Author Archives: rilm

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.

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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.

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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).

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.

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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).

Below, excerpts from the 2019 tour.

More posts about China are here.

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Filed under Asia, Performers

Jack Cole’s double bind

Jack Cole is often called “the father of theatrical jazz dance”, and “Cole technique” has strongly influenced both film dance and American theatrical dance generally. In his heyday he was one of the most powerful choreographers working in Hollywood, with contractual control over the movement design, camerawork, costuming, lighting, and editing of his dance numbers.

Cole’s status as an “invisible” gay man is crucial to more than an understanding of the satiric, parodic, or camp elements of his film work; it is also a necessary precondition for his particular mode of deployment of so-called Oriental dance practices.

Cole engaged the double bind that both women and men are prisoners of gender roles. His use of the body’s physical beauty to stand for more than spiritual power combined the theatricality and spirituality of Denishawn, the voluptuousness and intensity of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and Oriental and other ethnic dance styles. His approach to dance and gender had profound effects on mid-20th-century hegemonic dance culture.

This according to “The thousand ways there are to move: Camp and Oriental dance in the Hollywood musicals of Jack Cole” by Adrienne L. McLean (Journal for the anthropological study of human movement XII/3 [spring 2003] 59–77).

Today would have been Cole’s 110th birthday! Above, a portrait by Carl Van Vechten from 1937 (public domain); below, the Denishawn parody “Greek ballet” from Down to earth (1947).

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Filed under Dance, Performers

Vivanco’s Liber magnificarum

In 2020 A-R Editions issued Liber magnificarum (1607), a critical edition of Sebastián de Vivanco’s 18 Magnificat settings, as well as two settings of Benedicamus, based on five different surviving manuscripts.

Vivanco (ca. 1551–1622) was born, like his revered contemporary Tomás Luis de Victoria, in Avila. Having secured prestigious cathedral and university posts at Salamanca, Vivanco saw through the press, between 1607 and 1614, three luxury choirbooks containing 18 Magnificats, 10 masses, and 72 motets, spread over a total of more than 900 printed pages.

The first of these choirbooks, all of which were printed by the Fleming Artus Taberniel and his wife Susana Muñoz, is a cycle of Magnificats providing polyphony for the odd- and even-numbered verses in all eight tones, plus one extra Magnificat in each of the much-used first and eighth tones.

If Vivanco has been eclipsed for too long by his great contemporary and compatriot, it is in the complexity and ingenuity of the many canons to be found in these Magnificats that Vivanco outshines even Victoria.

Above, a likeness of Vivanco on the original cover page of his Liber magnificarum; below, one of the works included in the edition.

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Filed under New editions, Renaissance

Transformational grammar and the foxtrot

Chomskyan transformational grammar provides a useful framework for a semasiological analysis of the foxtrot.

The foxtrot follows seven transformational rules; three are optional rules that account for certain variations that may occur while dancing at a club or in the studio while choreographing a dance, and four rules are obligatory. One rule involves gender agreement in proper foot choice, and three rules establish the relationship to the foot-placement structure and the slow-rhythm structure.

These few rules generate all the foxtrot steps one can produce: 1. Rhythm Transformation (optional); 2. Chasse Support (optional); 3. Walk Support (optional); 4. Slow-Rhythm Foot Position Junction (obligatory); 5. Gender Agreement (obligatory); 6. Direction/Turning Junction (obligatory); and 7. Foot/Direction Junction (obligatory).

This according to “A phrase-structural analysis of the foxtrot, with transformational rules” by Edward A. Myers (Journal for the anthropological study of human movement I/4 [fall 1981] 246–68; RILM Abstracts 1981-24274).

Above, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; below, a brief documentary.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance

Selena crosses over

As a musician, Selena Quintanilla Pérez will be remembered for her ability to transform traditional Latino musical styles such as cumbia into viable pop mainstream commodities. As a personality, she has acquired a larger-than-life status, symbolizing tejano music’s increasing profile within the record industry during the 1990s.

Born in Freeport, Texas, Selena was encouraged to perform and record as a preteen. In 1989 the family band, Selena y Los Dinos (simply called Selena by 1991), graduated from generic synth-flavored, dance-pop released on indie labels to a more individualized sound.

The emotional depth of her singing, along with her brother A.B.’s clever songs and slick rhythmic arrangements, netted a Grammy for  Selena live in 1993. Amor prohibido, the last album released prior to her tragic shooting by a former fan in 1995, demonstrated the band’s wide range of styles, including reggae-inflected dance fare, hard-edged rock, and torchy ballads.

This according to “Selena” by Frank Hoffman (Encyclopedia of recorded sound; this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works).

Today would have been Selena’s 50th birthday! Above, Selena live in concert in 1994 by hellboy_93 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0;  below, performing in 1993.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Electronic music and the Cold War

For a decimated post-War West Germany, the Studio für Elektronische Musik at Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) was a beacon of hope.

In the 1950s, when technologies were plentiful and the need for reconstruction was great, West Germany began to rebuild its cultural prestige via aesthetic and technical advances. The reclamation and repurposing of wartime machines, spaces, and discourses into the new sounds of the mid-century studio were part of this process.

The studio’s composers, collaborating with scientists and technicians, coaxed music from sine-tone oscillators, noise generators, band-pass filters, and magnetic tape. Together, they applied core tenets from information theory and phonetics, reclaiming military communication technologies as well as fascist propaganda broadcasting spaces.

The electronic studio nurtured a revolutionary synthesis of science, technology, politics, and aesthetics. Its esoteric sounds transformed mid-century music and continue to reverberate today. Electronic music—echoing both cultural anxiety and promise—is a quintessential Cold War innovation.

This according to Electronic inspirations: Technologies of the Cold War musical avant-garde by Jennifer Iverson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).

Below, Herbert Eimert’s and Robert Beyer’s Klangstudie II, one of the first works produced at the WDR studio.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Politics

Journal of sound and music in games

In 2020 the University of California Press launched Journal of sound and music in games (eISSN 2578-3432), a peer-reviewed journal that presents high-quality research concerning all areas of music and/or sound in games.

The journal serves a diverse community of readers and authors, encompassing industry practitioners alongside scholars from disciplinary perspectives including anthropology, computer science, media/game studies, philosophy, psychology, and sociology, as well as musicology. JSMG is the only journal exclusively dedicated to this subject, and provides a meeting point for professionals and academics from any tradition to advance knowledge of music and sound in this important medium.

Below, the trailer for Xenoblade chronicles, a video game discussed in the inaugural issue.

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Filed under New periodicals, Sports and games