Japanese Priest Tries to Revive Buddhism by Bringing Techno Music into the Temple: Attend a Psychedelic 23-Minute Service

in Music, Religion | February 17th, 2017

Many religious leaders would like to liven up their services to attract a younger, hipper flock, but few have the necessary background to pull it off in a truly impressive way. Not so for the Japanese Buddhist priest Gyōsen Asakura, who answered the higher calling after a career as a DJ but evidently never lost his feel for the unstoppable pulse of electronic music. Getting behind his decks and donning his headphones once again, he has begun using sound, light, and the original splendor of Fukui City’s Shō-onji temple to hold “techno memorial services.” You can see and hear a bit of one such audiovisual spiritual spectacle in the video just above, shot at a memorial service last fall.

“Buddhism may be approaching something of a crisis point in Japan,” reports Buddhistdoor’s Craig Lewis, “with 27,000 of the country’s 77,000 Buddhist temples forecast to close over the next 25 years, reflecting shrinking populations in small rural communities and a loss of faith in organized religion among the country’s population as a whole.”

He also sites an Asahi Shimbun survey that found 434 temples closed over the past decade and 12,065 Japanese Buddhist temples currently without resident monks. Can this temple in a small city, itself known for its phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the Second World War, do its part to reverse the trend?

Gyōsen Asakura frames his techno memorial services, however incongruous they might at first seem, as in keeping with the traditions of his branch of Pure Land Buddhism. “Originally, golden decorations in the temple are expressions of paradise light,” he told THUMP. “However, the light of a traditional temple has not changed its form from 1000 years ago to use candlelight, even after electricity was invented. I felt doubtful about that, and then I thought about expressing paradise with the latest stage lighting such as 3D mapping.”

After all, as he said to Japankyo, “people used to use the most advanced technologies available to them at the time in order to ornament temples with gold leaf,” so why not harness today’s technology to evoke the Buddhist “world of light” as well? And in any case, ecstatic sensory experiences are nothing new in the realm of faith, though ecstatic sensory experiences of Gyōsen Asakura’s kind do cost money to put together. And so he, in the way of most religious projects the world over, has asked for donations to fund them, using not a bowl but the crowdfunding site Readyfor. Judging by 383,000 yen (more than $3300 U.S. dollars) he’s already raised, quite a few techno-heads have seen the light.

via Electronic Beats

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Rufus Harley, the First Jazz Musician to Make the Bagpipes His Main Instrument, Performs on I’ve Got a Secret (1966)

in Jazz, Music, Television | February 17th, 2017

Musician Rufus Harley did the people of Scotland a great favor when he took up the bagpipes. Like the Loch Ness Monster and haggis, outside its country of origin, the national instrument has evolved into a hackneyed punchline.

What better, more unexpected ambassador for its expanded possibilities than a certified American jazz cat?

He certainly stumped the all-white celebrity panel when he appeared on Steve Allen’s popular TV game show, “I’ve Got a Secret” in 1966.

Politician and former Miss America Bess Myerson’s opening question feels a bit impolitic from a 50 year remove:

Is it how well you play it that’s unusual?

“Yes, definitely,” Harley agrees.

Having quickly sussed out that the instrument in question is a woodwind, the panel cycles through a list of candidates – flute?




A…sweet potato?

Once they start batting around saxophones, Allen issues a brisk corrective:

He wouldn’t be here tonight if he, you know, just played the saxophone and that was his secret because that wouldn’t be too good a secret. 

Point taken.

Something tells me a white guy in a suit and a tie would have elicited less wonder from the panel upon the revelation that the instrument they failed to guess was the bagpipes.

On the other hand, here is a person of color commanding attention and respect on national television in 1966, two days after the Black Panther Party was officially founded.

Harley had had professional training in the saxophone, oboe, trumpet and flute, but as a bagpiper he was self-taught. As the comments on the video above demonstrate, his unorthodox handling of the instrument continues to confound more traditional pipers. No matter. The sounds he coaxed out of that thing are unlike anything you’re likely to hear on the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond.

At the end of the segment, Harley joined his back up musicians onstage for a live, Latin-inflected cover of “Feeling Good.”

Spotify listeners can enjoy more of Harley’s distinctive piping here.

And just for fun, check out this list of bagpipe terms.There’s more to this instrument than its association with Groundskeeper Willy might suggest.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and theater maker whose latest play, Zamboni Godot, is opening in New York City on March 2. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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Duet for French Horn and Chair

in Music, Random | February 15th, 2017

Pretty clever. Even more better is the comment left by one YouTube user, “I wonder if he’s first chair?” Ha!!

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Meet Jane Little: The Musician Who Played with the Same Orchestra for 71 Straight Years, a World Record

in Life, Music | February 15th, 2017

Last May, when Jane Little died at the age of 87, a world record came to an end.

