Cole Porter and café society

Asked once whether his songs would endure, Cole Porter replied “I never gave it a thought…my enjoyment was in writing them.”

Porter’s passion for music was socially embedded; his personal performances were as central to his life as his songwriting. From early in his career, he loved references to historical as well as contemporary figures, usually in some brash situation that flatters his audience.

As a lyricist, Porter loved metonymic things, particularly lists. On the one hand, these lists frame a particular kind of eroticism—they most often appear in songs of romance (however ambivalent) and employ potentially endless wit, since the list could hypothetically continue to exhaustion, in the service of courtship.

But the list also serves to create an implied social world in which Cole’s immediate audience, which certainly recognized the references, was joined by a larger and more inchoate audience through magazines, recordings, and radio. Still, he depended heavily on the evanescence of the references, so his lists can have an unusually short cultural half-life—which is a cornerstone of their charm.

This according to “Lists of louche living: Music in Cole Porter’s social world” by Mitchell Morris, an essay included in A Cole Porter companion (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016 73–85; RILM Abstracts 2016-2611).

Today is Porter’s 130th birthday! Above, with his wife, Linda Lee Thomas; below, Anything goes includes numerous references to café society figures and events that were well known in Porter’s time, but are largely unfamiliar to today’s audiences.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Popular music

Contemporary African concert dance

The discourse surrounding contemporary concert dance in Africa is complex. Writings on the practice suggest that it could be considered both a neocolonial imposition and a contributor to processes of decolonization.

The growth of contemporary dance in Africa was stimulated by the establishment of an inter-Africa dance competition in 1995 by a French-sponsored dance biennale, which at the time was called the Choreographic Encounters of Africa and the Indian Ocean, and has since been renamed Danse l’Afrique danse!

A major controversy about contemporary dance was caused by the departure from the organization soon after its first event of one of its key instigators, the Ivorian choreographer Alphonse Tierou, in protest against the imposition of French artistic criteria by competition judges.

Tierou’s philosophical tenets for contemporary dance in Africa, which had guided the artistic activities leading up to the launch of the competition, were sidelined by the organizers, who set rules that insisted that entrants present new forms of dance that should not be associated with ideas of African tradition, but which still retain motifs or signifiers which a Western audience would perceive as being African. Both African choreographers and scholars feared the competition was a form of cultural neocolonialism.

While these justifiable concerns persist, there is an emerging academic discourse that promotes the ownership of contemporary dance by African choreographers and dance artists. Observing developments in contemporary dance in Nigeria, Chukwuma Okoye suggested that contemporary dance is undergoing a process of indigenization, arguing that when a foreign dance form is absorbed into a society on the terms of the people in that society the resulting practices cannot be considered a mere copy of the form that was appropriated.

This according to “James Mweu & Kunja Dance Theatre: Contemporary dance as African cultural production” by ‘Funmi Adewole (African theatre XVII [2018] 3–22; RILM Abstracts 2018-60720).

Above and below, Kenya’s Kunja Dance Theatre, a case study in the article.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Africa, Dance

Maguy Marin’s posthuman “Cendrillion”

Grotesque masks replace powdered noses, blushed cheekbones, and false eyelashes. Padded suits expand thin body lines. The doll costumes in Maguy Marin’s Cendrillion (Cinderella) push the boundaries of late 20th-century Western ballet aesthetics. Simultaneously, they raise questions about the ballet dancer’s role as subject and object onstage.

Combined with Prokof’ev’s Zoluška score, Marin’s characters, movement, and costumes expose and challenge multiple layers of dancer objectification. Situating the choreographer’s tactics within a feminist framework illuminates how Marin’s radical strategy centers on posthuman philosophy, paradoxically suggesting that a ballerina, through her thingness and cyborgian relations, can function outside of object-subject constraints.

