Winged Muses

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The composer John Luther Adams in Central Park, listening for his winged muses. Credit James Estrin/The New York Times

Occasionally we have reason to think of muses; every day we think of birds. Today birds are the muse. We have linked to this composer’s work once previously, and I am happy with the coincidence of reading again about this composer on Global Big Day in this review by Michael Cooper, Listen to ‘Ten Thousand Birds’ and Its Warbling, Chirping Inspirations:

New York is not usually considered a naturalist’s paradise. But John Luther Adams, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and former environmental activist, did not have to walk far from his Harlem apartment this week to be serenaded in Morningside Park and Central Park by choirs of robins, sparrows, flickers, catbirds and, finally, a wood thrush, with its poignant “ee-o-lay” song.

”That’s the one that started it all for me, 40-however-many years ago,” Mr. Adams, 64, said as he paused in a sun-dappled spot in Central Park’s North Woods to savor the wood thrush’s melody. Continue reading

Public Domain Cultural Jukebox

Alan Lomax, in 1992. As computer technology progressed, Lomax envisioned a searchable database for music from around the world. Credit G. Paul Burne

Some say music is the earliest communal art form, and one that continues to connect us. The inclusiveness of Alan Lomax’s vision with the Association for Cultural Equity and the Global Jukebox carries that inspiration further, with interactive features that connect the dots between music, culture and geography, paying “tribute to the expressive styles of all peoples within the framework of cultural equity and the diversity which is crucial to our survival as a species.”

Alan Lomax Recordings Are Digitized in a New Online Collection

Alan Lomax made it his lifelong mission to archive and share traditional music from around the world. He spent decades in the field, recording heralded artists like Muddy Waters and Woody Guthrie, as well as far more obscure musicians, from the British Isles to Haiti. He also created systems to classify this music and explore the links between cultures.

Lomax died in 2002, but the organization he founded, the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE), is hoping to further his research with the Global Jukebox, a new online database. The project, an interactive website, allows users to listen to and learn about more than 6,000 songs from 1,000 cultures — including many from Lomax’s personal collection. Continue reading

Music That Inspires On Multiple Notes

Musicologist and conductor Laurie Stras

While I personally don’t focus on organized religion, I can’t deny the power of sacred music to uplift my spirit. This story of inspired Renaissance composition and modern-day curiosity resonates with historical sleuthing and musical puzzle solving.

Click on the Sound Cloud musical links, close your eyes and breathe deep.

Sisters doing it for themselves: radical motets from a 16th-century nunnery

Eight years ago, leafing through a bibliography of 16th-century music prints (like you do), my eye was caught by the title of a motet: “Salve sponsa Dei.” “Bride of Christ,” I thought. “Must be for nuns!”

It was one of 23 anonymous motets published together in 1543, so I did what any self-respecting nunologist would do, and ordered a reproduction of the book. As I put the motets into a usable edition for modern singers, I found they were unlike any other 16th-century music I’d ever seen. They were dense, intense and sometimes startlingly dissonant.

The music – for five equal voices (of unspecified sex) – is astonishingly beautiful and yet strange, radical even. These works had lain unsung and unloved for almost four centuries, mostly because they were anonymous. These days, anonymity suggests that whoever created the book, music, painting or whatever was not important enough, or the product is not good enough, for anyone to care who made it. But in the 16th century, anonymity was also an important way for members of the nobility to disguise their participation in commercial ventures that were considered beneath them (which is why Gesualdo, a prince, published his madrigals anonymously).

But Virginia Woolf was right when she said: “Anonymous was a woman.” Continue reading

Heavenly Particles Made Visible

9780760352649This is among the more unusual book reviews in a while, thanks to the Science section of the New York Times, and William J. Broad. We appreciate a radically new perspective every now and then:

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Varieties of space dust, barely the width of a human hair. These photomicrographs were made with a special camera setup that magnifies the dust grains nearly 3,000 times. CreditJan Braly Kihle/Jon Larsen

After decades of failures and misunderstandings, scientists have solved a cosmic riddle — what happens to the tons of dust particles that hit the Earth every day but seldom if ever get discovered in the places that humans know best, like buildings and parking lots, sidewalks and park benches.

