Recently in Music Category
Just because it played randomly today and I was reminded of just how insane and great it is: Promises Kept, by Sonny Sharrock. I love how the musicians collectively and individually pretty much lose their minds.
Last night I saw Kronos Quartet at the Chan Center. The highlight of the night was the premiere of Nunavut, a collaboration with Tanya Tagaq, an Inuit throat singer best known for working with Bjork on her latest album. (A close second highlight-wise was Sigur Ros' Flugufrelsarinn, which was quite beautiful.)
Tagaq has an astounding voice and physical presence, and the piece had an improvisational air - unlike the rest of the performance, the members of Kronos performed standing up and without sheet music, as Tagaq approached each in turn for a call-and-response movement. I believe this was a deliberate echo of the traditional form of Inuit throat singing as described in the evening's program: "Inuit throat singing is ... more closely associated with vocal games or breathing games. Two women usually face each other-one leads, while the other responds." (This should be familiar to those who have seen Atanarjuat, which contained a traditional example of throat singing.)
Luckily, instead of attempting to describe the performance in further detail, I can tell you to tune into In Performance on February 23rd, as the concert was recorded by the CBC and will be broadcast in its entirety.
When I saw "Koyaanisqatsi" in college, I dismissed it as a trippy, slick, MTV-ish thing, to which some well-meaning soul had attached hippie messages about the mechanization of existence and the spoliation of the planet. At Lincoln Center, I understood it as something else altogether--an awesomely dispassionate vision of the human world, beautiful and awful in equal measure. What made the difference, apart from the fact that I was no longer a facile collegiate ironist, was the experience of hearing the music live, with Kurt Munkacsi's sound design adding heft and definition to every gesture. For all the deliberate coldness of some of Glass's writing, "Koyaanisqatsi" is deeply expressive; its blistering virtuosity is often the only sign of emotional life on display, excepting a few wan smiles on the faces of pedestrians who hurry through Times Square.
"Powaqqatsi" and "Naqoyqatsi," the sequels, don't match the force of the original, though they are absorbing throughout. Glass supplies many passages of cool, aching beauty, but the urgent side of his early style, the technique of eviscerating repetition, is diminished. As a whole, the trilogy mimics the uneven shape of the composer's career, which has ranged from achievements of staggering originality ("Music in Twelve Parts," "Einstein on the Beach," the Violin Concerto) to statements of baffling neutrality (a world-music cantata entitled "Orion" is the newest instance of the latter). These days, he often seems trapped in his formulas; he writes "Philip Glass music" in place of music that happens to be by Philip Glass. But he has won his place in history, and he may figure out a way to knock us sideways once again.
I dearly love both Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi, but Naqoyqatsi was a really disappointing film; it relied way too much on digital processing of imagery instead of the fantastic cinematography that made the first two so compelling (along with the music of course). I hope I can see the films with music played live at some point, it sounds like it adds to the experience of the film.
Fascinating look at the effects of technology on how music is played and heard.
Philip begins his book with a riveting description of concerts at the turn of the last century. "Freedom from disaster was the standard for a good concert," he writes. Rehearsals were brief, mishaps routine. Precision was not a universal value. Pianists rolled chords instead of playing them at one stroke. String players slid expressively from one note to the next--portamento, the style was called--in imitation of the slide of the voice. And the instruments themselves sounded different, depending on the nationality of the player. French bassoons had a reedy, pungent tone, quite unlike the rounded timbre of German bassoons. French flutists, by contrast, used more vibrato than their German and English counterparts, creating a warmer, mellower aura. American orchestral culture, which brought together immigrant musicians from all countries, began to erode the differences, and recordings canonized the emergent standard practice. Whatever style sounded cleanest on the medium--in these cases, German bassoons and French flutes--became the gold standard that players in conservatories copied. Young virtuosos today may have recognizable idiosyncrasies, but their playing seldom indicates that they came from any particular place or emerged from any particular tradition.
The books discussed in the article: Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music, Setting the Record Straight: A Material History of Classical Recording, Performing Music in the Age of Recording. The first one includes a companion CD to illustrate points in the book, which is pretty cool.