Archive for the ‘Music’ category

Obituary for Enrique Sierra: A Pillar of 1980s Spanish Musical Innovation

February 20, 2012

Enrique Sierra on MotorcycleEnrique Sierra, Radio Futura guitarist, seated on a motorcycle. Photo by Carlos Yague.

Obituary for Enrique Sierra: A Pillar of 1980s Spanish Musical Innovation
The Radio Futura guitarist was coauthor of generational hymns like Escuela de calor
He was one of the most active members of the “Madrid Scene”
El País: Muere Enrique Sierra, pilar de la innovación musical de los ochenta
Iñigo López Palacios reporting from Madrid February 17, 2012

The career of Enrique Sierra, who died yesterday in San Carlos clinical hospital in Madrid at age 54 of complications from a long renal infection, will always be linked with Radio Futura. Even though the group broke up in 1992. Even though he won Latin Grammys in 2002 and 2004 as a sound engineer for Rosario Flores. Even though he recorded discs with groups like Los Ventiladores and Klub (in which he reunited with his old friend Luis Auserón. Even though in 2007 he founded the music site with the idea of legally providing free music, text, images, and videos in a digital format. That name, 127, was also what he used for a children’s music project he developed his wife Pilar Román. All that was still overshadowed by the twelve years in which his steel guitar was part of Radio Futura.

The sound he developed was that fundamental to the group’s songs. It was the punk crest on their image. The project that would become one of the essential bands in the history of Spanish rock was put into motion by the brothers Luis and Santiago Auserón at the end of the seventies. Sierra came over from Kaka de Luxe (Deluxe Poop), a seminal group of the Madrid Scene which also featured Carlos Berlanga, Fernando Márquez, El Zurdo, and Olvido Gara (also known as Alaska).

After that band dissolved in 1978, each one of its members went his own way. That was when Enrique came to Radio Futura to stay. For years, the band had been swerving about in search of its own sound. Its members later admitted that their first disc, Música moderna, put them on a path that wasn’t their own. Their company, Hispavox, had tried to convert them into a band for youth, with terrible results. All that changed when they recorded La estatua del Jardín botánico (The Statue in the Botanical Garden), a historic song that is fundamental to understanding the success of Spanish Pop in the 80s. Released as a single in 1982 (Rompeolas (Breakwater) was the B-side), this song marked the road they would follow.

They had had to reinvent themselves with a sound that at that time was defined as experimental rock, although three decades later their songs sound like authentically timeless hymns. Regardless, it was in that context that they published Radio Futura’s first disc as a foursome in ’84. La ley del desierto/La ley del mar (The Law of the Desert/The Law of the Sea) included another of their fundamental songs, Escuela de calor (School of Heat – video above the fold), a catchy canción and an immediate hit which was guided by Enrique Sierra’s guitar. Another of the singles from that disc was Semilla negra (Black Seed), which rested on the bases of what would come to be known as Latin Rock.

If anything defined Radio Futura’s run, it was the extreme seriousness with which they approached their work and their constant investigation of new genres. Their searches, contrary to what usually happens, coincided with the changing tastes of the public. Each new album – De un país en llamas (From a Country in Flames) in 1985, La canción de Juan Perro (The Song of Juan Perro (or Dog)) in 1987, the live album Escuela de calor (School of Heat) in 1989, and Veneno en la piel (Venom in the Skin) in 1990, which would be the band’s farewell – took them farther away from their New Wave roots and toward a Latin sound.

As the band’s turns widened, the tension within the band increased as well. Their spending increased as much as their revenue did. Enrique Sierra’s health also suffered. Two decades ago, he had his first kidney transplant, and some time later he had a second. Those close to him said yesterday that aggravations from complications of this operation caused his death. In recent years, Sierra had diversified his artistic career: his digital paintings can be seen on his web site, which is still active.


