Friday, June 29, 2012

TUBE OF SONG: The Complete and Utter History of Music on YT (Pt. 2)

Thanks to godless Eurpoean hordes with punk-rock names like Huns, Vandals and Visigoths, the mighty Roman Empire fell on on Sept, 4, 476 A.D. (yep, we have an exact date for that). Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic Church rose to take its place, and began to centralize all of the various musical styles that accompanied regional religious rituals, like the Celtic Rite, the Mozarabic Rite, the Ambrosian Rite and the Gallican Rite. Their main similarity was that they were all a vocal form called “Plainchant,” which is exactly what it sounds like: a single line of melody -- one! -- with no musical accompaniment -- none! To make a VERY long story short, a few of these heathen styles melded with the dominant Roman rite to produce around 750 A.D. what we now know today as a million-selling post-yuppie aromatherapy spa/coffee shop fad: the GREGORIAN CHANT.

Hell, it was a fad then, too, and it's hard not to see why. The Gregorian chant involves the innovation of a number of voices singing in unison at the same pitch and rhythm, all a cappella. It was so popular -- imagine monks, nuns and choirs as the rock stars of their day -- that it remains the official chant of the Roman Catholic Church to this day. It also became the bedrock for all Western music that followed. Unfortunately, this includes the most recent fad of Gregorian monks singing songs like "Tears In Heaven," "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," "Sweet Child O' Mine" and "Bad Romance." Lord have mercy...

Modern equivalent: The Cure's "Plainsong"; The Electric Prunes’ “Kyrie Elison”; Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie”; Enigma’s “Sadeness (Pt. 1),” The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos’ Chant; Ace of Base’s “Kyrie Eleison”; the theme for Medieval II: Total War

Around 900 A.D., a more complicated style of Plainchant called ORGANUM emerged to challenge the old Gregorian fogeys. Organum took existing Gregorian chants and embellished them with a second melodic line parallel to the original -- quite possibly the earliest example of "sampling" in human history. Not only that, Organum was originally improvised, with one cantor singing from the notated score and another coming in with on-the-spot parrallel melodies -- namely, jazz singing by medieval cantors. Later, innovative theorists like Johannes Cotto and Guido D'Arezzo published texts that added the innovations of contrary voices moving in opposite directions and well as similar directions at different intervals. This was called "Free Organum" and it was instrumental in developing the Western musical concept of "counterpoint," or musical lines that move independently of one another:

Increasingly complex forms of organum building to a steam-head in the 12th Century A.D. with the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Like Motown Records 715 years later, the cathedral produced a stable of composers who deepened the polyphonic well, the most famous of which were Leonin and Pérotin, who were sort of like the Brian Holland-Lamont Dozier of their day. Pérotin, in particular, produced the first-known four-voiced organum:

Monday, June 25, 2012

TUBE OF SONG: The Complete and Utter History of Music on YT (Pt. 1)

PROLOGUE: Formation of the Earth from The Tree of Life (2011 A.D.)
Because, why not go back to the very beginning? FYI: The score is “Lacrimosa” by Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner, who wasn’t alive when the earth was formed but did a darn good job of imagining how it would be played by an orchestra.

Among the many, many theories about how music evolved on our planet is that of the repetition of sounds that predated actually putting notes together. One of the main ones was RHYTHM, which many argued came from the pre-literate beating of apes on logs, their chests, the ground or each others backs to show dominance and aggression and mark their territory – not to mention announce that they are horny [above]. As for the HARMONY AND MELODY side of things, some experts claim the dual influence of natural sounds like bird calls and elephant roars [below] and the exchange of sounds between mothers and infants, human or otherwise.
Modern equivalent: Drum Circles; Zoos; Maternity Wards.

Then, there was the problem of LYRICS, which the Hebrew Bible provided with its 150 Psalms, the oldest of which is Psalm 90 [above], which Moses allegedly composed it as a plea to the Big Guy Upstairs to get him and his flock out of the goddamn desert after 40+ years.
Modern equivalent: Jane Sieberry’s “Calling All Angels”; Paul Robeson’s “Let My People Go”; just about any blues song ever written.

