Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

The Awesome Treasures of Anthony Braxton's Music Club

A series on the stuff that delighted us on the Internet this year.

There was something atypical and fun in Monday's New York Times: a review of a concert that happened over the weekend in… Washington, D.C. Staff critic Acela-hopping to the latest jam at the Kennedy Center is not common, as Times critics have all they can cover here in town, usually.

But the reason for last weekend's exception was plenty good, as recent MacArthur Award winning pianist Jason Moran had invited the great (and also MacArthur-winning) avant-music legend Anthony Braxton to present a band that included Braxton’s former student, the guitarist (and Awl favorite) Mary [...]


100 Fantastic (Not Best!) Songs From 2012

Hello and welcome, once again, to "End of Year List" season. Are you ready to hear from all of the critics you can even moderately stand to hear from during normal months? There will be pride, understand. There will be brand-management. It will feel a little obtrusive and overmuch. It will be natural to respond with some weariness—with a flick of the wrist as if to say "check please" and the concomitant desire to call the whole thing off and tune back in at some point during 2013.

Resist it.

You should resist the urge to unplug until 2013—when the world will be not quite so followish-ly Gangnam in [...]


Why Does Vinyl Sound The Best? A Chat With A Musician Who Knows

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I have a confession: I don’t think I can rightfully be counted as among the new wave of vinyl fetishists. Sure, I own a turntable, like any proper trend-piece-generating/hating Brooklyn-residing arts-interested person, but I don’t listen to as many releases as possible on it. Sometimes, twirling around a piece of audiophile-approved, 180-gram, 12-inch plastic, before commencing with the nervous hovering of the tone arm whilst wondering if the needle needs replacing, I'm as apt as anyone to think: “oh for the love of Steve Jobs, let’s just press a button marked [...]


Philip Glass Live, Steve Lehman Covers Coltrane, 'Black Radio,' And New Music from Anna Clyne

Philip Glass “may well be the Rossini of his century,” the critic, composer and scholar Kyle Gann wrote—back in a previous century. That analogy, he went on, was a useful way of thinking about the prolific minimalist, who “had an electric impact on the masses but only a portion of whose music seemed worthy of study by intellectuals.” This was the case, Gann added, despite the fact that “much of Glass’s best music has been underrated by disappointed former fans who have ceased to listen closely.”

Intellectuals that can’t bother to listen closely: so problematic! If any among their number wandered into the Park Avenue Armory last Saturday to [...]


100 Great (Not Best!) Songs of 2011

This is not a “best of 2011” music list. I didn’t hear or read or see all the music this year. Did you? Perhaps after consulting with a suitably large staff, a publication could reasonably claim to draw a box around, say, the best music of the year. I tend to count myself rarely satisfied with these attempts, though, even if I'm consulted. How about you?

No, don’t even start, as I’ve seen every single one of you beefing on Twitter about a subjective list. You weren’t wrong to do so! Lists are always wrong. It’s a part of their power, this axiomatic guarantee of failure. A list might “start [...]


'Satyagraha' and Occupy Lincoln Center, Last Night

The biggest opera house in the United States concluded its performance on time last night, at 11:15 p.m. Many of the nearly 4,000 people in attendance at the Met lingered in their seats for a bit, the better to praise the cast, orchestra and conductor—as well as to see if Philip Glass would take a curtain call. A number would have heard that the composer of Satyagraha, an opera about the life (sorta) and philosophical lineage (more consequentially) of Gandhi, was meant to have already spoken, at 10:30 p.m., to the Occupy Lincoln Center group just outside. When Glass did at last appear on stage, he was met with a [...]


Laura Dern Is Our Only Hope For Bringing David Lynch Back

The first in a series on collaborations that we now take for granted but initially made little sense.

Fans of David Lynch are accustomed, by now, to the half-decade wait. It took five years after Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me unjustly bombed out of theaters in 1992 before we received Lost Highway. Later, once Mulholland Drive completed its strange, tortured path to realization—from stillborn network teevee pilot for ABC to a New York Film Festival premiere!—Lynch’s IMDB page indulged another similar gap when it came to feature-length projects. That streak of inactivity was only broken when INLAND EMPIRE smeared its digital abstractions and idiosyncratic willfulness (all-caps title included) across [...]


