COLUMNS

  • The World On Six Strings

    A SUMMER OF MARY HALVORSON will tell you anything you want to know about the guitar. Her sound is as clean and strong as water, sustaining everything around it. She plays an electric archtop guitar, a Guild Artist Award issued in 1970, which is essentially an acoustic guitar with a pickup installed near the neck, where the strings sway and the body sings. The Artist Award, as Halvorson plays it, is a guide into the line and the note. Her tone serves her ideas, not the reverse. Halvorson doesn’t often distort her signal or blur what she’s presenting. She doesn’t go for clouds and sheets. If her

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  • Ode to Destruction

    PETER BRÖTZMANN AND KEIJI HAINO are free improvisation elders who, as a duo, have developed a sonic theater of destruction. While composers use pitch, melody, and rhythm to establish themes and develop them, these improvisers use those tools to work in counter-intuitive ways to instigate instability and flux. Their recent show at the Chapel was SRO. While many Bay Area residents are mourning the gentrification of our cultural landscape, I honestly can’t remember a time when three hundred people gathered on Valencia Street to hear free jazz.

    In the late 1960s, critics compared Brötzmann to Albert

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  • Reheat Waves

    THERE IS NOTHING I LOVE MORE than seeing bands of older white men reunify—off the top of my head, I can say that I’ve seen Faust, Television, the Patti Smith Group, Sonic Arts Union, and the Beach Boys all within the last four years. It’s an unholy hobby, but a hobby nonetheless. I missed the Fall, which will always be a disappointment to me, but I wasn’t going to sleep on a chance to see what remains of This Heat, the Camberwellians known for their two studio albums, This Heat (1979) and Deceit (1981), as well as their lone 12-inch, Health and Efficiency (1980). And so I forsook The Bachelorette

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  • On the Infinite Plane

    TONY CONRAD PASSED AWAY in 2016 at the age of seventy-six, leaving behind a sprawling and idiosyncratic body of work that spanned over five decades. His voluminous output was not always legible to the mainstream; it wasn’t always legible to the avant-garde either. The remarkable recent exhibition “Introducing Tony Conrad: A Retrospective” at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York—with additional works on display at the University of Buffalo, where the artist taught from 1976 until shortly before he died—is wide-ranging and ambitious in scope. Was Conrad a composer, a sound artist,

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  • The Mercy Seat

    ON MAY 5TH, AT THE UNION TEMPLE OF BROOKLYN, a theater called Murmrr hosted the last date of a short tour called Conversations with Nick Cave. For just two appearances in Massachusetts and two in New York, he flew over from Brighton, England. Later that night, to explain why he had come to America, Cave channeled Sinatra: “I just sort of thought if I can get through New York, I might be able to do this elsewhere.”

    But why did he need to do this? In a press release, Cave wrote, “There has been a connection happening with the audience through the recent live shows where we have all shown a kind of

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  • Hey Superstar

    FROM THE RECENT BROADWAY REVIVAL of the postmodern epic Cats (1981) to NBC’s live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) starring Chrissy Teigen’s husband as the Son of God, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is everywhere these days. The tsar of the mega-musical has long been on the mind of the British experimental musician Klein, who recently graced New York with a live performance, her first since the premiere of her musical Care at London’s ICA this past February. Care, which was in part inspired by her appreciation for Lloyd Webber’s melodramatic, melodic storytelling, gave Klein a chance to work,

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  • Heart of Stone

    WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THAT CHAIR?

    There used to be a Chinese restaurant on the corner of Avenue C and East Second Street. It was called The Golden Dragon. The filmmaker Ela Troyano owns the building. In 2005, her friend, composer John Zorn, turned The Golden Dragon into The Stone.

    What the fuck are you doing with that chair?

    The space was emptied of appliances and counters. In their place, a Yamaha grand piano, a small PA, and sixty or so black chairs were installed. Black sound treatment curtains were hung over the windows. Avenue C itself became the lobby. If the place wasn’t ambitious in any

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  • SAME DIFFERENCE

    THERE IS SOMETHING very homosexual about using “multiple instruments of the same kind.” This is the ensemble instruction composer Julius Eastman gave for performing some of his most exciting scores, in which groups of players work through themes and variations, all on the same musical instrument. These compositions were introduced to new music audiences in the 1970s and ’80s and have been rarely heard since. Still, they are thrilling to witness live, as was made possible by the miraculous “That Which Is Fundamental,” an exhibition and concert series presented in Philadelphia at the Slought

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  • Major Scale

    MUSIC FESTIVALS ARE ALL ABOUT SCALE.

    On one hand, festivals solve financial problems of presenting live music by scaling up—what if, says the ambitious promoter in Tennessee, instead of eighty shows selling a thousand tickets each, we put on one show that sells 80,000 tickets…? And thus Bonnaroo is born, with an astronomical budget to work with. (Tickets this year are $337.50, which means a sell out will gross $27 million—before merch).

    But on the other hand, festivals create entirely new problems for music by shifting scale like this. Not all live music—not any?—is made to be heard by 80,000

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  • Pop Is Pop

    YOU MIGHT NOT BE SURPRISED to learn that there are only four degrees of separation between Jacques Derrida and Charli XCX. The father of deconstruction and the atomic pop songstress form the ends of a chain held together by A.G. Cook of PC Music and Green Gartside of Scritti Politti. Cook, who produced XCX’s late 2017 “mixtape” Pop 2, has hailed Scritti Politti’s Cupid & Psyche 85 as an example of pop music taken to its “extreme,” a limit toward which he himself aspires. As evinced by its title, Pop 2, like Cupid & Psyche 85 before it, is all about popular music. Curiously though, there is no

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  • MATTERS OF THE HEART

    IN MID-OCTOBER, the seventy-six-year-old percussionist, herbalist, scientist, and martial artist Milford Graves stood before an admiring audience at the Artist’s Institute on New York’s Upper East Side. “Well, I must say this is a new adventure for me,” he began with a buoyant smile. “It’s like I’m starting all over again.” Pointing to a sculpture across the room—a dunun-carrying skeleton swathed in a tangle of wires connected to laptops, circuit boards, and anatomical models—Graves remarked, “I’m entering a whole new era, because I’m on to my next sculpture piece now, and then another

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  • Glissando Through the Blues

    MORE THAN A FEW ASPECTS of Alice Coltrane’s life and music stand out as singular, epic, genius—and, sometimes equally, tragic. Her husband, John, passed away from liver cancer in 1967, and as a widow at just twenty-nine she raised their four children on her own, never remarrying. Throughout, she maintained a brilliant and groundbreaking solo music career. I could go on. She’s the kind of inspiring person we need to keep celebrating, and so we do.

    The Coltranes were wedded in 1965 in Juárez, Mexico, and their short time together looks, on the surface of things, as if it were pretty blissful. At

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