Jazz-Zither-Piano-Man Laraaji Discusses His Decades of Meditative Improvisations: A Nakedly Examined Music Podcast Conversation (#134)

Jazz multi-instrumentalist Edward Larry Gordon Jr. became Laraaji around the same time he started releasing meditative zither music in the late 70s and was then discovered by Brian Eno, who produced “The Dance No. 1” from  Ambient 3: Day of Radiance (1980). Laraaji has since had around 40 releases of largely improvised music, and this interview (below) explores his approach toward improvisation on numerous instruments, playing “functional” music intended to aid meditation and reflection, and the evolution of Laraaji’s unique musical vision.

Each episode of Nakedly Examined Music features full-length presentations of four recordings discussed by the artist with your host Mark Linsenmayer. Here we present “Hold on to the Vision” and “Shenandoah” from Laraaji’s latest release, Sun Piano (2020), the single edit of “Introspection” from Bring On the Sun (2017), and “All of a Sudden,” a 1986 vocal tune released on Vision Songs, Vol. 1 (2017). Get more information at laraaji.blogspot.com.

Want more? Hear all of “The Dance No. 1.” Watch the live TV version of “All of a Sudden” we discuss, as well another episode of Celestrana featuring Dr. Love the puppet. Watch a similar, recent isolation stream also featuring Dr. Love and much more. Listen to the full glory of “Introspection” and the trip that is “Sun Gong.” Check out some live gong playing. Here’s a remix of “Introspection” by Dntel.

Find the archive of songwriter interviews at nakedlyexaminedmusic.com or get the ad-free feed at patreon.com/nakedlyexaminedmusic. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Nakedly Examined Music is a podcast. Mark Linsenmayer also hosts The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast and Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast, and releases music under the name Mark Lint.

Glenn Gould Explains Why Mozart Was a Bad Composer in a Controversial Public TV Show (1968)

No matter how eccentric Glenn Gould’s interpretations of major composers might have been, his friend and promoter Leonard Bernstein found them worthy of performance, even if he didn’t quite agree. In “The Truth About a Legend,” his tribute essay to Gould after the pianist’s death, Bernstein wrote, “Any discovery of Glenn’s was welcomed by me because I worshipped the way he played: I admired his intellectual approach, his ‘guts’ approach.”

Are these contradictions? Glenn Gould was a complicated man, a brilliantly abstract thinker who threw his full physical being into his playing. When Gould slowed a Brahms concerto to a crawl, so slow that “it was very tiring” for the orchestra to play, he was convinced he had discovered a secret key to the tempo within the piece itself. Bernstein had profound doubts, tried several times to dissuade Gould, and warned the orchestra, “Now don’t give up, because this is a great man, whom we have to take very seriously.”

Not all of Gould’s admirers were as tolerant of Gould’s unorthodox views. In 1968, Gould presented a segment of the weekly public television series Public Broadcast Library. His topic was “How Mozart Became a Bad Composer.” This was, perhaps suffice to say, a very unpopular opinion. “The program outraged viewers in both the United States and Canada, including formerly sympathetic fans and critics,” Kevin Bazzana writes in Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould. It would never again air anywhere and was only recently digitized from 2-inch tape found in the Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center.

Gould opens the show with a selection from Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C Minor, then in his critical commentary, alleges the piece “has had a rather better press than it deserves, I think. Despite it’s gently swooning melodies, its meticulously balanced cadences, despite its stable and architecturally unexceptionable form, I’m going to submit it as a good example of why I think Mozart, especially in his later years, was not a very good composer.” Then Gould really digs in, casually comparing Mozart’s “dependable” craftsmanship to “the way that an accounts executive dispatches an interoffice memo.”

It is a shocking thing to say, and Gould, of course, knows it. Is this hubris, or is he deliberately provoking his audience? “Glenn had strong elements of sportsmanship and teasing,” Bernstein writes, “the kind of daring which accounts for his freshness.” His contrariness might have inspired at least a few viewers to listen critically and carefully to Mozart for the first time, without hundreds of years of received opinion mediating the experience. This is the spirit in which we should view Gould’s erudite iconoclasm, says Library of Congress Music Reference Specialist James Wintle: to learn to listen with new ears, “as a child,” to a composer we have “been conditioned to revere.”

Gould’s unpopular opinions “did not always take a turn toward the negative,” Wintle writes. He championed the works of less-than-popular composers like Paul Hindemith and Jean Sibelius. And his “great sense of inquiry,” Bernstein wrote, “made him suddenly understand Schoenberg and Liszt in the same category, or Purcell and Brahms, or Orlando Gibbons and Petula Clark. He would suddenly bring an unlikely pair of musicians together in some kind of startling comparative essay.” Gould’s musical inventiveness, taste, and judgment were unparalleled, Bernstein maintained, and for that reason, we should always be inclined to hear him out.