Standing only 4’11” and weighing only 98 pounds, Little began playing a double bass in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 1945, at the age of 16. And she continued playing that bass for the orchestra for the next 71 years, giving her the longest professional tenure with the same orchestra. Fittingly, she died onstage, collapsing during an encore performance of ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business.’

This week, The New Yorker has a short profile on Jane Little and an accompanying video, which you can watch above. It’s entitled “The Longest Shortest Double Bassist.”

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A 10-Hour Playlist of Music Inspired by Robert Moog’s Iconic Synthesizer: Hear Electronic Works by Kraftwerk, Devo, Stevie Wonder, Rick Wakeman & More

in Music | February 14th, 2017

It’s no secret that we love electronic music here, especially that made with the earliest instruments to hit concert stages and recording studios. The most prominent of these two, respectively, would be the Theremin and the Moog synthesizer, two devices invented by engineers who were not themselves musicians. Ironically, these have remained two electronic instruments with the most harmoniously musical voices—simulating the warmth and quavery vibrato of the human voice while also lending everything they touch an eerie, otherworldly air.

What often goes unremarked is the close, nearly direct influence of one upon the other, as David McNamee at The Guardian notes. Often thought of now as a novelty, the Theremin in its day received serious treatment in the hands of classical performer Clara Rockmore, who inspired Robert Moog, then only 14 years old, to build his own version of Leo Theremin’s device in 1948. “Godfather of electronic music” Raymond Scott took Moog’s instrument and wired it “into a keyboard-controlled contraption Scott called the Clavivox, which had a profound influence on Moog.”

Moog continued to build Theremins (a version of one went on tour with the Beach Boys to play “Good Vibrations”). But he is most famous for his synthesizers. Initially, he had “no interest in replicating existing instruments. They were machines for creating sound that sounded electronic.” Moog first designed a cumbersome studio-only apparatus, debuting in 1964, and his company’s “massive, fragile and impossible to tune” modular synthesizers had little popular appeal, or affordability. “Few of Dr. Moog’s early customers,” McNamee points out, including “sound artists, choreographers, and studios” were “interested in playing conventional melody on the instruments.”

This makes all the more impressive the achievements of Wendy Carlos, who showed the Moog’s capability for dynamic range and musical precision with her hugely popular adaptations of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven on the Moog synthesizer in 1968 and subsequent years. But by 1970, the Minimoog, the inventor’s first portable keyboard, had made analog synthesizers accessible to musicians worldwide—even though later consumer-grade instruments retained some of the odd properties of the original, like the “shonky” pitch control that sends Moogs quavering off key. (In its earliest incarnations, “making the things stay in tune seemed a low priority.”)

There’s no overstatement in saying that the Moog’s move out of the hands of elite engineers and onto the stage and rock studio changed music history forever in the 70s and 80s. Comprehensive accounts of the Moog revolution fill books and feature-length documentaries. The most direct experience comes from the music itself, of course, and to that end, The Guardian compiled the playlist above of “Moog heroes”—featuring reliable electro-stars like Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Rick Wakeman, and Herbie Hancock, as well as more esoteric Moog composers like Italian horror-film masters Goblin. Giorgio Morodor’s Moog grooves with Donna Summer are prominent, as are more recent dance hits from Depeche Mode, Franz Ferdinand, and LCD Soundsystem. Surprises come in the form of little heard tunes from classic rock artists, like Neil Young’s “Computer Age” (further up).

We’ll all find bones to pick with this list. Astute music nerds will notice right away that not all of these songs feature Moog synthesizers, and at least one, the Rolling Stones’ “2000 Light Years from Home,” actually uses an instrument that predates Moogs, the Mellotron. One might then reasonably refer to the playlist as in some degree “Moog-inspired.” Missing here are essential contributions from Bob Marley and the Wailers and the recently-departed Bernie Worrell of Parliament-Funkadelic, from the eternal grooves of African pioneers like William Onybear (top), and arguably, from Suicide and electro-psych rockers Silver Apples (who built their own synthesizer). These and other perhaps crucial omissions aside, The Guardian’s “Moog heroes” playlist more than makes its case for the historical significance and utterly distinctive character of the Moog and its imitators and musical children.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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224 Books About Music in David Byrne’s Personal Library

in Books, Music | February 14th, 2017

Image by LivePict, via Wikimedia Commons

The meaning of the word “library” has never been more ambiguous. When we can virtually carry library-sized collections of images, music, literature and reference data in our pockets, what are physical libraries but museums of a sort? Of course, from the point of view of librarians especially, this isn’t true in the least. Libraries are fortresses of free speech, public education, and “information literacy” at the community level. Rather than obsolete or secondary, they may be more necessary than ever.

On a larger view both of these things are true. For millions of people, physical libraries have become secondary and will remain so, but they also remain community resources of paramount importance. As Ted Mills posted here in the summer of 2015, Talking Heads frontman, “polymath and all-around swell person David Byrne” affirmed that latter status of the physical library when he leant out 250 books on music from his personal library to themselves be leant out at a library hosted by the 22nd annual Meltdown Festival and London’s Poetry Library.

