Deciphering Culture

Posts Tagged ‘Music

!! CALLING ALL ETHNOMUSICOLOGISTS !!

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The Northern California Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology will hold its annual meeting on Saturday, March 2, 2013, at the University of San Francisco.

Proposals for papers, panel discussions, workshops, video screenings, or musical performances are being accepted until January 28, 2013. Please send a proposal of not more than 250 words to jeffreycallenphd@gmail.com

 

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Written by Jeffrey Callen

January 19, 2013 at 11:31 am

Artistic practice, relaxation and a bit of whimsy help develop your creativity

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Photograph of Brian Eno at a 2006 Long Now Fou...

Image via Wikipedia

Brian Eno has been a creative force for decades now, producing a wide range of entertaining and challenging music with an admirable collection of collaborators. Thanks to 99% (Developing Your Creative Practice: Tips from Brian Eno by Scott McDowell) for pointing me to a new e-book by Eric Tamm, BRIAN ENO, HIS MUSIC AND THE VERTICAL COLOR OF SOUND, that “delves deeply into Eno’s creative process.” What Eno himself calls (from Tamm’s book):

…a practice of some kind … It quite frequently happens that you’re just treading water for quite a long time. Nothing really dramatic seems to be happening. … And then suddenly everything seems to lock together in a different way. It’s like a crystallization point where you can’t detect any single element having changed. There’s a proverb that says that the fruit takes a long time to ripen, but it falls suddenly … And that seems to be the process.

McDowell presents a list of  tools Eno has relied upon to assist the creative process when he gets stuck — No 5, the Oblique Strategies deck of cards is the bit of whimsy, something all creative workers needs to get the juices flowing again.

1. Freeform capture. Grab from a range of sources without editorializing. According to Tamm, one of Eno’s tactics “involves keeping a microcassette tape recorder on hand at all times and recording any stray ideas that hit him out of the blue – a melody, a rhythm, a verbal phrase.” He’ll then go through and look for links or connections, something that can form the foundation for a new piece of music.

2. Blank state. Start with new tools, from nothing, and toy around. For example, Eno approaches this by entering the recording studio with no preconceived ideas, only a set of instruments or a few musicians and “just dabble with sounds until something starts to happen that suggests a texture.” When the sound texture evokes a memory or emotion that impression then takes over in guiding the process.

3. Deliberate limitations. Before a project begins, develop specific limitations. Eno’s example: “this piece is going to be three minutes and nineteen seconds long and it’s going to have changes here, here and here, and there’s going to be a convolution of events here, and there’s going to be a very fast rhythm here with a very slow moving part over the top of it.”

4. Opposing forces. Sometimes it’s best to generate a forced collision of ideas. Eno would “gather together a group of musicians who wouldn’t normally work together.” Dissimilar background and approaches can often evoke fresh thinking.

[oblique strategy 5.9.10]: "Abandon Desir...

Image by courtneyBolton via Flickr

5. Creative prompts. In the ‘70s Eno developed his Oblique Strategies cards, a series of prompts modeled after the I Ching to disrupt the process and encourage a new way of encountering a creative problem. On the cards are statements and questions like: “Would anybody want it?” “Try faking it!” “Only a part, not the whole.” “Work at a different speed.” “Disconnect from desire.” “Turn it upside down.” “Use an old idea.” These prompts are a method of generating specifics, which most creatives respond favorably to.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

June 1, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Short takes: Music industry trends in “recommendation & discovery”

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I spent a good portion of Monday at the latest edition of the SF Music Tech Summit. My name tag this time said “SF Weekly” instead of “Deciphering Culture” (I asked for dual identification) so a lot of people buttonholed me to get coverage for a new service. Not surprisingly, most of them fell into the “recommendation and discovery” segment although none of the pitches left me convinced of the efficacy of any of the new spins on the work of the established players. Also,  not surprisingly my blog post for SF Weekly’s All Shook Down blog focused on a SRO panel that featured some of the heavy hitters in R & D. The relevant excerpt below.

Flickr/aquababe

S.F. MusicTech Summit: How Do Listeners Want to Discover New Music?
All Shook Down

  • by Jeffrey Callen on 5/10/11 @ 7:29 pm

….The standing-room-only “Recommendation & Discovery” panel offered one of the more interesting glimpses into the internal logic of the music industry machine. Chaired by Kevin Arnold of IODA (also creator of S.F.’s annual Noise Pop festival), the panel brought together some of the heavy hitters in the music search business, including MOGRovi CorporationThe Filter (a Peter Gabriel brainchild), and Slacker.

