Deciphering Culture

Posts Tagged ‘Popular music

Kronos Quartet feature “Women’s Voices” / An Interview with Tanya Tagaq (@PopMatters)

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 This weekend (May 11 & 12, 2012), Kronos Quartet is presenting a program entitled Women’s Voices at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in Sn Francisco. One of the special guests is Inuit throat singer Tanya Taqaq. I’m taking this occasion to repost an interview of Taqaq  I did for PopMatters in 2010. One of my favorite interviews of the last few years, it’s also a good introduction to an innovative artist. If you happen to be in the Bay Area, seriously consider checking out this weekend’s show at YBCA.

Living Outside the Box: An Interview with Tanya Tagaq

By Jeffrey Callen 16 April 2010

My introduction to Inuit throat singing was a lecture by musicologist Jean-Jacques Nattiez on the semiology of katajjaq, the vocal game played by pairs of Inuit women standing close together, holding each other’s arms as they sing into each other’s mouths. I remember some striking video and audio clips, a lot of charts detailing Nattiez’s semiotic analysis and a feeling that something human and vital was being elided.

A decade later, when I first saw Tanya Tagaq on a podcast from the London International Festival of Exploratory Music, I didn’t think once of katajjaq or semiology. She isn’t that kind of Inuit throat singer and that kind of analysis would not get to the questions that I was interested in pursuing.

Born in the Nunavut Territory in the northernmost reaches of Canada, Tagaq taught herself Inuit throat singing during college in Halifax when she longed for the sounds of home. In the decade since, she has taken Inuit throat singing into previously unimagined musical arenas, working in hip-hop, hard rock and classical settings.

She has also worked with a diverse set of collaborators including Bjork, Mike Patton (of Faith No More) and the Kronos Quartet. In late January 2010, I interviewed Tanya Tagaq as she was about to begin a six-month tour of North America and Europe. During our conversation, Tagaq illuminated her approach to her craft, the sources of her inspiration, the relationship of her art to the Nunavut landscape/soundscape, and her ambitions.

On the last point—her ambitions—she eloquently stated what may be an underlying reason people are drawn to the experience of art: “…(to wake up to) the potential of what we’ve lost and what we can gain.” (To read more go to PopMatters).

Short Takes: Tracking Musical Taste — Trendsetting Cities

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Earlier this year, I prepared a literature review on changes in musical taste for a study commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony so the ephemeral subject of how musical tastes develop, shift, morph (choose a verb) is a little higher on my radar than usual. Discover Magazine recently published a quick summary of a research paper that maps the geographic flow of music on the social-networking music site Last.fm. There’s more to it than this but the researchers found that among American Last.fm users, Atlanta is the trendsetting city. There are some quibbles I have with how grand a conclusion you can make based on info. gathered from a single social media site but it’s interesting and they created some cool info graphics so I’d recommend checking it out: Which City Is the Musical Tastemaker for the US? Hint: Not NY or LA.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

May 6, 2012 at 4:58 pm

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

New book: Peter Gabriel, From Genesis to Growing Up

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Self promotion aside (although my chapter, “‘I need contact’ – rock ‘n’ roll ritual: Peter Gabriel’s Security tour, 1982–83” is quite good), this is an excellent collection on an influential figure in popular music. Out on Ashgate on December 23, 2010. From the publisher’s press release:

Ever since Peter Gabriel fronted progressive rock band Genesis, from the late 1960s until the mid 1970s, journalists and academics alike have noted the importance of Gabriel’s contribution to popular music. His influence became especially significant when he embarked on a solo career in the late 1970s. Gabriel secured his place in the annals of popular music history through his poignant recordings, innovative music videos, groundbreaking live performances, the establishment of WOMAD (the World of Music and Dance) and the Real World record label (as a forum for musicians from around the world to be heard, recorded and promoted) and for his political agenda (including links to a variety of political initiatives including the Artists Against Apartheid Project, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Now tour). In addition, Gabriel is known as a sensitive, articulate and critical performer whose music reflects an innate curiosity and deep intellectual commitment. This collection documents and critically explores the most central themes found in Gabriel’s work. These are divided into three important conceptual areas arising from Gabriel’s activity as a songwriter and recording artist, performer and activist: ‘Identity and Representation’, ‘Politics and Power’ and ‘Production and Performance’….

SF MusicTech: Has Over-Tweeting Killed the Mystery Around Musicians? (SF Weekly)

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My first contribution to SF Weekly‘s All Shook Down blog:

SF MusicTech: Has Over-Tweeting Killed the Mystery Around Musicians?


