Victor Gama is a self-taught composer and musician who has expanded his process of composing music for himself and others to perform into creating new or modified instruments, and is also involved with traveling to hard to access regions of Angola and recording local music, as documented on his website Tsikaya: Músicos do Interior. You can read an outstanding interview of Victor with Ned Sublette for Afropop, or read more on his creation of instruments as part of his creative process, or you can experience his performances on YouTube and his music on Soundcloud. [more inside]
In 1930, a 29-year-old composer named Ruth Crawford (wiki) became the first woman to ever receive a Guggenheim fellowship—despite the chairman of the awards wondering, of women composers, "Is there any such beast?" The next year she wrote her modernist masterpiece String Quartet. [more inside]
"Milk" is one of the most strange and powerful episodes to come out of the Children's Television Workshop. It is impossible to imagine this film being made now. Here's the pitch:
Yeah… Jim. Look, I thought we would show how milk gets made with no script and no dialogue. Yeah. Let's just go shoot footage of farmers and the milk truck, maybe throw in a crying baby and some weird, monotone music crafted by some composer who likes jazzy stuff played by a chamber ensemble. Sunny day? Nah. Let's not make it cheerful or happy. We should make it gloomy and unsettling. Oh, and Jim? To do it right, we need some crane shots, a huge decal for the truck, and about four and a half minutes running time.Read on, for an interview with Robert Dennis, composer of Milk and other clips (including Cow Feeding and the Mad Painter series of shorts).
Composer Sir John Tavener has died. Most recently and popularly known for "Song for Athene," performed at the conclusion of Princess Diana's funeral, and for Funeral Canticle which was featured in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life. His life and work was devoted to music as a search for deeply spiritual expression, having converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in 1977. In his last interview he discussed how he had begun to turn again to some of the Western music he'd previously shunned, and turned his spiritual thoughts to other traditions as well. (What he called the "supreme achievement" of his life, the eight hour long all-night vigil The Veil of the Temple contains Sufi, Buddhist and Hindu texts as well as Orthodox Christian.) [more inside]
Theatre and film composer and GLAAD award winner Damon Intrabartolo has died at the age of 39. Intrabartolo is best known for the cult off-Broadway musical bare: a pop opera, the modern day Romeo and Juliet story of two boys who fall in love at a Catholic high school. [more inside]
This is Our Music [part 2] is a short documentary about naivist composer Tori Kudo, who's best known under the name Maher Shalal Hash Baz. Kudo is fascinated in mistakes and imperfection, and his music is warm and charming, crackly and washed-out like a Polaroid picture, sometimes energetic and surprisingly short, other times calm and gentle, and sometimes just gorgeous folk rock. Some of his most powerful songs are religious in nature: How Long Will You Forget Me is a moving, unpretentious adaptation of Psalm 13, and Moving Without Ark is a soft but powerful epic which could be about the Flood or the Second Coming. Tori's wife Reiko is also a naivist composer; I'm especially taken by her song Son of Man.
Caroline Shaw is a 30 year old composer, violinist, and singer. Yesterday, she also became the youngest person ever, and one of the few women, to receive the Pulitzer Prize for music for her composition Partita for 8 Voices. The work features four baroque inspired movements that were influenced by the violin music of Bach, and yet despite the baroque title, Partita is still thoroughly modern. The Pulitzer jury described it as a "highly polished and inventive a cappella work uniquely embracing speech, whispers, sighs, murmurs, wordless melodies and novel vocal effects." [more inside]
As if a line like "their house is a museum, when people come to see 'em, they really are a scree-am" (heard, of course, in the Addams Family theme) wasn't playfully brilliant (and brilliantly playful) enough, the same fellow happened to also have written the Green Acres theme. If you're an American of a certain age, you'll remember these two songs from their original TV runs during your childhood, or perhaps from reruns if you're a bit younger. Anyway, the composer of these catchy, familiar ditties was one Vic Mizzy. Hear Vic talk about the Addams Family theme and his degree in advanced finger snapping here. Thanks Vic!
