Music

  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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,

    Read more
  • 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,

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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,

    Read more
  • David Toop

    “ARCHITECTURE IS FROZEN MUSIC,” Friedrich Schelling remarked at the beginning of the nineteenth century, signaling both the distance between these two arts and their proximity. In some respects, they lie at opposite ends of the aesthetic spectrum: Music is the most ethereal, immaterial, and temporal of arts, architecture the most earthbound and palpable. Yet they have always shared a secret affinity. With rare exception, Western music is played and heard indoors and has always had to respond to the shape and stuff of its constructed environment. It’s no accident that the Gregorian chant—with

    Read more
  • Steve Reich

    NO FORM OF CLASSICAL MUSIC has exerted so enduring and pervasive an influence on pop culture as minimalism. Kellogg’s commercials and John Carpenter movie sound tracks, New Age schlock and abstract hip-hop all overtly cop such minimalist trademarks as repetitive keyboard vamps and hallucinatory vocal cut-ups. Indeed, from its inception in the early ’60s, musical minimalism actively blurred the boundaries between “high” and “mass” art, “classical” and “popular” music. Breaking with the confines of academic serialism and the decorum of the concert hall, the minimalists forged connections with the

    Read more
  • Stephen Prina

    WHY AREN’T THERE MORE debut records like Stephen Prina’s genteel Push Comes To Love (Drag City)? Backing the LA-based artist and sometime Red Krayola keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist are those Chicago don’t-call-them-postrock guys—Jim O’Rourke, Sam Prekop, John McEntire, David Grubbs, Rob Masurek—making subtly envelope-pushing, saw-assed, laid-back grooves. It’s totally the band you want to book when you go make your first record: Intuitive players, they can handle backing and lead roles without too much ego fuss (it doesn’t hurt that there are geeks the world over who will buy any record they

    Read more