(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘music history

“Some folks look for answers, others look for fights”*…

Grateful Dead plays Red Rocks for the final time, August 13, 1987 [source]

Max Abelson takes a break from his (essential) coverage of money and power at Bloomberg News and Businessweek to appreciate the community that’s grown up around the Internet Archive’s Grateful Dead Archive (where one can find– among the over 15,000 concert recordings– not one, but two full takes of the show pictured above)…

On the Archive, the writing about the Dead’s live music often transcends the personal mode and approaches something closer to the galactic. Nothing brings out that cosmic style like “Dark Star,” a song that the band stretched from a three-minute studio single into its own solar system. Ginosega left a flight log for the same forty-three-minute 1973 version that played in the friend’s basement: “About 12 minutes in, Phil fires the engines and turns the ship out of orbit, until at 17 minutes we have arrived in the deepest, darkest part of the galaxy.” The trip isn’t half over. “Only at 21 minutes into the song do they actually start playing the song.” The post, which has a kind of sci-fi internal logic, describes interstellar wind and multicolored ooze, before, “at about 36 minutes, we start the return trip, passing through more familiar systems on our way back home.”

One of the magical things about how high the Dead flew is that they managed to do it without, say, Sly Stone’s rhythm, Joni Mitchell’s poetry, or Brian Wilson’s voice. The allure of this band—whatever it is that keeps sparking so much cosmic wonder and nostalgia—is foggy and mysterious. Paumgarten, in his New Yorker piece, identified a sprawling combination of factors, including Garcia’s soulful charisma and Appalachian gloom, the band’s 26,000-watt sound system, an ethos of group improvisation, and the “particular note of decay” in each cassette swapped from hand to hand. You can think about the Archive as not just the best tape rack of all, but as a collection of thousands of swings at saying the inexplicable. A user named Scottie78 was so moved by a half-hour version of “Dark Star” at the Spectrum in Philadelphia in 1972 that he not only came close to leaving a bullet point for each minute, but more or less created an identification system to differentiate the micro-micro-genres he heard, from “Space Jazz” and “Acid Jazz” to “Acid Jazzgrass.” It’s embarrassing and magnetic at the same time.

Others tip over from starry-eyed to freaked out. “So cacophonous, atonal and scary that it could potentially traumatize animals when played loud,” Phleshy said in 2004 about a version from Rotterdam in 1972. “If this explanation sounds stupid in words, then listen to the last half-hour of ‘Dark Star’ in a darkened room and see if you feel remotely secure.”

The line between the personal and astronomical is thin. Boboboy’s recollection of the 1989 show at JFK Stadium is what Didion might have described if she had witnessed more people sway: “I clearly remember seeing the swirling masses of thousands on the floor from my perch all the way back.” The dancers below looked like birds up above, “a flock of starlings cruising the sky, but in slow motion.”

Some of the writing aims even higher. “When you want to know what it is like being in heaven, cue up the second set,” Seedanrun wrote about the band’s beloved 1977 show at Cornell. “When you want to feel what it is like to be face to face with God, dim the lights and really focus on the ‘Morning Dew.’”

The glory of that show, performed inside the university’s Barton Hall on a snowy night in May, is perhaps the nearest the Dead Archives come to consensus. The thought of sullying it with a rating scale offended a user named GruUbic: “If this is five stars, is heaven a 4.5?” In 2004, BillDP went further, calling the show “the single best live performance I have ever heard from any group at any time.” His authoritativeness is only outdone by the dumbstruck. “Mere words cannot do justice,” Grateful Hillbilly posted in 2015. “Words like amazing and unbelievable and incomparable don’t capture the immensity of awe.”

[Brewster] Kahle, the Internet Archive’s founder, tells me that he wishes more of the web was shaped like the Dead Archive. “What you’re looking at,” he said, “is from an era of the Internet that I think is best typified by what Tim Berners-Lee called ‘pages.’” Today, he said, instead, what dominates is the “feed.” (“Horrible word,” he added.) Facebook and Twitter scroll by endlessly, unaccountably, and unpleasantly, but “it wasn’t always that way, and it was a choice.” Each Dead show, he said, is “something you can anchor to, it’s something you can revolve around.” He went on: “By making things endure, we can have people cherish them, use them, and invest in them. So the writing is fundamentally different. I think we should go back to it—or forward to it.”…

The way the internet was… and should be? “In the Dead Archives,” from @maxabelson.

