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Posts Tagged ‘music’


Photo: SoundCloud
With his unconventional collaborations, classically trained cellist Seth Parker Woods draws new audiences to the arts.

I’m always interested in people who see the world in unconventional ways and take their talents down unconventional byways.

The July issue of Strings Magazine provides an example of one such path-breaker, cellist Seth Parker Woods.

Thomas May writes, “For Texas-born cellist Seth Parker Woods, pushing boundaries and definitions comes naturally — both for his own creative development and for his overall sense of mission.

“ ‘I’m trying to change the face and the landscape in which music can be experienced, regardless of class or ethnicity or background,’ Parker Woods says. …

“Parker Woods refuses to let his identity as a cellist be restricted by conventional perceptions of what a classical string player does. Which is why, even at this still-early stage of his career, he’s already been leaving his imprint on a fascinating variety of collaborations across disciplines.

“An increasingly frequent and welcome presence among new-music circles, Parker Woods also draws audiences from the spheres of dance and innovative visual arts. And while the cello is at the center of his creative work, it shares space with his ongoing explorations of kinesthetics and the body, choreography, electronic music, visual art, and theatrical performance. …

“ICED BODIES is Parker Woods’ contemporary reframing of a legendary avant-garde collaboration from 1972 between the maverick designer Jim McWilliams and the late cellist and performance artist Charlotte Moorman. The original version was a durational ‘happening’ … that involved Moorman using a saw and other tools to play a cello sculpted from ice as it melted. …

“Parker Woods [headed] to London’s Royal Albert Hall to perform with the Chineke! Orchestra for its debut at the BBC Proms on August 30. He’s one of the founding cellists of this ensemble, which was created to address the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities among Europe’s professional orchestras. …

“ ‘My upbringing is in classical, and that’s still a major part of my career. But I feel that we as performers have to usher in the music of now and be advocates for it,’ Parker Woods says. …

“As a boy in his native Houston, where he was born in 1984, Parker Woods recalls falling in love with the sound of the cello when he saw the film The Witches of Eastwick. In one over-the-top scene of this comedy-fantasy, based on a John Updike story, Susan Sarandon plays the instrument with Jack Nicholson at the piano until her cello bursts into flames.

“Parker Woods started lessons at age five or six. ‘My father was a gospel and jazz singer, and had a band that would rehearse in our basement studio. My earliest musical experiences came from listening to them rehearse when I was a toddler.’ …

“A connection to opera, ballet, and film composer Patrick Soluri opened the door to Europe, which has remained a major focus of Parker Woods’ career as a performer and scholar. Through Soluri, he was engaged to perform in the Berlin Staatsballett orchestra. He later worked with the contemporary choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and P.A.R.T.S., the dance academy of her company Rosas. A residency at the Centre Intermondes in La Rochelle, France, led to several more collaborations.”

“ ‘I just kept breaking all the rules,’ says Parker Woods.”

Read more here.

Hat Tip: ArtsJournal.

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Photo: The Victoria and Albert Museum
A notation knife that has music carved into each side of the blade. Italy, c. 1550.

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Photo: Alan Berner/The Seattle Times
Neurologist and musician Thomas Deuel, wearing a wired-up electrode cap, is researching brain activity in musicians and developing the encephalophone for people with limited motor ability so they can play by thinking.

Imagine being able to play music just by thinking about it! That day is coming, according to Brendan Kiley at the Seattle Times.

He writes, “In April of 2016, Seattle choir director and fifth-grade teacher Margaret Haney checked into the emergency room with an unusual problem — suddenly, she couldn’t sing.

“Haney had been in the classroom, trying to lead her students through George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ when, as she put it, ‘I failed miserably, like I never have.’ …

“The physicians ordered some brain scans and discovered she was suffering from ‘amusia’ — the inability to make music — due to a viral encephalitis infection in one section of her brain.

“After the tests, she was referred to Dr. Thomas Deuel, a Swedish neurologist who plays trumpet and guitar, studied musical composition and molecular biology at Princeton University, and then jazz at New England Conservatory in Boston. …

“Deuel had been working with DXARTS, a University of Washington program that incubates collaborations between scientists and artists. DXARTS was launched in 2001, with an emphasis on projects that boldly crisscross borders: video, performance, music, virtual reality, robotics and all-around tech-art hacking.