This according to “Maguy Marin’s posthuman Cinderella: Thingness, grotesquerie, and cyborgs” by Mara Mandradjieff (Dance chronicle XL/3 [2017] 374–92; RILM Abstracts 2017-56181).

Today is Marin’s 70th birthday! Above and below, excerpts from productions of Cendrillion.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Dance

Melissa Etheridge’s creative process

In a 2020 interview, Melissa Etheridge recalled the genesis of her Grammy Award-winning Come to my window.

“I almost didn’t put it on the album. I thought it was a little too ambiguous of a song, that maybe people wouldn’t quite know what I’m talking about.”

“The chorus came first. Actually, I wanted to write a chorus that had a lifting melody, that kind of went up.”

“I was in a relationship that was the kind of relationship you have in your early 30s. You think you’re all in it, but it’s all complicated.  I had just hung up from a conversation where we didn’t say anything.  And I just hung up and said, ‘Why did I do this?’ Oh, well, ‘I would dial the numbers, just to listen to your breath.’  I just want to connect with you so badly.”

“It certainly wasn’t what I thought a hit song was. And then, man, it came out and it just kept going and going and going. What do I know, you know?”

This according to “Melissa Etheridge: The Rolling stone interview” by Brian Hiatt (Rolling stone 16 September 2020; RILM Abstracts 2020-57467).

Today is Etheridge’s 60th birthday! Above, a photo from 2011 by Angela George (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0); below, a live performance.

Comments Off on Melissa Etheridge’s creative process

Filed under Performers, Popular music, Women's studies

The Air Horn Orchestra

Comprising area musicians, band members, and concerned residents, the Raleigh-based Air Horn Orchestra staged a months-long sonic protest in 2016 to ensure that North Carolina governor Pat McCrory really heard their outcry against the infamous House Bill 2, better known as HB2 or the Bathroom Bill, which eliminated important anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community in North Carolina.

And how could he not hear? Air horns, whistles, trumpets, bells, and just about anything that could produce noise wailed outside the Governor’s Mansion weekly for over eight months. In addition to annoying the sitting governor, his staff, and their security detail, the cacophony stirred up national media attention and raised needed funds to help overturn the bill.

This according to “Sound politics: The Air Horn Orchestra blasts HB2” by Tina Haver Currin (Southern cultures XXIV/3 [fall 2018] 107–24; RILM Abstracts 2018-58458).

Below, a documentation of the Air Horn Orchestra’s efforts (Ms. Haver Currin addresses the group first; the performance begins around 2:00).

Related article: Cacerolazo and social media

Comments Off on The Air Horn Orchestra

Filed under Curiosities, Politics

Dürer’s bathing musicians

Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut Das Männerbad (ca. 1496–97) includes a portrayal of two men playing recorder and rebec in a public bath.

The artist’s meticulous attention to detail shows clearly that the recorder is a flûte à neuf trous (drilled to give the player a choice of left or right little finger, the unused hole to be filled with wax).

In the bath, singing is probably more widely practiced than instrumental playing, and indeed, wooden instruments might not take too kindly to the humidity; some people might be more attracted to drinking while bathing, like the gentleman to the musicians’ left.

This according to “Musical ablutions” by Herbert Hersom (The recorder magazine X/1 [March 1990] 20–21; RILM Abstracts 1990-30337).

Today is Dürer’s 550th birthday! Below, music by Ludwig Senfl, who worked at the court of Maximillian I around the time that Dürer was employed there.

More posts about iconography are here.

Comments Off on Dürer’s bathing musicians

Filed under Curiosities, Iconography, Iconography, Instruments, Renaissance

Enya and the female myth of Ireland

The personification of Enya as a modern archetype of female Ireland has become irrevocably intertwined into the grand narratives of popular culture that make up the last decades of the 20th century.

