an interview with Bryce Dessner

March 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Another interview of mine has been published on Brooklyn Vegan. This one is with guitarist and Big Ears Festival co-curator Bryce Dessner. He’s a member of a totally famous rock band, The National, and also another group called Clogs. Read my interview here: Interview with Bryce Dessner.


Andrew W.K.’s Great Scheme

March 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

An amazing thing happened at Andrew W.K.’s performance with the Calder Quartet on Friday night in Knoxville. It had little to do with the collaboration between the rock star entertainer and the modern string quartet (a collaboration that first took place on a tour in 2008). And although they were performed, it had nothing to do with A.W.K. staples like Party Hard and I Get Wet. Rather, I am referring to the performance of John Cage’s seminal 4’33”. That is, they sat in complete silence for about 5 minutes.

Most in attendance were anticipating a more straight-forward collaboration. While the Calder Quartet breezed through pieces by Phillip Glass and Fred Frith, Andrew W.K. spent most of the time sitting at the piano with his eyes closed. Besides a few amusing piano improvisations (in his first one, he basically just grunted while playing power ballad chord progressions) and singing three of his own songs towards the end of the performance, Andrew did very little in the way of participating musically. Someone behind me remarked, “I didn’t pay for this avant-garde shit.” Needless to say, this guy and most of the other people in the room were pissed when they were confronted with absolute silence. But they should have known they were paying for some avant-garde shit. Every thing Andrew W.K. does is performance art. Whether it’s his full stage show, the inspirational speeches, or playing with a famous string quartet it’s all in the name of the same artistic agenda.

Not that I can explain or understand this agenda. When I talked to Andrew while in Knoxville he said he was interested in being a confrontational artist. Although that’s true, I thought it was more helpful when he announced at the performance that he was, “awakening the spirit of Merce Cunningham.” I say this because the way he can manipulate an audience’s self-awareness is uncanny. Check it out for yourself:

an interview with Sam Amidon

March 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

My interview with the folk artist Sam Amidon has been published on the indie blog Brooklyn Vegan. Check it out by clicking here: Interview with Sam Amidon.

SXSW Reflection #1: Prols Rising

March 23, 2010 § 1 Comment

“It’s a paradigm shift. There are no more perks in the music industry.” – Music executive outside a full SXSW showcase

In a sense, binary oppositions define the South by Southwest festival: badged vs. un-badged, official vs. unofficial, paid vs. free admission, restaurant vs. street food. Without an official SXSW badge (priced at a minimum $400 and a max $1225), the task of finding and gaining admittance to quality events can be daunting. You are confronted with the choice of waiting in long lines for official showcases (where you’ll have to pay a hefty price for entry) or taking your chance with free unofficial showcases. While the festival is really a business to business convention for the music industry, the privileged class at SXSW is largely made up of record executive, press, and sponsorship types. If you’re waiting in line for an official showcase, you’ll often see these people walk right in without having to exert the same diligent patience. As an unofficial outsider, there will be inevitable frustrations at SXSW.   If you will it, red tape will ruin your time in Austin.

Fortunately, it seems times are changing. On Friday of the festival, my travel companion and I approached a packed free unofficial showcase on 5th street. As it featured a number of hyped up-and-comers, the line for entry stretched around the corner. It was clear no one was getting in any time soon. We, however, found a good spot to watch and listen right outside the showcase’s grounds  where a number of other onlookers were standing as well. Among those was the executive whose statement introduced this post. It seems neither his insider pass nor industry cred could push his entourage past the entrance gates. Outraged and moaning, I overheard his polemic against the rising number of free concerts and the growing power of the free consumers. He was absolutely right in perceiving the paradigm shift. From my perspective, he was absolutely wrong in denouncing its worth.

The music executive’s failure to adapt to the industry’s changing climate is a succumbing to innovation’s oldest rule: older generations cede to younger ones. Part of me wanted to turn around, look this guy in the eye, and say, “Do you know how goddamn old you sound?” But it would never have been worth it. Even since Thomas Kuhn systematized the nature of shifting paradigms in his classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, we have known this was inevitable. It’s not necessarily a matter of ignorance, but rather a matter of epistemologies. The SXSW executive was undoubtedly accustomed to back-stage, no-questions-asked privilege, and the idea that non-paying youngsters could transcend his powers is unthinkable. The bourgeois losing out to a new proletariat.

This was a widespread phenomenon at this year’s SXSW. Although we didn’t have badges, we still managed to see every band we wanted to see. For every official red-taped showcase, each band was playing double the amount in free, first come first serve shows. Those who worked hard to find the right shows at the right venues and showed up early were awarded over those who paid $500 to cut the line. Although this may seem unfair to the wealthy, the number of free showcases was surely a crucial factor in drawing the festival’s largest audience ever: over 50,000 people in a town of 650,000. While I don’t have financial statistics, it would be interesting to see how revenue compares between years, number of badges sold, and number of free showcases. My guess is cutting the red tape benefits SXSW.

There has been much analysis and debate surrounding the way people consume music in the 21st century. The major labels and government have attempted to regulate free downloads to no avail. The fact is that this is outdated thought. To create an innovative music business is to embrace the new culture surrounding consumption. The people know how to find music for free in vast quantities and there has never been a better time for the grass-roots proliferation of new artists. As a bastion of the music industry, SXSW was not without tension between these trains of thought. Lucky enough for all us prols, it appears the revolution is churning.

Broadband Coverage

March 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

Spring Break Route

Over the next two weeks, a friend and I will be doing a ludicrous amount of driving in the name of Spring Break and music festivals. Specifically, we’ll be heading to SXSW (full disclosure: we do not have SXSW badges) in Austin, TX and the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, TN. For the latter event, we’ll be producing a segment for public radio with the potential for national airtime. Whether what we make gets aired or not, we will be armed with a digital recorder, microphones, laptops, and plenty of SD cards. So check back here for in-depth coverage of our trip with audio, photos, and interviews.

Who knows, we might be sitting down with Andrew W.K. (!)

Head Shots

March 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

Mike Richard’s hit on David Booth is completely legal under the current rules.

I was astonished when Mike Milbury, NHL analyst for NBC’s Sunday Game of the Week, stated he was disgusted with new rules banning shots to the head. Milbury said NHL hockey was becoming more like Ivy League squash. If you’ve watched any televised hockey recently, in no way or form does it resemble anything less than a battle between Roman gladiators on ice skates. And based on the video above (which is only a recent example of a frequent occurrence), the NHL has room for toning down the violence without risking losing any of the aggression that makes it a great sport.

Case in point:

A Universal Music or Academic Hegemony?

March 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

A group of researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Austria have been conducting research in hopes of uncovering “universal” associations between music and human emotions. Using both Western (read: Classical in the German tradition) and Mafa (a group living in the mountains of Cameroon) participants and musical exemplars, they have presented empirical evidence that demonstrate both groups perceive and react to certain musical structures similarly. That is, they wish to assert that all humans share a musical semiotics.

This is not an epistemology I understand. What exactly do we gain from this sort of work? I suppose it’s a pleasant picture for those who conceptualize music in Roman numerals and Schenker graphs. Since there is plenty of fine work in ethnomusicology and anthropology that challenge this notion of cultural universals, I am not going to get into it here. But if we don’t even understand how people of our own culture perceive music, how could we have the arrogance to start claiming we have uncovered global features of music? I thought we had realized music is not physics.

But don’t take it from me. I would be interested to hear what you think of this:

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