“Lately, Deuel had advised DXARTS on building a lab, with state-of-the-art technology to study the relationship between neurology and art (particularly music), and explore deep connections between the body and the brain. Deuel had also teamed up with UW-based physicist Felix Darvas on a neuro-musical invention: the encephalophone (pronounced ‘en-sef-ah-lo-fone’), an instrument you can play simply by thinking. …

“To play the encephalophone, a musician wears an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap fitted with electrodes that read brain waves and transmit them to a synthesizer. The EEG caps looks like a beanie without the propeller but protrudes a cluster of wires hooked up to amplifiers and computers. The instrument is a kind of ‘brain-computer interface,’ and sounds like an electric piano, electric strings, or whatever other kind of music the connected synthesizer can produce. …

“[DXARTS co-founder Juan] Pampin hopes the encephalophone will be developed enough to host a public concert of ‘brain performers’ by late 2018. …

“And Margaret Haney? Doctors … treated her with antiviral medication to halt the spread of the infection — and the instrument helped relieve her amusia.

“[Deuel says] learning to play the encephalophone ‘helped her make pitch. We weren’t able to completely cure her, but she was able to get back to singing again. We can’t prove that we’ve done a lot with just one patient, but it was a promising start.’ ”

More here.

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Composer Tod Machover never stops experimenting. He’s known for music that combines his electronic inventions with traditional instruments, he records street sounds to capture the ambiance of cities, and he works continuously to engage regular folks in the process of creation.

Linda Poon writes at CityLab, “It’s easy to disregard the hum of a city — the incessant honking or indistinct chattering — or to cast it off as noise pollution. … To the likes of Tod Machover, a composer who combines music with technology at the MIT Media Lab, these sounds are what makes a city sing.

“Machover has turned the sounds of Toronto and Edinburgh into symphonies that reflect the characters of each city. His first piece for an American city, Symphony in D, invited Detroiters in 2015 to contribute over 15,000 sounds unique to the city—drumming from the streets, sounds from factories, and spoken words by local poets—that were combined with instruments played by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

‘Like so many things in our culture, there’s a growing gap between experts and ordinary people, and I thought music is such a great laboratory to show how things can be different,’ says Machover.

” ‘So I wanted the project to be a representation of connecting people—no matter what their background was in music—as equals.’

“His latest project, called Project 305 and funded by the Knight Foundation, takes him to Miami, where he’s teamed up with the city’s New World Symphony [NWS] academy to create an audio and visual masterpiece. He’s helping lead community tours to collect sounds and videos, and working with schools to teach students how to do the same. …

“Typical urban noise, like the revving of a car engine, the ringing of a bicycle bell, or the pitter-patter of pedestrian footsteps, can be found in virtually any city. So how do you make an audio portrait feel particular to the town it’s supposed to reflect?

“Sometimes, it’s about incorporating the sounds that reflect a city’s history. Detroit, for example, was famously dubbed the Motor City for being the heart of America’s auto manufacturing industry. So Machover asked the community to send in recordings of different car engines, which he merged with Motown riffs, in homage to the city’s music scene. …

“NWS is also gathering clips of human chatter, a way of capturing the diasporas within Miami. The city is often called the capital of Latin America with immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, and other Spanish-speaking countries making up the majority of the population. Spanish has become a dominant language, but ‘you hear the same words inflected with all kinds of different accents,’ says Machover.

“When all is done, the entire performance won’t be confined to the halls of the academy. Instead, it will also be projected onto the facade of the building and simultaneously broadcast in different neighborhoods throughout Miami.” More here.

I have attended two of Machover’s operas. I thought the one based on a story by Tolstoy was lovely, although the one written with former poet laureate Robert Pinsky didn’t work for me. Something about an inventor seeking immortality by entering his electronic system after death.

Photo: Bowers & Wilkins
Endlessly inventive composer Tod Machover is incorporating sounds of the city in his new music.

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A recent post at Asakiyume’s blog reminded me of Young at Heart, the senior-citizen chorus that inspired a movie I recommended to readers in 2011.

Asakiyume wrote, “One of the women I work with at the jail is in the choir there. I got permission to go in for the performance. The jail choir group is called the Majestics, and they’ve been mentored by a senior-citizen choir called Young at Heart, all of whom were wearing T-shirts that said ‘We put the “zen” in “senior citizen.'”

“Young at Heart performed as the opening act … Then the Majestics took the stage. There were six women, and they covered a great age range (three in their twenties, two in their thirties-forties, and one who was even older than me) and ethnically diverse (two Black, one Hispanic, three White). They sang well-known songs with lots of different flavors (hip-hop, pop, blues, soul), and all the choir members were featured at least once … The entire thing was a huge success; the audience was **so** supportive. …

“At the end the programs director called for an encore, and there hadn’t been a song laid by for that, but the Young At Heart choir sang “Forever Young” … Each time someone sang a solo, he or she linked arms with one of the members of the Majestics and brought them forward, and I could see tears in my student’s eyes and I had tears in mine, because–as the chaplain who was present pointed out–that song is a benediction, and it was so great to hear those words of blessing and hope and expectation directed at the audience in the jail:

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
And may you stay
Forever young”

-@-

So lovely. Such songs take on extra meaning when sung by seniors or by people who feel hopeless.

