In Macunaíma, o herói sem nenhum caráter (Macunaíma, the hero without character) by the Brazilian musicologist, ethnomusicologist, poet, and cultural activist Mário de Andrade (1893–1945), the title character leaves his home deep in the jungle for a mystical quest to São Paulo to retrieve the muiraquitã, an amulet said to embody all of the history and traditions of his culture. Macunaíma succeeds in his mission, but in the process he undergoes a series of dramatic transformations; finally, he is changed into a constellation. He leaves for the firmament with a cryptic remark: He was not brought into the world to be a stone.
The story can be read as a metaphor for the cultural developments that Andrade helped to shape: He advocated bringing the jungle to the city to create the modernist aesthetic of brasilidade that informed the growth of the Brazilian creative arts and the parallel development of musicology and ethnomusicology there. Like Macunaíma, Brazilian modernism did not come into the world to be a stone, with all its implications of rigidity, contour, and well-defined boundaries—rather, brasilidade relishes improvisation, exploration, and fluid boundaries that can be perpetually transformed.
Initiated by Isidore Isou (born Jean-Isidore Goldstein), a young refugee from Romania, lettrism was a multidisciplinary creative movement that began in Paris in 1946 but soon expanded by attracting numerous creative people. Lettrist work was inspired by calligraphy, initially for books but also for visual art. In the age of print, it was quite innovative, although it may not have fared as well in preprint times. One recurring device is letters that resemble verses, even though they are devoid of words. Prominent writers and artists based in France such as Jean-Louis Brau, Gil J. Wolman, Maurice Lemaître, Roberto Altmann, Roland Sabatier, and Jean-Paul Curtay were among those associated with the group at various times.
The movement was named Lettrism because historically it was first and foremost interested in rethinking poetry, which at the time was judged to be exhausted when conveyed simply through words and concepts. Poetic lettrism clearly and systematically for the first time (taking inspiration from Dada) proposed a new conception of poetry entirely reduced to letters and eliminating all semantics. Not unlike other self-conscious agglomerations, lettrism was particularly skilled at producing manifestos which can be read with varying degrees of sense. By discounting semantic and syntactical coherence for language art, some lettrist works are considered the precursors of concrete poetry. Among the alumni are Guy Debord (1931–94), who is commonly credited with initiating the Situationist International (1958–72), which, according to some, represents art’s most profound, courageous, and successful involvement in radical politics. While Situationist writings have been translated into English, lettrist texts largely have been left out.
Find out more about lettrism in A dictionary of the avant-gardes. Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).
The first image above was created by Roberto Altmann, and the second by Maurice Lemaître–both were artists associated with the lettrist movement.
Below is a video of Orson Welles interviewing Isidore Isou about lettrism and sound poetry in 1955. Be sure to turn up your volume when watching it.
The library of the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) in Paris is home to an extensive collection of writings on music from the Arab world, a region stretching from the Atlas Mountains to the Indian Ocean. This series of blog posts highlights selections of this collection, along with abstracts written by RILM staff members contained in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, the comprehensive bibliography of writings about music. Since the onset of the Arab Spring in the early 2010s, the Institut du Monde Arabe has hosted exhibitions and concerts featuring musicians and artists who are at the heart of the cultural production in the region.
“It takes a revolution/To find a solution” - From the song “Revolution” by the Palestinian hip-hop band DAM.
Revolutions and popular movements are characterized by a distinct soundscape defined by chants, songs, and the rhythmic movements of collective bodies. The act of protesting in the Arab world is often encapsulated in the idiom kasir ğidār al-ṣamt (to break the barrier of silence); in contrast, the authorities’ act of oppression is referred to as an act of silencing.
Since the turn of the 20th century, the peoples of the Arab world have composed, disseminated, and rendered songs and chants against all forms of domestic, foreign, secular, and religious oppression. Musicians, vocalists, urban poets, and rappers all moved people to act in spaces, public and virtual. In music literature, these songs and chants are referred to by different names: al-aġānī al-ṯawrīyaẗ (revolutionary songs), aġānī al-iḥtiğāğ (protest songs), al-aġānī al-multazimaẗ (socially committed songs), and al- aġānī al-waṭanīyaẗ (patriotic songs). With the rise of communist and leftist movements in the Arab world during the 1960s and 1970s, aesthetic judgment was defined by the level of social and political consciousness of music and songs.
The history of independence and protest movements in the Arab world is interlinked with a crackdown on civil liberties and freedom of expression, and is marked by the movement of peoples across regional borders and beyond. Writers on music have commented on the phenomena of protest songs in their home countries as well as the circulation of songs across borders and cross-cultural influences among Arab diasporas in exile, acknowledging the continuous connections between communities at home and elsewhere.
Given the cosmopolitan contexts in which musicians and poets work and perform, the musical and poetic production of non-Arabic-speaking peoples of the region is noteworthy: The Algerian Kabyle vocalist Lounès Matoub (1956–98) singing in Kabyle, youths living abroad rap in European languages, and Moroccan urban poets known as Jil Lklam (Generation of Words) mix the languages and dialects of Amazigh and Arabic, fusing them with expressions in French, English, and Spanish.
The music that carries protest and political themes is as diverse as the dialects and languages present in the Arab world. The patriotic and nationalist songs of the first half of the 20th century draw from the rich repertoire of al-qaṣīdaẗ al-ʽamūdīyaẗ (vertical poetry), fusing with local melodies and European-style orchestration and arrangement. Other songs rely on local dialects and musical sensibilities to appeal to the broader masses. Among the anti-colonial and independence songs, the Tunisian “Tūnis al-yūm brāt mi al-tankīdaẗ” stands out, sung here by legendary Tunisian vocalist Saliha (1914–58).
The songs of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s that offer social and political commentary rely on local folk styles and instruments, as can be observed in the revolutionary songs of the Sabreen group (Palestine) and the revolutionary anthems of the Firqaẗ al-Ṭarīq (Iraq). The songs of Nass el Ghiwane (Morocco) feature elements of rwais, and the rebel songs of Groupe El-Ouali (Mauritania) use the subversive lyrics of Sheikh Imam (1918–95) from Egypt. In the last decades, rock, reggae, rap, hip hop, and other popular genres have served as a source of inspiration for bands such as Mashrou’ Leila (Lebanon), DAM (Palestine), and Cairokee (Egypt), with its aspirational lyrics and rock instrumentation that respond to the 2011 Egyptian revolution. “Ya El Medane” is one song that expressed the aspirations of the youth during the Egyptian revolution.
Protest songs in the Arab world are forms of expression that break boundaries, defy expectations, and challenge reality. They hail from the Atlas Mountains to Tangier and Algiers, and find a receptive audience in the banlieues of Paris; chants are heard in Tahrir Square and move protesters in Sana’a, Beirut, and Tunis.
The writings featured in this annotated bibliography present and carefully analyze songs accompanying key political and social events. These include nationalist protest movements that unfolded in the Arab world in the last century, from anti-colonial movements and national movements in the first half of the century to chants that accompanied the revolutions of 2011 and beyond.
