ART ASSIGNMENT: The Quietest Place


The Art Assignment is a new PBS webseries created by curator Sarah Urist Green and hosted by her and author/YouTube superstar John Green, in which they ask artists around the country to devise an ‘art assignment’ related to their work that viewers can carry out, sharing the results online. Here’s the video for mine. It involves walking to find the quietest place near where you live. Fascinating responses to my #theartassignment have come in already — songs, videos, a delightful array of photos, even diary-style written logs of soundwalks, from all over the globe. It’s been wonderful to see the enthusiasm with which people are searching for their ‘Quietest Place’. (As a bonus, we get to experience the complications of recording quiet — wind in the smartphone mic… handling vibration rumble… it all ends up sounding rather noisy.)
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[some of the participants' photos]

You can check out a growing assortment of the responses over at the Art Assignment blog; some of the best will be folded back into a future episode of the program.

LIBROS ASADOS: Book Burning Society of the Americas

Libros Asados: Book Burning Society of the AmericasMusic is bringing me to Mexico City this weekend. I’ll have time to dig around some of the megacity’s great bookstores in addition to parrandeando.

So, dear reader, can you recommend me some good books to check out? My Spanish-language contemporary fiction bookshelf has a lot of dudes in it — much as I love Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Cesar Aira, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Yuri Herrera, etc — I’m particularly curious about recent writing by women. And yes, Rita Indiana’s new novel Nombres y Animales will be published next week! My Mudd Up Book Clubb reading list gives you an idea of what’s up my alley. OK gracias.

MEXICO CITY GETDOWN

VLcrop I am off to Mexico City, Distrito Federal, to perform at the Vive Latino festival this weekend. DF is without a doubt one of the world’s most incredible cities — friend visiting for the first time just wrote me: “Such an incredible place, oozing with humanity from every opening… the hustlers, the colors, the shrines everywhere, the highway underpasses playing midi classical music, those guys in the official outfits playing those weird piano boxes from another century…”

Adding to the already overloaded megalopolis, Vive Latino has created a massive musician vortex with many good friends in town: Helado Negro, Ceci Bastida, Sonido Martines, Javier Estrada, Boogat, DJ Rashad, Chancha Via Circuito, and more will perform. I’m particularly excited to be on a lineup with legendary sonidero soundsystem Sonido La Changa!

DJ Rupture – Enero 2013 Cumbia Mix

DJ Rupture - Enero 2013 cumbia mix

A 30-minute mix of “cumbia cumbia, not nueva cumbia” that was previously only available at a NYC taco shop. My man Talacha gets on the mic as sonidero.

I used all cumbias purchased in Brooklyn, so it skews heavily towards cumbias poblanas, mexican cumbias, tunes made in the States. Shoutouts include: Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, New Jersey, Virginia, Baltimore, Las Carolinas, Ellay… kinda functions as a map of where Mexicans are strong in the US! There’s no tracklist but that’s OK because everyone is always shouting out their name anyhow…

This mix was originally available as a physical-only CD at a taco shop in the East Village, along with another 30minute mix by Sonido Martines. Here’s the post on that.

Stream or download:

If you’re hungry for more of this stuff, you are in luck, as cumbias are almost always close at hand in the Americas… For starters, the 2009 Cumbia Mix I did for Rob Da Bank’s BBC1 radio show remains popular, and my 2008 Fader Magazine feature article on cumbia remains a good introduction the genre as well as what it’s like to speed around Buenos Aires with Damas Gratis’ frontman Pablo Lescano.

Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner in Austin!

Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner in Austin - poster
Texas-bound! The JEMD crew and I are heading south to present the Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner at a free performance in Austin on Friday March 7. Info. It’s always a pleasure to work with pianists Emily Manzo and David Friend, and vocalist Arooj Aftab — all heard on the album version of the project — and we look forward to doing our thing live. This is pre-SXSW madness, although arriving early to insure seats is probably a good idea. The show is being presented by the good folks at Texas Performing Arts and the Church of the Friendly Ghost.