The answer? Nothing. Look harder. The tiny flecks are everywhere.

An international team found that rooftops and other cityscapes readily collect the extraterrestrial dust in ways that can ease its identification, contrary to science authorities who long pooh-poohed the idea as little more than an urban myth Continue reading

Model Mad, Icon

 

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A new anthology of the work of Harry Belafonte, pictured here in the nineteen-forties or fifties, reiterates his standing in American music. PHOTOGRAPH BY BETTMANN / GETTY

There was an editorial a few days ago that alerted us to the birthdays of two buddies, each on icon in his own right, who have 70 years of solidarity in the tough times, and best of times too. It also alerted us to the time since our last post with the model mad theme, so here is one more:

HARRY BELAFONTE AND THE SOCIAL POWER OF SONG

By Amanda Petrusich

Sixty-one years ago, in 1956, Harry Belafonte recorded a version of the Jamaican folk song “Day-O,” for his third studio album, “Calypso.” It opens with a distant and eager rumbling—as if something dark and hulking were approaching from a remote horizon. Belafonte—who was born in Harlem in 1927, but lived with his grandmother in a wooden house on stilts in Aboukir, a mountain village in Jamaica, for a good chunk of his childhood—bellows the title in a clipped island pitch. The instrumentation is spare and creeping. His voice bounces and echoes as it moves closer. It sounds like a call to prayer. Continue reading

Model Mad, Music

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In the face of Trump, many artists report feelings of paralysis. Should they carry on as before, nobly defying the ruination of public discourse? Or seize on a new mission, abandoning the illusion of aesthetic autonomy? PHOTOGRAPH BY ERICH AUERBACH/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY

Alex Ross asks the right question, in our view of the importance of finding a new model of behavior to reflect mad, with his opening question and the whole first paragraph prepares you for a worthy read:

MAKING ART IN A TIME OF RAGE

What is the point of making beautiful things, or of cherishing the beauty of the past, when ugliness runs rampant? Those who work in the realm of the arts have been asking themselves that question in recent weeks. Continue reading

Grrreat Print, Walton Ford

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We  studiously avoid wading into the realm of popular music here, but today we make an exception. Not for the sake of the music itself (the greatest hits of a band celebrating 50 years of working together), but because we have just discovered that one of our favorite artists, featured here more than once, was the cover artist for the album above. Yes, we see we are a few years behind the times on this story, but better late than never when it comes to Walton Ford:

Rolling Stones Gorilla Logo Artist Slams Critics

Walton Ford offering limited-edition etching of widely seen gorilla logo Continue reading

Bojangles & Belize & Chan Chich Lodge

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We knew Jerry Jeff Walker was one of the greats, but two things we did not know about him: he is the man who wrote the song Mr. Bojangles (no secret, we just did not know it) and he has considered Belize his second home for a very long time (again no secret, we just did not know it).  If you click the banner above you will see more details about the concert series, which sounds like a blast, coming up in a few weeks. But since it is sold out, we still suggest planning for a visit to Belize, in which case you should click the image below.

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Birdsong, Beauty & Beholder

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Thanks as always to Barbara King, who we link to from time to time on topics of simple, natural beauty:

What Do Birds Hear When They Sing Beautiful Songs?

Birdsong is music to human ears.

It has inspired famous composers. For the rest of us, it may uplift the spirit and improve attention or simply be a source of delight, fun and learning.

But have you ever wondered what birds themselves hear when they sing? Continue reading

New Directions In Art

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Flexn artists, photo by Sodium for MIF 2015

We had not heard of Flexn until this week, when they were mentioned in a podcast with the phenomenal Peter Sellars (alluded to once previously in these pages, and linked to another time directly). Now we want to know more. And it looks like one way to learn more will happen at The Shed. Back in August, when we first heard about The Shed, it was a quick glance at the future. Now we have more detail, thanks to this early release of a profile in next week’s New Yorker:

ALEX POOTS, PERFORMANCE ART IMPRESARIO

How will the director of New York’s ambitious experimental cultural center change the city?