– Written and compiled by Farah Zahra, Assistant Editor, RILM
Caubet, Dominique and Amine Hamma. Jil Lklam: Poètes urbains (Casablanca: Éditions du Sirocco; Mohammedia: Senso Unico Éditions, 2016). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-56443; IMA catalogue reference]
The Moroccan music scene that emerged in the mid-1990s has become a crucial part of the overall cultural scene of the country. Rappers, slammers, reggae musicians, creators of metal music and non-music genres such graffiti and break dance have all initiated an urban movement that mixes genres and contributes to a multicultural Morocco. The evolution of discourse emerging from the underground scene to the public sphere is explored, with attention to the lyrics of songs expressing a young generation that is concerned with taboo subjects, cool music, and tough texts. Eloquent, humorous, sensitive, angry, and poetic, this creative and rebellious generation expresses, in multilingual tongues—vernacular, Amazigh, mixed with French, English, and Spanish—its love for its homeland along with its desire for dignity, freedom, and a future. A new generation of artists is revealing, in addition to its eloquence and its extraordinary talent for writing and composition, an unquenching determination to be heard. The generation adapted the American counterculture’s ethos of do-it-yourself and solidarity while using new technology and social media to share its music. Including interviews with experts on the new music scene, a selection of song texts shared in their original language and translated to French, and rich iconography, the book represents a platform for the new generations of artists to be heard and seen, a generation that is the true echo of the youth.
Dridi, Daïkha and Omar Zelig. “La petite musique du voyage au bout de la nuit: Quand la musique se revolte, entre ‘bizness’ et poesie”, La pensée de midi 4 (mai 2001) 65–71. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2001-49702; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: A description and an interpretation of the music scenes in 2001, after ten years of political violence that Algeria witnessed. The aftermath of violence and political stances in music genres and scenes, old and new, is discussed. Local genres such as raï, Kabyle militant, and chaabi triste sorrowful chaabi capture a general spirit of hopelessness, but also of hope. Case studies and performances such as the hip-hop group Intik and the group Ragga-Gnawi are explored, and the performance and the following banning of Baaziz’s “Algérie mon amour” is interpreted against the backdrop of political upheavals in Algeria. Algerian hip hop is a rhythmic, musical, and lyrical rupture from everything that preceded it.
El Mazned, Brahim. “Les rwayss, ou la musique amazighe comme résistance”, Le monde arabe existe-t-il (encore)?, ed. by Chirine El Messiri. Araborama 1 (Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe; Seuil, 2020) 190–193. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-71413; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Approaches Amazigh (Berber) music as an expression of cultural, social, and political resistance. Rwayss is a genre that originates in the Sous region, the center of Amazigh culture, and incorporates singing, dance, and a religious ceremony. The setting where rwayss is traditionally performed is described, and new scenes of rwayss in urban spaces in Morocco and in Europe, especially in France and Belgium, are analyzed. Resistance to musical assimilation and the importance of continuity in rwayss and its connection to the past are considered the main expression of resistance that the tradition holds.
El Zein, Rayya. “Resisting ‘resistance’: On political feeling in Arabic rap concerts”, Arab subcultures: Transformations in theory and practice, ed. by Layal Ftouni and Tarik Sabry. Library of modern Middle East studies (London; New York: I.B. Tauris, 2016) 83–112. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-56445; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Explores the ways in which young Arab rap artists navigate the contradictions in the urban and public spheres in everyday life. The discourse of resistance permeating scholarship on rap and hip hop in the Arab world is critiqued and perceived as an expression of neoliberal power. Within the context of the rap scenes in Beirut and Ramallah, political feeling is expressed through objection, confrontation, repetition—a set of processes that hinges on collective action and solidarity rather than individual agency. Interactions, as such, should not be labeled as political but should be approached as subversive in their own terms. Conclusions are based on ethnographic studies conducted in Beirut and Ramallah, where interviews and conversations were conducted and exchanges between artists and audiences were observed.
Houssais, Coline. “En chansons: Florilège musical révolutionnaire”, Il était une fois…: Les révolutions arabes, ed. by Chirine El Messiri. Araborama (Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe; Seuil, 2021) 239–248. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2021-101344; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Provides a selection of songs that marked the history of revolutionary and nationalist songs. Most of them were initially poems later set to music. All the case studies feature a short background on the poet, the performer, and the historical context. Brief background information is then followed by the lyrics in Arabic and a French translation. Among the case studies featured are Min djibalina (From our mountains) by Mohamed Laid Al Khalifa from Algeria, Irdatou al-hayat (The will to live) by Abou el Kacem Chebbi from Tunisia, “Ana Afriqi ana Soudani” by Alsir Gadour from Sudan, Ounadikoum (I call upon you) by the poet Tewfik Ziad from Palestine, and other cases from Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, and Syria.
Institut du Monde Arabe. Hip Hop: Du Bronx aux rues Arabes [Exposition, Paris, Institut Du Monde Arabe, 28 Avril–26 Juillet 2015], ed. by Aurélie Clémente-Ruiz (Gent: Snoeck; Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe, 2015). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-89747; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Issued as part of the exhibition Hip Hop, du Bronx aux Rues Arabes organized by the Institut du Monde Arabe in 2015. The book is divided into three sections: the birth of a movement, a new aesthetic, and rap and society. The editors approach hip hop not simply as a genre but as an aesthetic, a lifestyle in perpetual evolution and a continuous transformation. In the preface, the director of the Institut du Monde Arabe remarks on the recourse of young Arab generations to hip hop as a way to express frustration with current realities and to vocalize their aspirations. Articles by multiple authors covering various topics and aspects of hip hop history and its adaptation by contemporary Arab artists are included.
Massad, Joseph. “Liberating songs: Palestine put to music”, Palestine, Israel, and the politics of popular culture, ed. by Rebecca L. Stein and Ted Swedenburg (Durham; London: Duke University Press, 2005) 175–201. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-31981; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Analyzes the role of patriotic, nationalist, and revolutionary songs in the struggle for Palestinian liberation, approaching songs as a register for the changing dynamics of the Palestinian struggle and the various populations and demographics involved in it at different stages of the country’s history. Themes of the songs include the fight for liberation, the dream for Arab unity and solidarity, and the struggle for refugees’ rights. Songs are categorized in three historical phases. The first phase is marked by the growing support for pan-Arabism, the rise of Palestinian guerrillas, and the underground scene in the late 1960s and 1970s. The second phase comprises songs produced by non-Palestinians following the great defeat of 1967. The third phase covers songs that accompanied the first intifada (1987–93). Overall, resistance songs were subject to many transformations throughout the second half of the second century and beyond. Musicians and artists moved away from state-sponsored productions to underground scenes in Palestine and among its displaced population. Nowadays, Palestinian resistance and patriotic songs have reached a wide reception and have become a founding aspect of Arab and Palestinian popular culture.
Mérimée, Pierre and Jacques Denis. Intifada rap. Trans. by Tara Dominguez and Sarah Bouasse(Paris: LO/A Edition, 2014). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-95113; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Presents photographs featuring Palestinian rappers, spoken word artists, and musicians, as well as photos of the broader urban spaces in which the alternative and broader Palestinian music scene flourishes. The photographer followed musicians in their everyday lives and captured aspects of their activity. The photographs are occasionally accompanied by brief written commentary and by quotes or lyrics by Palestinian poets and artists and Israeli activists. Hip hop artists featured include Saz (Sameh Zakout), Boikutt (Jad Abbas), Shaana Streett, Mahmoud Jrere of DAM, and members of MWR, WE7, and G-Town. Other non-hip-hop artists featured are Amal Murkus and Said Mourad (founder of Sabreen Band).
République Arabe Sahraouie Democratique. Groupe El- Ouali chants et danses sahraouis: Une culture de résistance (Nouakchott: Ministère de L’information de la République Arabe Sahraouie Démocratique, 1983). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1983-26413; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Surveys the works, repertoire, and style of the Mauritanian music and dance company Groupe El-Ouali, and situates them within the broader landscape of cultural resistance in Mauritania in the 1970s and the liberation movement led by the Front Polisario. Groupe El-Ouali was formed by amateur musicians and militants and performed live concerts and disseminated their music on cassettes. The book covers dance styles such as the war dance Dance de ausred, which was performed during the resistance movement led by the Front Polisario against the Spanish occupation of the Sahara, and La touiza, a women’s dance. The book also includes lyrics of selected songs by Groupe El-Ouali translated into French. The songs express themes of revolution and independence, as well as relationships to the land, national identity, and the values of the nationalist movement.
