Yo-Yo Ma Performs the First Classical Piece He Ever Learned: Take a 12-Minute Mental Health Break and Watch His Moving “Tiny Desk” Concert

For those who feel their enjoyment of J.S. Bach’s gorgeous Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1 in G major has been undercut rather than enhanced by its frequent TV and film appearancesYo-Yo Ma’s 2018 NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert is a tonic.

As he explains above, the prelude was the first piece he learned as a beginning four-year-old cellist, adding one measure per day, an incremental approach he recommends.

He and the 300-some-year-old composition have done well by each other throughout a relationship spanning nearly six decades.




His first recording of the Suites, in 1983, resulted in his first Grammy.

Currently, he’s wrapping up the Bach Project, playing the Suites in 36 iconic locations around the world, believing that Bach has a unique ability to unite humans and inspire collaboration, especially in “a time when our civic conversation is so often focused on division.”

The legendary cellist’s unassuming, friendly demeanor is also a unifier, well suited to the informality of the Tiny Desk Concerts.

(Producer Tom Huizenga—a non-cellist—recounts how Ma passed him his bow, along with a 1712 Stradivarius, encouraging him to “play something.”)

Music is a clearly a major part of Ma’s DNA, and also the way in which he experiences the circle of life. He introduces the Sarabande as the heart of the suite, telling how he played it at two friends’ weddings and then again at their memorial services, illustrating the ways in which music is a cumulative emotional proposition.

As he told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly immediately following his performance:

You try and transcend technique to get to what you think is there. Instead of saying, "Here are these notes and this is difficult and I'm going to try and nail it," you try to express it.

With the sand quickly slipping through the hourglass of his 12-minute performance, he treats his audience to Bach’s tiny, populist Gigue.

Set List:

J.S. Bach: "Prelude (from Suite No. 1 for Solo Cello)"

J.S. Bach: "Sarabande (from Suite No. 6 for Solo Cello)"

J.S. Bach: "Gigue (from Suite No. 3 for Solo Cello)"

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 4 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Louise Jordan Miln’s “Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes (1900). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hear Glenn Gould Sing the Praise of the Moog Synthesizer and Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach, the “Record of the Decade” (1968)

Glenn Gould made his name as a pianist with his stark, idiosyncratic interpretations of the music of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and especially Bach. He left behind not just a highly respected body of work in the form of recorded performances, but also a host of strong opinions about music itself and all that culturally and commercially surrounded it. His enthusiasms weren't always predictable: in 1967 he went on CBC radio to lavish praise on the pop singer Petula Clark, and the next year he returned to the airwaves to make a hearty endorsement of a record for which not everyone in the classical music world would admit to an appreciation: Wendy Carlos' Switched-On Bach.

After voicing his distaste for compilation albums, comparing them to Reader's Digest condensed literature, Gould informs his listeners that "the record of the year — no, let's go all the way, the decade — is an unembarrassed compote of Bach's greatest hits." The whole record, he claims, "is one of the most startling achievements of the recording industry in this generation, certainly one of the great feats in the history of keyboard performance," and "the surest evidence, if evidence be needed, that live music never was best." Gould had retired from the "anachronistic" practice of live performance four years earlier, seeking his own kind of musical perfection within the technologically enhanced confines of the recording studio.




On that level, it makes sense that a meticulously, painstakingly crafted recording — not to mention one impossible, at the time, to reproduce live — like Switched-On Bach would appeal to Gould. He also takes the opportunity on this broadcast to introduce the Moog synthesizer, which Carlos used to produce every note on the record. "Theoretically, the Moog can be encouraged to imitate virtually any instrumental sound known to man, and there are moments on this disc which sound very like an organ, a double bass or a clavichord," Gould says, "but its most conspicuous felicity is that, except when casting gentle aspersions on more familiar baroque instrumental archetypes, the performer shuns this kind of electronic exhibitionism" — a sure way of scoring points with the restraint-loving Gould.

