Archive for January, 2010

Last week the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opened its exhibition on “The Drawings of Bronzino,” showcasing the work of a man who may just be the best painter nobody cares about.

Agnolo Bronzino was one of the leading painters and poets of sixteenth-century Italy.  But during this time Italian art and culture were dominated by the Mannerist school — and Mannerism is unquestionably the Jan Brady of European Art.  It’s not as naturally beautiful, or let’s face it, well-proportioned as its older sister Marcia “Renaissance” Brady.  And it’s also not as direct or emotional as its younger sister Cindy “Baroque” Brady.  Stuck in between these two celebrated periods, it languishes in obscurity…an overlooked middle child.

Detail from Parmigianino's "Diane and Acteon."

But there are reasons to celebrate Mannerist artists like Bronzino.  Mannerism is more playful, fanciful, and really more inventive, than Renaissance art.  Some time in the mid-sixteenth century, artists in Italy grew weary of constantly focusing on faithful, proportioned reproductions of nature.  And so they started to play around a bit.  They showcased their skills by distorting nature… maybe by elongating an arm or a neck… maybe by cramming in so much detail into a painting that the eye could hardly take it all in.

Bronzino's "Head of a Smiling Young Woman."

Long relegated to Jan status, Mannerism is making a comeback.  The New Yorker’s Peter Schjeldahl says creative culture is full of Mannerists today, concerned with “art about art, and style for style’s sake.”  Schjeldahl even finds similarities between Bronzino’s poetry and the satire of “The Daily Show,” in how both take “glee in the absurdities of inescapable conditions” and force “despairing cynicism to a pitch of wholesome revelry.”

The Da Vincis, the Donatellos…they’ve had their day.  It’s time to give Jan Brady her due!

– Michael Guerriero

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Colombia has a very wide range of musical styles, reflecting the country’s strong regional cultures and diverse roots – African, indigenous, and European.  It’s similar to Brazil, and that shows in the music.  But I think many of us are more conscious of the richness of Brazilian music.  Here are some listening suggestions for Colombians artists and styles mentioned in my story this week.

Aterciopelados are that very special combination of a creative and original yet extremely popular group.  The band has become political and social advocates.  The title song on Río, the most recent cd, refers to the very polluted Bogotá River; the band has promoted a clean water referendum.  (But there’s also a lightness to Aterciopelados’ lyrics – as singer Andrea Echeverri points out, “río” is also a form of the verb for “to smile.”)  “Canción Protesta” – Protest Song – was reworked for an Amnesty International-UN project as “The Price of Silence,” with new multilingual lyrics.  Here’s the video, recorded at the UN General Assembly hall.  Note that Andrea is very pregnant with her second child!

Amnesty International / The Price of Silence video:

Check out two additional videos: here and here.

Here are more listening and general links for Colombian artists:

Bomba Estéreo mixes cumbia rhythms with lots of sampling and mixing – and also a serious rock attitude.  They’re part of a very creative stable of artists recording for the indie label Polen, in Bogotá.  Nacional Records has picked up the most recent cd, Blow Up, to break the band in North America. [video]


Carlos Vives is the former soap opera sweetheart who was inspired by a role he played to explore the roots of Colombia’s accordion-driven vallenato music, and in so doing so really raised urban audience’s awareness and respect for the music.

First he made a cd, Clasicos de la Provincia, covering traditional vallenato classics.  With the help of producer Ivan Benavides, he followed up with a more contemporary take on vallenato, Tierra de Olvido.  The title cut was a huge hit, and he’s made several more hybrid records. [video, video]


Ivan Benavides also led Bloque, a band that didn’t make it into the final version of our story as things got whittled down. But Bloque is a critic’s choice as probably the first Colombian band of its generation to organically mix rock and roots.


Benavides and British DJ Richard Blair are Sidestepper, maybe the first group to effectively blend electronica with any Latin music.

Sidestepper has been enormously influential on younger artists in Colombia including Bomba Estéreo, and has influenced the popular cumbia DJ scene in Buenos Aires, known as Zizek. [video]


Pernett is a talented young Polen label artist originally from Barranquilla.  Like Bomba Estéreo, they mix cumbia and the African-inflected champeta with modern beats. [video]


Sol Okarina is a fine young artist whose lovely cd Sumergible, also on Polen, blends champeta and other styles with indie pop. [video]


Choc Quib Town is a highly acclaimed Afro-Colombian band that’s a little more rap-oriented, but also blending traditional styles and rhythms into their music.  Oro was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2009 and is being released in the US in February. [video]


Toto La Momposina features traditional music from many regions in her music.