Mudd Up Book Clubb – MARLEN HAUSHOFER: THE WALL

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The Mudd Up Book Clubb returns to Manhattan on March 9, to talk Marlen Haushofer’s The Wall (1962, English trans. 1990). It is graceful. It is crushingly good. It discusses cows, cats, and foraging in great detail, such that this harrowing narrative of thingness and survival is never far from pellucid (if unsettling) meditation on the philosophically big issues. I see your Walden and raise you The Wall.

“I am writing on my novel and everything is very cumbersome” she told a friend, “because I never have much time and, mainly, because I can not embarrass myself. I must continuously inquire whether what I say about animals and plants is actually correct. One can not be precise enough.”

People have called The Wall an eco-feminist dystopia, and true, this tale takes the form of a diary of an Austrian woman who finds herself trapped in the mountains with an invisible wall separating her and a dog named Lynx from a horrible cataclysm which has befallen the rest of the world. Yet there is no trace of the fantastic; sci-fi, Robinson Crusoe, or Stephen King it is not. This radiant little masterpiece is written with such sensitivity that it’s hard to imagine that Haushofer herself did not live through these things — harvesting potatoes for sustenance, slowly running out of sugar, edging on forgetting her name, looking up at the sky in a forest meadow and thinking:

Human beings had played their own games, and in almost every case they had ended badly. And how could I complain? I was one of them and couldn’t judge them, because I understood them so well. . . The great game of the sun, moon and stars seemed to be working out, and that hadn’t been invented by humans. But it wasn’t completed yet, and might bear the seeds of failure within it. I was only an attentive and enchanted onlooker; my whole life would be too short to grasp even the tiniest stage of the game. I’d spent most of my life struggling with daily human concerns. Now that I had barely anything left, I could sit in peace on the bench and watch the stars dancing against the black firmament.

As a bonus for the cat fanciers and dog lovers among us, The Wall has my vote for the least sentimental yet most heartfelt book involving animals. Rare combo! Some moving contemplation on cyclical time too.

So. Manhattan, 5pm, Sunday March 9. You can join us by (communication magic). Don’t let the ‘now a major motion picture’ on the cover of recent editions of the book keep you away…

BROSTEP, MANSPLAINED

Today the Sounding Out blog posted an article called Going Hard: Bassweight, Sonic Warfare, & the Brostep Aesthetic. Now, when people say ‘Sonic Warfare’, that’s usually my cue that it’s naptime… Turns out the essay by Mike D’Errico can springboard some interesting discussions, but his core conceit involves over-gendering brostep. The best example I can give of this is by examing how Mr D’Errico misconstrues & misquotes writer Julianne Escobedo Shepherd.

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Discussing brostep, D’Errico writes: “Julianne Escobedo Shepherd describes the style as ‘frat-hazed, misogy blow-job beats.’” That gave me pause. Sure, it supports his reductive thesis, but Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is one of the best music critics around, and DJs an excellent radio show to boot. She’s got her ear to the ground in a way that few others do, and that includes being sensitive to how sounds actually play out on the dancefloor – where context and intent can queer up even the most heteronormative sounds –, and besides, hasn’t Shepherd, like me, championed the work of brostepping Mexican DJ Javier Estrada among others? Strenuously working to position a music production aesthetic as masculine is a tricky proposition at best. Not only does it reinforce gender binaries (male = hard!) but if you’ve spent any time in clubs, it’s never that simple. (Or if it is that simple, then you’re in the wrong clubs, but don’t worry, my friends can help you out).

Since D’Errico’s quotation of Shepherd felt so weird to me, I decided to follow the link to check. What I found was shocking. He had taken two sentences out of context, combined them into one phrase, and slapped an adjective used to describe fans of a single musician onto the music itself — all in the service of inverting her nuanced points about the reductionism required to align mid-range bass frequencies with bro culture!

