November, 2010

Engage the Engager! Win Tickets to see Pierre-Laurent Aimard!

image001“I wouldn’t say I’m a pianist – I’m a musician, and the piano happens to be my instrument.” This is a quote from world-famous and widely applauded musician (who specialized in piano) Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and it evinces, in a simple way, one of my main fascinations with those artists who deal in vibrations. They inherently grasp the underlying structure and tools of their craft, and even when they’re just hitting keys on a piano or bowing strings on a cello, they are simultaneously attuning and reacting to a world of sounds. Even anyone who’s ever participated in an amateur garage band before (me) can tell you it’s very hard to play the guitar to a song without knowing the drum beat in your fingers.

And the piano seems to be the epitome of multi-instrumental instruments, as it holds within its audible reach both percussive and stringed qualities, and can, unlike many other species of the orchestra, harmonize with itself at the extreme ends of pitch. It’s no surprise to me that Aimard describes himself as a musician before a pianist, because the more I think about it, the more I realize the piano (or for that matter, any instrument) may just be the musician’s personalized stepping stone to engage with his/her art.

I suppose, then, that leaves us, the listener. How do we engage with these über-talented engagers? Emotionally? Do we feel the music? Intellectually? Do we think about the music? Physically? Do we tap our feet? Or is listening, too, a multi-faceted craft?

If so, we here at Fine Arts LA have your last-minute stepping stone. Once again, two free tickets to see none other than legendary Pierre-Laurent Aimard this Wednesday, December 1st, 8:00 PM, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown. Aimard, known for both his classic and contemporary performances and recordings, will be performing pieces by Messiaen, Chopin, and Ravel. For your chance to engage (an a strictly non-monetary level), all you have to do is enter your first name, last name, and e-mail address into the form below, and you will be automatically entered into the running. And, as is customary, every person who enters can also win any one of our next three ticket giveaways (it’s happened before). So don’t just be a blog reader, be a blog engager.

- By Joshua Morrison

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Extra! Extra! A Very Midori Thanksgiving! Ticket Giveaway!

midori-299x300Thanksgiving. The word itself seems like an oxy-moron, especially in LA. Here we are used to saying thanks for getting, and any gift we give should rightfully come with its proper reward in return. And this is all well and good for a city that was built on pure opportunism, but when does this type of self-centered thinking—as opposed to communal—hurt us creatively?

Take the ever-growing Mustaches for Kids craze, for instance: it’s a wildly creative organization whereby volunteers grow mustaches in order to raise money for children’s charities. The thing is that the institution, which is now nation-wide (I even saw filmmaker Darren Aronofsky sporting a mustache), was borne out of Los Angeles. It was started by three friends in a reality TV-show production office who all thought it would be fun to grow mustaches for a month (an act of true creativity, in my opinion). However, despite its success, Mustaches for Kids really took off when it hit New York, the city now considered to be the center of the organization. And there’s only one reason for this re-location: creative pursuits (i.e. no profit involved), whether it be growing mustaches for charity or painting pictures or playing music or putting on plays, etc. can only thrive in a community of supporters.

This is not to say that Los Angeles is completely bereft of such support. In fact, one of the most charitable, not to mention talented, violinists working today, Midori, is based out of LA, and she is performing alongside pianist Robert McDonald at the Walt Disney Concert Hall this Sunday, November 21 at 7:30 PM. Only 28-years-old,  Midori was a musical prodigy sprouting from Japan, who quickly rose to international acclaim, and is now widely recognized as one of the top violinists in the world. But it is her incredible charity work that has truly carved her reputation as an artist. Not only an established educator at USC, she personally founded four different community-centered organizations—Midori & Friends, Partners in Performance, Orchestra Residencies Program, and Music Sharing—beginning the first one when she was just 10-years-old and is still actively involved in all four.

So in the spirit of Midori, and to show our thanks for her giving, we are, in turn, giving away a pair of tickets to see her perform on Sunday night. Not only that, but we are adding in the bonus prize of a pair of tickets to see legendary bass-baritone Bryn Terfel the next night, Monday, November 22nd at 8:00 PM, same location. All you have to do is enter your first name, last name and e-mail address into th form below, and you will automatically be entered into the running to receive both pairs of tickets, and be eligible to win our next three ticket giveaways. Happy Thanksgiving, from Fine Arts LA!

