5. Followups

Oct-12-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: What have we got? A delightfully scathing speech from the Aussie PM, Julia Gillard, follows up on last week’s gender issue. Books are better, thanks to the demise of the publishing industry. A detailed review of David Byrne’s book on music establishes that he’s more than just another talking head, and a truly lovely photo arrives a little late for our autumnal photo spread.

* Gillard Labels Abbott A Misogynist – YouTube (via boingboing)

Australian PM Julia Gillard rose in Parliament to address a motion from the leader of the opposition Tony Abbott to dismiss the Speaker of the House for sending sexist text messages. She proceeded to unload on the smarmy shitheel opposite her for fifteen solid minutes, setting out his record of awful, misogynist garbage. 

* It’s Hard Out Here   Tremble the Devil

Traditional publishing never worked, it was an industry ruled by chance and blind luck. Its demise will be the best thing that’s ever happened to authors as the royalty system is rearranged and bureaucratic fat is removed from the system.

* “How Music Works” by David Byrne – review The Observer

Ever against the grain, the now 60-year-old Byrne explores a whole symphony of argument in this extraordinary book with the precise, technical enthusiasm you’d expect from the painfully bright art school-educated son – born in Scotland, raised in the States – of an electrical engineer, occasionally mopping his fevered brow in the crestfallen manner of a 19th-century poet. The title is perfectly chosen. Music doesn’t just work because of its effect on the senses; every aspect of its sound and construction has an emotional impact, right up to the way it’s distributed, even marketed, and the machines on which it’s consumed. It’s fascinating.

Even before you hear music, Byrne points out, it has been shaped by the environment it was designed to be heard in, and by the equipment employed to make or record it. Much of the slow, stately western music of the middle ages sounds the way it does because it had to work within the four-second reverberations of stone-walled cathedrals (Bach’s was more agile because he mostly wrote on a small church pipe organ). Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby capitalized on the arrival of the microphone as it allowed them to reach their predominantly female following with a whisper not a shout.

Arena rock of the early 70s evolved as a way of reaching the back of the sonically unsuitable sports stadia that the expanding market now required its bands to perform in. Talking Heads themselves fashioned their angular funk partly because it suited the acoustics of CBGB, the box-like New York club that launched them. Byrne no longer plays at Carnegie Hall, he explains, because it’s designed for opera and thus deadens his current brand of highly percussive “groove music”.

* A Wall Of Fall   Flickr

9. Impeccably Styled Music

Oct-05-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Start with the Girls’ Generation video, which will show you what K-Pop is about. Then you can decide if you need to read a wonderful (but long) New Yorker piece about the history, style, and merchandizing of K-Pop. A wonderfully creative Amanda Palmer video of her latest single (some nudity), and for contrast, a crashingly punk/grunge blast with Neil and friends bringing it all home.

* 소녀시대_THE BOYS_Music Video (KOR ver.)   Girls’ Generation YouTube

* Cultural Technology and the Making of K-Pop   The New Yorker

K-pop is an East-West mash-up. The performers are mostly Korean, and their mesmerizing synchronized dance moves, accompanied by a complex telegraphy of winks and hand gestures, have an Asian flavour, but the music sounds Western: hip-hop verses, Euro-pop choruses, rapping, and dub step breaks. K-pop has become a fixture of pop charts not only in Korea but throughout Asia, including Japan—the world’s second-biggest music market, after the U.S.—and Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia. South Korea, a country of less than fifty million, somehow figured out how to make pop hits for more than a billion and a half other Asians, contributing two billion dollars a year to Korea’s economy, according to the BBC …

“Listen, boy,” Tiffany coos at the outset of “Gee.” “It’s my first love story.” And then she tilts her head to the side and flashes her eye smile—the precise crinkle in the outer corner that texts her love straight 2U. Why was watching “Mr. Taxi” such pure audiovisual pleasure? Why did my body feel lighter in the chair? It wasn’t the music—bright, candy-cane-sweet sounds, like aural Day-Glo—and, while the dancing was wonderfully precise, the choreography had a schematic quality. “They look like cheerleaders,” my twenty-one-year-old niece hissed over my shoulder one day as I was watching “Gee” again. “Uncle Pervy!”