A male music writer chopped up, distorted, and misquoted – ‘modulated’ to use his parlance – a female writer’s words, willfully ignoring her article’s clear points, in order to support his thesis that Brostep is a hypermasculinst hypermediated control gambit. The mind boggles.

Here’s what Shepherd actually wrote, in a 2012 article discussing how brostep is in fact on the wane:

The concept of “bro-step” as a typecast is also strange — because, what makes mid-range bass so overwhelmingly bro-y? Perhaps I’m missing the point, but I consider myself far outside the realm of brozones, and as a female-born, feminine woman who loves gut-rumbling wobble and monstrous subbass, its codification as particularly bro-y is unnecessarily exclusive and of course super-reducto. Of course in certain realms maybe it makes sense — the misogy blow-job beats of Borgore, say, probably hold a greater fascination for the recently frat-hazed than, you know, me, although I still can appreciate the gnarled nastiness of the rhythm section.

It is as if the twisted distortions of hypermasculinist Brostep have invaded D’Errico’s writerly sensibility. Perhaps this is because they can’t be found in the musical world, especially in 2014, when brostep as a genre is clearly on the way out — although, as has been the case since the beginning, many artists continue using techniques gleaned from it in fascinating, unanticipated ways. Sure, the sounds of brostep are used in violent video games and movies — so are many other music genres and aspects of sound design… And the brosteppy wobble is also present in easy listening radio pop…

To suggest a relevant alternative to D’Errico’s starkly schematic area of inquiry: where does Hatsune Miku fit into all this?… A post-gender android singing synthesizer whose use requires enormous amounts of ‘hypermediation’ to sing well, a feminine-avatared piece of proprietary code that sparked a popular phenomenon where you have boys and girls and women and men spending as much time any brostepper programming synths, and as a bonus, Hatsune’s case gives us uncanny and confusing challenges to standard notions of voice, body, sexuality, transmedia fandom, and more…

Perhaps the Hard, Loud sounds of brostep left D’Errico desensitized to the considerations found in Shepherd’s take. Perhaps the best music critics really are dancers and DJs, not because they engage with the songs at a bodily level but because in order to dance reasonably well one must first be a good listener, and aware of all the many other bodies in the room.

2013: THE YEAR IN MUSIC, SLIGHTLY

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[from Anita Sullivan's The Seventh Dragon]

Earlier today I tweeted: “1 of my fav albums of 2013 was the flash drive @NarcoIris gave me, another was the Jai Paul leak/bootleg/thing. Legit releases r 4 amateurs” — aphorisms aside, let’s dive into some notable vibrations from 2013.

Before discussing other people’s music (& some books), brief thoughts on my own–

Performing the Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner with gifted musicians Emily Manzo, David Friend, and Arooj Aftab was great — I learned so much, and can’t wait until our performances resume in 2014 so I can return to that overwhelming sound, signals sent from Eastman in the late 70s received in the here & now.

Big thanks to TimeOut Chicago + Other Music for including the album in their ‘Best of 2013′ lists. Working with the excellent New Amsterdam label was above & beyond –know that if you buy the album, you’re supporting the right people. This video explains the JEMD project, with footage from its NYC debut at MoMA PS1:

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The most incredible thing I heard all year, hands down, is “Allemande” from my NewAm label-mate Caroline Shaw’s Partita for 8 Voices. She won a Pulitzer for this EP, which is crazy — who would have expected the Pulitzer committee to actually have good taste?! “Allemande” is A LOT, every time you hear it the angles shift and new surprise enters the world, beauty, voices in your head. Have a listen:

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I’ve known Roberto ‘Helado Negro’ Lange for a minute now, but it wasn’t until after I saw him perform in LA this fall that I had opportunity to listen to his new album, Invisible Life, and from then on it kept growing and growing with Deep Personal Significance. This did, for me, what a great album traditionally does — becomes something you live with, return to, share.

