Monthly Archives: December 2005

A musical challenge for the New Year

Diamanda Galas (that’s gaLAS) is one scary woman, fierce and uncompromising in her approach to music and her choice of material. Her stuff is emphatically not easy-listenin’, and it’s difficult to know where to start when introducing her to people who’ve never heard her. But consider two brief outtakes from a 2004 radio interview (from Hellenic Public Radio, but no longer available in their online archive) as a jumping-off place: gales of laughter (0:26) and on blues and rembetika (1:54).

Now, if you dare, try something from La Serpenta Canta. And, if you survive the intensity of that, move on to Defixiones, Will and Testament, which is “dedicated to the forgotten and erased of the Armenian, Assyrian, and Anatolian Greek genocides which occurred between 1914 and 1923…”

Whew. But for my money, she’s an amazing musician.

Some golden moments

Here’s a guitar-mandocello improv, recorded in 2004. It’s about 5:15 and 10MB or so, and has some very nice moments. The astonishing and always-fluent guitar is Daniel Heïkalo, and the occasionally-coherent mandocello is me. This is straight from the digital recording –no EQ, no fancy tricks with mix or mastering, just as Daniel’s skills and equipment caught the passing moments.

Menard is right on

In an article on literary prizes in the latest New Yorker, Louis Menard offers a bit of lambent prose that skewers a number of hypocrisies at once:

[James] English [author of The Economy of Prestige] interprets the rise of the prize as part of the “struggle for power to produce value, which means power to confer value on that which does not intrinsically possess it.” In an information, or “symbolic,” economy, in other words, the goods themselves are physically worthless: they are mere print on a page or code on a disk. What makes them valuable is the recognition that they are valuable. This recognition is not automatic and intuitive; it has to be constructed. A work of art has to circulate through a sub-economy of exchange operated by a large and growing class of middlemen: publishers, curators, producers, publicists, philanthropists, foundation officers, critics, professors, and so on. The prize system, with its own cadre of career administrators and judges, is one of the ways in which value gets “added on” to a work. Of course, we like to think that the recognition of artistic excellence is intuitive. We don’t like to think of cultural value as something that requires middlemen —people who are not artists themselves— in order to emerge. We prefer to believe that truly good literature or music or film announces itself. Which is another reason that we need prizes: so that we can insist that we don’t really need them.

Other peoples’ musics

I’m a lifelong sucker for the obscure and peculiar, and an undying fan of 3 Mustaphas 3 and other Royalty of the Bogus. Doug Schulkind at WFMU has delivered this,

as an end-of-year treat:
a suite of 20 mp3s that, taken together, blast the notion of ‘genre’ into smithereens. And I thought I had a good collection of the bizarre… Resolve to add Doug’s Give the Drummer Some (“The finest in Micronesian doo-wop, Appalachian mambo, Turkish mariachi, Pygmy yodelling of Baltimore, Portuguese juju, Cajun gamelan, tuba choirs from Mozambique, Inuit marching bands, Filipino free jazz, Egyptian kabuki theater, and throat singers of the Lower East Side”) to my stable of weekly musts. Many of the shows are archived, too.

Bolivian interlude

In honor of Evo Morales’ victory in Bolivia, I’ve excavated a trove of Bolivian music.

35 years or so ago (in the very early 1970s) our friends Kent and Shel Anderson spent a couple of years in Cochabamba, where Shel did fieldwork on market systems. They brought back a small collection of 7-inch 33 1/3 records of music that was being played on the radio in Cochabamba at that time, and the records stayed with me when they left Nova Scotia in 1973. I puzzle over them every few years –the music is raw and amateurish in its production values, and completely unapologetic for being utterly Bolivian. I don’t have enough of the cultural context to appreciate the documentary significance of these records in Bolivian cultural terms, so for me they’re just a snapshot of another reality. I can’t imagine that there’s any harm in digitizing and distributing them in 2005.

Emiliana Velazco should certainly be better known for her absolutely unique vocal style (or maybe it’s not unique, and everybody in Valle Hermoso sings that way…). You can’t quite believe she’s going to keep doing that for six minutes… and then you turn the record over, and find that she has another six minutes in her…

Santa Veracruz (tonada) 6 min, 11MB and Coplas de Todos Santos 6 min, 11MB

Extracting gems from vinyl

I finally got around to unpacking and shelving 30-odd boxes of 33 1/3 records, which have been seasoning in the barn since July. It’s delightful to revisit old favorites that I haven’t played in years, and today I rigged the wherewithal to extract sound to other media, via my Mackie mixer, an M-Audio USB preamp, and Sound Forge. I’m sure there are better ways to do this, and to do it better, but I was able to realize the scheme I awoke to find myself scheming this morning: recording a favorite bit from the Holy Modal Rounders version of “Hot Corn Cold Corn”: bupm bupm bupm de bupm bupm de bupm (ca. 1965, from The Holy Modal Rounders 2, Prestige 7410:B2).

This is really just another sort of quotation, and there must be a few thousand favorite bits that I’d love to share. How to regularize that, so as not to venture beyond Fair Use?

And for Proof of Concept, here’s an imperfect version of Moving Day, made by plugging the Ovation mandocello into the Mackie. I’ll make better versions eventually.

Dusting off quotations

I’ve kept a Commonplace of favorite bits for many years, mixing stuff in many different registers and various media. There’s a shoebox with 5 x 8 cards and less uniform scraps of paper (the oldest from, oh, 40-odd years ago), entries in various journals, a Web 1.0 gatheration… and I feel the thumbs itching to create something more 2.x in nature and style, but I haven’t quite divined its outlines. This one, from Alice in Wonderland, bubbled to the top this morning:

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …so long as I get somewhere.
The Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

Seems that such bits should be tagged for easier retrieval, or maybe assembled into a complex topography of time and subject… Any thoughts out there about novel ways to proceed?