Sunday, March 19, 2006

The false dichotomy of protection

Via South by Southwest attendees and panelists give middlemen the middle digit.
There are these industries of middlemen - RIAA, MPAA - that claim to "protect artists" but what they're really protecting is themselves. Artists (and I include myself in that word) need to rise up and tell these people to go get stuffed. We can decide when a mashup is perfectly fine with us. We can decide to embrace file traders to build awareness of our work. We don't need you anymore. You're just holding us back.

After all, when we allow these industry groups to frame the debate about the internet and file trading as artists versus pirates, it's a false dichotomy. No one in that angry audience in Austin wants to dupe a movie to sell it on the street. That's piracy. We just want to put movies on our hard drives and iPods, share our mix CDs with each other (just like we used to do with tapes), and mash that funny video with that cool song to produce something new, something we'll give away for free.

The whole popularity of the MySpace/CDBaby market structure, as well as music recommendation/streaming radio services such as, Pandora or Yahoo!Launch Music, is testimony to the divergence from the model the RIAA is so desperately trying to protect. And as labels merge and catalogue gets pulled, artists and listeners are forced to utilize alternative means to locate the music they want.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Last night, I attended cellist Matt Haimovitz's first concert in a series of three, entitled Goulasch! The series' overarching theme is the exploration in various forms of the music of (and related to, in differing ways) Béla Bartók. Last night, Bartók was manifest as composer (the Romanian Dances and Rhapsodie No. 1, both arranged for four cellos - Haimovitz and three of his students, aka Uccello - by Luna Pearl Woolf), aspiring folklorist/ethnomusicologist (the improvisations and songs of Turkish folk Ensemble Constantinople), and guiding figure for Ligeti (Sonata for Solo Cello). Also performed were Tod Machover's Dadaji in Paradise, and Led Zeppelin's Kashmir. The performance was one continuous set, bridged by the soundscapes of DJ Olive.

It was an impressive effort. Haimovitz is a true virtuoso - he has terrific command of the instrument, fantastic intonation, control of extended technique, and most importantly, phenomenal musicianship. He was obviously engaged in his playing, head bobbing, hair flying, egging on Olive and his students. He is a surprisingly strong improviser, as evidenced by the opening variations on the Turkish folksongs Bartók recorded. Interacting with both Olive and Constantinople, Haimovitz demonstrated his capacity for matching and/or complementing sounds on a whim. I was reminded of violinist Mark Feldman - although Feldman has substantially more background and experience in improvising (especially that of jazz improvising). I wished to hear more interaction between Olive and the rest of the musicians - his soundscapes were magnificently "illbient," and his samples well-chosen, but I know his improvising work with Billy Martin and Dave Douglas and wanted to hear him contribute a little bit more. As well, I know that at least one of Haimovitz's students in Uccello, Judith Manger, is a solid improviser in her own right and it would have been intriguing if Haimovitz had gotten his students involved in that aspect of the concert as well. The coda of "Kashmir" had this air of collective fun, with cellos being slapped percussively and DJ Olive even scratching vinyl laughter towards the end.

There seems to be a new wave of young McGill professors (Haimovitz, Shawn Mativetsky) injecting a dose of open-mindedness, inventiveness, and engagement into the conservatory proceedings. Too often in music schools, concerts get bogged down in their own artistic pretensions and somewhat repetitive or predictable programming. The audience, too, needs to be thrown a few curveballs. The concert was held on the unfinished seventh floor of the new music building (quite possibly the only concert that will ever be held there, as it's slated to house offices when McGill finds the money for completion), and while waiting in line for the elevator I heard the requisite bad jokes about "Hey, we must be going to a rave; there's a DJ!" The producer from CBC noted that this might be the first time a turntablist has been involved in one of these concerts. So much the better. I'm graduating this year, so I won't get to experience much of the future progress, but I do know that the performance department is finally starting to give improvisation its due credit (promoting the Contemporary Improvisation Ensemble, supporting improvising master classes). I hope that in the near future they will embrace the new aesthetics of chamber music and bring up Alarm Will Sound or Vijay Iyer's collaborations with Mike Ladd.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

You would rather have a Lexus or justice?

