The New Old Music
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What Are Those Crazy Sounds In The New Classical Music? And How Does One Write Them Down?

My friend Christopher Trapani is a composer of classical music. Apparently he is quite a good one, having won the Julius F. Ježek and Gaudeamus Prizes, among others. Also, one of his pieces was performed at Carnegie Hall, which I've heard of.

Before I met Chris I assumed that new classical music mostly involved people trying to find new discordant ways to extract terrible sounds from instruments that were designed to produce pleasant ones. It turns out that's exactly what it is, but with program notes like this: "Florence in 1899, or the unexplored ends of the earth. An exotic wash of sonorities, mystical metallic shades—almglocken, steel drum, [...]

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What's So Funny, Mark Eitzel? A Q&A

This week, Merge releases Mark Eitzel's haunted and haunting Don't Be A Stranger, his first solo album since 2009's Klamath (Decor Records). Producer Sheldon Gomberg assembled a collection of crack studio players, including a full string section and Attractions drummer Pete Thomas, to record the album, whose more straightforward songs sprang from Eitzel's recent experience co-writing a musical, 2010's Marine Parade, with friend Simon Stephens. Longtime fans of the former lead singer of American Music Club, who cherish the grim, soaring beauty of his lyrics, where people are lonely, bad liquor is a refuge, "Lazarus wasn't grateful for his second wind," and "the applause grows louder the lower [...]

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When Did The Remix Become A Requirement?

Consider this: according to Discogs.com, about 800 remixes were released in 1983. In 1990, more than 4,000; in 2000, almost 15,000. And in 2010, there were 22,750 remixes released, an increase of more than 450% in twenty years. Not surprisingly, as that number has leapt up, remixes also have come to represent a much larger share of what's being released: in 1983, they accounted for 2% of all releases; 7% in 1990; 17% in 2000; until, by 2010, a staggering 20% of all releases were remixes.

How did we get to the point where a one-hit-wonder band from the '90s like Marcy Playground can release an entire [...]

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A Q. & A. With Bootsy Collins, American Hero

Bootsy Collins has one of the most impressive resumes in popular music, beginning his career as a bassist with the one-two punch of James Brown and Parliament Funkadelic. More than 40 years after being plucked from obscurity to back up the Godfather of Soul, his new album, The Funk Capitol of the World, seeks to put his life and funk in a historical perspective. Among other things, the death of his brother Phelps "Catfish" Collins compelled him to craft a “musical biography” that would preserve the memory of the people who were most influential to Bootsy: everyone from Catfish to Al Sharpton to Jimi Hendrix and, of course, George [...]

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Album Terrible

The reviews are in for "Britney Jean"!

• "It’s her most disappointing release yet, a snoozefest of shallow mid-tempos and limp club tracks that chase trends rather than invent them."

• "It’s just straightforward pop music, and that’s just fine."

• "Like Wile E. Coyote realizing too late that he's walked off a cliff and is standing on thin air, "Britney Jean," the new studio album from Britney Spears, is marked with so many sleights of hand, dubious lyrics and bombastic but boringly simple melodies that the too-rare levitation of its better moments seems an animation trick."

• "A total letdown," says the AP. The [...]

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One Take To Get The Music Right: A Chat About The 78 Project

For the past year, Alex Steyermark and Lavinia Jones Wright have led The 78 Project, a New York-based operation that aims to create an archive of the whole of contemporary American folk music using 1930s-era recording equipment. Inspired by the field recordings of Alan Lomax, Steyermark and Jones Wright use Presto machines that directly transcribe the recordings onto an acetate disc—it's a one-take, one-track recording technique. These sessions, which so far have included such musicians as Rosanne Cash, Richard Thompson, and Loudon Wainwright III, are also filmed and posted online as part of a web series. The two recently completed a recording circuit in the South, and [...]

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A Q&A With Jon Langford Of The Mekons

It’s likely that you either love the Mekons, or you haven’t heard of them at all. Formed as a punk band in Leeds in 1977, the sprawling lineup has remained more or less the same since the mid-'80s. Their sound spans multiple genres, among them American rock and roll and roots music. (They are, in fact, credited with producing the first alt-country album.) If you go to a Mekons show, expect to see some incredibly ardent fans, every music critic in town, and an energetic performance from all on stage.

I had the opportunity to interview Mekons cofounder and guitarist/vocalist Jon Langford while he was on a [...]

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Watch This Awesome Yet Limp Walt Disney Opera By Philip Glass

"The opera is a score in search of a story. Dantine has gone from narrator to bit player; the tension between him and Disney, Old World and New, has vanished without being replaced by another drama. The book’s most striking set pieces — Disney’s dialogue with an animatronic Abraham Lincoln; the unexpected arrival of a frightening girl in an owl mask — retain their mysterious power onstage but don’t connect to their surroundings."

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Yasiin Bey Would Like You To Quit Calling Him Mos Def

At a performance last August, the deliberate and sharply dressed emcee, who is also well known as an actor, announced his “official transition” to a huge audience gathered in the parking lot of a popular pub and pizzeria in Anchorage, Alaska: “My professional name will be my chosen and my legal name, which is Yasiin Bey. … And I don’t want to have to wait for it to be in Source or Vibe or someplace. I figure, we’re all here. We can see each other.” And then he spelled it out for them: “Y-A-S-I-I-N, first name. Last name: B-E-Y.”

When a few Alaskans made some disapproving noises, Bey responded, [...]

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Going Home With Pulp

Last Sunday, the third day of the Wireless festival in Hyde Park, I wandered through a crowd of around 50,000 people, past a crowded Fish & Chips stand, and a much less crowded “BBQ Burger” stand, past red-faced men swearing and carrying four pints of beer, and groups of healthy-looking European student-types sitting on blankets, to wait for a group of seven people from Sheffield to play their first show in London since 2002.

Both of these cities had loomed so large in my imagination for so long; London was, of course, London, but Sheffield was “Sheffield: Sex City,” as ludicrous as that may sound on its face. I [...]