“I love a library,” wrote Byre in his own Guardian essay announcing the project.

I grew up in suburban Baltimore and the suburbs were not a particularly cosmopolitan place. We were desperate to know what was going on in the cool places, and, given some suggestions and direction, the library was one place where that wider exciting world became available. In my little town, the library also had vinyl that one could check out and I discovered avant-garde composers such as Xenakis and Messiaen, folk music from various parts of the world and even some pop records that weren’t getting much radio play in Baltimore. It was truly a formative place.

Having grown up in the DC suburbs in the years before the internet, I can relate, and would add the importance of local music stores and affordable all-age venues. But Byrne has never stayed tied to the media of his youth. During his several decades as a cultural critic and arts educator, he has made ecumenical use of mundane new technologies to interrogate the status of other older forms. One recent project, for example, consisted of a 96-page book and 20-minute DVD about his experiments in PowerPoint art. One of the questions raised by the project, writes Veronique Vienne, is whether the book is “an antiquated cultural artifact” in an age of hypervisualization.

Clearly for Byrne himself, the answer is no, and that answer is closely connected to the question of commodification verses open access, whether through libraries or free online archives. “The idea of reading books for free,” he writes, “didn’t kill the publishing business, on the contrary, it created nations of literate and passionate readers. Shared interests and the impulse to create.” Byrne’s library reflects a lifetime of shared interests and creative inspiration. He himself has spent his life writing about music in spite of the clever maxim that such a venture is like “dancing about architecture.” It is, he writes, “stimulating and inspiring nonetheless.”

In the spirit of sharing information and championing libraries, Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova published a list of nearly all of the titles in Byrne’s lending library, with links to public library editions near you through WorldCat. Find the full list below, courtesy of David Byrne’s site, and see Brain Picking’s list and short essay here.