Japan Broadcasting Corporation Karaoke Competition in Taiwan Has 250 Contestants

October 2, 2011

Japan Broadcasting Corporation Karaoke Competition in Taiwan Has 250 Contestants
Yomiuri Shimbun: 台湾でNHKのど自慢、250組ノド競う
Kazuhide Minamoto reporting from Taipei October 1, 2011

Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK)’s “Proud of My Voice” (のど自慢 – Nodo Jiman) karaoke competition began in Taipei’s Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall on the 1st.

This is the 12th time the contest has been held abroad; the last time was in Mexico 6 years ago. According to NHK’s public relations department, there were 1480 applications, the most ever for a competition abroad. The previous record was 674 for the contest in San Paulo, Brazil.

The first round was October 1, and 250 Taiwanese people and Japanese expatriates participated. Songs from a wide range of genres, from enka to pop, were performed. The final round will be tomorrow, on the 2nd. The competition will be presented on NHK’s main station the night of October 29.

Many people in Taiwan are interested in Japanese music, from the elderly who learned Japanese in school to the young Japanese subculture enthusiasts called the “Hari Tribe” (in honor of Taiwanese manga artist and blogger Hari Xingzi/Hanichi Kyōko/哈日杏子).

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Bach and Casals Keyed the Cello

August 8, 2011

Bach Casals Sciammarella
Painting of Bach and Casals by Sciammarella

Bach and Casals Keyed the Cello
A book by music critic Eric Siblin reveals the secret connections between the composer and interpreter who elevated the instrument
El País: Bach / Casals, en clave de chelo
Jesús Ruiz Mantilla reporting from Madrid July 28, 2011

Sometimes the birth and consecration of a work of art is best understood through geometry. The triangle that connects Johann Sebastian Bach, Pau Casals, and the cello suites which the two engendered and elevated has been outlined in an exceptional book by music critic Eric Siblin.

The coherence and ageless modernity of this work storms the ears and emotions of anyone who listens to it now. Perhaps Bach only thought of it as a series of exercises for an instrument to which no one else ascribed importance. “It pains me to believe that because they are too beautiful to be something so small. But no one knows for sure,” says Siblin, a Canadian who specialized in rock and roll before entering the world of Bach and Casals to write The Cello Suites (Turner). The suites spent two centuries in oblivion until an interpreter discovered and revived them. When Casals found the Suites in a secondhand music store on Ample street in Barcelona, no one suspected that the sheet music contained what is today considered a universal work of art.

Casals’s father wanted him to be a carpenter, but his vocation was soon apparent. He was known as el nen, and he played in cafes before conquering the world’s concert halls as the great cellist of his era. He was catapulted there by Queen Regent María Cristina, a curious paradox because he never reneged on his convictions as a Catalonian nationalist, and by Isaac Albéniz.

Casals’s personal history is connected to the work through its traumatic recording at the EMI studio on Abbey Road (London) during the Spanish Civil War, and his determined antifascism. That mystical connection connects him to the father of a large family from Thuringia who began to compose the music at the turn of 1720 – its genesis is mysterious – soon after he left prison. Bach had been encarcerated on a whim. It was a prelude to the problems he faced in his later life, in which he had to work in the background to avoid being tripped up by jealousy and court intrigue. In this particular case, Duke Wilhelm Ernst wanted Bach to decline an offer made to him by the Prince of Köthen; Bach refused and was put in jail.

The rarest thing about the work was his choice of instrument. During the Baroque Era, the cello was no more than a sad accompanying element, a cushion for the others, until Bach catapulted it to the Olympus of sonority. Its players have now ennobled it to the point of virtuosity, and it’s all thanks to the Suites. For Siblin, the resonance is still fully alive. “It was modern in 1720, and it will be so in 2120,” adduces the author. “There are moments that remind me of Jimmy Page’s solos for Led Zeppelin. Each generation has approached Bach on its own terms. It tranforms in each era because of its exceptional quality.”