“HURRIAN HYMN NO. 6” (approx. 1225-1400 B.C.)
This is the oldest known melody on Earth [above] in reasonably complete form, uncovered on clay tablets in the 1950s from what is now present-day Syria, part of 36 hymns praising the Nikkal, the Semetic “goddess of the moon.” So the first known song was composed in honor of a chick – and an imaginary one at that.
Modern equivalent: T-Pain’s “I’m N Luv (Wit A Stripper)”; Prince's "Cindy C"; The Penguins' "Earth Angel"; Roy Orbison's "Oh! Pretty Woman"; Train's "Drops of Jupiter."

DELPHIC HYMNS (approx. 138-128 B.C.)
In 1893, these two choral hymns [below] – basically odes to Apollo, the God of Light and Sun – were found inscribed in a stone wall in the ancient Greek city of Delphi. They are considered the first “unambiguous” examples of musical composition in that they both survived nearly intact and bore the names of their respective composers: Athinios and Limenius, both from Athens. Limenius is the more well-known, due to some confusion over the spelling of his colleague's name, and was believed to be a professional musician who was required to belong to the Artists of Dionysus guild, basically an early example of the pain-in-the-ass Musician’s Union except with more wine and sex.
Modern equivalent: The Beatles' "Sun King"; Vangelis’ “Oracle of Apollo”; The Polyphonic Spree’s “It’s The Sun”; Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up the Sun."

“SEIKILOS EPITAPH” (approx. 100 B.C.)
Another find from Ancient Greece [below] – which would later give us Vangelis, Yanni and Xenakis – is considered the oldest complete musical composition (including musical notation and the melody being "recorded" – namely, engraved – with its lyrics) discovered in 1883 on a tombstone in Turkey. The composer Seikilos purportedly wrote this in tribute to his dead wife Euterpe: ‘While you live, shine / Have no grief at all / Life exists only for a short while / And time demands his toll.’
Modern equivalent: Christopher Cross’ “Think of Laura”; Rascall Flatts’ “What Hurts the Most”; Wayne Cochran's "Last Kiss"; Henry Gross' "Shannon."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012



The maw of reality TV has finally affected the Beast. This last week we were bereft in posting because we flew home to “assist” one of our family members as they prepare to be a contestant on an as-yet-unnamed show that sounded like some strange melding of The Amazing Race and Fear Factor. To prepare for this dubious honor (including the requisite confidentiality agreement and the signing over of seemingly all of one’s “image rights”), my family member watched a lot of reality TV “for research” and related a peculiar trend: “There are a lot of shows about white trash people doing strange jobs.”

As if this was any stranger than a lot of shows about rich people and their “strange jobs,” or lack thereof. But as a counterpoint to the Kardashians and the Housewives, the new breed of “hixploitation” reality shows seemed to have sprouted like mushrooms growing out of the dirt on the bottom of some mountain man’s feet. It makes sense, seeing that what the “Richsploitation” programs have going for them is the admittedly fascinating spectacles of rich people not doing anything but partying, arguing and sitting around checking their iPhones; “Hixploitation,” on the other hand, seems to be the counter to that point. People who are poor have to do something, right? They have to be something that you aren’t or live somewhere you don’t/wouldn’t, right? They have to have funny accents and weird hair, wear a strange mix of outmoded fashions and possess a more organic outlook on dental care than you or I. And let’s not forget to mention those funky-ass ways to make money or just kill time. What’s sort of odd is that there’s plenty of idleness and alternative job choices for both the rich and hix genres.

Turn on the cable box right now and you probably can run into at least three of the following types of Hixploitation TV: Hix with specific talents at harassing and annoying live critters (Hillbilly Handfishin’, Gator Boys, Lady Hoggers, Snake Man of Appalcahia, Swamp People, Call of the Wildman) or stuffing dead ones (American Stuffers…really?); nouveau-riche hix who have parlayed said talents into commercial gain and thus can afford some sort of rural version of the Kardashian lifestyle (Duck Dynasty, Big Rich TexasBayou Billionaires) or assist the betterment of science (Rocket City Rednecks); hix with no specific talents (Finding Bigfoot, Lizard Lick Towing, Buck Wild, My Big Redneck Vacation) or a talent for mere surviving off the grid (Mountain Men, Moonshiners); hix by other names (American Colony: Among the Hutterites, My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding) whose lives are so bizarre and "Not Us" that one has to watch with a growing sense of fascination and dread.

