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26 avril 2008

Sa Dingding, the Asian Bjork

Sa Dingding carries a torch for Chinese pop – and politics. Is the Asian Björk compromised by her views on the Tibet issue?

Wandering towards a window overlooking the congested road beneath the west London offices of her record company, China’s most in-demand musical property lets slip a quiet summation of her experiences to date: “I didn’t expect all this. I like the life I have now. But if I was back living with the sheep and cows in the grasslands, I would still be happy.” It has been a long journey from the steppes for Sa Dingding, who was raised in Inner Mongolia, and there can have been few weeks as odd as her second visit to Britain.

We had first met nine months earlier. She was an unknown who had recorded Alive, an album that mixes traditional Chinese melodies and Buddhist mantras with electronic instruments, and was trying to drum up enough interest in the West to convince her label to release it here. I was the only journalist sufficiently intrigued to want to talk to her. A lot has happened since then, perhaps the most pivotal thing being that she was nominated for a Radio 3 world-music award. Returning to London this month to appear at the awards ceremony, she found her five-day schedule filled with 40 interviews.

Unnervingly good-looking, with her long hair tied in a topknot, Dingding exudes the assured air of a pop star who refuses to be caught off duty, who views Kylie as a part-timer. If she is not quite as exquisitely dressed in person as she is in her portraits, her interview ensemble is an explosion in a new-age boutique: pompom earrings the size of tennis balls, chunky bracelets, a sheer top that leaves her left arm uncovered, kitten-heeled purple suede boots and a skirt that incorporates Tibetan prayer flags. And therein lie several reasons why she is the centre of a media whirlwind. The media love a photogenic woman, especially one who comes with the baggage of a topical hot potato.

Alongside her small entourage, she arrived in London the same weekend as the Olympic torch; she saw out her jet lag watching the news and struggling to comprehend what she was witnessing. In a quote that appeared in a British newspaper and was reprinted around the planet, the singer said: “I am Chinese, so I definitely support our government policy on this issue.” As she comes from a country that has claimed sovereignty over Tibet for centuries, it is fair to say Dingding’s perspective differs from that of the Dalai Lama. She is not alone: 10 days after our interview, I was caught up in a silent protest on Parliament Square, as Chinese students attacked the British media for distorting reports of Tibetan issues. On Monday afternoon, when she arrived for a record-signing session at the Piccadilly Circus HMV, a Newsnight team was close behind, perhaps hoping for a punch-up.

Had the fact people wanted to ask questions about Tibet surprised her? “No. People see me standing for Chinese culture, and it does not matter if this means Mongolian, Han, Tibetan or any other. They are all part of Chinese culture. So, if people are curious about one part I am glad to answer their questions and tell them what it is about.” She has no time for the view that what is happening in Tibet is an occupation, and does not see herself as appropriating Tibetan traditions when they are all part of Chinese culture. A successful 24-year-old singer is unlikely to want to end her career by denouncing her government, of course – even one who has just been informed that the Glastonbury festival is no longer interested in booking her because she is too controversial. One wonders whether Jay-Z was interrogated about his thoughts on Iraq before being handed that headlining slot.

“I think there is a lack of communication between people in the West and East,” Dingding continues. “I am a musician, and most of my time is spent making music, but what I want to do is help people to communicate. I’ve been to London twice and the people have been very friendly, very interested in me because I am Chinese. I grew up there and I love it. I love the culture of my country. My job is not to talk politics, but to introduce this culture to people from the West.”

Still storm clouds gathered about her. On the Tuesday, the discussion boards of the folk- and world-music magazine FRoots featured calls for a protest at the Radio 3 awards, while comments suggested that these came from the Free Tibet organisation. The pressure group, however, said it had never heard of her and had no desire to personalise the issue. The Olympic torch was a legitimate target, an individual musician was not. By Wednesday, Dingding at last felt free to sit down and talk about herself and her music.

Born in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia in 1983, the daughter of a Mongolian mother and Han father, she grew up a nomad, dividing her time between a small house on the grasslands, where her grand-parents kept sheep, and the town, where they would spend winter. “It wasn’t a hard life,” she says. “There was enough milk and I had plenty of time to play. It was like heaven there. It taught me a lot about music and freedom.” When she was six, she joined her parents, travelling around eastern China until they arrived in Beijing in 2001.

After coming second in a television talent show, she recorded a debut album she now dismisses as “childish”, as she had little say in the material or production. Taking control of her career, she began recording demo versions of mantras, Tibetan chants, Sanskrit poetry and what, at first, appear to be Chinese folk songs, but are actually sung in a self-created “language”.

For Oldster by Xilin River, I was thinking about the way my grandmother talked to me when I was a baby,” she explains. There is a way we speak that breaks how we are bound by language, sharing emotions without understanding words. I’ve travelled around China, to Japan and Europe, yet the self-created words mean the same everywhere. We all understand the emotion.” She also made up words for the song Lagu Lagu, but for a very different reason, and it goes some way to explaining her attitude towards the appropriation of other cultures. The Lagu are an ethnic minority in Yunnan province, whose Himalayan roots are betrayed in their Tibetan-Burmese speech.

