We had a phenomenal time presenting the Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner in Austin this spring. The University of Texas’ Visual Arts Center and local music organizers Church of the Friendly Ghost made everything quite special; this video they put together documenting the evening’s performance is just one example of their awesomeness. Enjoy!
Have you seen The Act of Killing? Werner Herzog wasn’t kidding when he said “I have not seen a film as powerful, surreal, and frightening in at least a decade.” Back in the 90s I collaborated with TAoK director Joshua Oppenheimer, and in that spirit I decided to put together a musical response to the documentary Continue reading
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.)
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.
Music 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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
Rashad Becker – Dances II
I read four brilliant, odd books about pianos and/or tuning this year.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Like everybody else, I was hypnotized by Twigs “Water Me”, co-produced by Arca.
so many things we’re forgetting. most things.