Blogs: Music

dead pic veneta live cover

I never planned to Like the Grateful Dead. 

Shaped by easy punchlines, alarmist tales of parking lot antics via local news outlets and teenage stubbornness,  I used to think of the Dead and their followers as a sea of tie dyed drifters. However, both times and I have changed.

Luckily, no miracles are required to get your Dead fix at Multnomah County Library. A library card is the only ticket required. Hoopla, available with a Library card has 120+ streaming Dead albums including numerous live shows. Looking for the complete studio recordings? The extensive collections The Golden Road and Beyond Description have you covered in two box sets. Additional live sets and exhaustive books are also available. Check them out here.

If that’s not enough, the Grateful Dead Archive at The University of Santa Cruz has what you need.  This growing archive is “a socially constructed collection comprised of over 45,000 digitized items drawn from the UCSC Library’s extensive Grateful Dead Archive (GDA) and from digital content submitted by the community and global network of Grateful Dead fans”.  

 Is there tie dye tinged light at the end of this tunnel?  Perhaps, but I’ll pass for now...

"FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD"
(New York Daily News Headline, 10.30.1975)
Love Goes To Buildings On Fire Cover
By 1973-74, the US was facing serious economic collapse following a property investment boom and crash - not entirely dissimilar or unrelated to the crash of 2008.  New York City, in particular, felt the strains of over-speculation and an inability to make good on massive infrastructural spending debts (for a clear-minded synopsis of this trajectory, check out David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism). In essence, the major banks of NYC refused further loans, pushing one of the largest cities in the world to the brink of near-total shutdown.  When the city turned to the executive office for federal assistance, then-President Ford refused to assist (though it turns out the Daily News headline quoted above is kind of apocryphal), essentially placing the city in a hostage situation with the increasingly powerful banks.
Against this tumultuous backdrop, Will Hermes' excellent Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever explores the simultaneous explosion of musical cross-pollination, experimentation and invention that emerged from what many in the US were then calling "a cultural dead zone."  Hermes scope is impressively broad though he zeroes in on a handful of truly critical players and scenemakers including DJs Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, disco pioneers David Mancuso and Nicky Siano, as well as punk provocateurs the New York Dolls and the Ramones.  Hermes's primary focus is on Manhattan but he also touches on the music coming out of the peripheral boroughs - like salsa, disco and rap/hip-hop.

Image of rioter and fire

“If you’re not ready to go home,
  can I get a ‘Hell, no!’?

‘Cause we’re gonna go all night,
 ‘til we see the sunlight, alright…

 And we can’t stop.
 And we won’t stop.
 Can’t you see it’s we who own the night?”

-Miley Cyrus, "We Can’t Stop"

Of course one can argue that pop/rock music has always contained an inherent resistance to authority and constraints (think "Blackboard Jungle, " Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show, Jim Morrison arrested for indecent exposure, outlaw country anti-heroes like Waylon Jennings, James Brown's various altercations with the law, etc.) and there's a rich genealogy of rock/pop/soul/hip-hop artists explicitly incorporating revolutionary critiques into their aesthetic (Gil Scott-Heron, Public Enemy, Jefferson Airplane, Last Poets). 

However, the last few years have seen a profusion of lyrics and postures that appear to echo and reflect this moment's widespread outrage, confusion and disillusionment with party politics. And while past instances of resistance tended to focus on the rebelling individual, post-2010 riot pop often speaks from the point of view of a tenuous "we."  In response to an ever-widening class divide and a seemingly endless economic recession, these songs seem to suggest "party=riot" (or vice versa!). This has led to some interesting thinking and conversations about the levels of co-optation (are these songs simply symptoms of culture industry opportunism?) and the ways in which many of these songs have served as soundtracks to riots and occupations in real-time.  Below is a list of some post-2010 tunes pushing for good bad times that won't ever stop:

1) Rihanna - We Found Love


2) Miley Cyrus - We Can't Stop

3) Ellie Goulding - Burn

4) Ke$ha - We R Who We R

5) Black Eyed Peas - Party All The Time

6) Britney Spears - Til The World Ends

7) Pitbull - Give Me Everything

8) Jay-Z & Kanye West - No Church in the Wild

9) will.i.am & Britney Spears - Scream and Shout

10) Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Can't Hold Us

 

 

Death of Klinghoffer CDThe Metropolitan Opera has just wrapped up its new production of The Death of Klinghoffer. Although controversial since its premiere in 1991, the opera has previously been performed with little incident and is considered by many to be one of composer John Adams' finest works. But this year, the production has been met with protests outside the opera house and even a few boos from within. So what's the big deal and why now?

