FastCompany.com has an interview with Craigslist founder Craig Newmark from six years ago. That was a long time ago, and many things have happened since then, but there are still many salient points to be applied to today’s world of Social Networking. It is a refreshing read that gets more to the anthropological drive, the social phenomenon of socialization rather than just another survey of the dizzying array of sites already out there.
I happened upon this just the other day – KCRW in Santa Monica has a deal with eMusic.com. A cursory search reveals only a couple of KCRW-related titles are available for download. One begins to wonder about the specifics of this promotion…
On a related note, an article in today’s edition of USA Today points out the fact that eMusic.com is #2 in digital music sales, right after the #1 iTunes. The hook for eMusic is their exclusivity among the big digital music retailers in using a non-DRM [Digital Rights Management] locked format. By that I mean the music files downloaded from that site can be played on any player. The other guys require some sort of proprietary technology.
The USA Today article focused on the release of a single from an artist on Sony/BMG Records in the non-DRM format. The irony of Sony, a company so in love with ill-fated proprietary formats [BetaMax, MiniDisc, and the fast-fading SuperAudio CD] releasing a proprietary-DRM-free digital single [with much fanfare] is quite amusing.
Neilsen relased a report earlier this month about the uptake of podcasting divided in the usual Neilsen manner. The demographic results are no surprise, but the language is a wee bit confusing, as pointed out by the MediaShift blog. The excerpt from the Neilsen report:
As is often typical with new technologies, young people are more likely than their older counterparts to engage in audio or video podcasting. Web users between the ages 18 and 24 are nearly twice as likely as the average Web user to download audio podcasts, followed by users in the 25-34 and 35-44 age groups, who were also more likely than the average Web user to do audio podcasting. Video podcasters trended a little older, with 25-34 year olds indexing the highest. Web users above the age of 45 were less likely than average to engage in podcasting of either sort.
Things get fuzzy when we can no longer tell if they are talking about creators or users. The numbers are fine, but that language will only serve to further confuse.
On stage, the familiar instrumentation was front and center. Guitar amps, a bass amp, and a seat clearly intended for the percussionist all sat atop a Persian rug. These amps and instruments were clearly American in origin: a Fender Tornado and an Epiphone Les Paul guitar, and the amps, a Fender Twin Reverb and a Roland give a hint at what is to come.
Just as they take the instruments from American rock music and create their own language, they have done so with the actual stylings of American rock music. This new style the band has pioneered is referred to simply as guitar. If the guitars were replaced with koras, ngonis, or njarkas, it would be remarkably similar to some of the other music of Mali.
But, Tinariwen’s music is not entirely Malian in descent – in the vocal melodic lines one can clearly hear the influence of Berber and Arab vocal inflections. Having listened to their two CD releases MANY times, this cross-pollination becomes more apparent. This is where the real music happens. When people of different traditions bring their histories to the table, and then view the recent cultural and musical happenings through that contextual lens, exciting things happen. Exciting things happened on this night, for sure.
The band took the stage in their striking full-length wardrobe and face-covering scarfs. The textiles were a brilliant white, with elaborate patterns woven right in the cloth itself. The scarfs and head coverings were removed by almost all members as things heated up throughout the night. Most were in sandals, while the eldest wore black dress shoes and the bass player wore motorcycle boots. Again, another nod to the living musician, rather than the museum artifact or cultural curiosity; these people are real people.
The music, on the other hand was unreal. The first few songs were with an amplified acoustic guitar. While as many guitars on stage as those that could play them, only two played simultaneously during each song. One guitarist, the one closest to us, played rhythm guitar all night long. About 95% of his playing was a variation of a power chord; the ‘A’ string would be played with the thumb, followed closely by a quickly muted strum of the rest of the strings. This technique filled out the sound, kept rhythm, and most interestingly, turned the guitar into a percussion instrument. This phenomenon of using a melodic and chordal instrument as percussion is also seen in traditional West African music.
When one of the other men played lead guitar, they also sang. In each song there was a lead vocal part as well as a section for the rest of the group to join in chorus to drive everyone further into ecstasy. After the first 3 or 4 songs with the acoustic guitar in the lead were finished, the rest of the band took turns donning guitars and singing. Along with the wailing Fender Tornado mentioned above, the other lead electric guitar was a strikingly modern/retro Danelectro purple axe. It looked great, but the sound did not match the bite of the Tornado. One of the players even got this guitar to sound like a pedal steel guitar.
Each tune followed a similar arc: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, insane blazing solo, verse, chorus. The voices were beautifully rich, and in the upper levels of their natural range, revealing the Northern African / Arabic influences. The single variation was a rap in French that one of the member had put together. The studio version of this tune, is on their most recent album, Amassakoul. The crowd went nuts for his smooth and convincing delivery. Look out Jay-Z!