Another stream of musical hybridism in Colombian music blends jazz and traditional music. This collection from the (sadly defunct) Chonta records is an excellent starting point for further explorations in new Colombian music.


Finally, here are a few good cds for exploring more traditional and old-school Colombian music:

Cumbia Cumbia compilations, Volumes 1 & 2 – classic tracks from the golden age of dance band cumbia in Colombia, in the 1950s and 60s.

Si Soy Llanero: Joropo Music from the Orinoco Plains, released by Smithsonian Folkways.

Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto: This group is carrying the torch for the most traditional form of cumbia, played on the long-tubed vertical gaita flutes with percussion. A good example is their cd, Un Fuego de Sangre Pura.


And I’ve only scratched the surface here!  If you’d like further recommendations, or have questions, thoughts, corrections, or suggestions – post a comment below.  Or you can also contact me directly.

– Rob Weisberg

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Valentine’s Day is just two weeks away – and we’re hoping that 2010 can be the year of the new-and-improved Valentine.  We’re thrilled that so many talented folks have submitted their ideas to “Be My Valentine: A Studio 360 Design Challenge.”

And doesn’t a competition merit a celebrity judge?  One who is familiar with the trials and triumphs of modern love?

We’re pleased to announce that best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat, Pray, Love fame, will review your entries and decide which Valentine makeover she [hearts] most. We’ve wrangled her for judging duties while on tour for her new book: Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage. She’ll pick her fave listener design and tell us what it’s like to have Julia Roberts act out her life story. (The movie version of E,P,L comes out in August.)

Be sure to submit your redesigned Valentines by midnight Sunday February 7.

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It’s Friday night, and I’m sweating on the dance floor. Am I at some chic nightclub? Not exactly. Instead of a techno beat, the sounds of fiddles, guitars, recorder, dulcimer, and banjo hang in the air.

Okay, I confess: I love Contra dancing. It’s a rowdy mix of square and line dancing. The constant swapping of partners means you get to meet everyone. The swinging reminds me of the controlled (and uncontrolled) spinning I did as a kid. And nothing else can put a spring in your step like a good jig.

And recently, I’ve upped the ante, getting into English Country Dance — think Netherfield Ball in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Back then, everyone knew the steps to each dance by just hearing the names of the songs or the first few bars of music. These days, a caller gives you instructions as you’re dancing.

In Austen’s time, these dances reinforced rigid hierarchical structure. The top couple was usually the most prominent and richest in the town, and a woman had to wait demurely for a gentleman to ask her to the dance floor. Today, not only do women ask women and men to dance, women can freely dance the male roles. The modern Lizzie Bennet never has to sit one out.

If you’re in New York, Country Dance New York hosts an American Contra Dance this Saturday at 8 pm and an English Country Dance on Tuesday at 7 pm. And maybe I’ll see you on the dance floor!

– Jess Jiang

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Last week, singer-songwriter Zee Avi brought her ukulele by the studio. From what we’ve been hearing from listeners, she has a bunch of new fans since the broadcast – including me.

Hearing her play the uke took me back. I can picture the one we had lying around our house and I remember how my school-age fingers found those fat strings much friendlier than the sharp metal ones on the guitar. It’s cool to hear Zee Avi making grown-up music on that instrument.

I recently discovered some other musicians who make cool, grown-up music on a “kid” instrument too. Their choice: the recorder. Remember the recorder? That whistling torture device employed by children nationwide.

I never really got anywhere with mine. But I was thrilled to find Tim Eriksen playing “Carol of the Birds.” Like Zee Avi, he does something special with the instrument + YouTube. In his case, it’s playing all four parts of the piece of music and using a split screen to form his one-man quartet. Neato!

– Cary Barbor

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Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship
By Gail Caldwell

With a million bromance movies exploring male friendships (usually at the expense of the shrewy women who stand in the way), Let’s Take the Long Way Home is refreshing. The memoir by former Boston Globe book critic Gail Caldwell sketches her quiet, funny, intimate friendship with fellow-writer Caroline Knapp until Knapp’s death in 2002.