The reinventing of Bach is perpetually controversial. It is as fertile a topic as it is useless to pass judgment on because each music lover would pass his own sentence. Siblin criticizes authenticists, who defend interpretation using historical criteria such as period instruments, and defends the Romanticism which resounds in the Catalonian Casals’s recording, which is still the primary referent for today’s performers, from Rostropovich to Mischa Maisky to Yo-Yo Ma.

Casals evangelized with the Suites. He played them for the whole world and at the same time did justice for the cello. Until he dignified it with his playing, the instrument was considered no more than a “a bee buzzing in a stone jug,” in the words of music critic George Bernard Shaw.

The cello was never the same after Casals. He was a man of principle. He ennobled the instrument he loved, and he ennobled music. He refused to play for the Nazis or any of the countries that abandoned Spain to Franco and recognized his regime.

He had a rough time with the Nazis. They discovered that the maestro was spending the war in occupied France, hidden in Prades, and they searched for him. He believed they wanted to arrest him. The collaborationist authorities trapped him. He subsisted on no more than turnips, green beans, and potatoes. The chief of the delegation wanted him to play in Berlin before the Führer. Casals excused himself. First he brandished political reasons: “My position toward Germany is the same as my position toward Spain.” There was uncomfortable silence. It wasn’t enough. They insisted. His next answer sufficed: “I have rheumatism of the shoulder.”

After risking his life by saying no to Hitler, he felt enormous frustration when the war ended, and the Allies washed their hands of almost all the disgraces done by Spain under Franco. He was furious and felt deceived by those who compromised, the British most of all. “I cannot accept their money,” he said. He decided to retire.

After that, he did not play in public again until he agreed to a concert in the tiny village beside the Pyrenees in which he’d separated himself from the world. Obviously, he played the Suites: “the vibration of his bow felt like a dream from a deep sleep,” recounted an article for the New Yorker.

U2 Protest in Ireland and Some Beginning Guitar Advice

July 23, 2011

These two entries are also originally from Facebook, but they ran too long to include in the last post.

‘Saint Bono’ facing huge Glastonbury protest for avoiding tax.

A protest leader said, “Bono claims to care about the developing world, but U2 greedily indulges in the very kind of tax avoidance that is crippling poor nations. We will be showing the very real impact of U2’s tax avoidance on hospitals and schools in Ireland. Anyone watching will be made very aware that Bono needs to pay up.”

What Bono’s doing isn’t illegal or immoral; it’s just ironic. Everyone tries to avoid taxes, even those who create the taxes: remember John Kerry moving his yacht registration to Rhode Island to avoid his home state’s tax? Media pressure forced him to pay off the difference to the Massachusetts state treasury.

The money Bono is raising for Africa doesn’t all come from private donations. A great part of it comes from taxpayers, for example the $5 billion aid package President Bush passed in 2002 and the many debt relief packages for African nations that he’s championed. In a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006, he called for an extra one percent tithe of the US national budget for foreign aid. So he’s all in favor of the U.S. appropriating other people’s money to use on his favored causes but doesn’t want Ireland appropriating his money for its own.

We should all have the freedom to choose where to donate. Sadly, only the wealthy and mobile do for the most part. If I were a Congressman that Bono were petitioning for government funding, I would tell him, “I’ll consider opening my own checkbook for you, but you’ll have to go to the rest of our citizens yourself. We took this money from people who had no other choice but to pay it, and we should only use it for things they truly need.”

I could practice the F chord until I go insane, or I could just find songs that only have the chords I know. #avoidtheproblems
Enjoy key of D. But you’ll have to do bar chords eventually; you know the 133211 fingering of F, right?
‎”Key of D” is songs on the D musical scale: the notes and chords are D,E,F#,G,A,B,C# for D Major. A little musical theory helps make songs easier to remember!
133211 refers to the notes for that chord from the lowest string to the highest. For example, A is x02220. G is 320003. (x means you don’t play that string, and 0 means it’s open)
Bar chords: you press down across the neck with your index finger at a certain fret (the 1 line for F, the 2 line for B) so that all the notes are in harmony.
The alternate non-bar chord F is xx3211.
Learning proper form early is helpful because it makes songs easier to play in the long run, especially when they get more complicated. Bar chords are hard for just about everyone because you really have to press down on the strings hard, especially on an acoustic, to get the sound to come out. It’ll make you stronger, though. I had a lot of trouble with F when I started, too.
If you’re just starting, you’re obviously coming from 0 so you have no reason to say you suck! You’re very dedicated! :)