1. 40 Watts from Nowhere: A Journey into Pirate Radioby Sue Carpenter
2. A divina comedia dos Mutantes by Carlos Calado
3. A Photographic Record: 1969–1980 by Mick Rock
4. A Thelonious Monk: Study Album by Lionel Grigson
5. A Whole Room for Music: A Short Guide to the Balfour Building Music Makers’ Gallery by Helene La Rue
6. Acoustic Territories: Sound Culture and Everyday Life by Brandon Labelle
7. Acoustics for Radio and Television Studios by Christopher Gilford
8. Africa Dances by Geoffrey Gorer
9. African Music: A People’s Art by Francis Bebey
10. African Rhythm and African Sensibility by John Miller Chernoff
11. Afro-American Folk Songs by H.E. Krehbiel
12. AfroPop! An Illustrated Guide to Contemporary African Music by Sean Barlow & Banning Eyre
13. All You Need to Know About the Music Business by Donald S. Passman
14. Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafè by Miguel Algarin & Bob Holman
15. An Illustrated Treasury of Songs by National Gallery of Art
16. And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey by Studs Terkel
17. Arranged Marriage by Wallace Berman & Robert Watts
18. Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music by Cristoph Cox & Daniel Warner
19. Austin City Limits: 35 Years in Photographs by Scott Newton & Terry Lickona
20. Bachata: A Social History of a Dominican Popular Music by Deborah Pacini Hernandez
21. Bandalism: The Rock Group Survival Guide by Julian Ridgway
22. Beats of the Heart: Popular Music of the World by Jeremy Marre & Hannah Charlton
23. Best Music Writing 2001 by Nick Hornby & Ben Schafer
24. Best Music Writing 2002 by Jonathan Lethem & Paul Bresnick
25. Best Music Writing 2003 by Matt Groening & Paul Bresnick
26. Best Music Writing 2006 by Mary Gaitskill & Daphne Carr
27. Best Music Writing 2007 by Robert Christgau & Daphne Carr
28. Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne
29. Black Music of Two Worlds by John Storm Roberts
30. Black Rhythms of Peru: Reviving African Musical Heritage in the Black Pacific by Heidi Carolyn Feidman
31. Blues Guitar: The Men Who Made the Music by Jas Obrecht
32. Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music that Seduced the World by Ruy Castro
33. Botsford Collection of Folk Songs Volume 1 by Florence Hudson Botsford
34. Botsford Collection of Folk Songs Volume 2 by Florence Hudson Botsford
35. Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie
36. Bourbon Street Black: The New Orleans Black Jazzman byJack V Buerkle & Danny Barker
37. Brazilian Popular Music and Citizenship by Idelber Avelar & Christopher Dunn
38. Brutality Garden: Tropicalla and the Emergence of a Brazilian Counterculture by Christopher Dunn
39. Bug Music: How Insects Gave Us Rhythm and Noise by David Rothenberg
40. But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz by Geoff Dyer
41. Cancioneiro Vinicius De Moraes by Orfeu
42. Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music by Mark Katz
43. Catch a Fire: The Life of Bob Marley by Timothy White
44. Chambers by Alvin Lucier & Douglas Simon
45. Chinaberry Sidewalks: A Memoir by Rodney Crowell
46. Chris Stein/Negative: Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk by Deborah Harry, Glenn O’Brien & Shepard Fairey
47. Clandestino: In Search of Manu Chao by Peter Culshaw
48. Clothes Music Boys by Viv Albertine
49. Cocinando! Fifty Years of Latin Cover Art by Pablo Yglesias
50. Conjunto by John Dyer
51. Conversations with Glenn Gould by Jonathan Cott
52. Conversing with Cage by Richard Kostelanetz
53. Copyrights & Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity by Siva Vaidhyanathan
54. Dancing in Your Head: Jazz, Blues, Rock and Beyond by Gene Santoro
55. Desert Plants: Conversations with Twenty-Three American Musicians by Walter Zimmerman
56. Diccionario de Jazz Latino by Nat Chediak
57. Diccionario del Rock Latino by Nat Chediak
58. Driving Through Cuba: Rare Encounters in the Land of Sugar Cane and Revolution by Carlo Gebler
59. Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey into the Spirit of Percussion by Mickey Hart & Jay Stevens
60. Essays on Music by Theodor W. Adorno
61. Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond by Michael Nyman
62. Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2 by Negativland
63. Fela Fela: This Bitch of a Life by Carlos Moore
64. Fetish & Fame: The 1997 MTV Video Music Awards by David Felton
65. Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954–1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes by Stephen Sondheim
66. Folk and Traditional Music of the Western Continents by Bruno Nettl
67. Folk Song Style and Culture by Alan Lomax
68. Folk: The Essential Album Guide by Neal Walers & Brian Mansfield
69. Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition by Iannis Xenakis
70. Fotografie in Musica by Guido Harari
71. Genesis of a Music by Harry Partch
72. Give my Regards to Eighth Street: Collected Writings of Morton Feldman by B.H. Friedman
73. Gravikords, Whirlies, & Pyrophones: Experimental Musical Instruments by Bart Hopkin
74. Guia Esencial De La Salsa by Jose Manuel Gomez
75. Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning by Gary Marcus
77. Hearing Cultures: Essays on Sound, Listening, and Modernity by Veit Erlmann
78. Here Come the Regulars: How to Run a Record Label on a Shoestring Budget by Ian Anderson
79. He Stopped Loving Her Today: George Jones, Billy Sherrill and the Pretty-Much Totally True Story of the Making of the Greatest Country Record of All Time by Jack Isenhour
80. Hip Hop: The Illustrated History of Break Dancing, Rap Music and Graffiti by Steven Hager
81. Hit Men by Frederic Dannen
82. Hitsville: The 100 Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazines 1954–1968 by Alan Betrock
83. Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why by Ellen Dissanayake
84. Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture by Alice Echols
85. How Music Works: The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to the Beatles and Beyond by John Powell
86. Hungry for Heaven: Rock and Roll and the Search for Redemption by Steve Turner
87. I Have Seen the End of the World and it Looks Like This by Bob Schneider
88. I’ll Take You There Mavis Staples: The Staple Songers, and the March Up Freedom’s Highway by Greg Kot
89. In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise by George Prochnik
90. Indian Music by B. Chaitanya Deva
91. It Ain’t Easy: Long John Baldry and the Birth of the British Blues by Paul Myers
92. Japanese Music and Musical Instruments by William P. Malm
93. Javanese Gamelan by Jennifer Lindsay
94. Jazz by William Claxton
95. Knitting Music by Michael Dorf
96. La Traviata: In Full Score by Giuseppe Verdi
97. Laurie Anderson by John Howell
98. Leon Geico: Cronica de un Sueno by Oscar Finkelstein
99. Lexicon of Musical Invective by Nicolas Slonimsky
101. Light Strings: Impressions of the Guitar by Ralph Gibson & Andy Summers
102. Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music by Eric Weisbard
103. Listening Through the Noise: the Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music by Joanna Demers
104. Listen to This by Alex Ross
105. Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981–2011) with Attendant Comments, Amplifications, Dogmas, Harangues, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany by Stephen Sondheim
106. Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Music Made New in New York City in the ’70s by Will Hermes
107. Love in Vain: The Life and Legend of Robert Johnson by Allen Greenberg
108. Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture by Tim Lawrence
109. Low by Hugo Wilcken
110. Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-dirty in Seventies New York by James Wolcott
111. Macumba: The Teachings of Maria-Jose, Mother of the Gods by Serge Bramly
112. Mango Mambo by Adal