Shalaby, Nadia A. “A multimodal analysis of selected Cairokee songs of the Egyptian revolution and their representation of women”, Women, culture, and the January 2011 Egyptian Revolution, ed. by Dalia Said Mostafa (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2017) 59–81. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2017-90149; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Analyzes the music videos Ṣawt al-ḥurrīyaẗ (Voice of freedom), Yā al-mīdān (O Tahrir Square), and Iṯbat makānak (Stand your ground) by the Egyptian band Cairokee. The three music videos were released during the year following the breakout of the Egyptian revolution on 25 January 2011, and each reflects the popular mood accompanying the phases of the revolution. The creation and reception of meaning through these music videos is a product of lyrics, music, and other semiotic resources such as visual cues, photographs, camera angles, framing, range of shots, and gaze. The visual design of each music video is discussed to show how multimodal discourse is formed through the employment of various visual, verbal, and musical modes. Finally, the presence and the agency of women in the three music videos are analyzed following the same analytical model.
Skilbeck, Rod. “Mixing pop and politics: The pole of raï in Algerian political discourse”, The Arab-African and Islamic worlds: Interdisciplinary studies, ed. by Kevin R. Lacey and Ralph M. Coury (Bern: Peter Lang, 2000) 289–302. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2000-83623; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Documents the rise of popularity of raï and of kabyle musics among young Algerians at home and among the country’s diasporas, covering the origins and early development of raï in the early 20th century and documenting its popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. Raï is a hybrid genre that merges Arabic and Bedouin poetry and incorporates local and Western instrumentation. Raï song texts can be categorized in terms of clean raï, which narrates stories of love, and dirty rai, which deals with forbidden sexual desires, alcoholism, and alienation. At the start of the Algerian civil war in 1991 raï became one of its battlefields, and while raï itself was not political, it became political insofar as it represents marginalized social classes through expressions of themes that are deemed taboo or unethical by society or political authorities. During the civil war raï artists were banned, and some were murdered by religious guerrilla groups. One important case study presented is the raï song El harba way? (To flee but where to?) by Cheb Khaled, which became the anthem of protesters during the political crisis of 1988.
Al-Sayyid, ʽUmar. Kalām al-ġīwān (Rabat: Ittiḥād Kuttāb al-Maġrib, 2002). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2002-50214; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: A comprehensive collection of song lyrics by the Moroccan group Nās al-Ġīwān, compiled by one of its members. The preface includes key information about the group and presents a critical take on various commentators’ views on the phenomenon of Nās al-Ġīwān, their musical career, and their popularity in Morocco. Formed in the 1960s, the group accompanied and contributed to the cultural, artistic, and political movement that was unfolding in Morocco. The 1960s and 1970s were marked by a growing popular protest movement that Nās al-Ġīwāne marked with their lyrical and musical contribution. However, one should not reduce the group’s artistic production to a political message. Nās al-Ġīwān merged musical and lyrical elements belonging to four cultures—African, Arab, Amazigh, and Saharan—providing a case study of how to properly reclaim musical and cultural heritage and identity. The concept of a Nās al-Ġīwān dictionary of terms is introduced.
Šalābī, Fawzīyaẗ. Qirāʼāt munāwiʼaẗ (Tripoli: al-Dār al-ʽArabīyaẗ li-al-Kitāb, 1984). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1984-28079; IMA catalogue reference]
Abstract: Approaches political songs from the 1960s through the 1980s as expressions of contemporary Arab consciousness. The difference between the Arab intellectual elites fueling the conscious cultural movement and the Arab masses who follow with little critical take is explored. Political songs that do not give lip service to intellectual elites, but rather engage and express the real suffering of the people, are highlighted, distinguishing between progressive songs (al-aġānī al-taqaddumīyaẗ) of politically and socially engaged people and political songs (al-aġānī al-siyāsīyaẗ) of authoritarian states and the Arab right. Case studies from Morocco (Nās al-Ġīwān), Tunisia (Aṣḥāb al-Kalimaẗ), Iraq (Firqaẗ al-Ṭarīq), and Egypt (al-Šayẖ Imām) are included.
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New York. — January 17, 2023 — Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM) has entered a three-year collaboration with the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris (IMA, Arab World Institute) that aims to increase public engagement, advance global cultural understanding, and connect diverse communities by highlighting and sharing the Institute library’s holdings on music from the Arab world. RILM, which documents and disseminates music research worldwide, supports this initiative by drawing on its comprehensive digital resources to create blog posts about a selection of Arabic music literature. Each post is enhanced with an expertly curated bibliography.
The bibliographic references stem from one of the richest and most exhaustive resources of global music research,RILM Abstracts of Music Literature™, which contains 1.5 million bibliographic records from relevant writings on music published from the early 19th century to the present in over 170 countries and in more than 140 languages.
Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM), New York: RILM is committed to the comprehensive and accurate representation of music scholarship in all countries and languages, and across all disciplinary and cultural boundaries. It publishes a suite of digital resources aimed at facilitating and disseminating music research. Its flagship publication is RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, the international bibliography of writings on music covering publications from the early 19th century to the present, now available in an enhanced version that includes the full text content of over 260 music journals. RILM Abstracts is available on the EBSCOhost platform along with RILM Music Encyclopedias, a full-text repository of a wide-ranging and growing list of music reference works, and the Index to Printed Music, a finding aid for searching specific musical works contained in printed collections, sets, and series. Distributed worldwide on RILM’s own platform are the continually updated music encyclopedia MGG Online, RILM Music Encyclopedias, and the Dizionario Enciclopedico Universale della Musica e dei Musicisti (coming in mid-2023). RILM is a joint project of the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives, and Documentation Centres (IAML); International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM); the International Musicological Society (IMS); and the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM). www.rilm.org
Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris: The Institut du Monde Arabe was founded to create strong and durable cultural ties while cultivating constructive dialogue between the Arab world, France, and Europe. This cross-discipline space is the central place for the development of cultural projects, in collaboration with institutions, creators and thinkers from the Arab world. The Institut du Monde Arabe is fully anchored in the present. It aims to reflect the Arab world’s current dynamics. It intends to make a distinctive contribution to the institutional cultural landscape. No other organization in the world offers such a wide range of events in connection with the Arab world. Debates, colloquia, seminars, conferences, dance shows, concerts, films, books, meetings, language and culture courses, and large exhibitions all contribute to raising awareness of this unique and vibrant world. https://www.imarabe.org
For more information, please contact:
Michael Lupo Marketing & Media Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale 365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 3108 • New York, NY 10016-4309 firstname.lastname@example.org • Phone 1 212 817 1992 • www.rilm.org
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The main entrance to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’s exhibition Lou Reed: Caught between the twisted stars opens up on Lincoln Plaza, directly adjacent to the The Metropolitan Opera house. On a sunny day, the Met’s angular, august facade reflects light beams that seem lightyears away from the intransigent, transgressive spirit, the championing of misfits, the sardonic humor that the exhibit captures and that Reed’s music embodies. Is there a psychogeographic contradiction between the outside buildings’ shimmering, safe, highbrow sheen and the sounds and images purveyed by the avant-garde prince (or pauper?) of New York proto-punk? If so, it is an incongruity to revel in.