- By Joshua Morrison

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Reverse Discovery

44303_429030174317_267386114317_4742142_5663448_nA friend of mine and sometime contributor to this site Helen Kearns recently introduced me to the site, www.whosampled.com, a pretty amazing operation whereby you can look up an artist or title of a song, and the search engine supplies you with a catalog of other recordings that artist/song sampled and vice versa. The site is clearly still growing, and definitely doesn’t have every musician or track you can think of. But it is symbolic of an interesting trend I’m seeing more and more in contemporary music: reverse discovery.

It’s different than nostalgia in that often one reverse-discovers music they’ve never heard before, and instead of the present reminding them of the past, it’s the past reminding them of the present. What I believe this is leading to in the music industry (and entertainment industry) at large is the reissue of old recordings, not ones that were once popular Billboard hits, but ones that may have may have silently slipped through the cliched cracks of mainstream culture.

In fact, this is already happening on a small scale. One of my newest favorite albums, for instance, Air Over Water by Wall Matthews and Rusty Clark was released this year, but all the tracks featured were originally recorded from 1974 to 1986, the year Clark passed away. Chances are you probably haven’t heard of this album or these musicians, unless you reverse-discovered them through the popular British DJ, Four Tet, who illegally sampled their song “Neptune Rising” in his “She Moves She” (a fact not found on whosampled.com).

Matthew’s and Clark’s music is hardly irrelevant or untimely, however. They just happened to be performing and recording a few decades before vocal-less acoustic and “Imagistic”—to use a word from the subtitle of the album, “Imagistic Music for Guitar and Violin”—were readily available outside of coffee shops and experimental dance troupes.

To be fair, the name of the album does sound like an Enya-esque meditation soundtrack (though Enya is vastly underrated in my opinion, and has most likely enjoyed some reverse-discovery herself). But the actual music has no electronics, no singing, and with the exception of a few tracks, sticks to just two instruments. It could be dubbed minimalist if it were not for the full and entrenching landscapes these two instruments create.

The first song of the album, “The Two Snails Who Went to the Funeral of a Dead Leaf” is a brash, Indian-inflected violin solo from Rusty Clark, a call to the wild that dances between Philip Glass-like repetitions and something more raw and untamed. The level of musicianship is clearly marked high from the very beginning, and maintains the kind of virtuosic intensity you simply don’t hear that much these days outside of a symphony.

The second track, “Gypsies,” inaugurates the guitar-and-violin duets, which make up most of the album. And they are truly duets. The two instruments trade off positions of melody and landscape many times within a single song, and almost imperceptibly.  Matthews finger-picks his guitar in fast, clear, ringing tones, reminiscent of Nick Drake, but with more complexity and variety. Meanwhile, Clark leads his violin through a veritable wonderland of genres, from medieval-court-like fare to free jazz to pop to what, in “Alabama Sketches” and “The Clowns,” I can only describe as pastoral dread.

It’s tempting to call the songs on Air Over Water cinematic, because they are so visual, but then again, the music is what dominates here, and I’m not sure if would work taken into the soundtrack of a movie. What Wall and Rusty did, instead, and what feels more natural, was use it for dancers—a far more interpretive arena of expression that, like the instrumentation itself, works with (rather than on top of or below) the sounds.

“The Clowns” is a quick favorite for any new listener to Matthews and Clark. It’s ostensibly simple, with a clear, defined structure, and brings to mind a comforting type of rustic domesticity. But there’s also a creeping suspicion in it, and the repetition becomes and integral part of what ultimately makes the piece so haunting.

“The Blue Heart” introduces the first bits of piano into the mix, a welcome addition, especially with its combination of music-box simplicity and dissonant jazz. It a beautiful imbalance dancing with with innocent, would-be major key melody. It borders on the noir—a dangerous and flirtatious seduction between two ballroom waltzers.

Whereas the album began with a triumphant violin solo from Clark, the album ends with an unassuming “Little Piece” by Matthews, just him on guitar, gently leading the listener out of his world, at least for now. I began to realize, then, how the idea of reverse-discovery might be inherent in some music, how even when Wall and Rusty were recording these works back in the 70’s and 80’s, they weren’t just doing it for that specific time. They were inviting an entire future, real or imagined, to experience and discover their unique vibrations.

- By Joshua Morrison

If you wish to reverse-discover more, you should definitely check out Matthews’s Riding Horses, Heart of Winter, Zen Gardens, Color of Dusk, and Gathering the World, as well as the work of the Entourage Music and Theatre Ensemble.

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