* The Grateful Dead, “Playing In The Band” (written by Bob Weir, Robert Hunter, and Mickey Hart)

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As we go hear Uncle John’s Band, we might send bluesy birthday greetings to Ronald Charles McKernan; he was born on this date in 1945. Better known by his stage name, Pigpen,” he was a founding member of The Warlocks… which became the Grateful Dead. He was the band’s original frontman, playing harmonica and electric organ; but Jerry Garcia’s and Phil Lesh’s influences on the band became increasingly stronger as they embraced psychedelic rock. Pigpen’s contributions receded to vocals, harmonica, and percussion (though he continued to be a frontman in concert for some numbers, including his interpretations of Bobby Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light” and the Rascals’ “Good Lovin'”).

Pigpen was unique among his bandmates in preferring alcohol to psychedelics, and sadly succumbed to alcoholism– from complications of which he died in 1973.

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“I did not attend his funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it”*…

Do not let the “new age” label fool you—David Young’s music is damn catchy. With simple melodies, played on the recorder and repeated with slight variations, the songs run through my head hours after listening, and I’m not exactly a new-age fan. Young’s catalog covers a who’s who of adult contemporary—from Miguel Bosé’s “Lay Down on Me” to “Con te partirò”—but even the melodies in his original songs exude a similar familiarity. Young may not work for Muzak, but his music sure sounds like he’s studied their scores.

From a wardrobe of puffy shirts to the gimmick of playing two recorders at once, David Young seems about as cheesy as new-age music gets—think Tim Robbins’s character in High Fidelity, but with less home-wrecking libido and more harpsichord. But, non-threatening as the image may be, this self-described “pied piper of romantic music for the 21st century” has independently released more than 16 albums, including Celestial WindsRenaissance, and Songs of Hope, and claims to have sold more than one million copies (500,000 in 2002 alone!).

I first learned about David Young from an ad in the quarterly trade magazine of the Dodge Company, the world’s largest supplier of mortuary chemicals. The Spring 2008 issue of Dodge Magazine included articles on “airbrushing cosmetics for funeral professionals” and how funeral directors should respond in the case of a mass murder in a small-town shopping mall (be “like French waiters…[who can] do the job and not be noticed”). In addition to embalming chemicals, Dodge also has a hand in the sale and distribution of miscellaneous funerary goods—including memorial collages of softly lit photos that “make women squeal with delight when they see the portraits for the first time.”

That there is a “funeral industry” in the first place can seem morbid and indecent. Anyone who remembers Six Feet Undermay feel they know the ins and outs, but the reality is certainly more disturbing. Flipping through a trade magazine advertising “vibrant” urns and pink-hued arterial conditioners does nothing to contradict this impression, nor does Young’s ad. In the full-page color layout, Young’s musical oeuvre is described as “perfect background music for your funeral home.” Wearing dangerously tight pants and a puffy shirt coyly unbuttoned to reveal a shadow of chest hair, David Young hawks a new age of new-age music for funerals. “In emotional times such as these,” the ad claims, “it’s important to set the right tone.” 

In 2004, Craig Caldwell of the Dodge Company met Young at a funeral directors’ trade show in Chicago. Impressed, Caldwell made a distribution arrangement with the musician and has since been selling Young’s recordings to his clients—funeral directors who rely on Dodge for everything from embalming fluid to a disinfectant called Lemocide. On the phone from his office, Caldwell explained that the music’s emotional restraint, being “lighter, airier, more enticing to sharing feelings and thoughts, than dirges,” made it seem like a good match for funeral homes. This preference for lightness mirrors other changes in modern funerals, a business that, though still traditional by many accounts, is becoming increasingly secular and informal. “People rarely wear black to funerals anymore,” Caldwell told me when I interviewed him in 2008. “Except for the older generation. But children today, they don’t even wear a coat and a tie anymore.”

