Recently in Music News - Criticism Category

Scandal has a half-life that’s all too brief. Take Madonna for instance.

Her “Like a Prayer” video was hugely controversial. Religious ecstasy mixed with interracial schtupping led to Pepsi’s pulling out of sponsoring Ms. Ciccone’s global tour.

Then came forays into transgendered S&M. MTV wouldn’t commit to Madonna’s “Justify My Love.” But what’s a few riding crops, silver chains, and black masks compared to the trashy delights of Rock of Love? Or the raw splendor that is YouTube?

Right. And the Scandal-O-Meter amounts to a whopping … meh.

After French kissing Britney Spears was met with yawns, Madonna knew the end had come. Time to meditate, adopt children, and by the way, from now on, just call me Esther.

Like the Material Girl, Gustave Charpentier’s opera Louise had its share of scandal, too. But time hasn’t been kind.

After all, the plot centers on Louise, the daughter of traditional working-class parents, who falls in love with the boy next door, and they venture off for bohemian Paris to live a life of free love.

Shocking? Yes. Once upon a time. Now? About as titillating as Sisqó’s “Thong Song.”

Whole story …

June 5, 2009 3:55 PM | | Comments (0)
There's a pretty thorny mess sprouting in Montana these days, concerning the way the state expects venue managers and promoters to deal with musicians and other performers. Some say the issue could literally shut down live music and other types of performing arts across the state, if not rectified. You can read about it here
March 27, 2009 12:56 PM | | Comments (0)
On Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of reviewing "Avenue Q" at Madison's Overture Center for the Arts.  It was a lot of fun and I was pleased to see that the house looked quite full, especially with younger audience members.  But, as well all know in this lousy economy, many things are not so rosy.  The Overture Center is dealing with financial difficulties precipitated in no small part by the stock market's gyrations, and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra's musicians are in a labor dispute with management.  (The WCO is one of several resident arts groups that use the Overture Center facility.)  While this has been going on for a while, I was reminded of it anew by the musicians picketing outside the arts complex Tuesday evening.

Performances have already been missed, and the WCO's upcoming Halloween concert has also been canceled.  Since I generally don't write about classical music, I don't have any particular commentary to add to what's already been written; I'm blogging this simply to bring it to the attention of ArtsJournal readers.  So, to that end, here are some links if you're interested:

"WCO musicians and management engage in bitter public battle," Wisconsin State Journal, 10/23/08

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra official site (with statements from management)

WCO musicians' blog, with commentary on the strike
October 23, 2008 1:03 PM | | Comments (0)

52157girltalkalbum.jpg

06-no-pause.mp3

07-like-this.mp3

I love it when artists do something that, merely by an accident of fate, suddenly brings to focus a contemporary issue hanging in the ether but that thus far has not been dealt with.

That’s the case with a “musician” named DJ Girl Talk.

He’s covered in the New York Times a while back, because of his allegiance with the “pay what you want” movement and because of his recent coup, as a headliner of a big music festival in New Jersey last month.

He’s also a lightening rod in the raging copyright debate.

You see, Girl Talk (his real name is Gregg Gillis) doesn’t write his own songs. He doesn’t even play an instrument (as far as I can tell). He merely stitches together bits and pieces of other people’s music.

His craft follows the tradition of pastiche artists of the mid-20th century and the early pioneers of hip-hop. But his aren’t deep cuts, nor are they rearrangements of popular songs. He finds likenesses among them, syncing beats with melodies. The result is some pretty killer tracks that he’s asking fans to pay for.

His new CD is called Feed the Animals. It was released on a label called, um, illegalart.net.

Some say what he’s doing is illegal, but Gillis claims protection under the “fair use” clause of U.S. copyright law, which allows snippets of intellectual property to be reproduced without penalty.

Others say Gillis’ opponents — i.e., music industry VPs already scared to death by BitTorrent and LimeWire — are part of the overall problem with copyright law.

“Fair use,” according to the Times piece, articulating the position of progressive legal scholars, “has become important to the thinking of [what is sometimes called] the “copyleft,” who argue that copyright law has grown so restrictive that it impedes creativity [italics mine].

What the article doesn’t address (not that it should have) is something beyond law. It’s an issue raised back in the early 1990s by a composer named John Oswald (see this profile from Wired).

Oswald is the creator of series of aural experiments generally called Plunderphonics. They are in the same spirit as Gillis Feed the Animals, but on a higher level of art and intellectual rigor.