The percussionist played a single hand drum similar to a doumbek for the entire evening. The rhythms were in 4/4 and 5/4 from what I could surmise, and all were comfortable with it. Never have I been at a concert where I was to be so enraptured by the rhythm — while clapping along, I found myself nearly in a trance, with goosebumps. Several times. Amazing.
So I walk in about 30 minutes before the gig was to go down. No problem, I think. Except for the fact that I walk in hearing the two men featured in tonight’s performance warming up and setting levels for the taping of the show. As there was no green room at the venue, all they could do was warm up the chops behind a heavy felt curtain.
Brötzmann worked his way through all of his horns. He was on the tenor when I started recognizing licks. One in particular sticks in my mind — Brötzmann worked with a five note riff that is Sonny Rollins’ “Blessing in Disguise” from the East Broadway Rundown album on Impulse! An interesting confirmation of his admiration for Rollins in that. My ears perked up right away. He played it pretty straight to start, and made that heavy-ass burr in his tone do all of the work. I knew I was to be in for a treat this night.
Waits spent some time tuning the head on the floor tom on the night’s aqua colored drum kit. Both men left the stage and one chap remained, gaffe taping a cord to a mic stand. It was Michael Ehlers, the man behind the fabulous record label Eremite Records. I talked with him for a moment, and he said that they were taping all of the performances of the tour. This night was the last night, and each was to venture to their next journey-point, as this short-lived duo had come to a conclusion.
After a few short announcements from the event coordinator they took the stage. She made the observation that it was interesting to have Brötzmann again playing at an art school, as he started his journey at an art school in the 60’s. Brötzmann plays with the same fire you hear on those first recordings from the 60’s — he started on what was to be the first of four pieces of the evening on alto sax. They came out with guns blazing.
Having not seen the man play a horn in person, I was intrigued to see how he works the sounds out of the axes. The whole of his upper body seemed to be involved, not just the muscles in what must be an Olympic strongman-level embouchure. Part of his vibrato comes from shaking his head most vigorously from side-to-side, all while maintaining a consistency of tone. This is not a gentle motion; I was alarmed to see it in person, at first. The melodic lines he creates must take an immense amount of thought. (It was difficult enough for me to keep up, to comprehend it all, and I was merely listening.)
As with many horn players, Brötzmann’s language is shaped in large part by what his body is capable of doing. His enormous lung capacity allows him to create phrases and lines with the volume and intensity that would fall to pieces in the hands of others. Not that hard and loud is the only language – we would find out later in the performance that he can summon the same level of expressiveness at pianissimo and quieter!
The second piece on bass clarinet started out very quietly and solo. Soon the notes were surging forth at great volume, especially considering it was a clarinet. This piece was more dynamic than the previous. He made great use of multiphonics as introduced by vocalizing through the horn. Huge descending wails filled the room, joined soon by Waits’ percussion. Waits was much more than someone that is able to “keep up” with Brötzmann. The dynamism of Waits’ approach, and his ability to absorb the entirety of the conversation while organically adding to it made this more of an event than I would have ever hoped.
You will not be snapping a finger to these rhythms, but there was more than just an implication of rhythm. I would compare it to another player Brötzmann has worked with in recent years, Hamid Drake. Drake can swing as well as Waits, but the gear they engage in when in situations like this has that implicit groove. In the third piece, with Brötzmann on tenor, this was more apparent as Waits started playing in this mode, but it morphed into a more explicit rhythm, quite nearly a ferocious swing. It was present for a few moments, and drifted away again.
Waits left the stage, and Brötzmann picked up the tenor. He launched into a truly frightening blast of scorched earth saxophonics that I was nowhere near prepared for. The sound his tenor makes when recorded on tape is at least somewhat misrepresentative. In person, that snarling, robust, and wooly tone is larger than life. The intensity would lead the listener to believe that the reed is teetering on the edge of being blown into 100 splinters. He uses natural reeds, unlike one of his great influences Albert Ayler. Ayler, too, had that gravity of tone, but used plastic reeds. Brötzmann’s reeds only fared so well. At a couple of points when he laid out to give the drummer some, he produced a folding pocket knife of considerable size to whittle on them. This was new to me.
Waits joined Brötzmann on stage and was to reach his apex of the evening. He pulled more creativity and turned more inventive phrases out on a limited kit than any lesser could muster on a kit twice its size. The fourth and final piece featured a metal Bb clarinet. There would be no tarogato played tonight. This clarinet was again featured alone in the piece’s introduction. Brötzmann once again showed the audience of about 125 people his abilities beyond that of being merely another fire breather. His fleet and facility on the clarinet were best demonstrated in the pianissimo and quieter passages.
These were no schoolboy exercises performed under the guise of improvisation. These were witty and soulful thoughts poured forth on the last evening of a tour featuring an established legend, and quite possibly, another in the making.
What an interesting idea. Pair one group that makes albums that sound like soundtracks with a guy that actually creates soundtracks, and viola! An evening filled with music that sounded like soundtracks.