By Calvin Tomkins

Every so often, it seems, visual artists are stricken by the urge to perform. The “happenings” movement in the nineteen-sixties—young painters and sculptors doing nonverbal theatre—was explained as a response to Pollock, de Kooning, and other gestural Abstract Expressionists: it was the gesture without the painting. Continue reading

Metropolis in Atlanta

 

Fritz Lang's 1927 film “Metropolis” ARCHIVES NEW ZEALAND

Fritz Lang’s 1927 film “Metropolis”
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In the wake of a U.S. election that left half the population bracing for a dystopian future, it seems a timely moment to present Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent classic, Metropolis. Considered the “father” of science fiction cinema, the film was meticulously restored in 2010.

But it’s the extra element of a live score composed and presented by the Alloy Orchestra that makes this screening an exceptional event. This unusual three man musical ensemble writes and performs live accompaniment to classic silent films using a combination of found percussion and state-of-the-art electronics to generate an amazingly varied array of musical styles.  Continue reading

I’ll Just Take The Banjo

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We have not mentioned the banjo much around here. Shame on that! I am fond of the instrument for some of the same reasons I am fond of, say, an arboretum. The banjo is an instrument akin to other instruments of entrepreneurial conservation: the more it gets played well, the more it keeps alive a tradition, and even can improve on the tradition. An arboretum, well conceived, well kept, helps species survive in isolation that might otherwise have been lost from the planet entirely.

I see a reference here and there, for example mention of the Seeger family, who I have loved for many reasons my whole life. And Bela Fleck is Exhibit A in the case to be made for the banjo entrepreneurship; Steve Martin and Edie Brickell could be said to support that case as well. They all would acknowledge Dr. Ralph Stanley as essential to their craft’s survival and thriving, so it is with that in mind that I highly recommend you listen to or read this brief interview with him:

…GROSS: How did you get your first banjo?

STANLEY: My first banjo? My mother’s sister, my aunt, lived about a mile from where we did, and she raised some hogs. And she had – her – the hog – the mother – they called the mother a sow – of a hog. And she had some pigs. Well, the pigs were real pretty, and I was going to high school and I was taking agriculture in school. And I sort of got a notion that I’d like to do that, raise some hogs. And so my aunt had this old banjo, and my mother told me, said, which do you want, the pig or a banjo? And each one of them’s $5 each. I said, I’ll just take the banjo…

Continue reading

Bernie Krause In Paris

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Several members of our circle have enjoyed reading about as well as listening to Mr. Krause since first learning about him. Whether or not you happen to be in Paris, this exhibit is worth a visit (click the image above for the low carbon footprint route)

The New York Times has this to say in a review:

PARIS — The bioacoustician and musician Bernie Krause has been recording soundscapes of the natural world since 1968, from coral reefs to elephant stamping grounds to the Amazonian rain forest.

Now, Mr. Krause’s recordings have become part of an immersive new exhibition at the Cartier Foundation here called “The Great Animal Orchestra.” Named after Mr. Krause’s 2012 book of the same title, the show opens on Saturday and runs through Jan. 8. Continue reading

Sea Sonata

Sometimes a moment of Zen is meant to be just that. In this case the ingenuity of the concept and the elegance of the execution increase the impact all the more. The sea creates random chords with this natural musical instrument as the waves push air through 35 tuned subterranean tubes set into the steps.

For a period of time some of of our team called Croatia home. This is definitely a Siren Call to return…

Musical Ecology

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Hopkinson Smith playing the German theorbo built for him by Joel van Lennep. Photograph by Philippe Gontier/Courtesy of Hopkinson Smith

When a musician of this talent dedicates his life to mastery of instruments that keep an old tradition alive, we take notice. When he describes  J.S. Bach as a recycler, we understand in a fresh context the value of this concept that we tend on these pages to relegate to the reduction of waste. Recycling is also about adaptation, evolution, improvement (thanks to Harvard Magazine):