“I thought it would be cheating if I sang in their language,” Dingding says. “Most people in China don’t know the Lagu exist, because there are so few of them, but I wanted to promote them and ask people to understand their way of life. I was moved by their spirit, but I couldn’t use their songs.”

It seems to have worked. Picked up by the Universal conglomerate after a scout overheard her demos in the studio, Alive (known in China as The Life of 10,000 Things) has sold 2m copies in her homeland. But is there a market for it in the West? If we can enjoy Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and indulge the musical eccentricities of Björk, shouldn’t there be a place on our shelves for a Chinese pioneer who becomes agitated only when asked about the state of pop music in China? For a second, Dingding’s distaste is written across her face.

“There are not enough good new stars growing up, certainly not making good music,” she says. “There is a generation gap, and the old stars are much better than the young. China is open right now. People can easily hear western music. So, we are looking to find our own way in music, and I hope the young musicians will be more brave. Perhaps this Radio 3 nomination will encourage them. I am just the start, and now more Chinese will get the chance to be heard.”

We meet again 24 hours later at the Radio 3 ceremony, when Dingding (now wearing a completely OTT red and gold creation) picks up the award in the Asia/Pacific category. She makes a speech in which she declares her pride in being Chinese and in being able to represent Chinese culture on the world stage. I later hear it described as “nationalistic” and “career suicide”. In the current climate, such interpretations could be all too accurate.

On Friday morning, the phones start ringing at her record-company office. Three times as many albums are requested by record shops than had been shipped in the previous nine months. She is confirmed for an Albert Hall Prom and the Womad festival, in July. Can she fit in concerts in Ireland, Hungary, Spain and Algeria, where a 50,000-strong Chinese population, Africa’s largest, would love to see her?

Dingding is not around to hear this, however. She has already left for promotional duties in Germany and France, before returning to China to plan her live shows, which will feature her band, dancers and kung-fu artists. Career suicide? The grasslands, it seems, must wait.

Listen to Sa Dingding at

Mady DRAME, manager de Youssou NDOUR : ‘J’ai connu des hauts et des bas avec Youssou Ndour’

Youssou Ndour l’appelle ‘l’homme de Bercy’, parce que c’est lui qui est au commencement et à la fin de l’organisation du Grand bal dans l’enceinte de la mythique salle parisienne. Trois jours après Bercy (8 avril 2008), nous avons demandé à Mady Dramé, manager du roi du Mbalax, de faire un bilan financier de la manifestation qu’il vient d’organiser. Mais n’ayant pas encore fini de faire les comptes, il a préféré parler de comptes équilibrés d’autant plus que l’objectif n’est pas de faire des bénéfices. Invité à parler de ses relations avec son patron, le manager confie qu’ils ont connu des ‘hauts et des bas’. Plus de hauts que de bas, ajoutera-t-il. Pour couper court aux suspicions que pourrait cacher cette phrase, Mady Dramé précise qu’il s’agit plutôt des difficultés nées des premiers investissements engagés par Youssou Ndour. Les banques ne voulant pas financer les projets, le roi du Mbalax était obligé de mettre la main à la poche. Ce qui grevait ses finances. Autre révélation passée sous le nez des journalistes, c’est la présence de Rama Yade dans la tribune officielle de Bercy. (...)

Wal Fadjri : Combien de personnes sont venues de Dakar ?

Mady Dramé : Nous avons eu près de 200 personnes réparties dans plusieurs hôtels. Bercy a la particularité de drainer du monde. Je vous ai parlé des provinces où nous avons fait la promotion de l’évènement. Mais il y a aussi des fan’s clubs qui y montent des caravanes. (…). Vous voyez l’engouement que cela crée ! Il y a beaucoup de choses derrière Bercy. J’y reviendrai un jour dans une émission spéciale. Les gens ne voient, peut-être, que l’aspect artistique qui est très fort. J’avoue, en tant qu’organisateur de cet évènement, que cette année, c’est le meilleur Bercy. D’ailleurs, chaque édition est meilleure que la précédente. Tant mieux ! Nous avons eu un spectacle extraordinaire, un répertoire qui a été là. On a eu la participation des officiels venant du Sénégal : les représentants de la mairie, des sénateurs. C’est à l’honneur de notre pays.

Il ne faut pas oublier aussi que j’ai eu l’honneur d’accueillir discrètement - nous n’avions pas voulu que vous, les journalistes, vous soyiez au courant avant - notre compatriote Rama Yade (secrétaire d’Etat français aux Droits de l’homme, Ndlr). Elle était au premier rang des officiels avec Benetton. Elle est venue avec son mari. Il y avait également M. Benetton qui est une personnalité extraordinaire. Il se déplace rarement pour assister à des concerts. Il nous a honorés de sa présence. J’ai traité ce dossier pendant deux mois. Il fallait faire des repérages pour savoir où il fallait l’installer parce qu’il avait une délégation de 150 personnes au départ, avant d’en rajouter 50 autres personnes. Ce sont des gens, représentant Benetton, qui viennent de partout : ce sont des Italiens, des gens qui viennent des Etats-Unis, etc. Benetton était là avec son épouse.

