studied the Middle East...

If AAA [American Association of Anthropology] is concerned with the welfare of the civilian populations in question, please consider whether these populations are better served by anthropologists primarily concerned with maintaining their ethical purity or by anthropologists teaching the military to engage populations more effectively. Your collective ethical concerns would be relevant if the military were onl y “fighting the enemy” and nothing more. In a situation where the military has been ordered to create governments, restore public services, rebuild economies and foster social ties within stratified societies, anthropologists should ask themselves if they want to leave such complex tasks in the hands of people who almost universally have little training and no pre-existing interest in either these tasks or the population.

Third 'Human Terrain' Researcher Dead

Third 'Human Terrain' Researcher Dead
By Noah Shachtman EmailJanuary 08, 2009 | 3:26:21 PMCategories: Human Terrain

Loyd For the third time in eight months, a social scientist with the Army's Human Terrain cultural research program has died.

In early November, while on patrol in an Afghan village, Paula Loyd was doused with a flammable liquid, and set on fire. She suffered second- and third-degree burns over 60 percent of her body. Loyd was rushed to a nearby medical center, where she was treated by a burn specialist. Shortly thereafter, Loyd was evacuated to the military's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and then to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. But after a two month struggle, she was overcome by her injuries.

This is the latest in a series of attacks on Human Terrain personnel. In May, Michael Bhatia, an Oxford-trained political scientist working in eastern Afghanistan, was killed, along with two soldiers, by a roadside explosive. Less than two months later, a bomb detonated inside the Sadr City District Council building in Iraq. Social scientist Nicole Suveges was inside. She and 11 others died instantly.

The small staff of the Human Terrain program is "reeling" from this latest death, one employee tells Danger Room. "Paula dearly loved Afghanistan -- it showed in the way her face lit up whenever she spoke of it. In the field, her work was stellar, and more than that, she was deeply kind, too. We'll miss her terribly."

The incident that took her life continues to have repercussions, here in the United States. Shortly after Loyd was burned, her assailant, Abdul Salam was allegedly shot in the head by Don Ayala, Loyd's Human Terrain colleague. Ayala was then taken into custody, and charged with 2nd degree murder in U.S. District Court. A Virginia grand jury is scheduled to hear Ayala's case, by the end of the month.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

NOLA: Krewe of Zulu turns 100

Congrats to Zulu.

Courtesy of Louisiana State Museum Jazz Collection
Zulu King Louis Armstrong riding on his float, flanked by his court with coconuts in hand, 1949.

Presbytere exhibit kicks off Krewe of Zulu's 100th year celebration
Posted by mcmontoy January 07, 2009 14:30PM
Courtesy of Louisiana State Museum

Did you know that in 1949 Louis Armstrong reigned as the first celebrity monarch over the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club parade? Or that the club, now widely popular and a favorite among most Mardi Gras parade-goers, at one time had only 15 members?

Thanks to a partnership between Zulu and the Louisiana State Museum that has produced a 3,000-square-foot exhibit, "From Tramps to Kings: 100 Years of Zulu, " Carnival enthusiasts can learn all they ever wanted to know about Zulu's origins and rich history.

The exhibit opens Friday with a grand patron party and gala celebrating the more than 100 artifacts -- many of which have never been presented to the public -- that piece together the club from its beginnings in 1909.

"When it comes to Zulu, there are many myths and misconceptions that have been passed off as history, " said museum historian Charles Chamberlain, who worked closely with Zulu's historian, Clarence A. Becknell, to create the exhibit.

"One of the things you often hear about Zulu is there was no set parade route, when in fact we have three detailed maps -- from 1927, 1939 and 1949 showing the routes of the club, " Chamberlain said. "Also, it's been said that Zulu was founded to be a parody of Rex, when in fact that's not true; Zulu was created in the mold of countless African-American benevolent associations that provided essential social services to members and the community."

The parade rolls on Mardi Gras, which falls on Feb. 24.

Party-goers who attend Friday night's events will be the first to view artifacts such as Louis Armstrong's scrapbook from his reign and hear audio recorded during his ride. They'll also learn how the organization's seven main characters (the Witch Doctor, Big Shot, Mr. Big Stuff, the Mayor, Ambassador, Governor and Grand Marshall) came to be highlights of the parade.

"The exhibition is divided into two sections -- the history and origin, and the modern development of the organization, " Chamberlain said.

