COLUMNS

  • Footsteps in the Snow

    Unraveling a Christmas music mystery

    A FEW YEARS AGO, while flipping through the new arrivals crate at Nice Price Records in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I was visiting family over the holidays, I became transfixed by what I heard playing on the store’s stereo system. It was immediately recognizable as Christmas music: A jubilant, resonant male baritone implored the listener to “let me hang my mistletoe over your head / and let me love you.” But the voice, landing somewhere between the velvet burliness of Teddy Pendergrass and the genteel phrasing of Lou Rawls, like the lustrous production and extravagant, modern R&B arrangement,

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  • Hooked on Phonetics

    A festival at the borderlands of music and language

    “WHAT CAN A BODY DO?” Gilles Deleuze names this as the central question of Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics, which places the body at the center of a philosophy of expression. The inquiry was motivated in part by Spinoza’s commitment to radical contingency—Deleuze goes on to suggest that “We do not even know of what a body is capable”—but it’s a question that feels broadly in tune with the artistic form known as sound poetry, which harnesses human vocality to newly expressive ends. Taken up throughout much of the twentieth century, with precedents dating as far back as humankind has been mouthing syllables,

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  • Night Music

    A Tristan und Isolde for our time

    FOR PIANIST IGOR LEVIT, music always opens out onto a social context. In 2020, when the pandemic temporarily shut down concert life, he put on a series of hauskonzertes livestreamed from his flat. These were models of what a classical concert could be: intimate, accessible, with an ear to the music of leftist composers such as Cardew, Dessau, and Rzewski alongside canonical repertoire. Levit’s latest release likewise reclaims a strain of dissidence within and against the tradition, pairing pieces by Liszt, Wagner, and Mahler with the late Hans Werner Henze’s piano concerto Tristan, a work written

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  • MACHINE LEARNING

    Sasha Frere-Jones on Michael Rother

    WE MUST FORGIVE OTHERS for the terrible things they do, especially when love takes them to the brink. If you have never heard the first Neu! album, you might find yourself babbling about this music. “It’s so peaceful and alive, and it’s noisy but in this benevolent way, and all of these things happen even though it’s mostly just drums and guitar,” and then you get so excited you say, “This is real Krautrock,” even though you’re not sure you should be using that phrase, but you’ve heard other people say it, and what are you even comparing it to? And then you call the drumming “motorik” because

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  • Ghost World

    Oren Ambarchi’s music of assemblage and erasure

    IMPROVISATION, says ordinary wisdom, happens in a particular time and place. A player lays down a melody, a rhythm. Another responds. The isolation of the pandemic, coupled with our digital age in which musicians can share files with each other instantly, has forced even stubborn traditionalists to expand their rigid understandings and embrace improvised music layered with overdubs and other studio tricks. Australian guitarist, drummer, and pioneering composer Oren Ambarchi predicted this shift by two decades. The fifty-three-year-old tours relentlessly, accompanied by a who’s who of contemporary

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  • Making Waves

    On the 2022 Outsound New Music Summit

    IT’S HARD TO SUM UP the rich and varied Bay Area new music scene. It could be time to cite some of the many artists deserving wider attention like electronic musicians/voice shamans Alexandra Buschman and Danishta Rivero Castro (and their band, Las Soucias), or percussion wizard Karen Stackpole. I could highlight the behind-the-scenes organizing work of Rent Romus, a composer/improviser and saxophonist who somehow finds the time to run two series—the Luggage Store New Music Series (the longest running creative music series in the Bay), and the SIMM Series at the Musician’s Union Hall—his label

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  • Nowhere Band

    AMM says farewell, and keeps its secrets

    THE BRITISH IMPROVISING GROUP AMM has had an impact as mysterious as it is evident on the world of experimental music. Formed in the mid-’60s by what founding member Keith Rowe called a group of “skinny white European street kids” influenced by African American free jazz, AMM grew out of series of workshops at London’s Royal College of Art, its early performances attended by the likes of Ornette Coleman, Paul McCartney, and Syd Barrett. Rowe, a musician and painter who’d played in Mike Westbrook’s big band, turned his guitar flat as Jackson Pollock had laid flat his canvas and also sneaked in

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  • PUBLIC RECORD

    Travis Jeppesen on Osheyack’s Intimate Publics

    BEST KNOWN in the art world for his otherworldly soundtracks to the neofabulist videos of Shuang Li, American-born artist and musician Eli Osheyack is more recognized in his adopted hometown of Shanghai for his live sets at ALL Club, where, under his last name, he churned out an intergenre fusion of gabber, synthwave, drone, ambient, techno, and trap that helped place the city on the map for experimental electronic dance music. His latest album, Intimate Publics (SVBKVLT, 2022), can be seen as both a reflection on the quintessential Shanghai sound he has cultivated over the past decade alongside

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  • Child of Light

    The musical otherworlds of Claude Vivier

    LITTLE ELSE COMPARES to the music of Québécois composer Claude Vivier. His work offers, in the words of composer-conductor Matthias Pintscher, “great brilliance, great severity, great archaism, great emotions”: glimpses of other worlds firmly rooted in our own. Though he was admired by leading composers such as György Ligeti, Gérard Grisey, and Louis Andriessen, Vivier, who was murdered in 1983 at the age of thirty-four, remains regrettably obscure. A three-day Vivier festival at London’s Southbank Centre earlier this month offered a welcome opportunity to redress the balance.

    For the opening

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  • Pearl Jam

    The immersive music of the Gulf’s pearl divers

    BEGINNING IN THE FIRST CENTURY BCE, natural pearl diving was the economic, social, and cultural backbone of the Persian Gulf. Well into the 1930s, over 100,000 men—enslaved Africans, indentured workers, and career divers from Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar—still took to the sea each season, diving hundreds of times a day to the oyster beds, only 1 percent of which would produce a pearl. It was exhausting and perilous work descending twenty fathoms down to the seafloor, and music lifted their spirits. Nahma: A Gulf Polyphony, the latest transmedia compilation from FLEE, explores the histories that

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  • Immortal Homosexual Poets

    Michael Finnissy reimagines Beethoven’s Hammerklavier

    COMPOSER MICHAEL FINNISSY’S CAREER has been a lifelong rejection of the divisions drawn up in and around the world of classical music. Growing up in London in the 1960s, Finnissy did not pursue academic training in composition until the age of eighteen, and was influenced as much by Hockney, Rauschenberg, Ginsberg, Genet, and Godard as by the wide range of music that he absorbed from public libraries, from family and friends, and from the radio. In the years since, his large body of compositions has referenced folk, jazzspirituals, and the European avant-garde, his approach to music at once

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  • Scream Queen

    FT on Diamanda Galás

    DIAMANDA GALÁS’s FIRST ALBUM, The Litanies of Satan (1982), was reissued last year, and now her second LP, Diamanda Galás (1984), is finally available again after being out of print for thirty-seven years. In high school, I traded a pen pal an Einstürzende Neubauten concert bootleg for a hissy nth generation cassette copy of the two albums, one on each side; these vital reissues, beautifully remastered by Heba Kadry, restore the recordings to crystal clarity. Both albums are a testament to how fully formed and relentlessly radical the American singer’s creative approach and vision were from the

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