From the category archives:


What a find!

Harper’s highlighted two versions of Monteverdi’s setting of “Voglio di vita uscir” available on YouTube.

I go for the countertenor every time:

You can hear the other version, and read the words, here.

(via @pausetowonder on Twitter)


An amazing 41-minute concert available at NPR Music via WGBH:

Classical music has never lived in a bubble, and there’s always been a free flow of ideas intersecting so-called art music and folk music. In this concert from Boston, they all come together: The acclaimed Takacs String Quartet joins the Hungarian folk ensemble Muzsikas (with singer Marta Sebestyen) to celebrate one of Hungary’s finest, composer Bela Bartok, who was brilliant at mixing the highbrow and lowbrow in his own music.


“We have all been annoyed by our neighbor’s asking us if that was a clarinet or an oboe, and what made that sound. When we’re guilty ourselves, we have often realized that the curiosity as to labels, the desire to identify and pigeon-hole a pleasure, had separated us from the real job of listening to the whole thing, the rich continuous music, which, itself, never stops for annotation.”

– John Cage, Listening To Music (1937)


The interview with Arvo Pärt starts at 4:25, after a quick listen to an installation by Tommi Grönlund and a snippet of Pärt’s “Cantus in Memory of  Benjamin Britten”.

via Tim Bray


An updated recording tries to get closer to the sound of the Gyuto monks before they were exiled from Tibet fifty years ago:

Yet the sounds that thrilled Smith and Hart’s ears were not, technically, consummate. Smith’s 1967 tape is limited by several factors, primarily by the technology of the day, but also with the number of voices. Smith only heard the remnants of the choir — the few monks that survived the perilous trek into India after the Chinese invaded in 1959 and killed or imprisoned most of them. In the original Gyuto monastery, there were over a hundred monks in the choir.

“No one’s really heard a hundred monks outside of Lhasa for many years,” Hart notes.

People have heard smaller groups. Seven monks from the only other monastery that practices the chants won a Grammy recently. So, to re-create the sound of a full choir for this CD, Mickey Hart recorded each monk multiple times to make 10 voices sound like a hundred.

“We overdubbed, and now there’s over a hundred-voice choir here, which has never really been sounded in the West,” says Hart.

To hear a 24-minute track from this  overdubbed version, click on this link, then look at the box on the left side titled “Hear the Monks” and click on the link labeled “From Tibetan Chants for World Peace, produced by Mickey Hart: ‘Blessing The Offerings’”. (Sorry for the complex instructions. I don’t see a way to directly link to the recording.)

The voices are astounding — but so are the interlocking patterns of the percussion.

It’s worth a couple of listens.


Robert Greenberg, on the Harvard Business Review Editor’s Blog:

By 1803, it was, once again, time to innovate or throw in the towel. Finding inspiration in the heroic model of Napoleon Bonaparte and the revolutionary change in the air, Beethoven created for himself a heroic self-image, one that allowed him to funnel his rage, alienation, and passion into a music that abandoned convention. Central to Beethoven’s second reinvention was the belief that his music must be, above all, a vehicle for self-expression, unfettered by the old rules.

Of course, Beethoven eventually repudiated Napoleon, famously scratching out the dedication of the Third Symphony:

Title Page of the Third Symphony

Title Page of the Third Symphony

That’s what I find interesting about this framing of the story: the myth of Napoleon was a catalyst for Beethoven’s reinvention, even though the man didn’t  live up to the myth.

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Kevin Kelly proposed a model for how artists can make a living without striving — and compromising — for a blockbuster hit:

“One solution is to find 1,000 True Fans. While some artists have discovered this path without calling it that, I think it is worth trying to formalize. The gist of 1,000 True Fans can be stated simply:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.”

In response, Robert Rich explains what a Sisyphean task this can be:

“The sort of artist who survives at the long tail is the sort who would be happy doing nothing else, who willingly sacrifices security and comfort for the chance to communicate something meaningful, hoping to catch the attention of those few in the world who seek what they also find meaningful. It’s a somewhat solitary existence, a bit like a lighthouse keeper throwing a beam out into the darkness, in faith that this action might help someone unseen.”

And references evolution to explain the risks of creating within and for a small community:

“Evolutionary biology shows us one metaphor for this trap of stylistic boundaries, in terms of species diversity and inbreeding (ref. E.O. Wilson). When a species sub-population becomes isolated, its traits start to diverge from the larger group to eventually form a new species. Yet under these conditions of isolation, genetic diversity can decrease and the new environmentally specialized species becomes more easily threatened by environmental changes. The larger the population, the less risk it faces of inbreeding. If that population stays connected to the main group of its species, it has the least chance of overspecialization and the most chance for survival in multiple environments.

