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Monthly Archives: July 2017

A Composer Who Made The Everyday Extraordinary

Born Dec. 9, 1927 in Paris, Pierre Henry was enchanted by everything he heard. He entered the Paris Conservatory when he was just 10 years old. There, he studied with the great teacher Nadia Boulanger, whose students eventually included everyone from Aaron Copland to Quincy Jones. It was an auspicious start to an audacious career.

In his early 20s, he helped usher in a musical revolution with a style called musique concrète — “concrete music” — collages of prerecorded and manipulated sounds from both electronic and acoustic sources.

In The Art Of Sounds, Henry spoke about how deliberately he created those collages. “Musique concrète is the art of decision,” he said. “It’s the art of choice. You select one sound over others and that’s where composing begins.”

Musique concrète was born just after World War II — as France rebuilt, the government established a public radio and television channel, RTF. The project included an experimental studio where composers could create new work.

It was in that studio that Henry and his then-mentor Pierre Schaeffer, wrote a groundbreaking piece, their Symphonie pour un homme seul (Symphony For A Lone Man). It became a legend among musicians. Of this composition, Schaeffer wrote:

“The lone man should find his symphony in himself, and not just solely in conceiving music abstractly, but in being his own instrument. A lone man possesses much more than the 12 notes of the voice [in an octave]. He cries, he whistles, he walks, he pounds his fist, he laughs, he moans. His heart beats, his breathing accelerates, he utters words, he calls out and others respond.”

And Pierre Henry’s own compositions found a home in pop culture. In 1967, along with Michel Colombier, Henry wrote the score for a ballet by choreographer Maurice Béjart called Messe pour le temps present (Mass For The Present Time). That ballet included some music, in a section called “Psyche Rock,” that became a touchstone for generations of DJs and producers who followed Henry.

Its clanging chimes and wailing, fuzzy electric guitar have turned up in decades of movie and TV scores, both credited — and not.

You hear it in the score of Costa-Gavras’ 1969 Oscar-winning film, Z. Henry and Colombier’s original music appears in the screen version, but composer Mikis Theodorakis penned a very similarly styled piece for the soundtrack.

The lead singers for the band Linkin Park

Chester Bennington is, one of the lead singers for the band Linkin Park and a former singer for Stone Temple Pilots, has died. His death was confirmed to NPR Thursday afternoon by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office, which said that his body was discovered at a house in the 2800 block of Palos Verdes Estates in Los Angeles and that investigators are currently on the scene. The death is “being looked at as a possible suicide at this time,” according to Brian Elias of the coroner’s office. Bennington was 41 years old.

Linkin Park member Mike Shinoda posted that he is “shocked and heartbroken” and that an official statement from the band is forthcoming.

Earlier this month, Linkin Park finished a European and U.K. leg of an international tour in support of its current album, One More Light, with guest artists Machine Gun Kelly, One OK Rock and Snoop Dogg; the band’s next scheduled tour date is July 27 in Mansfield, Mass.

Although Linkin Park never gained much critical acclaim, the rap-rock band was a popular staple in the early 2000s. Its debut album in 2000, Hybrid Theory, became the best-selling rock album of that decade, and the group went on to sell more than 50 million units. At the height of its popularity, Linkin Park toured relentlessly — the band reportedly tallied 342 live shows just in the year 2001. Overall, Linkin Park scored six Top 20 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. But Linkin Park got credibility for some collaborations with hip-hop artists, including Collision Course, a 2004 EP the band recorded with Jay-Z.

Today is also the birth date of one of Bennington’s close friends, the late Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell, who killed himself in May. Cornell and Bennington were close friends, and the Linkin Park singer sang at Cornell’s memorial service in May


Rickie Lee Jones

The pirates first announced themselves to Rickie Lee Jones in New Orleans, in the fall of 1979, with a delivery of mysterious gifts.

Jones was traveling in support of her self-titled debut for Warner Bros., the slinky, imaginative sui generis blend of pop, soul and jazz that had already hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200, landed her on her first Rolling Stone cover, and associated her forever with the beret. In a couple of months, she would win the Grammy for best new artist. She was almost 25.

“It was the combination of them and Sal Bernardi’s crew in San Francisco that inspired the concept of Pirates,” she explained. Some of the pirates went to prison and got out. One moved to Costa Rica. One still lives in New Orleans and now, 36 years after the release of Pirates, her second album, so does Jones, although not in the Quarter: Her neighborhood is leafy and quiet, near a park where she can walk her dog and ride her bike, her freshly purple-dyed hair tucked under a helmet.