I have had a long-standing preference for instrumental music, tracing back to the B-side of an Andy Taylor 45 in my youth. Some disposable rock-ish A-side from a movie did not stick with me. It was that solo instrumental voice, that freedom from the task of ascribing meaning to or interpreting lyrics. Music as sound.
Soundtrack music appealed to me for some of the same superficial reasons that jazz holds my interest so completely. The mood set by soundtrack music was often more profound that the music with words, to these ears.
Putting two of these together gets us to another personal milestone: Lily was Here. This was a film whose soundtrack produced a sizable hit as played by Dave Stewart and Candy Dulfer. Soundtrack music and jazz. Instrumental. Moody. Solos. Big, grown-up impact on my 6th & 7th grade ears. Then there were dad’s Pink Floyd tapes. All
Granted, not all of the music I place in this category even has a movie. It gives me the rare chance to roll out the cliché of “soundtrack music without a movie.” I think I’ll go with that. Fast forward >> to 10-12-05 at the Fine Line Music Café in Minneapolis. Chicago’s favorite sons Tortoise opened for Daniel Lanois, who was, paradoxically, backed by members of Tortoise.
The set-up on stage is present as it was when I saw them a couple of years ago at First Ave: two ‘classic Bonham’ drum kits, one real vibraphone and one MIDI, four amps for the two basses and two guitars, and a set of keyboards.
They hit the stage with the opening salvo to which I can only refer to as “the first song on side A or B on the Standards LP.” (Being the clever folks they are, you are only able to determine which side of the LP is which via the the suffix of the matrix number stamped in the dead wax. The song titles themselves are equally enigmatic.) This piece on LP and live reminds me, in its first section, of some heavy Sun Ra thing, with everyone playing a crashing, cacophonous rubato melody. It settles into a groove after a while. They do that groove well. It is no JB’s or Meters’ groove; more of a krautrock / motorik via dub groove. It is a groove nonetheless. I ain’t complainin’.
They played half of the set with tunes I am not familiar with, and the other half I am familiar with but only able to reference as ‘side A or B, cut 1’ and ‘side A or B, cut two.’ Coincidentally, these are all of the cuts I love from that LP.
As a jazz fan, I am no stranger to the notion of ‘multi-instrumenalist.’ Tenor players double on flute or clarinet, drummers are vibraphone players, etc. These cats, however, acted like the concert was a game of musical chairs. Everyone doubled if not tripled. Everyone played some percussion. To invoke the name of Sun Ra again, a relevant quote came to mind — on the back of the Space is the Place CD reissue, this quixotic gem appears: “As all Marines are riflemen, all members of the Arkestra are percussionists.” Hmm… Sometimes the two drummers played together [no easy feat, done properly]. Other times one could see that there were two bass players operating within the same song. It makes for some interesting possibilities, some of which they mined that night.
Daniel Lanois came out to the stage after a brief intermission. The guitar player / producer extraordinaire was backed in performance from anywhere between zero and all of the Tortoise collective. His set was more of the moody textural business heard on his real soundtracks and soundtrack like albums. His gear consisted of a gold Les Paul, an old pedal steel, a Vox 2×12 combo amp, and a set of effects pedals.
Perhaps most interesting was his final piece of equipment — an octave of bass pedals as you would see under an organ. These were the bottom-most octave, as when he played, the sound was felt as much as heard — a neat effect for this kind of music. The man plays without a pick. He does some traditional fingerstyle picking in addition to picking up and down with the thumb and finger respectively. He did the thing with his so vigourously as to open a wound on it, causing blood to show up on various parts of the Les Paul. Not a serious wound, but enough for people to notice it form the front. He used no fingerpicks on the pedal steel, either. Speaking of the pedal steel, it was a delight to see the device played in such close proximity. I stood there trying to figure out the relationship between the pedals and harmonic shifts. No luck. Great sound on it through the Vox and volume pedal.
One of the highlights of the new album Belladonna, is the track titled “Frozen.” It was done in a trio live, as on record. It’s a great little moody dub-flavored thing. This was where I first noticed how nervous the Tortoise folk were in playing with Lanois. They were loose in there own, well rehearsed set, but when playing these arrangements (which Lanois said were largely created on the go) they seemed at least more … alert to the whole of the situation. During “Frozen,” as Lanois was making the pedal steel sing with the bar in his left hand, he motioned to the drummer (who was watching him like Count Basie was watched) to ‘give him more.’ Herndon, the drummer, obliged, turned up the heat, and prodded everyone to take the tune to a higher level.
That was the story of the evening. Lanois send the band packing for a couple of solo interludes and some songs. In fine voice, he sang songs of his that folks called out. Very nice. So there it is. We have complicated the conundrum / cliché of the “soundtrack without a movie” by having it performed live. All the better, I say.