Friday, August 29, 2008

More on the cuts

Peter Hum of the Ottawa Citizen on how Canadian jazz musicians have been affected by the PromArt cuts.

The funding cuts have opened the whole can of worms on whether government funding for the arts should exist at all or whether the market will bear the support of art. One letter-writer to the Gazette seems to think that the free market will support worthy artists and that those of us who apply for grants are a bunch of mooches. (L. Ian MacDonald's article tries to temper Harper's machete-wielding with the fact that a Conservative government created the CBC - never mind the fact that their orchestra has been cancelled and that Brave New Waves is a thing of the past.) I've submitted a letter to the contrary: no point sharing it here, just read my last post.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Your life may mean nothing if it's only been spoon-fed

The big cultural news in Canada is that our wonderful Conservative government has axed two major arts funding initiatives. The first, PromArt, is (was) a $4.7-million fund to promote Canadian artists abroad. It's now being revoked, partly because past recipients have included Holy Fuck, former CBC journalist Avi Lewis and Tal Bachman (son of Randy). A week later, cuts to film and video funding were announced as well. Depending on who you talk to, as many as five arts funding programs have been cut, and/or future cuts by Harper's government may come to a total of $48.5 million.

These funding cuts hit very close to home, given my involvement with the Montreal Biennale. Two major partners with the Biennale have suffered greatly from these announcements: the SAT will lose up to 25% of its budget, and INIS' is set back nearly $900,000. The organizers behind the Biennale have been frantically scrambling to cobble together alternate sources of funding so that the event can go off in May 2009 without any hitches. Needless to say, Harper's cuts have thrown a major monkey wrench into the proceedings. Claudio Marzano assures me that the silver lining in all this is that the Biennale team has arrived at the "big picture" earlier than expected and are pleased with what is in store over the next few months. However, the two aforementioned organizations aren't just partners with the Biennale: the SAT is a key venue in the city for all sorts of forward-thinking multimedia projects, including the MUTEK festival; and the INIS has long been a training ground and immensely valuable asset to the health of Québécois (and Canadian) cinema and television.

There was a protest/conference this morning at the SAT, with many luminaries of the Montreal arts scene including the Biennale's Claude Gosselin, Spectra's André Menard, Walter Boudreau from the SMCQ, and Michel G. Desjardins from INIS. Estimates have the audience around 3000 - and the SAT was packed. Sure, it got political, with anti-Conservative and pro-sovereignist strains abounding -- Boudreau even riffed on the cuts being similar to Hitler's Final Solution. And while there were many sentiments that I agreed with, I'm not sure that the more "radical" testimonies did anything to sway those that think artists are a bunch of lazy parasites on hard-earned tax dollars, and that the market will support the best art. I was happy to see representatives from the business and administration community, to temper some of the flaming lefty artist statements.

It should be abundantly clear that arts and culture are the lifeblood of civilization, and I agreed most with the business representative (whose name I forget) who said that the promotion of arts, culture and tolerance is Canada's trademark to the world which must be promulgated and protected. Another panelist gave the figure that culture accounts for 8% of Canada's GDP. I know that the majority of Quebec and Ontario tourism money comes from cultural events - festivals and the like. To quote yet another panelist, at a time when many European countries, as well as Australia, are dumping money into cultural exchange programs, Harper's massive cuts place him in stark contrast with the rest of the cultural world. Yes, Harper and his crew are eminently out of touch with the role culture plays in Canada, especially Quebec, and abroad. But it must be made clear to those who share Harper's views that artists are not merely leeches on the government system. It is funding from organizations like PromArt and training from INIS that allow Canada to be a player on the world's cultural stage. Federal arts funding is no place for censorship - grants are awarded by panels who evaluate all eligible and qualified candidates. If an expletive in a band name doesn't ruffle the adjudicators' feathers, then it shouldn't make any difference to the government or the general public.

