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Archive for the 'Music' Category

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Quadrophenia: Album, Movie, and Now, Book!

Quadrophenia, Stephen GlynnThe newest entry in the Cultographies series is Quadrophenia by Stephen Glynn. The 1979 film is, of course, based on the Who’s concept album Quadrophenia (1973) and tells the story of young mod Jimmy Cooper and the 1964 clash between Mods and Rockers in Brighton.

In Quadrophenia, Glynn argues that the “Modyssey” depicted in the book opens the hermetic subculture of the Mods to its social-realist context and dares to explore cult dangers. To help in understanding the particularities of Mod culture, Glynn’s book offers a very helpful glossary of essential Mod terms. Here are some selections and we’ve also included the trailer for the film:

Aggro: aggression: a common manifestation of the Mod mood.

Blues: small blue amphetamine pills aka French Blues.

Bovril: a hot and salty meat extract drink.

parka: the Mod coat of choice—notably the M51 fish-tail parka (named after its initial US army distribution), longer at the back with an integral hood.

Pie and Mash: a traditional London working-class meal, normally a minced beef pie served with mashed potato and an eel liquor sauce, aka “liquor”

Toff: a derogatory slang term for a member of the upper classes.

Vespa: Italian-made two stroke engine motor scooter. The Ace Face’s scooter of choice.

Here’s the trailer:

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Pete Seeger and the Hudson River

Pete Seeger

The recent death of Pete Seeger has produced not only an outpouring of tributes for his contributions to American music but also to his work in helping to clean and preserve the Hudson River. In the following passage from The Hudson: America’s River, Frances Dunwell recounts the beginnings of Seeger’s environmental activism and the role these efforts played in the creation of the first Clean Water Act:

This was not the end of the problems on the Hudson, however. Though Rockefel­ler had secured passage of a bond act to clean up the state’s rivers, it took time for sewage treatment plants to be built. The Hudson’s waters were still a “torrent of filth.” A few summers after the 1965 Pure Waters Bond Act passed, state biologists found zero oxygen in the Hudson around Albany and no living fish.

Folksinger Pete Seeger, in Beacon, New York, was one of those who decided this should change….

In 1969, Seeger proposed to a friend that they get a few hundred families together to build a replica of a Hudson River sloop. At first, it was to be just a boat for sailing, a loving tribute to the sleek and beautiful ships that crowded the Hudson during the age of sail. As Seeger later recounted: “It really seemed a frivolous idea. The world was full of agony; the Vietnam War was heating up. Money was needed for all sorts of life and death matters, and here we were raising money to build a sailboat.” However, the idea soon crystallized around building the boat to save the river, to have it be owned by its members, to be “everybody’s boat.” It would be called the Clearwater.

To help raise money, the Saunders family of Cold Spring and the Osborn family of Garrison offered their lawns for a series of song festivals where Seeger, Arlo Guth­rie, and others performed. The first concert drew 150 people and raised $167. Four months later, 700 people showed up—and by the end of the year, $5,000 was in the bank. By 1969, $140,000 in donations and loans were paid to the Gamage shipyard in South Bristol, Maine, which constructed the boat, and on June 27, the sloop Clearwater set sail down the Damiriscotta River and out to the Atlantic coast for its home port on the Hudson, piloted by a skilled captain and crewed by 11 talented musi­cians, including several who knew little about sailing. The boat stopped in Boston, where the crew sang to 10,000 people. A few days later, it sailed into Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport. In early September, it arrived in New York harbor and tied up in Manhattan at South Street Seaport, where brass bands played, and Mayor Lindsay gave his official greetings as press helicopters zoomed overhead. Soon photos of the sloop appeared in newspapers around the country, and the boat became a sym­bol for an emerging movement to clean up the nation’s waterways. The Clearwater organization’s membership grew to 2,500, and the sloop sailed up and down the Hudson, promoting a message of hope. Crowds joined in with Seeger to sing the re­frain of his 1961 song:

Sailing up my dirty stream,
Still I love it, and I’ll keep the dream,
That some day, though maybe not this year,
My Hudson River will once again run clear.

(more…)

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Philip Kitcher on Benjamin Britten’s Opera

Deaths in Venice

This week our featured book is Deaths in Venice: The Cases of Gustav von Aschenbach by Philip Kitcher. Today, we have a brief excerpt from Deaths in Venice, in which Kitcher discusses the opera, Death in Venice, by Benjamin Britten, followed by a couple of videos showing key parts of the opera.

