Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Antithesis of Easy Listening

If I say "Opera," what do you think of? Stuffy concert halls stuffed with huffy hushed audience?Sweating sopranos belting out glass-cracking Italian crescendos? The aged elite able to shell out the cash for such a performance? Come on. The answers yes, isn't it?

Now, if I say "Rap," I'm sure quite different images enter the mind. In-your-face ibonic rhymes, delivered by shirtless, tattooed black men? Controversial themes and lyrics, blasting out of car windows reverberating with bass? even if you thought of something else, I assume it's something different than those things mentioned above.

These are commonly held stereotypes, admit it. But surveys show that the majority of listeners worldwide tend to shy away from both musical styles. Rap and opera tend to be the musical genres people feel most strongly about (positively or negatively), despite their distinct differences. Makes one wonder why that could be...

There's, of course, the complex issue of taste to be considered. Social and cultural conditioning, values associated with both musical types and the aforementioned stereotypes. All load each genre with heavy associated baggage. Some people reject both groups, while others relish degrees of perceived inclusion, "taking sides" if you will. It is not outlandish to say that perceptions help determine musical choices and vice versa.

Digging deeper, one can argue that there are many connections, not least of which is the obsessiveness of each genre's most dedicated aficionados.

Consider the opera fanatics. I don't know about you, but those that I've met incessantly critique all aspects of singers, conductors, directors, composers, set designers and opera companies. The hard-core opera geeks know the intricacies of how the human voice works, and how it "should" work in any given operatic role performed by any given singer. Certain voices fit certain roles perfectly, but singers often try on roles a size or two too big. Not pretty, and the opera fan will be sure to loudly point that out.

In the "higher realms of rap," you have to navigate the interior social strata, the subtleties of sampling and layers of meaning behind the braggadocio and how it relates to selling records. Rap, like opera, also has a complicated "cast list." Keeping up with who appears on whose singles, mixtapes and remixes can be as confounding as keeping track of who sang what on the famous Knappertsbusch Ring cycles. And with rap, like opera, there are a huge amount of regional variety, from Compton to Atlanta to the Bronx, London and Istanbul. It's like high school all over again. Who doing what and with who and who's cool now and who's not anymore.

There are some, however, that say society has little to do with preferences.
Rather, they're all about communication. The languages of rap and opera just don't speak to some people. Both the actual language that each genre uses in performance and the convoluted vernaculars each has engendered There are actually dictionaries of both hip hop and opera jargon). Opera and rap rely heavily on words, many of which are not immediately discernible (especially if you actually don't happen to speak the language). Rap can have complex poetry (and profanity) zipping past at indecipherable speeds (do they want you to hear it? And what about those "turbo-rappers?"). Opera often has foreign tongues and high flying phrasing, requiring CD listeners to run to their printed librettos and opera houses to install supertitles. Yes, that's right: supertitles.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is that Opera and rap take work to appreciate — perhaps more work than these average listeners are willing to expend.In a world where more and more music is available to anyone's ears, there have developed a great many lazy listeners (harsh, I know, but true, I think). Is it too easy to download too much, to acquire everything but actually hear nothing? Um, yeah, it is. Many people love a hit song, but few take the time to fully appreciate a complete hip-hop album, let alone an entire opera. It also takes work to enjoy music that's as in-your-face as opera and rap admittedly are.

With all the melodrama, social consciousness, violence and intense vocal styles, they certainly are not musical furniture. Like it or hate it, it's definitely in the room.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Deep Listening- 2012 John Cage Award Goes to Pauline Oliveros

From the Deep Listening Institute Website:


“Through Pauline Oliveros and Deep Listening, I finally know what harmony is...It’s about the pleasure of making music.” - - John Cage, 1989

Kingston, NY, February 15, 2012 – Composer Pauline Oliveros has been named the winner of the 2012 John Cage Award, given biennially by the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (FCA). This prestigious $50,000 award was established in 1992 in honor of the late composer, who was one of FCA’s founders. Selected by FCA’s Directors, the John Cage Award is made in recognition of outstanding achievement in the arts for work that reflects the spirit of John Cage. The selection is made from invited nominations. Oliveros will receive the award in a ceremony slated for March 19 at the Merce Cunningham Dance Studio in New York City.
“I am honored and delighted to receive the John Cage Award,” says Pauline Oliveros. “May the freedom that Cage inspired with his work continue to spread, sustain and open minds throughout the world.”
Oliveros is a senior figure in contemporary American music and founder of the Deep Listening Institute of Kingston, NY. Since the 1960s, Oliveros has worked with improvisation, meditation, electronic music, myth and ritual. In addition to the John Cage Award, Oliveros was honored with the William Schuman Award in 2010. She was honored in 1985 with a retrospective at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and represented the United States at the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan.
Oliveros has built a loyal following through her concerts, recordings and publications, and musical compositions that she has written for soloists and ensembles in music, dance, theater and inter-arts companies. She has also provided leadership within the music community from her early years as the first director of the Center for Contemporary Music (formerly the Tape Music Center at Mills), director of the Center for Music Experiment during her 14-year tenure as professor of music at the University of California at San Diego, and acting in an advisory capacity for organizations such as The National Endowment for the Arts, The New York State Council for the Arts and many private foundations.
Through her work at universities and colleges, including Oberlin College Conservatory of Music and Bard College, she has influenced generations of young composers. Additionally, Oliveros is a Distinguished Research Professor of Music at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Darius Milhaud Composer-in-Residence at Mills College in Oakland, CA.
Oliveros is vocal about representing the needs of individual artists, about the need for
diversity and experimentation in the arts, and promoting cooperation and good will among people. Most recently, she composed music for use by the Occupy movement.
"FCA is pleased to honor Ms. Oliveros's many accomplishments in music/sound with the 2012 John Cage Award,” says Stacy Stark, executive director of FCA. “She joins a distinguished and small group of artists who have been recognized for their ground- breaking work in the performing arts and who reflect the spirit of John Cage."
Founded and guided by artists, FCA’s mission is to encourage, sponsor and promote innovative work in the arts created and presented by individuals, groups and organizations. Artists working in dance, music/sound, performance art/theater, poetry and the visual arts are awarded nonrestrictive grants to use at their own discretion; arts organizations receive project or general operating support by application and a fund is maintained to help artists with work-related emergencies.
Since FCA’s inception in 1963, nearly 900 artists have donated work to raise funds for these grants. The current directors of the Foundation are: Brooke Alexander, Frances Fergusson, Agnes Gund, Jasper Johns, Julian Lethbridge, Glenn Ligon, Kara Walker and T.J. Wilcox.
Media Contacts:
Pauline Oliveros Publicist Linda Shockley:; 917-521-0711
Foundation for Contemporary Arts Development Director Catherine Massey:; 212-807-7077
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