By Jeffrey Callen, Tue., Dec. 7 2010 @ 8:09AM
The only discernable displays of emotion at yesterday’s S.F. MusicTech Summit — the seventh such gathering of musicians, techies, and industry types — came during the artist panel at the end of the day. Moderator Tamara Conniff (founder of The Comet and former editor-in-chief of Billboard) set the stage for a discussion of how the artists on the panel used social media to build their careers — but the panel took this subject and ran with it.
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​In response to Conniff’s question about whether musicians had ended the “mystery” that stars used to have through over-tweeting, Evan Lowenstein (of Evan and Jaron, the twin brothers responsible for 2000’s “Crazy for this Girl“) said the “romance needs to come back between artists and fans,” and plugged his website StageIt, a social media site designed for musicians, as one means toward that end. Oakland’s own Del the Funky Homosapien said all that was needed to bring back the mystery was to create “good product.” Lebo (of ALO) and singer-songwriter Raul Malo (formerly with the Mavericks) said what solidified their relationships with their fans was playing live, not tweeting or Facebook.
After some theorizing about where and how it had gone wrong, the entire panel agreed that the industry was ready for change, and stressed the need for creating one-of-a-kind musical experiences: live internet concerts (Lowenstein), a return to albums with artwork and credits (Del) and bringing back vinyl and analog sound (Malo and Lebo). Showing that they’d all talked with an MBA or two at some point, the panel disagreed about whether “the long tail model” had gone too far in opening up the music market, but agreed with Malo that, “we don’t need the wizard behind the curtain anymore.” It’s a new day for artists and fans; where it will take us is hard to say.
My interest at yesterday’s summit was captured by what the changes — tech, biz, and social — mean for the music-makers themselves. Is the landscape for creativity opening up or closing down? Are the new revenue streams offering creative independence for artists, or is “the new boss the same as the old boss?” (for the rest)

“S.F.’s Cuban Cowboys flavor Latin grooves with punk power” (SF Weekly)

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[A duplicate post from Pop Culture Transgressions]

The Cuban Cowboys bring together rock ‘n’ roll and Latin beats with a punk sensibility that brings to mind such post-punk genre busters as The PixiesManu ChaoJonathan Richman, and Moroccan cha’abi rockers Hoba Hoba Spirit. Musically promiscuous and lyrically inventive, head Cuban Cowboy, Jorge Navarro, has found the musical voice on their new album Diablo Mambo that was only hinted at in the Cowboys’ debut album, Cuban Candles — but he didn’t find it on his own. A couple weeks ago I interviewed Jorge for a piece in SF Weekly and found out the fascinating backstory behind the band and the new album. Check it out!

Trails Mixed

By Jeffrey Callen

The Cuban Cowboys‘ new album, Diablo Mambo, doesn’t hesitate to let you know what it is all about. Drop the digital needle on the first track and you learn all you need to knowwithin the first 50 seconds: A Jimi Hendrix lick establishes the rock bona fides before the track morphs into a mambo section overlaid with a post-punk, art rock guitar pattern. The Hendrix lick then returns and signals the transition to driving punk guitars, but with a difference — the usual straight up-and-down thrash is blended with the sway of a Cuban son rhythm pattern. Two musical streams — rock and Latin music — are introduced, then blended, before the story of the song begins.

Bandleader/songwriter Jorge Navarro has interesting, engaging stories to tell. The opening track, “Cojones,” relates an early lesson in navigating the contradictions of the code of machismo taught by his knife-wielding grandfather. Navarro’s songs portray his family’s memories of a mythical Cuba born out of the nostalgia of exile and his experiences as a first-generation Cuban American, immersed in American pop culture and drawn to cowboy boots and rock ‘n’ roll. These two themes establish the narrative poles for the songs on Diablo Mambo, and Navarro skillfully navigates this bi-cultural territory, spinning tales of romance, sex, politics, and family. The music plays an essential role in the effectiveness of the stories, weaving together various tributaries from the two main musical streams — classic rock, punk rock, doo-wop, post–punk, rockabilly, and son, mambo, calypso, and salsa. (to read the rest, go to SF Weekly).

 

 

Written by Jeffrey Callen

December 8, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Short takes — the music industry’s process of re-invention (@Hypebot.com)

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A great list from Kyle Bylin of Hypebot.com

12 Books That The Record Industry Needs To Read

Grab a book off the list and enjoy it.

image from tsaum.comOver the last few months, we’ve been asking some of the leading voices in our field to send in their summer reading lists for the Hypebot community. I won’t go as far as to say that this is a definitive list of the books that the music and record industries needs to read, but it’s certainly a good start. There’s a couple of great titles missing that I’ll try to call attention to in my own reading list. That is, when I get around to putting it together.

In this book, Johns explores the history of piracy and reveals that it is far longer and intertwined with our cultural lives than we had imagined. It explores the intellectual property wars from the advent of print culture in the fifteenth century to the reign of the Internet in the twenty-first. This title provides a needed context into the claims that the sky-is-falling on the recording industry and makes chicken little look like he’s been screaming bloody murder for centuries.

Communications scholar and online music fandom analyst Nancy Baym said itbest, “Like Kot’s book, this is a readable analysis of recent changes in the music industry, but where Kot focuses on case studies to make his case, Wikström offers a critical theoretically-grounded perspective and a rich analysis of the changing nature of the many industries involved in the industry.”

