Dancing in your head

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Folks who write about jazz have certain conceits they’re fond of. One is the homology between the way musicians talk or act offstage and the way they play. Often enough it works. But in the case of Ornette Coleman, the brilliant pioneer who’s sketched the main lines of jazz exploration over the past thirty-plus years, it breaks down. Yes, he often speaks in gnomic utterances worth of the Delphic oracle, and he relenthlessly develops this ideas concentrically instead of plotting a linear track–modes of discourse that parallel his prismatic music. But next to his plaintively feverish cries on alto saxophone, his distinctively oddball blats on trumpet and his fingernails-down-the-blackboard attack on the violin, Coleman’s Donald Duckish voice is jarring. And next to the fierce density of his music, which even in its balladic forms shoots off sparks of intensity, his genial personality is a shock. You expect him to breathe fire, but he wants you to enjoy yourself. Just dont mess with his music.

His music, of course, still sets the mainstream on edge, even after his decades on the scene. His sheer endurance; his high profile thanks to influential critics like Martin Williams, Gunther Schuller and Nat Hentoff, who embraced his revolutionarey forays early on; and his consequent ability to attract both enlightened record company execs like Atlantic’s Nesuhi Ertegun and patrons here and in Europe have made him impossible to ignore, even for people who wish he’d never materialized. So it happens that every few years he lands a slot in the conservative JVC Jazz Festival in New York, as he did this year.

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Part of the reason Coleman’s ongoing revolution makes people uncomfortable is precisely that it’s ongoing. At 61 he remains remarkably unwilling to sit where he, or anyone else, has sat before. Instead, he’s been in near-constant motion since the early 1950s, when his quarter–trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins (later Ed Blackwell)–broke out of what had become jazz’s prisonhouse of language: the recurrent cycle of chords, basic to the thirty-two-bar song form that is acquired by using Tin Pan Alley material as the launch pad for its flights of improvisation. Coleman, a kind of left-wing Charlie Parker disciple, insisted on the primacy of melodic freedom. His tunes, which then as now tended to turn on bluesy boppish figures or near-nursery rhymes, were designed to be open, so that the musicians could modulate–from key to key, chord to chord, rhythm to rhythm–when the need struck them. As Gary Giddins has observed, he also blurred the background/foreground distinction of post-Louis Armstrong jazz, which pits the solist against the rest of the band. In a sort of skewed Dixieland revival, he’s freed everybody to blow.

The notion was put even more severely to the test in the early 1970s, when Ornette went electric and incorporated funk, African and Eastern ideas into his music on classic albums like Dancing in Your Head (A&M). Prime Time, as he’s called his shifting lineups since, alienated many of his early supporters. They understood Ornette’s intelligible if idiosyncratic language as spoken in a modified jazz format, but, to their ears, it got inaudible and hostile once the volume got turned up and the dialects within multiplied. Harmolodics is what Coleman calls his kaleidoscopically hybridized idiom: the collapse of harmony, melody and time in a kind of post-Einsteinian universe. No element is dominant; each is developed simultaneously by the individual voices within the band. This democratic model dares musical anarchy as it flirts with dangerous and expansive energies.

Coleman himself explains it this way: “Bebop deals with only one solo at a time. Even Dixieland, although it’s similar to harmolodics, still deals with one solo at a time, because it’s using the same device [the chord sequence] to play the way they’re playing. Whereas in harmolodics someone might be playing minor, someone else augmented, someone else major–all at the same time. It’s closer to folk music and church music, where anybody can make a contribution to the emotional part of it. Technically, it means transforming the four basics of music–harmony, melody, rhythm and unison–into your own voice. In addition, it means that you can transpose any chord or melody or change and still maintain the original (compositional) design by modulating to any sound that you hear from that design.”

Coleman’s refusal to let himself, his bands or his audiences lapse into stasis is illustrated by a characteristic irony of his last appearance at the JVC Festival in 1987, at Town Hall. He had just released an astonishing double album, Ornette Coleman in All Languages (Caravan of Dreams). One disc featured the 1950s acoustic quartet, the other his then-current edition of Prime Time. It was a neat joke, and a typical comment on hierarchy and linearity, when he opened with Prime Time, forcing antis to sit through (or walk out of) the slashing electric set before getting to what they’d come to see.

From that vantage point, the contrast between Coleman and Miles Davis is revealing. In terms of his influence on the vanguards of the past thirty years, Miles is one of Ornette’s few peers. At times they’ve worked similar lines: twenty-odd years ago, for eample, both moved into exploring electronics and rock, funk and African beats.

But though he’s made jagged leaps into the new since, Miles has seemed to pull back from the brink, the logical if outre extension of where his ideas were taking him, once he upset nearly everyone with On the Corner (Columbia) in 1972. That percussion-foregrounded firestorm, mixed like a hard-rock record, still registers as a key influence for many on the so-called downtown New York scene. (Both Miles and Ornette, along with John Coltrane, have also had an enormous impact on seminal rockers like the Yardbirds, the Byrds, the Grateful Dead, the Velvet Underground and Television.)

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But Miles didn’t follow it out. The boiling jazz-rock fusion he’d pushed into on Bitches Brew (Columbia) and subsequent albums was, thanks to its popularity among rock-raised listeners, tranformed into a commercial seedbed. Out of it came the repettious reams of radio-ready but musically pointless noodling that dominate the industry sales charts and clog the airwaves. More disappointing, Miles’s own takes on his music have also become largely codified. His disheartening appearance at this year’s JVC found him coasting through Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” which have been the unrearranged, crowd-pleasing staples of his sets since the 1985 album You’re Under Arrest (Columbia).

Ornette’s set at Carnegie Hall eight nights later demonstrated the distance between the two giants. Fronting an energetic septet that included self-taught Pakistani percussion master Badal Roy, a former Miles sideman, and Dave Bryants, the leader’s first keyboard player in decades, Coleman and his cohort shook up even the older tunes they plaed–despite problems with the hall’s sound system and mix. “Bourgeois Boogie,” from his most recent album, Virgin Beauty (Epic), which had surprised most listeners with its relatively airy gentleness, grew more raucous. Then there was the way he had Chris Rosenberg pick up a nylon-string guitar and play what sounded like an adaptation of a Villa-Lobos piece (there were no program notes). After a couple of rounds, Prime Time piled in and blew it apart via simultaneous lines of improvisation.

That explosion demonstrates Coleman’s incisive understanding of jazz’s peculiarly American dialectic–something he’s underscored before with drastic reformulations like “The Fifth of Beethoven” on The Art of the Improvisers (Atlantic). First is the relation between the role of composition and the role of improvisation–the tension that’s jazz’s hearbeat. Second, like every important figure in the music from Jelly Roll Morton on, Coleman has sought his own way to reconcile the corollary pull between the individual, whose need to shape a unique voice out of the past’s shards is a jazz axiom, and the group, whose ability and need to interact in spontaneity and support the individual are necessary if the music is going to make internal sense.

Those tensions draw fine lines jazzers have had to learn to walk. In the European classical tradition, for instance, what had been an improviser’s art in the days of Bach and Mozart and even, more rarely, as late as Chopin, shriveled into modes of interpretation, as the professional musician, the written score and the post-Beethoven invention, the conductor, asserted increasing, then near-total, authority over music making. Along with the disappearance of the amateur musician and the appearance of the phonograph, this made music a passive activity for ita audience. Even Wynton Marsalis–viewed as the champion of so-called classical norms in jazz–balks at duplicating in jazz the historical process that has enervated so much contemporary classical music and locked its producers into writing largely for one another and for grants. As Marsalis told me, “The purely intellectual approach, which was designed for the aristocracy in European music, has helped to destroy the classical-music audience. The thing about jazz that really sets it apart from other art forms is that you have that type of intellectualism combined with the communal type of feeling that African music has.”

The collection of musical idioms we label “jazz” has only one common element–improvisation. So jazz can only go the purely interpretive route if it’s willing to die. Instead, it has sought to reconcile its apparently contradictory pulls–composition and improvisation, the individual and the group, the past and the present. In the process, it has proliferated a vast number of dialects. That breadth helps mark jazzers as avatars of a quintessential American figure, the self-inventor.

That’s not the same as saying that jazz musicians are untrained–something Coleman, for instance, has been accused of for decades. But it does mean their relationship to the cultural past hasn’t been circumscribed by hierarchical values. (Duke Ellington’s famous line, “There are only two kinds of music: good and bad,” underlines that.) Recently, however, many observers, like the neobop revivalists being touted in the mainstream press, have called for more “classical” training for jazzers. Now, jazz musicians have been training themselves since the music’s beginnings, by studying their predecessors and one another. It’s how they create themselves. It’s how they’ve pushed the musical envelope–on instrumental technique and sonic properties, for instance–far beyond anything imagined or allowed in the European classical world. And on a technical level, there’s no difference, say, in harmonic theory from one type of music to the next–the notes stay the same. So the call for standards is misleading and not a little condescending.

What I mean by self-invention derives from this country’s history and mythology: It’s the place people come to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. America’s cultural development, sometimes to its detrment, sometimes to its advantage, has followed these same lines. Following an inevitable period of European imitators, Charles Ives and James Reese Europe forged idioms derived from American materials and folkways. But their brand of classical music was ironically derailed by the prewar influx of European refugees. As composer/conductor Maurice Peress has observed, the emigres took over the cultural establishment here and turned it back to Europe-gazing. That twist has left arts combines like Lincoln Center with unresolved conundrums about their relationship to the culture around them–conundrums that show in the programming.

But while imported cultured commissars like Theodor Adorno were abhorring what they found here, what you could call the left wing of American classical music went underground and reinvented itself. Hence the barbaric yawps of joyful noise-makers like Harry Partch. Partch, a typical American eccentric, decided that post-Bach European scales were inadequate for his conceptions, so he simply discarded them in favor of a forty-three-note system of jsut intonation he based on ancient Greek and medieval theorists. Naturally, he also had to invent instruments to play the music and a notation system so musicians could duplicate performances. So he did. The sometimes eerie, often hilarious and always infectious results were beautifully realized during May’s Bang on a Can festival in New York, where Partch’s The Wayward was performed. Discarding ideas about “high” and “low” culture, Partch took Depressionera hobos as his heroes, and their scrambling lot as his plot. The staging at the Circle in the Square rightly bypassed the proscenium-arch division between audience and stage. All told, the production showed why Partch became a major influence on other composers and, via disciples like John Cage, on the broad conceptual frames of American art.

While classical music is usually thought of–wrongly–as a monolithic European import, movies, like jazz, are often cited as a quintessentially American art. After all, D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton idiosyncratically mapped out the idiom’s methods of communicating, while the Marx Brothers, for instance, were hard at play subverting structure itself. But Hollywood in the 1930s, like “high” culture centers, fell prey to prey to recolonization: European directors and actors flocked to Tinseltown for political freedom, safety, bigger bucks. Still, a writer-director like Preston Sturges could ironically turn an imported giant, Ernst Lubitsch, on his head by injecting unarguably American set pieces like the Ale and Quail Club into a Lubitsch homage, The Palm Beach Story. And then there’s Orson Welles, who got hooked on celluloid by accident, ransacked an ad hoc film grammar assembled for him by an RKO editor, then upended everything from cinematography to mise en scene with his first effort, Citizen Kane.

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So maybe it’s not surprising if American self-inventors like Partch and Welles share important techniques (like the lapping voices that fragment narrative structures out of the guise of omniscience, the aggressive emphasis on disjunction that allows the audience–indeed, forces it–to participate in the activity of the artist) with Ornette Coleman, who taught himself composition and theory while working as a houseboy and elevator operator. There’s a strong Romantic or idealist strain common to revolutionary American autodidacts. Partch, for example, emphasized music’s physicality, with its natural roots and role in human life–attributes he considered lost. His homemade instruments were attempts to retrieve that immediacy. Likewise, Welles complained to biographer Barbara Leaming, “You have to hate the best rangefinder and regard it as a detestable machine because it should be doing better than what it can do….I have this terrible sense that a film is dead–that it’s a piece of film in a machine that will be run off and shown to people.” According to Coleman, “I was so in tune to music that I picked up my first saxophone as soon as I assembled it and played the same as I’m playing today–only I didn’t know music, I was just hearing music. Which made me believe that every human being has some of that quality to do just that. There’s a natural instinct that tells people how to do things even before they learn the skills of how to apply them.” Which is exactly the premise garage bands and punk rockers act on.

Seen in this context, the emphasis of today’s young hard-bop revivalists on standards, both in their selection of tunes and formats and in their insistence on a timeless hierarchy of values, simply underscores their Reagan-era conservatism. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong in playing bebop: It’s one of jazz’s many available dialects, and its journey from the fringes to the mainstream hasn’t invalidated its beauties. But the emphasis on pedigree–certain figures “in the tradition” are canonized as sources of all that’s good–is unsettling and self-destructive. No less sacrosanct a figure than Louis Armstrong, after all, famously dismissed bop as “Chinese music,” and the Dixieland revivalists who counter-attacked bop’s exploratory weays used arguments that recur when Wynton Marsalis wannabes put down music “outside the tradition“–as if jazz, that continuing accretion of languages, had a neat, univocal history.

That attitude is actually a reach for moral authority. It recalls how critics like Yvor Winters and F.R. Leavis codified literary tradition along narrow and intolerantly proscriptive lines. Ironically, such ideological baggage weighs on its carriers, pushes them to replicate the past’s voices rather than using them to discover their own. Ironic too is the fact that the heroes of the so-called tradition, from Satchmo to Duke to Bird, would not have understood such a nostalgic stance. They wanted to make their own music to speak to the times and beyond.

Which brings us back to Ornette Coleman: “I think music should have meaning for people first of all, and secondly, it should have a quality of you that people can appreciate. The naturalness of music, of sounds, is basic to human expression. When I was young, I didn’t understand that music came in sets of categories–music for babies, music for teenagers, music for old people, music for black people, music for white people. I thought it was all just music. We in the Western world suffer from too many categories and classes; we’ve forgotten that we all still have diapers on. We’ve separated music from life.”

>>> View more: BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY: ADVANCES; Rock Stars Are Going Cordless

BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY: ADVANCES; Rock Stars Are Going Cordless

LEAD: THERE are few things more disconcerting to the professional guitar player than twisting and shouting on stage only to find that the cord that feeds the sound from guitar to amplifier either has been yanked out or entwined with the cord of another band member. Well, such cords are very difficult to find, thus being valuable and should be stored carefully (like you should keep your guns safe in the best gun safe).

THERE are few things more disconcerting to the professional guitar player than twisting and shouting on stage only to find that the cord that feeds the sound from guitar to amplifier either has been yanked out or entwined with the cord of another band member.

But thanks to a new wireless transmitter, guitar players – from rock-and-rollers such as Bruce Springsteen to country-and-western musicians backing up Dolly Parton – are finding not only that they are no longer tethered to their amplifiers by a black coaxial cable, but are also free to wander on and off stage while playing.

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–> Related article: Rik Emmett’s guitar picks

”It is the latest craze to be mobile on stage,” said Brad Gillis, lead guitar player for the rock group Night Ranger. ”And we like to move around a lot,” he said speaking of his five-member group.

While the technology for wireless sound systems has its roots in walkie-talkies, the portable radios first used in World War II, it took a series of innovations in the last 10 years to make ”going cordless” the latest fad among musicians.

Most of the improvements are based on advances in semiconductor technology, which have given the 35 or so companies in the wireless systems business the means to improve performance, reduce component size and cut costs. Wireless systems now sell for as little as $100 for consumer or amateur uses. Professional systems, many of them produced by companies that also make wireless microphones used in churches and television talks shows, can cost as much as $2,400.

One key advance, which enhanced performance, is the development of audio companders. Companders eliminate the noise from signals in nearby channels that can interfere with radio transmissions. The compander compresses the audio information during transmission and expands it in the receiver. The process works much like noise-reduction companders in Dolby and DBX tape recorders.