113. Masters of Contemporary Brazilian Song: MPB 1965–1985 by Charles Perrone
114. Max’s Kansas City: Art, Glamour, Rock and Roll by Steven Kasher
115. Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James and the Shondells by Tommy James
116. Miles: The Autobiography by Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe
117. Mingering Mike: The Amazing Career of an imaginary Soul Superstar by Dori Hadar
118. Mister Jelly Roll: The Fortunes of Jelly Roll Morton, New Orleans Creole and “Inventor of Jazz” by Alan Lomax
119. Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture by Thurston Moore
120. Music by Paul Bowles
121. Music and Communication by Terence McLaughlin
122. Music and Globalization: Critical Encounters by Bob W. White
123. Music and the Brain: Studies in the Neurology of Music by MacDonald Critchley & R. A. Henson
124. Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr
125. Music and Trance: A Theory of the Relations between Music and Possession by Gilbert Rouget
126. Music Cultures of the Pacific, The Near East, and Asia by William P. Malm
128. Music in Cuba by Alejo Carpentier
129. Music, Language and the Brain by Aniruddh D. Patel
130. Musica Cubana Del Areyto a la Nueva Trova by Dr. Cristobal Diaz Ayala
131. Musical Instruments of the World: An Illustrated Encyclopedia with More than 4,000 Original Drawings by Ruth Midgely
132. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks
133. My Music by Susan D Crafts, Daniel Cavicchi & Charles Keil
134. New York Noise: Art and Music from the New York Underground 1978-88 by Stuart Baker
135. Noise: A Human History of Sound & Listening by David Hendy
136. Noise: The Political Economy of Music by Jacques Attali
137. Notations by John Cage
138. Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds by David Toop
139. On Sonic Art by Trevor Wishart
140. Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving the Opera by Fred Plotkin
141. Patronizing The Arts by Marjorie Garber
142. Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music by Greg Milner
143. Pet Shop Boys: Literally by Chris Heath
144. Popular Musics of the Non-Western World: An Introductory Survey by Peter Manuel
145. The Power of Music: Pioneering Discoveries in the Science of Song by Elena Mannes
146. Presenting Celia Cruz by Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte
147. Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs
148. Queens of Havana: The Amazing Adventures of the Legendary Anacaona, Cuba’s First All-Girl Dance Band by Alicia Castro
149. Recordando a Tito Puente: El Rey del Timbal by Steven Loza
150. Reflections on Macedonian Music: Past and Future by Dimitrije Buzarovski
151. Remembering the Future by Luciano Berio
152. Repeated Takes: A Short History of Recording Music and Its Effect on Music by Michael Chanan
153. Revolution in the Head: The Beatles Records and the Sixties by Ian Macdonald
154. Rhythm & Blues in New Orleans by John Broven
155. Rock ‘n’ Roll is Here to Pay: The History of Politics in the Music Industry by Steve Shapple & Reebee Garofalo
156. Rock Archives by Michael Ochs
157. Rock Images: 1970–1990 by Claude Gassian
158. Rock Lives: Profiles and Interviews by Timothy White
159. Salsa Guidebook for Piano & Ensemble by Rebeca Mauleon
160. Salsa: The Rhythm of Latin Music by Gerard Sheller
161. Salsiology: Afro-Cuban Music and the Evolution of Salsa in New York City by Vernon W. Boggs
162. Samba by Alma Guillermoprieto
163. Sonic Transports: New Frontiers in Our Music by Cole Gagne
164. Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear by Steve Goodman
165. Souled American: How Black Music Transformed White Culture by Kevin Phinney
166. Sounding New Media: Immersion and Embodiment in the Arts and Culture by Frances Dyson
167. Soundings by Neuberger Museum
168. South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous by John Broven
169. Spaces Speak, Are You Listening: Experiencing Aural Architecture by Barry Blesser & Linda-Ruth Salter
170. Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music by Angelique Kidjo
171. Starmaking Machinery: The Odyssey of an Album by Geoffrey Stokes
172. Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer by Jonathan Cott
173. Stolen Moments: Conversations with Contemporary Musicians by Tom Schnabel
174. Stomping the Blues by Albert Murray
175. Tango: The Art History of Love by Robert Farris Thompson
176. Text-Sound Texts by Richard Kostelanetz
177. The ABCs of Rock by Melissa Duke Mooney
178. The Agony of Modern Music by Henry Pleasants
179. The Anthropology of Music by Alan P. Merriam
180. The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer
181. The Beatles: Recording Sessions by Mark Lewisohn
182. The Book of Drugs: A Memoir by Mike Dougherty
183. The Brazilian Sounds: Samba, Bossa Nova, and the Popular Music of Brazil by Chris McGowan & Ricardo Pessanha
184. The Faber Book of Pop by Hanif Kureishi & Jon Savage
185. The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places by Bernie Krause
186. The Human Voice by Jean Cocteau
187. The Kachamba Brothers’ Band: A Study of Neo-Traditional Music in Malawi by Gerhard Kubik
188. The Last Holiday: A Memoir by Gil Scott-Heron
189. The Latin Tinge: The Impact of Latin American Music on the United States by John Storm Roberts
190. The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Quasar of Rock by Charles White
191. The Merge Records Companion: A Visual Discography of the First Twenty Years by Merge Records
192. The Music Instinct by Philip Ball
193. The Music of Brazil by David P. Appleby
194. The Mystery of Samba: Popular Music and the National Identity in Brazil by Hermano Vianna
195. The New Woman Poems: A Tribute to Mercedes Sosa by Nestor Rodriguez Lacoren
196. The Performer Prepares by Robert Caldwell
197. The Rational and Social Foundations of Music by Max Weber
198. The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl by Trevor Schoonmake
199. The Recording Angel: Music, Records and Culture from Aristotle to Zappa by Evan Eisenberg
200. The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross
201. The Rolling Stone Interviews: The 1980s by Various
202. The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice by Greil Marcus
203. The Sound Book: The Science of the Sonic Wonders of the World by Trevor Cox
204. The Sun and the Drum: African Roots in Jamaican Folk Tradition by Leonard Barrett
205. The Thinking Ear by R. Murray Schafer
206. The Traditional Music of Japan by Kishibe Shigeo
207. The Triumph of Music: The Rise of Composers, Musicians and Their Art by Tim Blanning
208. The Veil of Silence by Djura
209. The Wilco Book by Dan Nadel
210. This Business of Music: The Definitive Guide to the Music Industry by M. William Krasilovsky & Sidney Shemel
211. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin
212. Through Music to Self by Peter Michael Hamel
213. West African Rhythms for Drumset by Royal Hartigan
214. What Good are the Arts? by John Carey
215. White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960’s by Joe Boyd
216. Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History 1955–Present by Gail Buckland
218. Whose Music? A Sociology of Musical Languages by John Shepard, Phil Virden, Graham Vulliamy, Trevor Wishart
219. Why is This Country Dancing: A One-Man Samba to the Beat of Brazil by John Krich
220. Woody Guthrie: A Life by Joe Klein
221. The Rough Guide to World Music: Latin and North America, Caribbean, India, Asia, and Pacific: An A-Z of the Music, Musicians and Discs by Simon Broughton & Mark Ellingham
222. The Rough Guide to World Music: Salsa to Soukous, Cajun to Calypso by Simon Broughton, Mark Ellingham, David Muddyman & Richard Trillo
223. World: The Essential Album Guide by Adam McGovern
224. Yakety Yak: The Midnight Confessions and Revelations of Thirty-Seven Rock Stars and Legends by Scott Cohen