“To be really clear, I was a drug addict when I lived here,” she said. “It’s not possible to walk in the footsteps I walked then. I woke up late in the afternoon, and I lived at night.” It was a funny thing, really, to take off to the bottom of the U.S. at what seemed like the top of a career and hang around with dope smugglers, aging artists and weird characters — she was there at Professor Longhair’s last recording session, she said, and befriended the one-eyed junkie piano genius James Booker, who’d die in 1983, at age 43 — but it felt right to her, “like a refuge,” she said.

“For me, it was part of feeding who I was. I felt that if I stopped living that way, whatever it was that I really was would stop being authentic,” she said.

New Orleans and its characters helped inspire the cinematic storybook of hip that is Pirates, with its evocative imagery — the ’57 Lincolns, the slow trains to Peking, the Lolitas playing dominoes and poker behind their daddy’s shacks — as did Olympia, Wash., where she started writing it in 1979, New York City, where she was also paying rent, and L.A., where it was recorded. Close to forty years later, she still plays those songs onstage. Some feel different than others — for example, “We Belong Together,” the ecstatic, dreamy stream of consciousness that opens Pirates, inspired by her famous romance and breakup with Tom Waits.

“When I sing that song, to me anyway, it doesn’t have anything to do with me. It’s like a house I built. When I go in, I say, ‘I love this room. I’m gonna sit in this room.’ It’s a structure of its own and I get to experience the ride when I play it. But it’s not about Tom and me. It has a life of its own.”

“There are only a couple of songs that haven’t achieved autonomy,” she said. “And when I sing them, I feel like, ‘I don’t wear my dress that short anymore.”

But 36 years later, Pirates is a dress that’s not out of style, a house that still welcomes new residents. It’s canon, classic, a still-startlingly singular look at America both in style — the way it seamlessly weaves threads of beatnik jazz, fluid soul and aching, theatrical balladry — and in substance, as it captures perfect images of American romance and cool like so many Polaroid snapshots. Few pop artists have ever been as effortlessly cool; still fewer have managed to create a piece of art that sounds like it could have been crafted thirty years before it was, or thirty years after. Pirates has been influential, but rarely imitated. Who could?

Her latest album, 2015’s The Other Side of Desire, clearly has Pirates as an ancestor: the warm-blooded elasticity of her voice, her snappy fluency in the language of cool, and vivid lines like one rhyming “gold capped tooth” with “hot tin roof.” With songs that borrow the language, the structure and the melancholy of a Cajun waltz, Fats Domino piano rhythms and swamp-pop melody, it’s even more audibly rooted in her new (and old) home base — she’s using the same storyteller’s ear and the same keen eye for character, although both, now, she thinks, feel clearer.

Kennedy Center’s First Hip-Hop Honoree

While Kennedy Center Honors acknowledge the lifetime achievements of contributors to American culture, the list has traditionally been limited in scope. But the inclusion of LL, born James Todd Smith, in this year’s honoree list further expands the center’s growing embrace of hip-hop culture. Earlier this year the center appointed Simone Eccleston as its first director of Hip-Hop Culture after naming A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip as artistic director of Hip-Hop Culture in 2016. Historic performances by Kendrick Lamar and Common have also underlined the center’s investment, and more programming for the 2017-18 season is expected to be announced in the coming months.

As rap’s first bona fide solo star, LL was larger than life in the ’80s, the first to embody the street-corner swagger and sex appeal that would become a blueprint for future hip-hop icons ranging from Big Daddy Kane to Biggie. Before an artist like Drake could legitimately mix hip-hop lyricism with R&B vulnerability, LL turned out the first hit rap ballad with 1987’s “I Need Love.” And the ladies loved him for it.

Best known today for his starring roles in TV and film, he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year. But after a career spanning 30-plus years and 13 albums, he’s yet to leave rap alone — he’s rumored to be in the studio recording with Dr. Dre.

In his statement on the Kennedy Center honor, LL credits his grandmother — the same one who inspired his 1990 hit, “Mama Said Knock You Out” — for his success, while dedicating the award to the hip-hop pioneers who preceded and the generations who have since followed.

“My late grandmother passed some wise advice to me: ‘If a task is once begun, never leave it ’til it’s done. Be thy labor great or small, do it well or not at all.’ That adage has guided everything I have ever done in my life and I couldn’t be more grateful because it has led me here,” he says. “To be the first rap artist honored by the Kennedy Center is beyond anything I could have imagined. I dedicate this honor to the hip-hop artists who came before me and those who came after me. This simply proves that dreams don’t have deadlines. God is great.”

But it takes a teen-aged LL to truly put his pioneering achievements in perspective. When rap still in its infancy, LL was already positioning himself as its rising star.