The broadcast includes not just Gould's thoughts on Switched On-Bach and the Moog but two interviews, one with poet and essayist Jean Le Moyne on "the human fact of automation, its sociological and theological implications," and one with Carlos herself. Asked about the choice of Bach, Carlos frames it as a test of how the new technology of the synthesizer would fare when used to play not avant-garde music, as it then usually was, but music with the most impeccable aesthetic credentials possible. "We're just a baby," Carlos says of the enterprise of synthesizer-driven electronic music. "Although now we can see that the child is going to grow into a rather exciting adult, we've still got to take one step at a time. It will become assimilated. The gimmick value — thank god — is going to be lost, and true musical expression, and that alone, will result."

via Synthtopia

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Glenn Gould Explains the Genius of Johann Sebastian Bach (1962)

Wendy Carlos’ Switched on Bach Turns 50 This Month: Learn How the Classical Synth Record Introduced the World to the Moog

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How the Moog Synthesizer Changed the Sound of Music

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Haruki Murakami Became a DJ on a Japanese Radio Station for One Night: Hear the Music He Played for Delighted Listeners

In his native Japan, Haruki Murakami has published not just fiction but all sorts of essays dealing with a variety of subjects, from travel to music to writing itself. One collection of these pieces came out under the title Murakami Radio, a possible inspiration for a broadcast of the same name this past summer on Tokyo FM. For its 55-minute duration, Murakami took the DJ's seat and spun records (or rather, files from several of his music-filled iPods) from his famously vast personal library, including The Beach Boys' "Surfin' USA," Joey Ramone's version of "What a Wonderful World," Eric Burdon and The Animals' "Sky Pilot," and Daryl Hall and John Oates' version of "Love Train." You can listen to all his selections in the Youtube Playlist above.

"It has been my hobby to collect records and CDs since my childhood, and thanks to that, my house is inundated with such things," wrote Murakami in a message posted by Tokyo FM. "However, I have often felt a sense of guilt toward the world while listening to such amazing music and having a good time alone. I thought it may be good to share such good times with other people while chatting over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee."




He also chatted a bit himself between songs, answering listener questions and explaining the relationship between the music he loves and the books he writes“Rather than learning storytelling technique from someone, I’ve taken a musical approach, while being very conscious about rhythms, harmony and improvisation," he said on-air. "It’s like writing as I dance, even though I don’t actually dance.”

For many of Murakami's fans, Murakami Radio (full recordings of which do exist on the internet) marks the first time they've ever heard his actual voice, and it turns out to have a thing or two in common with his authorial one: take, for instance, his use of boku, the informal personal pronoun favored by most of his narrators. With the broadcast initially announced as a one-off, it might also have seemed like the last chance to hear Murakami speak, but the official Murakami Radio site recently announced two more editions. The next one, scheduled for October 19th, will deal with not just music but another of Murakami's passions, running. Anyone who's read Murakami's 1979 debut novel Hear the Wind Sing will remember the talkative Saturday-night radio DJ who makes occasional appearances in the text — and may wonder if, nearly 40 years later, Murakami channels him again when he gets behind the microphone himself.

via The Vinyl Factory

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Outsiders: Lou Reed, Hunter S. Thompson, and Frank Zappa Reveal Themselves in Captivatingly Animated Interviews

Lou Reed thought the Beatles were garbage. Or at least he did when he started out in music, as he reveals in a 1987 interview. "We had an ambition and a goal: to elevate the rock song and take it where it hadn't been before," he says of his first band — perhaps you've heard of them — the Velvet Underground. "I just thought the other stuff couldn't even come up to our ankles," he adds. "They were just painfully stupid and pretentious. When they did try to get 'arty,' it was worse than stupid rock-and-roll." Having graduated from college wanting to write "the great American novel," Reed eventually decided to incorporate literature, and all the culture he knew, into music, to "write rock-and-roll that you could listen to as you got older and it wouldn't lose anything. it would be timeless in the subject matter and the literacy of our lyrics." The conversation appears first in "The Outsiders," a compilation of three recordings made with three pillars of alternative American culture and imaginatively animated by Blank on Blank.

The second, which we've previously featured here on Open Culture, finds Studs Terkel sitting down with Hunter S. Thompson in 1967, talking about his first book Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. "The Angels came out of World War Two," Thompson explains, "this whole kind of alienated, violent, subculture of people wandering around looking for either an opportunity, or if not an opportunity, then vengeance for not getting an opportunity."




But if people insist on thinking of the Angels and their kind as the only violent troublemakers in existence, "then it's just putting off the recognition that the same venom that the Angels are spewing around in public, a lot of people are just keeping bottled up in private." In exploring the culture of the Angels, Thompson found that the venom filled him no less than it does everyone else: "I was seeing a very ugly side of myself a lot of times. I'm much more conscious of the kind of anger that lurks everywhere."