Be sure to enter our Book Giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Deaths in Venice!

“Most obvious is the sensuality of the music, the opulent orchestral coloring and the lushness of some important motifs (prominent examples are the “Serenissima” and “View” themes). This musical backdrop creates a context in which Aschenbach’s fascination with Tadzio cannot be heard as anything other than erotic. The possibility of a disciplined artistic perception of beauty is never present: from the moment he encounters Tadzio and we hear the exotic vibraphone motif that accompanies the boy, Aschenbach must be understood to be in the grip of passions he refuses to acknowledge.” — Philip Kitcher, Deaths in Venice

Serenissima

Aschenbach’s Final Aria

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Pussy Riot and Rosi Braidotti

Pussy Riot, Rosi Braidotti

“We realized that this country needs a militant, punk-feminist, street band that will rip through Moscow’s streets and squares, mobilize public energy against the evil crooks of the Putinist junta and enrich the Russian cultural and political opposition.”—Serafima, Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot can now be counted among the many who have been influenced by Rosi Braidotti’s work Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory. In a recent interview in Vice shortly before their arrest, the punk rock collective were asked who were their feminist influences and Serafima, one of the members answered:

In feminist theory that would be De Beauvoir with the Second Sex, Dvorkin, Pankhurst with her brave suffragist actions, Firestone and her crazy reproduction theories, Millett, Braidotti’s nomadic thought, Judith Butler’s Artful Parody.

(For more on Rosi Braidotti, there is also Nomadic Theory: The Portable Rosi Braidotti and a video about her work.)

Pussy Riot also cited their musical influences, including classic oi!-punk bands of the early 1980s; The Angelic Upstarts, Cockney Rejects, Sham 69 as well as Riot Grrl groups such as Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. In the interview members of Pussy Riot also discussed a range of other subjects including the decision to start the band after Putin returned to power in Russia:

Serafima: Right, and at that point we realized that this country needs a militant, punk-feminist, street band that will rip through Moscow’s streets and squares, mobilize public energy against the evil crooks of the Putinist junta and enrich the Russian cultural and political opposition with themes that are important to us: gender and LGBT rights, problems of masculine conformity, absence of a daring political message on the musical and art scenes, and the domination of males in all areas of public discourse.

(more…)

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Olivier Assayas and Sonic Youth

We conclude our week-long focus on Olivier Assayas and the recently published A Post-May Adolescence: Letter to Alice Debord and Olivier Assayas, edited by Kent Jones, with a look at the director’s collaborations with Sonic Youth.

Sonic Youth were one of the band’s featured in Assayas’s film Noise, a documentary of The Festival Art Rock in Saint Brieuc . The band also provided teh soundtrack for Assayas’s 2002 film Demonlover. In this video, which provides a rare and fascinating glimpse into the construction of a soundtrack, Assayas and Sonic Youth members collaborate on the music for the film:

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Francois Noudelmann on Tour

Francois Noudelmann

Next week, François Noudelmann, author of The Philosopher’s Touch: Sartre, Nietzsche, and Barthes at the Piano, will be in various cities to discuss his book:

Monday, April 16
Lycée Français de Los Angeles

Monday, April 16, 4:30 PM
UCLA

Tuesday, April 17, 12:00 PM
California Institute of the Arts

Wednesday, April 18, 12:00 PM
University of Southern California, Los Angeles
“Barthes et les enjeux sexuels de la pratique musicale”

Saturday, April 21, 7:00 pm
University of Alabama at Birmingham
“Portrait of Sartre as a Romantic Pianist”

Thursday, April 26, 11:30 AM
SUNY Stony Brook, Humanities Institute

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Chage & Aska “Say Yes” — More from Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

In “Bubblegum Music in a Postbubble Economy,” the concluding chapter to Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical History of J-Pop, Michael Bourdaghs discusses the very popular Chage & Aska (C&A), whose 1991 single “Say Yes,” became a breakout hit.

