WHY ARE THE ARTS “SO GAY” ?
DUBSTEP THE HISTORY OF SONG WATCH THE THRONE BON IVER NICO MUHLY DAVID GUETTA ANDY WARHOL’S SILVER FACTORY TIMOTHY LEARY AND PSYCHEDELICS Amplified 1
The arts are overwhelmingly populated by gay people; we perceive a connection between art and homosexuality. Some people think artsiness is “faggy.” Where d0es this connection come from? What does it mean for the identity of gay people or that of musicians and artists? Gideon Broshy.
The history of music is mirrored by the story of song. Song naturally evolved from the Gregorian chanting tradition to classical “art songs”; from opera to musical theater; and from Tin Pan Alley to the pop and rock of the 1960s and the present. Jacob Bass & Sam Torres.
Photo: Veronica Williamson
Cover design: Natasha Stolovitzky-Brunner
Dubstep became a controversial sensation almost overnight. We take a closer look at the genre to explore where it came from and where it is headed. Gabe Ibagon.
Bon Iver’s meteoric rise to stardom, and what his career means for the future of indie rock. Stephen Cacouris.
PHOTO PIT Gabby Reid covers a Ra Ra Riot show and the Governor’s Ball, which featured Girl Talk, Neon Indian, and more. Also: photos from the Today Show, indie rock venues around New York City, and the streets of Rome.
The pyschology behind rebellion is responsible for some of the century’s greatest music. Alessandro van den Brink.
JOURNAL How can electronic music expand our sound worlds? What is the value of simplicity in music? How does African drumming relate to flamenco and guitar solos?
Music can be fun, serious, emotive or, as an 18th century composer proves, it can be funny. Kim Sarnoff.
RADAR Short profiles of up and coming artists Pepper Rabbit, Gunnar Bjerk, A Million Years and STRFKR.
Timothy Leary created a cult of psychedelia and drugs at a most unlikely place Harvard University. Asher Baumrin.
REVIEWS Albums: Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne, David Guetta’s Nothing But the Beat, Washed Out’s Washed Out, Neon Indian’s Era Extraña. Concerts: The Strokes in Paris, Matt and Kim, Yeasayer, Vijay Iyer Sextet, Dan Deacon. Amplified 3
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Volume 3, Issue 1 Fall 2011
Issue 1 touches on myriad subjects—the apparent connection between homosexuality and the arts, the history of song, the evolution (or devolution) of dubstep, the idea of humor embedded in wordless music, rebellion’s inherent connection to rock music; we have profiled contemporary musicians like Bon Iver and Nico Muhly—with whom we had a sit-down interview—and provided small windows into the lives and influence of sixties legends Andy Warhol and Timothy Leary. We’ve added a new section called Photo Pit, which features original photos taken by HMers at performances around the city and the world. Journal, a section for free-form reflections on music and art, continues to grow, as does Radar, in which we profile up-and-coming artists. Finally, we’ve packed a greater number of more concise pieces into our Reviews section. I hope you enjoy! Gideon Broshy Editor-in Chief
JOURNAL When I tell people that my favorite genre of music is electronic, I always feel like they get the wrong impression of what I listen to. One world of electronic music, the world that most people know, is dance music. From house to dubstep to trance to jungle, synthesized music has proven to be the best at making people groove on the dance floor. However, not a lot of people know about the other world of electronic music, the more experimental and abstract side. Electronic music has an extremely rich history in exploring unknown territories of sound. This was most apparent in the genre’s mid-20th-century infancy, when engineers would explore the capabilites of new electronic and synthesizer technologies in large music laboratories. The cringing atonality of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s work may not be the most pleasing things to listen to, but we wouldn’t have any of our modern dance music without his groundbreaking experiments in synthesized sound. The use of experimental electronic music to create innovative works of art continues today. From the mathematical algorithms of Autechre’s Tri Reptae to the luscious orchestral glitches of Kashiwa Daisuke’s Program Music I, artists continue to use the medium of electronic music to push the boundaries of what sounds we can achieve. I have nothing against dance music that plays it safe with the formulas that work. The music does what it needs to do: make people dance. What I do believe is that electronic music has such great potential to take our understanding of the art of sound further. A computer can conjure any type of waveform possible; there are no boundaries to the sounds that we can create. I really hope that artists seize the great opportunities that technology has given us to destroy and recreate our conceptions of what music can be. Gabe Ibagon, 8/28 We say that music is timeless. We still listen to Chopin because his melodies are still beautiful and meaningful. But that statement implies something else—that us listeners in the 21st century have the same experience listening to his works than did listeners 150 years ago. I think its important to think about how crucial cultural and temporal context is in shaping the experience one has with music—listening to music, playing music, or writing music. Context is crucial to the communication of ideas and the nature of artistic meaning; musical experiences, even if the same notes are involved, differ based on context. That opens up the way we understand musical experiences, and gives us a more fluid way of looking
at the nature of musical meaning. Meaning comes not only from notes, lyrics, dynamics, phrasing, choruses, guitar solos, glissandos, synth sounds, all the stuff that’s on the page or in the recording—but also from the circumstances in which you experience the music. Chopin’s melodies, in many ways, meant the same thing in 1850 as they do now, and evoke the same feeling; but at the same time, they are different creatures in these different time periods. They are stuck to their time period; modern music is important because it is attuned to the modern condition, and it reflects the world around us here and now. This more “fluid” vision for understanding music doesn’t only apply to cultural context or time period— something spontaneous may happen while you listen to a song or a piece of music that changes the way you experience it. If you listen to a really beautiful piece of music in the rain, or in the arms of someone close to you, your emotional experience is different, unique, and irreplaceable. Each new listen, with its own set of circumstances, stands on its own. Gideon Broshy, 7/25 “Dinner with Satie” My family has this ritual, so to speak, where every night, one of us, usually my dad or I, will choose the music for dinnertime by selecting it on the iPod connected to the dock speakers next to the table. So one night, my dad, in an enthusiastic manner, dashed straight for the iPod dock and immediately selected a song to play for dinner. Now my dad has an incredibly varied taste, ranging from Beethoven to LCD Soundsystem to The Strokes and practically everything in between, so of course trying to guess what he was going to play that night was nearly impossible. “Just listen to this,” he said softly as we all listened carefully to the quiet, yet eerily beautiful grand piano coming from the corner of the room. It was 19th century classical composer Erik Satie’s “Gnosienne No. 1,” a remarkably simple yet gorgeous piece that combined so many strange and odd things, that I became skeptical that this was really classical, especially from the 1800’s. As all this went through my mind, my dad recounted the story of Satie and how his music was astonishingly groundbreaking and wasn’t just a Bach or Mozart knockoff. By fusing tempos that were extremely similar to previous waltz works and utilizing relatively simple chords, the music seemed as simplistic as it gets. This pattern of simplicity has always struck me,
personally, as something relating to more modern music, for instance, the three chord punk songs and the four chord pop songs, but it never reached me until then that it could have been blended into classical music, more than a hundred years ago. It’s funny, because a lot of composers, especially young and ambitious ones, will try to make their music as complex and unique as possible in order to really try to turn people’s heads, but at times this tends to hurt the actual quality of the music itself. Now I’m not saying I support the overused chord progressions and musical clichés of the modern age, but beauty does not always derive from complexity. A lot of musicians, especially in genres such as indie rock and new folk, seem to be applying this theory to their music, and in return receive beautiful results. Take for instance, the Wisconsin based band Bon Iver, who have managed to construct two gorgeous albums simply through acoustic guitar chords, Justin Vernon’s falsetto voice and an ensemble of backup singers. Now maybe bands don’t look back at composers such as Satie and his contemporaries as much as is deserved (although Chris Martin of Coldplay has played “Gnosienne No. 1” on tours in the past), but the whole concept of connection in music, in the most unlikely places and across genres and centuries, is just so fascinating. I remember as I sat there listening to the piece, my dad eventually whispered to my mom, “He’s in love.” Alessandro van den Brink, 8/15 I was just in Central Park, by the bandshell near the lake with the big fountain that’s in about 300 movies, and I stood for about 15 minutes watching this great African drumming ensemble that plays regularly in that space. The ensemble included a diverse
array of black, Hispanic, and white drummers. What struck me was the way the different drums and auxiliary percussion instruments—there were between 10 and 20 instruments being played at once—meshed together and complimented each other. By adjusting the way you listened to the ensemble, you could tune in and tune out specific drums and their respective rhythms and timbres. It was like a big dish with lots of different foods on it—salad, burger, fries, pickle—from which you could pick and choose, one at a time (you could also just take a big bite of everything at once…good luck). What most piqued my curiosity was the fact that one single drum was louder and higher-pitched than the others. This drummer rose above the vibrant blend of drummers; rather than repeating a specific phrase every bar, like the rest of the drummers, he took rhythmic liberties and sort of did his own thing. This reminded me of a flamenco performance we saw on the 8th grade Horace Mann trip to Spain, in Granada—in the province of Andalusia, the birthplace of flamenco—in which a group of four or five male dancers maintained a steady rhythm with their feet while a woman “solo-ed” on top. Her free, passionate dancing contrasted with the repetitive, more constrained taps of her fellow dancers. I see a big connection between the soloists in the drum group and in the flamenco performance—something that relates to the prevalence of guitar solos in rock music, or to singers. There is some sort of desire in music—or, perhaps, it’s an inevitability, a consequence of the science of sound perception—to have one leading line, an individual voice to carry the music through above a less prominent accompaniment. It may have something to do with the fact that our ears naturally pick out a leading melody based on its frequency (pitch) and its amplitude (volume), but it seems to apply to rhythms as well. Cool stuff. Gideon Broshy, 7/3
Photo Pit Governorâ€™s Ball/June 18, 2011
Photo: Gabby Reid
Photo: Gabby Reid
Ra Ra Riot/Prospect Park Bandshell/August 5, 2011
Photo: Gabby Reid
Ra Ra Riot/Prospect Park Bandshell/August 5, 2011
Photo: Gabby Reid Photo: Gabby Reid
Das Racist/Governor’s Ball/June 18, 2011
Das Racist/Governor’s Ball/June 18, 2011
Photo: Gabby Reid Photo: Gabby Reid
Passion Pit/Governor’s Ball/June 18, 2011
Neon Indian/Governor’s Ball/June 18, 2011
Girl Talk/Governorâ€™s Ball/June 18, 2011
Photo: Gabby Reid
Photo: Veronica Williamson
Phantogram/Terminal 5/July 27, 2011
Photo: Spencer Bistricer
Bruno Mars/The Today Show/June 23, 2011
Photo: Kim Sarnoff
Dinowalrus/The Knitting Factory/June 23, 2011
Photo: Rebecca Segall
Photos by Gabby Reid
For two weeks in late June and early July, Sing for Hope placed 88 pianos, each with its own unique theme and design, in public spaces around New York City. Those pianos were then transported to their permanent homes in New York schools, hospitals, and community centers. The Pop Up Piano project was in its second NYC summer.
