Das Vogelkonzert (The Bird Concert) by Jan Brueghel the Younger, c. 1640-1645 via Wikimedia Commons
If you have been educated to carry out academic research, JSTOR is familiar to you. And if not, but you have the sort of curiosity demonstrated in our pages, then JSTOR daily might be a good companion, as demonstrated here:
Nonhuman creatures have senses that we’re just beginning to fathom. What would they tell us if we could only understand them?
One evening almost sixty years ago, a Tufts University researcher named Roger Payne was working in his lab when he heard a radio report about a whale that had washed up on a beach nearby. Although it was a cold, wet March night, he decided to drive to the shore. Continue reading →
I caught up on reading I had missed when it was first published. It is rare for me to miss a Dylan profile, but in May, 1999 I was preparing for our first lodge management project, so no wonder. Alex Ross avoids the tedium that makes me often wish I had not bothered with a Dylan profile. I recommend the profile whether or not you care about Dylan. If not just for clear writing, the quality of the cultural observation transcends the main subject.
Today I am happy to have read another article by Alex Ross, this one much shorter. If you watch the video above it will give a good indication of whether you will find the article worth your while. It reviews the ideas in the book to the left, which offers a great segue from yesterday’s post. We are learning to be more aware of where the things we consume come from, and what it took to produce them, store them, deliver them, and the footprint they leave from production and after consumption:
Listening to music on the Internet feels clean, efficient, environmentally virtuous. Instead of accumulating heaps of vinyl or plastic, we unpocket our sleek devices and pluck tunes from the ether. Music has, it seems, been freed from the grubby realm of things. Kyle Devine, in his recent book, “Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music,” thoroughly dismantles that seductive illusion. Like everything we do on the Internet, streaming and downloading music requires a steady surge of energy. Continue reading →
It is commonplace belief that music from our youth influences our taste in music for the rest of life, and that no music ever displaces the favorite music of our late teens and early twenties (this is lore, admittedly, not science), so it makes sense that this same period of music acquisition can influence much more:
The environmental movement has largely failed to connect with people of color and marginalized urban communities. By confronting issues from contaminated water to climate change, hip hop music can help bridge that divide and bring home the realities of environmental injustice.
When I was diversity director at North Carolina State University, part of my job was to recruit young people — often from communities of color — into the College of Natural Resources. It could be a struggle; these were talented and creative kids, but often they didn’t see how environmental or sustainability issues were relevant to their lives. Continue reading →
Caleb Hunt (left) and Tony Croasdale at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia. In a city known for its punk underground and avian history, the friends have found an overlap that celebrates both niches. Photo: Mark Makela
I do not have a tattoo. If I did, it may be that a bird would adorn my arm. Our efforts to promote the joys of birdwatching combined with the conservation benefits that come from increased concern for bird habitat all suggest that I would be susceptible. I came of age during the emergence of punk rock, so the possibilities are there:
Punk has always been about embracing different forms of expression. Meet the people who are putting birding on that spectrum.
A trio of vultures serve as badges of Croasdale’s birding obsession. Photos: Mark Makela
It’s the evening golden hour at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. A whirlwind of swallows swims through the soft light, chasing midges into a frenzy. Nearby on a platform a handful of birders scans the dimming sky, exposed to the marsh and its blood-thirsty elements.
A trio of vultures. Photo: Mark Makela
In plain T-shirts and khakis, the group blends into the woods-y backdrop—with two exceptions. Caleb Hunt, a bookkeeper for an adult-entertainment boutique, rocks a Philly Punx tank top with a fanged, horned Benjamin Franklin splashed across the front. Next to her, Tony Croasdale, the leader of today’s walk, sports an aviary of skin art. A Swallow-tailed Kite, Belted Kingfisher, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Scarlet Tanager, and three types of vultures bedeck his legs, collarbone, and arms.
Croasdale’s tattoos pay homage to two of his biggest life passions: birding and punk rocking. He plunged into the first as a kid when his father took him to Philadelphia’s Pennypack Park to learn about kingfishers. Continue reading →
New York is not usually considered a naturalist’s paradise. But John Luther Adams, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and former environmental activist, did not have to walk far from his Harlem apartment this week to be serenaded in Morningside Park and Central Park by choirs of robins, sparrows, flickers, catbirds and, finally, a wood thrush, with its poignant “ee-o-lay” song.
