Archive for December, 2009

This weekend, Studio 360 broadcasts its special time travel show, recorded in front of a live audience at WNYC’s Jerome L. Greene Performance Space.  And with this decade coming to an end, it seems like a good opportunity to revisit some of the events and trends from the 2000’s that we’ll always remember.



If this decade were a color, it would be green.  And while it wasn’t always so easy being green – for every Segway on the road, there was a gas-guzzling Hummer – at least the seeds were planted.  Designers managed to rethink everything from our water bottles to our grocery bags.  And among architects, there was no one more ambitious than William McDonough, who spoke to Kurt in 2008.



Since the near collapse of the economy, seemingly everything has been about downsizing.  But newspapers were shrinking even earlier.  Things have been so bad for print journalism that nearly 150 papers folded this year alone (and I don’t mean along the center of the page).  The Wall Street Journal managed to stay afloat (thanks, Rupert Murdoch) but still underwent some major design changes this decade.  In 2007, “Studio 360” assessed its new look.



In early 2004, right around the time President Bush announced his plan to eventually send Americans to Mars, two robotic explorers touched down on the Red Planet.  The Mars Exploration Rovers came equipped with cameras and cruise ship-like names (Spirit and Opportunity).  Gathering energy through solar panels, they lasted longer than anyone expected.  This segment aired during the summer of ’07 when the cousin Rover, Phoenix, was about to launch.  It would soon find traces of water ice on the Martian surface.  But as we reported, the trip was worth it for the photos.



This was the decade when, thanks to that screen you’re staring at right now, you reconnected with all those people you hated in high school and learned to think 140-character thoughts.  Back in 2004, we heard from a sort of online dating coach helping e-romantics make themselves more e-appealing.


You can revisit the past on your own by visiting the archives page at studio360.org.  As for what the next decade will bring, stay tuned to find out.

– Jordan Sayle

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As the New Year closes in and we all take a little time for reflection, I can’t help but wonder what I’ll be doing at the close of the next decade — and the next, and the next…  I get solace and inspiration from a “Studio 360” episode from last February which featured several older  folks who are still productive, or had even started something new later in life.

The two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Elliott Carter blew me away with his keen insights and artistic vitality at 100 years-young. Not only did he complete a composition to celebrate his historic birthday at Carnegie Hall, but it was just one of 16 other pieces he’s completed in the last two years.

I was especially taken by the residents of the Lillian Booth Home for retired entertainers who were working on a production of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” I am a huge fan of Beckett and was wowed that resident Adene O’Kelly had actually met, worked and laughed with the great writer (who was not known for his sense of humor). Actors Alex Reed and Bill Story were rehearsing “Godot,” and I sympathized with their attention and dedication to his every word.

(Quick aside: when I went to see this year’s Broadway revival of “Godot,” starring Bill Irwin and Nathan Lane, I brought a script to make sure they didn’t add so much as an extra “What?” – they did pretty well but for an exchange at the bottom of the first act).

Ultimately, Kurt’s old boss Gene Shalit had the words to help bolster us through the New Year:

“Keep your sense of humor, keep your enthusiasm… Enthusiasm in life is the secret to good life.”


– Susie Karlowski

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With the new decade fast-approaching, I can’t help but think about reinvention. Studio 360 has done several segments that take dusty old ideas and wipe them clean with poetry. Recycling them into verse can reveal surprises. Here are some of my favorites.

Susan B.A. Somers-Willet created poems based on the impoverished mothers of Troy, Michigan. I especially liked the found poem born out of a visit to the Office of Temporary Assistance:


Listeners share original haiku inspired by the financial crisis:


Poet Ruth Padel transforms her great-great-grandfather Charles Darwin’s life into verse:


Here’s to your own personal reinvention in this new decade!

– Jess Jiang

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White Bone Country
Andrew Byrne

Composer Andrew Byrne spends most of his time in the U.S., but White Bone Country is about the ferocious, almost abstract deserts of his native Australia.  The instrumentation of piano and percussion sounds austere, but — played by crack musicians Stephen Gosling and David Shively — the result is a delirious swoon: somehow lush and minimal, soothing and ominous.  And to offer one more opposition — this is contemporary music that’s at once highly approachable and totally uncompromising.

– David Krasnow

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(flickr user pfv)


Studio 360 has had many memorable segments this year, but my favorite has to be from the show that aired the week of Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Are You There, Barack?  It’s Me, Artist” is a quirky, wonderful cross-section of Americans expressing their sincere hopes for (and from) the new president in voice-mail form. A surprisingly stern Mike Daisey tells Obama to bring Bush to task; poet Edwin Torres tells him to find time to write Michelle a poem; performer Iris Bahr wants him to take a nap.

Part I:

Part II:

and Part III:

Recently, Kurt talked to the writer Hilton Als, who was quick to point out that “having a black president is less exciting to people now than complaining about what he hasn’t done. So, he’s old news.” Yet, I still get a little laughing misty when I hear the enthusiasm of Cintra Wilson‘s v-mail gushing over Obama’s “smokin’ hot presidentialityness” and Sarah Jones bringing all of her characters to take part in a pivitol moment in history.

I, for one, would love to take a bit of that joy and hope into 2010 with me.

– Susie Karlowski

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This week, Studio 360 follows the ever-evolving Sherlock Holmes, who jumps off the pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into the modern world as children’s lit’s Encyclopedia Brown and TV’s Dr. House.