…Good looks are a K-pop artist’s stock-in-trade. Although some of the idols are musicians, K-pop artists rarely play instruments onstage. Where K-pop stars excel is in sheer physical beauty. Their faces, chiselled, sculpted, and tapering to a sharp point at the chin, Na’vi style, look strikingly different from the flat, round faces of most Koreans. Some were born with this bone structure, no doubt, but many can look this way only with the help of plastic surgery. Korea is by far the world leader in procedures per capita, according to The Economist. Double-fold-eyelid surgery, which makes eyes look more Western, is a popular reward for children who get good marks on school exams. The popularity of the K-pop idols has also brought Chinese, Japanese, and Singaporean “medical tourists” to Seoul to have their faces altered to look more like the Korean stars. Some hotels have partnered with hospitals so that guests can have in-house procedures; the Ritz-Carlton Seoul, for example, offers an eighty-eight-thousand-dollar “anti-aging beauty package.” Women come to have their cheekbones shaved down and undergo “double jaw surgery,” in which the upper and lower jawbones are cracked apart and repositioned, to give the whole skull a more tapered look.

* Amanda Palmer’s awesome stop-motion music video [NSFW]   Boing Boing

Amanda Palmer’s just posted her latest video for a new song called “Want it Back,” and it’s a fabulous piece of stop-motion animation in which the lyrics are calligraphed across Palmer’s body, sheets, companions, books, and some nearby graffiti walls in Melbourne. The inking here is nothing short of inspired. Palmer provides extensive notes on the production, which sounds like a real bear.

* “Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World”  YouTube

Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl and The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach joined Neil Young on stage last night (September 29) at a free concert in New York.

The Global Citizen Festival, which took place in Central Park, was a five-hour concert featuring performances from Foo Fighters, The Black Keys, Band Of Horses and K’naan, with Neil Young & Crazy Horse capping off the evening.

8. New Music

Sep-21-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Three out of four isn’t bad, surely? The Randy Newman is out yesterday, and is a free download at the link. Gangnam Style is just breaking in the west, and Martha Wainwright’s Proserpina was released last week. And while the Talking Heads video is from 1980, it’s just been rediscovered. No, it’s not new, but it was too good not to include it here.

* “I’m Dreaming of a White President” Randy Newman 

Slate: You’re releasing “I’m Dreaming” free of charge, but you’re encouraging listeners to donate to the United Negro College Fund. Why that particular cause?

Newman: I have some concern that kids will hear this and think, “What is he talking about?” If you have a kid and you try irony out on them, they don’t get it at 7, 8 years old. “What do you mean, you’re dreaming of a white president?” It’s a problem. You can’t really hide the Internet from kids. It worries me some particularly because I’ve done Disney and Pixar stuff.  In Toy Story, there’s my voice saying, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” And then here’s my voice singing that I want “A real live white man / Who knows the score.” I’d like it to be clearer which side I’m on. Of course, it comes a little late….

* Gangnam Style: South Korean rapper PSY’s social commentary Toronto Star

South Korean rapper PSY’s “Gangnam Style” video has 220 million YouTube views and counting, and it’s easy to see why. No Korean language skills are needed to enjoy the chubby, massively entertaining performer’s crazy horse-riding dance, the song’s addictive chorus and the video’s exquisitely odd series of misadventures.
Beneath the antic, funny surface of his world-conquering song, however, is a sharp social commentary about the country’s newly rich and Gangnam, the affluent district where many of them live. Gangnam is only a small slice of Seoul, but it inspires a complicated mixture of desire, envy and bitterness.

* Martha Wainwright: Proserpina  NOWNESS

Martha Wainwright’s soaring yet delicate harmonies take center stage in her performance of elegy “Proserpina,” written by her late mother, the legendary folk singer Kate McGarrigle, in filmmaker Matthu Placek’s intimate video. Taken from her forthcoming album Come Home to Mama, the track was recorded in Sean Lennon’s New York home studio and continues a lifelong musical dialogue between Wainwright and McGarrigle, who passed away in 2010. “It’s the last song my mother wrote, and of course I also think that she wrote it for me, and for Rufus,” explains Wainwright, referring to her critically acclaimed crooner brother, Rufus Wainwright. “We wrote songs together, ever since we were children. As we sing her songs, I think her voice can be heard in ours, literally through our pipes.”  Placek’s single-take film was inspired by the premise of “Proserpina,” which recounts the story of the creation of the seasons by the Roman goddess Ceres, who withholds the world’s bounty for six months every year in protest about her daughter’s abduction by Pluto, lord of the underworld. “It’s all about Martha’s performance,” says the director, who has also produced music videos for Trixie Whitley and Hannah Cohen. “Martha’s vocal range is insane, it’s outrageous—I’ve never seen anyone like her.”

