Peter Margasak,Reader music critic
Colin Stetson, New History Warfare Vol. 2: On his second solo album, the Montreal saxophonist (who’s been a key contributor to recent work by Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, and Laurie Anderson) perfects radical extended techniques (circular breathing, tonguing tricks, harmonics) to create unexpected, instrumental pop tunes. Anderson and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond contribute vocals on a few songs, but Stetson’s lone horn needs no help—no overdubbing, no electronic manipulation, no bullshit.
Lee “Scratch” Perry, “People Funny Boy”: This 1968 debut single by the legendary reggae producer and artist shows up in the entertaining documentary The Upsetter: The Life and Music of Lee “Scratch” Perry, which screened last month at the Gene Siskel Film Center. It was one of the first tracks to slow down the rapid clip of ska into the more leisurely rocksteady feel, and the loop of a crying baby is a prescient, effective use of sampling. But it’s Perry’s killer phrasing and the song’s sunny melody that have steadily haunted my brain over the last month.
Source: Music of the Avant-Garde, 1966-1973: A mind-warping anthology of material published in the great experimental-music journal Source, including manifestos, lectures, interviews, scores, and photos (among them a priceless shot of Richard Serra, James Tenney, Steve Reich, Bruce Nauman, and Michael Snow performing Reich’s brilliant process piece “Pendulum Music”) contributed by some of the greatest musical minds of the last half century: John Cage, Anthony Braxton, Cornelius Cardew, Harry Partch, Pauline Oliveros, and Morton Feldman. A total treasure trove of ideas, humor, and experimentation.
Olivia Block, sound artist
WTF With Marc Maron podcast series: Maron conducts long, personal, sometimes confrontational interviews with stand-up comedians in his garage. I have been thinking about stand-up comedy lately a lot, and the similarities between the way a comedian uses a given amount of space and time and the way that a performer of experimental music does. These interviews give insight into those types of choices. There are also similar types of precarious career concerns in comedy as in underground music (lack of money, the fact that an artist might be relevant one year but not so much the next, no job security), which are also discussed.
YouTube video of Sarah Palin with all the audible words cut out: I find this to be quite beautiful. I don’t like Palin, and without the words attached to her gestures, her smug facial expressions and audible lip smacking are excruciatingly obvious. I love the strange, disjointed rhythms created by the absence of words and the sounds of the labored breathing. In a way, this video calls more attention to the cadences of recorded speech than listening to an audio or video recording of a speech would.
Beyonce and Rihanna (a 2008 video directed by Afam Okereke): The low-budget Nigerian film industry, or “Nollywood,” is booming, and many of the trailers are on YouTube. I love the way that some of these films weave together characters from popular American music culture and issues relevant to traditional African culture. This film imagines Beyonce as a modern woman in Nigeria who must deal with her parents’ traditional ideas about marriage and courtship. In one scene, Beyonce’s parents argue that Jay-Z should be a proper man and pay Beyonce’s dowry for marriage.
Joseph Clayton Mills, member of Haptic
Dotolim concert series: Over the last several years, Seoul has been the epicenter of some of the most interesting and least accessible experimental sound being made anywhere, much of it presented at the minuscule performance space Dotolim. With an instrumental palette largely drawn from postindustrial detritus (exposed hard drives, broken CD players, typewriters, and clockworks) and a deadpan performance style stripped of the last vestiges of romanticism, this is music that’s unsentimental, inscrutable, and invigorating.
You Are Listening to Los Angeles: The soundtrack to my summer has been this Bladerunner-esque live stream of acronym-laden LA police-radio chatter set to a soundtrack of open-source ambient music. Simultaneously anxiety-inducing and strangely soothing, the site provides momentary, kaleidoscopic glimpses into a thousand unresolved stories, devoid of context and dissolved in a soft-focus audio haze. Part documentary, part dream, it pulls off the difficult trick of being both deeply compelling and relentlessly mundane. In short, sublime. Now available in “Chicago” flavor.
The return of Jeff Mangum: New concerts, new website, new box set, unreleased songs, and even new drawings at $15 per. Yes, that record (In the Aeroplane Over the Sea) really was (and is) as good as people say—and it’s quite possibly better than that. I’m not ashamed to admit that the return of the Gerard Manley Hopkins of American popular music to the public arena fills me with something dangerously close to hope.