Muhal Richard Abrams, “The Renaissance Man” of 20th Century Music

Jazz lovers all over the world mourned the loss of a music legend, Muhal Richard Abrams. The New York Times reported that Abrams, 87, was found lifeless on his Manhattan house, October 29, 2017. Dubbed the “Renaissance Man” of 20th century music, Abrams’ roles in nurturing grassroots music through AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) has been widely recognized by critiques and musicians alike. He was known to possess deep understanding of music theory and interest in other disciplines such as spiritualism. He devoted much of his time studying Joseph Schillinger system, a music theory that departs from a mathematical geometry. Perhaps that what made him such an exceptional musician.

Together with Phil Cohran, Jodie Christian, and Fred Anderson, Abrams co-founded AACM, a non-profit organization with a mission to cultivate the next generation through music and education.  The organization is still striving to this day because its members have faith in AACM’s culture and core mission. The organization is central to its members. As Anthony Braxton put it, AACM has become the medium for musicians hungry for new approach, to explore and improvise.  Since its establishment in 1965, AACM has changed the face of the neighborhood, alleviating poverty that once overwhelmed the streets by giving people education. To this day, AACM still manages to produce quality individuals.

AACM’s continuous existence shows that this organization has been aiming at defining the meaning of life. It is free-willed and has been struggling against the mainstream culture by providing people with music education.

As the result, it has produced many outstanding musicians and forward thinkers, such as Anthony Braxton, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Henry Threadgill. Braxton is a soulful, unique saxophonist and composer of modern jazz who earned The McArthur’s “Genius Grant”. The Art Ensemble of Chicago is a free-jazz band that immersed itself in counter-culture movement. Lastly is Henry Threadgill, a prominent bass player, composer, and a winner of Pulitzer Prize. These individuals are the proof of AACM’s success in educating society through music.

Left: Art Ensemble of Chicago, Center: Anthony Braxton, Right: Henry Threadgill.

Abrams was a prolific music writer. He had been composing music throughout his life, producing a number of masterpieces. According to Discog, he had released albums from 1968 to 2016, ranging from solo, group/orchestral, and re-mastered albums. He also wrote many commissioned projects for big names such as Kronos Quartet, American Composer Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, and Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

One thing that we must learn from him is his tenacity. He may not be a famous musician; his pieces may not be easy-listening ones, but he couldn’t care less about it and continued to be do what he believed. This attitude should serve as a salient reminder for us today, when music industry is mainly geared towards money-making and less concern for the arts. Abram’s spirit of putting his art first should inspire the new generation of musicians.

Source:

  1. AACM Panel Discussion.

2. (2014 )NEA Jazz Masters Awards Ceremony & Concert, Part 2 (Anthony Braxton).

3. Muhal Richard Abrams, 87, Individualistic Pianist and Composer, Is Dead.(NYT).

 

Climate Change vs. Economy

Environmental deterioration and extreme weather are real, the facts and figures are too obvious to be dismissed or neglected. One of TV commercials says, ”Nature does not need people; people needs nature.” For the sake of economic growth (and wiping out poverty), the world still seems to continue to abuse nature and pollute environment. So what is your take on this issue?

 

Loving Vincent

The World’s First Fully Oil-Painted Film

[Jakarta, LTTW] “We cannot speak other than by our paintings” is a sentence from the last letter written by Vincent Van Gogh himself, which later inspired painter and film director Dorota Kobiela to create Loving Vincent, the world’s first fully oil-painted film about Vincent Van Gogh’s final days.

Derived from re-imagination of 94 Vincent Van Gogh’s original paintings; the filmmakers produced over 65,000 frames of oil paints on more than 800 canvases for the film. “Everything was a painting on canvas”, said Hugh Welchman, co-director of Loving Vincent.

They shot the film with real actors in live action combined with Computer Generated Layout Animatic as reference materials. The recorded film was then handed over to Painting Design Team, which consists of over 80 painters working at studios in Gdansk and Wroclaw. This team of painters meticulously turned each frames into a thick, expressive brushstrokes and colors mimicking Van Gogh’s painting style. Each frame was painted over and over for the movement of the shot.

“No tracing, no nothing. The opening shot, where we come down from Starry Night, took six hours per frame to paint. So you’re talking about two weeks to do a second. It might have taken 20 weeks to paint that 10-second shot – you’re looking at half a year of someone’s life”, said Welchman. Ten minutes fully oil-painted film is great, but for one and a half hours, it is breathtaking – especially when we are in the middle of technological advancement era.