Wal Fadjri : Comment Rama Yade a-t-elle réagi à la fin de la soirée ?

Mady Dramé : Après l’avoir installée, cinq à six morceaux avant la fin, je suis venu les rejoindre. Et elle était très satisfaite avec son mari. Auparavant, elle avait fait un aller-retour très rapide avec son mari entre Dakar et Paris. Et elle est revenue aussitôt pour assister à Bercy. Cela nous va droit au cœur parce que, comme nous l’avons dit, aussi au bien Sénégal qu’à l’extérieur, l’aspect politique ne nous intéresse pas. Le fait que des personnes viennent se joindre à nous pour vivre cet évènement, est très important pour nous. Nous remercions tous ces officiels. Je n’ai pas cité tout le monde. Nous remercions également tous les journalistes qui portent l’évènement à un niveau extraordinaire. Je profite de cette interview pour dire que M. Peter Gabriel voulait faire une surprise énorme à Youssou Ndour. Il est venu à Paris, malheureusement, il n’a pu joindre personne. C’est ainsi qu’il a raté Bercy. C’est regrettable ! Ç’aurait été un évènement de plus comme surprise à Bercy. Le lendemain, il est venu à l’hôtel et Youssou Ndour lui a rendu un grand hommage.

Wal Fadjri : N’avez-vous pas eu de difficultés à inviter Rama Yade ?

Pas du tout ! C’est une Sénégalaise, une Africaine. C’est Rama Yade, la Sénégalaise, l’Africaine qui était là, simple. Je l’ai accueillie à la porte sans escorte ni rien. Franchement, j’étais très ému par rapport à cette modestie, cette simplicité, cette volonté pour montrer qu’elle venait en tant que Sénégalaise nous accompagner dans cette manifestation. (...)

Laurie Anderson et Lou Reed se marie

A 66 ans, Lou Reed a fini par épouser la chanteuse Laurie Anderson avec laquelle il vivait depuis 13 ans déjà. Le mariage avait été tenu secret jusqu'à la récente cérémonie.

Le leader du Velvet Underground s'est donc marié avec Laurie Anderson le 12 avril dernier lors d'un cérémonie privée qui s'est déroulée au Colorado. Ce n'est qu'il y a quelques jours alors qu'une autre cérémonie a eu lieu à New York, ville où vit Lou Reed que l'annonce officielle a été faite. Anderson et Reed vivait déjà ensemble depuis 1995.

Laurie a collaboré à l'album "The Raven" sorti en 2003. Née le 5 juin 1947, Laurie débute en 1981 avec le single "O Superman (For Massenet)" qui déboule dans les charts grâce à John Peel. Elle a aussi collaboré avec Jean-Michel Jarre pour les albums "Zoolook" sorti en 1984 et "Metamorphose" sorti en 2000. Elle a aussi travaillé avec David Sylvian, Peter Gabriel et Brian Eno.

Lou Reed sera le 16 juillet prochain au Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles. Il y jouera l'entièreté de l'album "Berlin" sorti en 1973.

25 avril 2008

Organisers defend Womad sister event

The organisers of a new world music festival at a site in the Adelaide Hills believe their neighbours will eventually warm to the plan.

Womad Earth Station is planned as a sister event to Womadelaide and would be held every October from 2010 at a site in Ashbourne, south of Meadows.

Some residents oppose plans to build a new road and a bridge at the site. Womadelaide director Ian Scobie says more information will be provided in a meeting at the Ashbourne Hall tonight.

"I think when people understand that we're not about transplanting a scale of event like Womadelaide with its eight stages to this new site, it is about creating a new, smaller much more intimate festival that's based about ideas of the environment, then I think a lot of people's concerns will probably evaporate," he said. "We're not putting on an event that will have many stages with amplified music - that's not the nature of this new festival and that's a key message that we're trying to get across."

Pouya Mahmoodi

Mehr (Faryaad)

Recorded in Kuala Lumpur, mixed in Switzerland, and featuring a cast of Iranian musicians, singer-guitarist Pouya Mahmoodi’s first solo CD is a truly cosmopolitan undertaking—and that’s both a blessing and something of a curse.

Mehr is being billed as a groundbreaking Persian-rock fusion, but that’s a mild overstatement; it’s more like deracinated soft rock mixed with influences from all over the map. At times a ’60s influence bubbles to the surface: the string-sweetened “Si Pareh” updates the Moody Blues, while the flute-laced “Dingomaro” does the same for Traffic. Hints of Bollywood filter through on “Raz O Niaz”, “Bamdad” aims for Peter Gabriel–style drama, and “Me Va To” slinks along to an Ali Farka Touré–approved desert-blues beat.