Friday's celebration will happen in the Jackson Square mall in and around the Presbytere. The opening will feature the Zulu king's float and larger-than-life Zulu sculptures from Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World. Patron party guests will feast on food from Nola and gala guests will be served offerings from several noted New Orleans restaurants, including K-Paul's, Drago's and Irene's Cuisine, as well as a special curried chicken dish created by Dooky Chase chef Leah Chase. Entertainment will include music by Deacon John and Jean Knight ("Mr. Big Stuff, " "My Toot Toot").

"It's a great way to get in the Carnival spirit while supporting such a fantastic exhibit, " said Susan Maclay, executive director of the Louisiana Museum Foundation, which directly supports all museum endeavors. "What a deal! For $50, all you can drink and eat and fabulous entertainment; really you couldn't spend a night on the town for that kind of money, I promise you."

Folks who can't attend the kick-off party Friday evening are invited to go out Saturday at noon a.m. to see Zulu members parade from Harrah's Casino to The Presbytere. On Saturday at 1:45 p.m. , a ribbon-cutting ceremony will feature Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, Zulu dignitaries and guests.

To celebrate the opening, museum admission will be waived for all visitors on Saturday.

If you can't make it this weekend, take heart: Several events are planned over the course of the year to celebrate the exhibit. Check Lagniappe's weekly special events calendar for upcoming events.


What: The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club and the Louisiana State Museum have partnered to create a 3,000-square-foot exhibit on Zulu from its beginnings in 1909 to today. The patron party features food from Nola. The gala includes all you can eat and drink with entertainment by Deacon John and Jean Knight.
Chris Granger / The Times-Picayune

Stonehenge as Neolithic Trance Music Site

Stonehenge: One totally awesome rave location
Stone circle’s acoustics are ideal for listening to repetitive trance rhythms
By Rossella Lorenzi
Discovery Channel
updated 8:40 a.m. PT, Wed., Jan. 7, 2009

Stonehenge was built as a dance arena for prehistoric "samba-style" raves, according to a study of the acoustics of the 5,000-year-old stone circle.

Using cutting-edge technology, Rupert Till, an expert in acoustics and music technology at Huddersfield University in northern England, discovered that Stonehenge's megaliths reflect sound perfectly, making the stone circle an ideal setting for listening to repetitive trance rhythms.

Till and colleague Bruno Fazenda first carried out mathematical analysis of the archaeological site to make predictions of its acoustic effects. Their aim was to look at Stonehenge as it was thousands of years ago, rather than limit their work to the remaining acoustic properties of the semi-collapsed site.

"We visited a full-size concrete replica of Stonehenge at Maryhill in Washington state. The model was built as a war memorial and has all original stones intact, so it was possible to carry out some acoustic tests," Till told Discovery News.

Using specialized acoustics software, the researchers compared results from their own calculations, computer simulations, and tests conducted at the concrete Stonehenge replica.

"Finally, we were able to create examples of what the space sounded like." Till said. "Echoes in the space indicate that there might have been rhythmic music played."

Till speculated that most likely Stonehenge's music consisted of a simple rhythm played in time to the echoes in the space, at the same tempo as the echo, or at a multiple of it.

"This would be at a tempo of about 160 beats per minute, a fast tempo. It is interesting that this is the tempo of fast trance music, of samba...It is at the top of the range of musical tempos. It is also at the top end of the range of the human heartbeat, the same as the heart might beat if you were doing really vigorous exercise, or dancing really energetically," Till said.

Located in the county of Wiltshire, at the center of England's densest complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments, Stonehenge consists of the remnants of a mysterious circle of large standing stones built between 3000 B.C. and 1600 B.C.

The prehistoric monument has long baffled archaeologists, who still argue over its original purpose, with two main theories taking shape in recent years.

"One is that it was a healing space, the other that it was a place of the dead. Both theories imply ritual activity. And rituals almost always involve music as a key element," Till said.

According to Till, who has also reproduced the sound of someone speaking or clapping in Stonehenge 5,000 years ago, particular spots at the site produce unusual acoustic effects, suggesting that perhaps a priest or a shaman may have stood there, leading the ritual.

Till's research ties in with previous studies carried out by Aaron Watson, an artist and archaeologist who specializes in the study of Neolithic monuments.