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”Masking the noise of radio waves with companding is really what paved the way for wireless,” said Royce Krilanovich, advertising director of Nady Systems Inc. of Oakland, Calif. The company sells about 1,000 systems a year and dominates the top end of the market. Mr. Krilanovich said that early systems capable of producing enough volume to satisfy musicians had been plagued by heavy interference.

Another development that gave musicians the freedom to roam with confidence was diversity reception. Until recently, when a musician wandered behind a concrete pillar or a metal object such as a drum set or lighting equipment, he or she stood a chance of having the radio signal deflected in the wrong direction. This phenomenon is known as multipath dropout.

Diversity reception solves that problem by using two antennas and two receiver sections, which operate independently of each other. A computer chip selects the strongest signal for processing. The weaker signal, which would be lost behind a pillar, is rejected.

Some musicians unwilling to pay for full-scale diversity reception use modified systems in which the receiver combines any signals received by the antennas rather than picking out the strongest.

A performer’s wireless system is basically a small radio broadcasting system with an average effective range of up to 250 feet. Typically, a two-antenna receiver sits atop a musician’s amplifier and is powered either by a battery or an AC plug. The transmitter package (the size of a pack of cigarettes) on the guitar or other instrument contains a microphone, a transmitter and an antenna. It plugs into the instrument’s jack where the amplifier cord is normally inserted. The power pack, which has a 9-volt battery, is usually attached to the guitar strap.

A liquid crystal display, like those on stereo systems and portable radios, lights up on the front of the guitar body when the system is on and dims as the battery’s power fades.

One trend, for those who can afford it, is to switch to guitars with built-in transmitters. Mr. Gillis’s brother, an electronics technician, hollowed out the back of the rock star’s Fender Stratocaster and mounted a transmitter inside the guitar seven years ago. Now, musicians lacking access to such expert help can turn to such companies as Nady Systems that sell wireless electric guitars and basses, complete with transmitter and receiver, for $1,200, or custom guitar makers, such as Hamer USA, which will make them to order.

Like any radio transmitter, cordless guitars and other wireless instruments fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission, which sets limits on the frequencies they can use. There are about 20 channels that operate between 150 and 216 megahertz. That tends to limit the number of musicians using wireless systems on one stage. Too many systems can create a situation called cross-talk, in which the signal from one instrument ends up in another musician’s amplifier.

Musicians also have to watch out for interference from television stations operating on nearby channels. A routine check is done before most concerts. While freedom of movement is the most obvious attraction of the cordless instruments, musicians and guitar manufacturers note that there are other advantages they are just beginning to explore. For one, wireless systems eliminate the clutter on stage that came with cords and allow bands more flexibility in the placement of amplifiers and monitors, That encourages innovations in staging.

By Stephen Phillips

Guitar player presents celebrity charity auctions on ebay

Guitar Player is proud to announce an online charity auction event featuring autographed guitars donated by top manufacturers at the 2004 Winter NAMM show. The charity auction event will take place on eBay, and all proceeds will be donated to charities chosen by the artist who signed the instrument.

The Guitar Player auctions go live on April 15th. To place your bid, log on to www.ebay.com/musicalinstruments and select the “Guitar Player Charity Auction” icon. Once you’ve placed your bid, check out the great deals on thousands of other guitars and instruments available on eBay, and visit the new Backstage Lounge, where you’ll find all sorts of helpful content–such as Buyer’s Guides, Star Setups, and a Glossary–provided by Guitar Player, Boss Player, Keyboard, EQ, and Backbeat Books. Your participation is greatly appreciated!

ARTIST: STEVE LUKATHER

Steve Lukather is a founding member of Toto, and one of the most recorded session guitarists of all time. Lukather’s latest solo effort. Santamental [Bop City], is a batch of Christmas chesnuts released in fall of 2003.

Instrument: Ernie Ban/Music Man “Luke” Signature Model A lightweight alder body, rosewood fretboard, and a slim maple neck-with a contour specified by Luke himself!–make this guitar ultra-comfortable to play. Other features include active EMG electronics. Schaller locking tuners, and a Piezo bridge with solid steel saddles.

Charity: The Casey Lee Ball Foundation benefits pediatric kidney research and has raised more than four million dollars. The annual Casey Lee Ball Golf Classic is now in its tenth year, and an increasing number of artists continue to join the cause.

ARTIST: GEORGE LYNCH

George Lynch’s career took flight with the seminal ’80s metal band, Dokken. By the end of the decade, he was calling the shots with his own outfit, the Lynch Mob, and doing solo work. Lynch’s latest release is a collaboration with Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson called Wicked Underground [Spitfire]. www.georgelynch.com

Instrument: ESP LTD GL-600MT ESP produces a range of George Lynch signature models, and the tiger-striped LTD GL-600MT is a replica of one of Lynch’s most recognizable guitars. Features include a maple/maple neck, an original Floyd Rose locking tremolo, and a single Seymour Duncan TB-12 humbucker. www.espguitars.com

Charity: Little Kids Rock Launched in 1996, Little Kids Rock provides free music classes and musical instruments to children in public elementary schools. Its broad popular music curriculum reflects the diverse cultural backgrounds of participating students, who also compose, perform, and record their own music. www.littlekidsrock.com

ARTIST: SLAYER

Slayer cast the mold for speed metal when guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman began tearing up stages together more than 20 years ago, mad 2001’s God Hates Us All proved that the testosterone level remains the same. In 2003 the band celebrated its anniversary with the release of their box set, Soundtrack to the Apocalypse. www.americanrecordings.com/slayer

Instrument: Schecter Diamond Series S-1 Jager CTM

One of only 50 built, this is a custom Jagermeister Music Tour edition of Schecter’s Diamond S-1 guitar, which was signed by all members of Slayer in 2003. It features the Jagermeister logo on the instrument’s mahogany body, and the company’s name is inlayed beautifully on the rosewood fingerboard. www.schecterguitars.com

Charity: Guitars 4 Kids The newly-launched Guitars 4 Kids charity is committed to raising funds for St Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Located in Memphis, Tennessee, St. Jude’s is one of the world’s premier centers for research and treatment of catastrophic diseases in children, primarily pediatric cancers. www.guitars4kids.com

ARTIST: KAKI KING Kaki King is a hot commodity in the acoustic guitar community, and she has been featured in bath Frets and Guitar Player. Kaki made a breakthrough last year with her homespun finger style and finger-slapping debut, Everybody Loves You [Velour]. She toured constantly and built up enough of a buzz to ink a deal with Epic records. www.kakiking.com

Instrument: Ovation CC057-5 Celebrity 6 String Acoustic/Electric An onboard preamp with 3-band EQ, a super shallow cutaway body type, and a built-in tuner make this acoustic a perfect fit for the stage. Well, according to me, his guitar was the best acoustic guitar at that time, especially famous for its beautiful sounds. A spruce top, walnut bridge, and rosewood fingerboard contribute to a beautiful tone. www.ovationguitars.com

Charity: The Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation is New England’s only guide dog school, committed to helping bring increased freedom to the visually impaired. Graduates of Fidelco’s pioneering “In Community” program learn to work with their dogs in their own hometowns, allowing them to remain with their families and at their jobs while training. www.fidelco.org

ARTIST: CHELSEA CONSTABLE

A native of Kingsport, TN, Chelsea is barely a teenager, but the prodigious shredder has already graced the legendary Ryman Auditorium stage in Nashville alongside one of her biggest influences, Steve Morse. She was featured in the Nov. ’02 issue of Guitar Player, and opened the Guitar Player party at Winter NAMM 2004. http//www.peavey.com/artists/browse. cfm/action/info/artist/158/constable.cfm

Instrument: Peavey EVH Wolfgang Special The EVH (Edward Van Halen) Wolfgang Special is beautiful to behold and to play. It features an amber-colored quilt top, special EVH-designed humbuckers, and a patented D-Tuna on the bottom string of the Peavey/Ployd Rose double locking tremolo system that makes drop tuning as simple as turning a knob.

Haneke, ink: the auteur in the academy

Four books, comprising more than twelve hundred pages of reflections on the films and thoughts of Michael Haneke, lie askew on the desk in front of me. Peeking from their covers, yellow Post-it Notes run up and down the volumes’ sides. A quick perusal of the margins reveals penciled notes in my own hand: exclamation points, question marks, sometimes question marks followed by exclamation points. Many considered but, yes, some testy, scribbled comments abound. Clearly, Haneke Studies has ballooned into a minor publishing industry, and anyone wishing to take stock of it has to be willing to commit time and energy comparable to what they may previously have devoted to the lives and works of Orson Welles, Jean Renoir, or Sergei Eisenstein. What should one make of the stunning recent proliferation of academic texts devoted to this Austrian director, whose thirty-plus years of making European “art cinema” has developed over a period when that model was steadily receding from the forefront of the worldwide university discipline of Cinema Studies? (1) And what, if anything, do the diverse approaches to Haneke’s films by his professorial acolytes say about the practice of film criticism today?

For the moment, at least, Haneke’s reputation seems to have reached its apogee. He is one of the last representatives of the great era of German-language art cinema, which began in the mid-1960s, and which entered its death throes after Fassbinder’s drug-induced demise thirty years ago, before, perhaps, breathing its last once Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire hit global movie screens in 1987. Few filmmakers from that explosive, formative era of “Das Neue Kino,” in fact, still command much attention outside the borders of Germany except in German Literature or Film Studies departments. Alexander Kluge has been hors commerce as a filmmaker for a quarter century. Volker Schlondorff has remained content to work rather anonymously at the artier margins of commercial filmmaking for nearly as long. Though once regarded with great promise, Reinhard Hauff, Hans-Jurgen Syberberg, Helke Sander, Edgar Reitz, and Dorris Dorrie have largely disappeared from international view, while today, certainly, only small American movie audiences still eagerly await new work by Wenders, Margarethe von Trotta, or Jean-Marie Straub. Currently, no other contemporary filmmaker of German or Austrian origin–with the notable exception of Werner Herzog–has a claim equal to Haneke’s august stature as an auteur. Haneke’s career is, as Roy Grundmann aptly characterizes it, “anachronistic”: it is a throwback to another age and paradigm of making movies.

In some ways, Haneke was fortunate in being a latecomer. Prior to 1989, he had worked for Austrian and German television, although often at a relatively lavish scale, just as the competition for new viewers heated up in the late 1970s, when pan-European, satellite commercial channels with substantial programming budgets were first introduced in those countries. His own initial efforts for the big screen began only when the New German Cinema was entering its terminal phase, yet Haneke somehow managed to surmount the formidable difficulties bedeviling subsequent European filmmaking that have stymied the careers of many of his peers. Indeed, he has thrived. A surprising number of Haneke’s last half-dozen films, regularly financed by the now inevitable public-private consortiums from several different European countries, have earned him critical as well as box-office successes in world markets. Clearly, his work continues to generate interest in reasonably large audiences who still seek out his brand of “art cinema” as a meaningful vehicle of edifying entertainment.

Art cinema was always distinguished by its passionate commitment to formal innovation and scripts that pronounced on the grandest sorts of ideas. Haneke’s films certainly qualify on both counts. To be sure, Roy Grundmann, Peter Brunette, and Thomas Elsaesser, among the most searching of Haneke’s commentators, do intermittently express a certain ambivalence toward the well-worn themes of his films. After all, Haneke’s signature concern at the beginning of his career–the failures of human relationships in cold, modern urban societies where the ability to communicate has (supposedly) radically atrophied–has been a staple of sociological concerns since the late nineteenth-century publication of Ferdinand Tonnies’s famous tract, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschafi (Society and Community). For most of the contributors in the sixty-six chapters contained in these books under review, however, such a theme does not seem hackneyed at all, but rather the very stuff of which exquisite art cinema cauchemars are made.

It is also true, of course, that Haneke’s themes have developed and matured, especially since what might be thought of as his middle-period films of the 1990s onward. Haneke’s later themes have never achieved the loftiness of Antonioni’s riffs on existential alienation or Bergman’s grappling with the fact of human cruelty, the loss of religious faith, and the inevitability of death. Instead, they echo some of today’s headlines even as they hark back to now classic, neo-Marxist expositions of the dangers posed by the mass media. Going back at least as far as Guy Debord and the Situationists in the 1960s, contemporary media-saturated environments have regularly been charged with derealizing experience in general, diminishing social interactions as well as desensitizing viewers to the violence that inevitably bursts forth under such conditions for the legions of sad, addled watchers addicted to mass-produced TV programs and films. And, in another vein, many European intellectuals have lamented the ways in which their societies have failed to live up to universalist ideals by closing off to “Others” from both outside and inside their cultural borders. Haneke, a former philosophy student, has repeatedly emphasized these themes in his interviews and occasional writings. He has also dramatized them in films like Code Unknown (2000) or Cache (2005), and they clearly have resonated with European and American academics who share his concerns and have read many of the same formative books Haneke has. The result has been an enviable amount of gratifying attention from anxious, generally left-leaning cultural observers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Haneke’s exponents, moreover, find much to praise in his coolly cerebral explorations of film form. His achievements in this regard have also matured, grown more assured since his first television films, though certain fundamental strategies have remained cornerstones of his style from its beginnings. As many of the essayists in these volumes correctly suggest, Haneke’s stylistic embrace of fragmentation, difficulty, and ambiguity is correctly labeled “modernist”–yet another way in which his orientation is, in Grundmann’s phrase, anachronistic in a postmodern age. The episodic, elliptical narratives of early films like The Seventh Continent (1989) or 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), and even the less radical, but still open-ended plot of his most recent success, The White Ribbon (2009), have garnered for Haneke waves of critical applause that fanned out from Germany through the agency of European and international festivals, principally Cannes, where he has been awarded several of the major prizes. The physical brutality meted out to innocent haute-bourgeois victims during the agonizing long takes of the first, German version of Funny Games (1997) underscored Haneke’s mastery of camera movement, raise en scene, and his astute direction of actors (a skill that receives remarkably little attention in these texts under review), even as it highlighted his clear taste for provoking controversy, indeed outrage, from some spectators. (Consider but one of his shockingly flamboyant, though highly calculated, remarks expressing his intent “to rape the spectator into autonomy.” Indeed.) Many reviewers have also followed Haneke’s lead when in interviews he described the way he has tried to fashion his films as quasimusical orchestrations of varied patterns of shots, objects, and actions–since the 1920s a dream of avant-garde filmmakers and the critics who have applauded them.

Importantly, however, Haneke does not conceive of his formal innovations as mere exercises of art for art’s sake. He conceives of his narratives as relevant allegories of current historical, social, and political concerns, and of his techniques as crucial vehicles to convey them. For example, the studied ambiguity of mediated and “real” images in Cache–explored by Tom Levin in his brilliant essay for Grundmann’s anthology, and by Rosalind Gait and Patrick Crowley in their contributions to the Price/Rhodes collection-artfully meditates on a long-suppressed episode of the wanton murder in 1961 of hundreds of Algerian protesters by French police in the heart of Paris itself. These studied allusions, articulated through such striking means, have burnished Haneke’s leftish political credentials by making plain his longstanding engagement both with neo-Adornoesque media critiques and the fight for multicultural values in a rapidly changing Europe. (2) Such efforts have secured for Haneke a well-cultivated persona as a modernist avatar and the legitimate heir to the great, politically engaged, European art cinema directors before him. His shock of white hair and beard have only enhanced this well-honed image.

No one can question the largeness of ambition animating Haneke’s achievements, and the considerable diversity of perspectives on his oeuvre is evident in these volumes. Roy Grundmann’s edited anthology is extravagantly rich in this respect: it includes no less than twenty-nine critical essays, as well as two interesting texts by Haneke himself translated into English for the first time; a reprint of Christopher Sharrett’s oft-cited interview with the filmmaker; and a new, ranging conversation with Haneke by the editor. Most of the essays were first presented as talks at a Boston University conference in 2007, although their length and the density of the articles’ many footnotes indicate that they have been substantially beefed up for publication (at a rather beefy, price, too).