An interesting discussion on the nuts-and-bolts of music recommendation and discovery services offered some contradictory food for thought. Music consumers looking for recommendations “prefer a man-to-machine to a man-to-man relationship” (David Hyman of MOG), and if you focus on personalized user specs, you get information that is increasingly “granular” (David Roberts of The Filter). Yet R & D is a “human-centric task,” said Adam Powers of Rovi. Powers also asserted that when Rovi, a giant in the R&D world, was looking at other companies to acquire, it found 250 that thought they had R&D nailed. But from the number of R&D company reps in attendance at the SF Music Tech Summit, it seems that either that news hasn’t gotten out, or nobody’s actually nailed it.

—-

All Shook Down

  • by Jeffrey Callen on 5/10/11 @ 7:29 pm

Feel It Again: Cuba’s Los Muñequitos de Matanzas Return to S.F. (@ SF Weekly)

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I must admit that I am not a big fan of folkloric performances. Straddling the gap between “traditional” and “popular” entertainment is difficult and the more context you strip away, the more difficult it becomes. Of courses the very effort to do so creates the gap. This dilemma came up for me last week when I sat down to write a preview of the upcoming appearance of the legendary Cuban folkloric troupe Los Muñequitos de Matanzas at Mission High School in San Francisco on April 4, 2011.be. With only a cd and some less than satisfying videos to work with, it was hard to get a real feel for their live performance. What I came up with began as a riff on the multi-sensual nature of the musical experience:

Feel It Again: Cuba’s Los Muñequitos de Matanzas Return to S.F.

By Jeffrey Callen Wednesday, Mar 30 2011

Music is a multisensual experience. Putting aside synesthesia — a rare condition in which what a person experiences in one sensory realm (like seeing) activates a second sensory realm (like hearing) — musical performances are most fully experienced when they are heard, seen, felt, and moved to in a communal space. Recorded music is great — how else could you listen to metal or a symphony while driving your car? — but you shouldn’t forget that the multisensual experience of live music is something special. For some styles of music, it is essential. This digression is by way of encouraging you to see the legendary Cuban ensemble Los Muñequitos de Matanzas when they perform this week at Mission High School.

Previewing Los Muñequitos de Matanzas’ 2007Grammy-nominated album Tambor de Fuego during a car trip last week, I realized the necessity of hearing this music live. Deprived of the visual elements and unable to move freely, I was struck by the seeming sameness of the tracks. An archetypal rumba pattern on claves (a pair of wooden sticks) sets the beat. A male vocalist then establishes the primary melody of the piece, supported by the pattern of interlocking rhythms set by the drummers on the quinto (a high-pitched conga — the lead drum), and two or more tumbadores (low-pitched congas). (to read the rest…)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 30, 2011 at 10:17 am

One for the archives:”Yoga-Tainment for the BlackBerry Generation” (@ East Bay Express)

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I keep an archive of all my published writings (with a few exceptions — encyclopedia entries for example) but somehow this piece from 2010 got overlooked.

 

Yoga-Tainment for the BlackBerry Generation

A plethora of events highlights music’s growing role in yoga.

By Jeffrey Callen

 

// 

Doug Boehm

 

 

Late night in the Mission, the class begins with the sound of kirtans accompanied by slowly pumped chords on the harmonium. The class members respond hesitantly, repeating back the unfamiliar sounds chanted by the teacher. The call-and-response chanting subsides and the teacher announces the first asana as tinkling sounds from a kora replace the languid chords of the harmonium. For the next two hours, the class moves forward with the musical accompaniment of the kora and manipulations of its sounds through a small array of electronic devices. It’s not the background music typically heard in an American yoga studio, but it’s not quite foreground either. Solidly in the middle, it works sometimes, fitting perfectly with the slow movements; other times, it seems distracting, an extraneous element unconnected to the physical activity.

Every Friday night since October 2007, the Midnight Yoga class at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in San Francisco’s Mission district has offered live music as accompaniment to yoga. Developed by the yoga center’s parent studio in New York City, the class features various genres and musical configurations: kora and electronics; freestyle guitar, bass, and keys; cello, voice, loops, and percussion toys. Yael Kievsky, who has taught the class since December, says that live music to accompany yoga is simply an extension of the use of taped music as background that has been a part of yoga classes in the United States for decades.