Best-known in this series is probably 1993’s Plexure. It squeezes and mashes together thousands — yes, thousands — of artists from 1982-1992, the beginning of the digital era, into an 18-minute disc that was the musical equivalent of compressing a lump of coal for millennia until you have a rough diamond.

jackolantern.jpgOswald, in an essay titled “Plunderstanding Ecophonomics: Strategies for the Transformation of Existing Music,” appearing in the 2000 book Arcana: Musicians on Music, edited John Zorn, makes the following case.

Most of pop music unoriginal and lacking in value that to even cite each and every source in Plexure, and Oswald’s other works, would be giving more credence than the original works are due. (Oswald is keen on creating visual reflections of his music, as you can see to the left with “Jackoscan,” the subject of the Wired profile linked above)

The end, he said, resulted in something wholly original, “a radical transformation of familiar music,” while making a political and artistic comment on the “original” sources — that they weren’t all that important, more of the same really, derivatives of each other.

You may as well mix and match all their names. They’re that distinct from each other.

(In fact, Oswald does that here. Some examples: “Marianne Faith No Morrisey,” “Blondie Sabbath,” “Ozzie Osmond,” “Cheap Pixie Peppers,” “Beastie Shop Beach,” “Lynyrd Lovett,” “Cream Styx,” “Jello Bellafonte,” “Milli Fudge,” and “Ozzy Loaf”).

I tend to feel that most pop music is indeed just filler. With the ascent of single-song downloading, we are certainly more conscious of the fact that most albums, historically speaking, have been samey. Crap, even.

Even with good songs, there are only small portions within that provide that pop of emotion, that snap to hook you. That’s why they’re hooks.

I listened to DJ Girl Talk’s new “music” and I discovered he was doing something similar to what Oswald does, using all the good stuff of very popular songs, everything from R&B to rock to thrash metal to hip-hop.

Eventually, I had to wonder: Perhaps this is better than the originals.

Gillis is taking the best and leaving the rest. Perhaps that’s illegal, but it’s far more interesting.

Charleston City Paper

September 1, 2008 11:21 AM | | Comments (1)

Amid this slow death of monoculture, you’d think there wouldn’t be any one song that everybody — I mean, everybody — would be blasting out the back of their furiously pimped-out rides. No, in the age of iTunes, Rhapsody, and BitTorrent, the long hot summer is no longer overshadowed by that one, catchy, sunny pop song.

Here’s a test: Go ahead and name one song this summer that’s as powerful, invectious, and disposable as “Macarena.” Even last summer had a ubiquitous hook (Rihanna’s “Umbrella”) that everyone was humming, even if they didn’t know what it was or where it came from. The summer before that was accompanied by the cool soul of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”

The New York Times sent critic Andrew Kuo to find 2008’s Song of Summer, but didn’t find what you’d expect. Of the eight tunes he heard most frequently blaring out of apartment windows, car stereos, and iPods (among them Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” and Young Jeezy and Kanye West’s “Put On”), the best one is a doing-the-dozens-like trash-talker from HotStylz, a Chicago hip-hop collective. The tune “Lookin’ Boy” is, Kuo writes, “Good enough to hop out of bed and jam out to when a car drives by booming this at 4 a.m.!”

So here it is, the 2008 Song of the Summer.

lookin-boy-hotstylz-ft-yung-joc.mp3

Charleston City Paper

September 1, 2008 11:18 AM | | Comments (0)

A Harvard researcher developed a computer program that translates the genes of cancerous cells into music. What does it sound like? Well, Karl Stockhausen might like it, especially if they’re malignant. The scientist, Gil Alterovitz, designed the program to play consonant sounds (that is, they sound good) when cells are healthy and to play dissonant sounds (they sound bad) when they are not. Here’s what it sounds like. At the end of the article, note a local DJ wants to use the music.

Click here to listen to the article from MIT’s Technology Review.

August 18, 2008 6:46 PM | | Comments (0)

This is from James Surowiecki, who writes the “Financial Page” for The New Yorker. This week, he writes about something called “the gridlock economy” — when there’s so much ownership of various parts of an industry that laws protecting innovation and investment actually end up stifling both. We’re seeing this happening right now in the fields of technology, science, and culture.

This cropped up last week when a musician named DJ Girl Talk continued to challenge copyright law by stringing together a huge assortment of pop songs and then charging people for the CD. He’s claiming protection under the “fair use” clause of copyright law, but some legal experts challenge that claim.

