Monday, April 26, 2010

Denis Brown

In my recent adventures in random musical selection, I've found myself listening to several reggae collections, the majority of which feature Bob Marley. I also found myself "jammin" to a CD or two by a man by the name of Denis Brown. Now, it may just be my unique ignorance to the musical world, but the name "Denis Brown" meant nothing to me (it's not even a particularly interesting name, what with my uncle being named Denis and my being acquainted with many Browns in the neighborhood). And then I heard the name mentioned on the radio as I was driving to school one morning. I hadn't realized that this Denis Brown character was a man often referred to as the authority of the genre, the "Reggae Mozart", if you will.

Denis Brown has been refered to as reggae's child prodigy and is hailed by the likes of Marley himself as the best and most influential reggae singer in the world (and they met when Brown was only 11 years old). Born in Jamaica in the late 50s, Brown became an international superstar, cut his first hit "No Man is an Island" (which even I've heard of, so it must be big) when he was only 11 and over the next three decades released 75 albums. His popularity in the musical world ultimately paved the way for other well-known reggae singers and, though he died in 1999 at the age of 42, Brown continues to serve as an inspiration to many artists.

And so, I had another one of those embarrassing, "I can't believe I didn't already know this" moments....

Bad Boys

So, when someone says the phrase "bad boys," I'm sure the images that come to mind vary among individuals, but I can be fairly certain that most don't immediately think about opera -or perhaps more unlikely, musical theater. But if you're at all familiar with the opera scene, you'll have to agree that "bad boys" are in no short supply in the theater. I mean, think about it: Don Giovanni, Don Juan, Sweeny Todd? Opera is chock-full of villains (that's what the baritones are for, right? Ii don't think I've ever heard a tenor sing a villainous role, but I digress...) Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone singer, has recently pulled together some of the more classical, evil roles in traditional and contemporary opera and compiled them onto a new record entitled -ready?- Bad Boys.

He, himself, contributed vocal talent to the record and you can read his recent interview with NPR on the subject at Just search for "Bad Boys."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sun Ra Arkestra Pays Homage to Icelandic Volcano

The current incarnation of the Sun Ra Arkestra, led by Louisville's own Marshall Allen, has been grounded in London by the volcanic ash problem. They are preparing a special "volcanic performance" to commemorate the event. See the details here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Martha Graham

While writing a paper for the spring honors seminar, I was required to briefly report on the life and influence of one of Time Magazine's top one hundred people of the twentieth century. Thus far, I'd reported on physicists, psychiatrists, musical composers, successful businessmen and several musicians, and so jumped on the opportunity to write a paper on the life of a dancer/choreographer. Martha Graham was listed as one of Time's most influential people of the twentieth century, and though I knew she was instrumental in the development of modern dance, I wanted to know why she would be on this list... and then I was embarrassed that I didn't already know.

Graham was greatly influential in the dance world and the art world at large, forcing dancers and artists to reexamine what dance was and what it should or should not do. She pioneered a new approach to dance that required the creation of an entirely new vocabulary to describe and talk about it, using motion as a means of expressing emotions in an unprecedented way. Her career was a long and successful one that ended in her receiving various accolades and recognition toward the end of her life, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the nation. In spite of all this praise, however, Martha was rather discontented with the way she was being received by the public. She wanted to be remembered as a dancer, but the world saw her largely as an innovative and original choreographer. This perception was probably exacerbated by Martha's insistence on performing into her later sixties. Unable to execute dance that carried with it the energy and power that hallmarked her earlier work, her later performances simply highlighted her role as an expert choreographer and not as a dancer.

But this frustration regarding Martha's memory was also due to her largest contribution. She is remembered as a choreographer and not as a dancer in great part due to her influence on her fellow dancers. Graham served as teacher and inspiration to names such as Erik Hawkins, John Butler, and even -ready for this?- Merce Cunningham. She is remembered not as a dancer, but as an instrumental and powerful impact on the great dancers that would change the world after her. She is remembered for creative work that would inspire other artists to push the limits of art, for serving as stimulus for original thought. And though she was discontented with the fact that the world didn't recognize her as a dancer, i think that had she known and understood the role she was, in fact, playing, she might have been a bit more appreciative. Had she known the true effect that her work as a choreographer -not as a dancer- was having and would have on the world, she might have been okay with her memory.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Warning to Listeners of Loud Music

We've been told that listening to loud music will ruin our hearing, will annoy the neighbors, may even get the police called, but did you know that it might result in animal abuse? Yes, my friends, your listening to loud music might just result in some poor animal being caused trauma and distress. At least, that's what one man found out recently while staying in a motel in south Carolina. He hadn't been the one blaring the beats, some other guy had. He'd complained and thought the confrontation was over, but was tapped on the shoulder a few hours later and turned around to see that he was face to face with a four-foot python. The disgruntled pet owner had apparently not appreciated being told to turn the tunes down and so decided to introduce the man to his pet snake. The man claims that the snake's head was squeezed so that its mouth was open and swears it tried to crawl into his mouth (pure bull hockey, if you ask me). But, the poor guy probably peed his pants as he crawled back to his room. The snake's owner was arrested and charged with assault.

So, let this serve as a warning. Be careful around whom you turn up the volume, because it's just as likely that some complaining neighbor might own a pet snake as well.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Car Music Project (aka Recycling at its Finest)

When Bill Milbrodt's car, a 1982 Honda Accord, was on its last legs back in 1991, it had about 200,000 miles on it. Had Bill wanted to repair it, it would have cost much more than it was worth, and had he wanted to trade it in, well, no one would have wanted it anyway. But rather than scrap it, Bill decided to be environmentally responsible. Bill decided to turn the car into music.

He had the car dismantles and, with the help of metal sculpter, Ray Faunce, spent the nest 18 months creating brand new instruments out of old car parts. And boy, you should get a load of these musical wonders. There's the exhaustaphone, and strutbone (constructed from the struts, shifter linkage and exhaust system and played like -get this- the trombone), accompanied by percarsion, which consists of a fifteen-foot diameter circle of racks from which springs, gears, windows, pistons, etc. hang (in total, it's about 55 percussion instruments). In addition, these are drums made from wheels and cymbals made from floorboards. There's the tank bass, made from the gas tank, and the "air guitar" made from the air cleaner and brake calipers. It looks like a banjo without frets.

With awesome instruments in tow, Bill formed a band he called the Car Music Project, and the group has gone on to wow critics with their avant-garde resourcefulness. Likened to Frank Zappa and other experimental superstars, the group is composed of talented musicians, the likes of which have played before with John Cage himself. And really, what's not to love? They had me at recycling.

You can find out more and hear a sampling at