”That’s the one that started it all for me, 40-however-many years ago,” Mr. Adams, 64, said as he paused in a sun-dappled spot in Central Park’s North Woods to savor the wood thrush’s melody. Continue reading →
Alan Lomax, in 1992. As computer technology progressed, Lomax envisioned a searchable database for music from around the world. Credit G. Paul Burne
Some say music is the earliest communal art form, and one that continues to connect us. The inclusiveness of Alan Lomax’s vision with the Association for Cultural Equity and the Global Jukebox carries that inspiration further, with interactive features that connect the dots between music, culture and geography, paying “tribute to the expressive styles of all peoples within the framework of cultural equity and the diversity which is crucial to our survival as a species.”
Alan Lomax made it his lifelong mission to archive and share traditional music from around the world. He spent decades in the field, recording heralded artists like Muddy Waters and Woody Guthrie, as well as far more obscure musicians, from the British Isles to Haiti. He also created systems to classify this music and explore the links between cultures.
Lomax died in 2002, but the organization he founded, the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE), is hoping to further his research with the Global Jukebox, a new online database. The project, an interactive website, allows users to listen to and learn about more than 6,000 songs from 1,000 cultures — including many from Lomax’s personal collection. Continue reading →
While I personally don’t focus on organized religion, I can’t deny the power of sacred music to uplift my spirit. This story of inspired Renaissance composition and modern-day curiosity resonates with historical sleuthing and musical puzzle solving.
Click on the Sound Cloud musical links, close your eyes and breathe deep.
Eight years ago, leafing through a bibliography of 16th-century music prints (like you do), my eye was caught by the title of a motet: “Salve sponsa Dei.” “Bride of Christ,” I thought. “Must be for nuns!”
It was one of 23 anonymous motets published together in 1543, so I did what any self-respecting nunologist would do, and ordered a reproduction of the book. As I put the motets into a usable edition for modern singers, I found they were unlike any other 16th-century music I’d ever seen. They were dense, intense and sometimes startlingly dissonant.
The music – for five equal voices (of unspecified sex) – is astonishingly beautiful and yet strange, radical even. These works had lain unsung and unloved for almost four centuries, mostly because they were anonymous. These days, anonymity suggests that whoever created the book, music, painting or whatever was not important enough, or the product is not good enough, for anyone to care who made it. But in the 16th century, anonymity was also an important way for members of the nobility to disguise their participation in commercial ventures that were considered beneath them (which is why Gesualdo, a prince, published his madrigals anonymously).
After decades of failures and misunderstandings, scientists have solved a cosmic riddle — what happens to the tons of dust particles that hit the Earth every day but seldom if ever get discovered in the places that humans know best, like buildings and parking lots, sidewalks and park benches.
The answer? Nothing. Look harder. The tiny flecks are everywhere.
An international team found that rooftops and other cityscapes readily collect the extraterrestrial dust in ways that can ease its identification, contrary to science authorities who long pooh-poohed the idea as little more than an urban myth Continue reading →
A new anthology of the work of Harry Belafonte, pictured here in the nineteen-forties or fifties, reiterates his standing in American music. PHOTOGRAPH BY BETTMANN / GETTY
There was an editorial a few days ago that alerted us to the birthdays of two buddies, each on icon in his own right, who have 70 years of solidarity in the tough times, and best of times too. It also alerted us to the time since our last post with the model mad theme, so here is one more:
Sixty-one years ago, in 1956, Harry Belafonte recorded a version of the Jamaican folk song “Day-O,” for his third studio album, “Calypso.” It opens with a distant and eager rumbling—as if something dark and hulking were approaching from a remote horizon. Belafonte—who was born in Harlem in 1927, but lived with his grandmother in a wooden house on stilts in Aboukir, a mountain village in Jamaica, for a good chunk of his childhood—bellows the title in a clipped island pitch. The instrumentation is spare and creeping. His voice bounces and echoes as it moves closer. It sounds like a call to prayer. Continue reading →
In the face of Trump, many artists report feelings of paralysis. Should they carry on as before, nobly defying the ruination of public discourse? Or seize on a new mission, abandoning the illusion of aesthetic autonomy? PHOTOGRAPH BY ERICH AUERBACH/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY
What is the point of making beautiful things, or of cherishing the beauty of the past, when ugliness runs rampant? Those who work in the realm of the arts have been asking themselves that question in recent weeks. Continue reading →
We studiously avoid wading into the realm of popular music here, but today we make an exception. Not for the sake of the music itself (the greatest hits of a band celebrating 50 years of working together), but because we have just discovered that one of our favorite artists, featured here more than once, was the cover artist for the album above. Yes, we see we are a few years behind the times on this story, but better late than never when it comes to Walton Ford:
We knew Jerry Jeff Walker was one of the greats, but two things we did not know about him: he is the man who wrote the song Mr. Bojangles (no secret, we just did not know it) and he has considered Belize his second home for a very long time (again no secret, we just did not know it). If you click the banner above you will see more details about the concert series, which sounds like a blast, coming up in a few weeks. But since it is sold out, we still suggest planning for a visit to Belize, in which case you should click the image below.