Reed’s music and poetry disrupted reductive divisions between the cultivated and vernacular, the concert hall and the streets, and the transcendent and ephemeral. His sounds rejected the colorful and optimistic 1960s utopian collective, the normative middle-class assumptions that homogenized gender distinctions and human sexuality, and the blind eye cast towards a drug-fueled urban underclass. This rebellious spirit runs through his creative work and the eclectic literary and sonic sources on which he drew to craft his own sound(scapes). One finds this eclecticism refracted everywhere in the ethnic mosaic of New York City, whether on the Upper West Side in 2022, or the Lower East Side in the 1960s and 1970s. The NYC mosaic—a metaphor that’s preferable to “melting pot”, which fails to grasp the historical resonance of ethnically similar people living together in specific neighborhoods—is captured in the form of the exhibit. It eschews strict narrative construction of Reed’s life, offering instead a constellated, interconnected network of images, recordings, friendships, interests, collaborators, writings, and technologies. The visitor is invited to take a free (as in gratis) journey that may nourish the inquisitive iconoclast within.
Lou Reed is indexed in over 280 records across RILM Abstracts of Music Literature and RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text—the sources from which the bibliography below is taken—and has two entries in RILM Music Encyclopedias(in Das Gothic- und Dark Wave-Lexikon: Das Lexikon der schwarzen Szene and the Algemene muziek encyclopedie). Additionally, information on Reed, his collaborators, and related topics (such as literature, poetry, the NYC downtown scene, visual arts, film, recording techniques, and more) can be found in several reference texts in RME, as well as in MGG Online. Links to some of these sources have been embedded into this introduction. But in the end, this bibliography is by necessity a superficial treatment of what can be said and has been said on Reed and his career, as well as on what can be found in RILM’s resources.
What follows below more or less replicates the organizing structure of the exhibit, beginning with Reed’s work in The Velvet Underground and his collaboration with Cale and Warhol, followed by emphasis on his literary interests and poetry, which then leads into his solo productions of the 1970s (especially Metal machine music) and beyond, and ends with Reed as a subject (e.g., an interviewee, a listener with a wide range of interests, a human with a sense of humor). The reader, then, may use this blog entry to supplement and elaborate the experience of attending the exhibit (open until 4 March 2023) in person.
Reed’s music has attracted attention from musicologists (e.g., a 2016 special issue on The Velvet Underground published in Rock music studies), music theorists, music journalists (most notoriously Lester Bangs), theologians, literary theorists, and many others working in other music and music-adjacent fields, and this is reflected in some of the sources you’ll find in this bibliography. The writers of these texts are themselves a motley crew in all the best possible ways, and they reveal the enormous impact that Reed continues to make on musicians, researchers, teachers, and explorer-outcasts of all stripes around the world.
– Written and compiled by Michael Lupo, Assistant Editor/Marketing & Media, RILM
The exhibit begins with what is perhaps the most famous context for Reed’s production: his time as co-founder, songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist of The Velvet Underground.
Bockris, Victor and Gerard Malanga. Up-tight: The Velvet Underground story (New York: Quill, 1983). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1983-7587]
Abstract: Presents an in-depth history of the Velvet Underground from the pre-VU activities of band members up through the Exploding Plastic Inevitable tour and the four seminal albums. Although the band was an outright commercial failure at the time, they are now recognized as one of the key catalysts in the development of rock music, especially as progenitors of punk rock and postpunk. Substantial portions of the book reproduce interviews with the four founding members of the Velvet Underground (Lou Reed, John Cale, Maureen Tucker, and Sterling Morrison) and with key associates such as Nico, Andy Warhol, and members of the Factory.
Bouchard, Marie-Ève. “Andy Warhol et le Velvet Underground: Réalité ou reconstruction de la réalité?”, Les cahiers de la Société Québécoise de Recherche en Musique III/1–2 (septembre 1999) 51–62. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 1999-38064]
Abstract: Describes how reality is expressed in the New York underground scene in the 1960s, as epitomized by Andy Warhol’s Factory. The world of the Factory is detailed, and the relationship between Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground is explored. The Velvet Underground incorporated elements of the Warhol Factory in their music, and in the song I’m waiting for the man composed by Lou Reed, in particular. An analysis of the song’s text and music is undertaken to demonstrate how it conforms to the reality of the Factory and the New York City underground.
Cuesta, Stan. Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground, John Cale, Nico (Paris: Layeur, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-21973]
Abstract: The Velvet Underground had an amazing destiny. In the 1960s, in the wake of Andy Warhol, avant-garde artist, provocateur, and way ahead of his time, they had no success at all! But, as Brian Eno said, although almost nobody bought their records when they were released, the people who did all later formed their own groups. The band steadily attracted more and more imitators, especially in punk, and is now recognized as one of the most enduringly influential groups in rock history. The recordings of the Velvet Underground are analyzed: the group only released four albums during its brief existence, though myriad records came out after they broke up: live, never-released, and other pirate recordings which achieved official status. After 1970, the three principal members of the group embarked on incredibly fertile solo careers, which are discussed chronologically.
Dorin, Stéphane. Velvet underground: La Factory de Warhol et l’invention de la bohème pop (Paris: Éditions des Archives Contemporaines, 2016). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-28124]
Abstract: Between 1965 and 1967 with its first album The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967), The Velvet Underground evolved from a promising underground New York band into a legend of rock history. This pivotal period for the group that installed itself in the Factory was equally so for Andy Warhol, who was for a short while its patron and manager. Warhol’s yearning to achieve the alchemical transformation of rock into art through his collaboration with Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground was always balanced on the razor’s edge between sub-cultural marginality and social and commercial recognition within the realm of contemporary art and rock. Although it did not completely shake up the classical and popular art and music worlds, it did blur their boundaries and give rise to one of the most beautiful myths of 20th-century American culture, and to a rock group which attained cult status. Using the conceptual tools of cultural studies and cultural sociology, an analysis of the life and experience of the band at the center of the Factory reveals how rock and art have transformed today’s lifestyles and relationship to work, from the standpoint of the pop aesthetic.
Heylin, Clinton. All yesterdays’ parties: The Velvet Underground in print 1966–1971 (Cambridge: Da Capo, 2005). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-18301]
Abstract: The Velvet Underground (VU) are among the most influential bands of all time. Their trademark sound is easily detected in David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Talking Heads, R.E.M., Jane’s Addiction, Yo La Tengo, Luna, and the Strokes, and they are also credited with creating a streetwise, pre-punk sensibility that has become inseparable from the popular image of downtown New York. “Discovered” by Andy Warhol in 1966, the VU—with their original line-up of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Moe Tucker—would soon become the house band of the avant-garde, composing songs simultaneously furious in their abrasiveness and beautiful in their pathos, standing in striking contrast to the prevailing flower power of the era. With such a notorious pedigree, it’s only natural that the story of the VU has become shrouded in myth and hyperbole. Here gathered for the first time are almost all of the published writings contemporary with the band’s existence–from sources as mainstream as the New York times to vanished voices of the counterculture like Crawdaddy!, Oz, Open city, and Fusion. An invaluable snapshot of an era is provided by trailblazing rock writers such as Lester Bangs, Robert Greenfield, Sandy Pearlman, and Paul Williams. With the most complete VU discography assembled to date; a biographical overview by the editor; and photographs, posters, and other visual evocations of the period throughout, a treasure trove of lore is made available for anyone interested in the VU, their roots, and legacy.