The Young at Heart movie, which I still hope you’ll see, was also full of resonance. And it exposed me to popular music like Coldplay’s “I will try to fix you.” Whenever that song comes on the radio, I see in my mind’s eye the old guy with the oxygen tank who drew tears from his audiences. He is surely gone now, but not that memory.

That the chorus has gone beyond inspiring seniors and their families to inspiring prisoners who have little to make them feel positive or hopeful — well, it’s just too amazing.

More at Asakiyume’s blog, here.

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Photo: Ronald van der Meijs
In January, this candle organ was on exhibit in the Netherlands. 

You may recall my January 2014 post about zebra finches playing instruments at a museum (here) and a December 2016 post on Croatia’s sea organ (here). The sea organ harnessed the tides to push water through narrow passages leading to organ pipes under marble stairs.

How many ways there are to make music! So much need for music!

Today’s post is about an artist who created a candle pipe organ. Lauren Young at Atlas Obscura explains.

“There’s a curious low industrial hum emanating from what used to be a fish market built in 1769. At De Vishal gallery in Haarlem, Netherlands, a large nine-pipe organ operated by burning candles purrs a continuous concert.

“In the video, Dutch artist Ronald van der Meijs shows his elaborate musical mechanism. Inspired by the Muller Organ housed at Grote Kerk church next to the gallery, the series of pipes looks like a massive artillery weapon connected to wooden beam air ducts. The intricate system requires careful maintenance — van der Meijs changes out the candles multiple times a day as they burn.

“For the pipe organ, ‘the candles are the musicians,’ van der Meijs explains. The candles vary in size. As the wax melts, the pitch of each pipe shifts slowly and irregularly. The shortening of the candles causes a vertical movement in each mechanism, pulling a wheel connected to a brass valve at the front end of each pipe. Opening the valves allows for different toned pitches.” More.

The mechanical kookiness makes me smile and reminds me of Rube-Goldberg-esque egg-breaking machines I have known. (See this February 2013 post.)

 

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Photo: Señor Codo/Flickr
Mariachi singer in Chicago, 2006.

Oh, the Internet! Last night, my husband was able to track down a ton of information on a 19th Century Norwegian church in the town where we have lived for 35 years that no one ever mentioned to us. For all the scary things the Internet is responsible for, who could do without it today? There are so many great links we share with one another.

How else would I have learned, for example, that Mariachi bands were extremely popular in the former Yugoslavia. Mexican Mariachi? Crazy.

Jonny Wrate at the website Roads and Kingdoms has a report.

“Marina de Ita had dreamed of travelling Europe for years. Her band, Polka Madre, was heavily influenced by Balkan and Roma folk music and, back in the late nineties in Mexico City, she’d fallen in love with the music of Goran Bregović.

‘ ‘I used to have parties in a clandestine bar in my house in 1998 and people went crazy for those tunes,’ she says. ‘It came as a relief for many of us who were tired of rock and the music offered by Western countries.’

“In 2015, her band was invited to play at the International Circus Festival in Mardin, Turkey, and de Ita seized the chance for a quick trip to the region she’d long wished to visit.

“Once she arrived in Belgrade, she decided to make some money busking. ‘At first, I played some Finnish polkas and some from our Balkan-influenced repertoire, but nobody paid much attention,’ she says. ‘They just threw a few coins.’

“Yet when she played ‘Bésame Mucho,’ a seventy-year-old Mexican bolero, a small crowd gathered around her. Some sang along. ‘An old man became very emotional and even shed a few tears,’ de Ita says.

“The warm reception took her by surprise, but half a century ago, such songs dominated Yugoslav airwaves. As a Croatian friend’s mother recalls, ‘It was always Mexican songs and Bollywood films.’ …

“Explore the many shelves in Belgrade’s Yugovinyl store today and you can quickly amass a pile of ‘Yu-Mex’ records. The faded photographs on their sleeves depict men with names like Ljubomir Milić and Đorđe Masalović, proudly wearing sombreros and glittering charro suits. On the turntable, these records sound straight out of Guadalajara, except that the lyrics are in Serbo-Croat. For the Mexicans that ruled the radios here were, in fact, Yugoslav.”

More at Roads and Kingdoms.

I do love this kind of unexpected cultural cross-fertilization. Who knew?

 

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