Related Content: 

How Glenn Gould’s Eccentricities Became Essential to His Playing & Personal Style: From Humming Aloud While Playing to Performing with His Childhood Piano Chair

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

“The Dark Side of the Moon” and Other Pink Floyd Songs Gloriously Performed by Irish & German Orchestras

The idea of an orchestra performing 1970s progressive rock sounds at first like the stuff of purest novelty. And while the excesses of that movement bent on the artistic “elevation” of rock-and-roll quickly became easy targets, its music has undeniable resonances with the classical canon, broadly defined. In a piece on the modern reevaluation of “prog-rock,” The New Yorker‘s Kelefa Sanneh quotes a Rolling Stone critic labeling the ambitious new sound “jazz-influenced classical-rock” in a 1972 review of the debut album of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, who later “reached the Top Ten, in both Britain and America, with a live album based on its bombastic rendition of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.”

King Crimson, another pillar of the subgenre, once played a “ferocious set” that ended with “Mars, the Bringer of War,” from Gustav Holst’s The Planets suite — as an opener for the Rolling Stones. But no band to rise out of the prog-rock ferment has made more of an impact, or more fans, than Pink Floyd.

Their 1973 release The Dark Side of the Moon remains, as of this writing, the fourth best-selling album of all time (to say nothing of its T-shirts and dorm-room posters), and though its ten songs fairly demand tribute, paying proper homage to their elaborate composition and production is easier said than done. Enter the University of Dublin‘s student-run Trinity Orchestra, who take it on in the video above, filmed at Christ Church Cathedral during 2012’s 10 Days in Dublin festival.

“Time,” the best-known of The Dark Side of the Moon‘s album tracks, is here rearranged for a full orchestra, band, and singers, and going by sound alone, you might believe you’re listening to one of the Floyd’s more richly instrumented live shows (not that they were known to skimp in that department). But there’s no mistaking this orchestral version of “Wish You Were Here” (from their eponymous follow-up album) for the genuine article, certainly not because of inadequate musicianship, but because most of the musicians are playing mandolins. Conducted by Boris Björn Bagger, these German players include not just mandolinists but the late Michael Rüber front and center on electric guitar — an all-important instrument, it seems, no matter how far rock progresses.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Tom Lehrer Releases His All of Catchy and Savage Musical Satire Into the Public Domain

If the age of American musical satire is behind us, Tom Lehrer may have ended it simply by being unsurpassably good at it. No less a comedy-song master than “Weird Al” Yankovic still walks among us, of course, but he specializes in broad parody rather than biting irony. Despite having retired from public life, Lehrer too lives on, and at 92 has taken action to assure his work a longer existence by releasing it into the public domain. On his official site you’ll see a statement from the man himself: “All the lyrics on this website, whether published or unpublished, copyrighted or uncopyrighted, may be downloaded and used in any manner whatsoever.”

Directly below his message you’ll find a list of nearly 100 of Lehrer’s songs, which when clicked lead to downloadable PDFs of their lyrics, and in some cases their sheet music as well. Ready for you to repurpose are such signature numbers as “The Masochism Tango,” “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” and “The Elements,” a version of the “Major-General’s Song” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance that name-checks each and every one of the physical elements known in 1959.

That Lehrer has also included the “Aristotle version” of “Elements” — in full, “There’s earth and air and fire and water” — just hints at the many playful touches to be found in this collection of materials.

Not just a singer-songwriter but a mathematician who worked at both the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and the National Security Agency during the Cold War, Lehrer didn’t shy away from addressing the technical, the political, and the topical in his music. “Wernher von Braun” sends up the rocket scientist secretly recruited by the United States from defeated Nazi Germany (“Don’t say that he’s hypocritical / Say rather that he’s apolitical”). “New Math” gives a similar treatment to the Sputnik-spooked U.S.’s ill-advised scramble to reform mathematics education, and I got a laugh out of the song in childhood despite growing up long after the retrenchment of New Math itself.

Whether hearing or reading Lehrer’s lyrics today, one marvels at both how they’ve retained their bite, and how widely they were considered too edgy for airplay in the 1950s. The BBC, for example, banned ten of the twelve songs on his debut album, including “Be Prepared,” which spins the Boy Scout’s motto into an ode to misbehavior (“Be prepared to hold your liquor pretty well / Don’t write naughty words on walls if you can’t spell”). But now we’re free to craft new contexts to make them troubling again, and with the holidays coming up, this assures us very Lehrer ThanksgivingsChristmases (“Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens / Even though the prospect sickens”) and Hanukkahs (“Here’s to Judas Maccabeus / Boy, if he could only see us / Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica”) to come. Enter his site here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

How the Doors Got Banned from The Ed Sullivan Show (1967)

Getting banned from a venue can hurt a band’s career, but in most every case I’ve heard about, it’s a cloud with a golden lining. Hardcore band Bad Brains built a legacy on getting banned in all of D.C.’s clubs. Elvis Costello’s career didn’t seem to suffer much when he was banned from Saturday Night Live in 1977. Jimi Hendrix’s banning from the BBC didn’t hurt his image any. Then there’s the Doors….