Although more modestly scaled (and bearing a much lower price tag), the Price-Rhodes collection encompasses fifteen essays addressing a variety of thematic issues, including the lethal violence that suddenly erupts into the stories of so many Haneke films. The texts also offer more general considerations of his cinematic style and his films’ place in the changing philosophical discourses of contemporary Europe. Both anthologies contain welcome information about and analyses of Haneke’s earliest forays into television drama, which have rarely been seen abroad since they were broadcast in the countries that commissioned them. The two individually authored books provide shorter but more comprehensive surveys of the best-known Haneke films. These monographic texts supplement their authors’ more specialized articles in the anthologies. The two book-length accounts of Haneke’s career differ in a crucial respect. Despite its careful attention to pertinent theoretical issues raised by the films, the late Peter Brunette’s compact study seems geared more toward undergraduates, while graduate students and faculty who read German will be better able to negotiate the convolutions of Rutgers University professor Fatima Naqvi’s sophisticated, more theoretically inflected prose.

Even simply listing the various approaches to Haneke’s work contained in these volumes would take up the bulk of the space allotted to me for this review. I therefore can do no more than to briefly mention Roy Grundmann’s fifty-page essay “Haneke’s Anachronism,” which provides a searching overview of Haneke’s directorial career and perceptively frames many of the topics pursued by contributors to his anthology,. Grundmann’s equally long reflections on Haneke’s modernism, “Between Adorno and Lyotard: Michael Haneke’s Aesthetic of Fragmentation,” also can only be referenced here rather than explored in the depth it deserves. Together, certainly, these two texts constitute a virtual stand-alone monograph that explores the theory and formal dimensions, the scope and possible interpretations, of Haneke’s work. For those interested in Haneke’s ongoing projects, these essays will constitute a foundation for much further discussion and debate.

Interdisciplinarity, it seems, is the watchword governing all the approaches to Haneke’s cinema gathered in these books. For many–though certainly not all–authors, it is not enough, apparently, to look closely at the interrelationships of the images and sounds, the edits and camera movements, the raise en scene and performances that Haneke uses to construct the narratives he imagines. Some do, of course, and these are, for me, among the most illuminating contributions. For many of the authors, however, analyzing the works themselves is usually only a jumping-off point toward more distant–sometimes very faraway–intellectual horizons. The disciplines such authors refer to are astoundingly diverse: psychoanalysis, sociology, political science, philosophy, literary theory, and film theory. Brian Price and John David Rhodes introduce their anthology by commenting that most of the essays they reproduce “take up the challenge of Haneke’s work” to offer nothing less than “new theories of culture and the image that speak to questions that must be answered by way of philosophy as much as or more than they must be answered by way of film theory.” This is a tack also taken by some of those contributing to Grundmann’s collection. Such an understanding of what writers supposedly have to do to engage with Haneke’s films, however, constitutes a tall order to fill and bears risks. Stakes are thereby ratcheted up to a pitch encountered infrequently in film writing. A large degree of intellectual showmanship, admittedly not unfamiliar in academic venues, inevitably comes with the territory. The need to locate in Haneke’s pronouncements and his films supposedly decisive insights into philosophical matters (ontological, epistemological, moral, etc.), or into questions of cultural identity conflicts, however, too often leads to claims that strain credibility. The writers tend to overestimate both the quality or importance of individual works as well as their own command of highly specialized disciplines that they import to bolster Haneke’s (and, one suspects, their own) statures. At their worst, these essays should remind us that hagiography is always a lurking danger in academic auteurist studies. Bloated claims and blowsy writing, something to which quite a number of the philosophers or sociologists manque in these anthologies succumb, is too often the result.

A few of Grundmann’s colleagues add interpretive notes that are sometimes oddly out of key in the chorus of writing about Haneke in the United States. Gregor Thuswaldner, for example, poses Haneke as a religious thinker, a dimension that for quite a while has been grist for the mill of several Austrian theologians turned film commentators, although it has not been previously acknowledged very much byAmerican writers. Thuswaldner discourses at length about Jansenism, the seventeenth-century Catholic sect whose philosophical tenets were important to Robert Bresson, whom Haneke claims as a major influence on his work. As his essay continues, however, Thuswaldner backtracks to undermine his own hypothesis. He correctly notes that in Haneke’s world, “organized religion seems like a relic from the past … whose presence is more embarrassing than comforting.” As he also observes, in 71 Fragments the primary Christian symbol of the cross appears as a mere doodle. And one would be hard put, certainly, to find any God references or religious sentiments infiltrating the icy amorality of Funny Games or La Pianiste (2001), although one might argue that something masquerading as religious conviction does reappear in The White Ribbon. A kind of intellectual inertia is at work here that transforms the paucity of such reflections in Haneke’s films into a concerted meditation on faith. Aside from some characters, who are sometimes relatively minor ones at that, and Haneke’s limited, rather rote deployment of Christian symbols, he does not really seem interested in religious belief per se, as were, say, Bresson, Bergman, or Dreyer. Moral issues more general than any particular dogma, however, such as the debased values of modern consumer societies, remain a pertinent topic when discussing his work.

Many of Haneke’s commentators attempt to focus on what they understand as these larger moral-cum-political issues. Unfortunately, in order to define them, the authors often force-march readers through bulky discursive material. This is too often a burdensome imposition. Jorg Mettelmann, for example, rehashes some well-known ideas about Brechtian distanciation in order to suggest that Haneke’s filmmaking goal “is to push alienation to an unprecedented degree of otherness.” To flesh out this rather cryptic, vague conclusion, he then devotes no less than eight long pages to an elaborate, shifting account of melodrama that, in passing, includes reflections on: Arundhati Roy’s comments about George W. Bush; Eva Illouz’s sociology of “emotional capitalism”; the way that Freud, Abraham Maslow, and Carl Rogers allegedly “psychologized” life; constructions of the history, politics, and structural dynamics of melodrama by Linda Williams, Elizabeth Anker, and Peter Brooks; Jean-Francois Lyotard’s critique of Niklas Luhmann’s “depersonalized systems theory,” and so on and on. Such a glut of references bludgeons the reader and only blurs the focus of Mettelmann’s argument about Haneke’s quasi-Brechtian critique of melodrama.

A similar intellectual bloat pervades Brian Price’s essay “Bureaucracy and Visual Style,” also in the Grundmann volume. In order to explain the expressive dimensions of eleven tracking shots in one of Haneke’s lesser works, his TV adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Castle (1997), Price spends eight full pages teasing out Claude Lefort’s theory of bureaucracy, which Price punctuates with asides to Max Weber, Richard Sennett, and Deleuze and Guattari (on rhizomatic form, naturally), before winding up with Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe (on the teleological movement of capital). To be sure, Kafka’s novel does evoke–often comically–the frustrations of dealing with institutionalized bureaucracies and the slippery evasiveness of their functionaries. Although Price’s descriptions of the camera movements that follow, lead, and tantalize K. during his struggle to get to the castle are admirably precise, his chewy, at times congested, prose produces a tortured reading of Haneke’s camera movements that are expressive without the elaborate intellectual apparatus Price conjures to explain them.

Another case in point: Alexis Lykidis offers many pages of what is surely an unnecessary history lesson about bourgeoisie/ state relations from the French Revolution onward, no less, in order to discuss French immigration policy in recent decades. The precis of boiler-plate history he lays out is then brought to bear on scenes in Code Unknown and Cache that are quite comprehensible without such a preamble. Self-inflating verbiage posing as philosophical speculation also weighs down his text. In Code Unknown, Lykidis rightly observes, the protagonist Anne (Juliette Binoche) more than once acts out what the film viewer does not initially perceive as a staged, scripted performance. These are gripping scenes, crucial both to the elaboration of Anne’s character and the narrative enigmas of the film. But Lykidis’s further comments about them far overshoot the mark: Haneke, he (ex?)claims, “reveals the role of desire, subjectivity, and projection in the production of knowledge, promoting an epistemological relativism that reminds us of the opacity of social experience.” Such pretentious babble then leads Lykidis to claim that Haneke’s films challenge nothing less than the universalism of European political discourse, its purported values and cosmopolitanism, in order to “reveal the limits of European bourgeois paradigms in explaining contemporary multicultural realities.” These three authors’ flights of pseudosophistication simply smother the films they discuss. I could unfortunately cite too many other examples of similarly overblown claims that plague the reader in other essays from both volumes. In their zeal to make Haneke into a Continental Thinker of the first order, his most zealous “philosophical” acolytes sometimes simply overlook Haneke’s filmmaking knowhow and his passionate interest in the films of his peers.

Simply put, Haneke is an intellectual, yes, but also a cineaste, something immediately apparent in Haneke’s own essay on Robert Bresson, whose late films’ sparse, parametric style clearly influenced the quasi-musical structure of Haneke’s early works. Happily, some of the authors do focus on such issues. Charles Warren offers a stimulating, freewheeling essay that illuminates the ways in which La Pianiste, among other Haneke works, engages in an intertextual dialog with other films and filmmakers. The range is very large indeed: Warren cites individual works by Kiarostami, Tarkovsky, and Robert Altman, among others. Hugh Manon makes similar attempts to locate cinematic sources for some of Haneke’s films. Leland Monk’s careful comparison of the American remake with the original Funny Games usefully highlights the ways Haneke’s project poses fundamental challenges to Hollywood norms. These essays provide thought-provoking touchstones for further thinking.

Other contributors deepen one’s understanding of the cinematic forms Haneke has created by tying careful observations to insightful, neatly argued critical perspectives they bring to bear. Tom Conley closely examines the complicated first tracking shot, lasting more than eight minutes, of Code Unknown. Prefacing his detailed description of the long take with some general remarks about the functioning of codes according to the psychoanalyst Guy Rosolato and the semiologist Roland Barthes, Conley demonstrates how small details and repeat exchanges can be discerned that reveal what may be at stake in this particular instance of what Godard once called the “moral drama of the tracking shot.” Conley, moreover, looks deeply into the set to locate embedded details–the bakery sign, Viennoiserie, for example, or a reference to the early French filmmaker Louis Feuillade–whose allusions or punning language amplifies the theme.

Some may argue that such readings of nearly invisible and arcane minutiae are too forced, but this is not the only time Haneke, like many directors of the French New Wave before him, placed tantalizing thematic clues on shop windows or movie marquees. When Georges exits from the movie theater in Cache, for example, he briefly lingers under the posters, providing time for the viewer to read them for clues directly relevant for his key ambivalence toward Majid, his erstwhile stepbrother who has just committed suicide. Looking closely at the language on the large posters, one can, in fact, make out, from left to right: “La … Education,” “Ma Mere,” “Deux Freres,” and “So! Film?”–a virtual summary, one could say, of what the film is, at least in part, about. A complementary reading of many long takes in Haneke’s films by John David Rhodes reveals the complex theoretical relationship they sustain with Andre Bazin’s theory of cinematic realism, even as they are countered by what Rhodes calls “Haneke’s spectacles of skepticism.” Such essays–and I would add Brigitte Peuker’s essay on Code Unknown that appears in both anthologies–enhance one’s appetite to see the films again.

Peter Brunette’s blow-by-blow plot description of the relatively little seen, two part Lemmings (1979/1981) in Grundmann’s book is very similar to those he provides of the better-known Haneke films in his monograph. His is a more conventional, even old-fashioned, kind of study, but Brunette writes with a clear command of the material and a great admiration for Haneke’s scriptwriting and cinematic skills. He is very attentive to nuances of sound and editing (the resistance to using eye-line matching in The Seventh Continent [1989] is but one example he mentions), the role of close-ups, especially of objects, and Haneke’s predilection for long takes. His plot readings are sensitive and alert to aspects of the characters Haneke creates, and he comments intelligently on the use of media imagery that so often figures in the films, even as he respectfully pokes holes in some of Haneke’s more contradictory or outlandish statements. Brunette is certainly not indifferent to theoretical speculation, but he also knows how to anchor it concretely in the texts it is used to illuminate. Certainly, those seeking a nicely detailed comprehension of what Haneke is about will find this an all too easily raidable source. Brunette does all the work for them. The illustrations are well selected, and they are much sharper than the fuzzy gray images used in both anthologies.

That better reproduction of film stills is possible in film books is clearly evident in Naqvi’s monograph. Published in Austria, Trugersche Vertrautheit (Deceptive Familiarity) displays many sharp, relevant images; an additional eighteen pages taken from Haneke’s shooting scripts provide tantalizing insights into his working practices and suggest how much benefit could be derived from more thorough investigations of such sources. Her chapter on the adaptation of Ingeborg Bachmann’s Three Paths to the Lake is essentially similar to her article in Grundmann’s collection, as is the chapter on La Pianiste, which is virtually identical to the piece on the film in the Price-Rhodes collection attributed to her and Christophe Kone. The English version of the first essay is compromised by an editorial lapse: German passages from, ironically, Benjamin’s theory of translation are not themselves translated, producing some rough going for anyone who does not read German. For those who do, however, Naqvi’s patient and insightful analyses of most of Haneke’s major and some minor films, informed by her consistent engagement with relevant, high theory, will prove a stimulating read.

Haneke is not the first–nor will he be the last–filmmaker to be embraced by academic critics who, unlike daily reviewers, have the ambition, time, and training to attempt to comprehend individual films, or an entire oeuvre for that matter, in larger cultural terms. This is by no means a bad fate for a filmmaker–whatever protestations one sometimes hears from any creative artist disconcerted by such occasionally overbearing consideration. Film arrived very late on the world’s cultural agenda, and, in some ways, those of us devoted to it as an art form of great power and eloquence remain protective of and, yes, often defensive about its stature in the hierarchy of the arts.

But can we agree on the following principles? Criticism that enables readers to see the works more clearly, both the crucial formal decisions the filmmaker has made and the range of interpretations they open up, are valuable and to be welcomed as enhancements of the moviegoing experience. But academics writing to show off their intellectual chops for tenure and promotion committees too often lard their texts with dispiriting displays of irrelevant erudition that only dull insight and dampen the enthusiasm that can generate genuine critical engagement..

Books Reviewed in This Article

A Companion to Michael Haneke Edited by Roy Grundmann. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 638 pp., illus. Hardcover: $204.95.

Michael Haneke by Peter Brunette. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2010. 168 pp., illus. Hardcover: $65.00 and Paperback: $22.00.

On Michael Haneke Edited by Brian Price and John David Rhodes. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2010. 289 pp., illus. Paperback: $29.95.

Trugerische Vertrautheit by Fatima Naqvi, with a foreword by Elfriede Jelinek. Vienna: Synema, 2010. 193 pp., illus. Paperback: EURO 30, available online from office@synema.at.

An interdisciplinary approach to labor markets and wage determination

An understanding of the reality of wage determination and labor markets–apart from collective bargaining–requires, in my view, a conceptual blend of industrial relations and economics. Policy prescriptions to be listened to and to be effective likewise need to proceed from an integration of the two disciplines.

An-interdisciplinary-approach-to-labor-markets-1

Economics must appreciate that wage rates are but one rule of the workplace among a vast array of rules. There are no fixed terms or rates of substitution with other rules, or even with other compensation rules. All terms of employment are not reducible to money. Industrial relations specialists likewise need to recognize, as should economists, how the complex of rules of the workplace is influenced, both in static and dynamic terms, by the contexts of technology, labor and product markets, and political power in the large society–not by conventional labor markets alone.

workplace

The fact is that the mainstream of economics has always qualified and tempered its analysis of wage determination and labor markets by recognizing that special and peculiar features are at work that do not permit the unrestrained application of competitive theory, as applied to other markets. However, the readily observable facts of unemployment and differentials in compensation in the same markets have encouraged, in the past 10 or 15 years particularly, an extensive intellectual effort and considerable ingenuity among micro-economists to find explanations within the framework of economic rationality. These various attempts are not likely to impress industrial relations specialists. The judgment is likely to be that the models are far too esoteric. They apply to few situations, and they will not take us very far toward a general view of labor market and wage behavior. The amendments to microeconomics are not adequate to the magnitude of the gap between the competitive model and reality.