Watson's research strongly suggested that the monument's builders knew how to direct the movement of sound. Indeed, the stones at Stonehenge amplify higher-frequency sounds, such as the human voice, while lower-frequency sounds such as drums pass around the stones and can be heard for some distance.

The effect would have been a "dynamic multisensory experiences," according to Watson.

"An audience outside the monument could not have clearly seen or heard events within, perhaps creating a sense of mystery. In contrast, an audience occupying the confined interior of Stonehenge would have heard amplified sounds," Watson wrote on his Web site.
© 2009 Discovery Channel

Friday, January 02, 2009

On the death of art criticism in newspapers

City Arts Seattle

By pushing out distinguished writers whom readers trust, the dailies are sinking themselves, warns the great chronicler of the media crisis, New York Times columnist David Carr. "Having missed the implications of the Web and allowed both their content and their audience to be scraped away by aggregators and ad networks," writes Carr, "newspapers are now working furiously to maintain audience, build new ad models and renovate presentation. But they won't stay relevant to readers with generic content ginned up by newbies with no background in the communities they serve."

The "newbies" Carr refers to are of two tribes: (a) low-paid staffers too young to have costly families on the health plan, or (b) freelancers with no health plan and little stature. Brave souls who work for cheap, hustle a dozen pitches at once and only get paid on publication, freelancers are awash in work as unemployment soars - and they're still broke.

Seattle native and LA Times staff rock critic Ann Powers describes the freelancer's plight this way. "A [freelance] critic is never able to be comfortable that they own a space in the dialogue, that they will have a true place in the community conversation." If staff critics like Farr and Powers feel compelled to articulate the cultural history of their cities, the freelancer's survival instinct compels him or her to secure the next paycheck before embarking on any history lessons.

At the time of our interview Powers had just seen three of her close friends axed from their writing jobs, and she was having nightmares about getting the axe herself. On December 8 the Tribune Company, which owns the LA Times, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Like David Carr, Powers has been trying to articulate why the business strategy taken by so many dailies is wrong-headed, resulting in a doomed parade of goodbye parties for people who should not be leaving. After much contemplation she settled on the metaphor of hamburgers:

"Just to take it out of the professional realm for a moment, think of it in terms of hamburgers. Would you trust someone's opinion about a hamburger joint if you did not know what kind of food they liked or if they even ate hamburgers? Or would you go to a trusted friend who you knew ate hamburgers all the time?"

Critics come to know the town just as reporters get to know their beats: they find their sources, their deep throats. As Tori Ellison phrased it, they learn how to "unearth" truths about the scene - digging into the underground instead of running over its surfaces.

Some say: forget the daily papers, the really great arts criticism is happening on blogs. I have searched and searched Planet Blogosphere and have yet to find this to be true. Of course blogs, twitter, myspace, all of it is in some sense revolutionary (Obama's win proved this). But the blogosphere is not a place that produces great, careful writing. Perhaps this is because bloggers don't generally craft and revise their work: it's all about back-and-forth discussion, diary entries, lists.

"A staff critic is by nature a generalist," says Powers. "Their job is to cover as wide a range as possible. The blog world does not encourage generalists it encourages specific passions." It also encourages?xenophobia - fear of those who are unlike you. "Who do we have in common?" asks the social networking site. The staff critic binds society together, if only by giving everyone someone to disagree with. The new, unknown critic splits audiences into interest groups. The critic starves on $125 a review; artists and audiences, starved of comprehensive coverage, drift into separate, solipsistic twilights.

Read the full article HERE

Long-forgotten old-time music finds new audience (Roots music reissues)

Read the original (w/photos) at the CSM HERE
Long-forgotten old-time music finds new audience
Roots music from the early 20th century is experiencing a mini-revival with a series of new CD releases.
By Mark Guarino | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

from the January 2, 2009 edition

Entertainment galas like next month's Grammy Awards are festooned with fresh faces, trim bodies, and the latest couture. Yet in a second ceremony, when the television cameras are off and the shrieking masses have yet to gather, The Recording Academy acknowledges the less glamorous side of the music industry, which includes awarding artists who not only did their best work before Justin Timberlake was born, they also happen to be dead.

The Grammy category for Best Historical Album was launched in 1978 to little fanfare and designed mostly for compilers of big band or opera recordings. But in recent years, as record companies mine their vaults more aggressively to repackage early recorded music in box sets, and patch together snatches of lost tape to create wholly new albums, the category has grown to represent not just the legacy of a certain era or artist, but also an important new revenue channel.