Sometimes we have dreams in which objects and time simply don’t make any direct correlation to reality and we’re left in a bizarre fantasy world. If there’s anything that helps bring on this feeling of absolute awe, it’s the music coming straight from California band Pepper Rabbit. Although the group is composed of only two members, Xander Singh and Luc Laurent, its music has the effect of making you feel that time bends between their guitars, clarinets, accordions and French horns, landing somewhere between the 21st century and the 1940s. In 2010, Pepper Rabbit released their debut album, Beauregard, an extremely baroque, old school record that boasted so much folk miscellany that the likeness between them and Zach Condon’s Beirut is highly uncanny. However, unlike Condon’s project, which includes an astonishing number of members, Pepper Rabbit is just two guys with the drive to make their music perfect; some could even argue that’s much more impressive. Some of their songs, like “In the Spirit of Beauregard,” feature honky-tonk pianos, as if from a Jacques Brels song, while a massive orchestral ambience fills the background and Singh’s echoed voice floats along. Pep-
per Rabbit blew the minds of the few people who actually discovered the album, and for a couple of music aficionados, enough is never enough. Nearly a year later, Pepper Rabbit released their second venture, Red Velvet Snow Ball, and while the sophomore album is the hardest release for any band, they were spot on. Keeping their experimental tendency, Red Velvet was similar to Beauregard; but while Beauregard had a melancholy tone, Red Velvet introduced an indie pop sound that showed Pepper Rabbit could not only stick to their basics, but also refine their style. With this newfound love for joyful tunes, Pepper Rabbit was able to bring in something unexpected: electronics. Yep, the synthesizer takes a prominent role in “Red Velvet,” but is used so expertly that it helps make Singh and Laurent look like bigger geniuses. Two near-perfect albums and Pepper Rabbit still has plenty left in the tank. With music that can not just get you to dance, but even to dream, Pepper Rabbit is one of the most extraordinary bands to not break the surface yet. And as soon as they do, the music world will wonder why it hadn’t listened to them before. -Alessandro van den Brink
Born in Arizona, Gunnar Bjerk moved to New York City in hopes of becoming a studio engineer. He landed a job with the label DFA Records, working with James Murphy (the man behind LCD Soundsystem), among other artists. During his off hours and downtime he worked on composing his own music. The label he works for, DFA, then realized his talents, picked him up, and released his first 12,” “Back Then/Stay” in March. The inspiration for his music is the unoriginal idea of love. The two songs are about Bjerk’s girlfriend, who moved to New York a while after he did, leaving him alone for some time. The titles of the songs do not hide their content, but rather advertise it. He must have picked up some of James Murphy’s talents and tricks while working for him, because his music is filled with everything it needs to become an instant hit. The music is simple, and that is one of the things that makes it so enjoyable; it’s easy to follow and to listen to, and there aren’t noises coming from unknown places that pique the listener’s curiosity. It takes minimal focus to fully enjoy the music. His vocals are stretched out and the lyrics are easy to hear, not muddled behind the music. The elongated vocals create a gliding sensation for
each of the words, creating a smoother flow and transition in the lyrics. The instruments never create a piercing sound; instead it seems as if each beat was rounded off and smoothed over. The songs are layered into two or three tracks, each coexisting with the others and adding its own unique touch to the song. The first thing introduced in each of the songs is the loop that makes up the beat, which continues throughout the song. It never fades out until the end, not even during the chorus as you would expect it to. The beat is the foundation that the rest of the song is built on. Bjerk has already made a big rise from the very bottom, and is sure to keep going. Even though his popularity is small and he only has two songs for people to base their opinions off of, he has clearly shown that he has a good enough mind and ear to make things work and to produce hits. He knows how to make the most of the minimal qualities he utilizes in his music; less is more. His first album is something that should be looked forward to and should be received with great anticipation. If he keeps on this track and continues to churn out joyful, upbeat music, his future releases should be well worth the wait. -Andrew Fabry
Dance music is too frequently only good to dance to, and offers little to appreciate from an artistic standpoint. This common trend in music is what prompted STRFKR to form its sound around, according to member Joshua Hodges, “dance music that you can actually listen to.” STRFKR has achieved its goal by producing electronic dance music that fans can enjoy not only during a live show but also the morning after. STRFKR began in Portland, Oregon in 2007 as the solo project of Joshua Hodges (vocals, keyboards, guitar, and drums). Members Shawn Glassford (bass, keyboards, and drums) and Keil Corcoran (drums, keyboards, and vocals) joined soon after to form the electronica band that STRFKR is today. After undergoing name changes to PYRAMID and later Pyramiddd, in 2010 the band returned to its original identity. The band chose the name STRFKR, a profane abbreviation of Starf**ker, as an experiment; the members wanted to see how successful they could be with the controversial name. Hodges chose the name so that his music could be purely about the art--it would evade the trap of marketability, he reasoned, because no one could market a band with that name. Without the pressures of trying to create popular music, STRFKR can make music strictly for music’s sake,
and they can stay true to Hodges’ vision. STRFKR has released two albums, their eponymous debut and this year’s Reptilians. The band has also released the Jupiter EP and an collection of B-Sides. All of STRFKR’s albums manage to embody the band’s electronic pop sound while containing new and individual songs. Each song is a composition of looped beats and varying melodies, often accompanied by soft, dreamlike vocals. In many of the songs’ intros and endings, STRFKR incorporates short segments of recordings of lectures by 20th century Eastern philosopher Alan Watts, who studied Buddhism and cosmology. The addition of Watts’ speeches to STRFKR’s songs reflects and complements the band’s surreal lyrics. Joshua claims that Watts’ philosophy has changed his life and has inspired his music, so it is fitting that Watts acts as a phantom member of the band. STRFKR has managed to produce music that makes for exciting and energetic live shows, but can also be respected for its powerful composition. Despite the band’s contentious name, STRFKR has gained popularity in the indie music scene, resulting in sold out shows and a growing, enthusiastic fan base. -Gabby Reid
An increasingly eclectic mix of music from Brooklynbased bands has made its way up on indie music charts in recent years, making it difficult for up and coming bands to stand out among such diverse competition. Bands struggle to find a distinct sound, and often try to stand out by incorporating untraditional sounds with atypical instruments. Indie-pop/rock band A Million Years, on the other hand, is unique in that it has been able to create a distinct sound with a standard two guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. The quartet has brought new twists to a familiar base, forming a unique sound that brings touches of punk to rock and pop. The band accomplishes its sound by incorporating synthesizers and drum machines into its songs but still manages to maintain a clean, guitar-heavy sound that makes the music distinctive to A Million Years. A Million Years began in 2007, when it consisted of only Keith Madden (lead singer and guitarist) and ever-changing band members. Later the band picked up and settled with Andrew Vannete, Nick Werber, and Andrew Samaha. The four were able to release an EP together and eventually their debut album, Mischief Maker. The bands Brit-pop and Indie-rock influences Spoon, Radiohead, and Wilco among others are alluded to throughout the
album, but A Million Years does not fail to release unique songs that are truly a product of the members’ creativity and talent. In their home, New York City, A Million Years’ members play in sold-out venues like The Mercury Lounge to fans and friends. Having already won over an enthusiastic and supportive audience in NYC, the band went on to open for major indie artists such as Phoenix, The Drums, and 30 Seconds to Mars. A Million Years has also recently accompanied Jesse Malin on his UK tour. Since the well received and reviewed release of Mischief Maker, A Million Years has been working on a second album. The band members have already released a single from it this past July, titled No Distance. No Distance continues to echo the band’s vision and sound, complete with melodic, strong vocals and slick guitar riffs. Recently, bassist Andrew Samaha left the band due to personal reasons. It is hard to tell what influence the absence will have on the band’s sound, but fans can be assured that no matter what change does occur, A Million Years will not fail to continue producing great pop-rock. They have found intriguing originality in the basics, producing a striking sound that can cater to a wide audience. -Gabby Reid
THE STORY OF SONG: FROM GREGORIAN CHANT TO GAGA BY JACOB BASS & SAM TORRES The voice has always been humanity’s primary vehicle for musical expression. Singing of some kind is present in every culture’s music; it predates all instruments and, according to some scientists, may even predate speaking (as the mechanics of singing are far simpler than those of speaking, and other animals’ forms of communication are closer to singing than to speaking). In Western music, the most important line is always that of the vocalist, and all instrumentalists are taught to mimic the human voice in their playing. The first notated music that has survived dates back to the 10th century A.D., and is called Gregorian chant, a form of a capella (music consisting of only voices, as instruments were forbidden from sounding in the Church at the time) singing used by the Church for religious services. It developed out of a style of reciting text known as “plainchant.” Secular music in the medieval period consisted largely of songs, and had a close relationship with poetry. The most common musicians were troubadours, who would compose verses and songs to accompany them—not unlike most modern artists. By the Renaissance, music was considered an important part of one’s education by the noble and bourgeois classes, and was used as a vehicle for social interaction by young people at a time when even communicating with a non-family member of the opposite gender might have been considered improper. Music still played an important role in the Church throughout the Renaissance, becoming steadily more complex and ornate until the sixteenth century Council of Trent (the Church’s answer to the criticisms of Martin Luther), in which it was decided that music had become a problem: its original purpose was to communicate the text of the religious services to the people; it was now so convoluted that the text could no longer be understood, and the music had become a barrier between the people and God. Music’s answer to this condemnation came in the form of a genius named Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, the man commonly regarded as the greatest composer of the Renaissance. He worked for the Church, and in his life produced hundreds of religious compositions. Palestrina’s music is notable for its incredible clarity and focus on the text; his purpose was music for the sake of communicating the text, rather than music for its own sake. Composers like Palestrina
and Guilliaume Dufay wrote both religious and nonreligious music; their secular music was mostly in the form of the madrigal. Madrigals, known as chanson in France, were settings of poetry, which was an ever-expanding art form in Renaissance Europe. Madrigals were performed in a manner similar to the folk music sung by peasants or the more complex secular songs performed by troubadours. At the height of the Renaissance, a diverse group of artists met to discuss literature, music, and philosophy, calling themselves the Florentine Camerata. Little is known about them, but they were active from approximately 1573 to 1582, and their meetings changed art—music in particular—forever. From the discussions of these poets, musicians, and noblemen came the idea of opera, an art form that would, in one grand spectacle, unify all contemporary forms of art. The exact nature of the Camerata’s influence and role in the creation of opera is subject to some debate—the first composers of opera were not known members. The Camerata discussions had focused on how to revive their vision of ancient Greek theater (they imagined that lines were sung instead of spoken), and for decades all operas were based on Greek myths. In the Baroque and Classical periods of Western music, the story of song becomes the story of opera. The voice was used in oratorios (opera-like works for voices and orchestra, but staged as a concert), masses (settings of the Christian liturgy to music), and other compositions, but opera played the primary role in the development of vocal technique and composers’ understanding of the voice. Operas mark a departure from preceding vocal music in that they had both a librettist (a writer who invented or worked with a story to create a script) and a composer, rather than one artist who would devise both text and music. The music of operas is really a collection of smaller songs (which are often excerpted) linked by a common plot and some thematic material, and can be divided into three categories. Arias were songs featuring a single singer supported by the orchestra; duets, trios, etc. are songs featuring multiple soloists supported by the orchestra (the name varies depending upon the number of singers); recitatives are lines of dialogue sung on one note (their purpose is more literary than musical), and are accompanied often by only a harpsichord. Later in opera, instrumental
music began to appear (overtures are the most famous example, but there are others, such as the interlude in Jules Massanet’s Thais)— but only later. Opera in the Baroque period was about singers. Of the most famous three Classical period composers (Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven), only Mozart wrote operas (Beethoven wrote only one, and Haydn none). Haydn’s contribution to vocal music was an oratorio called “The Creation.” Beethoven’s opera, “Fidelio,” is considered a masterpiece (he also wrote other works that included large choruses, including “Missa Solemnis” and his famous 9th symphony), but it was Mozart who truly revolutionized the art form as a whole. The true operatic innovation of the Classical period, however, was not in the music (though of course the music was affected), but in the libretti—operas were now written using contemporary stories, rather than Greek myths. Additionally, operas now included comic scenes, and opera developed into two distinct genres, opera seria (serious opera, with tragic, historical, or classical themes) and opera buffa (comic opera). All of Mozart’s most famous operas (Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro) and “Fidelio” are examples of this phenomenon, which was caused in part by the rise of the middle class—the bourgeois still lacked the classical education of the nobles, but were now numerous enough that presenters and the composers who they worked with were forced to consider their entertainment needs.
Songs returned to their former prominence in the early Romantic period. Lieder (German for “songs”) were written primarily by German composers. Robert Schumann wrote approximately 150, Brahms more than 200; Franz Schubert wrote, in his 31 years of life, over 600 songs. These three were the most famous (and some of the best) composers to embrace the song. Lieder widened the gap between text and music; while operas were written by two different artists in collaboration, lieder were based off of already finished poems that were rarely if ever intended to be set to music. The rise of the lied is not to say, however, that opera diminished in importance—in fact, quite the opposite. Lieder were written for salons, private concerts usually held in the houses of aristocrats to which other artists and nobles were invited. Operas were held in spectacular theaters built specifically for this purpose, and attended by massive audiences from a variety of socioeconomic classes. The rise of a class of concertgoers more concerned with being entertained than with classical myths or (to their ears unperceivable) musical complexities, combined with the development of instrumental and vocal technique to never-before-seen levels, gave birth to the virtuoso performer and virtuoso writing. A virtuoso is not simply someone who has achieved an extremely high
technical level, it is someone for whom this fantastic ability is a part of his or her very persona, or at least stage persona. The virtuoso engages in superhuman displays of technical proficiency, ostensibly to please and entertain the crowd, and sometimes at the expense of the performance’s musical integrity. With the advent of the new virtuosity, opera, and classical music in general, had reached new heights of popular appeal and cultural significance. In the late 19th century, music became increasingly divided by geopolitical boundaries, again the result of cultural nationalism. In Germany, Wagner espoused his great philosophical contribution to art, Gesamtkunstwerk, which translates rather loosely from German as “total work of art” or “all-embracing art form.” Wagner had deep-set convictions about his art and would never compromise his artistic ideals for cheap entertainment value. In a realization of the potential of the Florentine Camerata’s ideas, Wagner believed that opera could unify all forms of art—visual, aural, and literary—into a gesamtkunstwerk; in this period, he produced countless operas to realize his proposition, including his critical Ring cycle. The songs of Mahler and the songs and operas of Strauss stretched the four-century-old system of tonal harmony to its limits. Puccini in Italy continued to write ever more popular operas based on the new idea of verisimo, in which operas were based on realistic libretti about the common man in true-to-life situations. In France, going against all their formal training and traditions, composers like Debussy and Ravel began to search for musical inspiration outside of Europe (particularly in the Far East), following Debussy’s encounter with Indonesian music and instruments at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889. The exotic timbres and harmonies for which they searched, however, were better expressed in instrumental than vocal music, and while there is a great deal of Impressionist (as their movement is now called) vocal music, song was not to them what it was to their German and Italian contemporaries. The same is essentially true of Romantic Russian composers—while they wrote operas and some songs, their most famous and significant works (Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony) were instrumental. The 20th-century saw the individualization of the composer to such an extent that no label can describe the period except for that of “20th-century.” It also saw, particularly after the 1960’s, the marginalization of classical music. Vocal classical music has continued its evolution, permuting time and time again to match the ever-increasing batch of contemporary styles. The art song and the opera have lived through atonal music, twelve-tone music, minimalism, and electronic classical music. *
A new kind of music started to become popular at the end of the 19th century. This type of song is generally referred to as “Tin Pan Alley,” and is considered to be one of the earliest forms of jazz. Tin Pan Alley songs, which make up much of the repertoire known as “jazz standards,” were a natural result of a few convergent lines of influence: jazz, musical theater, lieder, folk songs. Most of this kind of music was written just for piano and voice, although many performers would include a bass, drums, and sometimes even horn players. When Tin Pan Alley music was used in movies, however, the pieces would usually be elaborately arranged for a larger jazz ensemble and typically included strings in addition to a horn section. The name “Tin Pan Alley” originally was what the area around 28th street and 6th avenue was called, where many of the music publishing offices at the time were located. The origin of the name Tin Pan Alley is unclear, although it may be because of the sounds of all the cheap upright pianos being played simultaneously inside the publishing offices sounding like banging on tin pans. These music publishers were the new way of circulating music to the masses before recorded music and radios had fully taken over. Tin Pan Alley songs came to define a new kind of “popular” music, and composers like Irving Berlin (who wrote many of the famous Christmas and holiday songs still performed today, as well as “God Bless America”), George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Scott Joplin and singers like Ella Fitzgerald became the pop stars of their time.
