Friday, January 23, 2015

Cat Power (again)

Cat Power
20" x 16", oil on canvas, 2015
In the top 100 of 2014 Cat Power was the highest ranked musician, again. Her song American Flag, from Moon Pix of 1998, was in 2000 the first of her songs to feature in the annual lists of 100 that she dominated since. 2000 was also the year I saw the first (of four) Cat Power concerts. The 2014 edition contains five of her songs, this then is the fifth painting of her in a year's time (it's actually a do-over illustrating the 2012 song Real Life that had been represented by a photographic image appropriation using one of the surrealists' techniques. The source for the painting above is a photo of a youthful Cat Power taken somewhere in the mid nineties). I have lost count but the total Cat Power portraits I painted since 2000 must be nearing fifty! (I don't know if I should be proud or embarrassed of this feat.) Anyway, the Top 100 2015 has started and no sign of Cat Power dominance thus far. No, tomorrow will be a flashback to the very early years (mid eighties) of the top 100 when Laurie Anderson had a string of songs in the list. I will bring my Big Science record along that I will ask her to sign. Tomorrow she will present a lecture discussing her work in the ArtSPEAK series hosted by the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery in Fort Myers.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ham & Scram

Ham & Scram
11" x 8.5", watercolor, pen on paper, 2014
Today's painting hardly qualifies as such. The base of it is a pen and pencil sketch copied from one of two images on the sleeve of a strange record by Ham & Scram called Country Comedy. Then the drawing was abused—soaked, stained, balled up— until the point it started to fall apart. At that point, to salvage what I could, I glued the drawing onto a black and white xerox copy of Barbara Kruger's Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face (and called it a day). The story of the record, and the top 100 song taken from it—the traditional murder ballad Pretty Polly—is an interesting one. I bought the record at a thrift store (a junky one at that) in 2012. It was only a dollar but I almost didn't get it. My hope for this record after investigating the cover was low. The full title reads Country Comedy, Songs & Frolic by Ham & Scram, featuring Buzz Busby. I expected to hear backwoods slapstick humor and I was worried that such a well loved yet ominous folk ballad as Pretty Polly, would be totally butchered by such irreverent looking characters on the cover. I was wrong, totally wrong, their Pretty Polly is in fact one of the most intriguing versions I've heard of the song, and the  record as a whole easily falls into the A category of American traditional music. The moral of the story: Don't judge a book by its cover. On Musical Thrift Store Treasures, a blog I used to write, I did a little entry on the duo accompanied by an mp3 file of Pretty Polly. Viral is too big a word, but the blog exploded in October of 2012. In a few days hundreds of people visited the site and in another few days, I was urged—for reasons still unbeknownst to me, plagiarism I suppose—to take the song down. Ham & Scram are Pete Pike and Buzz Busby from Washington, DC. Guitar player Pete Pike from Virginia is mainly known for his association with the mandolin player Buzz Busby, who is an established name in the history of Bluegrass music. Bernarr Busbice was born in 1933 in Louisiana and among his credits is the formation of the popular group The Country Gentleman in 1957. But after the successful decade of the 1950s, Busby's career went downhill due to his "growing fondness of alcohol and drugs". After a term in jail he only occasionally performed and recorded. He died of heart failure in 2003. And such is the information I retrieved on line. Interesting to note here that Buzz Busby does not have a Wikipedia page in English, but the German version does. There's no mention that Buzz Busby ever performed, or even visited Germany, but apparently his song Rock and Roll Fever, was something of a hit there: "Im Bereich des Rockabilly ist Busby vor allem durch seine Single Rock and Roll Fever bekannt geworden."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Bamboo on the Mountains"

Cover of "Bamboo on the Mountains"
24" x 23", oil on canvas, 2014
Today's painting depicts two Kmhmu Highlanders from a group of five musicians on a bench in Nan, Thailand. I can't be sure but the woman on the right might very well be either Ya' Ak Keodaeng or Ya' Seu Keodaeng who perform the Teum song that was recorded by Frank Proschan, and appeared on the CD Bamboo on the Mountains: Kmhmu Highlanders from Southeast Asia and the U.S. (Smithsonian Folkways, 1999). The recording was made in 1992 in the exact area (Chon Den subdistrict) in Northern Nan where the photograph was taken (be it on a different date).