Overall, the music is glossy and accomplished—perhaps a bit too polished, in fact—although that’s undercut by Mahmoodi’s understated singing (which, by the way, is all in Farsi). This 33-year-old musician shines, however, on the electric guitar. As a soloist, he mixes birth-of-the-cool octave lines with fluttering quartertone bends in the traditional Persian style, and he has a lovely, fluid sound on his instrument. He could stand to cut loose a little more, but that will likely come with time—and this is certainly a confidence-building debut.

By Alexander Varty

Le tambour major à la fête de l'huma

Le percussionniste sénégalais Doudou Ndiaye Rose sera la vedette de la prochaine fête du quotidien français L’Humanité prévue, les 12 et 13 septembre au parc de Courneuve (près de Paris), rapporte l’hebdomadaire Jeune Afrique dans son dernier numéro.

Les organisateurs de la manifestation annuelle du journal communiste vont rendre hommage au grand tambour-major qui fête cette année ses cinquante ans de scène, indique l’hebdomadaire panafricaine.

Un grand concert est prévu au Zénith ou au Cirque d’hiver, à l’initiative du chanteur français Jacques Hegelin, précise la même source.

Doudou Ndiaye Rose va fêter, du 26 au 29 avril, ses 50 ans de carrière. Des batteuses rwandaises qu’il a formées participeront aux manifestations. Agé de 78ans, le tambour major a été désigné trésor humain vivant par l’Unesco en 2000. Il a eu à travailler avec plusieurs chanteurs de renommée.

Doudou Ndiaye Rose a côtoyé le rock (avec les Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel), le jazz (Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie), la chanson française (Higelin, Lavilliers, Jonasz), la musique bretonne (Bagad Men HaTa) et la musique symphonique avec l’orchestre de Basse-Normandie.

Le percussionniste sénégalais avait participé en 1989, avec son groupe, à la célébration du bicentenaire de la Révolution française sur les Champs-Élysées.

Peter's April Update

Peter's back in the studio after some electric times in Sardinia and an eventful trip to California which included Global Philanthropy, Google's Larry Brilliant, The Filter, an encounter with a Lightsabre at Skywalker Ranch, and inspired recollections of an astronaut's floating hot-tub. You can catch tales of his travels and find him blending Brttany Spears with Dr Dre, all in the month's Full Moon Club video update.

Background on this month's content can be found at:

add you cover song suggestions at

23 avril 2008

Peter Gabriel at Dreamforce Europe Announces Dreamforce Europe - Largest Ever European Software - as-a- Service Event. Dreamforce Europe - The European On-Demand Event of the Year! London 7th-8th May 2008

Musician and philanthropist Peter Gabriel, easyGroup CEO Stelios Haji-Ioannou and Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales will join CEO Marc Benioff at's first European user and developer conference

LONDON, April 23 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- , the market and technology leader in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service, today announced that its first-ever Dreamforce Europe user and developer conference will take place at the Barbican Centre, London, England on May 7 - 8, 2008. Special guests Peter Gabriel, easyGroup CEO Stelios Haji-Ioannou and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales will join CEO Marc Benioff on stage at the industry's largest European Software-as-a-Service event.

Additionally, executives from Accenture, AAA Soliditet AB, AON Corporation, CODA, Cognos, Dell Corporation Ltd, Deloitte, Google, Misys International Banking Systems and many others will participate in keynotes and sessions on collaboration, community, innovation and customer success. The Dreamforce Expo will feature the largest gathering of the European SaaS industry under one roof -- dozens of companies will demonstrate on-demand business applications for use with Salesforce CRM applications and the Platform. (...)

22 avril 2008

Angélique Kidjo au Festival d'été

Les amateurs de rythmes ensoleillés seront choyés le samedi 5 juillet. La pétillante chanteuse béninoise Angélique Kidjo se produira à la place D'Youville à l'occasion du 41e Festival d'été.

Lauréate du prix Grammy du meilleur album de musique du monde (contemporain) pour Djin Djin, un disque qui comporte des collaborations avec Peter Gabriel, Carlos Santana, Josh Groban, Alicia Keys, Joss Stone et Ziggy Marley, elle promet d'en mettre plein les yeux, les oreilles et les coeurs.

Également reconnue pour son travail caritatif auprès des femmes africaines, Angélique Kidjo profitera de sa présence chez nous pour parler de son engagement au sein de plusieurs organismes dont l'Unicef, Oxfam et sa propre fondation, Batonga.

Pour plus d'information sur le Festival d'été, visiter le Pour en savoir davantage sur Angélique Kidjo, consulter le

Kathleen Lavoie /Le Soleil

21 avril 2008

Sting's Drummer and Jan Gabarek's Saxophone to Impress Local Jazz Fans

Jan Gabarek's saxophone and Manu Katche's drums are about to fascinate local jazz fans in Sofia's National Palace of Culture (NDK) on May 15, informed from teh Standart News.

The drummer skills of Manu Katche, French drummer from African descent, made Sting's most successful albums ‘Nothing Like the Sun' and ‘Soul Cages' so amazing.