The Tin Pan Alley era of music extends through the Prohibition and Depression, and music by the Gershwins and Irving Berlin was featured in many popular movies (many of the Fred Astaire movies, for example, were scored by the Gershwins). An important aspect of these songs and movies, especially once the Depression began, was that they were meant to be positive and uplifting. The movies at the time would generally have one or two scenes called “production numbers.” A production number would usually feature a very large group of people, complex choreography, and would tend to feature an upbeat song. There were other musical numbers in the movies as well, but the production number would be biggest and usually most exciting. Radio started to replace printed music towards the end of the 20s and became increasingly popular in the 30s. The market for printed music would be diminished, and some of the Tin Pan Alley music publishers went out of business. However, jazz as a genre lived on. Big bands (usually consisting of around 18 members, including piano, bass, drum set, and a trumpet, saxophone, and trombone section) became very popular after Tin Pan Alley. Big bands had been popular for dancing starting in the 20s, but were one of two big components of jazz in the 40s, once Tin Pan Alley had begun to fade. The other component of 40s jazz was called bebop, which a short-lived phase involving very technically challenging music. Though immensely important to jazz history, bebop was not popular music at the time, and was in fact deemed “as difficult to listen to as it is to play” by critics. Big bands would occasionally use the Tin Pan Alley songs and arrange for the instrumentation of a big band, and would, from time to time, include a singer, though this was not always the case. The Duke Ellington and Count Basie big bands, the two most famous big bands in the history of jazz, used primarily new music that was written specifically for the bands. These bands were hits on the radio, at hotels and nightclubs, and released recordings on vinyl records. The popularity of the big bands began to dwindle in the 50s, however, with the rise of rock ‘n’ roll. Most of the early rock ‘n’ roll was in fact very jazzy in its form and style—the story of 20th century popular music is that of musical miscegenation, the infusion of black culture into mainstream culture. Whereas Tin Pan Alley songs usually used AABA form, rock n’ roll used verse-chorus-verse form. It would also typically employ the blues form—a form of song used often in jazz, and largely influenced by centuries of folk music. The songs were short and would sometimes include some improvisation from a guitarist or a pianist, followed by another verse or chorus combination--another widely used form in jazz. The instrumentation and attitude of rock is what distinguished it from jazz. Rock was seen as a movement, and for the most part still is. Teenagers tired of being forced into suburban conformity looked for a way out, and found in rock music something unique from their parents’ jazz. In the 50s, musicians like Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley replaced the Gershwin brothers and Scott Joplin as pop icons. Drugs in the 60s changed the music that was being made. Music relied more on intstruments than on voices, and became more psychedelic. Because of the drugs involved in the scene, it became even more vilified by the older generation. Songs started to have political purposes as well, such anti-war songs or songs about the hypocrisy of the government. This music brought people together, at least the young people, and was iconic for the various movements in the 60s. This idea of music promoting causes continued into the present day, and became prevalent especially in the 80s with the advent of gangster rap on the West Coast. The song is in an interesting place in 2011. Popular music, which involves almost only songs (as opposed to other musical forms), has evolved and permuted infinitely many times; there have been both good and bad results. Art songs and operas are composed for a dwindling audience (although, read about Nico Muhly’s successful new opera, Two Boys, on p. 30). The indie rock world—which in some ways straddles the line between popular music and “art” music—coupled with a certain sector of the contemporary classical community, has elaborated on the tradition of song in very interesting ways. Indie bands and composers who think in similar ways have transformed songs into open constructions that leave room for extended sonic exploration or complex quasi-classical arrangements, but still rely on verses and choruses. Songs have been used for different purposes throughout history. Some were religious, some were theatrical, some were just fun; others were political, and still others were for the sake of art alone. The pervasiveness of the human voice, through all of these variants, has tied together the divergent strands of musical history.
NICO MUHLY and the electronic opera BY GIDEON BROSHY
hen Nico Muhly walks into 88 Orchard, the Chinatown café that I meet him in, his music is playing on the stereo. The café is playing “Ready, Able,” from Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest—Muhly wrote the arrangements on the album. We’re talking about his early experiences with music. Raised in Providence, Rhode Island, Nico sang in a boys’ choir. He started playing “bad piano” at the age of 10, and was quickly captivated by composition. “I started getting interested in maybe writing stuff… at that point it was sort of like improvising, but more structured. I would have a piece I was playing and take the notes but put them in a different order… so that’s what… what the—?” A song from Jonsi’s album Go, which Nico worked on, is playing on the café speakers. Muhly’s opera Two Boys was premiered by the English National Opera this year, and moves to the Metropolitan Opera in the 2012-2013 season. It tells the story of Brian, a convicted 15-yearold who claims to have been lured into murder
by a mysterious conspiracy. Brian, it is revealed, murdered his friend Jake while under enormous pressure from someone in an online chatroom— we later find out that the online coercion came from Jake himself. Muhly seamlessly integrates electronics into the opera, from an aural and a visual perspective. He constructs kaleidoscopic sound formations that flutter and dribble wistfully, complementing the voices beautifully. Electronics play a large role in the set design as well: the opera features two huge on-stage screens with visually stirring projections, and the chorus holds laptops in the place of conventional sheet mu-
sic, creating an expanse of illuminated faces. The presence of technology on stage and in the pit complements its close relationship with the storyline.
you drag yourself home at five only to wake up at eight to correct oboe slurs.” Bands and cheap wine at night, woodwinds and coffee in the morning.
Muhly is incredibly accomplished for a thirty-year-old composer. His orchestral works have been premiered by the New York Philharmonic. He has written extensively for choir and for dance. He scored Oscar-winning film The Reader. His long-play albums, Speaks Volumes and Mothertongue, for small ensembles with electronics, blur the lines between experimental indie music and contemporary classical music; his work with Grizzly Bear, Jónsi, Antony and the Johnsons, Sam Amidon, Doveman, Sufjan Stevens and members of the National show that the musical “world” you come from matters less than your creativity, your energy, and your collaborative spirit.
“You have to limit your input to stuff you like…It’s a good problem to have, but… I have to be really picky about stuff I listen to, so I don’t get manic and overextended into those…and then other times I feel like all I want to do is sink into the rhythms of the evening… if I travel and I’m on tour and I have an evening off, I’ll eventually see a lot of things, and that’s a good way to be. I mean London…” Muhly talks with a jarring quickness and eagerness about practially everything.
Nico and I talked for about two and a half hours; we touched on five million topics. He seems to have strong opinions about anything cultural; he chooses words as carefully as he chooses his clothing. Educated at Columbia and Juilliard simultaneously (he received a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master’s in music), writing music for rock bands and orchestras, Muhly bridges musical and intellectual gaps, and has created a unique career path for himself. His career’s example suggests bright prospects for the young composer working in New York City, and he leads a uniquely 21st century, uniquely New York life. Describing a typical night out, he says, “You go to see a friend’s show at Piano’s at elevenish, then there’s something at Santo’s Party House at two, and then
Muhly is expanding what opera, classical music and indie rock mean. In a 2008 interview, Elliot Carter, the seminal 20th century composer (who attended Horace Mann) said, “I think that contemporary music has a certain element of interest that older music never has. It’s more vivid, it’s more like the way we live and the way we experience. I mean, after all, in the old days, you had all those soldiers marching and horses trotting around, and that’s all in the music; now we have airplanes and God knows what… our lives are so utterly different. And it seems to me that that older music, which is beautiful, like an old castle or something… doesn’t have the kind of thing that good contemporary music has.” If music is supposed to speak to and for the time in which it’s written, Muhly’s work fits the bill. Our generation’s musical message is jumbled and multifarious, but perhaps Muhly’s eclecticism speaks for it—even if only a relatively small fragment is listening.
Art and Homosexuality: WHAT'S THE CONNECTION? By Gideon Broshy
ake a quick look at the greatest artists of history, and you can’t miss a gay name. Writers Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, W.H. Auden, Marcel Proust, David Sedaris, Edward Albee, and William Burroughs were or are gay; so were artists Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and (allegedly) Andy Warhol. Joining them are composers Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Aaron Copland, Benjamin Britten, John Cage, Franz Schubert, Camille Saint-Saens, Samuel Barber, Pierre Boulez, Virgil Thompson, and Francis Poulenc, Harry Partch, John Corigliano, Nico Muhly, Mark Blitzstein, and Henry Cowell; pianists Sviatoslav Richter and Jean-Yves Thibaudet; music do-it-all Leonard Bernstein; theater guru Steven Sondheim; photographer Robert Mapplethorpe; and choreographers Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey and Jerome Robbins. Finally: Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Cole Porter, Rufus Wainwright, Liberace, Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear, Kele Okereke of Bloc Party, Owen Pallett, Ricky Martin, Lance Bass, Adam Lambert, Clay Aiken, and Neil Patrick Harris. Possibly Shakespeare. Maybe Ravel. All of the metaphysical poets too? (That’s some serious homoeroticism). Ancient Greek writers like Aristophanes and Theocrites condone homosexuality in their works, and Ovid’s Metamor phoses describes various sexual oddities, including the “first” hermaphrodite, but that probably has more to do with Greek and Roman attitudes than personal sexuality. The word “gay” and its derogatory synonyms are often used to make fun of males in the arts. I remember a friend of mine having his masculinity and his heterosexuality questioned when he auditioned for an HMTC play in tenth grade. Liking art is “faggy.” For men, a life in the arts means something very different from a “mainstream,” stable, money-making
career; in some way, it is a subversion of the patriarchal ideal, because a career as an artist is not a “bread-winning” profession. “Artsy” neighborhoods, like Greenwich Village or Williamsburg, Brooklyn, tend to have a large gay population. Why the connection between homosexuality and the arts? That is the main focus of this article. The goal is to figure out why a disproportionate amount of homosexuals are involved in the arts, but the other questions that are raised— why do people think the arts are “gay,” what makes them “gay,” what does a gay presence in the arts mean for the history of music—will be indirectly or directly addressed.
Conjectures Perhaps gay people’s formative experiences, growing and finding their place as adults in the world, drive them to the arts. Sexually, they deviate from the norm; in a different way, becoming a professional artist—especially at a place like Horace Mann—is also a deviation from the norm. Perhaps a feeling of sexual “otherness” impels young gay people to identify with cultural or professional otherness. Perhaps the fact that gays are overrepresented in the arts has to do with the amount of openly gay people in the arts. Maybe it’s really that a larger proportion of people in the arts are out, because the artistic world is, generally speaking, a fairly liberal, tolerant environment. By nature the arts require one to be more connected to ones emotions; maybe this plays a role in the disproportionate amount of openly gay people in the arts. A friend recently said to me, “I think there are a lot of bankers and stockbrokers and whatnot who are under a
lot of pressure to conform and are maybe in the closet.” Job discrimination may play a role in driving gay people to the arts. Discrimination against gay people is hugely prevalent in most job markets; 34 states have refrained from passing laws against anti-gay workplace discrimination. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prevent this discrimination, has been introduced in every Congress since 1994, but has not passed. Perhaps gay people are pushed into jobs in entertainment or theater because they are discriminated against in most other places. Less directly, perhaps general American homophobia and a feeling that the government condones discrimination against gay people—the Defense of Marriage Act essentially invalidates gay marriage; gay marriage has only been passed in six states and Washington, D.C.; sodomy laws were not federally nullified until 2003; and the military has always been very homophobic—contributes to homosexuals’ gravitation towards off-the-mainstream professions. The American government and public could help engender the feeling that gay people are not “wanted” in the mainstream job market. We sometimes raise a dichotomy between stereotypically masculine qualities such as physical toughness and emotional stoicism, and stereotypically feminine qualities such as emotional openness and communication. Various studies at Vanderbilt University, University of Georgia, and University of North Carolina have shown that women are more likely to express their emotions than men. For the purposes of this article—even though stereotypes like these can be sexist and harmful—let’s assume that these stereotypes hold true. Gay men are stereotyped as being particularly feminine. In 2008, research done at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden showed that the brains of homosexuals of one sex resembled those of heterosexuals of the other sex. Gay women and straight men have asymmetrical brains, while straight women and gay men have symmetrical brains. The corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres of the brain, was found to be larger in gay men than in straight men. In addition, certain neural pathways, which corresponded to not only sexual preference, but also to emotion processing and storage, were more similar between heterosexuals of one sex and homosexuals of the other. The study showed that there are regions of the brain not directly involved in sexuality that seem to be “feminized” in gay males. Another study comparing gay and straight HIV victims has shown that HIV-positive gay men are more emotionally expressive than HIV-positive straight men. Perhaps this research suggests a predisposition for gay men to emotional connectedness and sensitivity. A particularly high level of emotional responsiveness may account for the fact that gay men are disproportionately represented in the arts—a profession
that necessitates a high level of emotional expressivity.