Jovanovic, Rob. Seeing the light: Inside The Velvet Underground (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2012-3572]
Abstract: Artists including David Bowie, The Sex Pistols, Joy Division, Roxy Music, Nirvana, U2, R.E.M., and even the dissident Czech playwright and eventual president Václav Havel have cited The Velvet Underground as a major influence. Formed by the mercurial Lou Reed and the classically trained Welshman John Cale in the mid-1960s, the band first gained notoriety after being adopted by Andy Warhol. Warhol’s patronage allowed the group to chart unexplored regions of rock ‘n’ roll, producing music that veered from droning, avant-garde experimentalism to folk-infused pop, offering taboo-busting tales of drug addiction, prostitution, and sexual deviance. Creative tensions and frustrated ambition eventually saw both Cale and Reed leave the band, to its ignominious end. In the decades since, The Velvet Underground’s music has attained classic status, revered alongside The Beatles and The Beach Boys as one of the sources of modern pop. New interviews from members Moe Tucker and Doug Yule, as well as the widow of their bandmate Sterling Morrison, reveal the mystique of one of the most important bands in rock history.
Abstract: The author casts an ear back through the musical history of The Velvet Underground legend and brilliant rock musician who recently passed away. Lou Reed saw himself as the bard of New York; the way, he explained, Joyce had Dublin and Faulkner the South, though a sensibility awash in Edgar Allan Poe, Delmore Schwartz, and Nelson Algren produced adolescent renderings of perversion. But he didn’t stop there. Reed’s fictive power acted as a window through which sympathetic parents, heterosexual marriages, and other tenets of the bourgeoisie look as deeply strange as kissing a boot of shiny, shiny leather. If rock critics remain as obsessed with lyrics as they ever were, Reed deserves the blame as much as Dylan. But what’s astonishing about those Velvet Underground records is the success with which their musical correlatives complement if not overwhelm the lyrics. For instance, Venus in furs, the ode to sadomasochism from the band’s first album, is sexy and thrilling and wondrous in ways that have little to do with the ooh-scary libretto. Listen as those Byrds-y guitars slam against the single note that John Cale saws off his viola, while “Moe” Tucker bangs a kick drum; when Cale actually plays chords on the bridge the song sounds as tired and weary as Reed himself.
Warner, Simon. “La banalité de la dégradation: Andy Warhol, le Velvet Underground et l’esthétique trash”, Volume! La revue des musiques populaires IX/1 (2012) 51-65. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2012-15874]
Abstract: The American 1960s has become closely associated with moral crusades that strove for Civil Rights for the Black community and protested against the conflict in Vietnam, and with the peace and love gestures of the hippies, particularly in the latter part of the decade. However, the seeds of a more subversive underground movement were sown during the period, and a new approach to art creation, centered on an emerging trash aesthetic, not only challenged the psychedelic utopianism of the counterculture but actually left a longer lasting mark on left-field creative activity in the final quarter of the century. As Andy Warhol’s art and film projects were reshaped into multimedia experiences, the importance of the Velvet Underground, the rising house band at the artist’s Factory headquarters, was magnified. The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a performance work inspired in part by early-decade Happenings, would be unveiled in 1966, combining Warhol’s underground cinema projections, light shows, dancers, and the cacophonous sound of the Velvets. This radical piece of stage art was filmed by the director Ronald Nameth, and his account remains a key document of the live venture. While Warhol and the band built on traditions from Dada to the Beats to build a form of anti-art, it was during this time that the aesthetic of trash took shape, from the Pop Art celebrations of mass cultural forms to the darker realms of drugs and sexual perversity. This anti-aesthetic would have an enduring impact in the years that followed, beyond the subterranean avant-garde of New York City, as music, cinema, art, and literature were all shaped by this brand of expression. An English translation is abstracted as RILM 2014-3712.
Willis, Ellen. “Velvet underground: Golden archive series”, Stranded: Rock and roll for a desert island, ed. by Greil Marcus (New York: Da Capo, 1996) 71–83. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1996-3327]
Abstract: Ostensibly an essay on her desert island album—a slightly Willis-doctored version of an existing Velvet Underground anthology released in 1970 (she switches out Afterhours for Pale blue eyes)—this piece serves as more of a general essay on the band and even Lou Reed’s post-VU work. Willis situates all sides of the band into a larger framework that accounts for detachment, innocence, irony, and, most unusual in writings on the Velvets, moral responsibility. As she sees it, there’s an intended irony in their emotional distance—a straddling of the rock ‘n’ roller as aesthete and the rock ‘n’ roller as punk. Their stance is self-critical and even in danger of being internally undermined: “The risk is real because the Velvets do not use irony as a net, a way of evading responsibility by keeping everyone guessing what they really mean. On the contrary, their irony functions as a metaphor for the spiritual paradox, affirming that the need to face one’s nakedness and the impulse to cover it up are equally real, equally human”.
Although strained at times, Reed’s relationship with the vanguardist John Cale was incredibly fruitful. Moreover, it encouraged a complex and perhaps erroneous dichotomy between highbrow and lowbrow sensibilities, which surfaced in different guises throughout Reed’s career.
Gibson, Dylan Lawrence. “Postmodernism in Lou Reed and Metallica’s collaborative album Lulu: The subjective perception of highbrow and lowbrow“, Metal music studies V/2 (2019) 187–200. [RILM Abstracts of Music of Literature with Full Text, 2019-5761]
Abstract: The 2011 collaborative album Lulu (by Lou Reed and Metallica) presents one with what can be clearly identified as a clash between highbrow and lowbrow culture. This clash, as demonstrated in this article, attempts to blur what the media tries to enforce by revealing that Metallica and Lou Reed in actuality cannot be exclusively defined by one coherent label. The intended implication is that the album should not be dismissed as its impact, as Metallica’s first postmodern album, ought to be remembered and formally recognized as such—a postmodern experimental metal album.
Gracyk, Theodore. “What goes on: The double-bind of theorizing rock”, Literature and psychology XLIV/3 (1998)1–22. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1999-32628]
Abstract: Theorizing about rock is difficult because intellectuals trained in the values of high culture have not found a way to approach popular music on its own terms. In addition, rock music is often assumed to be incapable of incorporating the values of high culture. The career of Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground demonstrates how a rock musician can include tradition and morality in his work, drawing on both high and low culture. The views of the cultural critics John Fiske and Martha Bayles are also examined.
Sangild, Torben. “Flossede nerver: Støj og avantgardisme hos Velvet Underground”, Loaded: Om The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico, ed. by Klaus Lynggaard and Henrik Queitsch (København: Information, 2004) 64–70. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2004-10893]
Abstract: The link between The Velvet Underground and the avant-garde art music world was established by John Cale, a classically trained composer and viola player active in the vanguardist scene of John Cage and associates. Together with Lou Reed they developed an aesthetic alternating between intense noise and otherworldy ambience on albums such as White light/White heat. Lou Reed pushed this aesthetic further than it had ever been taken in popular music with his album Metal machine music. With their avant-noise innovations, The Velvet Underground were a key inspiration for the post-punk of the 1970s and 1980s.
Zak, Albin J., III., ed. The Velvet Underground companion: Four decades of commentary (New York: G. Schirmer, 1997). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1997-8762]
Abstract: A collection of articles, reviews, and essays on the influential avant-garde rock band made up of John Cale, Lou Reed, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison, guest vocalist Nico, and Doug Yule in the band’s final incarnation. Interviews with and memoirs by band members are included.
The exhibit includes multiple stations for listening to Reed’s music. One example, now available on vinyl as Words & music, May 1965, is a reel-to-reel tape that Reed sent to himself, likely as a “poor man’s copyright”. It contains a number of acoustic demos with Cale, some of which would develop into VU songs.
