Tag Archives: John Cage

Tea With Chris: Music Critic Politburo

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Margaux: This is hilarious – bad police sketches.

Carl: The Internet thing that made me happiest comes courtesy of friend and musical-poetic-philosophical-critical hero Franklin Bruno: an ear-and-body-melting DIY mashup of Terry Riley’s aleatory-minimalist classic “In C” and Marc Cerrone’s moaning-disco-cheese macksimilist classic “Love in C Minor.” I put it up on Facebook last weekend but since then, Hilobrow has posted it, but I also made an automated version on YouTubeDoubler. What no one else has mentioned, though, is that both pieces also have a Part 2 (Riley, Cerrone) so it’s possible to get all four parts going at once. Quadrophrenic!

Biggest loss among the world’s pulsing brains this week: Eric Hobsbawm.

Best mockery of sexist music coverage of the past three decades: The Stranger‘s “Men Who Rock!” edition.

Your self-help aide of the week: How to Get Started, with John Cage.

Chris: I have in fact heard a few of “the 20 best Prince songs you’ve never heard” (and dispute its contention that “Dance With the Devil” is the highlight of the Batman sessions, because, uh, “Electric Chair”?), but this list is still long on counterintuitive rarities and unfairly unreleased tracks, many sifted from the badlands that are his post-’80s discography.

“Oh yeah, I think of jazz. You can just make more jokes about ska.” There are lots of horns on the new Mountain Goats record, and my friend Brad Nelson talked to John Darnielle about that, along with its recording process in general.

I liked the provocative slyness of Joshua Clover’s piece about Kickstarter queen Amanda Palmer and her “accidental experiment with real communism,” partly because it led numerous Palmer superfans to believe that the author, facing years in prison for occupying a bank, must be invoking Brecht in the service of some new McCarthyism. The resulting comments, alternately sorrowful and threatening, are hilarious: “In fact, I fail to see how this isn’t libel?” “If you want to reinvent communism, that’s fine, but is a music criticism piece the place to start?” “Amanda Palmer makes a wonderful lightning rod, doesn’t she? By poking her head up, free of the music industry, handlers and marketers, not wrapped in cellophane for mass consumption… [&c]”

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Tea With Chris: No Such Thing as Silence

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Carl: The dawn of the school year is a nice time to think about anniversaries and cultural heroes and such. This revisionist look at Roxy Music on the 40th anniversary of their debut, by Simon Reynolds, suggests that the band’s glam image has overshadowed the actual power of its early ways of detouring prog rock, to the point where many would object to Roxy & prog being mentioned in the same breath. (Also a friend mentioned this week the odd fact that early Roxy went totally unsung in most of America, up till the days of Avalon, except in Ohio, where the freaks of Akron [Devo, Tin Huey] and Cleveland [Pere Ubu et al] listened closely. I’m not positive but I suspect that Toronto and Montreal also should be listed as exceptions – can I get any witnesses?)

Meanwhile, everyone is celebrating what would have been John Cage’s 100th birthday, including these 33 musicians (whose insights, er, vary) and the Guelph Jazz Festival this weekend. To hold your own celebration, perhaps you should turn your phone-devices into prepared pianos or read Kyle Gann’s lovely little book about “the silent piece” (pointedly titled No Such Thing as Silence), or watch this BBC doc wonderfully called Here’s a Piano I Prepared Earlier (not just about Cage but about the 1960s notational avant-garde in general).

Queer rock hero Freddie Mercury would have been 66 this week. Here’s a nice little essay about his other secret identity, “Farrokh Bulsara, a demure, bucktoothed Indian boy in a Bombay boarding school, listening to Lata Mangeshkar, playing cricket.”

Finally, this post about the “Slow Web” reminded me of the “Untimely Talk” part of B2TW’s own mandate/ifesto and made me eager to try the apps it talks about, such as “the only task management tool I’ve come across with the potential to help you realize you’re working on the wrong thing. “

Chris: My tea is all Cagean too, though not in the sense that you could play it as an instrument. Here is the “inventor of genius” (as Schoenberg put it, while unfairly dissing his compositional abilities) talking about silence near the end of his life; discussing collaboration, and sometimes approaching flirtation, with longtime partner Merce Cunningham; and distantly present in one version of the 4’33” score, below.