The band earned the distinction of being the first to have a member arrested live onstage in the infamous “New Haven incident” of 1967. Three months earlier, they performed live, no miming, on The Ed Sullivan Show. Things did not go as smoothly as the producers may have hoped,” writes Ultimate Classic Rock. No, Jim Morrison didn’t expose himself or antagonize the audience.

On the contrary, given the Doors’ other notorious “incidents,” the offense is as mild as it gets—Morrison simply sang the lyrics to “Light My Fire” as written, defying producers’ request that he change “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” since it sounded like a drug reference. Not only did they ask Morrison to change the lyric, but they also apparently asked him to sing “Girl, we couldn’t get much better,” which doesn’t even rhyme.

One can see why he would have resisted.

“Band members have given varying accounts of whether they ever agreed to change the line or not,” UCR notes. According to The Ed Sullivan Show site, a producer came into the dressing room, told the band they should smile more, and told them the line was “inappropriate for a family show on national television.” As soon as he left the room, Morrison said, “We’re not changing a word.”

The band went on after Rodney Dangerfield, a last-minute replacement for another comic. They played “People Are Strange,” then the offending song. Dangerfield became a regular on the Sullivan show. The Doors–booked for six more appearances–never went on again, though they had plenty of other TV bookings and wild, disastrous stage shows to keep them busy.

When informed after the show that they’d been banned, Morrison reportedly said a most Jim Morrison thing: “Hey, man, we just did the Sullivan show.”

Watch a clip of the performance just above.

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

11 Hypnotic, Close-Up Minutes Watching Tool’s Legendary Drummer Danny Carey in Action

Like the great prog drummers of old—Bill Bruford, Neil Peart, Phil Collins—Tool’s Danny Carey is an artisan. They don’t make drumming like that anymore. He says so himself (sort of) in an interview with Music Radar about his side project Legend of the Seagullmen with Mastadon’s Brent Hinds. Remembering how Robert Fripp would stand on the edge of the stage, watching Tool play when King Crimson opened for the modern prog-metal giants, Carey remarks, “We weren’t syncing to some bullshit like so many other bands. We were actually playing live. It’s a sad thing when almost every band you see isn’t doing that. It’s the clicks and backing tracks that are keeping time. I’ve never played to a click on stage in my life.”

A “click track,” for those who don’t know, is exactly what it sounds like: a playback of clicks (or any percussive sound) to the desired tempo, pumped into a musician’s earpiece to keep them playing in time. A useful tool of the recording studio, many musicians, as Carey says, now use it on stage, along with vocal pitch correction software and pre-recorded backing tracks to make sure everything sounds exactly like it does on record.

All of this technology ruins the feel of live performance, Carey maintains. He would know. He’s been playing live since the 80s and playing with Tool since the band formed thirty years ago. He also jams every other month, he says, “with these weird dudes who played with Miles Davis or Mahavishnu Orchestra.” So… yeah. The dude’s got some classic chops.

But technology isn’t all bad in live music, far from it. Being a drummer used to mean that hardly anyone could see you on a big stage. You might be the most talented, best-looking member of the band, but you were hidden away behind your kit with the singers and guitarists soaking up the glory. Even when certain celebrity rock drummers get their own stages (with their own mini-roller coasters), it can be impossible to see what they’re doing up close. No longer. Thanks to unobtrusive cameras that can stream video from anywhere, no corner of the stage need be obscured. We can watch a Tool show from over Carey’s shoulder, as in the video of “Pneuma,” live in concert, at the top, produced by drum equipment company Vic Firth to demonstrate Carey’s new signature sticks.

It’s better to let Carey’s playing speak for itself, but for reference, “Pneuma” comes from Tool’s very eagerly-awaited 2019 album Fear Inoculum, just one of many tracks “filled with twist after turn, conventional song structure be damned,” Ilya Stemkovsky writes at Modern Drummer, “with Carey at the center of the storm, providing the heaviest, most massive bottom possible. He even gets his own solo percussion track, ‘Chocolate Chip Trip,’ on which he incorporates gongs and bells, among other sounds.” Maybe this live view, and Tool’s well-deserved Grammy Win for Best Metal Performance this year for “7empest,” will inspire more drummers to drop the click and bring back what Carey calls the “dedication to your vibe” from the days of artisanal drumming.

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

Marionette Freddie Mercury Performs on the Streets of Madrid

When the pandemic ends and travel resumes, you’ll hopefully find puppeteers Diana Romero and Andrés Maturana entertaining folks, both young and old, on the streets of Madrid. Above, watch them entertain passersby with a marionette of Freddie Mercury singing the Queen classic, “I Want to Break Free.” Down below, you can see their marionette take on the Beatles.

Here’s some quick backstory on their work:

Periplo Puppets are Diana Romero and Andrés Maturana: designers and makers of puppets and stories. We began in 2003 with TitiriBeatles at the Ramblas of Barcelona and studying self-taught at Institut del Teatre Library. We traveled with our puppets through the streets of Europe and America gathering information and experience, until in 2009 we decided to live in Madrid and be a Theatre company. …We focus on audiovisual performance mixing video mapping, string puppets, and latex puppets to make shows that involve the audience.

via Laughing Squid

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