From The New Yorker: The point isn’t that private property is a bad thing, or that the state should be able to run roughshod over the rights of individual owners. Property rights (including patents) are essential to economic growth, providing incentives to innovate and invest. But property rights need to be limited to be effective. The more we divide common resources like science and culture into small, fenced-off lots, Heller shows, the more difficult we make it for people to do business and to build something new. Innovation, investment, and growth end up being stifled. Opportunities forgone aren’t always easy to see. The effects of overuse are generally unmistakable—you can’t miss the empty nets of fishing boats working overfished oceans, or the scrub that covers an overgrazed field. But the effects of underuse created by too much ownership are often invisible. They’re mainly things that don’t happen: inventions that don’t get made, useful drugs that never get to market.
August 17, 2008 1:35 PM | | Comments (1)

Just like the banking sector, the music industry wants it both ways.

A free marketplace is fine unless we get into trouble — millions and millions of dollars lost on bad mortgages or millions and millions lost on illicit downloading.

The Feds should back off until we’ve fucked ourselves. In that case, we’re all for government regulation — a bail-out from the Federal Reserve for all the Wall Street goons, Congressional legislation putting the hammer down on college kids.

There’s this …

Congress Passes Law To Prevent Piracy On Campus “Congress this week passed a law to help curb piracy on college campuses. The Higher Education Opportunity Act, passed Wednesday by the House and Thursday by the Senate, promotes education, legal alternatives, and improved monitoring of campus networks. If signed into law by President George W. Bush, the bipartisan bill would require publicly funded universities and colleges to teach students and employees about illegal downloading, distribution of copyrighted materials, and related campus policies. The bill also requires universities and colleges to create plans to prevent piracy by using technology and to present legal alternatives. The bill would provide grants to support those efforts.” InformationWeek, 8/1/2008

And then there’s this …

Music industry ‘should embrace illegal websites’ “The music industry should embrace illegal file-sharing websites, according to a study of Radiohead’s last album release that found huge numbers of people downloaded it illegally even though the band allowed fans to pay little or nothing for it… . The study by the MCPS-PRS Alliance, which represents music rights holders, and Big Champagne, an online media measurement company, found that legal downloads were far exceeded by illegal torrent downloads of the album.” Financial Times, 8/3/2008
August 11, 2008 6:04 PM | | Comments (0)

Tossing old CDs, DVDs, jewel cases may be bad for environment Downloading is better for the environment: CDs, DVDs and jewel cases are “difficult-to-recycle materials [that] can pollute groundwater and, in turn, contribute to a whole host of human health problems. But the low cost of producing such top-selling consumer items means that replacing them with something greener is not likely anytime soon… . According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, digital sales now account for some 30 percent of all U.S. music sales and 15 percent globally. And most consumer analysts expect these percentages to grow steadily in the coming years, which is good news for the environment.” Arizona Republic, 8/1/2008

Cross-posted at Charleston City Paper

August 11, 2008 6:02 PM | | Comments (1)

It’s hard to believe but the Metropolitan Opera’s efforts to expand the profile of opera seems to be working. I’m kidding about the hard to believe thing, but not the results of two years of broadcasting high-definition signals of live Met performances into movie theaters around the country.

According to a new study by Opera America and National CineMedia, more than 920,000 people paid to see the special Saturday afternoon broadcasts in the 2007-2008 season. That’s more people than those who went to New York to see the opera firsthand. In one season alone, eight live broadcasts grossed $13.3 million in domestic theaters and $5 million overseas.

For a long time, people said that the problem with opera and classical music was that they were opera and classical music. They’d never gain wide acceptance the way that popular music has, because they are inherently exclusive — they require specialized knowledge beforehand to get any kind of enjoyment out of them. Solution? Crossover appeal. Dumb down the music to hit the coveted middle market.

With $18.3 million in gross revenue, it’s pretty clear that the product isn’t the problem. Distribution was the problem. That’s what critics like The New Yorker’s Alex Ross have been saying for some time now. With this new means of getting the art into people’s live, the whole elite versus the masses paradigm falls apart. Another way of putting it, the whole niche market versus mass market paradigm falls apart. Why bother aiming to that coveted middle market when you can aim more precisely — getting the product to people who really want it, whether they are in Hollywood, Calif., or Hollywood, S.C.

When we look back at entertainment innovations of the 2000s, we’ll remember that it was opera that blazed the trail. Already big movie companies are looking at what the Met has done and saying they want a piece of that action. Why? People aren’t coming to movie theaters like they used to. Bad movies, stellar home entertainment, and pristine digital products make going to the movies seem like a hassle. So movie studios and theater companies are trying to find way of getting you back.

Regal’s NCM Fathom has been offering special one- or two-night-only broadcasts of anime, sports event, and even the original Rambo lately. These were at the Regal Charles Towne Square 18. Sony Pictures launched last month a division called Hot Ticket, which will offer a live broadcast of Rent when it ends its 12-year run on Broadway. You can expect these to hit Charleston in the fall.

August 1, 2008 12:43 PM | | Comments (3)

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