The ‘real world’

I consider three concepts that have their roots in industrial relations and practical experience as essential to an understanding of wage determination and the operation of labor markets. They are not congenial to microeconomic theory.

1. Internal labor markets.

An essential tool is the internal labor market, as distinguished from the conventional or “external” labor market. The BLS monthly household survey reports persons as outside the labor force, as employed, or as unemployed and seeking work during the survey period.

Movement among these categories defines gross changes in employment and unemployment. All these changes constitute movement among enterprises or labor force states. These movements arise in the external labor market, a minute fraction of the complex of movements that take place each day.

  • The internal labor market is an administrative unit in which movements within the unit or with the outside are patterned by formal rules or customs. The unit may involve only some job classifications of an establishment or may halls or multi-plants of a single company. The internal market may be narrow, involving a single enterprise, or be very broad as in the civil service system of governments.
  • Internal labor markets are concerned with such tropics as seniority, seniority districts, retirement policies, hiring and recruitment standards, promotion rules, layoff criteria, absentee policy, health care regulations, equal employment opportunity, and age or handicap discrimination, as well as procedures for dispute resolution over these rules and their consequences for management, employees, and labor organizations.
  • The internal labor market is the unit within which relative wage rates are also determined among job classifications, not among individuals, with the aid of job evaluation or incentive systems or by decisions exercised by management or through collective bargaining. These relative compensation rates are peculiarly the social concerns that are so important in the mainstream of economic thought, as evident in the work of John R. Hicks and others. The internal alignment of rates likewise needs to be related to some external rates, particularly for some job classifications.
  • Internal labor markets and their rules that govern the movement of workers are also the fundamental determinants of the quality of the work force and the training that is acquired over a period of time on the job. Thus, the flexibility of the work force, its adaptability to technical change, to shifts in work processes, to new quality and work standards, and to new products is likely to be mightily influenced by its previous work experience dictated by the rules of the internal market. Clearly also, the adaptability and employability of those exited to the exterior labor market is materially influenced by these internal experiences and training. For ex: in industry of clothing and sewing, the internal labor training is the most important factor to help workers get easily adapt to new technology, such as new kinds of sewing machines (read full sewing machine reviews here) and new materials (silk, cotton, polyester).

movement-of-workers

Microeconomics has recently turned its formal analysis to pensions, to incentives for the work force, to productivity, and other features of internal labor markets. But efficiency is not the only test that a society applies to its labor markets, and particularly to internal markets, which are asked to meet tests of equity, security, equal employment opportunity, and other goals. In brief, I do not believe that micro-economic theory is adequate to provide a useful understanding of internal labor markets and their effects on internal and external movements of labor, on internal wage structures for job classifications in enterprises of size, and for on-the-job training. These are vast areas of labor market experience and wage determination that need to be incorporated in a consolidated industrial relations and economic perspective.

2. Persistent differentials from product market and establishment size.

It is a well established fact that at wage rates or average hourly earnings for a defined job classification, such as maintenance electrician or keypunch operator, show very wide variations in a locality, particularly in a community with a variety of industries. The top wage rates for a job classification are often two or three times the low ones. Differences in fringe benefit programs normally expand on these differences.

Neoclassical economics has sought to live with these large differences by proposing that they are related to the quality of the labor force in the different enterprises; compensating differences in working conditions, safety, distances, and the like; differences in information; and by the fact that there are longer run competitive forces in labor markets tending to eliminate these differences. Experience teaches that this view of wage rate differentials is simply grossly inadeauate to the reality. Granted that some persistent differentials arise from the sources stressed by microeconomics, these are virtually impossible to measure satisfactorily. I regard it necessary to explain, in other than conventional microeconomic terms, the large wage rate and fringe benefit differentials that persist for a given job classification in a locality.

There are at least two sets of persistent and pervasive differentials, somewhat interrelated, that need to be recognized and explained. These differentials are not uniquely the result of collective bargaining, although the differentials may be more formally maintained under collective bargaining. The differentials are related to product market groupings of firms and; within a given product grouping, to the size of the establishment, or in some circumstances to the size of the enterprise. Different competitive conditions in product markets are related to different compensation levels for the job classification in the local labor market.

Economists have deep trouble with the concept of product market differences affecting wages because it appears that enterprises that are assumed to maximize profits are paying unnecessarily high wage rates for the amount and grade of labor required. The analytical soul is redeemed for some economists by explaining that the enterprise is sharing its rents with its employees. The view, derived particularly from business schools and public policy programs, that managers in large enterprises are concerned basically with balancing conflicting constituency interests, rather than simply with maximizing profits, leads to a similar relaxed view as to persistent wage and benefit differentials. Thus, the model of the enterprise is also at stake in the concern with persistent wage differentials.

Forty years ago, I argued that “labor markets do not resemble bourses, auctions, nor lcosed-bid arrangements.” The institutional form of any market influences its performance. It is strange, indeed, that so many contemporary economists have come so late to the simple truth that a labor market is not well depicted as a bourse. In 1980, Robert E. Hall concluded that, “There is no point any longer in pretending that the labor market is an auction market cleared by the observed average hourly wage.” Indeed, there never was any point in so pretending, and industrial relations and its practitioners never did.

3. Bargaining theory.

It is imperative, in my view, to approach wage rate determination equipped with the tools of negotiation and dispute resolution. Bargaining has always been a problem in microeconomics because of the fewness of buyers and sellers, or because of an indeterminancy of results of negotiations, or because of the discipline’s abhorrence of strikes, lockouts, and serious conflict, or because of the consequences of public intervention on market performance.

A number of efforts have been made to reconcile market wage and price determination with bargaining theory. But I do not believe these efforts are regarded as generally useful or satisfactory. There are several assumptions requisite to economic rigor which seem to me to render the theoretical frameworks rather unacceptable in wage rate determination; in my experience, there are typically scores of rules under discussion which are not readily transmuted into money on a fixed basis, and none of the parties to the negotiations is a monolith.

The essence of negotiations and mediation is the shifting alignments within each party. Between two parties, it takes three agreements, one within each side, to reach the third agreement across the bargaining table. This essential view of negotiations is repugnant to microeconomics. Outcomes in negotiations are variable, not prescribed by markets, and the institutional features of the markets do make a difference. Indeed, these institutional features are themselves subject to negotiated change.

IN SUM, an understanding and an adequate explanation of the behavior of labor markets and of wage determination inherently needs to integrate the contributions of economic analysis–and its dedictation to competitive markets–and those of industrial relations with its acceptance of internal markets, persistent differentials in compensation generated by product market differences, and the negotiation process. Serious error and bias are derived from trying to get along with one without the other. Such integration is in keeping with the long-run mainstream of economics. To facilitate this integration, and thus the discourse on labor markets and wage determination, is one of the major intellectual responsibilities of the Industrial Relations Research Association.

I fully recognize that the integration of industrial relations and microeconomics is likely to involve for economics a loss of formal rigor and intellectual beauty. But abstraction and relevance were never so far apart in economics. A sensitivity to industrial relations remains essential to an understanding of and sensible policy prescriptions for labor markets and wage determination.

10 MFA programs that offer a specialty focus

Google the words “MFA creative writing,” and you’ll find plenty of programs offering students the opportunity to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction, nonfiction or poetry. Most programs embrace a similar structure –faculty who work as professional writers lead workshops on craft and literary analysis and guide participants in writing and revising a final manuscript.

But what of those writers who envision their thesis as a comic book? What of those who want to focus on writing about place? And what about those who long to work in science fiction, mystery or romance–genres frowned upon by many traditional programs?

10-MFA-programs-that-offer-a-specialty-focus-1

Fortunately, several MFA programs in creative writing offer a range of degree and focus options. Travelmemoirists and picture-book writers, take heart. If you’ve got the desire and time, there’s a program for you.

  • ONE Bilingual MFA in creative writing (The University of Texas at El Paso): This online program readies writers for the publishing marketplace and for teaching and editing careers in the United States and Latin America. It offers training in fiction, poetry, playwriting, screenwriting, essay and literary translation. http://academics.utep.edu/Default.aspx?tabid=42392.
  • TWO MFA in cartoon studies (The Center for Cartoon Studies): “Whether your comics are illustratively rendered, employ photos or clip art, are humorous or carved in wood, CCS is committed to helping each student improve.” Students spend the first year in residency; the second year of study can be completed by correspondence. www.cartoonstudies.org/programs/programs.html.
  • THREE MFA in writing for children and young adults (Vermont College of Fine Arts): Create your own program, guided by professional children’s writers. Attend two 10-day residencies each year in Montpelier, Vt. http://www.vermontcollege.edu/low-residency-mfa/ writing-children-young-adults.
  • FOUR MFA in writing focusing on interdisciplinary studies (California College of the Arts): “We welcome student work that combines or crosses genres or art practices.” While working on the MFA degree, students take courses in painting/drawing, film/video, photography, printmaking, book arts, visual criticism and architecture. www.cca.edu/academics/graduate/writing.
  • FIVE MFA in memoir (Hunter College): This two-year, low-cost program in New York City offers intense instruction with memoirists Louise DeSalvo, Kathryn Harrison and Eva Hoffman. www.hunter.cuny.edu/creativewriting.

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  • SIX MFA in creative writing focusing on nature and travel writing (Chatham University): This program, inspired by Rachel Carson, explores multiple genres guided by the writer’s relationship with place. Field seminars allow students to travel internationally with faculty, then craft work about their experience. www.chatham.edu/departments/writing/graduate/writing.
  • SEVEN MFA in creative writing focusing on poetry (Columbia College Chicago): This program, offering evening classes in downtown Chicago, prepares students to write and publish poetry professionally. Students graduate with a book-length poetry manuscript. www.colum.edu/Academics/Graduate_Study/Poetry.
  • EIGHT MFA in writing popular fiction (Seton Hill University): This online program with biannual residencies in Pennsylvania guides students in crafting book-length mystery, romance, science fiction, horror and fantasy. Participants graduate with a market-ready novel. www.setonhill.edu/academics/fiction.
  • NINE MFA in creative writing and publishing arts (University of Baltimore): Students take evening and summer courses in book arts and small-press publishing, creating print and electronic journals as well as broadsides and chapbooks. www.ubalt.edu/cla_template.cfm?page=1465.
  • TEN MFA in writing for screen and television (Pepperdine University). This two-year program in Malibu “trains students for a vocation as screenwriters and prepares them to become cultural leaders in the entertainment industry.” Participants study ethics, philosophy, film and religion. http://seaver.pepperdine.edu/humanities/academics/ma-screenwriting.htm.

Melissa Hart

Melissa Hart received her MFA from Goddard College in 1996. She’s the author of the memoir Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood. She teaches journalism at the University of Oregon.

University presses focus on mutual support

Abstract:

Well over 400 people attended the May 1996 Assn of American University Presses (AAUP) convention at the Snowbird resort in Utah. Several speakers reinforced the AAUP event’s ‘Working Together to Manage Change’ theme, including Doug Amato of Duke Univ and William Sisler of Harvard.

Content:

Annual meeting in Utah calm and practical

ABOUT 450 PEOPLE spent Memorial Day weekend on a mountain in Utah for the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses; and despite cloudy, chilly weather, almost constant rain and even occasional snow, most agreed it had been time well spent.

The setting was the 8000-foot-high Snowbird ski resort on the last weekend of the season, and although attendance was not equal to that enjoyed by sites closer to sea level, and a number of pressdirectors were absent, those who did come found it had to be a thoroughly workmanlike meeting. “I saw lots of younger people, and I heard one of them asking another, ‘What did you learn today?'” said Morris Phillipson, director of the University of Chicago Press, who has been coming to such meetings for 20 years. “That’s the sort of thing I like to hear.”

And, in fact, mutual support and sharing of information seemed to be the keynote of a meeting whose stated theme was “Working Together to Manage Change.” In recent years scholarly publishers have agonized frequently over their role in the marketplace, the rise of electronic publishing and what it may do to the monograph, the search for foundation support, their sometimes shaky relations with the library community over fair use issues, and the creation of trade-type books in what is supposed to be a scholarly environment.

For this meeting the navel-gazing and breast-beating were abandoned, and most of the sessions were devoted to such practical issues as dealing with book clubs, managing difficult authors, selling via the Internet and managing their budgets better (if you’re going to start giving authors advances, urged one panelist, be sure to let your financial officer know).

In a stirring opening plenary session, Doug Amato of Johns Hopkins set the tone when he urged UPs to abandon their previously snooty attitude to such commercial notions as encouraging booksellers, and advertising their books. Advertising, he declared, is essential, especially in a declining library market where retail sales are central and, thanks to much better distribution by the likes of Ingram, easier.

Harvard’s William Sisler said UPs could usually not hope for books of broad commercial appeal, just books that slightly expanded the market for scholarly thought: “We’re the tail, not the dog.” Still, he said, the role is a vital one, and UPs need to be more vigorous in their own support, not defensive. The notion of UPs as “boutique” publishers probably passed with the heyday of independent bookstores in the 1980s, and now, thanks to superstores, their books are more widely, if not deeply, distributed

AAUP president-elect Kate Torrey of North Carolina devoted much of her inaugural luncheon speech to a celebration of how far women had come within the organization in recent years. There are now 15 women directors of presses that offer more than 50 titles a year, and a third of all directors are women (with an especially strong presence in the South). For the first time, women are succeeding each other as AAUP president (Joanna Hitchcock of Texas is the new president-elect). Torrey said the organization has passed the successive stages of denial, then panic, at the advent of electronic publishing, and “our extensive accomplishments in the past five years have been won despite the fact that there has been no lessening of ink-on-paper publishing.” No one has yet figured how to make money in electronic publishing, she declared. Ultimately, the UPs have a role as mediators in the ongoing struggles between university faculties, libraries and other publishers.

A second plenary session examining the current demographics of academia found that expanded college enrollments, a feature of the past decade, were likely to continue in the period up to 2006, but at a somewhat slower pace–and women are now enrolling at a much faster rate than men, whom they now outnumber in graduate schools. A rise in feminist studies courses is therefore inevitable, but there will be a decline in the numbers going on to a Ph.D level. Indicators are that higher education will be “larger but poorer,” with a decline in federal and state support, and some cost-cutting inevitable, which will ultimately affect books and libraries.

An increase in interdisciplinary studies was also noted, as well as a rise in the numbers of those going on to Masters programs. In a specific examination of the California scene, it was found that 30% of the older faculty had departed in the past five years, leading to a great influx of younger teachers, offering still-developing new curricula. In the student body, Asians and Hispanics will be a plurality by the year 2000, with Asians moving ahead most rapidly in the more advanced programs. In subject areas, life sciences, chemistry and general social studies are the only disciplines on the rise, with the humanities in general on the decline.

A powerful luncheon speaker was Nell Painter, Edwards Professor of American History at Princeton, who described with some humor the “almost lily-white” composition of UP staffs. Minority employees are especially valuable because of their ability to spot trends in their own fields, their greater skills and abilities at criticizing other minorities, and the fact that “they bring a greater variety to the gossip I know you’re all so good at,” she said. Excuses for not hiring minorities range from the absence of qualified people, to “we tried one once and it didn’t work out,” to “we had one, and he/she was terrific, but we couldn’t keep him/her,” and the person moved on for higher pay. Painter said there are many young minority people willing to work in publishing, especially those who want to write; check the “lots of good people” who dropped out for various reasons in college and graduate school, as well as English majors. She suggested a shared internship program, and “once you hire someone, they will lead you to others. It’s starting that’s hard.”

As executive director Peter Grenquist commented at the end of the meeting, in effect answering Phillipson’s overheard remark: “I think we all learned a lot.”

Beautiful Dreamer: Shedding New Light on Stephen Foster’s Legend

Full Text:

Scott Galupo is a writer with The Washington Times.

At first blush, the music of Stephen Foster is an odd first choice for American Roots Publishing (ARP), a nonprofit group that’s trying to preserve the regional tang of American folk art, music, and literature, past and present.