The Standart news share that whenever Peter Gabriel decides to mix pop music with ethno he faced the following success thanks to Manu.

On the other hand live performance of Jan Gabarek has been the dream for generations of Bulgarian jazz fans.

Peter Gabriel filtre vos musiques

Quand Peter Gabriel lance son projet de site de recommandation culturel communautaire, ça s’appelle The Filter. Musique et vidéos, les internautes vont pouvoir conseiller et mettre en avant les créations qui leur plaise. Mot d’ordre de The Filter : découverte !

Un filtre intelligent ?

Peter Gabriel lance donc ce que l’on peut qualifier de site de recommandation, The Filter, destiné à mettre en avant de la musique et des vidéos. Ce site souhaite “filtrer” (d’où son nom) pour vous l’univers du divertissement. Selon vos goûts, le site pourra vous orienter vers de nouveaux artistes. De fait, The Filter se présente un peu comme un ouvert aussi à la vidéo.

Le projet est en partenariat avec We7, un site de musique en ligne dans lequel Peter Gabriel est également partie prenante.

Les méthodes utilisées par le site pour filtrer vos gouts concernent l’écoute, la navigation et l’historique des classements. Plus le site a des informations sur vous, comme vos achats ou votre historique sur iTunes par exemple, et plus sa sélection sera affinée. Ceci est rendu possible par l’installation d’une simple extension sur votre ordinateur.

En bêta privée, il est encore difficile de juger ce nouveau service qui n’a d’ailleurs pas encore mis en ligne tous ses outils. Une ouverture officielle au grand public est prévue d’ici l’été.

Découvrir The Filter

Par David Bénard

Marne: une création de Robert Lepage

Robert Lepage en septembre 2007 à Thessalonique, en Grèce, où il a reçu le Prix Europe 2007 pour le théâtre - AFP/Sakis Mitrolidis

La nouvelle oeuvre théâtrale du touche-à-tout canadien, "Le Dragon bleu", est créée mardi à Châlons-en-Champagne. C'est La Comète, scène nationale de Châlons-en-Champagne, qui accueille ce nouveau spectacle du 22 au 24 avril.

Acclamé dans le monde entier, Robert Lepage, 50 ans, homme de théâtre visuel, d'image animée, de multimédia, d'opéra et de rock, joue lui-même dans sa pièce, en compagnie de Marie Michaud. Le spectacle tournera ensuite dans le monde.

"Le Dragon Bleu" est la suite d'un triptyque, "La Trilogie des dragons", dont les premiers volets furent créés en 1985. L'intégralité, présentée deux ans plus tard, a contribué à imposer Robert Lepage sur la scène internationale.

Le personnage qu'il incarne, Pierre Lamontagne, travaille comme galeriste à Shanghaï, où il côtoie l'avant-garde des arts plastiques. "La Chine est beaucoup plus incarnée dans 'Le Dragon Bleu' et dépeinte selon un point de vue contemporain. De plus, 'La Trilogie des dragons' avait un aspect très expérimental. Cette fois, la manière est plus cinématographique", a expliqué l'artiste québécois à l'AFP le 19 avril.

Si l'artiste canadien, Prix Europe pour le théâtre 2007, se garde bien de "faire du cinéma au théâtre", son univers pluridisciplinaire, mouvant, mêlant théâtre et vidéo, technologies multimédia et effets spéciaux de lumières, images et sons, assume ses liens avec les codes du septième art et de la télévision. "Aujourd'hui, avec les vidéo-clips, on raconte aux jeunes des histoires de façon déconstruite, et les gens connaissent les règles narratives du cinéma, donc pourquoi ne pas essayer d'intégrer ça à notre travail ? Très souvent, le public, surtout le plus jeune, arrive à la fin de la pièce avant que nous y soyons nous-mêmes rendus. Il faut donc créer un langage théâtral où l'on peut au moins suivre le public."

"Il y a un nouveau public qui est en phase avec notre travail. On en est très fier car on se dit que même si l'expérience n'est pas toujours réussie du point de vue du contenu, la forme aura aidé à amener au théâtre un public qui n'y serait jamais allé", ajoute l'artiste.

A la Caserne Dalhousie, à Québec, laboratoire de sa compagnie Ex Machina, Robert Lepage aime mener de front différents projets, souvent sur plusieurs années, pour leur permettre de "se décanter". Il multiplie les formats et les disciplines (solos, formes légères comme "Le Dragon Bleu", fresque épique comme "Lipsynch", après la scénographie des tournées 1993 et 2002 de Peter Gabriel et le spectacle du Cirque du Soleil à Las Vegas).

Toutefois, Robert Lepage estime avoir "un peu abandonné le cinéma" après avoir réalisé plusieurs films. "Le cinéma est une réalité très difficile au Canada maintenant. Il faut répondre aux règles de l'industrie, il n'y a plus vraiment d'argent pour les films d'auteur."