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Tea With Chris: Koan Bush

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Carl: I’d like to share a couple of things I stumbled on while working on this profile of Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields for Salon.com: He told me about a synthesizer he’s using created by Don Buchla, called the Source of Uncertainty, which generates unpredictable sounds based on how you vary the voltage. Or something like that. I don’t pretend to understand it, but I do like to see and hear it in action:

Second, at one point in our conversation (mostly not used in the piece) he went off on a tangent about the Thai Elephant Orchestra (that page will lead you to music and more). His riff, meanwhile, went a little something like this:

“Music is still something that’s done only by people – except the Thai Elephant Orchestra. There’s something called the Rock Cats playing here in Los Angeles, but people have to train them to do that, so it’s not necessarily not about people. Whereas the Thai Elephant Orchestra is really not about people, on some level. They’re not trained; they’re given instruments that they could play or not, as they felt like it. The elephants enjoy playing the harmonica – they inhale and exhale and they have fun with that. They use the whole harmonica at the same time, of course. And then they had these gigantic xylophones that they used more by strumming than by getting individual notes out of them. In the future of human-designed elephant-played instruments, they might want to have much, much larger instruments, in order to encourage the elephants to differentiate between the notes. But then that would be human manipulation in a deliberate way.”

Like a John Cage piece, the Source of Uncertainty or the Thai Elephant Orchestra, another way to create music that liberates it from the confines of human will turns out to be to slow it down exponentially. This has been a popular thing to do the past couple of years, perhaps most famously to Justin Bieber, but I’d never heard it done with a song or artist I had a close personal attachment to. I want to listen to this 36-minute-long version of Kate Bush singing Wuthering Heights first thing in the morning every day, as a kind of Zen practice.

Chris: This video mashup, by the Jigglypuff-guised Stephen Swift, is maybe the most insightful piece of music criticism that anyone’s produced on Grimes so far. Maybe.

Lisa Hanawalt owns the big-horses-with-tiny-horses beat.

If you live in Toronto and like dancing to Larry Levan remixes, you should come to That Time of the Month tonight. If you don’t like Larry Levan remixes, all I can give you is some Paradise Garage bootlegs and my pity.

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Tea With Chris: Cage Against the Machine

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Carl: If you’re ever briefly seduced by techno-utopianism and “post-human” fantasies, here’s a good dose of antidote against “Singularity” hoo-ha by Annalee Newitz, who imagines there’s no heaven and says “the future is a mutated bacteria that you never saw coming.”

Meanwhile, looking back at a kind of cultural singularity, for nearly 50 years we’ve lived in the sonic world remade by John Cage’s “4’33″” – a world in which every sound you hear is potentially a part of an ongoing piece of music, in which composition can be just context. Alex Ross recently wrote a fine piece on Cage and his impact in The New Yorker – here’s his related blog post, with a bunch of YouTube clips and a link to a November, 1964, Calvin Tomkins profile of Cage for the magazine, which is a great read entertainingly and incongruously surrounded with Mad Men-ish Christmas ads. And as a gift to ourselves for Christmas, 2010, a group has started organizing to make “4’33″” the BBC’s official yuletide hit this year – “make it a silent night” – an online effort similar to the one that made Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name” the surprise official carol of 2009: The campaign’s name? Of course, Cage Against the Machine.

Later: It’s not officially Friday any more, and a little sacrilegious to revise a Tea With Chris without Chris, but I forgot that what originally got me Cagey was Christian Bök’s tweet about this wonderful list of all the “silent pieces,” some silly and some sublime, people have made over the years, by poetry scholar Craig Dworkin. Also via Christian, this downloadable “audio tour” of how various world museums sound in four minutes and 33 seconds, including Toronto’s own AGO.

Chris: There’s a lot of things to like about this interview with Owen Hatherley, whose new book savages the architectural vapidity and false “regeneration” of Blairite Britain, but this part might be my favourite: “I was originally going to name each chapter after a song from a band in the city I was writing about. Leeds would have been At Home He’s A Tourist, Glasgow Theme for Great Cities, Sheffield: Sex City, a Tindersticks reference for Nottingham, and so forth. The reason why I didn’t do that is because I couldn’t think of anything for Milton Keynes – all the good records about new towns are from snobby Londoners, like ‘New Town’ by the Slits…and also because the Southampton one would be limited to something by Craig David and/or the Artful Dodger, and much as I love ‘Rewind’ that would have had a certain bathos.” I’m hoping to write about A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain on B2TW myself, but lefty polemics are one of several genres I’m not sure where to look for now that Toronto’s best bookstore is closed.

Have you ever wondered how early fossil collectors managed to screw up the reconstruction of their finds so badly? Here’s a little timeline of that “mutant history.”

Margaux: If you haven’t already read this New York Times article about whales, it is really pretty amazing. It was even just useful to remember that whales live for a very long time. The same whale can keep returning to a specific coastal location over a century while the reception from the humans on land slowly, but radically, changes. The article wonders what they think about that.

Man who wrote passionate and persuasive arguments for an end to romantic capitalism and an embrace of 2-D romantic culture was booed at a conference when he admitted to watching 3-D porn (an old story).

The movie I made, Teenager Hamlet, is playing at the Royal Cinema on College St. in Toronto tonight at 7 pm. Home-made movie posters in the movie poster slots!

Today, I saw a tiny squirrel pick up, with its teeth, a giant red apple from under a giant red apple tree and then run down the street with it. This link goes back outside.

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