Twin Identities Societies throughout history have had a more fluid view of sexuality, and in some cases, such as Ancient Greece, homosexuality was a natural part of life. People in past societies and cultures were not as invested in identity as we are today. The notion that homosexuality was an identity—a whole way of being that saturated every part of your character, from your friends to your dress to your taste in music and books—arose only in the mid-nineteenth century, a time when the preoccupation with national and cultural identity suffused the European psyche. Author David Halperin contends, “homosexuality presupposes sexuality, and sexuality itself…is a modern invention.” In the 1860s, sexology, the vaguely homophobic discipline fundamental to the modern understanding of sexuality, entered public and academic discourse; “queer theory” affirmed that homosexuality was a definite identity. This development was part of a larger trend towards thinking of people in terms of clearly defined “types.” During this period, the idea of “the artist” emerged; artists became people whose aesthetic sensibility shaped every part of his identity. In his book Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas, Christopher Reed contends that the perception that gay people and artists are related is a product of this movement in the 19th century towards defining individuals more clearly—according to Reed, a connection was perceived because both identities were asserted at the same time, and both deviated from the bourgeois norm, asserting their independence from mainstream society. “The artist” and “the homosexual” were two of the most challenging identities to emerge in the 19th century. The connection between musicality and homosexuality entered public discourse as an indirect result of sexology. The statements made by queer musicologists in the 19th century are at times offensive, sometimes valid, and always intriguing. One memorable quote: “As to music… this is certainly the art which in its subtlety and tenderness — and perhaps in a certain inclination to indulge in emotion — lies nearest to the homosexual nature. There are few in fact of this nature who have not some gift in the direction of music.” Another musicologist attributed homosexuals’ sexual preference and apparent musical aptitude to the same “emotional instability” or “disposition to nervousness,” and another said, “has been extravagantly said that all musicians are inverts [homosexuals].” The turn of the century was a time of aggressive polemicizing and rash generalization on many issues, including sexuality; Otto Weininger, a self-hating misogynist Jew and an important figure in early 20th century rhetoric, wrote that Jewish men were effeminate and women were
incapable of selfhood and genius, but female homosexuals could approximate “respectable” masculinity.
Gay Music? How has the prevalence of homosexuality in music affected or defined music since the 19th century? Is there “gay music” or a gay musical sensibility? Because of the apparent ties between music and homosexuality, “the art of music, the music profession, and musicology in the 20th century,” according to musicologists Philip Brett and Elizabeth Wood, “have all been shaped by the knowledge and fear of homosexuality.” Music played, and still plays, an important part as both “safety valve and regulator in the mechanism of the ‘closet’.” In the words of gay author Wayne Koestenbaum, “historically, music has been defined as mystery and miasma, as implicitness rather than explicitness, and so we have hid inside music: in music we can come out without coming out, we can reveal without saying a word.” Music provides the freedom to express desire and other feelings—a lifeline to those whose basic emotions are undermined by the society surrounding them. Although heavily populated by lesbians and gays, the various branches of music have mostly exhibited implicit, coded critiques of, rather than overt opposition to, the heteronormative order of things.
some-cowboy’ vocal disguise of Elton John; Cage’s dual embrace of both noise and silence within music; Bernstein’s over-the-top showmanship; the aggressively blank faces of the Pet Shop Boys: all these — or yet other aspects of the art and self-presentation of these men and women — might be read, according to queer musicologists, as signs of both an accommodation to as well as subversion of the pervasive fact of the closet. British composer Benjamin Britten made powerful critiques of the family, heterosexual relations, organized religion, patriarchal authority, and militarism in his works, quietly criticizing the heteronormative order. In a scene in the opera The Turn of the Screw, the boy protagonist, Miles, is having a Latin lesson—the text he is learning translates to “O arsehole, scrotum, penis, bless ye the Lord.” When translated, these words become a gay Christian male’s earnest claim for a kind of sanctity of the gay male body, unrecognized by Britten’s church. You hear this boy—who has been expelled from school for some nameless “sin”— singing that he would rather be elsewhere, is desirous of otherness, wants not to be labeled a naughty boy, but is still anxious about “adversity” and being the agent or recipient of ill. This Miles is central to the opera’s critique of the rule-making heterosexual world of governess, school and church, and its plea for a place within Christianity for sexualities “aberrant” sexualities.
“A sound created by a circle of gay composers, paradoxically, became the sound of mainstream American patriotism.”
Many homosexual musicians combined such internalization of oppression with some manner of unarticulated protest. Musicologists have supposedly identified many musical “references” to, or commentaries on, homosexuality in music composed or performed by gay people. The eccentricity of Vladimir Horowitz; the insider allusions in the songs of Cole Porter and Noël Coward; Kathleen Ferrier’s (and many other singers’) cultivation of a ‘Sapphonic’ voice; the boldness and desperation of blues singers such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday; Virgil Thomson’s collaboration with lesbian poet Gertrude Stein; the falsetto-enhanced ‘lone-
It’s interesting to look at the case of Aaron Copland and his circle of paradoxically gay, all-American composers. The open, slowly changing harmonies of many of Copland’s works which include the classic American ballets Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, Rodeo and his Fanfare for the Common Man, are archetypical of what many people consider to be the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit. The United States Army even confirms Copland’s status as “America’s most prominent composer”; unsaid remains the fact that he would be discriminated against if he were to join the armed forces. In the case of Copland, a sound created by a circle of gay composers—out of which some musicologists
have tried to extract a “gay aesthetic”—paradoxically became the sound of mainstream masculine patriotism. I don’t believe that there is a “gay sound,” a “gay sensibility” or a “gay aesthetic.” But music cannot be easily separated from its context (of performance, venue, genre and audience, and musical allusion); it can’t be stripped of all associations. It is clear that the notion of the “closet” and the reality of homosexuality have hugely pervaded the history of music, because it has influenced the emotional state of countless gay artists. And gay musicians have created idioms and styles that have influenced musicians throughout history. In that sense, the fictional “gay sensibility” has reached its tentacles deep into the history of art. Music and a music-based aesthetic has served as a way to assert gay identity in a much more overt way. Gay subculture, which arose in the midst of baby boomer culture in the 1960s, has for a long time been associated with a style called “camp,” which describes a certain brand of deliberately exaggerated theatricality. The subculture has appropriated cultural expressions such as drag culture and disco. Gay culture in the mainstream is often associated with “divas” like Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Streisand and Madonna. In this way, a particular expression of gay identity has pervaded the popular consciousness. Madonna was the biggest pop star of the 80’s; Prince and David Bowie adopted a similarly extravagant, “gay” aesthetic. ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” was named the “gayest song in history” by Entertainment Weekly; in the public sphere, gay culture was and still is associated with a particular brand of theatricality. Unfortunately, the sense of gay identity that arose in the 19th century, which in the last fifty years has been largely defined by a culture of theatricality and the “camp” style, serves to marginalize gay people. In the 1970s, disco—before it became a mainstream sensation—was associated with gay culture. Danceclub life throughout Europe and the United States was transformed in the 70s with the advent of Gloria Gaynor, Patti Labelle, the Pointer Sisters, Sister Sledge, Donna Summer, Sylvester, The Village People, the Weather Girls and dozens more; gay men and sometimes lesbians gyrated and celebrated ‘family’ in safe queer spaces. Disco was an important expression of gay autonomy and identity (why do you think the Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” made the top 5 of the Entertainment Weekly list?), and it was defined not only by music, but
by dancing style, fashion, film—a culturally specific sensibility and aesthetic. Disco evolved into Techno and Acid House; in the 90s, RuPaul got famous. Like rock and roll in the preceding decades, Disco and House were heavily derived from African American performing styles and sounds, but racial tensions were momentarily displaced to, in the words of musicologists Brett and Wood, “create an idealized arena for queer identity to be performed.” It was truly a show. Conclusions A lot of these statements reinforce stereotypes. However, if they are supported by data, they are worth considering. The data from the Karolinska study may be biological fact, but is not a basis for discrimination or bigotry; we view our individual identities and our differences on a much higher, more sophisticated level than we view our biological identities. While we are our biology, we are more than our biology; that’s what makes the human spirit and the human species special. It’s also important to note that, regardless of any connection between the arts and homosexuality, music derives from all different kinds of emotional states and cultural circumstances. The image of the “master composer” has always been very masculine, and many musics are very masculine in nature. Whereas Prince and Bowie were a little bit “gay,” Nirvana and heavy metal was very brawny and powerful. And, though some artists may be more tolerant of homosexuality and other forms of “otherness” because they are often immersed in liberal environments, there is nothing about musicians that makes them particularly tolerant of homosexuality; homophobia abounds in some parts of the musical world. Hip hop is incredibly homophobic, as were composers Charles Ives and Arnold Schoenberg. Last summer I was at a music program at Tanglewood, in the Berkshires, and homophobia was as palpable as it is at any summer camp for teenagers. Finally: the world’s perception of gay people is changing. Homosexuals in developed countries are increasingly integrated and less marginalized. The arts are one career route for gay people, but not all gay people grow up wanting to be on Broadway. Gay representation in typically “masculine” professions like politics is increasing—there are even a handful of openly gay congressmen, including Barney Frank and newcomers Jared Polis and David Cicilline. Gay people don’t fit into the tight spaces and stereotypes that they are often blindly associated with; the world and America are coming closer to realizing that.
COMEDY COMPOSITION by Kim Sarnoff Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet, Opus 33 No. 2 is nicknamed The Joke. It is a piece of classical music widely recognized for its humor – certainly a strange notion in an era of house music and Lady Gaga. How can something with no words or images be funny? How is it that Haydn is considered a comedic genius when he all had to play with were instruments? Humor and sound do not clearly overlap, but it is worth decoding whether or not laughter should be a natural response to unintelligible noise. More than any other composer, Austrian born Joseph Haydn toyed with the notions of music and comedy. He wove humor into his work, writing many playful pieces that engaged audiences in a novel way; although he spoke through the language of music, he was able to express a whimsy in his compositions. The tools he used in much of his writing reflect modern comedic techniques. He used music to convey humor the same way modern comedians use words. Haydn’s The Joke, and his Surprise Symphony, show clear parallels to current comedy. The Joke is strikingly similar to long form improv, two or more person scenes. Scene-based improv functions around one main principle: the game. The game is an unusual thing or pattern of behavior that deviates from the norm. When you highlight the game’s existence, people laugh at its strange-
ness. Game exists independent of premise. The same game could work in a baseball dugout or a high school classroom. The game is simply about isolating a strange something and pointing out that it is there. While Haydn was certainly not a trained improviser, he played his own version of a game when he wrote Opus 33. Towards the end of the piece’s fourth movement, Haydn employs a long pause, making the audience believe that the music has ended. Haydn, however, then surprises the listener when he begins the music again. Ever-
taining a reality and pointing out the unusual thing, but the Surprise Symphony instead delivers a witty punchline. Haydn does not look to sustain a pattern; rather, he surprises (hence the name) the audience with an unexpected twist. The opening of the symphony’s second movement is quiet and peaceful, until, out of nowhere, an incredibly loud chord is sounded. The music then immediately returns to its original, soft state. The sequence is never repeated and only exists to play with the listeners and their expecta-
There is something to be said for music as a high form of humor.”
growing rests between sections of violin concretize his “game”: leading the audience to believe his piece has finished when it actually has not. By playing a musical “game,” Haydn creates a very humorous finish to his piece. Haydn’s comedic intuition appears in other works as well. Perhaps his most famous “funny” composition is his Symphony No. 94, also called the Surprise Symphony. This piece is comical for reasons different from The Joke. The principles of improv do not apply here. While improv is about sus-
tions. The surprise symphony is the funny one-liner we all love to hear. Haydn had an incredible knack for translating what was comedic in real life into something that was musically expressible. Humor in music is a unique issue because funniness cannot be grouped with emotions like happiness, sadness, fear, excitement, etc. The note progression, tempo and pitch of a piece can easily make you feel one of the latter emotions. In fact, you make emotional associations all the time
when you listen to instrumental music. It is impossible not to. However, evoking the notion of comedy is a lot more difficult because we do not translate things into happy or sad the way we translate things into funny. For something to be funny, there has to be some noticeably odd structure, something out of place. Since music cannot tell you the joke, it must draw it out, and you must be prepared to understand that language. There is something to be said for music as a high form of humor. You have to work to understand the joke it is telling, and when the punchline comes, it is not so much a laugh out loud knee slapper as it is a notion of playfulness. This might frustrate some. It is frustrating because it is not easy. In music, the humor has to lie in the structure, and structure is often more difficult to process than meaning. Meaning is obvious – we understand words. Often when we laugh at a joke, we laugh at its meaning, not its structure. When we read books and poems, we tend to analyze the significance of the words and not the structure of the story. Structure matters, though. When a poem is written in sonnet form, that is significant. The writer wants you to consider the associations with sonnets; perhaps because they want you to apply them to what is written, perhaps because they want you to notice how they reject them. It is easy to only focus on the words and look over the template the writer has carefully chosen. It is easy to focus on the emotional associations you have with the notes, and not the arc of the piece. Even in improv, where words and meaning are so crucial to creating the reality of the scene and getting anywhere entertaining, structure plays a pivotal role. Remember, you laugh at improv scenes due to the repetition of unusual behavior. It is not the scene’s premise that ultimately matters, but the continued return to a funny idea. The idea lives independent of the premise. The words back up the pattern. Without structure, no humor can surface. And it is more difficult than just spewing out witty one-liners. You have to be aware of the trajectory of your actions, not just the actions themselves. So, is humor a natural reaction to something we cannot process
in the same way as words? Something even less processable than Haydn? On a 1944 variety show, a man named John Cage performed a piece called Water Walk. The work involved him making various seemingly random noises through the movement and tapping of different objects and substances, including a bathtub filled with water, a tape recorder, a mechanical fish, a rubber duck, a tea kettle, a vase of roses, five radios, and a grand piano. Before he began, the host of the show told the audience they were allowed to laugh if they felt moved to do so. Even though the performance had nothing particularly funny about it, the whole audience laughed throughout. They found laughter as a comfortable way to relate to sound when they were
given it as an option; laughter was a natural response to Cage’s odd sonic collage. Normally we do not think of sound and laughter as inherently connected, but they are not as far apart as we make them out to be. When asked if he approved of the audience’s laughter, Cage said, “Of course: I consider laughter preferable to tears.” Music will not hit the funny bone the same way slipping on a banana does, but it deserves more credit than it probably gets. Compositions can hide very substantial jokes. They can play with expectations the same way verbal humor might. There is room to be playful. It is a different type of humor, but in the hands of the right people, music can become a great comedic tool.