En revanche, l'art lyrique occupe de plus en plus de place dans ses activités. A partir de 2010-2011, Robert Lepage présentera une nouvelle "Tétralogie" de Wagner au Metropolitan Opera de New York. "Cela fait déjà au moins deux ans qu'on est en recherche pour ce 'Ring': il fallait trouver le concept qui allait tenir le coup sur quatre productions et pendant seize heures", s'amuse l'homme de théâtre.

Le site web de Robert Lepage

20 avril 2008

Peter Gabriel a fan of Radiohead-esque Internet efforts

(Photo Credit: Martin Klimek)

Peter Gabriel, the Grammy award-winning performer, this week applauded attempts by some artists to experiment with new ways to sell music.

Since October, the bands Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have generated plenty of notoriety after distributing their own albums--without the backing of any music label--through heavy use of the Internet.

"I think it's fantastic that these new models are appearing," said Gabriel, one of the founders of the band Genesis, told me on Monday. "You don't need very many people to make a project economically viable if you're distributing yourself."

When it comes to musicians knitting together musical and technological interests, Gabriel was one of the pioneers. In 1999, he cofounded one of the first music download stores in Europe, On Demand Distribution, which was later sold to Loudeye.

On Tuesday, The Filter, a company that Gabriel has invested in, went into beta and is due to open to the public next month. The Filter is a recommendation engine designed to help improve people's chances of finding digital music, video, film and literature they like on the Web.

Gabriel says he's working on a couple of new tech projects. "They could be quite interesting if we get them right," he said. "One has something to do with a visual is fun as long as it doesn't bankrupt me in the meantime."

As for the changes in the music industry, Gabriel also was intrigued about Live Nation, the concert-promotion company that is agreeing to pay huge upfront money to sign marquee artists, such as Jay-Z and Madonna. In exchange, Live Nation shares in the profits from sales of records, concerts, downloads, and merchandise.

"I'm not someone who really is out to destroy the record business," Gabriel said. "But I think it has to reinvent itself as a service industry and be competitive with other entities...what I don't like is the old model where (the labels) own you and can ignore you and you're just put up on a shelf. That model is gone or should be...unless you get that big Live Nation-type deal where they are paying you so much that it's a very comfortable prison that you're in."

by Greg Sandoval

Peter Gabriel backs media filter site

Sophisticated tool removes burden of choice

Rarely do entertainers take the position that the world is awash in too much entertainment. But that's the premise of a new Website called backed by Peter Gabriel and U.K. firm Eden Ventures.
The site, which cost about $8.5 million to develop, launched April 15 in a beta version. It aims to bow commercially in the coming months, deriving revenue partly from ads and partly from fulfillment services for partners like Nokia and U.K. music company the Ministry of Sound.

Filter takes the algorithms used by and Netflix to a new level. Combining social networking, downloadable music, Web videoclips and movie and TV databases, the site touts itself as the most sophisticated tool yet for those wanting hyper-personalized entertainment.

"One of the many joys of the Internet would be freedom of choice, but many of us are now drowning in an ocean of options," Gabriel says. "An intelligent filter can remove the burden and boredom of choice. "

The pop star is famous for unorthodox detours, though he will be back in the mainstream this summer with the end-credits song on Disney/Pixar's "Wall-E."

The site's underpinnings rely on a form of artificial intelligence called Bayesian mathematics. And it gets smarter the more information it gets. Sign up hundreds of friends, a la Facebook, and their recommendations enter the mix. Plug in credit card info and each purchase will be tracked and unexpected connections made.

The user experience is breezy: A sliding scale pops up for each item searched or recommended. As with Apple's iTunes, it seeks user ratings, only with percentages instead of stars.

Backers of the site, Gabriel chief among them, see unlimited potential for the Filter.

"We're sticking with entertainment for now," says chief exec David Maher Roberts. "But Peter travels a lot and he says he can envision the Filter telling him where to go to eat when he turns up in Barcelona."


Record Store Day: Time to Celebrate the In-Store Purchase

As much of America learned Wednesday night from a caller's question on American Idol, this Saturday is Record Store Day, a time to celebrate independently owned record stores and, as the organizers put it, "the culture and unique place that they occupy both in their local communities and nationally."

The day is an attempt to raise awareness about the value of the in-person perusing and purchasing experience that is currently in danger of extinction as the existence of many independent stores is threatened by the download. All kinds of fun stuff is planned for Saturday, including exclusive track releases from bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Vampire Weekend, Built to Spill, and R.E.M. and in-store performances and events occurring all over the country.

I've asked you before what your first album was, and I'm guessing most of them were purchased in actual stores. Do you get nostalgic thinking about that experience, and are you worried that the little record store down the street could close down? Do you ever buy your music in person anymore?

Tons of people, from famous directors to music legends, have weighed in on what record stores mean to them. To check out some of my favorite quotes and watch a clip of Regina Spektor talking about why she's excited for Saturday, read more.