I will readily stay out of politics if Harper and his cronies keep their noses, and their budget scissors, away from deserving artists and organizations. Until then, it is essential that us artists band together the way we did this morning. I wish interdisciplinary artist unity occurred more often and under better circumstances. At any rate, nous vaincrons!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Turn and face the strain

Bloody hell. Muxtape is down, courtesy of the friendly folks at the RIAA. Just another installment of old media having jumped the shark and scared out of its wits by new media.

Muxtape was a service that allowed users to post 12-track mixes for anyone to listen to - a digital version of the mixtape or a low-tech podcast, however you want to view it. Andrew Durkin of IJG did it. Scott C did it. I never used it, but appreciated the idea of it. Sure, it's copyright infringement - but so were making mixtapes back in the day, taping tunes off the radio or LPs. And how many people, after hearing something on someone's m(i/u)xtape, moseyed over to the record store or to iTunes and put down cold hard cash? Or better yet, went to go see the artist live?

Why the RIAA continues to get its panties in a twist over file-sharing astounds me: it has minimal effect on sales. It's a fallacious claim, assuming that all downloads are of artists that the downloader would have otherwise bought. I've heard tons of new, or at least new-to-me, music over services like Muxtape and Pandora that I never would have purchased beforehand. I've also downloaded tunes to learn for auditions or gigs, which fall under fair use (educational). And what of sites that post long out-of-print gems that are unlikely to ever be reissued? Perfect example: in the golden days when Pandora existed in Canada, the first station I created was Maria Schneider radio. One of the first few related tracks to pop up was track one of Anthony Braxton's Creative Orchestra Music 1976. I'd have never thought to check out that record otherwise, and now I'm willing to shell out big bucks for the upcoming Mosaic set because I heard that music over ye olde interwebz.

And what of artists like Durkin who were using Muxtape to extol the virtues of their own art in the context of a mix? And what if Professor Gann had posted a Muxtape of post-minimalism - his advocacy of "new music" brings composers to my inbox that I'd never hear of. And if a muxtape, or a web radio station, or a blog leads to commissions and gigs, what does the RIAA have to say to that?

RIP Jerry Wexler

Via James Hale, I read that the third member of the Atlantic Records triumvirate, Jerry Wexler, has passed at the age of 91.

His tombstone will read "He Changed the World." (He once stated he'd like it to read "More Bass.") And far from being hyperbole, he was truly responsible, along with the brothers Ertegun, for unleashing some of the most influential music - if the list stopped at Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin it would be enough - upon the public. Additionally, he gave engineer extraordinaire Tom Dowd the chance to showcase his craft and bring in cutting-edge technology to the Atlantic studios. Dowd mentored an engineer/producer named Phil Ramone. It all comes back to Wexler.

With the death of Wexler, joining the Ertegun brothers, we have lost a rare breed: a record label executive with big ears. Even though he was not a musician himself, he had cultivated his tastes and was willing to take chances on artists he believed in. Anybody who is still on the business side of the music industry should tip their hat to Wexler - he is the standard by which I wish they all were measured.

Save vs. Death
Owen Adams (The Guardian)
Nick Hornby

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Good things come to those who wait

8 CDs worth of good things, in fact. Via WFMU (via Destination: Out), Mosaic is putting together a box of Anthony Braxton's Arista Years, for release in October.

What made his output at Arista (1974-80) so unique was the range of projects he was able to realize thanks to the supportive budgets of a major label. This 8-CD set rescues his entire 13-LP Arista output from forgotten vaults. From live and studio recordings with his quartet (with Kenny Wheeler or George Lewis, Dave Holland and Barry Altschul) to solo alto excursions to a duet with Muhal Richard Abrams to Creative Orchestra Music to trios with Roscoe Mitchell/Joseph Jarman and Henry Threadgill/Douglas Ewart to his thoroughly composed pieces for two pianos and for four orchestras, Braxton explored every aspect of modern music through his own creative vision with astonishing results.The 13 LPs are:
Arista AL-4032 New York, Fall 1974 - 1 LP
Arista AL-4064 Five Pieces, 1975 - 1 LP
Arista AL-4080 Creative Orchestra Music 1976 - 1 LP
Arista AL-4101 Duets 1976 - 1 LP
Arista AB-4181 For Trio - 1 LP
Arista AL-5002 The Montreux/Berlin concerts - 2 LPs
Arista A2L-8602 Alto Saxophone Improvisation 1979 - 2 LPs
Arista A3L-8900 For Four Orchestras - 3 LPs
Arista AL-9559 For Two Pianos - 1 LP

About damn time!