Dubstep Explosion By Gabriel Ibagon
he explosion of dubstep has been impossible to avoid. Over the last few years, the once lowkey genre has made the jump to mainstream audiences, becoming a viral sensation on the Internet. Hype continues to build as fans constantly search for the most extreme sounds the genre has to offer. Dubstep’s sound can be described in three words: bass, bass, bass. It differs from its neighboring UK dance music scenes due to its unrestricted obsession with loud bass frequencies. The latest wave of the genre focuses on creating the most distorted and mind-melting bass lines, utilizing behemoth bass drops and wobbles to drive its songs. However, dubstep has gone through a major evolution in its audience and sound. The origins of the genre can be traced back to the sound system culture of dub in Jamaica. This music scene revolved around DJs remixing reggae records on large sound systems for parties. Taking advantage of the huge speakers, these remixes would often emphasize sub-bass frequencies, the lowest range of frequencies humans can hear. Dub inspired the rise of 90’s bass-driven music in the UK, such as 2-step garage. London artists borrowed the sub-bass and shuffling drums from dub and combined them with elements of electronic music, particularly American house music. This scene was based in South London, where electronic artists would enjoy the relative obscurity of underground clubs. Artists such as El-B and Horsepower Productions created dubstep by experimenting with 2-step’s sound and pressing these experiments on the B-side of records. The actual location of the invention of dubstep can be pinpointed to two locations: Big Apple Records and the night club Velvet Room. Big Apple Records was a record store and recording studio located in London. It was initially a hot spot for all bass-related records, but it eventually became the hub for up and coming dubstep pioneers, such as Benga and Skream. DJs would come
“Dubstep’s sound can be described in three words: bass, bass, bass.”
to the store to pick up new dubstep records that were being created in the studio upstairs. These DJs would spin the records at Forward, a club night at the Velvet Room dedicated to the new sounds of dubstep. Records would also be played on the pirate station Rinse FM. Pirate stations were obscure radio stations on illegal or abandoned frequencies. These stations were a big part of the underground UK electronic scene, and they helped spread the sound of dubstep. The first wave of dubstep from Big Apple Records had a much more minimal, dark sound than the dubstep we hear today. The bass lines in those records are much less pronounced; they are used to create a dark and heavy vibe beneath the surface, rather than as the focal point of the song. The drums were sparse, leaving a large empty space that would be filled in with the booming, atmospheric bass. The genre was laid back and aggressive at the same time; the density of the music itself left listeners’ ears and body shaken. The genre started to catch on to a wider audience, and dubstep began its ascent to popularity. The first widely popular dubstep single could arguably be Skream’s “Midnight Request Line,” released in 2006. By this time, dubstep had become a recognized genre. It was being widely publicized around the UK, most notably on BBC’s Radio 1. DJ Joe Nice is often credited with bringing dubstep to NYC nightclubs, thus spreading the genre to the United States. As dubstep rose to the frontline of the electronic music scene, its sound began to change. Rather than focus on creating an atmosphere, producers began to center their sound around the genre’s signature, the bass wobble. This sound was created by automating a low frequency oscillator on the bass to create a quasi-vocal effect, making it sound like it screams “wub wub wub.” Artists began competing amongst each other to create the heaviest and dirtiest bass wobbles and drops. Dubstep went viral on Facebook and YouTube, where fans would be on the constant search for the most extreme sounds. This style of dubstep, often condescendingly labeled as “brostep” is by far the most popular branch of the genre. Skrillex is currently the leader of this movement, boasting millions of hits on YouTube with his electro-dubstep hybrid. His EP Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites was a tremendous factor in the popularization of dubstep. The title track launched him and the genre to stardom, acting as the catalyst to the genre going viral. Millions of people, many of whom had never listened to electronic music before, were turned on to his mangled eclectic sound. Although Skrillex’s songs aren’t strictly dubstep, his association with dubstep helped the genre become a hit keyword. Tons of artists began popping up all over the Internet, each giving their own interpretation of the infamous bass drop and wobble. Dubstep artists began to headline large music festivals, such as Reading, Ultra, and Electric Zoo. It can even be heard creeping into pop radio in hits from Britney Spears and Rihanna.
The rise of dubstep will also be its ultimate downfall. An extremely close parallel to the hardcore punk scene shows a bleak future for dubstep. In the early 2000s, hardcore punk began to rise from obscurity due to the popularity of the breakdown, a section of the song that concentrates on heavy rhythms. Hardcore bands began centering their songs around these breakdowns, attempting to make them sound as extreme and brutal as possible. Hardcore sacrificed its substance for this gimmick, ultimately becoming a shallow parody of itself. For this very same reason, the bass drop causes dubstep to become quite a controversial genre. Many people hate the whole genre because of the over-thetop dissonance of the bass that every new song now exploits. The concept of bass wobbles was interesting and innovative when it was first heard; the genre deserves credit for the multitude of new techniques artists have conjured up to make the bass as brutal as possible. The techniques are popular and catchy, so catchy that it becomes irresistible for other artists to include them in their own songs. After a few copycats, however, innovation turns into gimmick, and this is what is killing dubstep. There are only so many times one can be impressed by the same old bass wobble. A bass can only get so distorted and so extreme before it turns into something ridiculous, a parody of a once-respectable genre. Other artists are resorting to remixing famous songs with dubstep, hoping to cash in on the novelty of the song’s popularity or even the irony of remixing the song. Once again, dubstep artists are relying on shallow gimmicks to hope to catch a bit the short-lived stardom that these one-hit wonders have been savoring. This school of dubstep has split music fans: you either love it or you hate it. Unjustly for the rest of the genre, the splash that “brostep” created has overshadowed anything that the other artists are doing. The genre is dominated by singles that quickly go out of style to make room for the next hit. In the rare occasion that a new innovation comes along, it is immediately followed by a sea of imitators who saturate the blogs that follow the genre. The original school of dubstep is still going strong, but it hardly ever gets the recognition that brostep receives. This has allowed great dubstep albums to be criminally ignored by the masses. Great Lengths by Martyn, London Zoo by the Bug, and My Demons by Distance are all fantastic albums that have never seen anything close to the amount of popularity some new dubstep artists have received. It is an unfair reality for genuinely good dubstep artists, but such is life in the music industry. Although hardcore punk and dubstep are on two different ends of the musical spectrum, their paths appear very similar. Whether or not the entirety of dubstep will fall to the lows of hardcore is yet to be seen. Dubstep is still a very young genre and continues to grow in popularity and sound. Like it or not, UK bass music has started to infect America and will leave its legacy in the canon of dance music.
BY STEVEN CACOURIS
t’s 10:30 on a beautiful summer night at the Prospect Park Bandshell, and a crowd of thousands is cheering for its beloved band, which has just left the stage. The crowd, enraptured by its own roar, anticipates an encore. The band has just played its most famous song, a Bjork cover, and a singalong in which the musicians at one point goes completely silent. A few minutes pass, and the stage has gone black, but the crowd refuses to relent; after all, the concert sold out within a day, and many unable to get tickets are picnicking in the park. This kind of widespread appreciation within the indierock world that most would assume would be reserved for bands such as Sonic Youth, the Pixies, and the Flaming Lips, all of whom made their mark by adding accessibility over time, releasing albums that acknowledged the mainstream and blended accessible melodies through their musical background. For example, The Soft Bulletin took the Flaming Lips from being a band that put
out Zaireeka, an album designed to be played by four separate CD players at once, to a group appreciated both critically and commercially for using its use of simple melody while not abandoning their overwhelming soundscapes. In turn, it brought alternative music to new heights. Parallels can be drawn to Sonic Youth’s transition from Sister to Daydream Nation, or the Pixies’ move from Surfer Rosa to Doolittle. The point begging to be made in these comparisons is that, in essence, the world of indie-rock royalty has been governed by the old guard, where groups built foundations that slowly elevated to their current places within the psyche of those well acquainted with the genre. However, the band that has made its way to that pinnacle of success in Brooklyn on this particular summer evening is Bon Iver, a group created by the previously unknown Justin Vernon only three years ago. This leads to the obvious question: how on earth did Bon Iver bypass the “necessary” steps to fame in the often stagnant indie-rock world, and is this the ush-
ering in of a more fluid new era of independent music? The answer to the first question, obviously, lies within the history of Justin Vernon’s career. After DeYarmond Edison, his old band, broke up, Vernon moved from North Carolina to his father’s cabin in northwestern Wisconsin, and recorded a series of demos. They were initially intended to be circulated among record labels, but eventually, he decided to release the tapes as an album. For Emma, Forever Ago ended up in the hands of a few prominent indie blogs who reviewed the album positively, leading to a review by Pitchfork, the internet publication. Pitchfork gave the album high praise, which led to a performance by the group (Vernon recruited friends to help him produce a live sound) at the CMJ Music Marathon, which in turn led to much label interest and the group’s signing with a record label, Jagjaguwar. When his new label re-released the album, For Emma, Forever Ago reached number 4 on the indie charts; it found even more critical acclaim, and was voted at or near the top of many publication’s bestof-2008 lists. Bon Iver was then ranked 8th on last.fm’s list of most listened new music by its users, solidifying the album’s place among the most appreciated artists in indie music. Musically, Bon Iver reaches its heights through simple melodies and a willingness to layer songs in new and intriguing ways. Vernon uses what has become his signature falsetto for most of his vocal tracks, and creates vocal harmonies by layering it with lower tones, all over double-tracked acoustic guitars. While his songs are simple and resemble much of indie rock’s quieter side, this approach to layering through different vocal octaves gives his music a feeling of emotional depth that much of the genre has missed in the last few years. Bon Iver’s early work reached its audience in a different way than most popular indie music in the past twenty years has, partially because Vernon makes a clear attempt to keep his sound from redundancy--he doesn’t beat an uncompromising musical philosophy into the listener’s head. The same could not be said about early works by bands such as My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth, who had to confront most listeners
from the outside and work their way into relevance through more pop-friendly forms of their own sound. Through this willingness to abridge the more strenuous edges that make up some of Vernon’s musical identity (he acknowledges them in “Wolves” and “Lump Sum”), For Emma, Forever Ago pushed listeners, but not enough that they couldn’t relate to what he was trying to convey. Bon Iver, Bon Iver, the second album by the group, is a more musically diverse work that builds upon the same structural points that stirred interest in Bon Iver. The album picks off where the last one leaves off with regards to his arrangements, but it expands on the first in its more diverse sound palette. The use of keyboards is much more present, and the group offers a more extensive variety of guitar sounds. Vernon’s more developed and confident voice is put to use, with a greater spectrum of vocal harmonies. Bon Iver, Bon Iver is not a replica of For Emma, but it is not a departure from it either; it acts more as a calculated risk than an entity that fully pulls away from it’s predecessor. Bon Iver grew into the mystique and pinnacle of indie success through these similarities between the two albums. The continued accessibility of Vernon’s work has led to a large contingency who can appreciate both the starkness of For Emma, Forever Ago and its beefed up counterpart, Bon Iver, Bon Iver—the parallelism in their titles gives Bon Iver’s output a feeling of uniformity. These albums nicely play off each other, and they have created a strong enough catalogue to make Bon Iver a formidable force within the world of music. The group has so far created numerous memorable yet catchy singles, while creating albums that are easily accessible but also profoundly moving. To tie this in with the initial question raised in this article, Bon Iver avoided the “necessary” trek towards his current position in large part due to the changing dynamic throughout the music world towards a willingness for new artists through new forms of media. In essence, this undermines the purpose of record labels to the highest degree; in the case of Vernon’s first album, it made significant headway before he had even signed to a label. A “changing of the guard” is already upon the indie rock world. The old guard has, in large part, stopped their personal evolutions, and remain comfortable with their place in the music world. The Pixies’ reunion tour approaches its sixth year; Sonic Youth (who are on the verge of breakup) have held down the fort of noise rock with very little challenging that stranglehold; and Stephen Malkmus’ collaborative album with Beck, although strong, doesn’t appear to try to break down any new doors. None of these things are, necessarily, bad; the chance to see a live Pixies show, more noise experimentation over Thurston Moore’s strangely youthful voice, and a fun record from Malkmus and Beck are all good for the modern music world. However, they leave much to be explored, and have the tendency to be let-downs only because of the novel and original work that these artists have produced over the past quarter century. In place of the old guard, groups such as Bon Iver, Gorillaz, LCD Soundsystem, and James Blake (those four, interestingly, are all generally under the musical direction of one person) have taken center stage in the world of indie music by exploring combinations of influences that previously seemed untapped. This elasticity has even led to a collaboration between Blake and Vernon, which smartly accentuates the minimalist tendencies both artists lean towards, and helps prove that the fluid nature of music distribution is one that will only lead to a more diverse, exciting musical spectrum.
Technology is the New Talent.