To say that Messiaen's Vingt Regards sur L'Enfant-Jesus (Twenty Contemplations on the Infant Jesus) is a masterpiece is a gross understatement. Over sixty years after its composition, it has rightfully earned the recognition of being one of the most important piano works of the 20th century. ... [It] is one of the most personal and intimate pieces Messiaen ever wrote, and it gives the listener a close look at Messiaen the person. Messiaen was a deeply religious person, and although his faith influenced every single piece he wrote, the Vingt Regards is almost like his own personal spiritual diary. - Keith Kerchoff [more inside]
Next week, for the first time in 22 years, PBS will televise the four dramas of Richard Wagner's Ring cycle on consecutive nights - a rare opportunity to encounter in the manner intended "the most ambitious and most profound work of art ever created". [more inside]
In honor of the 100th birthday of iconoclastic composer John Cage (previously), NPR asked 33 musicians about the effect Cage has had on their art. The Los Angeles Times has a tour of Cage's travels and experiences in his native city. MeFi's own speicus has a long and excellent essay up at newmusicbox.org about the performer-composer relationship Cage shared with pianist David Tudor (who premiered, among other Cage works, 4'33"). And if you've always wanted to play prepared piano and lack an instrument you want to fill with nuts and bolts, there's an app for that.
"For NOLA-shot 'Looper' soundtrack, composer [Nathan Johnson] relies on the music of munitions." (last two links contain embedded video)
As a tribute to Frédéric Chopin, we take you to the home of Arthur Rubinstein - one of the most distinguished interpreters of his works. [more inside]
The irony in a way is that Messiaen used this great romantic organ for his most modern experiments. For Messiaen, this was a great sort of sonic paintbox, if you like, and he would come here and experiment with the extraordinary sounds that he could conjure out of this amazing instrument. [more inside]
On Sunday, April 29, 2012, composer Joel Goldsmith, son of famous film composer Jerry Goldsmith (Jerry's MeFi Obit Post from 2004), passed away at 54 of cancer. [more inside]
John Cage Unbound, A Living Archive is a multimedia exhibition created by the New York Public Library documenting their collection of videos, original notes and manuscripts of contemporary American composer and music theorist John Cage (1912-1992). "Cage believed that, following his detailed directions, anyone could make music from any kind of instrument" so the NYPL is asking visitors how they would bring his music to life, by submitting videos of their own interpretations of Cage’s work for possible inclusion in the archive. For more extensive collections of John Cage resources, see: WNYC: A John Cage Web Reliquary and Josh Rosen's fan page. [more inside]
Combining the architectural grace of Bach with the sprightly melodicism of Mozart, the 555 keyboard sonatas (3 MB PDF) of Domenico Scarlatti are a cornucopia of exquisite music
*. The first musician to record all of them was the colorful Scott Ross - who died of AIDS-related pneumonia at the age of 38. Here he performs one of the masterpieces, K.209, in Le Château de Maisons-Laffitte on a harpsichord built by David Ley. [more inside]
Using his "file card" technique to create the title piece "Spillane" (whereby musical ideas written on note cards form the basis for discreet sound blocks arranged by way of a unifying theme), John Zorn forges an impressionistic narrative out of stretches of live-music jazz, blues, country, lounge, thrash, etc., and a variety of samples and spoken dialogue inspired by Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer detective novels (recited by John Lurie). - AllMusic [more inside]
In 95 years of life, Carl Ruggles composed only 84 minutes of music - including his masterpiece for orchestra, "Sun-Treader". Charles Seeger called it "dissonant counterpoint". Charles Ives called it simply "strong, masculine music". In 1980, Michael Tilson Thomas recorded all of it for a long-out-of-print 2 LP set that has never been reissued on CD. Today, with almost none of the music from this significant American composer commercially available in any form, the Internet Archive has performed a valuable cultural service by hosting a 24-bit lossless rip of the Tilson Thomas set. It is powerful stuff.