The opera is based on the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly Jewish passenger on board the ship. But this year, Klinghoffer’s daughtersJohn Adams photo have made a very public objection to it, claiming it is anti-Semitic and glorifies the terrorists who perpetrated the crime. This objection, combined with recent anti-Semitic events in Europe, fighting in Gaza, and the growing threat posed by the Islamic State have combined to whip up a great deal of emotion around the staging of this work.

Still, most of those protesting the performance have probably never seen or heard the work. Check it out and decide for yourself -- is it anti-Semitic or is it a great piece of art that has been unfairly labeled?

Although I hope never to experience war first-hand, I find exploring the topic through books and other media endlessly fascinating. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One. Since there are many fine resources that explore the conflict on a large scale, I thought I would feature a couple of recent releases that provide more intimate looks at this world-changing event.

The burning of the world BookBéla Zombory-Moldován was a young Hungarian artist when the war broke out in 1914. The Burning of the World, recently published for the first time, recounts his experiences as a soldier on the eastern front and his observation of the drastic changes the war brought upon the world. A short read, this reminiscence is a Behind the lines jacketfirst-hand account of a little-known front in the conflict and brings to life the horrors of war on a very personal level.

In Behind the Lines, soprano Anna Prohaska and pianist Eric Schneider explore the repertoire of the soldiers’ song. Although the focus is on the First World War, the songs range in time from the Renaissance to the 20th century, sung in English, German, French and Russian. Included is a German folk song; lyrical songs by Beethoven and Schubert; the four songs by Hanns Eisler offer some challenging listening; and Charles Ives’ setting of "In Flanders Fields." A carefully conceived and thought-provoking collection.

Two of my favorite things to do around town when I can’t be at the Maker Faire PDX are going out to listen to music and watching movies. While I’m not bad at making music (yay cellos!) and I can take cute videos of my dogs, I can’t really claim to be great at making either. But not to fear! We do live in a great town for making things, from chairs to computers to art and we can all learn together.

Yellow record player

Are you feeling musical? Explore the science of music with your own musical creations, and learn to make your own instruments from maracas to didgeridoos. (This website is set up as lessons for teachers, but there’s no reason for teachers to have all the fun.) Once you have made (or chosen) your instrument it’s time to make some music: Indulge your inner rocker girl or you can check out the Community Music Center for lessons, concerts, workshops and practice space. Or just find some friends and start playing--it’s how all the greats got started.

 

 

strip of film cels

Visual arts more your thing? You can play with your films at the Hollywood Theater with B Movie Bingo and Hecklevison and other series.  The Portland Art Museum’s nwFilm Center has films you won’t find at the mall and classes on how to make your own. If you prefer things to be more non-fiction, head over to Northwest Documentary. They come complete with classes, lab time, opportunities to work with other filmmakers and a great library, all at your creating and making disposal. And if the slow and methodical isn’t your way, maybe The 48 Hour Film Project will be more to your liking.

 

 

Do want to make and learn more? Contact a Librarian!

Hey, We're going to be at the Maker Faire on September 13 and 14 at OMSI. Come see us!

 

There’s nothing like a great music biography. Tales of sex, drugs, unimaginable circumstances, and music are a great combination. One of my favorite genres, I've read many of them, most recently Andy Taylor’s Wild Boy.  It's always a thrill to witness the rock star lives we were never meant to see, or at least remember if we were there. Here's a couple to start with:

hammer of the gods cover

 

Much has been written about Led Zeppelin. One of the juciest, Hammer of the Gods, is a great intro to the world of the rock biography. Private jets, groupies and thirty minute drum solos were only the beginning. Their unprecedented fame and unfathomable level of excessive indulgences remain jaw dropping.

 

 

I'm with the band cover

 

While Jimmy Page was soloing with his violin bow, Pamela Des Barres was wrangling backstage passes for herself and a few friends.  In her tell all biography, I’m With the Band, she shares her tales of an unbelievable life travelling amongst rock’s elite including : Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, Chris Hillman, and Jim Morrison. It’s the kiss-and-tell story of one woman, rock and roll, and being an “Almost Famous” fly on the wall of some interesting hotel rooms.

 

This is only a start.  For more check out this list or ask me for recommendations!

Listening to the radio, we hear music that is new, along with favorites, that may also be new from interpretations or performances that we haven't heard before. Though a common complaint of many is that email is too much, if you like to find out about music and musicians that might be new to you, Alexander Street Press has a signup for free music downloads every two weeks that arrive in your inbox. A short text about the composer and piece of music comes with the recording,

Alexander Street Press offers downloads from two collections that do not require logging in with your library card from Multnomah County Library : Classical Music Library and Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries.

