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03 avril 2008

Living With Music: A Playlist by A.M. Homes

On Wednesdays, this blog is the delivery vehicle for “Living With Music,” a playlist of songs from a writer or some other kind of book-world personage. This week: The novelist A.M. Homes, whose most recent book is “The Mistress’s Daughter,” a memoir.

A.M. Homes’s March 2008 Playlist:

In retrospect and with the endless impulse toward revision, I look at this list thinking it’s all about sex and longing and metaphysical impossibility and the hand of god - and is there anything else? Is there something more - I expect nothing less.

1) Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne as sung by Peter Gabriel on “Tower Of Song.” A mysterious, erotic incantation that begins with shuffling drums, scratching wire brushes sweeping the snare, scratching, itching, writhing with the impossibility of it all. It’s endlessly inspiring for its romanticism, longing and applicability to any object of desire, the elusive that can never really be. I think of the ethereal Suzanne as she’s sung to us, “she brings you tea and oranges that come all the way from china,” and the reality of the “real” Suzanne, now frozen in lost time with a permanent view of the St. Lawrence River. Somehow always in my mind’s eye I had placed her in Greece, in Hydra with Cohen, but maybe I just made that up, maybe that was the next Suzanne for as unpossessible as she was or is, there is always another Suzanne. (...)

By Dwight Garner

Elle est Babel, ma musique

World. Le forum marseillais professionnel a réuni 12 000 spectateurs ce week-end.

Face aux Docks des Suds, où s’est tenu ce week-end le quatrième forum Babel Med Music, se dresse une vraie tour de Babel : l’édifice CMA-CGM, en construction, appelé à devenir le plus haut de Marseille. La nuit, illuminée et flanquée de deux grues gigantesques, cette masse de béton poétique devient un rêve d’installation d’art contemporain. Les Docks des Suds, anciens entrepôts du port autonome, accueillent chaque automne la Fiesta des Suds, dont Babel Med est le petit frère. Une partie accueille le marché des professionnels des musiques du monde. Le soir est réservé aux concerts : trente artistes sur trois jours. (...)

A l’heure du bilan cependant, deux chocs éclipsent tout le reste. Marseillais lui aussi, Levon Minassian est un des rares maîtres du duduk, une simple flûte à neuf trous, emblème de l’Arménie. Auteur de deux disques peu diffusés, les musiciens se l’arrachent, de Peter Gabriel (avec qui il doit entrer en studio) à Sting, sans oublier sa participation à des musiques de films (la Passion du Christ de Mel Gibson). Accompagné par un petit ensemble, il crée des vagues d’émotion avec cet instrument difficile entre tous. «Tout est dans la pression des lèvres sur l’embout, explique cet homme humble et rayonnant. Il faut dix ans de travail solitaire pour en tirer un son acceptable. Je m’exerce encore chaque jour, parfois deux heures, le plus souvent quatre, et continue à toujours trouver des nuances nouvelles.» (...)

31 mars 2008

Daniel Lanois Here Is What Is

This guy quietly has been at the epicenter of some of the most sonically adventurous yet commercially and artistically successful albums released in the last several decades. He was instrumental in five epochal U2 albums (including the shockingly, gloriously resilient Joshua Tree). He pulled Bob Dylan from a drifting period (the resulting Time Out of Mind and Oh Mercy remain brilliant). He helped catapult Peter Gabriel from steady cult fave to arena star without loss of credibility (So and Us). Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Robbie Robertson and the Neville Brothers sing his praises whenever asked. Lucky Los Angelenos will recall Lanois touring on the back of Harris’ Wrecking Ball. The band took the stage at the Troubadour in timely fashion, but Lanois switched from guitar until the late drummer finally found the stage. Neither Harris nor Lanois nor the audience missed a beat.

I hope someone can introduce Lanois and Dave Alvin, their melding of texture and atmospherics would be fascinating.

Lanois has released his seventh in a string of solo albums. The title song references a Jamaican proverb, essentially meaning what you have in front of you is what you gotta use. And that adroitly sums up his philosophy.

For years Lanois and fellow traveler Brian Eno have collaborated and produced a mindset and canon that goes to the core of the creative process. The central catalyst they established with each other early on is “Whatever I say, you agree and whatever you say, I agree.” Eno points out that nothing then stands in the way of getting on with the creative process. Once underway, magic eventually unfolds.

Currently Lanois and Eno are now back in the studio with U2, cooking up (somewhat improbably, but ultimately inevitably) the Irish quartet’s next stunner.

In conjunction with his latest solo release, Lanois has produced a documentary. It sheds light on the magic of creating art. It portends a series of solo albums which Lanois will make available via his site He is most enamored of the steel guitar, what he repeatedly calls his “church in a suitcase.”