Peraino, Judith A. “I’ll be your mixtape: Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, and the queer intimacies of cassettes”, The journal of musicology: A quarterly review of music history, criticism, analysis, and performance practice XXXVI/4 (fall 2019) 401–436. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-9699]
Abstract: Tells the story of a cassette tape housed in the Andy Warhol Museum archives, a set of never-released (and rarely heard) songs by Lou Reed, and the tape’s intended audience: Andy Warhol. Warhol and Reed are giant figures in the history of 20th-century pop art and popular music, and their collaboration from 1966 to 1967 resulted in the acclaimed album The Velvet Underground & Nico. Based on extensive archival research and interviews, I discuss how this tape reflects Warhol’s and Reed’s failed attempt to collaborate on a stage version of Reed’s album Berlin (1973); Reed’s reaction to Warhol’s book, The philosophy of Andy Warhol (from A to B and back again) (1975); and how elements of Warhol’s own audio aesthetics and taping practices find their way into Reed’s recordings around 1975. I also place this cassette in the context of the emerging common practice of creating and gifting homemade mixtapes of curated music, and demonstrate how such mixtapes function as a type of “closet media” (to quote theater scholar Nick Salvato) marked by private audience, disappearance, and inaccessibility. Drawing on William S. Burroughs’s conceptual spliced-tape experiments and their challenge to unified subjectivity, I explore the epistemological and ontological ramifications of sonically entangling the self with another person, and the queer intimacies of doing so on cassette tape.
Perhaps Reed’s “lyrics and poetry were kind of one and the same” (Don Fleming). In the early 1970s, in the direct aftermath of the VU, Reed follows a path towards literature and writing poetry.
Morris, Daniel. “Whose life is saved by rock and roll? An essay on the lyrics of Lou Reed”, Popular music and society XVI/3 (fall 1992) 23–30. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1992-4611]
Abstract: Reed’s lyrics are the work of a surreal, imagistic poet whose announced purpose is to chronicle public life in New York. His desire to embody the city through the description of a representative life diminished rather than enhanced the scope and quality of his writing over time. In lyrics from 1967, 1969, and 1989, Reed wrote a genuine public poetry by focusing his gaze with empathy and identification on the pain of others living on the margins of visibility. His best writing stems from an impersonal, Whitmanesque impulse to register the value of lives on the margin and not from the self-absorption that characterized his writing from 1972 on.
Rae, Casey. William S. Burroughs and the cult of rock ‘n’ roll (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-12562]
Abstract: William S. Burroughs’s fiction and essays are legendary, but his influence on music’s counterculture has been less well documented. Examining how one of America’s most controversial literary figures altered the destinies of many notable and varied musicians, this book reveals the transformations in music history that can be traced to Burroughs. A heroin addict and a gay man, Burroughs rose to notoriety outside the conventional literary world; his masterpiece, Naked lunch, was banned on the grounds of obscenity, but its nonlinear structure was just as daring as its content. The book examines Burroughs’s parallel rise to fame among daring musicians of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, when it became a rite of passage to hang out with the author or to experiment with his cut-up techniques for producing revolutionary lyrics (as the Beatles and Radiohead did). Whether they tell of him exploring the occult with David Bowie, providing Lou Reed with gritty depictions of street life, or counseling Patti Smith about coping with fame, the stories of Burroughs’s backstage impact will transform the way we see the U.S.’s cultural revolution and how we hear its music.
Metal machine music
Dault, David. “To the void: Karl Barth, Yvves Klein, and Lou Reed’s Metal machine music“, Secular music and sacred theology, ed. by Tom Beaudoin (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013) 3–15. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-2033]
Abstract: This chapter juxtaposes the music of Lou Reed with the theology of Karl Barth and the art of Yves Klein, so as to show how all three artists create works that try to name what exceeds naming. The ancient theological question of whether God can be comprehended in human turns is turned into a triptych of rock and roll, theology, and visual art, all trying to let that which is profoundly other appear through their respective mediums.
Moore, Thurston. “Towards a sonic machine music”, Lou Reed, Metal Machine Trio: The creation of the universe, ed. by Christopher Scoates (Bloomfield Hills: Cranbrook Art Museum, 2015) 63. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-19624]
Abstract: Personal recollections of the guitarist and founding member of Sonic Youth on his encounter with Lou Reed’s Metal machine music (1975), particularly the way in which the seminal album validated feedback as a compositional element.
Spelman, Nicola. “Recasting noise: The lives and times of Metal machine music“, Resonances: Noise and contemporary music, ed. by Michael Goddard, Benjamin Halligan, and Nicola Spelman (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013) 24–36. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-6206]
Abstract: Many of Lou Reed’s fans purchased his double-album Metal machine music (1975) assuming its contents to be of a similar ilk to his previous albums. With limited pre-listening opportunities, they were effectively lured into an auditory experience few were prepared for. Thus followed an unprecedented number of album returns and the record’s withdrawal just three weeks later. Although many accounts of the album’s unpalatable nature rest on attempts to describe its arresting sonic properties, the discrete sounds and techniques of timbral manipulation explored with MMM (heavy distortion, feedback, amplifier hum, use of tremolo units, varied tape speed, EQ, reverb and tone controls) were already standard fare by the time of its conception and release. As such, the distinctly experimental aspects of Reed’s noisescape are located not within the sounds themselves, but rather in how and where they were presented, and in the way they were creatively and unconventionally employed. Here, through examination of the original album and its subsequent transformations—moving from recorded composition to score/arrangement and finally to an improvised performance exploring the compositional techniques used in the construction of the original work—an attempt is made to pinpoint shifts in perception resulting from this successive recasting of noise.
Steintrager, James A. “Metal machines, primal screams, horrible noise, and the faint hum of a paradigm shift in sound studies and sonic practice”, Musica humana III/1 (spring 2011) 121–151. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2011-10305]
Abstract: In the mid-1970s there emerged both in pop music practice and in theoretical discourse a paradigm that extended liberating, ecstatic value to noise. For noise in practice, Lou Reed’s LP Metal machine music has been cited as seminal; in theory, Jacques Attali’s Noise: The political economy of music (see RILM 1977-1976 for the original French version; the first English translation is cited as RILM 1985-7455) stands out. Both of these important moments, however, have deep and often complex genealogies. Moreover, once we grasp the historical constitution of the noise paradigm, we can better understand why and how the promise of liberating noise—noise as revolutionary violence or subjectivity-shattering ecstasy—has in recent sound theory been treated as an unnecessarily limiting discursive trap. This has been most emphatically the case with Michel Chion’s suggested abandonment of the concept of noise as pseudo-scientific and roughly ideological. This abandonment, moreover, has been echoed in sonic practice—in the onkyō scene in Japan, for example—where an emphasis on subtle sound processing, gently modulated feedback, and bare audibility have put into question the relevance of noise as previously conceived and produced.
And then there was more Reed solo…with a little help from his friends
Furman, Ezra. Transformer. 33 1/3 (New York: Bloomsbury, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-6807]
Abstract: Lou Reed’s most enduringly popular album is described with varying labels: it’s often called a glam rock album, a proto-punk album, a commercial breakthrough for Lou Reed, and an album about being gay. And yet, it doesn’t neatly fit into any of these descriptors. Buried underneath the radio-friendly exterior lie coded confessions of the subversive, wounded intelligence that gives this album its staying power as a work of art. Here Lou Reed managed to make a fun, accessible record that is also a troubled meditation on the ambiguities—sexual, musical, and otherwise—that defined his public persona and helped make him one of the most fascinating and influential figures in rock history. Through close listening and personal reflections, the author explores Reed’s unstable identities and the secrets the songs challenge us to uncover.