* The Talking Heads Concert Film You Haven’t Seen   Open Culture

Few bands can boast a performance so image-defining as the one the Talking Heads pulled off in Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense. Given its physical meticulousness, its seamless editing, and its refined aesthetic sense — qualities rarely prioritized in rock concert films — its place in the zeitgeist seems well earned. But that picture opened in 1984, when the band had already released its most widely respected albums, and when they had only four years to go before effectively dissolving. Live in Rome, which you can now watch uncut on YouTube, captures the Heads in 1980, a less established moment in their history. David Byrne and company express the same kind of off-kilter energy on display in Stop Making Sense — the enthusiasm of punks who also happen to be musicology nerds — but here they express it in a simpler, more traditionally “rock concert-ish” setting.

Talking Heads enthusiasts, note that Live in Rome features the group’s full “Afro-Funk Orchestra” lineup. Additionally, you’ll see on guitar a certain Adrian Belew, who would begin fronting King Crimson the following year. (As he might, in another reality, have fronted the Heads themselves; in our reality, he turned down an offer to take Byrne’s place.) The songs not heard in Stop Making Sense include “Stay Hungry,” “Cities,” “I Zimbra,” “Drugs,” “Houses in Motion,” “Born Under Punches,” and “The Great Curve.”

8. Books (and Magazines)

Sep-14-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: The Guardian, in a hilarious conceit, is having a showdown tournament of the top 32 American writers. Read the way they were selected, and see the full list, and the four novels that represent them. If you enjoy books by, or about musicians, this is going to be a good season. Bikinis that are similar to book covers is as bizarre a concept for a website as I’ve seen, and the 15 magazine covers are interesting, though some are not controversial. But it’s a fun trip down memory lane.

* The Great American Novelist Tournament: The Final 32 Matthew Spencer The Guardian

The original list was debated, dissected and reassembled several times over. Here, at last, is the final list of 32 competitors for the title of Great American Novelist

I read and digested your comments. I agonised and I performed sweeping U-turns across the American canon. I have re-jigged the novelists to produce a final list that still does not include David Foster Wallace, Marilynne Robinson, Harper Lee or anyone short of the four novel minimum. For shame, but this single elimination tournament demands a novelist must have four possible “greats” to bring to the party. It is a wide sieve through which many notable writers have fallen, but there it is: I’m looking for an American, writing within the last 100 years who went back to the well again and again and continued to find it wet with novelistic inspiration.

* Autumn’s 10 best music books  The Observer

Blame Bob and Keith – and Patti too. If it weren’t for the runaway success of Dylan’s Chronicles (published 2004), Richards’s Life (2010) and… Just Kids by Patti Smith (also 2010), the shelves this autumn would not be heaving under the weight of recollections by rock’s big beasts. Between now and Christmas, autobiographies are expected from Neil Young and Pete Townshend, Rod Stewart and Peter Hook, not to mention the biggest beast of them all, perhaps – Steven Patrick Morrissey. In between, we have high-profile biographies of Leonard Cohen and Led Zeppelin, an appreciation of Prince and an account by Mick Jagger‘s accountant. Rarely have the half-remembered recollections of artists, many au fait with recreational chemistry, been more in demand.

The celebrated memoirs of Dylan, Richard and Smith ramped up expectations for the rock autobiography. Pre-Keef’n'Bob, rock memoirs were specialist titles, sold in comfortable numbers to fans, music journalists and sensation-seekers, thumbing the index for names and dates. Then, perhaps, they radiated out to the wider circle of autobiography junkies. … But these three very literary books broke out of their reservation with elan, escaping into the wider-reading wild, chased by critical acclaim and garnering huge sales. It helped, of course, that Dylan was an enigma who remained an enigma even when setting the record straight; it helped, too, that when Richards was commenting on the size of Jagger’s member, his own memories of discovering the blues in bomb-scarred postwar south London were so beautifully drawn. With Smith, you got the bang of a poet and a famous artist for your buck.

Bikinis Meet Their Match Matchbook

Matches between bathing suits and books.

* 15 of the Most Controversial Magazine Covers in History Twisted Sifter

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