Monday, August 11, 2008

This is ourselves

It's been an arts-community filled weekend for me. Saturday night was Indyish's second anniversary, an occasion calling for a "Mega" installment of their Monthly Messes. Mega it was, with 60 performers and artists contributing to the marathon interdisciplinary evening. Before going any further, Indyish is a Montreal-based independent artists network and cyber-boutique. Co-founder Risa Dickens has a great post on the impetus behind it. I know people who have been involved with them for a long time, though I'm a more recent disciple. What they're doing, and what Risa hints at in her post, is very important in the current arts climate.

First up was author Jeff Gandell who read an excerpt from his autobiographical novel dealing with jellyfish stings in sensitive regions while in Florida. In true Al Gore fashion, the reading was enhanced by a deftly programmed slide show. He was followed by Tribal Ethereal Dancers, an idiosyncratic belly-dance troupe. I made their acquaintance a couple of months ago at the last Indyish marathon mess, co-produced by the Fringe Festival and Suoni Per Il Popolo, with the Sun Ra Arkestra jam. Anybody who can improvise belly-dancing to Ra's "Carefree" scores major points in my book. They performed two pieces to pre-recorded music this time, but it was just as stunning as their improvised work.

Next up was my friend Elizabeth Bruce, now transplanted to Ottawa. The last time I saw her was one of her first gigs at The Yellow Door, and her confidence has grown by leaps and bounds. She only performed four songs but they were really strong. Her self-accompaniment was fairly intricate at times too, matching well with Melody MacIver on drums and violin.

Fellow CKUT-er Paul Neudorf got a Bravo!FACT grant to produce a short video called "Refractions." Equally inspired by dance, the warehouses of St-Henri, Rainer Maria Rilke and Isaac Newton, the screening was preceded by a gang of improvisers, including the film's composer Gabriel Dharmoo, interacting with two dancers including the film's "star," Jonathan Turcotte. Both the live set and the film are stunning. I stuck it out for a couple of songs from local rockers Magnetic Hill, mashed up with half of the country band Orillia Opry, but fatigue won out. I really wanted to see ex-Dear Patrick Krief and his new band, Black Diamond Bay, collaborate with the female avant-choral institution of Choeur Maha. Alas. I'm sure video will be up on Indyish soon.

Sunday was the 13th edition of Under Pressure. I've blogged the last two years in greater detail, as I didn't have my camera on Sunday and not much is different in terms of what I think of the festival (short hand: it rocks). The b-boy/b-girl battle was changed to an individual battle instead of a crew battle like in years past, and while it improved the sightlines of the cipher, it created a fiasco in the final round when dancers got out of order. Big ups to all the organizers and all the DJs, as usual.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Keep your eyes open

There's way too many posts about stolen instruments. It always sucks to write them and read them. After rocking Osheaga, Iggy Pop & the Stooges had their entire truck jacked from outside their hotel. Read it and weep...


all equipment was in a rented penske 15 foot yellow truck with u.s. (michigan) license plate number AC46493 and the theft had to have happened in the morning, between 6:30 and 7:30 am. there's a web page at: that will soon have pictures and updates to more stuff found missing (DRR edit: pictures are now up, check the page for the full list - it's unfortunately very, very long).

if anyone has information, ANY INFORMATION! please, please, PLEASE as soon as possible contact Eric Fischer at:
cell phone: +1 646 932 1907