To get in the Holmes mood, I listened to hours of the 1940s radio drama, New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. After each episode, I had a hankering for a glass of fine wine, sherry, or port. The culprit? Perhaps it’s the subtle mention of Petri products during each story. Or perhaps it’s because Petri Family Wine sponsored the show each week. Or perhaps it’s the cringe-worthy segues between show and advertisement, like this one:

And after you enjoy that aperitif, listen to this week’s Studio 360 episode on the many reincarnations of Sherlock Holmes:

– Jess Jiang

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At this point, just two days before Christmas, you’re probably waking up at odd hours with “O Little Town of Bethlehem” playing on that radio station inside your head.  Some songs never seem to go away.  And then there are those that really don’t.

This month, “Studio 360” has been featuring some of this year’s 25 selections entered into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.  The Registry was created as part of the 2000 National Recording Preservation Act, which sought to address the steady loss of the country’s audio heritage.  Since 2002, the Library has chosen radio broadcasts, spoken word recordings, and plenty of unforgettable songs that it considers to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” to be set aside for safe keeping.

Library of Congress

The Jefferson Reading Room at the Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

But what determines the selections?  And who?

Well, the answer to the second question is that you do, at least to begin with.  Anyone can nominate up to ten recordings per year.  The submissions are then evaluated by the National Recording Preservation Board and the Librarian of Congress.  The answer to the “what” question is a little more complicated.  A quick scan of the list of selections reveals some no-brainers: what’s a collection of American recordings without Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” or Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech?  But what about “Recordings of Asian Elephants?”  And not one but two versions of “Tom Dooley?”

It’s hard to look at this list and not wonder what some alien species would make of us if these recordings were the only evidence of our civilization left behind.  What would they think of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” or album titles that even we can’t figure out like “Mingus Ah Um?”  They’d also never know that anything postdated Seattle grunge.

Of course, there’s a lot more yet to be added to the Registry.  Every year brings new contenders, but there are also tons of classics from the last century-plus that deserve inclusion as well.  Guess you’ll have to wait your turn, Lady Gaga.

You can listen to our stories behind some of this year’s selections here.

– Jordan Sayle

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It turns out that Fox’s hit musical comedy “Glee” was primetime TV’s gateway drug to a cappella.  NBC’s “The Sing-Off” ended last night.  Kudos to the winners aside (congrats to Nota), if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from a week of this show, it’s that matching fluorescent outfits and coordinated dance moves do no favors to a cappella music.  Distracting, disturbing, and just plain da-da-da-dumb.

I get my a cappella fix from the fantastic Sonos – six singers out of LA who soup up their sound with the sly use of electronic effect pedals.

Hear their killer cover of Björk’s “Joga” live in Studio 360 earlier this year:


And lest you think I’m down on reality-vaudeville shows, I’m counting down the days until the January 28th premiere of “America’s Best Dance Crew #5.”
(Beat Freaks forever!)

– Jenny Lawton

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When I first talked to Phil Kline about his boombox Christmas carol “Unsilent Night” (for a Village Voice article in 2002), I went in assuming that Kline was Jewish. Nothing weird about that, I figured; “White Christmas” is by Irving Berlin. Wrong. Kline was raised by devout Christians in Pennsylvania. Still, he rejected the idea that his piece was religious music.

I disagree with him entirely. There’s no dogma attached, but “Unsilent Night” feels to me more spiritual than some of the self-consciously modern Christian compositions of Sir John Taverner, for example.

"Unsilent Night" in San Francisco, 2008 (courtesy of Laughing Squid)

Now “Unsilent Night” has spread all over the country and overseas as well; there are dozens of performances in December, in small towns (Milledgeville, GA; Traverse City, MI) and large (NY, LA, SF). Studio 360’s Jonathan Mitchell documented one performance a few years ago, and his artistry in weaving the voices of participants with the music does justice to Kline’s piece. If “Unsilent Night” isn’t playing in your town, get your hands on a copy quick; and late on the 24th, crank it up loud enough to drown out the sound of hoofs on your rooftop.

P.S. Kline might not be disavowing his religious bent any more. His most recent recording, one of the highlights of the year, is a mass for six voices, and it’s hardcore New Testament: “John the Revelator.” You can hear a 2008 performance of the work on John Schaefer’s New Sounds.

– David Krasnow

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Did you miss that performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the arts center last month? Or the oboe concerto recital at the concert hall? Well it looks like you weren’t the only one.

Last week, a new report from the National Endowment for the Arts presented a rather grim picture of the state of cultural institutions in the United States. Fewer adults are attending arts events than at any point since the NEA began its polling in 1982. Only 35% of adults reported going to an arts exhibition or performance in the 12-month period ending in May 2008. The survey of 18,000 citizens, conducted in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau, ended six months into the current recession, so economic factors were undoubtedly responsible for some of the declining numbers.

New York Philharmonic -- Richard Termine for The New York Times

Some interesting revelations among the findings:

While attendance at art museums was at a highpoint of 26% of the public in 2002 (when the last report was released), it slipped to 23% in 2008. This was also the first poll in which attendance at jazz and opera concerts decreased significantly: only 7.8% of respondents saw a live jazz concert (down from 10.8%) and 2.1% went to the opera (down from 3.2%). Leisure activities like gardening and exercise are also on a downward trend.

Museum Visitors

Courtesy of Street Phon'ography -- Cambridge, MA

So what are Americans doing with their time? Turns out, reading: for the first time since the NEA started its survey, literary reading habits among 18 to 24-year-olds are up by 9%. And more people are creating art as a hobby with the aid of now-ubiquitous digital and web-based tools: photography and filmmaking is up by 3%.

Maybe one day the NEA will be surveying the use of painting applications on smart phones.

– Jordan Sayle

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