COLUMNS

  • Van Dyke Parks

    “WE REMEMBER A TIME when historical continuity in music was still a viable thing,” Ry Cooder once told an interviewer researching his friend Van Dyke Parks, a patently idiosyncratic fixture of the LA music scene. “Yet both of us have always lived and played very much in the present. There’s no paradox in that!” Active since the 1960s as a composer, arranger, keyboardist, and producer, Parks tends to work within the mainstream and with rising young artists, but his sensibility—one that encompasses George Gershwin–inflected pop-classical pluralism as well as indigenous and global folk

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  • Euro-trance

    LISTENING TO BRITNEY SPEARS’s recent single “Hold It Against Me”—which launched this past January at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart—one can’t help but think that aspects of its production and structural composition betray the year of its release. The song is essentially one long crescendo, overlaid on a classic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format. The chorus builds in each iteration until finally it re-appears, accompanied by a beat, with only about thirty seconds left in a song a little shy of four minutes. The entire song is constructed around this moment, and

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  • Alicia Hall Moran

    AS THE ARREST OF HENRY LOUIS GATES JR. on the steps of his own house made clear, the dynamics of racialized subjection are particularly vexed in ivory-tower towns like Cambridge, Massachusetts. On the one hand, black bodies are continuously surveyed and assessed as either “hood,” “Harvard,” or “homeless”; on the other, the city and its environs play host to a range of the most visible African-diasporic cultural institutions and practitioners anywhere. Yet there are, of course, much-needed escapes from these specular extremes of life lived black.

    It was just this kind of phenomenal experience—of

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  • audiocassettes

    THERE IS NOTHING MAGIC about a cassette, nothing bewitching about an object that can be taken apart and reassembled or fixed with a pencil. A small rectangular box of plastic in which magnetized tape moves back and forth between miniature spools, it is, from today’s vantage, a hopelessly antiquated format. At a time when most of us listen to music that exists only as data, on soundless players that cannot be pried open, the cassette displays its modest mechanics all too transparently. Peer inside the deck as you slide in a tape in, and you see a tiny, busy factory world of belts, wires, and

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  • Robert Wyatt

    IN 2006, A NEW WORD, Wyatting, entered the lexicon. Referring to the prankish activity of sneaking an experimental music track onto an unsuspecting pub jukebox in order to vex other patrons, it got its name from an English teacher who suggested that Dondestan, a 1991 album by Robert Wyatt, epitomized the kind of music suitable for such a venture. While it’s hard to imagine one of Wyatt’s records actually clearing a room, he is the consummate cult figure with a taste for subversion—albeit one with a vulnerable, inimitable voice as cherished by his fans as Chet Baker’s or Chan Marshall’s by

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  • Indonesian pop

    THE DESIRE TO HOLD ONE’S HEAD HIGH, to determine one’s own future: This is the reason so many regimes throughout the twentieth century rose and fell. But to hold one’s head high while crisply dressed all in white and wearing a black velveteen pillbox hat? This was Indonesia’s fate alone. When Kusno Sosrodihardjo, known simply as Sukarno, became the first president of Indonesia in 1945, he wanted all to see that the legacy of Dutch colonization and a brief spell under Japanese rule had done little to dampen his—and, by extension, his freshly christened nation’s—sartorial flair. “I say,

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  • artist-owned labels

    “WE HAD FIFTEEN RELEASES that were stylistically diverse: it wasn’t a doo-wop label or a label to reissue Boston hardcore, ” David Grubbs says. The Chicago musician is talking about Dexter’s Cigar, the record label he ran with former Gastr del Sol bandmate Jim O’Rourke from 1995 until April of this year. They’re just a couple of the handful of obsessive musicians who ’ve recently formed archive-&-reprint-based labels. In addition to Dexter’s Cigar, there’s O’Rourke’s brand new Moikai, Tony Conrad’s Audio ArtKive, John Fahey’s Revenant, and Thurston Moore’s K/EY, which launches next winter.

    Granted,

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  • Woody Guthrie with Bill Bragg and Wilco

    NEITHER A TRIBUTE ALBUM nor a collaboration, Mermaid Avenue is one of those peculiar contemporary hybrids: music and performance by Billy Bragg and the rock band Wilco, words by the late Woody Guthrie, the great agitprop singer-songwriter whose influence on the folk revival generation of the late ’50s and early ’60s gives him a paternity claim on later rock. When Guthrie died, in 1967, he left a trove of half-songs—written lyrics without the melodies to go with them. The papers languished in boxes until Guthrie’s daughter Nora asked Bragg, a British musician whose consistently, nay constantly

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  • Lucinda Williams

    YOU CAN’T DEPEND ON ANYTHING, REALLY. Knowing that line from Lucinda Williams’s new album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, you know the whole thing—except, of course, the details, which count. You need to hear, for example, that the woman these songs describe used to listen to ZZ Top real loud. You need to hear that the eggs-and-bacon-perfumed kitchen of her childhood was in Macon, and that her friend from Lake Charles really came from Nacogdoches. Also, that all she now hopes for from the old lover she listened to ZZ Top with is that he’ll respect her privacy; that the man from Lake Charles

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  • Christian Marclay

    WHEN CHRISTIAN MARCLAY began spinning other people’s records into his own music around 1980, his only like-minded contemporaries were DJs who used the turntable as both rhythm track and soundbyter, dropping in a little James Brown shout, say, to signify “funky”; their innovations made hiphop the cause célèbre of cultural-studies postmodernists. Marclay, though, hewed to a lo-fi, highbrow avant-gardism, exploring the sonic properties of records to effect his own version of musique concrète; he backed up not MCs but improvisors on the noisy fringe. He seemed to be a high-late-modernist holdout

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  • Hermann Nitsch

    THE STUNNING SCHEDULE of events for Hermann Nitsch’s Six-Day-Play, a happening held last August at his Schloss, in Prinzendorf, Austria, reads like a cross between death-metal theatrics and harmonic-convergence hippiedom. The day begins, “5:32 AM: Sunrise. Slaughter and disembowelment of a bull.” This kicks off a tight lineup: Primal Excess, Primal Beginnings, Matricide, Patricide, Fratricide, the Murder on the Cross, and the Fall. There’s a lunch break—nothing like fratricide to work up an appetite—followed by “Partial mounting of the mythical leitmotif,” with a unison hooting of all

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  • Dusty Springfield

    AT CERTAIN TIMES nothing makes more sense than listening to a Dusty Springfield record all day. In the past you could just leave the arm on the phonograph and let the album replay over and over. Dusty in Memphis was particularly suited for this. You could play it all night (getting high), turn it down while you went to sleep (nodded), and turn it up again when you woke up Sunday morning (coming down). With the new Rhino edition of Dusty in Memphis, containing an additional fourteen songs (many previously unreleased), it's almost as easy, even if we're older now, trying not to stay up all night,

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