Young is the theme song to your grandmother’s memorial, the pop radio of your cousin’s wake. That funeral homes now have a soundtrack, one that provides us with a subtle, uncomplicated sense of recognition—as minimalist guru Brian Eno would call it, an ambience—shouldn’t be a surprise. Rather than a nuisance or intrusion, this easy listening could be a way of mitigating disruptive grief. 

Many of America’s funeral parlors rely on one man to provide the theme music for your grandmother’s memorial service, the pop radio for your cousin’s wake. Welcome to “semi-spiritual” ambient music and the stuff of contemporary mourning: “Songs in the Key of Death,” from The Morning News.

Image above from the series “More Scena” by photographer Rachel Cox, via BOOOOOOOM.

* Mark Twain

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As we acclimate to ambience, we might send melodic birthday greetings to Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi; he was born on this date in 1567 (or so it is believed; we know for sure that he was baprised on May 15 of that year). A composer, string player, choirmaster, and priest who created both secular and sacred music, he was a pioneer in the development of opera, and is considered a crucial transitional figure between the Renaissance and Baroque periods of music history.

Much of Monteverdi’s output, including many stage works, has been lost. His surviving music includes nine books of madrigals, large-scale religious works, such as his Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers for the Blessed Virgin) of 1610, and three complete operas. His opera L’Orfeo (1607) is the earliest of the genre still widely performed; towards the end of his life he wrote works for Venice, including Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and L’incoronazione di Poppea.

Among his works were several funerary pieces, including a Requiem Mass for Cosimo II de’ Medici (in 1621).

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“Mozart died too late rather than too soon”*…

Glenn Gould was a gloriously talented and profoundly iconoclastic pianist, unafraid to challenge the conventions of the canon.

His April 1962 performance of Brahms’ first piano concerto, with the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein conducting, gave rise to an extraordinary situation in which Mr. Bernstein disagreed with Gould’s interpretation so vehemently that he felt it necessary to warn the audience beforehand. The performance was subsequently broadcast on the radio with Bernstein’s comments included. A draft copy of those comments can be found in the Leonard Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress and is available to read online…

But perhaps his most egregiously unpopular opinion was his conviction that Mozart– especially late Mozart– was a “bad composer.”

How Mozart Became a Bad Composer, which was originally broadcast on a weekly public television series titled Public Broadcast Laboratory in 1968. The Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center recently digitized the episode that includes the 37-minute segment from a two-inch tape found in the Library’s collection. It is now available on the web site of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, which is a collaborative effort by the Library of Congress and WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts.

On the reception of the program, Peter Goddard in The Great Gould (2017) wrote, “Recognizing the outrage-driven ratings possibilities here, the Public Broadcasting [sic] Laboratory series by National Educational Television, the precursor to PBS in the United States, broadcast Gould’s thirty-seven-minute-long How Mozart Became a Bad Composer on April 28, 1968. After that, the show disappeared from sight worldwide, and a version of the script was only uncovered years later by New York-based documentarian Lucille Carra.” Kevin Bazzana in Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould (2004) notes, “The program outraged viewers in both the United States and Canada, including formerly sympathetic fans and critics.” The program is now widely available to the public for the first time since its broadcast. Although, ardent Glenn Gould fans may remember his interview in Piano Quarterly, which was reprinted in The Glenn Gould Reader (1984), “Mozart and Related Matters: Glenn Gould in Conversation with Bruno Monsaingeon,” in which he expresses many of the same reservations about Mozart’s music that are heard in the television segment…

Cait Miller (of the Music Division of the Library of Congress) puts it in a personal context:

My parents are or were both musicians – my father was a composer – and so my appreciation for classical music was probably equal parts nature and nurture. So, when I entered graduate school as a musicologist and met a fellow student named Masa Yoshioka, who became one of my best friends during my doctoral study, it was more than a little shocking when, during one of our many extended conversations about music, he revealed to me that he did not think that Mozart was a particularly interesting composer. As a musicologist who had come from a previous incarnation as a classical singer, this was tantamount to heresy. However, due to my regard for Masa and his well-thought-out opinions, I did not discount it out of hand. Instead, I took it as a challenge to listen to the music of Mozart and, in fact, the music of all composers, with fresh ears every time I encountered it and to let no preconceptions that I had learned as a child allow me to speak as a child when I heard new works by a composer whom I had been conditioned to revere. It is with this spirit in mind that I hope you will view Glenn Gould’s television segment…

Your correspondent would agree. In any event, enjoy:

The Unpopular Opinions of Glenn Gould or “How Mozart Became a Bad Composer.”