Bourdaghs’s discussion focuses on the ways in which the song, reflected concern about shifting gender roles in Japan. Bourdaghs writes:

It is also hardly surprising that the lyrics reflect a celebration of heterosexual, romantic marriage. As the chorus insists, all will be right if you (the woman [kimi]) simply say yes to me (the man [boku]). But the persona of the singer is not entirely self-assured [and] betrays a touch of panic, of hysteria. The man is insisting that the woman say yes precisely because he is not certain that she will. The man tries to define for the woman her own thoughts, a paranoid stance that tries to preempt alternative and (from his perspective) undesirable responses to his proposal. The weakened stance of the male speaker can be read as another manifestation of the strategy of male feminization.

Here is a video for the song:

Later in the chapter, Bourdaghs continues his discussion of how the song reflected the political and geopolitical concerns of 1990s Japan:

(more…)

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Happy End — More from Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

In the early 1970s, more Japanese rock bands started to sing in Japanese rather than English. One of the first groups to do this was the folk-rock group Happy End. Some might be familiar with the band from their song “Kaze Wo Atumete,” which was on the soundtrack for Lost in Translation. Below is a tribute video to the band, in which you can hear their song “Natsu Nandesu”:

In a discussion of the band from his book Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical History of J-Pop, Michael Bourdaghs discusses Happy End in the context of the politics of 1960s Japan and Japan’s struggle with its past. In this passage Bourdaghs discusses the debates and meanings surrounding Happy End’s choice to sing in Japanese:

The assertion by Happy End that rock could be sung successfully in Japanese challenged this common sense and provoked a sharp and sometimes negative response. Skeptics pointed out that the rock-in-Japanese position was self-contradictory. As one noted, “If you’re going to say, sing it in Japanese because we’re Japanese, then why don’t you just go the whole way and come out in favor of enka sung in naniwabushi style and reject rock? Neither rock in Japanese nor folk in Japanese can lay claim to any traditional lineage.”But Happy End sang in Japanese not to lay claim to an authentic tradition: the band explicitly denied that any authentic tradition was available to them. Rather, they chose to sing in a form that no reference to the past could authenticate, precisely so as to create a new authenticity in the present.

(more…)

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

“We’re The Spiders!” — More from “Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon”

“Made-in-Japan Beatles? I hate it when they call us that. We’re the Spiders!”—Tanabe Shochi on why The Spiders passed on opening for The Beatles

Michael Bourdaghs has a very informative and fun companion blog to his new book Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop. (You can also follow him on Twitter). In a recent post, Bourdaghs discusses Kamayatsu Hiroshi a member of The Spiders, a sixties band that part of the Group Sounds movement in Japan.

In the post Bourdaghs posts a clip of a great Spider song, “Little Roby,” whose opening riff borrows from the Kinks’ “Set Me Free”:

(more…)

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Sakamoto Kyu’s “Sukiyaki”

In Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop, Michael Bourdaghs discusses the aesthetic, cultural, and geopolitical implications of a range of musical styles that were popular in post-war Japan. Rockabilly first gained a wide audience in Japan in the late 50s due in large part to the popularity of Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent. Among Japanese musicians Sakamoto Kyu not only found a legion of fans in Japan but his single “Ue wo muite aruko” (1961) became an international hit under the title “Sukiyaki.” Below is a promotional video for the song:

(more…)

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Book Giveaway!: Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop

This week our featured book is Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop, by Michael Bourdaghs. (To browse the book.)

Throughout the week we will highlight aspects of the book and we are also offering a FREE copy of the book to one winner.

To enter our book giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and address (U.S. and Canadian mailing addresses only, unfortunately). We will randomly select one winner on Friday at 1:00 pm. Good luck and spread the word!

Praise for Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop:

“Michael K. Bourdaghs’s compellingly readable Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon imaginatively conceives an original account of how Japan, in the postwar and Cold War years, broke with a historical narrative centered on the United States military occupation and Japan’s subsequent confinement within the American imperium to enter the actual world.” — Harry Harootunian, Duke University, author of Overcome by Modernity: History, Culture, and Community in Interwar Japan

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Kenneth Goldsmith and UbuWeb

In addition to being the author of Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age, Kenneth Goldsmith is also the creator and curator of UbuWeb. Started in 1996, UbuWeb has become one of the leading resources for modernist, avant-garde, and experimental art, music, and literature. The Guardian described it as “a treasure house of recherché delights you won’t find anywhere else. And this is gold-standard treasure.”