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The most head-exploding moment of pop came from Kanye West’s “New Slaves” premier, projected simultaneously at 66 locations around the world. Much was made of Beyoncé’s marketing genius (hey, you’re famous — let your fans promote the album for you!), much was made of Jay-Z’s grimly efficient Samsung deal, and much was made of Ye’s bigheadedness — itself a shrewd marketing strategy. But kicking off his album with this Wiley-inspired bass mix/devils mix of a song, which was then amplified into circulation via grainy lo-fi cellphone video capture and remained (for a few months) unbuyable — great! Distributional aesthetics, people. Interesting that the minimalist bass mix, one of grime’s many early 2000 radicalisms, only enters pop a decade later (and fleetingly at that), while the wobble and shudder of bro-step lept into EDMainstream within the span of a few seasons.

On a related note, Steven Shaviro’s chapter/essay on Grace Jones’ Corporate Cannibal video is a must read for anybody thinking about feminism and the female body in pop culture and/or afrofuturism.

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Did you check the Bangladesh mixtape?? So Many Sound Ideas.

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Bangladesh – Let Me Go feat. Brandy

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Bangladesh – Cockiness feat A$AP Rocky & Rihanna

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Here’s a diagram which explains how I was thinking about music in 2013:

DJ Mustard <-----------------> Rashad Becker

It’s a spectrum. Shades not binaries. Reason presets on one side, SuperCollider(?)/who-knows-whatsis on the other. Formalism and its discontents. The title of Becker’s debut album, Traditional Music of Notional Species could apply equally well to his startlingly original take on sound/composition as to the projections of black manhood voiced by the ratchet MCs in Mustard’s camp, whose personas flourish thanks to the space-filled architectures he crafts underneath them with such golden ratio precision.

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Rashad Becker – Dances II

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Kid Ink – Last Time (prod. by DJ Mustard)

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I read four brilliant, odd books about pianos and/or tuning this year.

7th dragon
The most under-heralded & poetic of them is Anita Sullivan’s The Seventh Dragon: the Riddle of Equal Temperament (1986). If you want a lyrical mediation on piano tuning or simply a deeply weird-yet-unpretentious nonfiction book about sound, then this is your jam. Buy it directly from her! listening anti-dragon

Then there was dear László Krasznahorkai, an eerily gifted Hungarian writer who eyeballs the apocalypse with “a slow lava flow of narrative, a vast black river of type.” Melancholy of Resistance (1989, Eng. trans 2002) contains a great rant on piano tuning, whose importance is reflected in the title of Béla Tarr’s 2000 film adaptation: Werckmeister Harmonies.

In the sunset glow: Iain M. Banks’ The Hydrogen Sonata (2012). James Bridle first mentioned this one to me — an SF space opera whose central character grafted an additional pair of arms onto her body in order to play an impossibly difficult piece of music written for a spectacularly unwieldy instrument. This novel deals with civilizational senescence (alongside the musical musings), and was published only months before Banks’ tragic passing.

And last but not least, Thomas Bernard’s The Loser (1983, Eng. trans 2006), a novel I first wrote about when it was the Mudd Up Book Clubb selection. Be the Steinway, not the person playing the Steinway.

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Fact is, I spent much of 2013 listening to rap, r&b, and obscure American piano eccentrics. I invite you to spend some time with Charlemagne Palestine’s “Three Fifths in the Rhythm Three Against Two For Bosendorfer Piano” from 1974.

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The Colin Stetson album is a sepia-toned skullcrush. Circular breathing and unorthodox micing techniques modulate his sax’s sonics, displacing the bebop heroin languor with vocal aid from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.

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Like everybody else, I was hypnotized by Twigs “Water Me”, co-produced by Arca.

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so many things we’re forgetting. most things.