A Temple of Opera Welcomes St. Francis of Assisi to Madrid

July 6, 2011

A Temple of Opera Welcomes St. Francis of Assisi to Madrid
Large-Scale Photos Available at El País‘s Website
Photos taken by Bernardo Pérez June 17, 2011

Madrid Arena St. Francis
The Royal Theatre will debut a scenic version of Saint Francis of Assisi by the French composer Olivier Messiaen in Casa del Campo’s Madrid Arena on July 6. It will also be performed on the 8th, 10th, 11th, and 13th, at 6:00 PM each time. An enormous cupula has been installed in the building for the occasion.

Madrid Arena St. Francis Cupula
22 Tons of Cupula. The cupula weighs 22 metric tons and measures 13 meters in diameter and 14 meters in height. Its creators are Emilia and Ilya Kabakov, married Russian plastic artists who worked on another performance of this opera in the Trienal of Ruhr in 2007.

Madrid Arena St. Francis Cupula Side View
Under Cambreling’s Direction. Distributed around the cupula will be 9 soloists, 120 members of the Royal Theatre Chorus and the Valencia Chorus, and 132 musicians, 114 of whom are part of the Symphonic Radio Orchestra Baden-Baden-Friburgo (SRB) and 3 of whom will play Martenot waves. The director is the Frenchman Sylvain Cambreling, one of the greatest Messiaen experts in the world.

Madrid Arena St. Francis Wide View
21,500 Seats. The space holds 21,500 seats. Entrance passes will be distributed between season ticket holders (some 13,000) and the box office (about 7000). The spectators will enjoy a performance of about six hours.

Madrid Arena St. Francis Purple Cupula
The Sound of the Super Bowl. The color and lighting of the cupula will change throughout the opera thanks to 1,400 fluorescent lights installed in its interior. The structure will employ the same sound equipment as the Super Bowl: according to the organizers, 60 microphones and other megaphones will guarantee the same quality throughout the premises.

Madrid Arena St. Francis Cupula Installation
Ultimately Staged in La Casa de Campo. The staging of St. Francis of Assisi had to be moved to the Royal Theatre to Madrid Arena because the weight and dimensions required were not possible in the former. Before deciding on Casa de Campo, the organization team investigated “many locations” in Madrid and Toledo.

Madrid Arena St. Francis Purple Cupula Installation
Eight years in the making. Olivier Messiaen spent eight years, from 1976 to 1983, composing Saint Francis of Assisi, which had been commissioned by Rolf Liebermann, director of the Paris Opera. The work consists of three acts and eight scenes.

Atsuko Maeda Wins AKB48 Popularity Contest

June 10, 2011

Atsuko Maeda Wins AKB48 Popularity Contest
Yomiuri Shimbun: AKB総選挙、前田敦子さんがトップに
June 10, 2011

The all-female 58-member Japanese pop idol group AKB48 held a fan vote to determine the singers for its next single at the Japanese Martial Arts Center in Chiyoda, Tokyo on June 9th. Atsuko Maeda (age 19) won the most votes (139,892).

This is the group’s third annual popularity contest. Ballots were included with the group’s 21st single, “Everyday, Katyusha”, which was released one week ago and has already sold a record-setting 1,334,000 copies. Owners of that single and other paying members of AKB48’s website could choose from 150 candidates in AKB48 and its sister groups.

The new single will be released in August will feature the top 21 vote-getters; the 22nd through 40th-place singers will record the B-side together.

Atsuko Maeda

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March 9, 2011

I moved to Japan after graduation for a thousand small reasons. This song is one of them.