By Gabby Reid
In the music industry, technology has replaced talent. Technological advances have made the performer’s skill underappreciated. Talent is still an important part of the music industry, but in a different way. Having vocal talent helps, but is no longer the determining factor of success for an aspiring musician. In the music industry, the talented people work behind the scenes, taking care of the more technical aspects of music production. They are the ones responsible for covering up the musicians’ flaws. With technology such as Auto-Tune, anyone can be a singer, making superficial characteristics more important to attaining success in the music industry. The singer is the face of the art, but is often no longer the artist. In addition, auto-tuned voices have become the signature sound of pop music today. Producers are manipulating voices in order to make the most sales. Incredible technology that could help spark creativity is being used to hinder creativity, making music sound uniform and boring. Auto-Tune is not only used to alter a singer’s voice; it can also be used to add an effect to a speak-
ing voice. YouTube users have helped spark this trend by manipulating viral videos to make them sound as if the speaker is singing. The Gregory Brothers, a pair of Brooklyn-based musicians and comedians, have auto-tuned their way to success with their “Bed Intruder Song” and a feature titled “Auto-Tune the News.” Millions of viewers have seen their work, and their most recent hit, “The Double Rainbow Song,” has earned them $25,000 on iTunes so far. Their work can be humorous, and the Gregory Brothers deserve credit as comedians. But their success shows that vocal talent is no longer necessary for success as a pop star. Auto-tune has proven to be the ticket to instant fame. The phenomenon has spread not only throughout America, but throughout the world. In Japan, an increasingly popular program called Vocaloid allows anybody to create their own music. Vocaloid is a vocal synthesizer that puts together sounds to create words and syllables, simulating a human voice. The program is easily accessible, allowing songwriters of all different levels to put their lyrics to music. It assigns
different pitches to different words, and enhances them with vibrato and dynamics. Vocaloid may not produce a voice that sounds completely real, but the effect it has leaves a product that sounds almost more realistic than auto-tune does. The technology is incredible, but the response it has gotten is frightening. Mirroring the success of artists in the Auto-Tune phenomenon, Vocaloid videos have gained singers press coverage, endorsements, and even large record contracts. Vocaloid gives many songwriters a chance at fame by allowing their songs to become known without having to go through the trouble of finding an actual singer. Through Vocaloid, the responsibility lies not in the hands of the vocalist, but in the hands of those working with the more technical aspects. When musicians do not create their own music, they merely act as the face of the art. Singers who use Auto-Tune can no longer be considered artists, just as the Vocaloid voices cannot be considered singers. Talent and skill make the artist, and when the true creativity comes from behind the scenes, the one who gets the fame does not deserve the credit. People posing as musicians can no longer be classified as artists if they take advantage of such technologies to market themselves as something they are not. Technology has provided untalented individuals with the opportunity to take on a fake appearance, undermining talent. Voice-altering programs have turned the pop music industry into a scheme for income. Producers are not resentful of what has happened to the industry and the little public credit they receive because they are too engaged with increasing income. As pop stars lose control of their images, they surrender their role as artist. The industry is making music a job for the untalented, attractive individual. Pop stars are only judged for their appearance, as their voices have become unnecessary parts of their careers. Because of the similarity between most pop music, producers and managers must focus on giving each star an individual image. The artist becomes known as unique for the show he or she puts on instead of for his or
her vocals and songs. The artist becomes all about the image, not the art, and the music itself suffers. Because of the corruption in the pop music industry, it is difficult to tell when performers are genuinely talented. Singers such as Lady Gaga seem to have proven their vocal talent, yet often mask that talent with effects that make them sound like more typical, untalented pop stars. Even singers like BeyoncĂŠ, who has managed to maintain her sharp, clean vocals, may now have their music tainted by voice-altering technology. Pop stars have always put a lot of energy into their appearance and performance, but more recently, looks have been used to compensate for lack of talent. In the case of any pop singer, it is difficult to be sure of how much control he or she has over his or her art. Even performers who maintain a unique and powerful image are most likely the product of their producers. As the majority of listeners are attracted to the sound of pop music and the elaborate performances that accompany it, it has become difficult for the singer-songwriter to succeed in the mainstream world. While individuals who focus more on the music and less on the show may still have successful careers, it has become difficult for them to not be overshadowed by the elaborate pop stars. Our culture has grown to accept the art form of music that has been corrupted. Autotune has provided untalented individuals with the opportunity to take on a fake appearance. New technology used to manipulate voices and music for income creates a sound that is easy to replicate, demolishing individuality afforded by real talent. The promise of monetary gain has overshadowed the want for creativity. Technological tools that were once used in an artistic way have throttled creativity and now produce monotonous music. With advanced technology, anyone can be famous. Talent no longer acts as the key to fame for someone who strives to become a singer, but instead is essential for the producer. With technology in its place, talent is no longer the breaking point between success and failure.
Rebel Rebel Why Rock Music is Inextricably Linked to Disobedience BY ALESSANDRO VAN DEN BRINK
The brilliant French writer Albert Camus once simply said: “What is a rebel? Someone who says no.” But what makes someone a rebel? Camus presents a fair definition of the idea of rebellion, but the whole concept of it all is much broader and complex than a mere four words. Psychologically, humans want to rebel simply because most people don’t want to be told what to do or put down by any rules. This can be brought upon by a special type of anger, or hatred, that gets fueled by a third person source and quickly infects its targets into wanting one thing, change. Of course there are those individuals who prefer to be told what to do, just because it makes them feel more comfortable or relaxed. Sometimes loyalty to an authority excites the passions of the public. But when it comes down to the conveying of rebellion, after violence and protest one of the biggest shuttles of revolution is none other than the thing we all know and love, music. What people don’t usually realize is how far back musical revolt goes. Even before the drug craze of the sixties and seventies and the rise of the hippies, some could argue that revolution in the form of music started even as far back as the beginning of the Delta blues down in the South at the turn of the twentieth century. The Delta blues mainly consisted of African Americans who made music that was much different from anything else before it and truly stood for what African Americans were as a race. Especially at a time when segregation was at its peak and African Ameri-
cans had almost no presence in popular music, blues became more than just underground music. Using chord progressions and techniques that had never been heard before, the Delta blues became one of the inspirations for practically all rock and roll of future generations. The blues may not seem as rebellious in the modern perspective, mainly because it wasn’t fueled on anger. African Americans weren’t necessarily saying “NO” while spitting at the feet of others; they quietly chose to take their own approach to music, which is as revolutionary as one can get. The next real period of music that brought upon a more iconic sense of revolt was the heyday of rock and roll: the sixties and early seventies. Within this relatively brief time period, so many different revolutionary styles arose: blues rock, classic rock, psychedelic rock, experimental rock and even certain kinds of jazz rock, to name a few. But what all these subgenres had in common was their aim to really break free from all the jangle pop and doo-wop that had dominated the fifties. Wielding fearsome, distorted electric guitars and menacing anthems about sexuality and political freedom, these rockers made rock and roll look and feel good. As a byproduct of this massive spread of cuttingedge new music, many fans became completely devoted to rock music, turning the whole scene from just a fad to a full-scale movement. United mainly by their taste in music, these fans started to bring their political views into play, thus making the rock crusade not just about music,
but about the idea of fighting for what they believed in. These fans started to become what we usually refer to as “hippies.” However, to be a hippie didn’t necessarily mean just wearing headbands, sunglasses, tie-dye shirts, and letting your hair grow long. A hippie could have been anyone during that time period who believed that music was a great way to express the feeling that there was something the government was keeping from the people, thus coining the commonly used phrase “Stick it to The Man!” Another unifying element of hippie culture was drug use. While marijuana had already been a standard drug of choice for those in the underground scene, the sixties ultimately launched the emergence of LSD, hailed as possibly the king of all drugs. Of course, hallucinogens like LSD were immediately outlawed by the government, making the hippies angrier. This outrage drove bands like The Grateful Dead and others to fully support the use of these psychedelic drugs, thereby also influencing the style their music was taking. But the sixties and seventies were just a quiet riot in comparison to the punk rock scene that began in the underground clubs such as the notable CBGB in New York, the “Home of Underground Rock.” Fueled by the anger of the generations before them, this new wave of musicians used heavy rock and roll as their basis to pick at society and what people considered the status quo back then. Bands such as The Sex Pistols, Ramones, The Clash and Richard Hell and the Voidoids started to become the voices for the youth at the time and became near role models. Showing off their punk look, which was characterized by leather jackets, combat boots, dirty jeans, and open drug use, these rockers weren’t soft in what they did. The punk rock scene became a contemporary French Revolution; instead of weapons, these kids had guitars and howls of hatred. Instead of trying to complicate their music like the generation before them tried consistently to do, punk rockers were fairly unskilled musicians whose music was so simple that anyone with a couple years of experience could play it easily. But this was what the punks wanted, a way to address the problem verbally but also to go against what was commonly thought of as the “right” way to play music. Where punk rock stung the most was in its aweinspiring lyrics of pure chaos. From Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols mentioning how much he wanted to become an anarchist to Richard Hell describing the whole punk scene as the “Blank Generation,” the genre specialized in shocking lyrics. In the first line of Hell’s song “Blank Generation,” he states: “I was sayin’ let me out of here, before I was even born- it’s such a gamble when you get a face,” an ode to how punk rock was in itself a whole revolution. After the seventies, punk rock couldn’t really stand for the same thing anymore, and soon enough punk was reduced to the standard pop punk like A Day to Remember or All Time Low, two groups who aren’t
even remotely close to what classic punk stood for. One genre that did start to break away from the zeitgeist was alternative rock. Now clearly, like classic rock, that’s a very vague term, but more specifically from the alternative genre was the emergence of indie and shoegaze bands in the nineties such as Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and Pavement. Indie rock truly meant making their music an acquired taste rather than the easy listening of most pop music by using more sophisticated and slightly more experimental qualities. These bands were proud of this feat, and continued to use these aspects to make their music as interesting as possible for a rather young generation of musicians. Teenagers were hit especially hard with the increased intake in musical angst. During the most hormonal period in a person’s life, the teenage years were and are the make or break section for most music fans, making them vulnerable to all the anger and rage poured out from more alternative and hard rock bands like Nirvana, bands that really understood their audience. These excessive emotions became too much to handle — Kurt Cobain’s depression and suicide represented the nihilistic attitude of a generation of grunge rockers. Indie rock has always been against the mainstream, trying to be as unique as possible in an effort to provide an alternative to popular music, but really, similarly to the Delta blues scenario, indie was and is just a way for a style of rockers to identify themselves. They silently said “no” to the stereotypical pop music of the time and let their brand of music do the talking instead. Of course, the listed eras above were probably only the more famous of the rebellious acts of music, but we’re leaving out the unstrung heroes, the little known rebels who changed their respective art. For instance, classical composers such as Erik Satie and Igor Stravinsky took what was previously thought of the genre and reworked it in every way possible, a classical music revolution that influenced the shape of the 20th ccentury musical landscape. Also, how can you forget the jazz bloom of the 1920’s? Arguably one of the peaks of American culture, jazz represented everything of the time when the country was coming off a terrible war and about to enter The Great Depression. So what is it to rebel? Is it a whole movement of insurrectionists going against everything that everyone else stands for, or is it just as tiny as one individual refusing to accept something and preferring to go out on his or her own limb? Well, rebellion is actually everywhere. From something as tiny as jaywalking on the street simply because you disregard that law to something as full scale as creating a counter social musical reform, almost anything can be an act of rebellion. And while rebellion always has the negative connotation of seeming like a violent and bloody waste of time, it’s just as healthy as two people arguing. It’s simply natural.
No Longer in New York: Where Did the Music Go?
By Roya Moussapour For many of us at Horace Mann, music has become an integral part of our lives through the opportunities we have been given both at school and in the NYC area. I consider myself very lucky to have had such experiences; music is now central to most of what I do. I have every expectation for that to continue through my college years. This summer, I went on a road trip with my family to see a few colleges and do some research into what general options there are for music past high school. I visited some small and large schools - colleges, conservatories and universities, making all kinds of comparisons. The conservatories had full programs, with large, experienced faculties and diverse course offerings. The small liberal arts colleges had unique opportunities with accessible ensemble play and teaching. Truth is, I really wasn’t disappointed anywhere I went, as each school had incredible musical opportunities available for undergraduates. Whether you plan to major or minor in music, study at conservatory level, or simply study and play with other musicians during your college years, you will have music wherever you go! For those people who are thinking of pursuing music in any way professionally, there are many different options in the realm of music degrees. Most universities and colleges will offer a Bachelor’s in Music or a Bachelor of Arts in Music, while music conservatories will offer a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts in Music. Some schools have other music programs, often including options for dual degrees. Carnegie Mellon, for example, has a special program dubbed the “BXA degree” in which the X is a field other than music. In the BXA program a student will take 2 years of mostly music classes first and then 2 years of another field of study. Students in this program enjoy their academics as much as they enjoy their music and the BXA allows them to explore multiple subjects in depth. Due to the somewhat recent influx of new music production technology, some schools have designed music technology programs. The TIMARA program at Oberlin (Technology in Music and Recording Arts) is focused on preparing students for the music production industry. These more nontraditional pro-
grams allow students to be ready for the ever-changing musical world. For students not majoring in music, there are still many ways to stay connected to it. There is always some kind of private instruction available for instrumental study, whether with a graduate student or a professor in music. At some colleges and universities, non-music majors may audition for the primary ensembles and symphonies and play alongside music majors. At other schools, ensembles are set aside strictly for non-majors to allow them college performance opportunities so that primary groups can be reserved for future professionals. The Bates College Orchestra welcomes all students, music professors and other faculty to audition, reflecting the entire school community. Partnerships like these allow students to foster relationships with their professors through making music. Colleges and universities also ensure that all kinds of music come to their campuses. New Yorkers have grown accustomed to music venues, daily at all costs, including free! Students at schools in large cities don’t end up feeling a huge difference from their NYC experiences as they are still surrounded by tons of concerts in all different genres. One student at the University of Chicago called the University the “jazz and blues Mecca of the South Side” because of its incredible jazz offerings. Schools not located in large cities bring performances to their campuses, allowing the students to have a similar concert-going experience. Most schools let students help set up these performances, giving students the pleasure of listening and the experience of planning musical events. Whether your college is in the middle of cornfields or in the heart of a large city, it will undoubtedly host outrageous talent. Even just last year, Oberlin brought in Stevie Wonder to play a free show in a 1200-seat chapel! No matter where you end up in the next few years, you will be surrounded by huge amounts of musical opportunities, whether in performing concerts or just attending them. So performers and music-lovers alike, rest assured that there will be plenty of music wherever you decide to attend college.