That’s why the filmmakers didn’t just succeed in making fully oil-painted animation, but also pushed the boundaries of filmmaking by combining conventional technique with today’s technology. Another thing that needs to be well-pondered is that the film story was created based on the interpretation of Van Gogh’s paintings and letters, thus the filmmakers must also interpret each paintings and letters, and how one relates to the other. This is the reason why Loving Vincent leaves us flabbergasted.

Loving Vincent’s Official Trailer via Youtube

According to its official website, Loving Vincent took more than 6 years to complete.

The movie was released on September 22, 2017 in the US, followed by screenings and events in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) until early 2018.

If you’re still curious about how the film was made, you shouldn’t miss the Loving Vincent exhibition at Noordbrabans Museum in Den Bosch, Netherlands. The exhibition runs until January 28, 2018.

 

Sources: Loving Vincent Official Website and The Guardian

Music is Art because it’s Political

A Reflection from the Roger Waters Concert Tour.

About four months ago, Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters kicked off his North American tour entitled “Us + Them”. Although he performed many of old Pink Floyd songs, the tour was pretty much related to “Is This the Life We Really Want?”, his first solo album in twenty five years. As you might have guessed from the title, the nature of the tour was 100% political; it condemned the travesty of Donald Trump and his Presidency.

In an interview with Michael Smerconish on CNN, Waters explained his reason behind his politically-motivated tour,”In my view, you have to make your choice as to whether you do the right thing or the thing that makes you the most money.” When asked about people who are looking for escapism rather than politics at a rock concert, Waters simply said,” Go see Katy Perry, you know?”

Us + Them — Charade via Youtube:

What makes us flabbergasted is Roger Waters’ persistence in remaining political throughout his career amid the long standing massive commercialism. The fact that he is the “child” of counter culture movement in the 60s does not reduce such achievement since the majority of musicians from this generation has “left the building”. Being political has been the oxygen of all arts; it’s what gives arts the breath to be alive, kicking, and evolving to new forms.

Context and Art Forms

Rock (and just about any other genre within the popular music “industry”) has been dead for over 40 years; it has lost its purpose since the mid 1970s when most, if not all, of the artists bowed to commercialism, and no longer lived the context.

Making music hasn’t been about signifying the mind and conscience anymore; it’s been about making money and being famous. The irony behind this view and practice is the fact that every musical genre that has been commercialized and mobilized by “the industry” was born out of cultural and sociopolitical context, even in the case of Hip Hop, the today’s most popular genre. Fortune and super-stardom in music business evidently have swallowed the true roles and functions of music in societies.

Different time or period undergoes different context, and this is the very reason why music (and other art forms) keeps evolving and finding its new form. Almost two decades has passed in this 21st century, and world issues like global warming, racism, terrorism, anti immigrant & refugee, white supremacy, war, nationalism, extremism, and economic domination & injustice have perturbed humanity. In the meantime, the world still seems to have no common view in how to confront these dehumanizing matters, let alone the answer.

Arts that used to lead the way in addressing injustice and immorality seem to be too busy in making “sell-able and/or sensational goods”. Some people in the art scene argue that today is the period of individuality; others even say that art form is no longer relevant, any individual is entitled to create his/her own form. Well, an art form is a manifestation of a collective or common conceptual thought that grapples with growing and/or disturbing issues within the existing context; thus the societal concord in thought, message and act are the key elements that shape the forms in art.

In the case of Rock music, the birth of it is the proof of what we just discussed. The name Rock was meant to rock the mainstream mores and culture. The later sub-genres like Progressive, Punk, New Wave (in the US), and Grunge are simply affirmations of such proof. In late 60s, Progressive rock was born to disapprove commercialization (including the music modeling imposed by major labels) that swept the earlier generation; such disapproval was symbolized by presenting a sophisticated musical form with no concern whatsoever over whether the audience would like it. In the late 70s, Punk emerged while Progressive died out. Punk movement actually addressed the same issue, but came up with the opposite musical structure that progressive rock embraced; instead, they chose simple chords and disregarded technical virtuosity. Around the same time, New Wave in the US was more concerned about the press media that controlled information and shaped opinions. Still in the US, New Wave was also a self-critique to White people by ridiculing themselves with silly costumes and stage acts.