The third, a 1971 interview with Frank Zappa, takes on the subject of fads. Zappa considered everything a fad, including the supposed political awakening of youth in the 60s: "It's as superficial as their musical consciousness. It's just another aspect of being involved in the actions of their peer group. One guy in the group says, 'Hey, politics,' and they go, 'Yeah, politics.' Or they go, 'Grand Funk Railroad,' and they go, 'Yeah, Grand Funk Railroad. It's the same thing.'" In America Zappa saw "a lot of changes, but I think that they're all temporary things, and any change for the good is always subject to cancellation upon the arrival of the next fad." That's what happens, he explains, in a country that "doesn't have any real culture. It doesn't have any real art. It doesn't have any real anything. It's just got fads and a gross national product and a lot of inflation." Does that, asks interviewer Howard Smith, make Zappa himself a fad as well? "I'm an American, I was born here," Zappa replies. "I automatically got entered in a membership in the club."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Radiooooo: Discover the Musical Time Machine That Lets You Hear What Played on the Radio in Different Times & Places

Radio has always been a fairly transportive medium.

During the Great Depression, entire families clustered round the electronic hearth to enjoy a variety of entertainments, including live remote broadcasts from the glamorous nightclubs and hotels where celebrity bandleaders like Count Basie and Duke Ellington held sway.

1950s teens’ transistors took them to a head space less square than the white bread suburbs their parents inhabited.




During the Vietnam War, South Vietnamese stations played homegrown renditions of the rock and soul sounds dominating American airwaves.

The Radiooooo.com app allows modern listeners to experience a bit of that magical time traveling sensation, via an interactive map that allows you to tune in to specific countries and decades.

The content here is user-generated. Register for a free account, and you too can begin sharing eccentric faves.

Find a user whose tastes mirror your own? Click their profile for a stat card of tracks they’ve favorited and uploaded, as well as any other sundry details they may feel like sharing, such as country of origin and age.

There are fun awards to be earned here, with the most sought after pelts going to the first to upload a song to an empty country, or upload a track from 1910-1920. (Cameroon, 1940 … go!)

As with an actual radio, you are not selecting the actual playlist, though you can nudge the needle a bit by toggling to your desired mood—slow, fast and/or weird.

And you need not limit yourself to a single destination. Embark on a strange musical trip by using Radiooooo's taxi function to carry you to multiple countries and decades. (I closed my eyes and wound up shuttling between Ukraine and Mauritania in the 60s and 80s.)

Dotted around the map are island icons, where the ever-growing collection is sorted according to themes like Hawaii, Neverland (“for children big and small”), and 8-Bit video game music. Le Club, floating midway between Europe and North America, contains brand new releases from contemporary labels.

The Now Playing window includes an option to buy, when possible, as well as the artist’s name and album artwork. Share, like, get your groove on…

And stay tuned for Radiooooo’s latest baby, Le Globe, an interactive 3-D map of the world and a decade selector dial mounted on a “beautiful connected object.”

The boundaries are extremely permeable here.

Have a browse through Radiooooo’s Instagram feed for a feast of cover art or head to France for one of their in-person listening parties. (There’s one next week in the secret listening room of Paris’ Grand Hotel Amour.)

Readers, if your explorations unearth an exceptional track, please share it in the comments, below.

Download the Radioooo app for Mac or Android here, or listen on the website. (You may need to fool around with various browsers to find the one that works best for you.)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her radio dial is set to Romania 1910 in anticipation of the third installment of her literary-themed variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain , Monday, April 23 at the New York Society Library. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Impressive Audio Archive of John Cage Lectures & Interviews: Hear Recordings from 1963-1991

History has remembered John Cage as a composer, but to do justice to his legacy one has to allow that title the widest possible interpretation. He did, of course, compose music: music that strikes the ears of many listeners as quite unconventional even today, more than a quarter-century after his death, but recognizable as music nonetheless. He also composed with silence, an artistic choice that still intrigues people enough to get them taking the plunge into his wider body of work, which also includes compositions of words, many thousands of them written and many hours of them recorded.

Ubuweb offers an impressive audio archive of Cage's spoken word, beginning with material from the 1960s and ending with a talk (embedded at the top of the post) he gave at the San Francisco Art Institute in the penultimate year of his life. There he read a 30-minute piece called "One 7" consisting of "brief vocalizations interspersed with long periods of silence" before taking audience questions which "range from inquiries about the process by which Cage composes, his lack of interest in pleasing an audience, his love of mushrooms, Buddhism, chance operations, and whether Cage can stand on his head."