The 6.4 California Earthquake of July 1, 1911 at 100

This morning, as I was walking down the street—on one of those uber-hyphenated strolls that freelance journalists colorfully like to describe as the "are-you-kidding-I-can't-afford-to-take-a-cab" variety—I momentarily tripped across a small fissure in the concrete. And then I got to thinking about the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Calaveras fault in California, back on July 1, 1911. Today, were that earthquake still alive and happening, it would be 100 years old. What a grand old dame it would be! I decided to put on my imagining hat.


Class Fictions, Reality Poetics And Zany Sex At Tribeca

When living as young and less than comfortable in New York, adoption of a willed ignorance regarding some class distinctions is in order. You naturally choose your own "can't-care" moments, but at some point, simply everyone breaks. Also: few can keep up with each and every conversation anyway; choices must be made regarding which ambient fashion truths to blow past and ignore.

That in mind, step this way with me. When I was a rice n' beans-subsisting college kid, it could have been a function of my fancy-meter's needle constantly skipping in the fritzed-out red zone of class detection—but I simply had no idea at all that the Tribeca [...]


Boob and Penis Drawings, Doll Houses, Bright Fire and the "Unspeakable Home"

Mary HK Choi: Hi Seth! How are you feeling today?

Seth Colter Walls: both within and without the state of being connected / the Internet makes me feel online

Mary: Of course this is where you begin. I'd have started with the Saint Joseph Domaine Laurent Betton with the peppery finish that we murdered last night at Bar Boulud.

Seth: Oh sorry, HK, my mind is still a touch scrambled from the last of the three short "operas" we saw last night. As you know, the libretto for the last one was written by Samuel Beckett. The rhythms are still a bit in my head. But let's start at [...]


Jim Jarmusch Wants You to See These Monodramas!

City Opera is putting forward an evening of contemporary, one-act "monodramas." It opens this Friday and runs through April 8th. The lineup is three works: one each by John Zorn, Arnold Schoenberg and Morton Feldman. Unsurprisingly or possibly crazily for something so rare and cool, dozens of $12 seats remain, as do a handful of $25 spots. Monodrama, you need not have previously known, means just one person singing in each piece.

And Jim Jarmusch has co-signed the event by declaring himself way into both composer Morton Feldman, as well as his librettist—the one and only Samuel Beckett. The Beckett-love doesn't surprise me, but Jarmusch's being a fan of [...]


Four Benefits for Japan: A Conversation with John Zorn

Here is a much more effective and fun way to donate to the Japan earthquake relief cause than sending a bunch of text messages: a series of upcoming benefits organized by John Zorn. The first has sold out, it looks like (on Sunday March 27 at Columbia's Miller Theater), where Sonic Youth, Yoko Ono, Cibo Matto, Marc Ribot and a bunch more are performing. At that benefit and at least three more to follow, 100% of the money will be going to the Japan Society's Earthquake Relief Fund. For-real charity + free radical music = good deal all around, right? Last night, The Awl emailed back and forth [...]


The Mark Rappaport Film Fest This Week: Do Not Miss!

Whenever I belatedly discover an American master, I feel a pain inside. A guilty pain. A pain related to an understanding that the celebrity-media complex has indeed been "winning." And then I put on some sunglasses and remind myself: It's not personal, babe. It's just late capitalism doing what late capitalism does. (Then I flip myself off in the mirror.)

Mark Rappaport is the man behind Rock Hudson's Home Movies and From the Journals of Jean Seberg. Those two films, which were sold and distributed during the indy-doc craze of the 90s, weren't true documentaries, but found-footage essays of social-crit wrapped up in sheaths of savvy sound-and-image humor. They [...]