The handsome liner notes by Ken Emerson, author of Doo-Dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture, tell of a national, not a regional, star. “Foster was the first great and distinctly American songwriter ….” He would “become America’s first full-time professional songwriter.”

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In a prototypical sort of way, Foster, the composer of such slices of traditional Americana as Camptown Races and Oh! Susanna, was the nation’s first rock star. He died young, at age 37, in January 1864, toward the end of the Civil War. He died violently, too, from a fall that gashed his throat. He was financially ruined, with just 38 cents in his wallet. Neil Young sang, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Stephen Foster could relate.

But what’s regional about Stephen Collins Foster of Pittsburgh? The folks at ARP, who herded an impressive roster of singers to pay tribute to the composer, believe Foster, though nationally popular, was a synthesizer of America’s regional and ethnic diversities. Emerson writes, “He was the first to draw upon and stitch together the motley musics that settlers and slaves brought with them from Europe and Africa.”

Foster got his start in the business of minstrelsy, that objectionable form of popular musical theater that involved smearing one’s face with burnt cork and nastily caricaturing black Americans. “Minstrelsy was a lot like rock ‘n’ roll,” Emerson says: It was Elvis shaking his hips and singing the blues 100 years early.

Minstrelsy was what it was, and Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster doesn’t condemn him for it. In fact, there’s evidence that he grew wise to its sordidness. No black woman had ever been called a “lady” in American song before Foster did so in Nelly Was a Lady, here performed by the young black blues revivalist Alvin Youngblood Hart.

It’s not clear whether Foster had a road-to-Damascus moment or whether he just was retooling his image for broader respectability. Here, Mavis Staples, the great R&B and soul singer, exorcises all those ghosts with an outpouring of Hard Times Come Again No More, universalizing the “sigh of the weary.”

At 18 songs and 22 performers, Beautiful Dreamer is lively and unpredictable, almost necessarily uneven. With the daguerreotype, campfire-folk image of Foster’s music in mind, the goal was to restore the multicultural gumbo of the songs: the Scotch-Irish balladry of Appalachia, the polka craze imported from Prague, the banjo music of slaves.

Raul Malo of the Mavericks opens the tribute, appropriately, with the title track, and it’s a thing of beauty. Malo wraps his sonorous baritone around the song and makes you think Roy Orbison has come back from the dead.

Singer Alison Krauss, with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, upright bassist Edgar Meyer and “newgrass” fiddler Mark O’Connor, follows with a solemn chamber piece, Slumber My Darling, an elegiac composition from Foster’s late period.

Each of the artists was given free rein to devise fresh arrangements of these oldest of old parlor tunes, and some of the twists come off better than others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the younger artists who show the most imagination and make the Foster standards sound most vibrant.

Folk legend John Prine–considered a marquee booking by ARP chief Tamara Saviano–turns in a boring My Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight. Fiftysomething improv jazz guitarist Henry Kaiser adds a postmodern touch to the Arabized Autumn Waltz, and it’s strangely inert.

In contrast, the Duhks, a Canadian prog-folk band, turns Camptown Races into a jittery, polyrhythmic island number. It’s splendid. The harmony singers of Ollabelle (featuring Band drummer Levon Helm’s daughter Amy Helm) blend sinuous countermelodies on Gentle Annie. Judith Edelman is young but sings like an old soul, if a little preciously, on No One to Love.

Michelle Shocked and guitarist Pete Anderson trip slightly with their take on Oh! Susanna, a bouncy acoustic shuffle that crumbles into a half-stab at psychedelia.

Roger McGuinn later pulls off that trick with the aplomb you’d expect of a guy who, 40 years ago, tried to fuse traditional American folk to space rock. Were it not for a lapping electronic beat, his Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair could have rolled straight off the Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday.

Yet it sounds fussy next to Ron Sexsmith’s simple, stirring piano-and- voice Comrades Fill No Glass for Me, which closes the set. It’s an obscure bit of Fosterology, far more compelling than the expected fare of Old Folks at Home (Swanee River). Sexsmith sings of drinking to “drown my soul in liquid flame,” “fame,” and “blighted fortune.”

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Today, we have a name for all that–celebrity. If VH1 were around in the nineteenth century, Americans no doubt would have been treated to Stephen Foster: Behind the Music.

It would be a cliche to say Foster was ahead of his time. Besides, the truth is, he was timeless.

Various artists

Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster

American Roots Publishing

(c) 2004 News World Communications Inc.

A monster & more

IT was a fairly big event, in the fairly small world of classical music. This June, Elliot Goldenthal’s opera Grendel had its premiere at the Los Angeles Opera, and, about a month later, it traveled to New York, to be the centerpiece of the Lincoln Center Festival. This opera had buzz; and it was not entirely undeserved.

Goldenthal is a versatile composer, having written for the movies, Broadway, ballet–everything. In 2003, he won an Oscar for his score to Frida, one of the dullest movies ever made, despite its promise of swarthy sensuality. (The movie gives the life of Frida Kahlo.)

The director of that movie was Julie Taymor, who, ordinarily, is anything but dull. The partner of Goldenthal both onstage and off, so to speak, Taymor too has a versatile career. No realm is quite closed to her. Broadway’s Lion King is her doing, and so is the Metropolitan Opera’s current production of The Magic Flute, which has many Lion King touches: puppetry, wizardry, mystery, and delight.

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For Grendel, there could have been no director but Taymor. She is co-librettist, too, with J. D. McClatchy, a Hofmannsthal for our time. He seems to have a hand in every American opera that gets composed (by William Schuman, Ned Rorem, Tobias Picker, and others). Grendel is based on John Gardner’s 1971 novel of the same name; it reimagines Beowulf from the monster’s point of view.

In brief, Grendel is a victim: lousy childhood, misunderstood, no one to talk to. Human beings were mean to him–very mean–and this made him … well, monstrous. The human world is unwilling for him to reform, because they “need an enemy.” You know the rap–very modern.

But our chief concern is the music, the sine qua non of any opera. Music must not be allowed to get lost in the externals–and in a Julie Taymor-directed opera, there are many, many externals. For the monster story, she has summoned all of her magic, using every bell and whistle. I could only watch in amazement. But one remembers to listen too.

In the manner of lots of American operas, Goldenthal’s score is eclectic–wildly so. He gives us movie music (broadly speaking) and ballet music (ditto). He gives us primitivism, jazz, Wagnerism (or Wagnerian parody). He goes in for several angry marches. And he is no slouch in the lyrical department. He can really spin out a melody, when he wants to.

But Grendel suffers from a busyness, which can result in tedium. This is another American hallmark: Music tends to be busy-busy-busy, and, in this freneticism, things get dull. You want to say to composers, “Relax, don’t worry about showing off, and let it flow.”

Grendel is not a failure, musically. (And theatrically, it is a clear success.) But its score is competent rather than distinguished, honorable rather than inspired. I should hasten to say that one hears worse. Also, Goldenthal and Taymor are an extraordinary couple, undeniably. When they do something, I want to experience it, which is some kind of commendation.

* Composers are always complaining of being ignored, but Jay Greenberg has less cause than others. Two years ago, he was placed in what may be our culture’s ultimate showcase: a 60 Minutes segment. Greenberg is a fine composer, but that can’t quite explain CBS’s interest. What explains it is that Greenberg–Jay, I should say–was twelve years old.

One of his instructors at the Juilliard School compared him to the greatest child prodigies in history: Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Saint-Saens. Those are the three he named. I would throw in Korngold, whose early efforts–particularly Der Schneemann, a pantomime–can compete with anyone’s.

Like Mozart (!), Jay Greenberg hears a piece of music in his head, and writes it down. It is already there, complete, “performed,” mentally. All it needs is to be transcribed. Jay doesn’t use a piano or any other instrument to compose. Apparently, he doesn’t revise. No, he simply plops it down.

Now and then, he hears more than one piece at a time. “Multiple channels” are being filled, according to the composer. He has said he can “control” two or three pieces at the same time–“along with the channel of everyday life.” So there.

From Sony Classical, we now have a disc featuring Jay’s Symphony No. 5 and his Quintet for Strings. They are performed by top-notch musicians (the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jose Serebrier, and the Juilliard String Quartet, plus one–a second cello). Would you be interested in these works if they were not the products of an adolescent? Oh, yes–you can forget his age entirely, if you wish.

The Fifth Symphony makes obvious that Jay is a craftsman: an orchestrator, a developer, a technical whiz. And his musical ideas seem to flow easily, naturally. He plays around with melodies like–well, like a kid, with no evident strain. There are stretches of banality, but relatively few.

Jay’s symphony is essentially tonal, with modernist touches here and there. He does not seem to be copying anything, or anyone. The composer I most often hear is Shostakovich, but this is not imitation. Influence, maybe. Jay seems to belong to no school, to be working no idiom. Both the Fifth Symphony and the string quintet are hard to pigeonhole, or even categorize. We might come to call them Greenbergesque.

The quintet is, if anything, more impressive than the symphony. Like the larger piece, it is well wrought, and it has the intimacy–the immediacy of communication–that chamber music should have. The final movement (Prestissimo) is squirmy, sassy, in-your-face. I believe it also contains some irony, which is a decidedly mature trait.

No one can say what Jay Greenberg will develop into, and early success can prove a burden. But even if he composes nothing else–unthinkable–he has already given us something to listen to.

* Steve Reich has given us a lot to listen to. Ten years ago, I wrote an extensive piece on him, marveling that the bad boy of minimalism could be 60. Well, guess what he is now?

His latest album (from Nonesuch, his faithful label) offers two works, both written in the last few years. The major work is You Are (Variations), for a diverse ensemble including voices. The work is in four parts, all with religious or philosophical headings. (The opening part is headed “You are wherever your thoughts are.” The sentence is from an 18th-century Hasidic mystic.)

This opus is energetic, logical, and possibly mesmerizing. If you give in to it, you enter that Reichian haze, or groove–and it is a happy place to be. Indeed, this work on the whole is exceptionally happy and affirmative. Reich knows how to use those voices, and also his beloved marimbas, and the other instruments.

The second work on this disc is Cello Counterpoint, for eight cellos–or just one, if you are in the recording studio and can avail yourself of the technological tricks. That is what Maya Beiser does here. The piece is driving, insistent, and tightly woven. It is calibrated to the nth degree. And, like You Are (Variations), it is cheerful and contented.

As you should be too, after listening to this album–provided you can surrender to the minimalist vibe. Reich, now a veritable old master, makes it pretty easy.

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* Clarice Assad is a Brazilian composer, a member of the prominent family. Her father is Sergio, and her uncle is Odair, those guitar-playing Assads. As Assads go, you certainly want the Brazilian musicians over the Syrian dictators.

The guitarists have often teamed with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, the popular American violinist. (Speaking of 60 Minutes segments–she had one of those, too.) And Clarice has written her a concerto, which you will find on a live CD: Salerno-Sonnenberg performs with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, under Marin Alsop. (The label–NSS–is the violinist’s own. If you’re a musician, that’s one way to reduce corporate hassles.)

The Assad concerto is songful, rhapsodic, pleasant. It’s a little Latin, a little schmaltzy, a little bubblegum. Sometimes it sounds like an approximation of a Romantic concerto–a Warsaw Concerto (remember that?) for fiddle.

But one should not be too scornful or dismissive. Assad has talent, and that talent will likely grow. (The composer is in her late 20s.) In the meantime, this violin concerto can be listened to with pleasure, which is no small thing. And Salerno-Sonnenberg has something new, showy, and likable to play.

* Finally, consider Edgar Meyer–one of the most unusual musicians we have. He’s a crack double bassist, and a composer: of what we can call “classical music,” of bluegrass, of crossover. Meyer is Joe Hybrid.

His current album–called, straightforwardly, Edgar Meyer (Sony Classical)–gives us 14 new compositions. And they are all performed by the composer, on a slew of instruments. Several of these instruments play at the same time. Come again? This is accomplished, of course, through studio hocus-pocus–“multitrack recording,” more formally. Meyer pulls it off with sincerity and panache.

The new pieces carry such charming titles as Catch and Release, Please Don’t Feed the Bear, and Whatever. The music is jazzy, bluesy, riffy. Meyer has a wonderful mind, and that mind is wonderfully musical. Moreover, he is a tireless promoter of American “roots” music. The country is lucky to have him, and the bass is lucky to have him, and the music world at large is pretty lucky to have him. What more can I say?

British singer James Blunt comes clean

Byline: Sarah Rodman

James Blunt has a tip for aspiring British singer-songwriters who are offered deals to record their debut album in Los Angeles.

I think realistically if you’re going to come to Hollywood you might as well live with a famous actress,” he said with a laugh from a Philadelphia tour stop. Otherwise, the 28-year-old said, “you’re not really experiencing the whole Hollywood deal.”

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Blunt, who plays a sold-out show at the Paradise in Boston tomorrow night, got the whole Hollywood deal and then some by recording part of his critically acclaimed debut, “Back to Bedlam,” in Carrie Fisher’s bathroom. The thoughtful, acoustic rock record became a huge hit in the UK last year, outselling Coldplay, thanks in part to the wistful, Cat Stevens-esque acoustic ballad “You’re Beautiful.”

I was living with her at the time and we ran out of money on the budget for the record,” he said. “We needed a piano and there wasn’t one in the studio that I was working in with (producer) Tom (Rothrock). And we couldn’t afford to get into a big studio and we were looking around and Carrie had one in her bathroom.”

So Blunt went on to record the album’s best and most emotionally devastating number, the anguished piano ballad “Goodbye My Lover,” in Princess Leia’s potty.

“We just set up the microphones and recorder and spent the night in there and she brought soup.”

The singer befriended Fisher, who also wrote the very funny bio on Blunt’s Web site, in London. His album’s title is a partial homage to her home, which was visited by all manner of Hollywood types, including Fisher’s mom, Debbie Reynolds.

She’s fantastic, really such a great wit,” said Blunt of his former landlady. “It’s one of the reasons the album is called `Back to Bedlam,’ because the house was a madhouse in many ways.”

Although Blunt seemed to appear out of nowhere on the British scene last year with “Bedlam” – which sufficiently impressed Sir Elton John for the veteran pop star to sign him to his production company – he said he’s been planning his career since he first picked up a guitar at age 14.

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But his military family had other plans for him. Before he could start tearing up the charts he served a four-year stint in the British army. When he was deployed as a NATO peacekeeper in Kosovo, he kept his fellow regiment members entertained.

They were really supportive,” said Blunt. “When we were on operations and we had a bit of downtime people need amusing. Some people bring a football or a pack of cards. I brought a guitar.”

Blunt isn’t entertaining the usual “big in England” worries about making it in America.

“My concern is much more about coming over here and learning more about a country I don’t know that much about,” he said. “If I can connect musically with some people, then I will really enjoy that.”

Just another Englishman looking to find his way into America’s heart by way of its bathrooms.

James Blunt plays the Paradise, Boston, tomorrow at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15. Call 617-931-2000.

Air head

As fashions change in music, so does the vocabulary. There are no groups any more, only bands. Even boy bands call themselves bands, although they don’t play any instruments. Come to think of it, are there boy bands any more? Take That look like newly retired footballers. When I started this column a thousand years ago, I wanted it called ‘pop‘ music rather than the then-standard ‘rock': a prescient move, it turns out, as ‘rock‘ now sounds hopelessly sweaty and arthritic. In dance music the terms change so quickly that you haven’t even found out what they mean before they have gone, which at least saves you the bother of finding them out in the first place. One thing I do know, though: no one uses the word ‘chillout‘ any more. No one. Which probably means it’s due for a revival.

There does need to be a term, though, for music with dance origins that is made to be listened to. I speak as someone who dances rarely and badly. Encouraged by my beloved to dance whenever possible, ostensibly to prove that I am not the classically uptight Englishman she knows me to be, I have now been ordered by my children never to dance in their presence, which suits me just fine. They’re no fools, the next generation.

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Like everybody else, though, I listen to an awful lot of music that was originally created to be danced to. Swing, rock’n’ roll, Motown, Rolling Stones, Mud’s ‘Tiger Feet’, disco, punk … you could listen to them, you could dance to them, you could listen to them while dancing to them. Only in the past 20 years has dance music left the listener far behind. Much of it bypasses the ears completely, and heads straight for the internal organs.