Thompson, Dave. Your pretty face is going to hell: The dangerous glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed (New York: Backbeat Books, 2009). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2009-8003]
Abstract: Sketches the intertwining, outrageous lives of three rock legends. When Lou Reed and Iggy Pop first met David Bowie in the fall of 1971, Bowie was just another English musician passing through New York City. Reed was still recovering from the collapse of the Velvet Underground, and Iggy Pop had already been branded a loser. Yet within two years they completely changed the face of popular music with a decadent glamour and street-level vibe. With Bowie producing, Reed’s Transformer album was a worldwide hit, spinning off the sleazy street anthem “Walk on the wild side”. Iggy’s Raw power, mixed by Bowie, provided the mean-spirited, high-octane blueprint for punk rock. Bowie boosted elements from both Iggy and Reed to create his gender-bending rock idol alter-ego Ziggy Stardust. Here, the story of these friendships, and the musical productivity and rock star debauchery that emerged from their three-fold alliance is told—a triple helix of sexuality, glam rock, and drugs as seen through the eyes of the people who made it happen.
And Lou Reed the humorist
Hamelman, Steven. “‘I never said I was tasteful’: Lou Reed and the classic philosophy of humor”, The Routledge companion to popular music and humor, ed. by Thomas M. Kitts and Nick Baxter-Moore. Routledge music companions (New York: Routledge, 2019) 177–185. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-12616]
Abstract: Lou Reed is rarely considered a humorist. Yet, the author identifies the humorous impulse in Reed, which he sees as dry and ironic, raunchy and tasteless, and dark and cynical. He draws on the three main theories of humor (superiority, incongruity, and relief) to explicate songs like Dirt and The gift, Reed’s laughter at the end of the original recording of Heroin, and his on-stage monologues.
_____. “Why is this man laughing?”, Rock music studies III/2 (2016) 180–191. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-25331]
Abstract: There is a good deal of humor, from dry and ironical to raunchy and tasteless, in the music and live monologues of Lou Reed, both as a member of The Velvet Underground and as a solo artist. To examine Reed’s wide-ranging humor in terms of the three major categories comprising the philosophy of humor (superiority theory, incongruity theory, and relief theory) is to appreciate the nuances of a rock humorist who could at one point be heard laughing at the end of a song about heroin’s destructiveness and at another point delivering a scathing but hilarious attack on well-known rock journalists who annoyed him. As this analysis demonstrates, the diversity of tone, subject matter, and manner of delivery of Reed’s humor reflects an artist who satisfied, in terms defined as much by courage as by literary skill, the three classic divisions of humor, suggesting that despite his reputation for writing dark and often cynical songs about taboo topics, Lou Reed enjoyed hearing the sound of laughter, sometimes his own, when he gave free expression to his comic genius.
Reed, Lou. Lou Reed: The last interview and other conversations (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2015). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-81311]
Abstract: A revealing collection of interviews with one of the greatest artists in the history of rock ’n’ roll—as brilliant, punchy, and blustery as the man himself. In this collection of interviews given over 30 years, including his final interview, Lou Reed oscillates between losing patience with his interviewers (he was famous for walking out on them) and sharing profound observations on the human experience, especially as he reflects on poetry and novels, the joy of live performances, and the power of sound. In conversation with legendary rock critics and authors he respected, Reed’s interviews are as pithy and brilliant as the man himself.
Finally, take a listen to some of the music that Reed liked in “Listen Like Lou Did”, a playlist curated by NYPL.
And definitely take a second to get what is surely the coolest, most New York, free library card that has ever existed.
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Louisa May Alcott effectively depicted collective musical performances to affirm community in Little women; but more significantly, she used music to represent the feminine sphere as she and the culture of her time defined it.
Each sister’s acceptance of or entry into that domain is depicted through scenes of musical performance: “No one but Beth could get much music out of the old piano; but she had a way of softly touching the yellow keys and making a pleasant accompaniment to the simple songs they sang. Meg had a voice like a flute, and she and her mother led the little choir. Amy chirped like a cricket, and Jo wandered through the airs at her own sweet will, always coming out at the wrong place with a croak or a quaver that spoilt the most pensive tune.”
Laurie, the rich boy next door, who is a talented pianist, must take the opposite path on his journey; his attainment of manhood is symbolically represented through the silencing of his musical voice.
In these and more ways, the musical leitmotif in Little Women tells us much about gender roles in American culture and about the limited choices facing both nineteenth-century American women and nineteenth-century American men.
This according to “Music as leitmotif in Louisa May Alcott’s Little women” by Colleen Reardon (Children’s literature XXIV  74-85; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1996-26449).
Today is Alcott’s 190th birthday! Below, Beth’s Christmas scene from the 1994 film.
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He considered what this pursuit entailed. “My style caused me concern,” he wrote. “Did it have individuality or was it awkward?”
Ultimately he concluded, “If there’s an idea, then the style will be subservient to the idea. If I have an idea, that means I’m an author.”
One of his short stories, Пудель: Мерзкая собака (The poodle: A bad dog) was published in an English translation by Three oranges (3 [May 2002] pp. 6–9; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2002-9136. The full text is here). A surprise twist at the end is a wry nod to the composer’s interest in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer.
The scene depicts Dame Music as she recounts to Dame Justice the torments she has undergone at the hands of certain musicians of the time: Melanippides seized, debased, and weakened her with 12 tones; Cinesias ruined her with badly composed modulations; Phrynis bent, twisted, and completely destroyed her by sounding all 12 tones on the kithara; and, most egregiously of all, Timotheus, with his shrill dissonances and sinfully high-pitched and piercing notes and whistles, crammed her with modulations just as a cabbage-head is crammed with caterpillars, depriving her of all decency with his 12 tones.
This according to “Studies in musical terminology in 5th-century literature” by Ingemar Düring, an essay included in Eranos Löfstedtianus: Opuscula philologica Einaro Löfstedt A.D. XVII kal. iul. anno MCMXLV dedicata (Uppsala : Eranos Förlag, 1945; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1945-34).
The Beijing Winter Olympic Games have become one of the biggest hot spots in the world’s attention at the moment, and among musicians it is no exception. The Olympic Games and music have always been inextricably linked. In ancient Greek times, music was an essential part of the Olympics. The large crowds brought by the Olympics made it an ideal venue for musicians to perform as well. At the same time, many competitions were called by trumpeters to start.
For the modern Olympics, music is even more ubiquitous. Coubertin‘s Olympic ideology was directly inspired by the opera libretto L’Olimpiade; the Olympic Games from 1912 to 1948 included musical competitions and medals were awarded like sporting events; and today’s Olympic-related musical events are a constant source of cultural and commercial competition.
Let’s take a glimpse at the relationship between music and the Olympics through relevant literature included in RILM.
– Mu Qian, Editor, RILM
Segrave, Jeffrey O. “Music as sport history: The special case of Pietro Metastasio’s L’Olimpiade and the story of the Olympic Games”, Sporting sounds: Relationships between sport and music, ed. by Anthony Bateman and John Bale (Abingdon; New York: Routledge, 2009) 113–127. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2009-1570]
Abstract: Pietro Metastasio’s popular 18th-century libretto L’Olimpiade publicized and transmitted a particular ideological and historicized conception of the Olympic Games that would ultimately contribute to the rationalization and legitimization of Pierre de Coubertin’s own idiosyncratic Olympic ideology, a philosophical religious doctrine that embraced a noble and honorable conception of sport at the same time as it served discrete class, race, and gendered ends. The hegemony of the contemporary Olympic Games movement is grounded in part on the appropriation of the classicism and Romanticism transmitted in Metastasio’s work. Musicological readings of opera, sociolinguistic conceptions of meaning, and postmodern social perspectives on material culture are addressed. Metastasio’s L’Olimpiade, in narrative, music, and production, sustained a particular image of the games, an image that nourished Coubertin’s own ideological formulation at the same time as it paved the way for further musical representations of the Games that to this day lend authority to the hegemony of the Olympics by appealing to a musically transmitted, mythologized, and Hellenized past.