Last weekend, I went to see Dave Chappelle's Block Party. I'm not a hip-hop aficionado, but I'm a fan of the Roots (who serve as the house band for the majority of the concert), Mos Def, Common, and Jill Scott (who's a fantastic singer, and a phenomenal presence live). Erykah Badu and Talib Kweli are not among my favourites, but I like them. The only group I didn't know on the roster was Dead Prez, and I have to say the only Kanye West I know is "Gold Digger." Add in a Fugees reunion and Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) directing, and it's a very promising film.

Gondry doesn't approach the Block Party like a hip-hop The Last Waltz; he constructs a story out of the preparations leading up to the concert, interspersed with the relevant parts of the concert. The performers become the protagonists of a story about community. The casualty of this structure are complete performances - if memory serves the only unfaded, complete performance is Dead Prez's "It's Bigger Than Hip-Hop." However, this interview with Gondry reveals that much of the 8-hour concert is to be included in the DVD. I hope the record companies can get their act together and clear the Fugees' participation (due to licensing red tape, they're not on the soundtrack).

Also, my jazzhead side was proud of the scene where Chappelle rambles through "Round Midnight" on a Salvation Army Rhodes, and encourages all up-and-coming comics and musicians to study to the work of Thelonious Monk. "Off time, and perfectly on time."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Strings program and post-mortem

The Indigone Trio + Strings recital was a resounding success. Thanks to Irwin Block for promoting the show in the Gazette (we were a Best Bet of the week, along with Eddie Palmieri and Chet Doxas). Of the three recitals I've done during my time at McGill, I think this one was the best, and not necessarily just in terms of execution, but in channeling and focussing the talents of the core trio (myself, Alex and Liam) into a bigger project. What follows is the program that was handed out at the recital, for those who couldn't be there. Andrew Mullin bravely recorded the recital - I should have a mix back shortly, and the highlights will go up on MySpace.

We endeavor to play music without fear - energetic, inventive, alive and awake. Beautiful and crazy. – Geoffrey Keezer

Side A

Visions (Stevie Wonder, arr. Ryshpan) – An underrated song with a sentiment that rings far too true, thirty-odd years after Stevie penned it. May we be fortunate enough to realize such a vision in our own lifetimes? It’s looking like we’ll still have to grab our wings and fly away. DRR

Erghen Diado (Petar Lyondev, arr. Ryshpan) – All instrumentalists attempt to recreate the power and immediacy of the human voice. Transcribed from the first volume of Le mystere des voix bulgares (a Bulgarian women’s radio choir), this piece’s beauty lies in its deceptive simplicity. It sounds far more intricate than it actually is. DRR

Love Is the Reason (Alex Mallett) – For Lina. AM

Smacked (David Ryshpan) – The only complete original piece of music I wrote out at Banff in the summer of 2005. Whether the catalyst for creativity was Dave Douglas’ sage advice or avian interference (or a combination of the two), we’ll never know. Credit is due to bassist/composer Michael Bates, who came up with integral arrangement ideas, as well as jokes at my expense. DRR

Side B
Piece for Open Strings (Alex Mallett) – I wrote this as an exploration of the natural beauty of stringed instruments. I was interested in what could be created with the instruments’ barest potential. AM

Agua (Djavan, arr. Ryshpan) – Another Banff colleague, pianist/composer Kerry Politzer, turned me onto this Brazilian singer-songwriter. When I first heard this song, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I’m also a firm believer in the superstition of water guiding your entire life, should you be born in rain. That is to say, most major events in my life have been marked by precipitation in some way. It hasn’t failed me yet. DRR

Shahgely (trad. Egyptian, arr. Ryshpan) – A truly multicultural experience; an Egyptian melody learned in the Rocky Mountains from a Torontonian ex-pat living in Copenhagen. This melody is always a blast to play, and the arrangement is an extension of what developed rather organically at Banff. It’s a souvenir of the door of musical perception that swung wide open. Thanks to Graig Earle and Dylan van der Schyff. DRR

Throughout (Bill Frisell, arr. Ryshpan) – In tribute to a fallen comrade. This piece has had a recurring presence over the past year, and represents the cycles of life and of acceptance. In French, undergraduate and graduate studies are referred to as cycles; and as one cycle ends, another one commences. I can’t think of a more fitting conclusion to the concert. I dedicate this specifically to Chris Driscoll, but additionally to all those who, in their absence, continue to influence and inspire us. DRR

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before. – Leonard Bernstein