This year, the category is split among a group of independent labels that are innovating how we listen to and appreciate early-century music, some of it predating electrical recording and performed by entertainers whose names are largely forgotten. Instead of shoving the music into the marketplace and waiting for it to sell, these small operators have lovingly filtered it through an interpretive lens to discover thematic connections between where we came from and who we are today.

As a result, boxed compilations are not just bringing forgotten voices back to life, they are making them suddenly relevant. Here, African-American comedian Bert Williams and popular singer Billy Murray can finally be recognized as the greatest recording stars of the Edison cylinder era.

With technology allowing access to centuries of culture through the click of the mouse, having someone curate the past is becoming more essential.

"One thing we strive for are the historical liner notes and photographs and trying to recreate the time period you just don't get with an MP3," says Lance Ledbetter, founder of Dust-To-Digital, an Atlanta independent whose biggest seller is "Goodnight Babylon," a six-CD collection of early Southern sacred songs and sermons, packaged with a 200-page book in a cedar box with pieces of cotton nestled inside. The box has sold 7,500 to date, a smash hit for a label with little overhead, no staff, and marketing the old-fashioned way: word of mouth and print reviews.

That kind of traditional business model works especially well, Josh Rosenthal says, when targeting the two audiences major labels tend to ignore: well-educated and culturally curious baby boomers and 20-somethings who ignore mainstream media channels and listen to college radio. Collectively they are the two groups that helped make "People Take Warning!" a hit for Tompkins Square, the New York City label Mr. Rosenthal has singly operated for three years.

Endorsed by Tom Waits, who contributes an essay, the three-CD set assembles hillbilly songs, blues, country, and general esotery between 1913 and 1938 into three categories: "Man V Machine," "Man V Nature" and "Man V Man." Followed in that order, the songs unfold like a news ticker detailing the hardships of the first half of the last century, when disease, shipwrecks, and floods shaped the nation's character in the industrial age, and created its folk heroes, like Casey Jones, Stack O'Lee, and Tom Dooley.

Some songs double as historic documents, written in the immediate wake of the event they describe. This includes "Fate of Will Rogers and Wiley Post," sung by West Virginian singer Bill Cox two weeks after the 1935 plane crash that killed the American humorist and his pilot. Seventy-eight years later, the tremors in Cox's voice remain harrowing.

"All these forgotten stories" in the box makes it "a tribute to these lost people," Rosenthal says.

The renewed interest in early recordings is connected to two landmark reissues of the 1990s: the "Anthology of American Folk Music" in 1997 and the box of complete works by the blues singer Robert Johnson, the latter which Rosenthal helped produce in 1990 in his former life as a vice president of marketing and sales at Sony Music.

Both releases benefited by arriving alongside the Internet explosion. As adventuresome music fans unplugged from the mainstream to hunt online, music that was long marginalized began to be heard by greater numbers.

Having a digital benefactor for such primitively recorded music is an irony not lost on Richard Martin, cofounder with his wife, Meagan Hennessey, of Archeophone Records, in Champaign, Ill.

Mr. Martin says the recordings on his label, which specializes in minstrelsy, early jazz, ragtime, and vaudeville singers from before the advent of electrical recording, can often be unsettling for listeners used to the sleek production standards of today. Before microphones and consoles to manipulate signal frequencies for intimacy and depth, singers were relegated to shouting into conical horns that etched physical imprints onto discs, a primitive process resulting in recordings that today can sound murky and distant.

"You don't have lows or highs, it sounds like a telephone receiver. When you're used to that, like we are, there's a certain beauty. I like the sound of a good, clean record from 1912," he says.

Younger musicians who are inspired by early century music are likewise not bothered by the primitive sound. For them, including Andrew Bird, the acclaimed fiddler-songwriter, the purity is in the performance.

"It's good to remind yourself now and then what it is to be truly naturally musical," says Mr. Bird. "A lot of that stuff is social music, it served a purpose and was not part of the recording industry. That's a big thing for me. It's not one person's headphone symphony and not a personal ego project, it's part of a living culture."

Growing listener interest has created a demand for deeper excavation of sonic antiquity. Because Archeophone deals in the earliest era of recording, that process means salvaging archaic artifacts of a lost era (wax cylinders and heavy shellac discs), transferring them to CD, and packaging them with exhaustively researched booklets. The pursuit leads Archeophone and other labels through collector vaults, flea markets, and even eBay. But no recent discovery is as special as a 10-second recording of the French folk song "Au Clair de la Lune," sung by a young child in 1860, 17 years before Thomas Edison's recordings that, until last March, were considered the first document of the human voice.