  • Ben Harper: “Independent record stores are much more than the name suggests. They are an international community and platform where music has an outlet and an opportunity to grow over the long term, in a way that sincerely connects with community and culture. They are also a magnificent mob of highly opinionated musical bandits which I am proud to call my pals!"
  • Peter Gabriel: "I was introduced to lots of great music through my local record store. It was a place where people knew music and they knew me, and could make great suggestions and discoveries. Whether it is in the physical world or on-line, the value of a great and knowledgeable record store has not gone away."
  • Norah Jones: "It’s important to keep indie record stores alive because their unique environments introduce music lovers to things in a very personal way."
  • Nick Hornby: "Yes, yes, I know. It's easier to download music, and probably cheaper. But what's playing on your favourite download store when you walk into it? Nothing, that's what. Who are you going to meet in there? Nobody. Where are the notice boards offering flatshares and vacant slots in bands destined for superstardom? Who's going to tell you to stop listening to that and start listening to this? Go ahead and save yourself a couple of quid. The saving will cost you a career, a set of cool friends, musical taste and, eventually, your soul. Record stores can't save your life. But they can give you a better one."
by Buzzsugar

The Filter's mission: Refining your tastes

Peter Gabriel's latest venture isn't a new album but a better way to serve up music and other entertainment on the Internet. The Filter ( is the latest entry in a growing lineup of online recommendation engines that suggest new music based on your current favorites. Unlike sites such as music's and film's, The Filter "is trying to expand," going beyond music and movies into TV and videos, Gabriel says.

Multimedia has been a strength for Gabriel, who has incorporated theatrics into concerts as the original lead singer for Genesis and as a Grammy-winning solo artist. His early CD-ROMs "Xplora" and "Eve" pushed the interactive envelope in the '90s. While working with On Demand Distribution (OD2), an online music distributor he co-founded in 2000, Gabriel became intrigued with the idea of a software program that could sift through the totality of music and recommend new songs. He registered Web address and later joined recommendation technology firm Exabre and some former OD2 engineers in the new venture.

"This vision was that we are all filters in one way or another," Gabriel says. "We have our experiences and our tastes. And we're trying to find some smart ways of taking advantage of that so that you can mix not only your own taste, (but also) your friends and musicians, artists, filmmakers, critics, magazines or (other) taste-making influences. You should be able to access them and hit a do-it button and get some stuff that you wouldn't otherwise."

An all-in-one recommendation project makes sense, says Paul Resnikoff, editor of And Gabriel's involvement "just brings it above the level of other startups," he says. "He's a cutting-edge digital entrepreneur. It's good energy." At its simplest, The Filter uses proprietary artificial intelligence to suggest works that are similar to ones already identified as favorites, using a database of more than 4.5 million songs and 330,000 movies. The database will account for users' changing tastes and grow as more users join during the private beta-testing period (request access at

"The more evidence we collect, the better the recommendations overall. And the more we know about you individually, the more we can filter content to suit you," says CEO David Maher Roberts. Rate some artists such as R.E.M. and The Strokes as favorites, then judge a playlist of song clips - in this case from Dire Straits to Wilco - and The Filter creates "Music for You" such as Cream and Leonard Cohen. By next month's public launch, a user will be able to add friends' filters and Flixster and profiles. Web video recommendations will be improved; TV filters and iTunes purchase links will be added. The Filter will continue to evolve, Gabriel says. "The theory would be that instead of a disc jockey, you have a life jockey. I personally would love to live in a filtered world as long I can control the filters."


Record Store Day '08

In an effort to battle big box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy, a group of record store alliances have come together to sponsor smaller, independent retailers with an event creatively called "Record Store Day," happening Saturday, April 19. The Alliance Of Independent Media Stores, Coalition Of Independent Music Stores, Music Monitor Network, Newbury Comics, and Value Music Group Of Indie Stores have banded together to push shopping at 300 smaller record shops across the United States and United Kingdom. Numerous artists have jumped on board for the cause, including Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Wayne Coyne (of the Flaming Lips), and Patterson Hood (of the Drive By Truckers).

Many bands are participating by performing special in-stores while other participating stores (a complete list of which can be found here) are having sales to promote the event. We've always been supporters of the little guys and have frequented great independent record stores in Chicago and all over the country. A ton of great records have been released recently by both national and local acts, and with the warmer weather, it's a great time to get out pick a few records up.

By Marcus Gilmer

Album: Daniel Lanois, Here Is What Is (Red Floor)

Here Is What Is is the soundtrack to a documentary in which the acclaimed producer of Dylan, U2 and Peter Gabriel tries to reveal “the source of the art, rather than everything that surrounds the art” – an impossible task, but one he comes close to fulfilling at various points here, most notably in enabling “Lovechild” to blossom into a complete song from the initial root of Garth Hudson’s piano improvisation.

His frequent control-room companion Eno pops up here and there to offer a word or two of advice, while Lanois himself applies his familiar hazy ambience to guitar and pedal-steel instrumentals such as “Smoke #6” and “Blue Bus”, and inquisitive, soul-searching songs such as “Where Will I Be” and “I Like That” - the latter his very own “My Favourite Things”.