So what of bands like Air and Röyksopp and the sadly missed Lemon Jelly, and even old floorfillers like Underworld, who have more ideas than that, and nowhere else to put them other than their music? Royksopp’s first album, Melody A.M. (2001), had all the range of texture and dynamics you’d expect from a Pink Floyd album, although subsequent releases have suggested that this may have been a fluke. Lemon Jelly had pop instincts but dance-floor intentions: every track went on far too long, which wore me down after a while. Underworld’s 2007 album, Oblivion With Bells , is a wonderfully rich piece of work, less dominated by big beats than past records, but bursting with musical ideas and tunes that repay multiple listens. Both Karl Hyde and Rick Smith are over 50 now, so they probably don’t get out much. But the kings of this unnamable subgenre are Air, whose Love 2 (Revolvair/ Virgin) I recently bought outrageously cheaply on Amazon. It had been out for six months, so you could call it deferment of gratification, but stinginess probably had more to do with it.

Like many bands, Air–Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin–have struggled to live up to early success. Moon Safari (1998), with its old-fashioned synth sounds and the clean melodic lines pop radio prefers, gave them several hits (‘Sexy Boy’, ‘Kelly Watch the Stars’) and incredible reviews. Subsequent albums have been stylistically bolder and far more varied, with all interest in daytime airplay abandoned and listeners drawn in for the long haul. 10,000 Hz Legend (2001) was as mischievous with sound as an early 10cc album, and disappointed almost everyone, except for contrarians like me who loved all the prog ideas and references. Talkie Walkie (2004) is, I think, their best album so far, a marvellous distillation of pure sound and great tunes, made for expensive hi-fi and headphones late at night. We should probably include the album Dunckel and Godin wrote and produced for Charlotte Gainsbourg, 5:55 (2006), which saw a further refinement, with synthesisers replaced by piano and acoustic guitar. Pocket Symphony (2007) was more of the same, and suggested a terrifying prospect, that the ideas were running out.

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Love 2 , happily, shows otherwise. With its electric guitars and cheesy old Moogs, it might be a slightly desperate attempt to please fans of Moon Safari , but it’s also much richer than that. It manages to sound both new and fresh, and old and familiar, and of a piece with their other albums. It’s delicious to hear this excellent duo building up a body of work than can stand comparison with anybody’s. But what you’d call it, other than pop music, is anyone’s guess.

Jazz Guitar Giant John Abercrombie in Studio

LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I’m Liane Hansen.

Over three decades ago, ECM Records producer Sir Manfred Eicher asked a young guitarist if he’d like release a debut album. The guitarist said he wasn’t ready, but Eicher persisted. Although the budding player said he felt like he was hanging on for dear life, he made the record.

LIANE-HANSEN

HANSEN: The guitarist was John Abercrombie and the 1974 album “Timeless” is now regarded as a masterpiece. Abercrombie is now established as one of the giants of jazz guitar, playing on nearly 50 ECM recordings. In 2000, he established a quartet with violinist Mark Feldman, bass player Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron. They released two discs, “Cat n’ Mouse” and “Class Trip.” The new one is called “The Third Quartet.”

HANSEN: John Abercrombie joins us in Studio 4A. Welcome to the program. It’s so nice to meet you.

Mr. JOHN ABERCROMBIE (Jazz Guitarist): Oh, it’s nice to meet you. Nice to be here.

HANSEN: There’s a lot of improvisation on this CD, as there is in many of the recordings that you make and certainly your performances. And you also said that it sounds more like chamber music than free jazz. What do you mean by that?

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Well, I think it’s, kind of, literal in a way because I think it has a lot to do in the instrumentation. I mean, it does have a lot to do, not only with how we play, but with the fact that it’s a string band. You’re hearing an acoustic bass, a completely acoustic violin, of course, acoustic drums, I mean, you know. But I’m the only electric guy in the band, really.

And so, I think it’s the nature of the instrumentation, which when we improvise freely, that is without a structure, we — it tends to sound a little more, a little bit more like 20th century classical music or something. And a lot of that has to do with the influence of Marc Felman, of course, because he’s one of the — he’s such a main voice and he’s so classically trained. And he improvises almost in a more classical manner as opposed to a jazz manner.

HANSEN: You’ve played with a lot of drummers, I mean, drummers – big names Chico Hamilton…

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Yeah.

HANSEN: …and Jack DeJohnette, and now Joey Baron. What do you look for when you’re looking for a drummer to compliment you, you’re sound, the sound that you want to make? What are you listening for?

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Yeah. What I’m listening for – because people usually ask me what are you looking for in a drummer, and I just say it’s a guy with a car.

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Yeah.

HANSEN: Usually it’s the guy with the house where you can go and practice.

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Yes. Something, you know. All the drummers I’ve worked with as a leader or a side band are all fantastic. I think what I look for is a guy that leaves a lot of space, just like I would for in a bass player. And Joey for me is perfect because he leaves certain kinds of spaces that allow me to breadth and play the way I like to play. Yet, he can swing like mad. He can play if we want to play in that style, he can go there. Actually, I look for guys that make me sound good too.

HANSEN: You have a great bass player, Marc Johnson…

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Oh, yeah. The best.

HANSEN: …with whom rounds out the quartet sounds. What does he give? What has he contribute?

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: A very similar thing to Joey, but also with Marc – its tone. I mean, he has some of the most beautiful sounds on the instrument, you know, acoustically. And even when he plays through an amplifier. He’s very sensitive to sound and his sound compliments mine really nicely because it’s really warm and dark.

HANSEN: Yeah. We wanted to play a little name that tune.

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Okay.

HANSEN: Okay. This is number one.

(Soundbite of song, “Love is Strange”)

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: I know this one.

(Soundbite of song, “Love is Strange”)

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Mickey & Sylvia, “Love is Strange.”

MICKEY & SYLVIA (R&B Duo): (Singing) Love, love is strange.

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: My favorite.

Leanne-Hansen

==> More about the guitar player: BUSINESS TECHNOLOGY: ADVANCES; Rock Stars Are Going Cordless

 

HANSEN: Now tell us why. What did you hear in that that intrigued you when you first heard it?

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Well, I think it was just the way the tunes, the way the things are opened with this, sort of, guitar orchestrated little sound. I mean, it was the sound of electric guitar that grabbed my ear first. And this was one of the things that I heard when I was growing up and going to, well, eating my lunch as a kid and go on putting a nickel in the juke box and hearing Mickey & Sylvia sing “Love is Strange,” and Chuck Berry sing, you know, “School Days.”

It was the attraction of the electric guitar and not so much of their voices or anything, I think. It was more just the sound of the electric guitar, you know. It was just like obviously, the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: My first guitar was a steel-string acoustic guitar that my parents bought, and I almost gave up playing the guitar because the thing was so damn hard to play. I mean, it was just, the strings were – and there was like telephone cables, you know. And they were up off the fret board very high. And it was just so painful for a young kid to play an instrument like this, you know, that I wound up taking it out in the yard and using it as a baseball bat at one point.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: You know. And then after hearing things like “Love is Strange” and Chuck Berry, I heard my neighbor. I can’t remember his name now, but he was – I just heard this sound of an electric guitar kind of drifting over to my porch where I was sitting. So I walked over, and there was this guy with his feet up on the porch railing, you know, playing an electric guitar. Just strumming chords.

And I was so fascinated with is that that’s when I started talking to my parents and said, I really want an electric guitar, you know. So I got little student model electric guitar with an amp. And that was — then, I was happy, you know. Then I knew that this was the least something I could deal with. It didn’t hurt my fingers as much. And I just love the sound of the electric guitar.

HANSEN: Yeah. Here’s another tune.

(Soundbite of song, “Round Trip”)

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Ah, this is the original recording.

(Soundbite of song, “Round Trip”)

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: And it sounds great.

(Soundbite of song, “Round Trip”)

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Yeah, “Round Trip.” Ornette Coleman. Share on, Cherie(ph).

HANSEN: Yes.

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: And this is – I haven’t heard this recording in a while. Actually, when I chose this tune to play on the current CD, I didn’t listened to this recording. I mean, I wasn’t – as a matter of fact, I didn’t even want to play this tune. I was looking for another tune. I was looking for a tune they’d recorded. It might be from the same CD, the same record. The tune was called “Rambling.”

And when I looked on the – through a music book on a the computer, I found “Rambling.” And at the bottom, on the same page, when I printed it out, was this tune, “Round Trip.” I mean, it was just a fluke, you know. I didn’t remember the tune.

And then when the music came out of the printer, I looked through “Rambling,” and thought this is a great tune. I mean, this could work with the band. And then I saw “Round Trip,” and I said, well, it looks simple, so I just played the melody.

I said, oh, this is – I like this better, you know. This was more what I really want to do because it has a certain kind of pulse to it, a jazz pulse. I mean, there’s not much to it. It is just this simple, almost childlike melody, but it’s great to improvise from.

(Soundbite of song, “Round Trip”)

HANSEN: Here’s the third one.

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Okay.

(Soundbite of song, “Epilogue”)

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Wow. Geez.

HANSEN: How long has it been since you’ve heard that?

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Ages.

HANSEN: Bill Evans’ “Epilogue.”

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Yeah.

HANSEN: You covered this one?

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Yeah. He plays it. Well, he wrote it, but he plays it faster. We play it more slow and we divide the melody he’s written, and there’s just this little melody in force. And we just – Mark Feldman and I – divided the melody. I played the top. He plays the bottom. And it works perfectly for guitar and violin. So it’s like a real vignette. I mean, it doesn’t, it’s not something you stretch out on, and, you know, you know, go crazy on. It really is – it’s just this beautiful little piece. I’ve always loved this thing. But I love Bill Evans. I love just about everything Bill did.

(Soundbite of song, “Epilogue”)

HANSEN: There’s something about – I think I read about you liked his waltz’ time that he would do at a three-quarter time.

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Yeah. He was famous for writing waltzes and playing a lot of waltzes. And that really influenced me because I write a lot. And as a matter of fact, I think it was the album before this, the CD before this called “Class Trip,” it’s almost, I think – everything is in a triple meter almost.

HANSEN: Yeah. There’s a piece on the CD called “Tres.”

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: “Tres,” yeah.

HANSEN: Yeah. A lot of shifting rhythms that’s kind of your specialty.

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Yeah. That’s basically a waltz. I mean it’s a – it just has a Spanish sound to me. I’ve never written anything that had Spanish flavor to it. I don’t know why. But this one, when I wrote it and I played it with a friend, as we played, he said, this really sounds kind of Spanish.

(Soundbite of song, “Tres”)

HANSEN: Your nickname Thumbelina?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: No, it’s just, that’s a name that came from another great German I worked with named Adam Nussbaum. And we had a trio, which is still an ongoing trio with (unintelligible) on drums. So sometimes, when I’d be on a gig and I would play something really kind of fast, that I’m doing it with my thumb. And Adam, I would just look over at Adam, and he would just kind of make it, make this expression like, you know, he would take his thumb and he would blow on it like the thumb was burning, you know.

Oh, man, you’re – and then, sort of, he would come off the set and he’d go, man, Thumbelina, man. You were doing it again, you know. So that’s where that comes from. But that was really only his, as far as I know – he’s the only one that uses that name. I certainly hope that’s not common knowledge and there are people walking around, saying, oh, did you hear Thumbelina’s new record today, you know, well. Did you get Thumbelina play – no, it’s not quite a well-known name. I’m surprised you know. I didn’t know anybody knew about that.

HANSEN: Yeah. Well, why did you go from the pick to the thumb?

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Mostly for sound. I mean, it’s – I started playing with my thumb instead of using a pick about maybe 10 years ago, I just felt so much better. I mean, it felt, it not only sounded better to me. It sounded much warmer. It just felt better because all of a sudden, the flesh of my hand was right on the string. I didn’t have this piece of plastic that kind of interfered, you know.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Describe the guitar you have with you today. It is a beautiful piece of work, I have to say.

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: It really is. You know, this is, this guitar was made for me by a company in Poughkeepsie, New York called Brian Moore Custom Guitars. The custom really is, it wasn’t custom-made for me. That’s just the name of their company. And this was made for me because I, about three years ago, I had a fire in my house and I lost pretty much everything, you know, in terms of instruments, clothes, CD’s, music. I mean, it was a traumatic, horrifying experience.

And right after that happened, it made the local Putnam Valley paper, of course, you know — jazz musician’s house burns down. Pictures of burned guitars in the yard, you know. It was just like, I guess people really need news, you know. Really, seriously, I mean, it was a small town, I mean, you know. So this was probably big news. This was next to, you know, snow plowing. This was probably going to win that.

So anyway, it caught the man who runs the company. A fellow, Patrick Cummings, called me, called me. Oh man, I saw what happened. Do you have any guitars left? I said, well, not really. I said, you know, one of your guitars is pretty badly charred. Maybe I’ll bring it to you. And he said, well, don’t worry. He said, we’ll get you an instrument.

So he gave me an instrument the next day, and then he made this one for me. It took – a few months and they put this one together for me. And it’s a — it’s just a great little instrument. It’s very versatile. It – if you can see it, it has sort of holes on it like most guitars have F holes.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: The company refers to these as E holes, because they’re more in the shape f an E. But it also – the nice thing about this guitar is it’s very light, it’s fully loaded this guitar, you know.

HANSEN: Well, we’re going to hear you play it and then take us out with some music. I believe you’re going to play number four, it’s called “Number 26.” This is not on the album.

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: Yeah, you know, “Number 26″ is in there. This is — It is on the album, but it is not on the album. But it is called that in French. It’s called “Vingt Six.”

HANSEN: Well, before we hear “Vingt Six…”

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: “Vingt Six.”

HANSEN: …as it were, I want to thank you, John Abercrombie, for coming into the studio and remind people that your new CD, “The Third Quartet,” is on the ECM label. It was a pleasure to meet you and have talked to you.

Mr. ABERCROMBIE: My pleasure. Thanks very much.

(Soundbite of song, “Vingt Six”)

HANSEN: You can hear the full studio 4A performance of John Abercrombie’s “Vingt Six,” as well as more conversation, on our Web site, npr.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I’m Liane Hansen.

 

Rik Emmett’s guitar picks

To millions, the name Rik Emmett is synonymous with 1970s power rock. As a member of the high-octane trio Triumph, he mesmerized stadium audiences all over the world with his rapid-fire guitar work. As a long-time columnist for Guitar Player magazine, he also helped educate a generation of up-and-comers. Emmett recently released two solo albums on his own label that represent a major departure from his early days: a collection of original classical numbers, Ten Invitations from the Mistress of Mr. E.,and a jazz-oriented disc entitled Swing Shift.

He will also take part in next week’s Canadian Music Week festivities in Toronto with a performance at the Q107 Stage on March 6 at 4 p.m. The Globe recently caught up with the virtuoso at his base in Port Credit, Ont., and asked him to name some of the top guitar albums of all time.

Riik_Emmett

==> Read more: The Artists: Giving It Their All

1. Pioneers of the Jazz Guitar

(Yazoo). A gem for the serious guitar aficionado.

2. Django Reinhardt, Djangologie

(EMI). Sadly, this 20-LP/8-CD set by the legendary gypsy guitarist is no longer available.

3. Charlie Christian, Solo Flight

(Jazz Classics). A two-CD set by the man who changed the course of electric-guitar history.

4. Wes Montgomery, The Complete Riverside Recordings

(Polygram). He defined a smooth jazz guitar sound and style in the late fifties and sixties that’s still heavily influential.

5. Joe Pass, Virtuoso

(Polygram). Pass managed to up the ante with his individuality, creativity, technique and musicianship.

6. The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau Live!

(RCA). Canada’s own gifted, troubled, eclectic, unique, technical genius.

7. Pat Metheny Group, Letter From Home

(Geffen) and Still Life (Talking)

(Geffen). Pat’s unabashed love of the truly progressive, spiritual musical journey is so accessible in his music that, as reviewer Mark Miller recently said here in The Globe, it is irresistible.