HOPKINSON SMITH ’70 describes J.S. Bach as a musical ecologist. “He recycled so many of his own works,” Smith explains. “He never stopped trying to adapt what he’d written.” It was an accepted musical practice at the time, but one imagines the composer was driven at least in part by pragmatism: his posts in a number of German cities required him to produce new compositions at a fierce pace. Refashioning musical materials helped him keep up with those demands. “Even so,” Smith adds, “writing a cantata a week would not have been a manageable task for the rest of us mortals.” Continue reading

Intangible Heritage Worthy Of Conservation

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Who gets to decide what is worthy of conservation, and what is not? I am given reason to think about this on a regular basis, given the work that we have been doing for the last two decades. There is no one answer, of course, but I conclude regularly that it comes down to very deep personal experiences–those which lead individuals to alter the path of their lives and thereby have an impact on the conservation of something they have come to care deeply about. John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt and others come to mind on the larger scale of this line of thinking.

Reading one of our other blog posts today, I was taken back in time to pre-India workdays, 2008-2010. Milo, I had forgotten until just now, had a chance to wrestle firsthand with one of Patagonia’s most important conservation issues, and it is fair to say that what he is doing today is influenced by intense experiences he had in Patagonia, followed by a couple of years living with us in India. That would be an example of a smaller scale of this line of thinking. Same goes for the story I just read, and when I look at the photo above, and the one below, I am reminded that sometimes an image alone, or a series of images like these, can lead to this same path-changing epiphany.

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I have family in the vicinity of this story’s subjects, and am thinking just now that I have not made a visit to that family in too long; time to plan a visit? The thought is now lodged deeply in my thinking.
Continue reading

Putting All That Gee Whiz Technology And Creative Knowhow To Much Better Use

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Two scenes from a virtual-reality “ride” that takes viewers into the realm of whales, fish and sonic and plastic pollution. Credit Dell

One of our favorite sources of “green news” in the early days of this blog five years ago, Mr. Revkin reappears every now and then with something really cool:

To Cut Ocean Trash, Adrian Grenier and Dell Enlist Filmmakers and Virtual Reality

Continue reading

Visualize Pi (and Happy Birthday Albert!)

Both a transcendental and an irrational number, Pi (π) is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. And both in definition and actuality it epitomizes coolness, inspiring musical homages, from rap to fugue. Albert Einstein, master of the time-space continuum, was born on this day. Makes sense, right?

But what about visual inspiration?

Artist Ellie Balk collaborates with students from The Green School in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn to combine mathematics and art to VISUALIZE Pi as murals in their community. 

Starting in 2011 the artist/student/educator teams graphed Pi in colorful, creative and innovative ways: a histogram of emotions; a weather mural, a reflective line graph that resembles a sound wave and the relationship between the golden ratio and Pi.

For example:

In 2012, students constructed an image of the golden spiral based on the Fibonacci Sequence and began to explore the relationship between the golden ratio and Pi. The number Pi was represented in a color-coded graph within the golden spiral. In this, the numbers are seen as color blocks that vary in size proportionately within the shrinking space of the spiral, allowing us to visualize the shape of Pi and its negative space to look for “patterns”.  The students soon realized that the irrational number of Pi created no patterns at all, resulting in a space that resembles “noise”. 

In response to that, in 2013 students worked to visualize the number Pi as a reflective line graph that resembles a sound wave. The colors of the mural change at each prime number in Pi so that the viewer can visualize a pattern of prime numbers within Pi. Located on a busy corner in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the sounds of the bustling traffic and rhythmic commuter passing creates the perfect backdrop for our visualization.   Continue reading

More On Wintergatan

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When we recently posted on this newfangled musical contraption we could not find any further information about it. Lo and behold, after a drought sometimes when it rains it pours. Today, National Public Radio (USA) has this:

The “Marble Machine” is a musical instrument by way of a Rube Goldberg contraption, the love child of a barrel organ, a kick drum, a vibraphone and a bass — all powered by hand-cranked gears and 2,000 steel marbles.

The machine was built by Swedish musician Martin Molin, who fronts the Swedish band Wintergartan… Continue reading