12 Books That The Record Industry Needs To Read:

1. Rework
by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

This book is written by the founders of the software company 37signals; it explores new ways of looking at working and living and challenges the behaviors we call normal. As well, the book gives a great overview into the reality of starting a company and the lack of resources that are needed with the proliferation of digital technologies and the emergence of the social web.

2. Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates
by Adrian Johns

3. Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
by Seth Godin

Never one to mince words, Godin flat out tells readers that they are remarkable — that something that they do matters much, much more than they believe it does. After spending years in an education system that’s almost designed to squash out all creativity and uniqueness from people, preparing them for the ultimate corporate bargain, Godin urges us to wake up and use our full potential.  Not because we are some special butterflies, but because right now, in this instance, the world needs us to be remarkable and use those very talents.

4. You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto
by Jaron Lanier

Lanier has written a cautionary tale that challenges us to think about whether or not the web is transforming our culture and society for better or worse. He argues that we take every day technology for granted and don’t truly understand the biases of the mediums we use — that they were designed at very specific moments in history by people with specific intentions. The operating system that our world and computers work on is just one representation of reality and many minor design decisions in it have real and unintended consequences.

5. Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age
by Clay Shirky

Whether you read this book shaking your head or nodding in agreement, Shirky provides much food for thought and interjects a theory about how the abundance of our free time could be used. In the digital sphere, we are active participates in our cultural lives and if we spend our surplus of downtime working on something that matters, rather than watching reruns of Lost, something great could emerge. If harnessed properly, we can produce value that benifits society as a whole and not just our own lives. Embbrace the chaos and don’t look back.

6. Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music
by Greg Kot

From the perspective of a music critic and journalist, Kot analyses the cultural and organizational shifts that underpinned the profitability of the record industry long before the proliferation of digital technologies revolutionized it. He weaves together a brilliant narrative about the decline of traditional social institutions and talks about how the young and the digital are redefining the roles of cultural creators and their art. Contrary to Knopper’s title, Kot explores the new music business from the musicians who shaped and changed it forever.

7. Fans, Friends And Followers: Building An Audience In The Digital Age
by Scott Kirsner

We talk about the DIY movement, but Kirsner goes into the trenches and gains insight into the careers of those whom are actually doing it and making a living off their works. Rather than relying on the gatekeepers of yesteryear, the people outlines in this book have gained access to the tools needed to produce, market, and distribute their work. This book features of range of interviews across a broad number of disciplines in the cultural industries; it provides practical strategies and resources for the reader to stand up and join the movement — if they so wish.

8. The Music Industry: Music in the Cloud
by Patrik Wikström

Communications scholar and online music fandom analyst Nancy Baym said itbest, “Like Kot’s book, this is a readable analysis of recent changes in the music industry, but where Kot focuses on case studies to make his case, Wikström offers a critical theoretically-grounded perspective and a rich analysis of the changing nature of the many industries involved in the industry.”

9. Mashed Up: Music, Technology, and the Rise of Configurable Culture
by Aram Sinnreich

I will admit, I haven’t read this title yet. So, I will have to leave you with the Barnes and Noble description: “Mashed Up chronicles the rise of ‘configurability,’ an emerging musical and cultural moment rooted in today’s global, networked communications infrastructure. Based on interviews with dozens of prominent DJs, attorneys, and music industry executives, the book argues that today’s battles over sampling, file sharing, and the marketability of new styles such as ‘mash-ups’ and ‘techno’ presage social change on a far broader scale.”

10. Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry In The Digial Age
by Steve Knopper

Knopper explores the rise and fall of the record industry through a people and executive driven narrative that gives insight into many of the organizational problems they faced. This provides a much more historical perspective into specific periods of time during the last few decades of popular music. He looks much more into the business side of recorded music than Kot and the many characters that drove it into the ground. This is a tale of short-sighted capitalism and greed and luddite ignorance, where Kot tells of the more music based story.

11. Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars
by William Patry

This book is still one of my favorites to date; it gives a scathing review of the cultural industries and tells how they often only want to give consumers what they want to give them — not what they actually want. It studies the language used in the Copyright Wars and gives an in-depth argument as to why those in the industries, whom piracy has been a problem for, tend to demonize their opponents, rather than answer the much broader question of why they refuse to innovate. Creative destruction is a force of change — lobbying government and issuing massive lawsuits are just methods to deny the future and hope that things stay the same forever and ever — freezing business models in the present.

12. Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music
by David Suisman

Suisman provides a much needed history of the rise of the commercial music industry, ranging from Tin Pan Alley to Black Swan, the first major black-owned record company, charting its immense complexity on the way. He tells of how music become a commodity in America and gives deep insight into the truth that the music that permeates in our everyday lives has much less to do with our preferences than of the deep pockets and marketing budgets and tactics that the record industry has employed for decades. In reality, it’s the music they want us to hear, not the other way around. Sadly for them, most of us quit buying it.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

September 16, 2010 at 10:52 am

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