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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The Velvet Underground’s John Cale Plays Erik Satie’s Vexations on I’ve Got a Secret (1963)

in Music, Television | February 13th, 2017

Few of us today, in search of unconventional artistry, would imagine mid-20th-century CBS game shows as a promising resource. But looking back, it turns out that American television of that era — a time and place when more people were exposed to the very same media than any before or since — managed to bring a surprising number of genuine creators before its mainstream-of-the-mainstream audience. In 1960, for instance, experimental composer John Cage performed Water Walk, his piece for a bathtub, pitcher, and ice cubes, on I’ve Got a Secret.

Three years later, Cage’s near-namesake John Cale took the show’s stage to play Erik Satie’s “melancholic yet deadpan, ecclesiastical yet demonic” Vexations. Though Cage didn’t make a reappearance for the occasion, he did have a connection to the music itself.

Dating to 1893 or 1894 and unpublished during Satie’s lifetime, Vexations’ score contains a note from the composer: “Pour se jouer 840 fois de suite ce motif, il sera bon de se préparer au préalable, et dans le plus grand silence, par des immobilités sérieuses,” taken by the piece’s interpreters to mean that they should play it 840 times in a row.

Or at least that’s how Cage and collaborator Lewis Lloyd interpreted it when they staged its first public performance in 1963 at the Pocket Theatre in Manhattan. Its rotating roster of players, under the banner of the Pocket Theatre Piano Relay Team, included a 21-year-old Cale. One week later on I’ve Got a Secret, the young Welshman’s participation in this daring performance constituted the secret the players had to guess. Having determined that his achievement has something to do with music, one lady asks the critical question: “Does it have anything to do with endurance?”

Yes, replies Cale, although the episode’s other secret-bearer, Karl Schenzer of the Living Theater, may have performed the real act of endurance as the sole audience member who stayed to watch the whole eighteen hours and forty minutes. (He certainly got a deal: Cage, believing that “the more art you consume, the less it should cost,” gave each audience member a five-cent refund for every twenty minutes they stayed.) I’ve Got a Secret‘s home viewers then saw and heard Cale play Vexations, or at least 1/840th of it. They would hear from him again in his capacity as a founding member of the Velvet Underground — a band some of them would learn about a couple years later on the very same network’s Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Hear the First Jazz Record, Which Launched the Jazz Age: “Livery Stable Blues” (1917)

in Music | February 10th, 2017

Through turn-of-the-century America meandered blues, bluegrass, and “old time” music. Gospel hymns, waltzes, and marches. Perhaps the first truly national musical style, Ragtime took a little bit from all of these and fused them together, influencing everything from the crudest vaudeville to the work of some of Europe’s most innovative composers, including Antonin Dvořák, Claude Debussy, and Erik Satie. But ragtime was still very much tied to the past, to its late 19th roots in minstrelsy and marches.