[Arvo] Pärt’s mature style was inaugurated in 1976 with a small piano piece, “Für Alina”, that remains one of his best-known works. It is governed by the compositional system that he called “tintinnabuli,” derived from the Latin word for “bells.” The tintinnabuli method pairs each note of the melody with a note that comes from a harmonizing chord, so they ring together with bell-like resonance. [more inside]
One of America's most idiosyncratic musical geniuses was, of course, the great Thelonious Monk (Wiki), and what better way to celebrate his birthday today than viewing (in its entirety!) an excellent documentary on the man and his music? Straight, No Chaser
There is no questioning Syd Dale's [mid-60s UK NSFW] place amongst the legends of library music. ... his lavish big band inspired compositions were quickly brought to the public's attention through their use in countless t.v. shows and advertisements. Much of his work could be as classed as easy listening however Dale was also adept at incorporating elements of funk and spy jazz.
* [The music of the 1967 Spider-Man animated TV series - to which he so memorably contributed - has been discussed previously.] [more inside]
In their 25 year career San Fransisco-based Kronos Quartet might be most famous for creating the go-to dramatic movie trailer music but they've recently courted controversy with their latest album, 9/11, with Steve Reich (NPR First Listen). The album is another in a long line of collaborations with composers such as Phillip Glass, Terry Riley, and Pēteris Vasks. And like any good instrumental ensemble, they've covered Hendrix, Sigur Ros, and Tom Waits. Oh, and they've been on Sesame Street. [more inside]
Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" arranged for 8 pianos - performed by Leif Ove Andsnes, Emanuel Ax, Claude Frank, Evgeny Kissin, Lang Lang, James Levine, Mikhail Pletnev, and Staffan Scheja. [more inside]
Joseph Brooks was a writer of commercial jingles in the 60's. He went on to write and direct the film You Light Up My Life in 1977; the film was a critical flop but a commercial success, and the title song went on to win an Oscar and become an adult contemporary standard. He later wrote the book and music for, and direct the stage musical In My Life (nyt), which flopped famously in 2005 amidst reactions of bewilderment. In 2009, he was indicted on charges(nyt) of luring at least 11 actresses across the country to his Manhattan apartment and raping them. He was found dead yesterday of a suicide while awaiting trial.
Since the late '70s, Gordon Monahan has been making a career of extracting the unheard from pretty much anything he can get his hands on. Monahan's works for piano, loudspeakers, video, kinetic sculpture, and computer-controlled sound environments span various genres from avant-garde concert music to multi-media installation and sound art. Such pieces include long string installations activated by wind (Long Aeolian Piano, 1984-88), by water vortices (Aquaeolian Whirlpool, 1990) and by indoor air draughts (Spontaneously Harmonious in Certain Kinds of Weather, 1996). His work for electronic tone generators and human speaker swingers (Speaker Swinging, 1982), is a hybrid of science, music, and performance art, where minimalistic trance music based on the Doppler Effect contrasts with issues central to performance art such as physical struggle and 'implied threat'. John Cage once said, "At the piano, Gordon Monahan produces sounds we haven't heard before." [more inside]
Milton Babbitt, the quintessential american academic composer, died Saturday. Whatever you think of his music, he was one of the most significant composers of new music in the second half of the twentieth century. [more inside]
On January 5th, 2011 largely unknown modern composer, and pioneer of long format compositions on early computer systems Roland Kayn "... left this world today from his home". [more inside]
His melodies are more familiar than those of any other soundtrack composer except perhaps John Williams. He won 20 Grammy Awards, more than any other pop musician in history, and 4 Academy Awards. He scored what some consider the greatest opening shot in cinema history. His versatility encompassed situation comedy as well as science fiction horror. He is commemorated on a 37-cent stamp. He is Henry Mancini. [more inside]
Richard Grayson is a (now retired) composer and classical improviser. To give you just a taste, Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" in the style of a Tango, "Heart and Soul" a la Mahler, "Take the A Train" as a Chopin Funeral March.