Her music has many cultural significations; Celticism, romance, fantasy, spirituality, and femininity. The common denominator in Enya’s translucent embodiment of this myth is her seemingly unconscious femininity and her self-distancing from the media and her followers. The unwillingness of Eithne Ní Bhraonáin and her co-creators to discuss their work in turn assists the reading of Enya as a text rather than as an object of ethnographic inquiry.

The significations in the music of Enya’s How can I keep from singing? interrelate with the significations in the lyrics, and a semiotic analysis of the visual imagery in the song’s music video further illuminates how her work perpetuates and reinvigorates the myth of Ireland and Irish womanhood for popular culture.

This according to “How can I keep from singing?” Enya and the female myth of Ireland by Anna Maria Dore, an M.A. thesis accepted by the University of Limerick/Ollscoil Luimnigh in 2003 (RILM Abstracts 2003-21780).

Today is Enya’s 60th birthday! Above and below, the video in question.

Comments Off on Enya and the female myth of Ireland

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Performers, Popular music, Women's studies

Improv Everywhere!

The improvisation collective Improv Everywhere specializes in staging public-space interventions, which they refer to as pranks or missions.

By enlisting pedestrians in discrete one-time events that challenge protocols of public contact and that expand our understanding of public flexibility and empathy, Improv Everywhere offers an antidote to mainstream, hegemonic formulations of spectacle, virtuosity, and generalized expectations concerning the purpose of performance.

The group’s integration of trained and untrained performers (whom they refer to as agents), the kinds of space and sociality that they create, and the connections between their live and web presences reveal noteworthy contemporary understandings of intimacy and the social fabric.

This according to “Why not Improv Everywhere?” by Susan Leigh Foster, an essay included in The Oxford handbook of dance and theater (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015, 196–212; RILM Abstracts 2015-23390).

Above and below, Conduct us, a collaboration with the designer Ilya Smelansky and New York City’s Carnegie Hall.

Comments Off on Improv Everywhere!

Filed under Curiosities, Humor, Performance practice

Tagore and Rabindra saṇgīt

Rabindra saṇgīt is a genre comprising the vocal works of the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who wrote poetry and other literary works in his mother tongue, Bengali.

The music he composed for his verses drew on many sources. Well-versed in the classical Hindustani tradition of North India, Tagore was also familiar with the Karnatak tradition of South India; his compositions mix melodic and rhythmic ideas from Indian art and folk traditions, along with elements of genres from various other parts of the world.

Much of Tagore’s music is rāga-based, though not categorically bound by rāga grammar. Despite the catholicity of his approach to composition, his works bear the unmistakable and inimitable imprint of his own musical vision.

This according to Hindustani music: A tradition in transition by Deepak S. Raja (New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2005; RILM Abstracts 2005-8174).

Today is Tagore’s 160th birthday!

Below, Amiya Tagore, one of the few recorded exponents of Rabindra saṇgīt who studied directly with the composer, sings his E parabase rabe ke, which she recorded for Satyajit Ray’s film Kanchenjungha in 1962.

Comments Off on Tagore and Rabindra saṇgīt

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music

The Yandong Grand Singers

The Yandong Grand Singers are a choir of the Kam/Dong people from Guizhou province, China, specializing in the galao (grand song), a form of polyphonic song through which the Kam people transmit much of their history, culture, and knowledge. In 2009 the Grand Song was inscribed on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Nearly every Kam person sings in a choir at some time in their life. From a community singing group of the Yandong township, the Yandong Grand Singers have gradually made their name known internationally through their album Everyone listen close—Wanp-wanp jangl kap and international tours. In 2019 they toured five cities in the United States to give concerts and workshops, which turned out to be a special experience of cultural exchange for both the musicians and audiences.

This according to “From the mountain to the world: My travels with the Chinese Yandong Grand Singers” by Mu Qian (Folklife 19 April 2021; RILM Abstracts 2021-1649).

Below, excerpts from the 2019 tour.

More posts about China are here.

Comments Off on The Yandong Grand Singers

Filed under Asia, Performers