Then in 1917, a sound arrived that was so perfectly in tune with the age that it became singularly evocative of next decade to come. This was jazz, of course, or “jass,” as it was spelled on “Livery Stable Blues,” the first record of such music ever released, composed and played by the Original Dixieland ‘Jass’ Band. The music arrived with the force of the “garage rock of the 1960s…. It was simple music played with so much irreverence that it proved irresistible” to Americans caught up in country’s rapid urbanization and modernizing.

The first jazz record was transitional music—not necessarily a jazz big bang moment; “looser and more spontaneous than the ragtime that had swept the country at the turn of the century,” writes Geoffrey Himes at Smithsonian, “but lacking the improvised solos and elastic rhythm of jazz to come.” Just as in the emergence of rock and roll in the 1950s, most jazz fans first came to know white groups like the Original Dixieland ‘Jass’ Band before they met the black New Orleanians who invented the music.

But immediately after “Livery Stable Blues” the market was awash with both “jass” and “jazz” releases, including the first by a black American jazz act, Wilbur Sweatman and his Jass Band, and a jazz record from the legendary blues pioneer W.C. Handy from Memphis. Between 1916 and 1917, jazz went nationwide: New York, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, and just about everywhere else in-between. As it spread its origins became muddled. “Just how the Jazz Band originated and where it came from is very hard to say,” wrote the sleeve of one later 1917 release.

Music historians agree that jazz was born in the nightclubs and on the streets of New Orleans, the home town of the Original Dixieland ‘Jass’ Band. But “the question of who did what first,” writes Scott Alexander, “and what was ragtime and what was jazz is often a divisive question among those who are interested in early jazz.” Yet when it comes to making pop history, “Livery Stable Blues” had greater impact than somewhat similar-sounding records released around the same time. “The band was a sensation” writes Himes. And almost overnight the sound of jazz became the sound of 20th-century America.

via Smithsonian

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Why We Love Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”: An Animated Music Lesson

in Animation, K-12, Life, Music, TED Talks | February 10th, 2017

Remember listening to Peter and the Wolf as a child, how the narrator would explain that certain instruments correspond to particular characters:  the duck – an oboe, the wolf – three horns, and so on?

In the above TED-Ed lesson (memorably animated by Compote Collective), music historian Betsy Schwarm fulfills much the same role for The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi. (Stream it here.)

Why are we so drawn to this Baroque concerto? Is it because we associate it with brunch?

The hundreds of movies and commercials that have featured it?

(Director Robert Benton chose Vivaldi rather than an original composer for the score of Kramer vs. Kramer, arguing that “Concerto in C Major for Mandolin & Strings” captured the troubled Manhattan couple’s refined lifestyle far better than the John Williams-esque bombast the ear associates with some many other cinematic hits of the period. The 1979 film’s success sent “The Four Seasons” to the top of the charts.)

These pleasant associations no doubt account for some of our fondness, but Professor Schwarm posits that the stories contained in the melodies are what really reel us in.

Basically, we’re in the thrall of a musical weather report, reveling in the way Vivaldi manages to bring to life both the birdies’ sunny spring song and the sudden thunderstorm that disrupts it.

Summer rolls out the meteorological big guns with a hailstorm.

Autumn’s cooler nighttime temperatures keep the wine-flushed peasants from turning their harvest celebrations into a full-on bacchanal.

Winter? Well perhaps you’re tucked up contentedly in front of the fireplace right now, gratified to be hearing your own comfort echoed in the largo section.

Inspired by the landscape paintings of artist, Marco Ricci, Vivaldi penned four poems that drive the movements of his most famous work. Their translations, below, are nowhere near as eloquent to the modern listener’s ear, but you’ll find that reading them along with your favorite recording of the Four Seasons will corroborate Professor Schwarm’s thesis.

Spring – Concerto in E Major


Springtime is upon us.

The birds celebrate her return with festive song,

and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.

Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,

Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.


On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.


Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.

Summer – Concerto in g-minor

Allegro non molto

Beneath the blazing sun’s relentless heat

men and flocks are sweltering,

pines are scorched.

We hear the cuckoo’s voice; then sweet songs of the turtle dove and finch are heard.

Soft breezes stir the air….but threatening north wind sweeps them suddenly aside. The shepherd trembles, fearful of violent storm and what may lie ahead.

Adagio e piano – Presto e forte

His limbs are now awakened from their repose by fear of lightning’s flash and thunder’s roar, as gnats and flies buzz furiously around.


Alas, his worst fears were justified, as the heavens roar and great hailstones beat down upon the proudly standing corn.

Autumn – Concerto in F Major


The peasant celebrates with song and dance the harvest safely gathered in.