8. Tuck Andress, Hymns, Carols and Songs About Snow

(Windham Hill Jazz). This is one of my favourite Christmas CDs. His technical ability is an awesome thing — clean and tidy, full of cleverness and wit.

9. Andres Segovia, The Centenary Celebration

(Universal). He was the original maestro of the modern era, the champion of the guitar as a serious classical instrument.

10. Julian Bream Plays Granados & Albeniz

(RCA). This currently is my favourite classical guitar CD, essentially for the combination of the recorded sound and the expressive range of the interpretations.

11. Robert Johnson The Complete Recordings

(Columbia). Deep, soulful roots.

12. B. B. King, King of the Blues

(Universal).

13. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Greatest Hits

(Epic). His monumental shadow reigns in the modern blues era, with its Texas roots, its fierce attack, sense of rhythm and sheer burning intensity.

14. Robben Ford, any CD

(his latest release is Tiger Walk

(Blue Thumb/Universal). He is my current champion, with a confident, dynamic range of touch, articulate phrasing and killer tone.

15. Jimi Hendrix, The Ultimate Experience

(Universal). There are a lot of packages and reissues to choose from, but for essential listening, go straight to this single CD.

16. Jeff Beck, Beckology

(Epic/Legacy). This box set displays an astonishing range of styles and emotion in his touch and his unique phrasing.

NEW MEDIA: GUITAR HERO ROCKS THE SALES CHARTS

One of the most popular video games continues this year to be Guitar Hero, in which players flail away Van Halen-style at a guitar-shaped game controller and try to replicate the moves of a guitarist playing a popular song. Think of it as guitar karaoke – an outlet for aspiring air guitarists everywhere.

The original game came out in 2005, and there is now a Guitar Hero II and a Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, as well as a Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s. (A new game called Rock Band adds drums and a microphone to the mix.)

guitar_hero_3

Harmonix and RedOctane, the companies that developed and marketed the original Guitar Hero game for the Sony PlayStation2, reportedly had some difficulty getting the rights to certain songs that they wanted to use (most of which were performed by “sound-alike” musicians in the early versions of the game). But they may not have as much trouble in the future.

According to a report at Ars Technica, sales numbers from Soundscan – an industry tracking firm – show a fairly strong correlation between the music included in Guitar Hero III and sales of those songs through retailers and other outlets.

For example, sales of the song Reptilia by the Strokes climbed by 127 per cent in the week the game was released, compared with the week before.

A track by the band Slipknot saw a similar type of increase after being included in the game, with sales up more than 70 per cent in the first week after the game’s release and up by triple digits the week after that.

And a song from the band Weezer saw sales climb by almost 50 per cent in the week after the appearance of Guitar Hero III, even though the band’s album has been out since 1994.

The connection between Guitar Hero and higher sales is hardly black and white, of course. Some songs that were included didn’t see much of an increase. In some cases, the increase seen in album or CD sales could have been a result of conventional marketing campaigns or other influences that Soundscan and Ars Technica didn’t take into account.

Nevertheless, there appears to be a fairly strong relationship between the game and music sales – which is not surprising, since there is often a similar increase in demand for music that has appeared on a TV show or in a commercial.

At least one band seems to see the value of having their music included in Guitar Hero, to the point where they would like an increase in compensation for it: The Romantics, a 1980s band whose hits included What I Like About You, is suing Activision – which distributes the game – claiming that the sound-alikes who recorded their song sound too similar and therefore the band should be paid more

The Artists: Giving It Their All

The Artists: Giving It Their All: From drama to painting, from crooners to opera stars, a young generation finds the deep end of the talent pool

He may be just 22, but in musician years, this singer, guitar player and songwriter is an old-timer. “I’ve been playing since I was 7,” says Ian Janes, “all my life really.” And the Hantsport, N.S.-born musician is finally hitting his stride: his first recording, Occasional Crush, which he cut himself, won rave reviews last year for its unique rhythm and blues-tinged sound. In September, the weekly CBC Radio show Definitely Not the Opera aired an hour-long recording of one of his live concerts. So far, a big record deal has proven elusive. But Janes, who still works as a carpenter during performing lulls, seems in no hurry. “I’d rather have a long career,” he says, “than be the hot thing for a while, then flare out.” As a child in Hantsport in the Annapolis Valley, Janes listened to his parents — who owned a local hardware store — perform in country music bands. His own musical gods, however, have always been a blend of American R and B greats like Al Green and folkie singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell. “I like music that draws you in,” he explains, “not music that is in your face.”

Hantsport-musican

==> View: Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes

NADIA LITZ AND BRENDAN FLETCHER

In the acclaimed Canadian film The Five Senses, actors Nadia Litz and Brendan Fletcher share intense scenes, exploring voyeurism and discovering sexuality. Their performances have generated plenty of buzz — and left them with a lot of mutual respect. “Brendan is a phenomenal actor and does it with such ease,” says Litz, who turns 22 this month. Fletcher, 18, who is the more experienced actor of the two, says Litz “has an amazing honesty to her: I think we brought out the best in each other.” Born in Winnipeg, Litz began acting at the Manitoba Theatre Centre at the age of 8. At 16, she moved to Toronto on her own, spending 18 months at York University’s theatre school. Over the next four years, she picked up small roles in film and television. With The Five Senses — and a trip to the Cannes Film Festival for pro-motion — she is now in discussions with Hollywood agents. The Comox, B.C.-born Fletcher has been acting since he was 13. This year, he starred in three Canadian independent movies — and has just finished filming another one, The Law of Enclosures, with Sarah Polley. “Small Canadian films are more interesting,” says Fletcher. “They offer better characters and stories.”

MICHAEL BUBLE

He has come a long way from rowing a skiff for a family fishing business to singing Strangers in the Night to Gwyneth Paltrow in her new karaoke movie, Duets. But for Burnaby, B.C.-born Michael BublA (pronounced Boo-BLAY), the ride may be just beginning. With a hot-selling CD called BaBalu, BublA, 24, is charming audiences across North America with his smooth, charismatic renditions of big-band numbers and Rat Pack-era standards. He is the opening act for singer Dionne Warwick on Jan. 27 in his home town of Vancouver. And he has even got American backers. But the guy that BublA really wants to thank is a retired plumber named Mitch Santaga. “He’s my grandpa and my best friend,” says BublA, who used to listen to Santaga’s tapes of singers like Frank Sinatra. “He kept saying, ‘Just learn this one before I die,’ ” recalls BublA, whose grandfather, now 72, is still very much alive. Since then, BublA has headlined at Vancouver clubs and theatres — and performed privately for everyone from Bill Gates to the Three Tenors. “Someone told me that Mr. [Luciano] Pavarotti couldn’t continue his meal unless I kept singing,” says BublA, who obediently stayed on stage. And what are his plans when he’s rich and famous? “I’m gonna take my parents to Paris,” he says, “and buy my grandfather season’s hockey tickets.”

MATTHEW GOOD BAND

With the release of their third album, Beautiful Midnight, last September, members of the Matthew Good Band confirmed their status as Canadian rock stars. The album debuted at No. 1 in Canada according to SoundScan Inc.’s computerized tracking of retail purchases — and has already “gone platinum” with sales of 100,000 copies. Plans are in the works for a U.S. tour next year. And although 28-year-old Matt Good and his band mates are daunted by the challenge, they insist their hunger for fame is not all-consuming. “I have never been a big proponent of the Canadian musical attitude that to be something you must prove yourself elsewhere,” says Good, who performs with fellow Vancouverites, guitarist Dave Genn, bassist Rich Priske and drummer Ian Browne. “Bands like that end up nowhere because they don’t have their backyards sewn up.” Good’s second album, Underdogs, also went platinum in 1997, spawning three Top 5 singles. Do the musicians find it frustrating to be carrying the rock banner at a time when pop, hip-hop and techno music seem to be what sells? “Rock will never die,” says Good. “It is the core.”

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT

This 23-year-old musician proves that talent can run in the veins. Her now- divorced parents are the folk icons Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle of the folk duo Kate & Anna McGarrigle — and her brother is singer Rufus Wainwright. When people first hear about her, Martha says, “I don’t think they want to believe there is another talented Wainwright or McGarrigle: ‘Kate was good, and Loudon was good and Rufus is good. The kid sister has got to be bad.'” But the critics rave about her singing and songwriting. Although Martha grew up in a Montreal household full of music, she didn’t seriously consider that her calling until she did a stint singing backup for Rufus in 1995. Figuring “if he can do it, I can do it,” she began to write songs, play the guitar and perform in clubs while studying drama at McGill University. Now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., Martha is performing her own songs in city clubs and last month opened for her father on a tour of Great Britain and Ireland. Although she has already produced and released a six-song CD titled Martha Wainwright, she is “scheming with my manager” about future record deals.

Martha-Wainwright

CHRIS WOODS

To hear Chris Woods tell it, he simply photographs and then paints pictures of his friends in strip malls and fast-food restaurants. But that barely hints at the magical quality of his art in which ubiquitous pop-culture icons, such as McDonald’s, are handled realistically — but with an edge. Born in Newcastle, N.B., Woods, 29, was raised and still lives in Chilliwack, B.C., where he works full time on paintings that explore society’s worship of consumerism. In 1995, he painted contemporary renderings of the story of Christ’s crucifixion for St. David’s Anglican Church in Vancouver, using local settings such as Stanley Park. Last year, in an acclaimed solo exhibit called McTopia, Woods portrayed ordinary fast-food workers as spiritually enhanced: one is an angel bending over a fellow McWorker who has been hit by a minivan in the drive-through. Now he’s at work on a new collection based on the world of advertising called Dreamland. Although his paintings sell for $8,000 to $14,000, the artist says he’s not getting rich. “Each piece takes about six weeks,” says Woods. “That means I’m still in the minimum-wage category.” At least it’s enough for a burger and fries.

ISABEL BAYRAKDARIAN

When this opera star took up singing lessons as a University of Toronto biomedical engineering student, she saw it as a hobby. But Isabel Bayrakdarian, a talented lyric soprano, began rethinking that notion after winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 1997. “That was a very, very distinct message that maybe I should consider this seriously,” says the 25-year- old Armenian-Canadian who started singing in a church choir at the age of 4 and who travels with a list of Armenian churches in Europe and North America so that she can sing in Sunday choirs. Bayrakdarian immigrated to Toronto from Lebanon as a teenager with her family. After her professional debut at the Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 1997, she performed in the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble until last year. Widely hailed for her voice and poise, she made her debut at Chicago’s Lyric Opera last October — and is now represented by New York City-based Columbia Artists Management Inc., which books her in concerts and opera productions around the world. Not surprisingly, she has no regrets about her career choice. “This is my passion,” she says.

MEASHA BRUEGGERGOSMAN

As a little girl growing up in a devoutly Christian household that shunned popular music, Measha Brueggergosman came to adore CBC Radio’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera. “That type of singing was the farthest, highest, loudest and most exquisite that a voice could be,” says the 22-year-old soprano who won rave reviews last year for her portrayal of Beatrice Chancy in the Canadian opera of the same name. “And I wanted to do it.” The once-shy Brueggergosman, one of the few black youngsters in her Fredericton home town, began to sing with her elementary school choir. She earned her bachelor of music degree at the University of Toronto this year and she is now doing her master’s degree in concert repertoire, studying with the revered Canadian soprano Edith Wiens at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Dysseldorf, Germany. Better known as Measha Gosman, the singer merged her name with her Swiss husband’s when they married last spring. Her goal is to broaden her repertoire for the more intimate setting of recitals. “I have been given this gift from God,” she says. “And it’s my job to perfect it.”

RICK CAMPANELLI

Teenage girls might not recognize the name, but they certainly know this Hamilton native’s goofy and lovable personality. Better known as MuchMusic veejay Rick the Temp, Rick Campanelli won the “Be a temp at MuchMusic” contest in 1994. As his prize, for that summer, he won the right to do odd jobs from production assistant to receptionist, always signing his messages, Rick the Temp. But when the summer ended, he stayed around, still doing any available job. When he landed on air in 1996, the name just stuck. Since then, his youthful excitement and boyish good looks have won him a following among teenage girls, many of whom wait for him outside MuchMusic’s downtown Toronto headquarters. A graduate in physical education from Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., Campanelli had planned to teach. But after hanging out with the crowds at Woodstock this summer, interviewing Pearl Jam in Phoenix, Ariz., and vacationing with the Cranberries at their cottage, Campanelli has tasted the good life. “Now I want to stay in front of the camera. It’s a great job.” Even if he’s still the temp.

TANYA AND ANITA DUSEVIC

Music enthusiasts around the globe are taking ecstatic notes on Calgary-born sisters Tanya and Anita Dusevic. Now 26, flutist Tanya has completed the course work for her doctorate in flute performance at New York City’s renowned Juilliard School of Music, where she also obtained her master’s degree. At least twice weekly, she gives performances for inner-city classrooms — and the topic of her doctoral thesis is how to make music accessible to all school-age children. Meanwhile, violinist Anita, 22, commutes occasionally on weekends from Calgary to New York for private lessons with Joel Smirnoff, Juilliard’s violin department chairman and first violinist with the Juilliard String Quartet. Since she was 13 years old, the University of Calgary law student has played with the Banff Camerata chamber ensemble; in 1994, the ensemble released the CD Chamber Works Camille Saint-Sa’ns. The two are the daughters of a real estate investor father and a music teacher mother, who taught each to play the piano at the age of 2. “Music is more than my profession and hobby,” says Tanya. “It’s how I express myself.”

THE ENNIS SISTERS

Newfoundland’s star vocal trio, the Ennis Sisters, are proof that a family that plays together stays together. Maureen, 22, Karen, 20, and Teresa, 18, are as tight as the sweet harmonies of their Celtic folk and pop songs. The young women still live in their St. John’s home — and tour with their father, John, who manages them, and their mother, Cecilia, who tends the business side of their careers. “We get along really well,” says Karen of her sisters. “If we do fight, it’s about clothes.” The three siblings have just finished their third CD, Forever Love, a follow-up to last year’s Christmas on Ennis Road and their 1997 release Red Is the Rose. The trio began in 1995 when their voice teacher persuaded them to appear at a local music festival. That led to a regular gig performing for pregnant women at Welcome Wagon meetings. So many listeners requested a CD that the Ennis Sisters’ parents put up $20,000 in 1997 to make it. Now, CD sales of Red Is the Rose have topped 20,000 copies — and they field invitations to perform across the country. They would like to sing together as long as audiences want to hear them. “There’s nothing,” says Teresa, “like that high of performing.”

TARA BIRTWHISTLE

When she left her family in Sherwood Park, Alta., to join the famed Royal Winnipeg Ballet school at 14, Tara Birtwhistle’s heart was heavy with homesickness. First came the mental and physical challenges of becoming a soloist with the revered dance company. “That’s only the beginning of how hard it is,” says Birtwhistle. Now 27, Birtwhistle is preparing for the role of a ballerina’s lifetime — Juliet — in a Rudi van Dantzig version of Romeo and Juliet, which will premiAre next March. She recently dazzled audiences and critics with her emotional and technically adept performance of a lady-turned- vampire in the ballet Dracula. And throughout December, she has played a grown- up Clara in a new version of The Nutcracker. Birtwhistle has only recently learned how to live with the pressure of such roles. “I am more comfortable in who I am,” says Birtwhistle, “and that allows me to get into different characters.” Her constant companion, aside from accolades? Sore feet.