Charkiolakīs, Alexandros. “Music in the first modern Olympiad in Athens in 1896: Cultural and social trends”, Mousikos logos 1 (January 2014) 51–64. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2014-4634]
Abstract: Music, without any doubt, has been one of the main features during both the opening ceremony and on the concert that was given in the end of the first day in the Olympic Games of 1896 in Athens. Actually, there were two new works commissioned for performance during that first day: the Olympiakos ymnos (Olympic hymn) by Spyridōn Samaras on a text of Kōstis Palamas and Pentathlon by Dionysios Lauragkas on poetry of Iōannīs Polemīs. Here, we show the cultural and social trends that are implied in these two works and are characteristic of the developing ideologies in Greece of that time. Furthermore, we emphasized our scope towards the impact that these two works had on the contemporary Athenian society of that time.
Segrave, Jeffrey O. “‘All men will become brothers’ (“Alle Menschen werden Bruder“): Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Olympic Games ideology”, Sport, music, identities, ed. by Anthony Bateman. Sport in the global society, contemporary perspectives (London: Routledge, 2015) 38–52. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2015-99]
Abstract: First performed in an Olympic context as part of the opening ceremonies of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the Finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has become a popular mainstay of modern Olympic protocol. Part of a ritualized entertainment spectacle that enhances the appeal and popularity of the Games, the Ninth Symphony elevates the prestige of the Games and helps to sustain the Olympic Movement’s political and commercial dominance within the panoply of institutionalized sport. It is argued here that the normalization of the Finale of the Ninth Symphony in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games not only transmits and reinforces the traditional Olympic ideology, but also reaffirms the ascendant hegemony of the Olympic movement within the world of elite international sport. This study is a critical reading of the Olympic musical ceremonial as a site of ideological production, especially as it pertains to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Dümling, Albrecht. “Zwischen Autonomie und Fremdbestimmung: Die Olympische Hymne von Robert Lubahn und Richard Strauss”, Richard Strauss-Blätter 38 (Dezember 1997) 68–102. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 1997-52827]
Abstract: When the Olympic Games were to be held in Berlin in 1936 Strauss was chosen as composer of an Olympic Hymn. Early in 1933 he agreed in principle, but on the condition that he was provided with an appropriate text. Four poems out of 3,000 entries were selected and sent on to Strauss with no mention of the poets’ names. He decided on a text, written by the hitherto unknown poet Robert Lubahn. Despite the favorable response of committees and German music critics, the belongs to Strauss’s weaker works.
Barney, Katelyn. “Celebration or cover up? My island home, Australian national identity and the spectacle of Sydney 2000″, Aesthetics and experience in music performance, ed. by Elizabeth Mackinlay, Denis Collins, and Samantha Owens (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2005) 141–150. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2005-18443]
Abstract: Addresses the conflicts and complexities inherent in musical statements of Australian national identity as represented by Neil Murray’s My island home and Christine Anu’s performance of it at the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Her performance functioned simultaneously as a site for celebration of indigeneity and Australian national identity yet also as a concealment or cover-up of the social and political positioning of indigenous Australians within Australian history and contemporary society. As it celebrated localized Torres Strait Islander culture and identity as part of the Australian national imagination, it also concealed the realities of indigenous issues and race relations within Australia.
Newman, Melinda and Michael Paoletta. “Goodsports”, Billboard: The international newsweekly of music, video and home entertainment 118/5 (4 February 2006) 22–23. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2006-2393]
Abstract: Established stars including Andrea Bocelli, Bon Jovi, Whitney Houston, and Lou Reed, as well as new and developing acts like James Blunt, Switchfoot, Flipsyde, Morningwood, the Donnas, Rock ‘N Roll Soldiers, We Are Scientists, and OK Go are hoping for a career boost from their ties to the Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy. By using hip, under-the-radar acts, NBC hopes to connect with the much-coveted youth demographic. NBC uses music in four ways for the Olympics: network campaigns in advance of the Games; co-branding opportunities; features and interstitial footage broadcast during the athletic events; and nightly concerts.
Lawson, Francesca R. Sborgi. “Music in ritual and ritual in music: A virtual viewer’s perceptions about liminality, functionality, and mediatization in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games”, Asian music: Journal of the Society for Asian Music 42/2 (summer–fall 2011) 3–18. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2011-12007]
Abstract: Concepts such as liminality, functionality, and mediatization were clearly exemplified in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The fascinating use of the ancient practice of liminal integration of music and ritual in a modern mediatized performance illustrates both indigenous Chinese and contemporary Western performance theories. Despite the spectacular nature of the opening ceremony, however, it is doubtful that international viewers fully understood the complex messages communicated through this modern ritual performance.
Juzwiak, Rich. “Village Person says Y.M.C.A. isn’t about gays, is probably lying”, http://gawker.com/village-person-says-y-m-c-a-isnt-about-gays-is-pro-1493380284. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-293]
Abstract: A common reading of the Village People’s Y.M.C.A. (1978) posits the song as a post-Stonewall stealth attack on heteronormative America. From discos to weddings to sports arenas across the country, millions have contorted in acronymal glee, singing the praises of the male-only fitness center/boarding house where you can “hang out with the boys” and “do whatever you feel”. The song first appeared on an album titled Cruisin’. Despite the seemingly obvious subtext, members of the Village People deny any subtextual intent. Victor Willis, the first lead singer of the Village People who played the role of “cop” and co-wrote Y.M.C.A., recently spoke out against using the song as Team USA’s entrance music at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics–intended in protest of Putin’s anti-gay mandate and the rash of violent hate crimes in its wake (not to mention the Sports Minister’s threat to jail gay athletes). The author notes that “the inherent gayness of the Village People has been a point of contention between the people who were (and are) in the group and its creators, Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo. Morali, who died in 1991, was gay and in last year’s documentary about the politics of disco, Secret disco revolution, Belolo said that the Village People were Morali’s statement of his own gay pride, as well as an exercise in double entendre”.
Cottrell, Stephen. “Glad to meet you: North Korea’s pop orchestra warms hearts in the South”, The conversation (UK) (9 February 2018) https://theconversation.com/glad-to-meet-you-north-koreas-pop-orchestra-warms-hearts-in-the-south-91499. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2018-52079]
Abstract: Describes a performance by Samjiyon Band, a well-known fixture from North Korea’s cultural scene, on the first night of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
Charles Dickens’s works attest to a keen familiarity with the ballads and traditional songs of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Less obvious from his writings is his deep love of Western classical music—he adored the lieder of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, he championed Arthur Sullivan, and he reported being “overcome” by Gounod’s Faust.
Still, Dickens found a rich vein of humor in the music making of the common folk—not least in the character of Mr. Morfin in Dombey and Son:
“He was a great musical amateur in his way…and had a paternal affection for his violoncello, which was once in every week transported from Islington, his place of abode, to a certain club-room hard by the Bank, where quartettes of the most tormenting and excruciating nature were executed every Wednesday evening by a private party.”
“He was solacing himself with this melodious grumbler one evening, and, having been much dispirited by the proceedings of the day, was scraping consolation out of its deepest notes…[but] his landlady…was fortunately deaf, and had no other consciousness of these performances than a sensation of something rumbling in her bones.”
This according to “Dickens and music” by Charles Cudworth (The musical times CXI/1528 [June 1970] pp. 588–590. Today is Dickens’s 210th birthday!
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