For a second, one might think we are back in the late 1970’s during the Malaise Years of the Jimmy Carter administration, whose nuclear-physicist commander-in-chief played up his New South liberalism and status as an Allman Brothers-lovin’ peanut farmer with an embarrassing alcoholic brother right out of Hee Haw! The pop culture mirror began reflecting a hayseeds-in-the-teeth, back-to-the-country ethos that writer Mark Andrejevic later called “agrarian nostalgia”. In the theatres, the hixploitation genre was born with films like Deliverance (which celebrates its 40th birthday this year), Jackson County Jail, Macon County Line, Citizens Band, Smokey & the Bandit, The Klansmen, Walking Tall, Convoy, Every Which Way But Loose, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Outlaw Blues, Two-Thousand Maniacs!, The Hills Have Eyes, Mother’s Day, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Greased Lighting, The Great Texas Dynamite Chase, Grand Theft Auto, The Gumball Rally, Motel Hell, W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings, White Lightning, White Line Fever. TV was an able, if vapid, co-conspirator in the zetigeist: The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, The Dukes of Hazzard, BJ and the Bear, The Waltons [pictured below], the John Denver TV specials, Dallas, Little House on the Prairie, Hee Haw!, Flo, Enos, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters, Harper Valley PTA, The Fall Guy, Matt Houston, Mama’s Family, McCloud.

I mean, is it any coincidence that we’ve got Dallas and J.R. Ewing on TV as we had then? Is it something about having a Democratic president in office? Maybe, but then again, when we had good ol’ boy from Arkansas W.J. Clinton we also had an unprecedented economic boom, where marbled steaks, cigars (ahem) and generally indulgent behavior reached some sort of cultural apex that evaporated on 9/11/2001. Now, as during the late ‘70s/early 80’s, we are in some sort of financial freefall where even the best of us have had to make up new words to describe our new Great Depression (“staycation,” “mancession,” “funemployment”). It comes as no surpise that we'd be inundated with shows that demonstrate the hardy D.I.Y. lives of people who were poor when the rest of us weren’t? Where survival by one's wits is a constant, natural state that one just maintains on a thrillingly day-by-day basis.?

With a few exceptions, however, the movie theatres have been a little bereft with new takes on the rural folk. Just look at a recent film which, although a theatrical release, has taken on the feel and voyeuristic pleasures of the hixploitation genre of old with some tabloid flourishes of new. Despite being a documentary about a legendary West Virginia bunch of modern Hatfields, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (2009) carries with it the smells and sights of the pilot of a new reality series, right down to the faux-Western font of the credits, a long sequence in which a chick named Mousie gets out of prison and drives all over the state to “kidnap” her no-good cheatin’ husband for some quickie sex, and the fact that Johnny Knoxville’s Dickhouse Productions released the film.

Of course, The Beast was moved to develop some pitches for Hix TV:

Real Life Smokey and the Bandit* – Sometimes the most obvious ideas are right under your nose. We already have “race” shows, so why not some sort of absurdist version of this popular Burt Reynolds franchise where celebs race the clock to deliver truckloads of gypsum or pineapples and other celebs try to stop them? We're thinking for the first season: Snoop Dogg in the Burt role, Kellie Pickler in the Sally Field role, Artie Lange in the Jerry Reed role and Brad Garrett as the redneck sheriff. Burt Reynolds and Norm MacDonald make cameos as Big and Little Chubby....uh, Enos.

*Alternate pitch: Real Life Cannonball Run – Cross-country race show jam-packed with C-list protoplasm like Corey Feldman, Pauly Shore, Wayne Cotter, rapper Snow, Jim Belushi, Rhonda Shear, Nia Peeples, "Super Dave" Osborne, The Iron Sheik, Kate Gosselin, Nick Carter and his d-bag brother, Tara Reid, Daryl Strawberry, Randy & Evi Quaid, Obama Girl, Eddie "The Big Ragu" Mekka, Bethany Gastineau, Chyna. Add your own suggestions if you like.