Gentle Giant, one of prominent Progressive Rock Bands – Another Show (Music provided by Vox de Cultura)

Talking Heads, one of the pioneers of New Wave from NYC – Lifetime Piling Up (Music provided by Vox de Cultura)

In mid 70s, Breaking (then developed into today’s Hip Hop) was also in the making. The gangs in South Bronx, New York City, had enough with the wars among themselves, and begun to focus on “war” against violence, and socioeconomic injustice. The movement transformed the gang war into art form, and “battle” was the chosen form. Breaking is a symbol of physical fight between “enemies”; the movement vocabularies are inspired by Kung Fu that was popularized by Bruce Lee at the time. Rap, on the other side, is a verbal battle in which two opposing sides throwing “lethal wordings” to each other until one side “surrenders”.

Grunge, in the late 80s, was voicing out the “young nobodies” in middle class America who were mostly unemployed due to the country’s economic downfall. The musical form was a result of a marriage between Hard Rock and Punk of the 70s that felt best in symbolizing the condition at the time. Being unemployed (and not because you’re lazy) is a miserable feeling. Grunge itself literally means filth or dirt, and that was how the young generation at the time felt about themselves; they felt as the dirt of society.

Such misery is well represented in the darkness of the music. The dreadful lyrics symbolize anxiety, the vocal is pretty much about torment, and the distorted guitar sound represents their being unfit in society.

“Canned” Music

The above brief descriptions show how a movement shapes the form of its art. Individuality always has a place, not in the shape of individual art form, but in signature. In High Renaissance art, we can easily differentiate the works of Da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Titian, and Rafael. In Baroque music, it’s easy to notice the differences among Vivaldi, Couperin, Bach, and Scarlatti. In Impressionism, the differences among Matisse, Cézanne, and Monet are quite obvious. In Rock music, it’s no way that we can’t tell the differences of guitar playing among Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page.

The non-existence of new common form of art today perhaps should be seen as the incapability of our societies to unite against inhumanity. The aforementioned individual form of art is not born out of collective concern or movement, and most works cannot be considered as new form(s) of art either. In music, for instance, most new works are mere replications of the old forms. There has been no new sub-genre in Jazz since Jazz Fusion, no new sub-genre in Rock since Grunge, no new sub-genre in Blues since Pop Blues, and no new sub-genre in Classical since the 20th Century music.

What we’ve been listening so far is actually a preserved music. If music is food, then we’re actually listening to “canned food” music; changes only takes place in packaging and prices, not in contents. Canned food is a preserved food, thus an all season edible; it remains the same no matter what the situation is. A can of Campbell soup is always a Campbell soup, in breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even in years time, a Campbell soup we had when we were kids will be the same soup we’re having at the time we are grandparents.

Preservation, Cultivation, and Evolution

Preservation has its own function; it’s the archive of the past that no longer lives. It’s important because we need to learn from our history. Never forget that our today is the result of our yesterday. In Classical music, preservation is called conservation, and that is the reason why the school for it is named Conservatory. Cultivation is the act of keeping our heritage living and functioning in real life. In the West, for example, criticism is a tradition that has been kept alive and well in their societies for hundreds of years. Evolution is the consequence of cultivation, and also a mechanism that eventually provides new solution(s) to the problems faced. There are past arts that we should preserve, there is cultural heritage that we should nurture, and there are new answers that we need to find to address present and future challenges.

 

I Am Human living in Diversity

“Thanks to J. M Basquiat who inspired me and people who fight against Racism, let’s keep the equality in humanity …” – Adikara Rachman | 170cm x 150cm | Acrylic on canvas |2017

[LttW, Jakarta]. In recent years, diversity that was once embraced as human treasure seems to be taken as a threat to humanity. This far right view has gained followers in many parts of the world, and at the same time caused tensions, conflicts, killings, and wars within and between countries.

Humans are bound to be different due to the order of nature; there’s nothing we can do about it. Our physical (including racial) and cultural differences are the natural results of our adaptation to the environment. However, diversity is not the only thing we share. We also have common possessions: conscience, common sense, logic, intelligence, emotion, human anatomy, etc. It is with these commonalities human should forever manage diversity as as an enriching factor, not a destroying one.

History has proven that diversity has not always been the cause of problems; it has also given the world amazing human inventions that elevates our civilizations over millennia. So why keep insisting that diversity is the root of problems while we know that it can be the answer to the problems? [Desk]