Just Ten Bucks! We Want To See You Tonight at Carnegie Hall

American culture is rotten to its core. Not only is Natalie Portman pregnant-while-not-married, but there is such a thing as "public television" and also a thing called the National Endowment for the Arts. If only we could convince the last remaining holdouts that mass culture is the only proper artistic reflection of a democracy, they could all join in on making endless japery from the outputs of a serial woman-abuser who is equally popular on both network television and Twitter! Then it might be, if not quite morning in America, something other than twelve strokes to the dead of midnight.

Yet that is where currently find ourselves. [...]


The New Radiohead is Suddenly Here: How Insane Should We Go?

The new Radiohead album, "The King of Limbs," is available this morning to anyone who pre-ordered any sort of version earlier this week. We were told this would be a Saturday download, but now it's a today thing. (Their press release says that the website was ready so the band just decided to push it live. Hmm!) There's also a video for lead "single," "Lotus Flower." At any rate: don't be waiting for an individualized link in your inbox, people! (That may still come Saturday?) If you go here, you'll be asked to put in your site-registration info that you used to pre-order, and then: BAM! You can [...]


The Realness: Arcade Fire, Nixon in China, Odd Future, Clapping Music, Tahrir Square

Since I had no economic imperative to do so and am talented at time-management, I decided against committing to the 3+ hour telecast of last night's Grammy Awards—going instead with breaking news absorption through Twitter, along with watching a few relevant performances (Janelle Monae and Arcade Fire) via our janky, insta-uploaded-to-YouTube commons.

But that doesn't mean I didn't walk through the New York City subway system these last few weeks. "MUSICisLIFEisMUSIC," went the Recording Academy's halfway inspiring but also inescapably vapid manner of posterboard tautology. That toothache you can't get looked at without dental insurance? Oh, well, that's life—which is to say, music! So be sure to enter your [...]


Larry Polansky Is Making Hardcore Beats

Last week, while on a walk to visit some Seattle fishmongers, I spent a few minutes watching an elderly Indian man playing sitar at the corner of an intersection. Any pair of lay ears could perceive the old musician was talented, and so he had an appreciative crowd, despite this being a fairly cold sort of January morning. I remarked to a friend that no one was likely confused or intimidated by the genre definition of the music he was playing. Even though it was happening on the street, it was clearly a formal music: not meant for dancing or soundtracking a TV show or casually accompanying any other [...]


A Q&A with 'Electric Literature'

In the summer of 2009, Andy Hunter and Scott Lindenbaum published the first volume of their literary journal, Electric Literature. By offering more than the paperback option—in fact, by making their journal available on multiple mobile devices—its founders have not only built a reputation and a business: they’ve also been able to pay writers $1,000 per story.

Q: You still pay well for the stories you publish, and so you’ve attracted big names like Rick Moody, Lydia Davis and Javier Marias. Has it been a challenge with their agents to get agreements to publish across every medium? A: One thing we come up against again and again, [...]


Last Chance To See Bernstein's Messy-Great Opera: 'A Quiet Place' Closes Sunday

I would up being pretty busy at work this last month, or I would have written a full-length Difficult Listening Hour about the current production of Leonard Bernstein's opera A Quiet Place—a work that is at times brilliant, and is still sort of dizzyingly entrancing even when it is busy being uneven. The story might make you go "blah," as it's a jaundiced tale of suburbia's morally cramped way—a Revolutionary Road/"Mad Men" arc perceived through the late-alcoholic haze of some gnarly-proof, atonal music that's speckled with odd bitters of jazz. But do not let your standard-issue requirements for novelty turn you away, here. There is not a better way [...]


Russ Feingold At Rest

There will be plenty of political eulogies forthcoming on behalf of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Anyone Who Cared About the Influence of Money in Politics and Oh Sure, Civil Liberties, Too). This won't be one, precisely—or at least not a eulogy on behalf of his politics. If you were forced to adopt the standard pose of a central-casting "secular progressive," sure, you'd admit Feingold's defeat hurts more than most of the others dealt out last night by the hydra-headed beast that was Congressional Bloodbath XXVII: The Inchoate Reckoning. (Republicans won the anti-banker vote? [Whistles, moves on.])

But let's think about Feingold for a moment, instead of ourselves.