Real Life B.J. and the Bear – Where a cross-country trucker who never seems to be delivering anything or really going anywhere (i.e., Lost in Space with mudflaps) has to maintain his professional trucking credentials (i.e., not lose his CDL License for that misplaced plutonium) by taking with him a moderately medicated chimpanzee; that is, until “the Bear” dips into his stash of bath salts and chews off B.J.’s face, eventually parking the the semi into the side of the 64th floor of the Sears Tower.

Skunk Drowners of Hazard County – Actually should be titled “The Real Life Dukes of Hazard,” but why not go ahead and answer the age-old question: Before they joined the NASCAR circuit, what exactly did the Duke boys do all day besides jump gulleys and police cars in slo-mo while some country singer injected his annoyingly folksy rhetoric? Why, trappin' polecats in their specially built traps and then plunkin' em in the crick and watchin' 'em drown of course!

The Boys – A spin-off of sorts referencing a now-infamous episode of the TV series Top Gear [see below], where host Jeremy Clarkson and his mates graffitied offensive messages on their sports cars as they raced through the American South, inevitably pissing off an angry service station owner in Alabama. After a lot of yelling, the woman turned to one of her employees and growled, “Call the boys." Within seconds, out of nowhere, arrived two pickup trucks bearing battle-ready crackers. This poses the question: Who are "the boys"? And where do they come from? Are they waiting just beyond the treeline like some overalled version of the Home Guard? This should be good fodder for at least 10 seasons until it's inevitable cancellation.

Bon Iver Hunts Himself – Across the frozen moraines and valley yaws of central Wisconsin, bearded loner Justin V. [pictured below] takes us on an extended hunting trip, looking for musical inspiration in frozen twigs, cold-weather sunsets, deerflops, beaded condensation on kitchen windows and membranous spider webs in old barns smelling of dirt and wood rot. Occasionally there will be a special guest, like director Terence Mallick, who bumps into Justin V. while filming a 19-hour documentary about an oak leaf, or Kanye West with new girlfriend Kim K., who sits around in her fuzzy moonboots, constantly texting and complaining about the lack of Wii Fit at the hunting cabin. Alternate pitch: Bon Iver hunts hip endorsements.

America’s Got Them-There Song-Poems – The “song poem” tradition of non-professional outsiders setting their strange lyrics to prerecorded music advertised in the back of tabloids and pulp comics (alongside the X-ray Specs and Sea Monkey ads) finally gets its prime time shot with this series following four song-poem writers/enthusiasts/lunatics as they construct their “songs” and take them on tour through county fairs all over the Midwest and South. The winner gets to make an album produced by either Daniel Johnston, Roky Erickson or Brian Wilson -- we haven't really figured that out yet.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

June, Un-Gloomed (Or: Music for the Coming Z. Apocalypse)

What with all the talk of the ongoing cannibal zombie apocalypse that seems to be breaking out all over last week, we'd thought we'd outline what will make June a delightful diversion from prowling/shuffling/limping through the streets of L.A.consuming human flesh. (Last night alone would have sufficed for the whole month: Xiu Xiu in Eagle Rock; Walter Smith III & Ambrose Akinmusire in Little Tokyo, Dr. Vicki Ray in Pasadena, Alphonse Mouzone at LACMA, the Krautrock Tribute at the Ford and Cut Chemist at the Natural History Museum.)

Here's our picks:

June 2 Fancy Space People (w/ ex-Germ Don Bolles), Narwhal Party & Bella Novela @ The Homeroom....Liam Mooney and Friends presents "music for brass chimes, assorted triangles, dry ice, plastic bottles, and electric fan" at The Wulf....Medeski, Martin & Wood's Billy Martin & Wil Blades duo at The Mint....June 3 Open Gate Theater presents Sunday Evening Concerts w/ the duos of Thollem McDonas/Alex Cline & Michael Vlatkovich/William Roper....June 5 OHM at the Baked Potato....June 8 Ernie Watts Quartet at LACMA....June 9 Alan Pasqua, Darek Oles & Peter Erskine @ Vitello’s....June 10 EX IM OT Series ("a free performance of EXperimental, IMprovised, and OTher music ") at the Homeroom....A Tribute to Henryk Gorecki @ Disney Concert Hall....June 12 Nite Jewel w/ Paradise & Nicholas Krgovich at The Echo....June 14 Trio Various @ Battery Books & Music....June 15 Los Angeles Jazz Quartet at LACMA....Morris Tepper at TAIX....June 16 DâM-FunK @ the Levitt Pavilion....Mike Watt & The Missing Men / Biblical Proof of UFO’s @ the Redwood Bar....Billy Childs Quartet at The Blue Whale....June 21 Chord Four at the Blue Whale....June 27 Herbie Hancock hosts A Celebration of Miles Davis with Jimmy Cobb, Marcus Miller & the Miles Electric Band....June 28 Kenny Burrell Quintet at Catalina’s....June 29 The SAVE CHINATOWN/NO WALMART Benefit with No Age, Tearist, L.A. Fog & Afterhours @ Oooga Booga....June 30 Quarteto Nuevo @ the Glendale Moose Lodge...Dwight Trible and the Cosmic Band at The World Stage....The World Famous Beat Junkies 20th Anniversary Show with J.Rocc, Rhettmatic, Melo-D, Babu, Shortkut, Mr. Choc, D-Styles & more @ the Echoplex.