We had not heard of Flexn until this week, when they were mentioned in a podcast with the phenomenal Peter Sellars (alluded to once previously in these pages, and linked to another time directly). Now we want to know more. And it looks like one way to learn more will happen at The Shed. Back in August, when we first heard about The Shed, it was a quick glance at the future. Now we have more detail, thanks to this early release of a profile in next week’s New Yorker:
How will the director of New York’s ambitious experimental cultural center change the city?
By Calvin Tomkins
Every so often, it seems, visual artists are stricken by the urge to perform. The “happenings” movement in the nineteen-sixties—young painters and sculptors doing nonverbal theatre—was explained as a response to Pollock, de Kooning, and other gestural Abstract Expressionists: it was the gesture without the painting. Continue reading →
Fritz Lang’s 1927 film “Metropolis” ARCHIVES NEW ZEALAND
In the wake of a U.S. election that left half the population bracing for a dystopian future, it seems a timely moment to present Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent classic, Metropolis. Considered the“father” of science fiction cinema, the film was meticulously restored in 2010.
But it’s the extra element of a live score composed and presented by the Alloy Orchestra that makes this screening an exceptional event. This unusual three man musical ensemble writes and performs live accompaniment to classic silent films using a combination of found percussion and state-of-the-art electronics to generate an amazingly varied array of musical styles. Continue reading →
We have not mentioned the banjo much around here. Shame on that! I am fond of the instrument for some of the same reasons I am fond of, say, an arboretum. The banjo is an instrument akin to other instruments of entrepreneurial conservation: the more it gets played well, the more it keeps alive a tradition, and even can improve on the tradition. An arboretum, well conceived, well kept, helps species survive in isolation that might otherwise have been lost from the planet entirely.
I see a reference here and there, for example mention of the Seeger family, who I have loved for many reasons my whole life. And Bela Fleck is Exhibit A in the case to be made for the banjo entrepreneurship; Steve Martin and Edie Brickell could be said to support that case as well. They all would acknowledge Dr. Ralph Stanley as essential to their craft’s survival and thriving, so it is with that in mind that I highly recommend you listen to or read this brief interview with him:
…GROSS: How did you get your first banjo?
STANLEY: My first banjo? My mother’s sister, my aunt, lived about a mile from where we did, and she raised some hogs. And she had – her – the hog – the mother – they called the mother a sow – of a hog. And she had some pigs. Well, the pigs were real pretty, and I was going to high school and I was taking agriculture in school. And I sort of got a notion that I’d like to do that, raise some hogs. And so my aunt had this old banjo, and my mother told me, said, which do you want, the pig or a banjo? And each one of them’s $5 each. I said, I’ll just take the banjo…
Several members of our circle have enjoyed reading about as well as listening to Mr. Krause since first learning about him. Whether or not you happen to be in Paris, this exhibit is worth a visit (click the image above for the low carbon footprint route)
Sometimes a moment of Zen is meant to be just that. In this case the ingenuity of the concept and the elegance of the execution increase the impact all the more. The sea creates random chords with this natural musical instrument as the waves push air through 35 tuned subterranean tubes set into the steps.
For a period of time some of of our team called Croatia home. This is definitely a Siren Call to return…
Hopkinson Smith playing the German theorbo built for him by Joel van Lennep. Photograph by Philippe Gontier/Courtesy of Hopkinson Smith
When a musician of this talent dedicates his life to mastery of instruments that keep an old tradition alive, we take notice. When he describes J.S. Bach as a recycler, we understand in a fresh context the value of this concept that we tend on these pages to relegate to the reduction of waste. Recycling is also about adaptation, evolution, improvement (thanks to Harvard Magazine):
HOPKINSON SMITH ’70 describes J.S. Bach as a musical ecologist. “He recycled so many of his own works,” Smith explains. “He never stopped trying to adapt what he’d written.” It was an accepted musical practice at the time, but one imagines the composer was driven at least in part by pragmatism: his posts in a number of German cities required him to produce new compositions at a fierce pace. Refashioning musical materials helped him keep up with those demands. “Even so,” Smith adds, “writing a cantata a week would not have been a manageable task for the rest of us mortals.” Continue reading →