Sampler: Here is a Classical Music selection from past weeks of music: 
Link to these two collections for the current week's downloads. Classical Music Library and Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries.

Erik SatieSampler: Erik Satie's Trois Sarabandes

Eccentric. Iconoclastic. Hostile. Incompetent. Enigmatic. Pioneer.

French composer Erik Satie (1866–1925) has been called many things, but his musical legacy establishes best that he was, in essence, a visionary. Satie composed in a musical environment dominated by the heavily orchestrated, longwinded Germanic tradition—home to Wagner, Brahms, and Bruckner. In stark contrast, Satie’s music is clean, simple, and brief. Unlike the thematic transformations found in Wagner’s operas, Satie does not develop his motives, choosing rather to juxtapose shorter repeating phrases. 

The sarabande originated as a movement in the Baroque dance suite. Centuries later, Satie’sThree Sarabandes for piano still bear a resemblance to the original sarabande. All three movements are in triple meter (though Satie’s irregular phrasing often obscures this), conform to an AABB form, and strive to emphasize the second beat of the measure, sometimes referred to as a “sarabande rhythm." Otherwise, these three short pieces are distinctly Satie.

The late 19th century was the beginning of a harmonic revolution and Satie surely enlisted. While Satie’s music was regarded as radical among more conservative musicians, he was really forecasting the new movements in 20th century music—minimalism, total chromaticism, and serialism, to name a few. While his teachers and peers strove to force him into following the rules and conventions of “proper” composition, Satie remained true to himself and ushered in the new wave of music. This recording is performed by France Clidat.

Sampler: Pakistan: The Music of the Qawal

The Sabri Brothers - Nât Sharîf. Qawwali is a form of Sufi devotional music popular in the northern regions of present-day Pakistan and India. Although it is thought to have originated in Persia, present-day Iran, and Afghanistan, the form of qawwali performed in this 1977 recording probably dates from the Mughal Empire (approximately 1526–1857) in the Indian subcontinent. Qawwali music became popular in the 20th century through the recordings of Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Other 20th-century performers include Aziz Mian and the Sabri Brothers.

To explore more of Music Online Alexander Street Press, login from home to the Multnomah County Library website with your MCL library card. 

You know how it feels when you are in love with new music or a book, and you feel all exultant that this is yours, yours, yours? That’s how I am loving the new tUnE-yArDs CD, Nikki Nack, like a dragon loves his treasure, like cookie monster loves his cookies. The only reason I’m  telling you about it is that I actually bought it, because otherwise I wouldn’t want you to put it on hold and take it away from me.

The tUnE-yArDs is largely the work of one person, Merrill Garbus. She plays most of the instruments and does all the singing, including back-up vocals. You can hear the single here.

The music is amazingly interesting, a wild and free mix of R & B, Haitian rhythms, children’s music (with a dark side), pop, punk, and a lot of sampling and repetitive sounds. It sometimes veers close to Captain Beefheart’s and Ornette Coleman’s disjointedness-- which I actually don’t like-- but it doesn’t quite cross that line. It’s unusual, but catchy, even in its strangeness, and you know what?-- you can dance to it, too. Garbus’s  voice is the most powerful instrument she has. It sounds to me like my own voice in my head, sometimes sweet and melodic, sometimes ragged and atonal, and sometimes a roar. She’s playful, brave, and astonishing. There’s even an interlude in the middle, a sweet little story about eating children which comes to a much quicker and more hedonistic rationale for cannibalism than Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal.

Have a listen!

I don’t really know why, but I love singing in other languages.  In the last two years, with my choir and others, I have sung pieces is Xhosa, Hebrew, Latin, Ndebele & Zulu, German, Yoruba, Welsh, Hungarian, Spanish, Russian, and most recently in French.  While I can’t say that I always have as much fun as Benny the Irish Polyglot singing a German pop song, I also can’t think of how to have more fun practicing another language.

The first two of Benny Lewis’ “7 reasons to learn languages through singing,” are at the heart why I enjoy it so much.  I feel like I am building a bridge to another culture when I can master the words of a song well enough that they can be heard and understood in the language of that culture.

There is even evidence that singing can help you learn a language more easily. A University of Edinburgh study found that groups of adults who listened and repeated short phrases by singing them, performed better in tests than those who learned by speaking them.  Learning by listening and repeating phrases has been basis for popular audio courses such as Pimsleur language programs, as well as online resources like Mango Connect, and free web and mobile apps like Duolingo.

Once you get your foothold in a language, one of these books on diction in singing can help polish your pronunciation, or satisfy your inner perfectionist.

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