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forrgggetttt

DUTTY ARTZ – LOOK FORWARD 2014

a3292445360_10Six years ago Matt Shadetek & I (DJ Rupture) decided to start a record label. Madness. We’d returned to New York City the same season, after spending time in Berlin and Barcelona respectively. Dutty Artz began as a vehicle to release music that we were working on. Since then the DA family has grown, branched out, run, stumbled, and – thanks in large part to your support – keeps on going.

These days Dutty Artz is less a record label and more a grassroots experiment in creating cultural value in ways that challenge industry standards & dominant social norms, with dope music as our touchstone.

And we’re entering a new phase.

I’m pleased to announce that Chief Boima is now the CEO of Dutty Artz. Yes, we operate as a collective, but Boima is our motor making the big stuff happen. It’s not easy keeping us divergent headstrong folks on-point & efficient, so we couldn’t be happier that Boima’s here. He’s a badman DJ, a seasoned producer, and one of the best people to rap about the radical possibilities for cultural creation with. But the E stands for Executive – B gets things done like nobody else. Hold tight 2014.

The first fruits from this development arrive in the form of our brand new compilation, Dutty Artz: Six Years Deep (aka the perfect holiday gift – and Bandcamp makes it very easy to send this as gift).

Seriously – next year’s release schedule is our busiest to date, and this strong collection of tracks indicates where we’re heading. Six Years Deep unites DA extended family from Brooklyn to Cairo and beyond. Edge to edge.

Here’s my track-by-track breakdown:
No better way to kick off 2014 than with an original production by Uproot Andy tapped into the irresistible dembow sound. The Dembow riddim is as much about New York as Santo Domingo, and here Andy Adoboes it up with big room synth sauce rich enough to feed a horde of lesser DJs. It’s a worldwide ting.

Timely streetwise Auto-Croon maghranat / sha3by from Cairo. Read my Fader feature from 2012 to learn more about these guys making some of the most thrilling music in the world right now. This heater features scene leaders on the socially conscious tip, a song they first performed at a women’s rights rally in downtown Cairo.

From Egypt to Gyptian in one smooth step! Kush Aurora’s ethereal production makes sure that this downtempo reggae tune warms you up like a hot toddy. Slow & low.

“I’m like a—“ [hard cut] Ha! In just a few seconds of sound, Mexico City’s Lao spits out a sermon on dancefloor migration & redemptive sweat via Masters at Work and ballroom, wrapping the whole thing up in tribal guarachero’s post-Youtube rodeo/Aztek futurism. Any questions? Feel it. Here’s my 2010 feature on tribal + 3Ball MTY.

The Chief is busy at work producing an album for Sierra Leone’s Sorie Kondi; a few weeks ago I asked for beats for this movie I was scoring and B sent me two dozen quality jams like this one. Tip of the iceberg, folks. (Earlier this year we put out Kondi’s latest album).

OLD MONEY IS BETTER THAN NEW MONEYAND EVEN BITCOIN, but ask them about melanin as/& black power or simply wait for the new OM mixtape joint, out soon. The only time I saw anybody famous in NYC it was Beyoncé & Jay-Z. I have Scheme to thank: I was in the VIP area of this downtown party that Old Money brought me to. OM got that juice. For the record: Jay’s a cold-hearted clown, Bey is expectedly radiant, and I’m more convinced than ever that their marriage isn’t a marriage so much as a closet-friendly business merger.

FACT: I only log into Facebook to troll Grey Filastine. I was also the first person to release this gringo’s outward looking anarchocapitalist dance anthems. (The extremes meet, agree on libertarian precepts, and invest in BitCoin.) But this song! An extra beautiful Soot-era throwback jam blessed by Jessika Skeletalia Kenny’s phonetic Farsi vocals & Brent Arnold’s swooning cello stacks.

Kev is a young Nigerian rapper from Queens, part of Royal Kulture crew. I like this move, using rap to narrate a new immigrant courtliness.