Lanois is a man of the world. He spent time in New Orleans but like Ray Davies, Lanois recently left there due to some bad circumstances he prefers to leave undiscussed. Lanois shifts his base of operations from LA to Toronto, and disembarks in Morocco or France when assembling with U2 and Eno.

Lanois has expressed a bifurcated view of technology. In some interviews he bemoans the advanced state of the recording process. Whereas in the analog days gone by, the studio represented a near-scared place of “hopes and dreams” wherein everyone looked forward to the expensive and important time therein. Now the studio is everywhere given the accessibility and ubiquity of recording equipment. In another interview, however, he delights in a battery-driven box the size of a cigarette pack, four of which Lanois says could record a fine album.

But the seeming dichotomy of high tech and low tech is resolved, subtly yet effectively as a flying mallet, in the title of his new album and the music captured therein.


30 mars 2008

Folk duo's Durham debut

One of the UK's finest folk duos are to make their Durham debut next week.

Show of Hands, featuring the combined talents of Steve Knightly and Phil Beer, are on a 19-date national tour, which reaches The Gala Theatre on Wednesday, April 9.

It marks a belated appearance in Durham for the award-winning duo, who had to cancel their tour in the autumn at the last minute following news that Mr Knightley's young son Jack had been diagnosed with leukaemia.

Mr Knightley said: "Jack has gone through his initial period of treatment with flying colours and although it will be nearly three years until the all clear, all the early signs are encouraging".

The tour has been timed to showcase their new double album Roots - The Best Of Show Of Hands. The band have won many plaudits over the years. They were described by Peter Gabriel as "one of the great English bands" and by Radio 2's Mike Harding as: "one of the finest folk duos ever to grace the scene."

By Mark Tallentire

I predict a riot

When the musician Björk cried out "Tibet, Tibet" during her concert in Shanghai on March 2, it was always going to be controversial. However, few people probably expected that within two weeks the Himalayan country would see spontaneous demonstrations for independence - that for the first time in decades Tibetans would take to the streets, demanding their freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama.

So am I alone in thinking that Björk may have sparked the riots in Tibet? Is it possible that the diminutive Icelandic pop-star was the catalyst for the protests which engulfed the country, spreading to China itself? Did she really penetrate the great firewall of China to rock the world, or with the Beijing Olympics around the corner is it all just coincidental?

Björk, who once brutally attacked a journalist in Thailand, said in an interview with the NME, shortly after the insurrection against Chinese rule took hold in Tibet, "the issue is: how are they going to deal with western moral issues like freedom of speech? Songs like Declare Independence for me are about humanity. I stand by what I said."

Björk is not the first artist to speak out about human rights. Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez all supported the civil rights movement in the 1960's. Peter Gabriel, Eddy Grant and others were vocal when it came to South Africa in the 1980s. And let us not forget John Lennon, who imagined a better world and became a symbol for the peace movement, when he sang Give Peace and Chance.

Then there was Paul Simon who defied the cultural boycott against South Africa to record his acclaimed album Graceland, and who once said in an interview that he thought he had contributed to the downfall of apartheid.

In his song about the late Steve Biko, leader of South Africa's Black Consciousness movement, who was brutally murdered by the Apartheid state, Peter Gabriel wrote prophetically, "You can blow out a candle, but you can't blow out a fire. Once the flames begin to catch the wind will blow it higher." But did his music actually fan the flames of revolution? Do artists really ever hold that much sway?

Jeremy Kuper March 29, 2008

Daniel Lanois lets his life's work show through

The notable producer and guitarist reveals his approach to music with a new film and album. Both are titled 'Here Is What Is.'

Artful and highly informative views of a life behind and inside the music, Daniel Lanois' new film "Here Is What Is" and self-released album of the same title had their Los Angeles premieres with a screening and live performance at the Vista Theatre on Thursday.

A roving travelogue of the producer-engineer-guitarist's experiences recording in five locations, the film encapsulates the musical philosophies and detailed particulars of Lanois' approach to a new sound for contemporary music, as told by himself and his cast of high-profile collaborators, including U2, Brian Eno and Sinéad O'Connor.

The Quebec-born Lanois, 56, got his initial career boost through collaborations with Eno on several albums in the early '70s that emphasized simplicity, subtle aural resonance and a nonintellectualized attention paid to process. The pair's work as producers for U2 led to Lanois' subsequent production jobs for artists such as Bob Dylan, O'Connor, Peter Gabriel and Robbie Robertson; the hallmark of Lanois' sound was a gift for heightened atmosphere via emphasis on feel over technical perfection, as well as his respect for analog recording equipment and vintage instruments.