Original Music Video

“One Liter of Tears” Versions

I spent the summer before my senior year studying for the LSAT and working on the database at Dad’s office. I pulled my BGM from YouTube, and I was exploring foreign music at the time. This is one of the songs I found and couldn’t let go of. I didn’t know any Japanese, so I didn’t read the title as sangatsu kokonoka: instead I just saw “Three Nine,” like most of you. I listened to it so much that eventually I was playing the chords on the guitar and singing words I didn’t understand at home, at the beach, and in Duke Gardens, filled with longing for something I didn’t understand.

On the other side of the sea, I sang this to my Japanese coworkers at my first party and at farewell parties in my last month. I almost sang it on my very last day of junior high to complete the circle after performing “Take Me Home Country Road,” but I decided not to. Why? I didn’t want to stay on stage too long; I thought it was too much of a love song, and I was afraid of making kids cry and feel more sentimental just before I left their lives. I didn’t need to take a risk for my own fulfillment. It’s one of those 50/50 decisions I’ll always remember, but in remembering it I can pray for my students again.

So, what captivated me besides the music itself?

1. The natural imagery in the lyrics. “The overflowing drops of light one by one warm the morning. Beside you, I’m a little embarrassed after a huge yawn.” Japanese writers often describe the weather, the trees, and the birds when they’re actually painting their emotions. This lends variety and authenticity to their works and also makes them easier to enjoy and remember.

2. The expressive non-expressiveness of the characters in the music video. I’d be stereotyping it if I said Americans make big, obvious faces and say just what they’re thinking whenever they feel emotional, and Japanese never do, but this video caught me off-guard. These characters’ hearts are so full, but they show it differently.

3. “From now on, I want you to be quietly smiling beside me.” These words are the key to a Japanese heart. “I love you” is dramatic, but promising to stand by someone sounds more genuine there.

4. March is graduation month, so this is the main character’s big day. Homeroom classes sometimes become closer than families. The teacher calmly says, “I think it was a great year. And from tomorrow…from tomorrow.” And then quietly cries, just like his students are. This made me so curious about Japanese schools, and those schools would become my world.

5. I was so ignorant of the country that I didn’t realize the thing the girl was buying at the convenience store was a rice ball (onigiri), the single most common food item, and I couldn’t understand why there was a man in a kimono inside offering to pay for it…or that he was buying it for her at all.

6. The traditional Japanese wedding was captivating.

7. The images of a student wandering in the city with a camera, especially when she changed her student train pass which expired March 9, reminded me so much of my adventures in Madrid.

8. I related so much to the “I am so young and old” feeling she must have had while filming the children on the swings.

9. “The cherry blossom buds continue on into spring.” At that time of year, you can see hints of the cherry blossoms that fully bloom at the end of March and beginning of April. It’s an appropriate metaphor for my relationship with Japan at the time.

10. The last verse is an accented run of la la la’s. Some words are universal.

11. As for “One Litre of Tears,” it was a very popular Japanese soap opera based on a devastating diary. The main character, Aya, is 15-year old girl with spinocerebellar ataxia, a fatal and incurable disease that handicaps the body like Parkinson’s, and the show is about her struggle to live life to the fullest. She is the conductor in the video. Of course, I didn’t know this when I first saw it: “Why are her parents crying?” I thought (there were no subtitles). I untangled the threads on Wikipedia afterward. Some of my Asian friends at Duke knew the drama, too, so suddenly we had another conversation topic. It felt so cool that there a vast culture suddenly available to me: our school dramas are pretty different, in setting at the very least.

12. Every homeroom class sings together at the Culture Festival, which is a nice bonding experience that we should try more in America. I liked that they found new harmonies, and the way the class’s singing was a little off made the recording more real.

I felt like I was standing at the door of a new aesthetic universe. I wanted to know more. The next year, I moved there. This is my third consecutive March 9 in Asia, and now I feel like this was the only road I could have taken.