[image at top: source]

* Glenn Gould (who also once suggested that “Beethoven always sounds to me like the upsetting of a bag of nails, with here and there also a dropped hammer”)

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As we tickle the ivories, we might recall that it was on this date in 1976 that another group of musical iconoclasts, The Sex Pistols, released their single ‘Anarchy In The UK‘. Originally issued in a plain black sleeve, the single was the only Sex Pistols recording released by EMI, and reached the No.38 spot on the UK Singles Chart before EMI dropped the group on 6 January 1977. (The band ran through five labels; their only album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977; #1 on the UK charts) was released by Virgin.)

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 26, 2020 at 1:01 am

“To suffer the penalty of too much haste, which is too little speed”*…

 

Johann-Sebastian-Bach

Pop and rap aren’t the only two genres speeding up in tempo in the breakneck music-streaming era: The quickening of pace seems to be affecting even the oldest forms of the art. Per research this weekend from two record labels, classical music performances of J.S. Bach have also gotten faster, speeding up as much as 30 percent in the last half century…

The fascinating details– and a hypothesis as to what’s going on– at “Even Classical Music Is Getting Faster These Days.”

*Plato

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As we pick up the pace, we might wish a harmonious Happy Birthday to Aaron Copland; the composer, writer, teacher, and conductor was born on this date in 1900.  Known to his peers and critics as “the Dean of American Composers,” his signature open, slowly-changing harmonies– e.g., in “Appalachian Spring“–  are typical of what many consider the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit.

220px-Aaron_Copland_1970 source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The only truth is music”*…

 

The earliest known practical example of polyphonic music – a piece of choral music written for more than one part – has been found in a British Library manuscript in London.

The inscription is believed to date back to the start of the 10th century and is the setting of a short chant dedicated to Boniface, patron Saint of Germany. It is the earliest practical example of a piece of polyphonic music – the term given to music that combines more than one independent melody – ever discovered.

Written using an early form of notation that predates the invention of the stave, it was inked into the space at the end of a manuscript of the Life of Bishop Maternianus of Reims.

The piece was discovered by Giovanni Varelli, a PhD student from St John’s College, University of Cambridge, while he was working on an internship at the British Library. He discovered the manuscript by chance, and was struck by the unusual form of the notation. Varelli specialises in early musical notation, and realised that it consisted of two vocal parts, each complementing the other.

Polyphony defined most European music up until the 20th century, but it is not clear exactly when it emerged. Treatises which lay out the theoretical basis for music with two independent vocal parts survive from the early Middle Ages, but until now the earliest known examples of a practical piece written specifically for more than one voice came from a collection known as The Winchester Troper, which dates back to the year 1000.

Varelli’s research suggests that the author of the newly-found piece – a short “antiphon” with a second voice providing a vocal accompaniment – was writing around the year 900.

As well as its age, the piece is also significant because it deviates from the convention laid out in treatises at the time. This suggests that even at this embryonic stage, composers were experimenting with form and breaking the rules of polyphony almost at the same time as they were being written…

More background at “Earliest known piece of polyphonic music discovered.”

[TotH to @pickover]

* Jack Kerouac

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As we hum along, we might send melodic birthday greetings to two descendants of the author of the piece above:

Johannes Brahms, the pianist and composer who was a stalwart of the Romantic Period, was born on his date in 1833.

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And Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Brahms’ Russian Romantic counterpart– the first Russian composer to make an international impression–  was born on this date in 1840.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 7, 2018 at 1:01 am

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