Little Brother Is Watching

Defending human rights with cameras and Internet connections

Over the last few years, a brave band of Egyptian activists has circulated footage of policemen striking, lashing, and even raping detainees. The torture videos, filmed by the cops themselves, prompted protests both inside and outside the country. They also prompted censorship: YouTube temporarily shut down the dissident blogger Wael Abbas’ digital video channel after receiving complaints about the violent clips.

The channel has since been restored to YouTube. Much of its footage can also be seen on a website called The Hub, which is what YouTube would look like if it had been designed by Mohandas Gandhi. Since the first test version of The Hub appeared in 2006, more than 500 pieces of media content—videos, audio clips, slide shows—have been uploaded to it. Since December 2007, the results have been open to the general public. The content ranges from raw footage of a massacre in Guinea to a detailed documentary about forced labor in rural Brazil.

The site was created by Witness, a Brooklyn-based group founded by the globe-trotting pop star Peter Gabriel in 1992. Conceived in the wake of the Rodney King beating, the group initially focused on getting camcorders into the hands of human rights activists around the world. The goal, in Gabriel’s phrase, was to create a network of “Little Brothers and Little Sisters” to keep an eye on Big Brother’s thugs. He rapidly discovered that distributing tools wasn’t enough. To be really effective, you need a network.

“What we learned over the first four or five years was that the promise that Rodney King represented couldn’t be realized just by providing cameras to human rights groups,” says Sam Gregory, Witness’s 33-year-old program director. “In the absence of technical training, they couldn’t produce video that would be used by news organizations and they couldn’t craft the stories that would engage audiences.” The group did manage to place some footage in the news media, but even then it had trouble leveraging those appearances into actual change.

“So we learned to think more strategically about what kind of training you provided to groups, how you helped them tell stories, and, most importantly, where you tried to place that material,” says Gregory. The organizers didn’t want filmmaking to become a substitute for activism, so the videos were integrated into existing campaigns. “The voices that need to be heard are the ones closest to the violations,” Gregory explains. “It’s not a centralized vision, and all our work derives from the agency of those locally based human rights groups.”

The African group Ajedi-ka, for example, wants to stop the use of child soldiers in Congo’s ongoing civil war. One of its efforts involved going to village meetings around the region and trying to persuade parents not to let their children be recruited voluntarily. With assistance from Witness, Ajedi-ka created a video to “present a range of voices explaining the damage without pointing the finger at the parents so they just feel guilty, but instead giving them an option to find alternatives for their children.” The group kept going to those grassroots meetings, this time with a TV and a generator in tow. It credits the video with helping reduce the number of child soldiers recruited in those areas.

Other Witness videos have been screened in more high-level settings. The Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, for example, has been organizing around the murders of young women in Juarez, trying to bring attention not just to the killings themselves but to the conduct of the local police, who are accused of coercing confessions from scapegoats rather than seriously investigating the crimes.
“We worked on a video that found a very powerful individual story that spoke to the broader pattern,” says Gregory. “It was the story of a young woman who disappeared shortly before she was due to go to university. She’s never been found, but the police two weeks later arrested her uncle, accused him of the murder, and tortured him into confessing.” The commission “showed it to the attorney general’s office in Mexico and to local politicians there, and as a result of that the young man who had been arrested was released.”

The human rights community is not always harmonious. Organizations disagree about everything from the efficacy of economic sanctions and military intervention to the very definition of human rights. The Hub has, in Gregory’s phrase, a “broad church” approach, accepting videos on a wide range of topics from groups with very different ideas about appropriate solutions.

Those activists already could post at YouTube, of course, but Witness felt there was a need for a more secure system. “People may be uploading from situations where the government is watching the Internet and there may be potential repression,” Gregory points out. “Once they upload, we don’t hold onto their IP address, so if someone tries to obtain that information either legally or illegally we are unable to identify where users are based.”

Witness also wants to avoid incidents like YouTube’s suppression of Abbas’ digital video channel. The Hub does refuse to post some clips, either because they will place someone in the footage in further danger or because there are doubts about the material’s accuracy. But even in such cases, Witness hopes to move to a more user-based method of assessing content, so that clips are removed when the community of viewers finds substantial reasons to believe material has been faked or distorted.

The biggest difference between The Hub and YouTube is that the younger site is more concerned with context. Most of The Hub’s videos appear with additional information about the underlying issues and ways to act against the abuses. And Witness will soon make it easier to move the clips offline as well as watching them in cyberspace. (“Perhaps there’s only one connection to the Internet,” says Gregory, “so what you want to do is download it and take it into a communal setting.”) In these ways, the organizers argue, they’ll avoid the mistake they made in the early ’90s, when they assumed it would be sufficient simply to distribute cameras to like-minded comrades around the world.

“It’s not OK just to see scenes of misery,” says Gregory. “In fact it can be deeply draining and frustrating both for the people creating it and the people watching it. You have to think about ways to contextualize and ways to act.”

Managing Editor Jesse Walker is the author of Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America (NYU Press). To read the full version of his interview with Sam Gregory, go here.