Reginald Robinson won a MacArthur Fellowship grant in 2004 for his original ragtime compositions, but has found it difficult to reach the public. "Even with the MacArthur 'genius' title … I'm invisible." [more inside]
Argentine folklore composer, pianist and director Ariel Ramírez died last night after a long illness. Those who know of him abroad probably do so for his Misa Criolla. This is just the (deservedly famous) tip of a giant iceberg of Argentine music, as he was teacher to many, collaborator to a lot more, cataloguer and promoter of traditional folk music and dances, and defender of local composers rights since his early years of fame. [more inside]
A favorite of John Cage and Gyorgy Ligeti, the latter describing his music as "so utterly original, enjoyable, perfectly constructed but at the same time emotional...the best of any composer living today," Conlon Nancarrow's musical ideas were nevertheless too complex and technically demanding for human performers, and his political ideas too radical and leftist for McCarthy-era America. Expatriated to Mexico, the Texarkana-born avant-gardeist lived most of his life in isolation, in a cluttered, dusty studio surrounded by records, piles of books, empty Vodka bottles, newspapers, cigarette cartons, and the tools of his trade: 2 old player pianos and a custom-built piano roll press. [more inside]
2010 is the bicentennial of the birth of Frédéric François Chopin - a reluctant instrumental virtuoso, an immortal Romantic composer, and all-around bastard. [more inside]
The closing 4 pages are so cataclysmic and catastrophic as anything I've ever done — the harmony bites like nitric acid — the counterpoint grinds like the mills of God... [more inside]
Jerry Fielding (1922-1980) was one of cinema's most distinctive voices in the 1960s and especially '70s, the perfect musical complement to the films of Sam Peckinpah*, Michael Winner, Clint Eastwood and others. His scores are marked by modernism and intricate orchestrations but also a poetic beauty and intensity—an appropriate accompaniment to the decade's strange and often sad (but never sentimental) criminals and antiheroes, be they in westerns (The Wild Bunch) or crime films. He was, however, capable of numerous styles (he was a former Vegas bandleader), and wrote a great number of scores (from sticoms to dramas to sci-fi) for television. - Film Score Monthly [more inside]
Luigi Russolo was a futurist painter, experimental composer, and instrument builder. In his 1913 manifesto "The Art of Noises" he declaimed the death of traditional Western music and foresaw the dawning of a new music based on the grinding, screeching, moaning, crackling and buzzing of mechanical instruments. He and his assistant Ugo Piatti built the Intonarumori to bring these new sounds - "the palpitation of valves, the coming and going of pistons, the howl of mechanical saws, the jolting of a tram on its rails, the cracking of whips, the flapping of curtains and flags" - to life. Listen to them, then and now.
British composer and TV presenter Howard Goodall presents a documentary exploring the influences and theory behind the music of The Beatles, and the transformation of their sound over their recording career. Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 on Youtube. But that's not all... [more inside]
John Dowland was a lute player and composer roughly contemporaneous with William Shakespeare. In a recent article Mark Padmore, a frequent performer of Dowland's work, compared Dowland to Morrissey and Bob Dylan. Whether that's accurate or not johndowland.co.uk is a fine website with many recordings available either in mp3 format or as videos. There are essays on the site but it also points towards many other Dowlandian treasures online, including this fine biography and lyrics. Among Dowland's best known works are Flow, My Tears, Stay, Time, Awhile and An Heart Thats Broken and Contrite [mp3 links] but my favorites are In Darknesse Let Mee Dwell and Sorrow Stay [YouTube]
Vangelis: The Man And His Music (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) profiles prolific Greek keyboardist and composer Evanghelos Odyssey "Vangelis" Papathanassiou in a rare 1984 television interview. [more inside]
Maurice Jarre (September 13, 1924 – March 29, 2009) was a French composer and conductor. Although he composed several concert works, he is best known for his film scores for motion pictures, particularly those of David Lean: Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and A Passage to India (1984). All three of these scores won Academy Awards. - Wikipedia
Beethoven's Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 9 in A, Op. 47 (audio) was originally dedicated to the black violin virtuoso George Bridgetower after he gave such a brilliant rendering of the piece that prompted Beethoven to jump from his seat and embrace him. Bridgetower was a musical child prodigy and composer who, despite rampant racial prejudice, reached "unusual heights in the music world of his day". Having lived and performed in major European cities such as London, Paris, and Vienna, he would later die forgotten and in poverty. A personal disagreement with Bridgetower led Beethoven to dedicate the sonata to the famous violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer instead who, incidentally, never played it in public deeming it “outrageously unintelligible”. [more inside]
"Will Marion Cook is a name to reckon with in the history of black American music." Many of us have never heard of him, but with a recent recording of his work available, along with a new biography, now would be a good time to catch up and swing along.
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