The cup of Bacchus flows freely, and many find their relief in deep slumber.

Adagio molto

The singing and the dancing die away

as cooling breezes fan the pleasant air,

inviting all to sleep

without a care.


The hunters emerge at dawn,

ready for the chase,

with horns and dogs and cries.

Their quarry flees while they give chase.

Terrified and wounded, the prey struggles on,

but, harried, dies

Winter – Concerto in F-minor

Allegro non molto

Shivering, frozen mid the frosty snow in biting, stinging winds;

running to and fro to stamp one’s icy feet, teeth chattering in the bitter chill.


To rest contentedly beside the hearth, while those outside are drenched by pouring rain.


We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously, for fear of tripping and falling.

Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and, rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up.

We feel the chill north winds coarse through the home despite the locked and bolted doors…

this is winter, which nonetheless brings its own delights.


You can download the Wichita State University Chamber Players’ recording of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” for free here.

See how well you retained your TED-ED lesson with a multiple choice quiz, then read more here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in less than three weeks. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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A Sonic Introduction to Avant-Garde Music: Stream 145 Minutes of 20th Century Art Music, Including Modernism, Futurism, Dadaism & Beyond

in Art, Music | February 9th, 2017

Avant-garde composers of the 20th century have left a vexing legacy, beginning perhaps with one of the century’s first minimalists, Erik Satie (1866 –1925), whose career illustrates a central paradox of experimental music: it can seem to most of us totally inaccessible, alien, and frustrating, yet it is also a pervasive influence on the sound of our everyday life.

For example, we are likely to never encounter, much less could most of us endure, the full measure of Satie’s 1893 Vexations, a short piece “melancholic yet deadpan, ecclesiastical yet demonic, strangely lacking direction,” and meant, writes Nick Shave at The Guardian, to be “repeated 840 times.” Long thought an ironic joke, in 1963 John Cage took up the challenge and with a “relay team of pianists, including John Cale,” staged a marathon performance at the end of which only one person remained in the audience.

Then we have the Satie of Gymnopédie No.1, a moving composition we’ve heard countless times in films, television shows, dinner parties, restaurants, etc. This piece and others like it, argues WFMU’s Kenneth Goldsmith, mark the birth of Ambient music, or what Satie puckishly called Furniture Music. “Today,” Goldsmith writes, “Furniture Music is unavoidable,” and everyone from Brian Eno to Aphex Twin to “the entire Muzak phenomenon… owes a debt to The Velvet Gentleman.”

Both the accessible and difficult strains of the eccentric French composer have been equally influential, and “just about every radical musical movement” of the previous century “can trace its roots back to Satie.” As we move through the century—encountering the work of Dada artists, Futurists, symphonic modernists, and musique concrète and early electronic pioneers—we find an enormous breadth of experimentation, both strangely intimidating and often strangely familiar, given how pervasive its influence on film and “furniture” music as well as on contemporary composers.

If you’re new to the dissonant and playful innovations of artists like Satie, F.T. Marinetti, Kurt Schwitters, Arnold Schoenberg, Karlheinz Stockhausen, György Ligeti and other provocateurs and radicals of the early decades of the last century, you could hardly do worse by way of introduction than the double compilation album above from LTM Recordings. Titled A Young Person’s Guide to the Avant-Garde and consisting of 26 tracks in total, the compilation includes an excerpt of Igor Stravinsky’s scandalous—for the time—1913 The Rite of Spring, and John Cage’s perplexing 1952 work of silence, 4’33” and begins with a mercifully brief 3-minute rendition of Satie’s Vexations. (If you need Spotify’s free software, download it here. If you have any problems playing the embedded playlist, please click on this link.)

We also have music from names we typically associate with visual art (Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia) and film (Jean Cocteau). And you will surely recognize the final piece, Ligeti’s “Atmospheres,” from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The collection, writes The Trebuchet in their review, “subtly hints at the fact that film soundtracks are the closest thing we have to grand compositions these days, and in fact the seeds for change were planted long ago during the era when Continental artists and musicians took an interest in the emerging technologies of automobiles, planes, and film.”

Then, of course, there were emerging technologies of sound. A Young Person’s Guide (purchase a copy online here) ends with Ligeti in 1961, and only hints at the electronic avant-garde to come with a 1953 composition from Stockhausen. This is a shame, since the electronic revolution in music opened doors for so many female experimentalists like Pauline Oliveros, Daphne Oram, and Eliane Radigue. As it stands, the collection gives us an all-male lineup of artists—and one sure to provoke exclamations of “What about [insert name here]!”

It’s an understandable reaction to an ambitious but limited survey. For the amateur or “young person” just discovering this musical history, however, A Young Person’s Guide to the Avant-Garde offers a rich, compelling, and frequently confounding selection that can serve as a sturdy springboard for further study and exploration. Those so inspired to hear more can find it in the massive archive of The Avant-Garde Project.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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