Andy Warhol and the Silver Factory By Ben Deutsch
he mysterious art collective has been around for a long time. Obviously, there isn’t supposed to be too much readily available information on them. But as far as I can tell, their history dates back well into the 20th century, with one of the most important, earliest being Andy Warhol’s combination of his pet band The Velvet Underground and his favorite pop singer, Nico. While Warhol’s primary contribution to the production of The Velvet Underground’s first and most successful album The Velvet Underground & Nico laid primarily in the introduction to Nico, the creation of the album artwork, and the funding for the studio time, he still gave this incredibly talented band its start. Warhol continued to expand the band’s recognition and fame through a series of multimedia events called the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, featuring the band, Nico, screenings of his films, and dancing by Gerard Malanga, Edie Sedgwick, and Mary Woronov, among others. But these were only some of the personalities made infamous and immortalized as “Warhol’s superstars.” Warhol’s most famous dictum was, “In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” Warhol would select people to appear in his media, and then they would achieve their fame. Others belonging to his superstars included Baby Jane Holzer and Ultra Violet.
Most of these people hung out at his studio, The Factory, a cool hangout for artsy types, amphetamine addicts, and the aforementioned superstars. Besides creating art and film in The Factory, Warhol also threw famed “groundbreaking” parties there. Various celebrities of all kinds could be found mingling with Warhol’s superstars at The Factory, including Bob Dylan, Truman Capote, Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Jim Morrison and Salvador Dali. Warhol himself was a beacon to the sexual, artistic and drug subculture evolving during the 60s and 70s. He was an alleged homosexual, and was widely believed to be a virgin. Many of his artworks and movies were based on male nudes and gay underground culture. During the time period, many of his films appeared as features in gay pornographic movie theaters. Warhol publicized and spread this type of not quite revolutionary, but definitely socially unaccepted ideas, allowing an entire generation of young people to feel more comfortable about their sexuality and other personal preferences. It was revolutionary for these ideas to be accepted in the way they were during Warhol’s era. He made it okay, he made it cool, in ways that other gay artists and pop figures such as Rauschenberg and Johns didn’t (partially because they were closet-homosexuals). The best way to get a feel of what is what like to be part of Warhol’s elite select group during the time period is to
read the article Syndrome Pop At Delmonico’s by Grace Glueck, a review of The Velvet Underground’s appearance at a psychology benefit. Select parts read as follows: “The New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry survived an invasion last night by Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick and a new rock ‘n’ roll group called “The Velvet Underground…The “factory” as any Warhol buff knows, is the big, sliver-lined loft where he and his coterie make their underground films and help mass-produce Andy’s art… What “The Chic Mystique” was nobody really explained. The Warhol part of the program included a showing of his underground films as background for cocktail conversation and, at dinner, a concert by the rock ‘n’ roll group. And Warhol and his cameramen moved among the gathering with hand-held cameras, using the psychiatrists as the cast of a forthcoming Warhol movie…There was John Cale, leader of “The Velvet Underground,” in a black suit with rhinestones on the collar. There was Nico, identified by Warhol as “a famous fashion model and now a singer,” in a white slack suit with long blond hair. And there were all those psychiatrists, away from their couches but not
really mingling, not letting their hair down at all…”I suppose you could call this gathering a spontaneous eruption of the id,” said Dr. Alfred Lilienthal. “Warhol’s message is one of super-reality,” said another, “a repetition of the concrete quite akin to the LSD experience.” “Why are they exposing us to these nuts?” a third asked. “But don’t quote me.”…”You want to do something for mental health?” asked another psychiatrist. “Kill the story.” It’s unfortunate for us that there are no current contemporary art collectives as influential and dominant as Warhol’s. That’s not to say there aren’t any – there are various worth checking out and reading up on if you don’t know about them already, including The Elephant 6 Recording Company, a collective of notable 90’s indie bands including Of Montreal, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Olivia Tremor Control, The Apples In Stereo, Elf Power & Beulah. Another is The Wham City Collective, which includes electronic fringe musician Dan Deacon among others. Definitely worth your time to read up on; collectives can often hold more power than single artists themselves, and often lead up and into movements.
timothy leary: the devil of enlightenment by asher baumrin
he archives of Timothy Lear y, the colossal “dr ug gur u” of the 1960’s psychedelic counterculture, have found their way into a new home, T he New York Public Librar y. T he NYPL purchased 335 boxes of papers, videos, and other multi-media material for $900,000 from the Lear y estate this past June. T hese archives should be available 15 to 21 months from now, and will provide a g reat amount of infor mation and insight into a misunderstood period. T he archives will be especially useful for the g enerations of people who were not around to “tune in, tur n on, and drop out” with Lear y, hippies, and rock bands. Timothy Lear y was most famous for his controversial stance on the beneficial proper ties of psychedelics, for which he was deemed “the most dang erous man in America” by President Nixon. T hough many know that he was key in popularizing psychedelics during the 60’s, it is impor tant to understand the magnitude of his intellect as a writer, philosopher, and psychologist. T he Psychedelic Era was a ver y impor tant period in the histor y of thought, and Timothy Lear y’s experiments were the e picenter of the intellectual exploration at the time. T he beginning of his personal psychedelic journey beg an in Cuer navaca, Mexico, where he was vacationing in the summer of 1960. A friend of Lear y, psychologist Frank Baron, introduced him to a Mexican anthropologist, who in tur n directed them to “Crazy Juanna,” a mountain-woman who often ate the “magic mushrooms” of Mexico. Timothy Lear y ate nine of the mushrooms and through the experience he “lear ned more about [his] brain and its possibilities and more about psycholog y in the five hours after taking these mushrooms than [he] had in the preceding fifteen years of studying and doing research in psycholog y.” T he experience inspired him so profoundly that when he retur ned to Har vard, he dedicated all his time to fur ther explore consciousness-expanding substances through the “Harvard Psilocybin Project” with colleagues Richard Alp-
er t, Aldous Huxley, Ralph Metzner, John Spieg el, Frank Baron, and David McClelland. T hus beg an the sixties. During the years that the Har vard Psilocybin Project was active, it conducted the Concord Prison Experiment and the Marsh Chapel Experiment. Before the Concord Prison Experiment beg an, Lear y found that 88% of his test subjects claimed that they lear ned something valuable about either themselves or the world through psilocybin, and 62% claimed that the experience positively chang ed their lives. T his knowledg e was used as a basis for the idea to administer psilocybin to prisoners to obser ve chang es in recidivism rates. T he Marsh Chapel experiment, conducted by Har vard g raduate student Walter N. Pahnke under the super vision of Lear y, tested the effects of psilocybin as an entheog en (a psychoactive substance which can provoke spiritual experiences) on religiously predisposed g raduate divinity students. Half of the test subjects were given psilocybin, and half were given a placebo of niacin, which has physiological effects similar to those of psychoactive dr ugs. T his double-blind study showed that nearly ever yone who took psilocybin claimed to have underg one profound spiritual experiences. Despite his praise of dr ugs as intellectually and spiritually beneficial ag ents, he war ned people not to “take it unless you are ready to have your perspective on yourself and life dramatically chang e, because you’re g oing to be a different person.” Lear y g rew increasingly interested in the connection between spirituality and psychoactive dr ugs, as
did his colleagues Alper t and Metzner. In 1964 Lear y and his colleagues published The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. T he Tibetan Book of the Dead is a text written in the 8th centur y intended to pre pare Buddhist monks for death and reincar nation. T he period between death of the old body and rebir th into the next is known as the “bardos,” and the text is intended to describe and guide one through the jour ney consciousness takes between death and rebir th. Lear y found g reat similarities between what the text described as bardos and what he experienced during LSD trips, leading him to write The Psychedelic Experience. Unlike the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which was written as a guide for death and rebir th, The Psychedelic Experience was written as a guide for taking psychoactive ag ents. T he book includes verses from the Tibetan Book of the Dead which can be applied to guide one through an LSD trip. To ward off arguments that a profound spiritual experience is merely a false hallucination produced by the dr ug, Lear y wrote, “the dr ug does not produce the transcendent experience. It merely acts as a chemical key—it opens the mind, frees the ner vous system of its ordinar y patter ns and str uctures.” Timothy Lear y’s advocacy for LSD was not the only focus of his career. As a philosopher, he focused on the psyche, God, and the nature of God. Lear y argued that “if you want to g et to know God, you have to have intellig ence. If you increase your in-
tellig ence, you’re sexier.” Lear y’s love of youth, thrill, and excitement, is characteristic of the man who tur ned on America. His experiments with Har vard Psilocybin Project were ter minated by the University, along with his job, after which he moved his operations to Millbrook Mansion, in upstate New York. Hundreds of people – philosophers, psychologists, musicians, poets, physicists, and writers – came to tur n on at Millbrook. Among them were musicians such as T he Grateful Dead, Charles Mingus, Maynard Ferguson, Steve Swallow, Charles Lloyd. Millbrook also hosted NASA scientist Steve Groff, comedian Groucho Marx, and philosopher Alan Watts. T he parties, experiments, and community of Millbrook made a lasting impression on the cultural world. LSD became infused with the cultural zeitg eist of the 60’s. Psychedelic albums like Sgt. Pe ppers Lonely Hear ts Club Band and Pet Sounds would not exist if LSD had not been popularized by Lear y. T he psychedelic music of this musical era evolved into a new psychedelic sound as Pink Floyd released The Dark Side of the Moon and Jimi Hendrix released Ar e You Experienced? Lear y’s impact on the musical world wasn’t too shy either : when he ran for Gover nor of Califor nia in 1970, his guber natorial campaign slog an was “Come tog ether, join the par ty,” which inspired T he Beatles’ song “Come Tog ether.” He was involved in the recording of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” Despite Lear y’s aid and love towards the individuals he treated with psychoactive ag ents, he was highly destr uctive of institutions. He was kicked out of the United States Militar y Academy and fired from his position at Har vard. In 1965 he was sentenced to thir ty years in jail for possession of marijuana under the Marihuana Tax Act (he appealed the case, claiming that the act was a breach of the fifth amendment.) He was caught for marijuana possession ag ain in 1968, and in 1970, a year after he announced his candidacy for the g over nor of Califor nia, he was sentenced to ten years in prison for the same crime. It g ets better : he successfully escaped from prison eight months later and “T he Brotherhood of Eter nal Love” smug gled him and his wife into Alg eria where they lived as refug ees. Eventually Lear y paid his debt to society in an American prison, and during the 1980’s g rew involved in work with computers. As the nation g rew less obsessed with psychedelics, hippies, and rock bands, they g rew less interested in Lear y. T hough the popularization of LSD is mainly credited to Lear y, his most impor tant work was teaching people about the dr ug that would have g rown popular reg ardless of his work. He aided and edu c a t e d t h e p e o p l e w h o we r e e x p e r i e n c i n g w h a t wa s a n i n e v i t a b l e p s y ch e d e l i c e x p e r i e n c e. F i f t y y e a r s l a t e r a s t h e N e w Yo r k P u b l i c L i b r a r y r e l e a s e s h i s a r ch ive s, we a r e g ive n a n o t h e r ch a n c e t o e x p l o r e.
REVIEWS BEIRUT THE RIP TIDE
Beirut’s The Rip Tide takes a turn from the group’s older albums. The signature sound of Beirut, a messy and disorganized arrangement of horns, strings, and piano that mesh together and work in a disjointed way, is missing from the album almost entirely. Even with Beirut’s numerous members, the band has managed to pull together a more connected, unified sound. Unlike Beirut’s other albums, The Rip Tide is lacking foreign influence and instead has taken off in a more pop-oriented direction. While fluid and continuous, it at times can be monotonous. Songs contain minimal and obscure lyrics, as front man Zach Condon’s
primary focus is the music itself. The lyrics that do exist are poetic, rhyming at times, and repetitive. The Rip Tide remains redundant and upbeat until the second to last song, “The Peacock,” where it drifts back towards the familiar, slower, classic and fuller Beirut sound. The album continues strong through last song, “Port of Call.” While picking up the tempo again, the song alludes to the sound of past albums in a way that most of The Rip Tide fails to do. Overall, The Rip Tide may be more appealing to a wider audience than past albums, but longterm fans may find that the change makes the album less interesting and more predictable.
Justin Vernon’s indie folk band Bon Iver has yet to release a single piece of work that isn’t outright incredible. 2007’s For Emma, Forever Ago, a collection of love and tragedy that teemed with emotion, was by far one of the most stunning and heart wrenching albums of modern music. Vernon and his crew of backup singers, multiinstrumentalists and percussionists tried to make For Emma as minimal as possible, centering the record on an acoustic guitar and Vernon’s heavenly falsetto. This time around, Vernon decided to make his new eponymous release more colorful and than his previous work – it seems all that partying with Kanye finally got to his head. Through very simplistic folk-inspired songs that can get extremely calm to explosive,
Bon Iver has created a near-perfect record. Instead of singing songs to an audience, Vernon sounds like he’s crooning to himself and unleashing every part of his life and soul into the form of finger-picking progressions and piano riffs that melt your heart. What’s also amazing is that Vernon does this in such a simple yet powerful way. None of his songs are complex at all, but it’s actually impossible to play any of the tracks on this album with half the soul and fervor that Vernon puts into not just one or two songs, but every single song. If there’s just one thing you should know about Bon Iver, it’s that you definitely should not be surprised if you don’t hear an album better than this one the whole year… or even longer.