This metaphor becomes relevant to Artists and True Fans because our culture can get obsessed with ideas of style and demographic. When an artist relies on such intense personal commitment from such a small population, it’s like an animal that relies solely upon the fruit of one tree to survive. This is a recipe for extinction. Distinctions between demographics resemble mountain ranges set up to divide one population from another. I prefer a world where no barriers exist between audiences as they define themselves and the art they love. I want a world of mutts and cross-pollinators.  I would feel more comfortable if I thought I had a broader base of people interested in my work, not just preaching to the choir.”

A world of mutts and cross-pollinators? Count me in!

Kelly returns with a roundup of what he has heard from other artists, and more doubts. Is the number 5000? Or does it start creeping back up towards stardom again?

“Micro patronage has always been an option, and indeed a part of, most artist’s livelihood. What is different now is the reach and power of technology, which makes it much easier to match up an artist with the right passionate micro patrons, keep them connected, serve them up created works, get payment from them directly, and nurture their interest and love.”

No definitive conclusions, but all worth a read…

(A hat tip to whomever added the original link to the cre8camp Portland page.)


In the midst of our virtual-instrument-on-laptop era, it’s so refreshing to see and hear new physical and tangible sound-making devices.

On Sunday, NPR profiled Ranjit Bhatnagar, who made a new instrument every day in February:

“For a long time,” Bhatnagar says, “I thought that there was no place for me in music because I have no formal training. I found that there’s a space for experimenting, for making my own music. I really want to encourage everybody to get out there, make some instruments, make some sounds. Maybe what they make will be beautiful, maybe it’s not, [but] you should enjoy it either way.”

Here’s a video of him cranking his Möbius music box:

I like the koto-esque bend built in to this one:

And a motor moving beads against the head of a drum:

More images and videos on Flickr and Thing-a-day.


Unravel, Unplugged

February 18, 2009

in Music,Video

I’ve always loved this abridged, quasi-18th century version of Björk’s “Unravel”, and I just stumbled across it again…

There’s just not enough clavichord in pop music these days…


The Really Terrible Orchestra

January 16, 2009

in Music

Creative expression requires the willingness to be not-great, especially when first starting to work on a new piece or in a new medium. That’s particularly difficult for perfectionists and those who have achieved expertise and prestige in other fields.

In a delightful op-ed, Alexander McCall Smith writes of his participation in an ensemble of unabashed amateurs:

Some years ago, a group of frustrated people in Scotland decided that the pleasure of playing in an orchestra should not be limited to those who are good enough to do so, but should be available to the rankest of amateurs. So we founded the Really Terrible Orchestra, an inclusive orchestra for those who really want to play, but who cannot do so very well. Or cannot do so at all, in some cases.

My own playing set the standard. I play the bassoon, even if not quite the whole bassoon. I have never quite mastered C-sharp, and I am weak on the notes above the high D. In general, I leave these out if they crop up, and I find that the effect is not unpleasant. I am not entirely untutored, of course, having had a course of lessons in the instrument from a music student who looked quietly appalled while I played. Most of the players in the orchestra are rather like this; they have learned their instruments at some point in their lives, but have not learned them very well. Now such people have their second chance with the Really Terrible Orchestra.

There is now no stopping us. We have become no better, but we plow on regardless. This is music as therapy, and many of us feel the better for trying. We remain really terrible, but what fun it is. It does not matter, in our view, that we sound irretrievably out of tune. It does not matter that on more than one occasion members of the orchestra have actually been discovered to be playing different pieces of music, by different composers, at the same time. I, for one, am not ashamed of those difficulties with C-sharp. We persist. After all, we are the Really Terrible Orchestra, and we shall go on and on. Amateurs arise — make a noise.


  1. Apple announces all songs in the iTunes store will be free of Digital Rights Management (DRM) limitations.
  2. Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts I-IV was the top-selling album on Amazon for 2008, even though it was available for free all over the internet. Creative Commons is touting the success.

Additional point:

I remember reading an interview with David Bowie years ago in which he complained that he had a ton of material recorded and mixed that no major record label would release.  Why?  ‘Brand dilution’ — the fear that it was too different from Bowie’s more mainstream material, and that releasing too much music would diminish overall sales.  (I’ve never quite understand why this should bother a man who is already a billionaire…)

It is unlikely that any traditional record company would have ‘allowed’ Trent Reznor to release this kind of work under the Nine Inch Nails name. Nearly two hours of instrumentals from a band whose hits have been pop-industrial? Not the kind of risk the majors would likely take. But Mr. Reznor is smart enough to let fans make their own decisions — and they have.


Cappella Romana, rehearsing for a recent concert:


Heard, On High

December 25, 2008

in Music,Video

For those of you who celebrate Christmas:


Sixty Years On

December 10, 2008

in History,Music

Afropop Worldwide devoted their entire show this week to the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Host Georges Collinet intermixed songs and interviews with his reading of articles from the Declaration.

The word commemoration, while appropriate, sounds so funereal. Can we imagine a day when we could, without hesitation, use the word celebration instead?