Turn the Cage clock back 28 years from there and we can hear a spirited 1963 conversation between him and Jonathan Cott, the young music journalist later known for conducting John Lennon's last interview. "At every turn Cott antagonizes Cage with challenging questions," says Ubuweb, adding that he marshals "quotes from numerous sources (including Norman Mailer, Michael Steinberg, Igor Stravinsky and others) criticizing Cage and his music."




Cage, in characteristic response, "parries Cott's thrusts with a veritable tai chi practice of music theory." This contrasts with the mood of Cage's 1972 interview alongside pianist David Tudor embedded just above, presented in both English and French and featuring references to the work of Henry David Thoreau and Marcel Duchamp.

Cage has more to say about Duchamp, and other artists like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, in the undated lecture clip from the archives of Pacifica Radio just above. Have a listen through the rest of Ubuweb's collection and you'll hear the master of silence speak voluminously, if sometimes cryptically, on such subjects as Zen Buddhism, anarchism, utopia, the work of Buckminster Fuller, and "the role of art and technology in modern society." The contexts vary, both in the sense of time and place as well as in the sense of the performative expectations placed on Cage himself. But even a sampling of the recordings here suggests that being John Cage, in whatever setting, constituted a productive artistic project all its own.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

David Sedaris Creates a List of His 10 Favorite Jazz Tracks: Stream Them Online

Image by WBUR, via Wikimedia Commons

You can't read far into David Sedaris' writing without encountering his father Lou, a curmudgeonly, decades-and-decades-retired IBM engineer with a stiffly practical mind and a harsh word for everybody — especially his misfit son, dedicating his life as he has to the quasi-occupation of writing while living in far-flung places like Paris and rural England. Even now, solidly into his nineties, Sedaris père keeps on providing the sixtysomething Sedaris fils with material, all of it — once polished up just right — a source of laughter for the latter's many readers and listeners. But Lou has also given David something else: a passion for jazz.

"My father loves jazz and has an extensive collection of records and reel-to-reel tapes he used to enjoy after returning home from work," writes Sedaris in one essay. "He might have entered the house in a foul mood, but once he had his Dexter Gordon and a vodka martini, the stress melted away and everything was 'Beautiful, baby, just beautiful.'" He then goes on to tell the story of how his father once attempted to train young David and his sisters into a Brubeck-style family jazz combo — a hopeless dream from the start, but one that has since entertained his fans around the world. (Not that Sedaris hasn't provided some of that entertainment by performing commercial jingles in the voice of Billie Holiday.)

Appearing on a guest DJ segment on Los Angeles public radio station KCRW, Sedaris told of how his father introduced him to jazz: "I remember seeing the movie Lady Sings the Blues, right, and thinking Diana Ross did such a good job. And my Dad saying, 'Oh boy, you've got a lot to learn,' and then him playing Billie Holiday 78s for me... and then him taking it back even further and sitting me down to listen to Mabel Mercer. He really did give me quite an education and it's the music that's stuck with me." As for the first jazz album he ever heard, he names in a recent JazzTimes interview Charles Mingus' The Clown, the one "with a close-up of a clown’s face on the cover" that still, in his estimation, "looks so modern and it sounds so modern."

When Sedaris' official Facebook page posted ten of his favorite songs, he came up with an all-jazz list including the work of Nina Simone, Antonio Carlos Jobim, John Coltrane, and other luminaries of the tradition. (He did not, of course, neglect Billie Holiday.) A fan turned it into a Spotify playlist, which you'll find embedded below (and if you don't have Spotify's free software, you can download it here):

"I used to work in complete silence," Sedaris tells JazzTimes, but "about three or four years ago I started listening to music [while I work], but not music with lyrics in it." Much of the jazz he loves fits that description, and he's also, in combination with the variety of music-streaming services available now, discovered new jazz artists while writing. Having put drinking and smoking completely behind him — and having written about both of those experiences — Sedaris retains jazz as one of the substances that keeps him going. It certainly seems to have worked for the man who brought the music into his life, whom Sedaris has imagined may yet outlive us all: "If anything happens to me," he says, "the one thing my father wants is my iPod."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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