The new record was culled from material Lanois had in the can and reimagined for the CD and film; both are available through his Red Floor Records,

"It's about half and half," he said this week in the sunny breakfast nook of his home in Silver Lake. "Some of the compositions on there are brand-new and some are a little further back. There's a repeat of a steel guitar instrumental called 'JJ Leaves L.A.,' which we put in there because it's in the film.
"There's a very nice performance of 'JJ' in the film; we shot it here in the mezzanine. At night it blackens pretty good, and if you shine a spotlight on the floor, you get a red circle. And so we put the steel guitar there, and in the film you get the sensation almost like I'm on a moving saucer. We shot from above with a slow zoom, and then the editor gave it a little spin in the computer, so it's almost like this twirling disc; when it stops twirling, we come to a close shot of my hands on a steel guitar. It's very beautiful."

In his glowing report of how the filmmaker created that shot, Lanois betrayed his typically folksy, genuine excitement about the creative process. That partly explains the characteristically warm, inviting sound of his music and production work for others.

At the Vista, Lanois was joined for a few selections from the album by longtime drummer Brian Blade, backup singers-keyboardists Daryl Johnson and Aaron Embry, and in one piece by Blade's father, a preacher in Shreveport, La., who provided the gospel on a fiery "This May Be My Last Time," as he does in a scene from the film. Lanois' rough-hewn, intuitive guitar work loped gracefully through the brief set, which also included a bracing soliloquy by Billy Bob Thornton from his "Sling Blade" film, which Lanois scored in 1996.

Lanois is now off to Ireland to finish production on the new U2 album, which he promises is going to be something special. ("We're quite excited about it. Bono's singing like a bird.") In addition, he's working on new material with O'Connor and building a new studio and performance space in Toronto, a home base for recording and performing before a live audience.

He's a busy guy, which his laid-back, friendly vibe would seem to belie. He says that's due in part to his trusty lap-steel guitar, his source of solace and wonder.

"It's such a reliable friend," he said, smiling. "As the world keeps on turning in a mad way, I can go to that friend and say, 'OK, let's just slow things down here and enjoy the fundamentals of our relationship' -- which happens to be my paying attention to all of the details of varied mechanical musical instruments. But no matter how high-speed everything gets, that part of it doesn't speed up at all. There's no rushing with this instrument, with this friend. It'll always be there the same way it's always been, and it'll never be anything different than what it is. There's music that lives outside of confinements, and that's where harmonic interplay lives. And you have to take the time to hear it. So I like to go there, and that's what my steel guitar has to offer. I call it my church in a suitcase."

By John Payne Special to The Times March 29, 2008

The sounds of Scorsese

As the veteran film-maker releases his concert movie on the Rolling Stones, Nick Coleman applauds a director who's always put music at the heart of the action

Martin Scorsese
has made a concert film of the Rolling Stones. Shine a Light is a record of a single live date in 2006, a benefit for the Clinton Foundation. By all accounts it's a straightforward, linear affair, achieved in high style and with palpable affection.

You can see why Mick Jagger might fancy such a thing. Cinema has not over-dignified the Stones over the years and the group themselves have made no suitable celluloid gift to posterity. Who better, then, to make them look the way they'd want to look in their dotage than the original Rockin' Movie Brat?

It's harder to see why Scorsese might fancy such a project. His artistic legacy is so secure that he no more needs to make an edifice out of the Rolling Stones than he needs to direct an episode of Basil Brush. But it only takes a look at the Scorsese canon to see that Shine a Light was almost inevitable. From the very start it was obvious Scorsese was going to do something like this. He's even done something like it before. In 1976 he recorded the valedictory performance by The Band at Winterland, San Francisco. The Last Waltz is as lapidary and monumental as rock concert films get.

Scorsese has always loved music immoderately. Certainly, no single film director of his clout has made such essentially musical films. Even with the sound turned down, the best Scorsese films shout and shimmy and reach, as if in reflex, for the transcending arc of aria. They are music in film form.

Here's the great New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael on Mean Streets (1973): "The music is the electricity in the air of this movie; the music is like an engine that the characters move to. Johnny Boy, the most susceptible, half dances through the movie... He enjoys being out of control - he revels in it - and we can feel the music turning him on."

We should not expect Scorsese's films to be any other way. He is, after all, the kingpin of the "movie brat" generation that emerged snapping their fingers from the film schools of the Sixties, as much in thrall to hipsterism and its soundtrack as they were to the European New Wave cinema and Forties American films noir.

For Scorsese in particular, the music in a film is not ancilliary to what he has to say, it is, in part, what he has to say. And to say it properly he requires his music to do its work internally, within the world of his cinematic stories. As often as not in Scorsese films, the music emanates from the drama, like a smell. Here's Kael again, on the music in Mean Streets: "[It] doesn't use music, as Easy Rider sometimes did, to do the movie's work for it ... The music here isn't our music, meant to put us in the mood of the movie, but the characters' music."



