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Posts Tagged ‘music’

Cy Twombly, the JACK, and the Morgan Library

July 2, 2015 | by

JACK Quartet

On November 24, 2014, the JACK Quartet performed Matthias Pintscher’s Studies for Treatise on the Veil in a gallery at the Morgan Library, in New York, before a thirty-three-foot-long painting by Cy Twombly called Treatise on the Veil (Second Version). Pintscher’s score was written in response to Twombly’s painting; Twombly’s painting was composed in response to music, that of French composer Pierre Henry, a pioneer of musique concrète. Members of the JACK were, in turn, influenced that evening by their very proximity to Twombly’s painting: “The music requires so much concentration,” said violist and director John Pickford Richards, “and I felt that the painting was giving me concentration while we were playing.”

Chapter six of our series “Big, Bent Ears” details this curious network of connections, which Richards calls a “daisy chain of beautiful responses.”

Here’s another one: Before the Morgan exhibition, Twombly’s painting hadn’t hung in New York since 1985, and Pintscher’s composition had never been performed alongside the painting. And no one had ever filmed a concert at the Morgan Library. Rock Fish Stew’s video of that evening, which is part of chapter six, is witness to this extraordinary confluence and is itself an element of it. Twombly called his Treatise on the Veil (Second Version) “a time line without time,” which is rather like a story without a beginning, middle, and end. Or, as the “Big, Bent Ears” team likes to think of it, serializing uncertainty and reveling in digressions.

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Skyscrapers and Everything

June 5, 2015 | by

The trouble with gazing upward in New York.

Don’t look up, Stevie!

About four minutes into Stevie Wonder’s 1973 classic “Living for the City”—a surging, seven-plus minute thumper track about racial injustice, migration, and the failure of the latter to cure the former—the song emerges from its second chorus and breaks down to its sparest parts. We hear the quizzical staccato of the synthesizer flit in and out like lingering sunlight; the dry drums, which just seconds ago were rolling out an elaborate fill, tap quarter-note rimshots on the snare; all the other instruments stop playing. Welcome to New York.

This interlude, barely a minute long but seemingly much longer, is a marvel within an already marvelous song. It’s an early example in popular music of that moment when a song recognizes its limits and turns, momentarily, into something larger and stranger. After all, Stevie could’ve just tagged on another verse about New York, keeping the song’s structure intact, but wouldn’t there be something thin and dreamy about that? New York collects anthems like medals: “New York, New York,” “On Broadway,” and “Empire State of Mind” are all, in essence, odes to skylines, with outsized grandeur to match. Their scale grows out of proportion; aphorism replaces emotion; the music hits its mark and no one gets hurt. The lesson for songwriters tackling New York has always been this: if you’re going to sing to the city, sing big. The skyline, as more than few writers have reminded us, can even look like musical notation if you squint hard enough. Read More »

“26 Anos de Vida Normal”

June 5, 2015 | by

I hate the summer. I hate the heat, I hate the humidity, I hate the pressure to have fun, I hate the sand-in-an-hourglass frenzy of it all. I hate summer movies and the crowds of people at outdoor events. I do like the tomatoes. But ever since it dawned on me that grown-ups don’t get summer vacation, I have not seen the reason for the season.

Apparently there’s a sort of SAD that affects some people in the sun. Something about the sun flips a switch in their brains so that, just as everyone else is at their happiest, they’re miserable. I don’t know about me—although the heat is a migraine trigger. But I do go strange in the heat. I’m not just cranky but furious and spiky, able at any moment to erupt in scornful rage. It is exciting, but tiring, too, like a summer film overlarded with special effects. Read More »

The “Layla” IQ Test

May 15, 2015 | by

layla

Beloved of dads everywhere.

In 1992, Eric Clapton released an acoustic version of his 1970 Derek and the Dominos classic, “Layla.” Inspired by the Persian epic The Story of Layla and Majnun—and, of course, by Clapton’s personal life—the original was ubiquitous at the height of album rock. But the relaxed, dad-friendly “unplugged” take made an instant sensation, too: it was an inescapable part of the soundtrack of the early nineties. To this day it’s a Lite FM staple—just try to visit the dentist’s office without hearing it.

When it came out, I remember hearing it was everywhere. In stores; on MTV; in the local salon, Visual Difference, where tough young women gave me terrible haircuts between cigarettes. And whenever that live cover came on in our car—as it did in the cars of countless boomers across the nation and the world—my mom would go on the same tear.

Recall, to start, that the set was recorded in front of a Brixton audience. Unlike the rest of the world, the crowd captured on tape was presumably hearing this cover for the first time. 

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Behind the Music

May 6, 2015 | by

The lost art of hidden tracks.

Photo: D-Kuru/Wikimedia Commons

Nearly everyone who came of age in the nineties remembers hidden tracks, those Easter eggs of the CD era. Artists embedded secret songs or demos after a disc’s final track; listeners combed through the silence to find them. For me, growing up in a small town with plenty of time to kill, sitting in silence and waiting for music to appear was an ideal way to spend an afternoon. The less patient among us, I know, would fast forward through the quiet. I didn’t.

The hidden track was born of the LP age, with the Beatles’ “Her Majesty”—which appeared uncredited at the end of 1969’s Abbey Road, following fourteen seconds of silence—serving as a kind of urtext, though Paul McCartney has claimed its inclusion was an accident. In 1979, the Clash added “Train in Vain” to London Calling at the last minute, after the album’s packaging had been printed. When vinyl was music’s preeminent medium, though, there were analog clues to an album’s secrets: you could examine the surface of a record and watch the needle make its way through every groove. It was when the CD, that tesseract of a medium, flourished that hidden tracks did, too. Read More »

Testimony of Simplicity

April 13, 2015 | by

diana-ross-upside-down-motown-4

Quaker in disguise?

“Personal pride does not end with noble blood. It leads people to a fond value of their persons, especially if they have any pretense to shape or beauty. Some are so taken with themselves it would seem that nothing else deserved their attention.” —William Penn

Upside Down” was the lead single on Diana Ross’s 1980 disco record Diana. The song, written by Chic’s Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, topped the charts for a month, and it’s one of the great late-era disco dance hits: catchy, unexpected, propulsive, feisty. 

The plot is simple. A boy is turning her upside down, inside out, round and round, et cetera. And then: Read More »