But the addition of live music changes things: The class becomes an event — a “full-on experience”…  (to read more go to East Bay Express)

 

This is how to write about music! James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”

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After a minor medical emergency and a ridiculously busy week, I am back to my major endeavor for the month of March, rewriting the first chapter of my manuscript on Moroccan alternative music. It opens with a musical vignette that introduces the music, sets the scene and sets up the theoretical framework for the book. It’s a tricky section to write: writing about music is always tricky. Attempting to capture a primarily aural experience in print is an exercise in capturing lightning in a bottle, especially if you are writing for an academic audience. Too often “serious” writing on music loses the immediacy of the musical experience in overly careful prose designed to maintain some misguided allegiance to accurate representation — misguided because losing the truth of an experience is a high price to pay for obsequious fealty to maintaining the real. And is it a choice we have to make? This is one area where ethnographic fiction opens up possibilities that call out for exploration and new sources of inspiration.

Some the best writing on music is found in fiction and James Baldwin’s work abounds in striking descriptions of musical experience. The following excerpt is from his story “Sonny’s Blues” (an extended excerpt is featured in the Sun magazine this month).

James Baldwin

all i know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. and even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. but the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. what is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. and his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours. i just watched sonny’s face. his face was troubled, he was working hard, but he wasn’t with it. and i had the feeling that, in a way, everyone on the bandstand was waiting for him, both waiting for him and pushing him along. but as i began to watch creole, i realized that it was creole who held them all back. he had them on a short rein. up  there, keeping the beat with his whole body, wailing on the fiddle, with his eyes half closed, he was listening to everything, but he was listening to sonny. he was having a dialogue with sonny. he wanted sonny to leave the shoreline and strike out for the deep water. he was sonny’s witness that deep water and drowning were not the same thing-he had been there, and he knew. and he wanted sonny to know. he was waiting for sonny to do the things on the keys which would let creole know that sonny was in the water.

and, while creole listened, sonny moved, deep within, exactly like someone in torment. i had never before thought of how awful the relationship must be between the musician and his instrument. he has to fill it, this instrument, with the breath of life, his own. he has to make it do what he wants it to do. and a piano is just a piano. it’s made out of so much wood and wires and little hammers and big ones, and ivory. while there’s only so much you can do with it, the only way to find this out is to try; to try and make it do everything.

and sonny hadn’t been near a piano for over a year. and he wasn’t on much better terms with his life, not the life that stretched before him now. he and the piano stammered, started one way, got scared, stopped; started another way, panicked, marked time, started again; then seemed to have found a direction, panicked again, got stuck. and the face i saw on sonny i’d never seen before. everything had been burned out of it, and, at the same time, things usually hidden were being burned in, by the fire and fury of the battle which was occurring in him up there.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 12, 2011 at 7:57 pm

For Staff Benda Bilili, disability is just a state of mind

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Most of the members of Staff Benda Billi, a pop band from Kinshasa (Congo), are homeless polio victims who live in or around Kinshasa’s zoo. The founders of the band formed the ensemble because other local musicians refused to play with them. The membership of the band soon was supplemented by street kids, including an 18 year-old boy who plays guitar-like solos on an electrified one-stringed lute he fashioned from a tin can. In the last few years, Staff Benda Billi has found success at home and abroad with successful albums and now a documentary Benda Bilili, which debuted at Cannes this week. Check out the review of the film by Will Gompertz of the BBC:

Cannes: Standing ovation for Benda Bilili

Will Gompertz

Cannes: There are over 1,000 films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which means it’s horribly possible to spend your entire time watching duds. Cannes is a game of chance; we hacks are like metal detector enthusiasts who go out each weekend with hopes of finding treasure but know the odds are stacked against them.

benda_bilili_2.jpgWell, on Thursday, just 24 hours after the festival opened, I struck gold.

It was in the relative backwater of the Director’s Fortnight that I stumbled on a French documentary called Benda Bilili. It opens with a middle-aged man with polio dancing on a dusty street in the Congolese city of Kinshasa.

The story then moves onto its main subject: a group of musicians that goes by the name of Staff Benda Bilili. The words “benda bilili” mean “beyond appearances”; for this band of brothers, it’s a statement with profound meaning.

The group’s original core is made up of three paraplegic middle-aged street-dwellers who live in cardboard boxes in this lawless city and stay sane by making music. They are joined by a 12-year-old drummer and by Roger, a 13-year-old runaway who makes music by connecting a tin can to a stick with a piece of nylon. (to read the rest, click here)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

May 14, 2010 at 5:22 pm

The Music Matters “Trustmark”

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I can’t decide if this is a good idea or — given the changing revenue streams in the music industry — an effort to hold onto an outdated business model. You be the judge.

Music Matters is a collective of people across the music industry, including artists, retailers, songwriters, labels and managers, formed to remind listeners of the significance and value of music.

1. We all know that music matters: why is this initiative important?

We all know that music is important. But with music more available than ever before, it’s worth reminding ourselves of that fact. It’s easy to forget about the extraordinary lengths that performers, songwriters and musicians can go to record their songs, and the powerful effect music has on each and every one of us.