RICHARD WOOD

Maritime fiddling and step-dancing sensation Richard Wood says he knows his mission in life every time he performs. It doesn’t matter if the 21-year-old from Prince Edward Island is playing for Japanese Emperor Akihito — whom he met in Tokyo last fall during a Canadian diplomatic mission — or for the terminally ill in a Charlottetown hospital. “What I want to do until I die,” says Wood, who has performed with country star Shania Twain, “is share my music with people, share what will hopefully make them happy.” A child prodigy, Wood was a champion step dancer at the age of 11 when he decided to take up the fiddle. A year later, in 1990, he won the Don Messer Memorial Trophy, becoming the Maritime’s champion fiddler. The son of an army serviceman father and a nurse mother, Wood recently released his fifth fiddle album, Come Dance with Me, under his own label — and is touring to promote it. Wood is unusual among Maritime fiddlers because he also writes much of his own music. He recently published a book of 60 compositions called The Richard Wood Collection. “I still play the traditional Celtic tunes,” says Wood from his home in the Charlottetown suburb of East Royalty. “But I want people to see who I am through my music.”

MARTHA MACISAAC

Being the other icon of Prince Edward Island may not be easy, but Martha MacIsaac seems to take it in stride. “People will come up to me and say, ‘Are you Emily of New Moon?’ ” the 14-year-old actress giggles. “It’s kind of embarrassing and really flattering.” A Charlottetown native, MacIsaac plays Emily in the Canadian family drama based on another orphaned heroine created by Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables. Winning the demanding role in 1996 was the stuff of dreams for the 11-year-old who had appeared onstage and in television commercials. Now, the Grade 10 student is a seasoned professional. “It’s a really magical experience to work with her,” says Canadian actor Sheila McCarthy, who plays Emily’s sympathetic Aunt Laura. “You are never aware that she’s acting. She has a very rare talent.” MacIsaac wants to attend drama school and turn acting into a lifetime career. For now, her only acting problems arise when her character must perform chores. “I’m really afraid of cows,” she confesses. “I’m even more afraid of chickens. But every year, they put me in a pen with a bunch of chickens flapping around. And I always freak out.”

GAROU

In the summer of 1996, singer Pierre Garand, better known as Garou, showed up for a fateful gig at a bar in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Among the patrons was Quebec music legend Luc Plamondon, who was working on a rock opera based on Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He approached Garou and asked him to keep his schedule free for the next two years. “I didn’t really believe it right away,” says Garou, now 27, who landed the role of Quasimodo in Plamondon’s Notre Dame de Paris. Garou says he had turned down offers to cut an album “because I was waiting for the right moment.”

Notre Dame de Paris catapulted Garou into the spotlight with his powerful, husky voice and good looks. He has appeared in the musical since its Paris debut in September, 1998. And in November, he was named new artist of the year at Quebec’s music awards. The native of Sherbrooke’s moniker, acquired in his teens, is a play on his last name and his nocturnal nature. (In French, loup- garou means werewolf.) Garou hopes to release his first album next spring and will keep touring with the Notre Dame cast. He recently sang with his idol Sting, and is still taken aback by his success: “These are things that I would never have imagined in my life.”

LYNN COADY

Growing up in the industrial centre of Port Hawkesbury in Cape Breton, N.S., “I thought being creative was a one-way ticket to being a bum,” says 29-year-old novelist Lynn Coady. “I accepted it.” But her first novel, Strange Heaven, was shortlisted for last year’s Governor General’s Award, and received ecstatic reviews. Completed in 1996, shortly after she moved to Vancouver, the book concerns a 17-year-old Cape Breton girl in a children’s psychiatric ward who has given up her baby for adoption. Coady also received a 1998 Canadian Authors Association/Air Canada award for the most promising literary talent under 30. Doubleday Canada Ltd. will publish a book of short stories, Play the Monster Blind, in March. With her background, Coady says, “I should be home, working at the Dairy Queen.” Her parents — her father is a shoe repairman and her mother is a provincial court official — hoped she would study journalism because it might lead to a salaried job. But Coady preferred to study English. As she toys with ideas for a second novel, she says: “For the first time in a long time, I’m doing pretty good.”

FABRIZIO FILIPPO

Although he was getting steady acting work in Toronto, Fabrizio Filippo felt that his dark Italian features were pigeonholing him in ethnic roles. A casting director once even suggested that he get blue contact lenses to win a part on Road to Avonlea. So the 26-year-old actor moved to Los Angeles in 1996 — and immediately won mainstream roles on major network shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This season, he landed the role of the drug-addicted movie star on the much-talked-about Fox Network show, Action. But despite Hollywood’s acceptance, Filippo does not want to abandon his Canadian roots. “There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t miss Toronto,” he says from his tree-lined Los Angeles garden. An accomplished playwright, Filippo’s first writing venture,The Gospel Accordingly, was picked up by the Toronto theatre festival Summerworks for a two-week run in 1994. In future, Filippo may pare back his acting to write and develop a Canadian TV show. “Telling stories and inspiring others really excites me,” he says.

Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes

Not long ago I heard a performance by the Irish fiddle player Martin Hayes. Hayes is a master of the long-phrased, lyrical style of eastern County Clare, where he grew up in a family of musicians; he has also played electric violin in a Chicago rock band. On this occasion in a New York nightclub, Hayes and his guitar-playing partner Dennis Cahill stretched and syncopated the dance-hall bounce of reels, jigs and hornpipes into arching, lonesome meditations and wild jazz-inflected flights, without ever losing a quiet pulse that seemed to rise up out of the earth.

I thought of Martin Hayes as I was sitting down to write about Greil Marcus’s new book, because Hayes, who is in his 30s, shows how very much alive is the dilemma of the musician who is bracketed as “traditional”–a folk artist–even while pursuing an intensely personal, decidedly nonpurist path that can provoke shudders among some bottle-it-in-formaldehyde folklorists. Today the whole debate over folk music authenticity versus innovation may seem academic, but Marcus’s Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes hinges on a moment when this “academic” question exploded across the American cultural landscape: the notorious cataclysm at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, when Dylan mounted the stage with leather jacket and Stratocaster, leaned back on his boot heel and launched into “Maggie’s Farm.”

Martin Hayes

The audience erupted in howls of betrayal. Pete Seeger and the great ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, who had been collecting front-porch music since the thirties, fried to cut the band’s backstage power cables with an ax. Confrontations continued over the next twelve months, in Forest Hills, Berkeley, London and Cardiff, ending only with Dylan’s 1966 motorcycle accident near his Woodstock home.

Invisible Republic is ostensibly a reflection on Dylan’s private recording sessions in the exhausted aftermath of those events with the quintet later known as The Band, ranging over terrain from reworked Child ballads to originals like “I Shall Be Released.” But at the book’s heart is a different album: the Anthology of American FolkMusic, a multidisc compilation of pre-Depression “hillbilly” and “race” records assembled by one Harry Smith for Folkways fifteen years earlier, a touchstone of the early-sixties folk scene.

Marcus declares that “Smithville,” as he calls the community of several dozen white and black musicians who populate the Anthology, holds the key to the Basement Tapes. This assessment may or may not be accurate, but it serves as a welcome pretext for Marcus’s critical reconsideration of the Anthology. The set, unavailable for years but remastered and reissued on CD this August, remains a gateway to some of the most haunting and influential American musicians ever recorded: the sweetness and grace of Mississippi John Hurt, the archetypal country harmony of the Carter Family, the death-knell blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson, among many others.

The Anthology blasted open the ears of quite a few young musicians in the fifties, much as “Howl” did for poets at the same time. Smith assembled eighty-four ballads, blues and breakdowns, sacred music and secular, according to his own free-associative scheme, and annotated with unforgettable tabloid summaries: JOHN HARDY HELD WITHOUT BAIL AFTER GUNPLAY…WIFE AT SCAFFOLD. Like Ginsberg’s poetry, the whole package seemed to speak of an unofficial, undocumented America at sharp odds with the reigning notion of Americanism.

A record-collecting bohemian shaman with an anthropological sensibility, Smith intended his 1952 Anthology to raise prickly questions about the meaning of folk music. It still does: For while the Anthology may be, in today’s parlance, “roots” music, mostly it is not front-porch or kitchen music. The difference mattered to Smith and it matters to Marcus. In the late twenties, record-company scouts sent Southern musicians like Hurt and the Carters, most of them already playing medicine shows, juke joints and other venues, to New York for a few days of studio time. Smith favored these commercial discs and ignored Lomax-type field recordings. “He wanted music to which people really had responded: records put on sale that at least some people thought were worth paying for.”

MartinHayes

To Marcus, this is a significant political point. The “charge” of this music “comes from the fact that for the first time people from isolated, scorned, forgotten, disdained communities and cultures had the chance to speak to each other and to the nation at large”–which could only happen through the commercial music marketplace. Many of the players on the Anthology were self-conscious artists with high professional yearnings, though only a few, like the Carters and “singing brakeman” Jimmie Rodgers, ever attained much celebrity. “The music Smith wove together,” Marcus notes, “was not exactly made by a folk.

It was made by willful, ornery, displaced, unsatisfied, ambitious individuals…trying to use the resources of their communities to stand out from those communities.” Individuals who, if only for a moment, looked beyond the farms and mines to which they were almost certainly chained. The stories they would tell later of journeying to New York to record are almost all the same… how could they keep hold of their pride, speak their piece as if they knew their neighbors would hear, but also as if they imagined the nation itself might actually acknowledge their existence.

At the same time, many of the “folk” musicians on the Anthology were innovators, codifiers of musical styles that changed with incendiary rapidity. The guitar, for instance–that emblematic “folk” instrument–was not widely played in the Southern mountains or the Mississippi Delta until the very end of the nineteenth century. So it took just one generation for the great black country-blues stylists like Hurt and Jefferson to emerge and be recorded; one generation later, blues were being shouted out in Chicago over soul-ripping electric bands.

Marcus is at his best extricating the Anthology’s musicians from the china cabinet of charming folk artifacts, restoring them as singular artists mining the same veins of American history, faith and language as Winthrop, Twain, Cather and Melville, even while their feet remained firmly in parochial soil. Surely no one has ever written with such seductive passion about country-music vaudevillian Uncle Dave Macon’s “foot-stomping exuberance, his long reach for good times.” On the Anthology, Macon’s “Way Down That Old Plank Road”–granted unstoppable momentum by his rapid-fire clogging, punctuated by his whip-cracking shouts of “GLORY HALLELUJA DAMN!” and “KILL YOURSELF!”–really is “one of the truest, highest, most abandoned moments in American speech.” On the darker side, there’s certainly not a shred of country-music nostalgia in Marcus’s portrayal of Dock Boggs, who after cutting eight death-obsessed sides in New York returned home to Norton, Virginia, to pawn his banjo and descend into the mines, where he worked for the next thirty years to support his chronically ill wife. Listen to the cruel, nasal edge of Boggs’s singing, backed by dark banjo figures repeated over and over in a relentless blues rhythm, as hollow and cold as if tapped out on a row of skulls. It’s easy to hear why Marcus considers Boggs a key influence on Dylan.

The terrain of the Anthology is not Woody Guthrie’s land made for you and me or “the old, free America” once eulogized by Kenneth Rexroth. It’s what Marcus calls “the old, weird America” of sin and salvation; of disappointment and displacement; and especially of violence. A large number of the songs in the Anthology are simple true-crime reports: “John Hardy was a desperate little man,” announce the Carters matter-of-factly, opening the story of a coal miner who killed a man in a crap game and was hanged in Welch, West Virginia, in 1894. And many of these musicians were themselves veterans of bootlegging shootouts and mine wars, the children of slaves and witnesses to lynchings. Boggs told an interviewer why his guitarist Emry Arthur, who wrote “Man of Constant Sorrow,” had problems reaching some chords: “He’d been shot through the hands. Bullets went through his hands.” One of Boggs’s brothers and two of his brothers-in-law were murdered; Boggs himself “beat one of his wife’s brothers nearly to death over fifty-two dollars.” This is gangsta folk, post-traumatic art far from the polite shores of Lake Wobegon.

Underlying Marcus’s heated enthusiasm for the Anthology is an argument, equally heated but more troubling, with the folk revival itself To Marcus, it was the folk revival that betrayed Dylan; ideologues like Seeger and Lomax conflated the individual expressive imaginations of musicians like Boggs into the life of The People. Marcus quotes Woody Guthrie on Sonny Terry’s harmonica playing–“The tobacco sheds of North Carolina are in it and all of the blistered and hurt and hardened hands cheated and left empty, hurt and left crying”–then observes acerbically that Guthrie “didn’t say if Sonny Terry was in it.” He blasts song collectors for their “paternalistic philosophy” and New Deal era folk circles for adherence to Socialist Realism.

Indulged as an operating thesis for Invisible Republic, this justifiable allergy to folk-music puritanism unfortunately leads Marcus to some invidious, imprecise judgments. The sixties folk revival, he declares, “did not believe in art at all,” a condemnation so broad as to be meaningless. He labels Smith’s Anthology the “founding document” of the folk revival, writing out of history–Dylan’s and the nation’s–the Weavers, Guthrie, John and Alan Lomax’s work and other equally influential sources. Yet those early academic folklorists, however paternalistic, were the first to insist that the music of the rural poor–the ballads and field hollers and fiddle tunes–be respected as art. Seeger’s endless stream of records in the fifties made the songs and instrumental styles of the “invisible republic” accessible to a contemporary college-educated audience. The achievements of these revivalists far outweigh their limits of understanding and arrogance of judgment in the mid-sixties. This is a point Marcus is unwilling to grant. That’s too bed for anyone who comes to the argument for the first time through his book.

Marcus never directly asks what it means to his “invisible republic” that young middle-class musicians, many just a generation removed from European immigration, built their identity around an old Southern musical vernacular so utterly remote from their own families’ history and experience. On the one hand, outsiders’ ears so easily misapprehend the subtle codes of language and inflection, the nods and winks and shared understandings among people who have lived for generations in one place. At the same time, in the very act of embracing the oppressed and marginalized communities of “Smithville,” Dylan and his friends and mentors cast their own American histories even further into the margins. Hank Sapoznik, a Brooklynborn banjo player turned klezmer scholar, has written about his mountain-music mentor Tommy Jarrell, who wondered–without hostility but with much curiosity–why there were so many young Jews among the aspiring string-band players showing up at his door in Virginia: “Don’t your people got none of your own music?”

Though Marcus doesn’t ask Jarrell’s question directly, he does hint at a reply. Sifting through Clarence Ashley’s “Coo Coo Bird” on the Anthology, he identifies a theme in its seeming nonsense verses–“displacement, restlessness, homelessness.” In a deft turn he finds Boston Brahmin Oliver Wendell Holmes, as unlikely an explicator of a banjo-frailing North Carolina dirt farmer as could be imagined, arguing in 1872 for a new national symbol–“We Americans are all cuckoos. We make our homes in the nests of other birds.” Then Marcus corrects Holmes’s bird lore: The cuckoo, in fact, “lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, leaving its progeny to be raised by others, to grow up as imposters in another’s house.” Suddenly old cryptic lyrics became the “proud anthem” for an America that had “filled itself up with slaves, indentured servants…the fleeing and the hated, who took or were given new, imposters’ names.” So when Boggs or Ashley “or, in certain hours in the basement, Bob Dylan sang, the contours of the country’s aspirations and failures” could be heard.

If in the fifties the Anthology seemed the voice of a vanished and secret America, at a time when many of its “invisible” musicians were still very much alive, what are we to make of it today, when it really does speak for a convocation of ghosts? The postmodern among us will note that the Anthology has evolved into three different “texts”: the original 78s; Smith’s associative compilation; and varying responses to both by musicians from the New Lost City Ramblers to Beck, with Dylan and friends somewhere in the middle of it all. The Anthology’s rediscovery is like the republication of Moby-Dick in the twenties; once restored, it is hard to imagine the landscape of American culture without it.

As I was listening to this singular sourcebook, I thought again of fiddler Martin Hayes. “There is much debate and division on the issues of continuity versus change, and tradition versus innovation,” he writes in the liner notes to his sublime album The Lonesome Touch (Green Linnett). “I think it is a mistake to divide these issues, as the music is capable of containing all of these parts at once.” This is, perhaps, the philosophical footing Dylan sought uneasily in Woodstock in 1967, when he recalled those voices caught on acetate on the brink of the Depression, with their world, like Dylan’s at the height of the Vietnam War, gone incomprehensibly wrong.