Now that summer is here and the weather is perfect for hunting for brains you can eat out of people's skulls with with a spoon, drag your useless left leg down to the four separate Wednesday concerts held to celebrate 35 years of Vinny Golia's still-kicking-beyond-anyone's expectations indie jazz label Nine Winds Records. Since so much has already been written about Golia in the local music press over the years, the elder statesman has cagily taken the spotlight off himself and declared the theme of the fest to be 'New Blood' of creative and improvised music now percolating in the Southland. And where else would he be doing this? Why the sunlight-averse environs of The Blue Whale of course, whose owner Joon Lee was just profiled in a recent issue of the L.A. Weekly?

The Schedule:
6.06 Slumgum / Music for Woodwinds, Percussion and Strings by Vinny Golia
6.13 Walsh Set Trio / Gavin Templeton Quartet
6.20 Daniel Rosenboom Septet / Vinny Golia Sextet
6.27 Vinny Golia Medium Ensemble


MicroFest, the annual L.A. celebration of microtonal music, concludes in slam-bang fashion (not a term usually used for this music, but still...) with two events. First, on June 14th, is actually a CD release party REDCAT-style: the first complete recording of the iconoclastic Cali composer Harry Partch's epic Bitter Music, a sort of abstract, found-object opera based on the seven months Partch spent as a wandering hobo who didn't wind up getting his face eaten off. The evening also includes a newly discovered 1969 interview with Partch and the first performance of the long-lost 1942 version of his classic Barstow. A week later, on June 23, the festival's assistant director Aron Kallay will oversee a trippy program at Beyond Baroque in Venice called Beyond Twelve: The Re-Imagined Piano, which the premiere the work of ten of American composers that was commissioned with two ground rules: 1) Re-tune the keyboard, from extended just intonation to 88 equal-divisions of the octave and everything in between. 2) Re-map the keyboard, left can be right, high can be low; pitches need not be linear. " Setting aside the debate over whether microtonal music calms Z's flesh-eating jones or actually drives it to become more intense, this should prove to be an ear-opening -- and not eye-eating -- experience. And for only $10!


The Beast just isn't about weird, obscurantist music that may/may not drive Z.s into a blood-frothy frenzy. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait til the end of the month to see what the outcome of the Z. apocalypse will bring to our ruined land, but for one night you can forget it all with the return on June 28th of L.A. sons Grant Lee Buffalo, the neo-psychedelic folk-pop trio who seemed poised on the edge of greatness with their 1994 album Mighty Joe Moon and its attendant single "Mockingbirds" (which took the falsetto back from Bread and Leo Sayer); hell, they were even featured in Rolling Stone's "The Future of Rock" issue! Then, "poised" turned into "perched" as the band became one of the lynchpins of the Largo scene of the mid-1990s and got to watch compadres like Eels, Jon Brion, Aimee Mann and Fiona Apple achieve a success they much deserved. (This despite frontman Grant Lee Phillips' recurring role as a wandering folkie on the WB dramedy Gilmore Girls.) Didn't happen, but they remain influential cult miniaturists whose aping-of-Brian-Wilson-before-it-was-cool aesthetic in turn lit upon the ears of future sunhiney-pop outfits like Best Coast, Dawes, Wavves, Beach House and Lavender Diamond.