BY GABBY REID
BON IVER BON IVER
BY ALESSANDRO VAN DEN BRINK
REVIEWS WASHED OUT WITHIN AND WITHOUT
BY ALESSANDRO VAN DEN BRINK
THE HORRORS SKYING
BY ALESSANDRO VAN DEN BRINK
Picture this in a cinematic sequence: A boy and a girl are driving down a nearly empty highway late at night in old and battered car. The boy looks at the girl as she lies in her seat next to him, sleeping and resting her head on the window on her door side window. He realizes that he really loves this girl more than anything in the entire world and the place wherever he might be taking her in this car is just so that he can live happily ever after with her forever and spend as much time as possible with this girl. At least, he hopes. If there was any perfect album to play during that scene, it would be the new album from Georgia-based chillwave musician Ernest Greene’s project Washed Out, Within and Without. A shimmery record just oozing with echoing synthesizers, slow drum beats and Greene’s hushed
and resonating vocals, Within and Without doesn’t aim to blast out as much as it can fire, but instead takes a back seat role where the album simply immerses the listener and becomes its own reality. No, Ernest Greene hasn’t created anything revolutionary, but he’s simply been able to take everything even moderately pleasurable in the indie electronic and synthpop style and has strung these elements together to make a glorious highlight reel. It sparkles with everything fans have loved about those genres. Within and Without might not be such a huge hit with those seeking grand pop tracks, but those that will take the time to listen to the record full through at least once will be hooked and fall in love not just with the album, but the whole state of being that accompanies it.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. The British new wave garage rock band The Horrors, dressing about as dark and black-veiled as The Cure did back in the Disintegration era, are now making music that, oddly enough, shies away from that aesthetic. While you may be expecting songs about death and sorrow to come from a deep screaming voice and over-distorted wailing punk guitars, the group’s third studio album, Skying, has taken a different direction. The album consists of Strokes-like garage-pop with an infusion of psychedelics constrasting with the still-looming influence of depressed rockers Joy Division and Echo & the Bunnymen. Mixing together a tasteful blend of the aforementioned new wave rock with modern synthesizers set to the heart of classic 1970s psychedelia, The Horrors’ music certainly doesn’t fit
their appearance. Dressed in practically all black, with hair reminiscent of Robert Smith or Edward Scissorhands, the band seems like an oxymoron. Skying is a much more mature album than anything to be expected from these young lads. It is comprised of skillful guitar riffs easily on the same tier as Nick Valensi’s (of The Strokes), smooth echoed vocals and absolutely fantastic organ and synth playing from keyboardist Tom Cowan. In all, The Horrors have been solid before, so why should you expect anything different? This album may not achieve as many sales and success as its predecessors, but it certainly will prove that The Horrors aren’t just a bunch of goth kids with lame haircuts and guitars. Assuming that the band continues to go along with this approach and begins refining in, the band could definitely make their next album nearly perfect.
REVIEWS DAVID GUETTA NOTHING BUT THE BEAT
BY AMAY SHETH
JAY-Z & KANYE WEST WATCH THE THRONE
BY CHRIS KIM
David Guetta’s new release is comprised of two discs: one of guest vocalists and one of pure house music. Although Disc One includes vocals, it truly is “nothing but the beat” – formulaic and boring. Guetta rehashes melodies and serves up typical pop fare. Almost every song could be a Z100 radio single; the album features some of the biggest names in pop, such as Nicki Minaj, Flo Rida, Usher, Taio Cruz, and Ludacris. On the business side of things, this makes total sense. It helps make the album more popular. On the other hand, Guetta is losing his musical integrity – whatever happened to the “The World is Mine” days? “Where Them Girls At” is a perfect example of this dilemma, as he relies on bass lines and verses by Flo Rida and Nicki Minaj instead of synths and fresh drops. The standout on this disc is definitely “Titanium” – the most reminiscent of true electronic music, with a chill beginning, an epic buildup and an ill
drop. Disc Two proves Guetta still has it; almost every single track is catchy, and the songs are much more distinguishable from one another. “Lunar,” a collaboration with Afrojack, is one of the standouts on this disc, with an interesting, spacey sound and pumping bass. The synths sound great and the song has great variation. Another standout is the collaboration with Avicii, “Sunshine.” Featuring very Avicii-like, high-pitched, poppy melodies over a hard-hitting Guettaesque drop, this song can get anyone moving. Almost all of the tracks on this disc make the cut; it will appeal more to fans of electronic music. In the end we can conclude that, while Guetta may have taken over the pop world, he still has it in him to put out some catchy, unique electronic tracks. Hopefully he will stay true to himself and move back in the direction of Disc Two because to be quite frank, we’re all getting tired of the formula displayed on Disc One.
Watch the Throne is a return to hip hop in its purest and most honest form. There are no catchy melodies or exhaustingly repeated choruses. Each song consists of a solid beat and really meaningful lyrics. The album has gained such popularity that even a half-hearted Kanye/Jay Z fan could probably recite a few versus from it. One of the most memorable and repeated snippets from the album, is Kanye’s line in “Otis,” “Sophisticated ignorance, I write my curses in cursive.” Dive a step deeper, and you will find even more genuinely thought-provoking lyrics such as Kanye’s line in “Murder to Excellence,” “There ain’t nothing on the news but the blues.” Often you find rappers criticizing the insincerity of the media in their songs, as Lupe did with “The Words I Never Said”, a track on
his latest album “Lasers,” but here Kanye puts a whole song of lyrics into one abstract yet well phrased word: blues. The word presents sad and morose ideas in a somewhat beautiful form, as the blues music did in the early 1900’s. With songs carrying titles such as “That’s my B**ch,” and “Nig**s in Paris,” which are reminiscent of The Blueprint 3’s bare beats, and songs like “Murder to Excellence,” which is evidently a derivative of Kanye West’s “Power,” Watch the Throne fully establishes both rappers’ presence. Most if not all of the tracks could have easily been transformed into top ten radio killers, but with Watch the Throne the duo sacrifices superficial love from ignorant fans to put out an album that really says something. Ultimately, Watch the Throne is a collection of tracks left in a raw, honest form for listeners to admire.
REVIEWS NEON INDIAN ERA EXTRAÑA
BY ANDREW FABRY
DAN DEACON AUGUST 1, 2011 LE POISSON ROUGE NEW YORK, NY BY GIDEON BROSHY
Neon Indian’s sophomore album, Era Extraña, has surpassed expectations. After the success of the group’s first album, Psychic Chasms, it was unclear what Alan Palomo, the group’s singer and composer, would do next. Fortunately, the quality of the music on Era Extraña is just as good, if not better, than on the previous album. The first single “Polish Girl” is an outstanding example of the skills Palomo’s musical prowess – the song bubbles up and then explodes into the wonderful electro ecstasy that is Neon Indian. The song maintains this state of bliss through every second, until the very end when it finishes with the same loop it began. “Arcade Blues” is another clear standout. It epitomizes the fun
that Palomo has with music on the album. He plays with our expectations and notions, tak ing something seemingly unmusical like arcade game sounds, and incorporating them into song. In the mundane, he finds a creative source of inspiration for his musical work. Overall, the album creates a magnificent daze for the listener. One becomes lost in the electronic beats and music. “Polish Girl” is the most dance heavy of the track. The rest of the album feels a bit more distorted. Palomo’s hazy voice helps maintain the focus on the beats and enhances the album’s lowfi sound. The layering of the synths creates the chill stupor that makes the music delectable. Era Extraña successfully fulfills the listener’s hunger and leaves us craving Neon Indian’s next album.
Dan Deacon was trained as a classical composer at SUNY Purchase, but for the majority of his career he has focused on throwing experimental dance music parties. His shows usually involve one table packed with knobs and buttons, a makeshift fluorescent light set-up held together by duct tape, and a crowd of wild jumping participants. His shows are participatory activities - euphoric and cathartic, at once playful, joyous and passionate. His performance at Le Poisson Rouge, however, was more subdued. It was an opportunity for Deacon to explore another side of his musical self—that of the “art music” composer. The first piece of the night, “Purse Hurdler,” was written for a group of students at the summer percussion program conducted by So Percussion, a prominent contemporary music quartet. The percussionists took advantage of the concert space, ambling through clusters of people as they rubbed their hands in curved formations on large bass and tom drums strapped around their necks. The piece evolved continuously—the
performers started grouping together and moving faster. They began bowing cymbals, creating an eerie, screeching sound. Finally, they moved onto the main stage, and a final cavalcade of marimbas and vibraphones rang. The second piece was written for the members of So Percussion. It vacillated between meditative sound collages and what almost sounded like tribal drum battles. It ended with an entertaining (but somewhat exhausting) experiment—four inverted soda bottles were mic’ed and emptied into a bin. The piece did not finish until all of the grape soda, orange soda, and Coke was gone from the bottles (somehow, this took about five minutes). The important aspect of Deacon’s musical philosophy maintained in this concert was the interactive element. On his website, Deacon writes that the art he makes “is about community and how to organize and inspire it.” He keeps finding new ways to expand his vision and his art, and keeps proving that he is one of the most interesting, iconoclastic young musicians around.
REVIEWS VIJAY IYER SEXTET JUNE 23, 2011 CASTLE CLINTON NEW YORK, NY BY GABE IBAGON
YEASAYER JUNE 18, 2011 TERMINAL 5 NEW YORK, NY BY ANDREW FABRY
The crowd eyed the gloomy clouds nervously as they shuffled into Castle Clinton at Battery Park. The Vijay Iyer Sextet were set to play in this open military base-turned-amphitheater, and the possibility that rain could ruin this open air concert was high. Luckily, the rain held out for the whole show, allowing the band to play without any distractions. The Sextet opened with a humble introduction by the mastermind, Vijay Iyer, who explained the project’s goal of combining jazz and Indian music. Immediately after the short talk, the band plunged into a frenzy of dissonant jazz. They played with a grooving jazz fusion backdrop similar to Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” while each musician took a turn improvising, often veering in and out of classical Indian licks that seemed like they belonged in a raga. Midway through the show, Iyer started to take a spin on
the music by adding electronic effects, such as crushing the band’s sound with a wall of distortion. Each song used a different combination of these elements, pushing and pulling the audience through different moods and tones. By the end of the show, Iyer had proved that he could stretch the limits of jazz with his innovative project. The combination of jazz, Indian, and electronic music was a risky endeavor, however, the Sextet pulled it off flawlessly.
The crowd cheered as fog filled Terminal 5. After two openers, Hush Hush and The Smith Westerns, the crowd was ready for the main event: Yeasayer. They played enthusiastically from the start, Chris Keating hopping and bouncing all over the stage. The spirited manner of their performance matched the vibrancy in each of their songs. The lights kept up with the psychedelic music,
and LED backdrops added to the stupor, flashing images of explosions and color. Their fake cacti and eyeball banner added to the quirkiness that is very much a part of Yeasayer. They ran into technical problems when a synth broke, causing Chris to rip up and crumble his set list, and rant about their equipment. Due to the missing synth, the band returned to older material from All Hour Cymbals, which had less synth in them. If they didn’t have enough trouble already, the mixing was amateur, making the balance of the music skewed. Their glory was also short-lived as they only played a thirteensong set, encores included. Despite the many setbacks they managed to push through, and still captivated and stunned everyone there.
REVIEWS THE STROKES JULY 20, 2011 LE ZENITH PARIS, FRANCE BY BEN DEUTSCH
MATT & KIM JUNE 29, 2011 TERMINAL 5 NEW YORK, NY
No room to stand. Maximum floor space allotted per person: enough for one foot. Sweat mingled in the air with smoke and fog. It didn’t really matter what was being played or sung, because you couldn’t hear it anyway. Literally every person was singing. The set was typical Strokes, all the hits (except the elusive “12:51”). Julian wore typical black leather jacket and black wayfarers, stumbling around blindly. They were typical, though spot on musically, and tight. The crowd was atypical. Wild, like a rave, crowd-surfers like I’ve never seen. And pushing to a violent degree, to the extent that you never had your own footing; you relied, rather, on people forming the counter-wave to keep you upright. It was exhilarating, and exhausting, and though Mr. Edgar Legaspi, who had attended the Strokes MSG homecoming show, said the quality of the music wasn’t up to snuff, the energy was through the roof.
The worst part of any concert is waiting, but opener DJ Autobot of Flosstradamus avoided any boring silence by playing his set up until the minute The Thermals came onstage, and then again during the next turnover, until Matt & Kim took the stage. He mixed dubstep, electronic, and pop to rile everyone up. The Thermals took the stage next, playing their indie punk well and loud while working off the crowd’s energy with crowd interaction. Matt & Kim started their set dancing to Auto-
as much as the crowd would. It wouldn’t be right to call it anything but that. In order to interact closely with the crowd, the band unleashed confetti and balloons and Kim danced while standing on the audience’s hands. Other antics included trying to keep inflated balloons afloat, Kim commanding the guys in the crowd to take their shirts off, and reading aloud their phone number, asking for everyone to call for details on the after party. The concert was advertised as a dance party, and it wouldn’t be right to call it anything but that.
BY ANDREW FABRY
Amplified Horace Mann School 231 W 246th Street Riverdale, New York 10471