For his solemn treatment of Nikos Kazantzakis's novel about the spiritual racking of Jesus, Scorsese elected to commission an original score by Peter Gabriel. "The brief," says Gabriel, "was to create a landscape that was part ancient, part contemporary, part familiar, part unknown, and very soulful. We both wanted to break away from the traditional choral and orchestral music connected with the Passion story, to create a new canvas. I was concerned whether Marty would respond to the idea of the voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, bringing his majestic Sufi singing to the Christian story, but he loved the idea." Whether or not the film works as a film, the music certainly works as music. (...)

By Nick Coleman
Thursday March 27 2008

A world of talent at Jefferson Center

Angelique Kidjo wants to make you move. She also wants to make you think.

Kidjo, whose latest CD, "Djin Djin," won the Grammy for contemporary world music album last month, performs Thursday night at Jefferson Center's Shaftman Hall.

The album is stocked with undeniable grooves, courtesy of drummers from her homeland of Benin, West Africa, plus vocal and instrumental stamps from guest artists including Alicia Keys, Branford Marsalis, Peter Gabriel, Joss Stone and Josh Groban.

It might sound like a party, but Kidjo, a special representative for UNICEF, writes lyrics that remind us this beautiful music springs from a place that needs care and attention from the rest of the world.

Kidjo was 20 when she left Benin in 1980 because of political unrest. But she goes back for inspiration whenever it's time to record a new album.

Q: First off, congratulations on your Grammy, and on your previous nominations. What does an award like this mean to you?

I have been nominated a few times before, and it was always a frustration not to win, so now this frustration is gone! I was not supposed to be at the ceremony, but in the end I was, and it was quite a moment for me!

Q: "Djin Djin" is loaded with interesting musical choices and quite a cast of supporting players. How difficult was it to bring together such a range of musicians for this project?

I had a clear vision on what I wanted to do for this album: I wanted to use the percussion players from my country, because there are rhythms over there that you don't hear anywhere else. I also wanted to invite guests to sing with me, but I wanted to bring them to my world and not try to imitate their styles. I think this is what they liked about the project: It is something different that has never been heard before.

Q: Among this group of guest performers, how many had you worked with before?

I had met and worked with all of them before the recording, so those collaborations sounded natural. It was not something arranged for marketing reasons -- there was mutual respect.

Q: In the CD liner notes, under "Ae Ae," you've written: "The African youth want to fulfill their dreams and to improve the lives of their families. Traveling to America, Europe, Asia and Oceania should not be the only alternative." Please talk about conditions now in Benin, and what you wish to happen to make such a dream possible.

It is not easy, because globalization has affected everyone, both in rich and in poor countries.

The poorest countries have difficulties exporting their products because a lot of the international trade agreements are not fair for them. Also, when you are in Benin, you are dreaming about what is going on in the Western world without getting a sense of what is really going on there and how much you can be humiliated when you arrive.

I want to try to improve education in Africa, because this is what could build the countries in the years to come and help people understand the world as it is and making the changes needed.

Q: What inspired the idea to cover "Gimme Shelter"?

It was not thought out beforehand. We heard the song in the opening titles of the movie "The Departed," and thought the lyrics sounded quite apropos these days.

The next day, the band jammed on it, and in 30 minutes, it was recorded!

Q: In the liner note thank-yous, you write of Peter Gabriel, "your soul belongs to Africa!" Please talk about working with him.

I have known Peter for many years, and he is truly a big fan of African music. When you see him backstage at an African show, he is just having the time of his life. He has done so much to promote this music without calculation, just for the love of it!

When we received his vocals, and we first listened to them, it was so emotional. I'll never forget that.

Q: I understand that you were inspired early on by a Jimi Hendrix album cover, and that part of this record was recorded at Electric Lady Studios (Hendrix's studio). What was it like recording there?

So many studios have closed in New York. We wanted to record the album with all the musicians playing live in the same room, so there was not a lot of options. But when I heard that Electric Lady was available, I was so thrilled. It was like finishing what I started as a little girl ... trying to sing Jimi's lyrics without understanding any of them.

Q: I'd like to ask you about "Senamou (c'est l'amour)." You write: "Why are the poor getting poorer? Why are the rich getting richer? Is poverty a crime? And you think there is no hope? No, human kindness, I still believe in you." Please talk about the hope you express in those lyrics.

I am a very positive person. Through all my travels with UNICEF, I have witnessed so much suffering, but I still believe something can be done about it.

The world has to get more balanced. This is something everyone is starting to agree with!

By Tad Dickens