The site includes films, mp3′s of famous writers reading their works, works of art, and texts. The site also includes Top Ten lists from artists, writer, poets, musician, and critics such as Charles Bernstein, Dennis Cooper, David Grubbs, Wayne Koestenbaum, Rick Moody, Marjorie Perloff, Alex Ross, and John Zorn.

For a sampling of the treasures to be found on UbuWeb, here are some recent additions to the site:

* Marshall McLuhan Audio Archive (1960-99) [MP3]
* Gus Van Sant Allen Ginsberg – Ballad of the Skeletons (1997)
*Samuel Beckett reading Murphy (1938) [MP3]
* William Burroughs reads Junky
* Caetano Veloso O Cinema Falado (1986)
* Amiri Baraka Sound Poems (1964-present) [MP3]
* Hugo Ball, ed. Cabaret Voltaire [journal, 1916]
* Marcel Duchamp, et al. The Deadman No. 2 [journal, 1917, New York]
* Michel Foucault Lectures (1978-83) [MP3]
* The Mekons and Kathy Acker Pussy, King Of The Pirates (1996) [MP3]

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Carolyn Williams on Gilbert & Sullivan

Gilbert & SullivanThe following is an interview with Carolyn Williams, author of Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody. You can also listen to an interview with Williams on WHYY Radio.

Question: What’s new in your book about Gilbert and Sullivan?

Carolyn Williams: This is the first book that makes a sustained argument about how and why gender matters in the Savoy operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Too often, Gilbert is blamed for employing stereotypes—when that is the whole point. Only by making the received views, the stereotypes, and the cultural absurdities of the Victorian period show up in high relief could he launch a critique. Gender roles, relations, norms, assumptions, and patterns of socialization—all are subject to this critique.

The surprising thing is: seen through this lens, the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan turn out to be not at all as conservative as many people have thought.

Another thing that’s new is my discussion of parody. In the first place, I treat parody as a matter of temporality. A parody sets up an implicit distinction between now and then, favoring the present moment of the parody and casting the object of the parody back into the past, as a thing old-fashioned and outworn. Inherent in parody is the force of this historical distinction.

In the second place, I emphasize genre parody. True, the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan are often based on the parody of a single work; for example, The Sorcerer (1877) is founded on a parody of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (1832). But the generalized parody—of the traditional convention of the magic potion—is even more important.

So, in the third place, genre parody allows for a differentiated audience. Some audience members will “get” the specific reference, while others will enjoy the opera just as much by focusing on the general allusion. This differentiated audience becomes important especially when the objects of parody are oriented around class, gender, and cultural politics.

(more…)

Monday, August 30th, 2010

The Velvet Lounge – Great Chicago Jazz Reads

The Velvet Lounge

The Chicago Tribune book blog Printers Row recently posted a round-up of the greatest books about the Chicago jazz scene. Printers Row called out for its jazz-like prose Gerald Majer’s The Velvet Lounge: On Late Chicago Jazz. The book is named for Fred Anderson’s famous Chicago jazz club, and features a unique hybrid of memoir, biography, and music theory.

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

Edward Said: Literary and Music Critic

As a thinker and intellectual Edward Said defied easy categorization. He was a leading figure in the development of postcolonial criticism, a political activist, and a music critic for The Nation and other publications. In recent weeks, Columbia has published works by Said that reflect this breadth, offering a new edition of Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography and a collection of some of his last writings on music.

Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, first published in 1966, is now available in a new edition with a foreword by Andrew N. Rubin. Said’s critique of Conrad’s work, the colonialist preoccupation with “civilizing” native peoples, and the Western self’s struggle with modernity signaled the beginnings of his groundbreaking work, Orientalism, and remains a cornerstone of postcolonial studies today. Tony Tanner writes, “Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography is a must for anyone seriously interested in Modernist writing, in Conrad—the first global novelist—and in Edward W. Said.”

Music at the Limits collects three decades of Said’s essays and articles on music from The Nation and other publications. The collection includes Said’s aesthetic appreciation of music as well as his insights into the social and political implications of classical performance. Inside, there are insightful pieces on Glenn Gould, Wagner, Mozart, and Bach alongside worries that the Metropolitan Opera has become too conservative and that opera superstars like Pavarotti have “reduced opera performance to a minimum of intelligence and a maximum of overproduced noise.”

Columbia is also the publisher of these other works by Said: Beginnings: Intention and Method, Humanism and Democratic Criticism, After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives, and Musical Elaborations.