– Cary Barbor

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Ready to unleash your inner rock star? We want you to help bring a fictional rock band to life. This week, Kurt talked with author and MTV big wig Bill Flanagan. His new novel Evening’s Empire tells the rollicking story of The Ravons, an imaginary British rock band from the sixties. In the book Flanagan wrote lyrics for an original Ravons song, but we need you to compose the music! Click below to hear Bill Flanagan reading the lyrics.

Again, we just need you to supply the tune—The Ravons’ lyrics are below:

He’s at war with all the hypocrites
He’s at war with the sexually repressed misfits
He’s at war with the bullies of physically fit
He’s at war with the ones who always quit.

He’s at war with the military parasites
He’s at war with their quaint historical sites
He’s at war with the forces of permanent night
He’s at war with the perfumed hermaphrodites.

End refrain:

He’s at war with them all
He’s at war with them all

(repeated, according to Flanagan, “like the pulse of a toothache”)

Here’s how to submit your song:

1. Compose your original music to the lyrics above and record a video performance of your song (this needn’t be MTV quality).
2. Upload your video to YouTube.
3. Visit the Studio 360 YouTune YouTube group and click on “Join This Group.”
4. After you’ve joined, click “Topics.”
5. Scross down and click “Add New Topic.”
6. Paste in the URL for your video, and then click “Add Topic.”

If you have any questions about submitting your video, email us at studio360@wnyc.org.

For clues to The Ravon’s musical vibe, check out Kurt’s entire conversation with Bill Flanagan here.

The deadline for entries is MARCH 1, 2010. Our favorite song will be featured on a future Studio 360 episode. Good luck!

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Indie-pop’s next big hit could be in Manglish.

That’s the blend of Malay and English singer-songwriter Zee Avi favors for her song “Kantoi.” The YouTube sensation visited Studio 360 recently and she performed the song live for us.


Zee Avi explained that “Kantoi” means “busted.” And the song is all about love gone bad.  But if you don’t speak Malay (and I don’t), you only get half the story. Maybe she’s telling us that in this romance, there are some things that are better left said in Malay?  Zee Avi likes to play with her audience’s expectations: she strums bright, joyful chords even as her lyrics reveal “I’ve always known that your words were never true” but that “she was cheating too.”

Listen to Kurt’s conversation with Zee Avi here:

[AUDIO= http://audio.wnyc.org/studio/studio012210f.mp3%5D

– Michael Guerriero

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Haitian flag (veniatregnum.wordpress.com)

The human tragedy in Haiti is overwhelming, and it’s hard to know what we can do from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Here’s one thing…

January 20 through 25, New York’s City Winery (155 Varick Street) is holding a series of four emergency benefit concerts featuring an impressive line-up of musicians including some familiar to Studio 360: Patti Smith, The Swell Season, Rosanne Cash, and Yo La Tengo. Other artists slated to perform include Carolina Chocolate Drops, Lewis BlackJoshua Bell, and many more.

One-hundred percent of the proceeds will go to Doctors Without Borders, Partners In Health, and the Jewish Renaissance Medical Center. City Winery says its goal is to raise $100,000 by next week. Concert details and links to buy tickets can be found here.

– Jess Jiang

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Last weekend Kurt interviewed Owen Pallett, a violinist who makes indie-electro-classical-pop, either as a one-man band or with a live orchestra.  This weekend, one of Brooklyn’s coolest clubs hosted Miracles of Modern Science, who play violin, cello, mandolin, and double bass, and cite Tears for Fears as their main influence.  Last year, we had Bell Orchestre, Canadian indie-rockers who make big, full-bodied instrumental compositions that have just about nothing to do with indie rock.

These bands aren’t music-school nerds – they’re the cutting edge, and the smart money says “crossover” is no longer a dirty word.  Who would have thought that instead of helping to kill chamber music, rock might save it?

The unsung heroes of this movement are The Ordinaires.  How unsung?  Dude, they don’t even have a Wikipedia page.  They were a nine-piece, gender-balanced group of strings, guitar, saxes, and drums that played instrumental songs in the smelly little clubs that tolerated the new-music scene of the 1980s.

>>Listen to them HERE<<

Rock bands had dabbled in classical music, and chamber groups had covered classic rock.  The thing with The Ordinaires is you didn’t know what they were: rock band assaying chamber music?  Conservatory kids slumming?  They didn’t always stay in tune, but they were a thing all their own, and they found a liminal ground that another generation is just now getting around to exploring.  And P.S.: their “Kashmir” [see arty-doofy video] puts Kronos Quartet’s “Purple Haze” to shame.

– David Krasnow

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