Already a free stream via, a site run by a collective of researchers and historians, which includes Martin, the recording will make its official public debut as a 45-r.p.m.–-vinyl single on Dust-To-Digital later this year.

Using a credit card over the Internet to purchase a vinyl record of a song recorded before the light bulb may just represent how far technology has come in cross-wiring history, making it possible for Polk Miller, a Virginian bandleader who died in 1913, to receive Grammy consideration the same year as Coldplay.

"This is part of the cultural subconscious," Martin says. "Reminding us of our history is a very good thing."

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Album sales plunge, digital downloads up


Album sales plunge, digital downloads up
By JOHN GEROME, AP Entertainment Writer John Gerome, Ap Entertainment Writer Wed Dec 31, 8:14 pm ET

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Music sales have continued to slump in 2008 as the increased number of downloads of digital tracks failed to make up for a plunge in the sale of compact discs.

Year-end sales figures released Wednesday by The Nielsen Co. show total album sales, including album equivalents made up of single digital tracks, fell to 428.4 million units, down 8.5 percent from 500.5 million in 2007.

Physical album sales fell 20 percent to 362.6 million from 450.5 million, while digital album sales rose 32 percent to a record 65.8 million units.

Digital track sales, such as those conducted in Apple Inc.'s iTunes Music Store, were up 27 percent from last year, breaking the 1 billion mark for the first time at 1.07 billion.

The report continues a troubling trend for the recording industry, which has a harder time maintaining profits when consumers buy single songs instead of albums. The number of transactions rose 10.5 percent to 1.5 billion, although the figure treats single track and whole album purchases the same.

"You can see the overall unit sales as a positive, but their model is really built on album sales and that just continues to decline," said Silvio Pietroluongo, director of charts for Billboard magazine.

"Music consumption has never been at a higher clip, it's just a matter of trying to turn it into revenue," he added.

Some record labels are making progress. Craig Kallman, chief executive of Warner Music Group Corp.'s Atlantic Records, whose artists include Kid Rock and T.I., said his label passed a milestone in the year to September by having its digital revenue exceed that from physical CD sales.

The label, the top-selling in the U.S. in 2008, has had to become more careful in choosing which artists to promote and more patient in waiting for their songs to break out, he said.

"You have to really be right about your hits. If you're going to invest that amount of time in them and not run as many records, you have to be way more right today than wrong," Kallman said.

Nielsen SoundScan said album sales fell in every genre. Classical music saw the biggest drop at 26 percent, followed by country at 24 percent and Latin at 21.1 percent.

Taylor Swift was the year's best-selling artist with more than 4 million albums sold, followed by AC/DC, Lil Wayne and Coldplay. Sugarland finished No. 8.

Swift had two albums on Nielsen's Top 10 sales list: her self-titled debut at No. 6 and her sophomore album "Fearless" at No. 3.

"Taylor Swift is a great artist development story that started as organically as you can in the digital age," said Scott Borchetta, president and CEO of her label, Big Machine Records. "It involved online, non-stop radio tours and strategic TV opportunities which led to non-stop touring. But — most importantly — Taylor connected with her fans like no other artist in 2008."

Lil Wayne had the year's top-selling album, "Tha Carter III," with 2.87 million units sold, with Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" (2.14 million) and Swift's "Fearless" (2.11 million) rounding out the top three.

The top selling digital artist was Rihanna with 9.94 million tracks sold, followed by Swift and Kayne West.

Ironically, as digital downloads grew, vinyl album sales also climbed. In 2008, more vinyl albums were purchased (1.88 million) than any other year since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991.

More than two of every three vinyl albums were purchased at an independent music store during the year, the company reported. The top selling vinyl albums were Radiohead's "In Rainbows" (26,000 units), the Beatles' "Abbey Road" (16,500) and Guns 'N Roses' "Chinese Democracy" (13,600).

Nielsen also reported that music sales exceeded 65 million in the final week of 2008, representing the biggest sales week in the history of Nielsen SoundScan. The previous record was Christmas week of 2007 with 58.4 million music purchases.


Business Writer Ryan Nakashima in Los Angeles contributed to this report.