Everybody chant: “more Ushka songs!” In this tune (her first?!) our hero chops up “Hanuma Vanama” (recital of the monkey) with Brooklyn Shanti, thereby sneaking a Sri Lankan folk tune into the club with a Bengali twist. Check their ‘What Edward Said’ mix for further brown power bounce.

A Spanish-language version of Depeche Mode’s “I Just Can’t Get Enough” from our Los Angeles correspondent. I had this on exclusive for awhile and every time I played it out people would ask me for the tune… GooglePayola must be broken because we gave them 1532 hours of immaterial labor and this track didn’t go viral. WTF? It is joy! But you saw the video, right? Rafi’s debut full-length drops on DA this January, get familiar.

El Remolon specializes in slinky waist-winders that create momentum from the tension between cumbia’s rootsy grooves and techno/IDM audio-engineering. Our buddy down in Argentina has collaborated with Damas Gratis’ leader/cumbia villera innovator Pablo Lescano! Inquiring minds can rewind to my 2008 Fader feature on the Buenos Aires cumbia scene.

I was only in Caracas briefly, but it struck me as the most f**-up place I’d ever visited, which is saying a lot. The Venezuelan political situation remains extra wild, just ask Mariana, Cardopusher, Algodon Egipcio, Pacheko, or any of our other homies from there — but one thing that the pressure cooker generates is some serious creativity. You can hear it in the dancefloor urgency of this song by M Peach, who bounces between Caracas and Brooklyn, hair aflame with ideas. La La Light It Up!

Galliano has been in the game since the late 90s, bringing Angolan kuduro artists to tour Europe and championing their sound from the beginning. As for this tune? Boima writes: “it’s a trusty club banger – primed for the naughtiest part of the night!”

Fresh sufferah lyrics from Kingston’s Trawma over future-fwd production by Matt Shadetek protégé Robzilla. Hauntingly good, with echoes of Mavado’s early work.

Africa Latina is the brainchild of Que Bajo boss-jefe Geko Jones. While the notorious vibes-springer may be known for redefining the sound of what it means to be young and latin@ in Nueva York, Geko has roots in dancehall & Floridean rave – just like Ponce de Leon! but that’s another story — which makes it even more surprising that what began as a club DJ duo with Boima is evolving into a full band. Soulful vocals in Lingala grace pointillistic guitar lines that sparkle like a broken iPhone screen. We might not deserve this unexpected beauty! Dear Africa Latina, more songs right now PLS.

Spacey Banjo Music From Berber Morocco Is Some Of The Best Music In The World. This is a new song by my good friend Hassan Wargui in Morocco, whose debut album we released in 2011. He played “Bo Nity” for me in an Agadir kitchen as we ran around researching my Maghrebi Auto-Tune rabbithole last summer. I got so excited I smashed a wine glass. Hassan finally managed to get “Bo Niyt” on tape for this comp. Follow Hassan’s YouTube and if you’re going to Casablanca, let us know, for real.

 
Last but not least let’s give a big round applause to our art director, Talacha, responsible for the Dutty Artz visuals.

THE ACT OF KILLING

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By now you’ve heard of the extraordinary documentary, The Act of Killing, directed by Joshua Oppenheimer. Josh and I went to college together, and for a year or two we collaborated on wild art & activism projects. So, having helped out on his early work, it is particularly delightful to see The Act of Killing make such waves. The documentary challenges audiences and receives well-deserved critical acclaim everywhere it goes, and, even more impressively, back in Indonesia it opened up space for political discussion where there had been decades of media silence.

Here’s the trailer in case you haven’t seen it yet. In the middle video Josh explains what happened with the film in Indonesia, from the massive amounts of investigative journalism that it sparked to organizing invite-only screenings to avoid getting it banned. Incredible stuff. After that, big dogs Errol Morris (“I think there’s some inherent madness in this approach.”) and Werner Herzog explain why they find Josh’s film so powerful.