We believe it is important to support the artists and all those involved in making incredible music by choosing to consume music in an ethical way, and that’s why we’ve set up Music Matters.

2. What is the Music Matters Trustmark?

The Music Matters trust mark will act as a guide for music fans and help differentiate legal music services from illegal ones. Click here for a list of all supporting sites and look for the Music Matters trust mark when choosing new music.

When you choose sites carrying the trustmark you can be sure the site is legal and the copyright holders are paid for their creative work.

3. Why do we need a trustmark?

Globally, 19 out of every 20 tracks downloaded are done so illegally. In an evolving digital landscape, there can be confusion over which sites are legal. We think music fans would like to know that when the site that they are using is legitimate they are supporting the artists, musicians, songwriters and everyone involved in creating the music. (…read more at WhyMusicMatters.org)

And an insightful critical opinion of Why Music Matters from Associate Editor Kyle Bylin of Hypebot.com:

Why Music (Really) Matters…

When watching the series of short animation films released by Music Matters, a UK-based collective formed to “remind listeners of the significance and value of music,” I’m left with the overwhelming sensation that they are missing the point.

That, by trying to educate people on why music matters, in this manner, by exploring the work and lives of musicians past and present, and concluding with the message: “and that’s why music matters…,” they’re failing on a very fundamental level, failing to ask the real question, one that’s actually relevant to what they’re trying to get done.  Of course that’s why the music of Blind Willie Johnson, The Jam, Sigur Ros, and Nick Cave matters.  But why stop there?

If the core purpose of their campaign is to “remind listeners of the significance and value of music,” by educating and reconnecting them to that value through these short films. Then, in doing so, they’ve admitted to something important to our understanding of the shortcomings of their campaign: that not only is there an apparent disconnect between listeners and the value of music, but that the inherent value of music has, in some way, become disconnected from the music itself.  I’d imagine that this message is not exactly the one that they were hoping communicate to listeners.  So, now that we can see what’s troublesome about that message, how might they improve upon their question?

In order for their campaign to make the connection between listeners and the value of music, they need to understand that—in tandem with asking and exploring the question of ‘why music matters’—they should take things one step further and ask the question: why does music matter to people? (…to read more)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

May 3, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Yoga-Tainment for the BlackBerry Generation (@ East Bay Express)

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Yoga-Tainment for the BlackBerry Generation

A plethora of events highlights music’s growing role in yoga.

By Jeffrey Callen

//

Doug Boehm

Late night in the Mission, the class begins with the sound of kirtans accompanied by slowly pumped chords on the harmonium. The class members respond hesitantly, repeating back the unfamiliar sounds chanted by the teacher. The call-and-response chanting subsides and the teacher announces the first asana as tinkling sounds from a kora replace the languid chords of the harmonium. For the next two hours, the class moves forward with the musical accompaniment of the kora and manipulations of its sounds through a small array of electronic devices. It’s not the background music typically heard in an American yoga studio, but it’s not quite foreground either. Solidly in the middle, it works sometimes, fitting perfectly with the slow movements; other times, it seems distracting, an extraneous element unconnected to the physical activity.

Every Friday night since October 2007, the Midnight Yoga class at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in San Francisco’s Mission district has offered live music as accompaniment to yoga. Developed by the yoga center’s parent studio in New York City, the class features various genres and musical configurations: kora and electronics; freestyle guitar, bass, and keys; cello, voice, loops, and percussion toys. Yael Kievsky, who has taught the class since December, says that live music to accompany yoga is simply an extension of the use of taped music as background that has been a part of yoga classes in the United States for decades.

But the addition of live music changes things: The class becomes an event — a “full-on experience”…  (to read more go to East Bay Express)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

April 27, 2010 at 9:31 pm

Posted in East Bay Express, Journalism

Tagged with ,

The Sync/Lost Project — charting the history of electronic music

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Tracing the history of electronic music is a mind-boggling undertaking — hundreds of sub-genres that seem to be constantly morphing into a newer, hotter incarnation. 3Bits (a Spanish company that specializes in interface design) has created an interactive map / experience of electronic music history. They used Processing, the data-viz programming language invented by infographics legends Ben Fry an Casey Reas.

Their creation SyncLost is a multi-user installation for immersion in the history of electronic music. From a complex timeline, rhythms and sub-rhythms merge to create new sounds.

The project’s objective is to create an interface where users can view all the connections between the main styles of electronic music through visual and audible feedback. The choice is individual and leads to a collective consequence in the spatial visualization of information.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

January 29, 2010 at 9:49 pm

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