Monday, December 22, 2014

Today's Painting

Christian Marclay
22" x 7", oil on wood, 2014
Today's painting features a do-over (actually a continuation) of a November 7th painting portraying the avant-garde artist Christian Marclay. For every musician featured in the top 100 an illustration is now done, and the time has come to revisit those paintings that are a part of this year's series of one-hundred that are not particularly to my likings (a painting, even though it exists on line on this podium, like Marclay's portrait, isn't considered finished until the exhibition takes place showing all hundred).  All finished paintings will be shown at the the Top 100 Archives Gallery in Fort Myers (home soil) in early March . Since Marclay is closer than any other individual musician in the list (be it with a few degrees of separation—courtesy of Mr. Jade Dellinger, director of the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery) I felt obliged to bring the portrait of Marclay to a state I'd be comfortable with.

The recent "Today's painting" string I will keep going as long as I physically can. To be in the studio for many hours several days straight has been a blessing. Painting has taken precedence over thought, and within this process creativity has been allowed free reign. Paintings are good, in my opinion, when, within the process, surprises are happening that seem to appear out of nowhere, visual discoveries are made that could never have been thought up without a hands on proponent, that are beyond easy interpretation. For this to happen one needs to be alone behind the easel for an extended period of time. Like an experience on drugs, this is a different state of consciousness, that you can't explain but can recognize. In this frame bad paintings don't even exist anymore, and 'bad' you immediately recognize as being superficial. It is not so much good and bad, on which evaluations are based, but real and superficial. Within an hour the 'bad' painting of Christian Marclay was transformed into a 'good' painting. The surprise in it, admittedly, was somewhat premeditated, inspired by seeing an image, an appropriated selfie by Miami artist Marilyn Rondon.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bagpipes

Serbian Piper
24" x 24", oil on canvas, 2014
Today's painting is done in a rather straightforward manner. There's the grainy black and white photograph taken by a tourist in Belgrade, another, yet bigger, canvas prepared by an amateur minimalist painter, than there's the customary set of oil paints (again donated by an amateur painter), and, most essentially here, a couple of rags. There were no criteria, no expectations, and not even the burden of having to make the person in the painting resemble the person in the photograph. The piper in the photograph is anonymous and without any discernible features. He functions to illustrate another anonymous piper from a small village in Serbia not too far away from Belgrade. The piper in question accompanies a small group of older men from Dupljaja engaged in a 'numera' performance way back in in 1951. They were recorded by Peter Kennedy for yet another volume of the Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music series that were edited by Alan Lomax. This is from volume 12 dedicated to Yugoslavia. (I do need to mention here that the liner notes to the album came from Albert Lord, who is kind of a hero to me, and provided me with the historical contextual concept my ideas of music appreciation are based on.)

p.s. It sure feels good to talk about your paintings, beginning the first paragraph with the sentence "today's painting." Yes I have time off from teaching! Happy Holidays dear readers! Let's see what tomorrow brings!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Suling gdé

Suling gdé player, Bali
16" x 12", oil on canvas
Today's painting has a lot in common with yesterday's. Like yesterday's it's painted on top of a seascape demo. It's a demo gone wrong though. It was fine after five minutes but more paint got smeared onto it, and more, and more, and more. Some of it was scraped off to allow an image to be painted on top. Here again the image does not illustrate the song very well. The song is Chalon Arang performed by a female singer is accompanied by a chorus and drumming. There is no 'suling gdé' (the bamboo flue in the picture) heard on this recording. Chalon Arang is track #22 of the LP The Columbia Library of Folk and Primitive Music, Vol. VII: Indonesia. The gdé player, instead is featured on track #21 Gamelan Gambuh. The data for both recordings are, however, the same. The performers come from the same group of musicians, they were recorded in same year (and probably in the same day), and in the same place. The recordings were made in 1931 for Musée Guimet in Paris, under the supervision of Chokorda Gdé Raka Sukawati, in Bali. As with all the records in the Library series, this volume was collected and edited by Alan Lomax, while the music and texts on this specific volume were edited by Doctor Jaap Kunst, who also recorded most of the music, but not the track currently discussed. The following was written by Mr. Kunst, on the liner notes of the album: "This is an excerpt from a musical play in which the principle character is Rangda, the evil widow, who battles against the good principle. Rangda's song has that pressed, instrumental character typical of Balinese vocal music."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Haya music

Cover of Tanzania Instruments
12" x 16", oil on canvas, 2014
The illustration above is a bit misleading as the song it illustrates  doesn't feature any drumming. A more appropriate source image would have been the photograph taken by Hugh Tracey of a player of the  Bangwe raft-zither of Nyasaland (Malawi) but it was already used for a zither tune by the Hehe people of Tanganyika (Tanzania) in September. The top 100 song the happy drummer boy illustrates is called Mugasha, which was played by Habib bib Seliman and recorded by Hugh Tracey in Kabale, Tanzania, in 1951. Like the Hehe people's recording, this one is also found on the record The Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, Volume X: British East Africa. Habib bin Seliman belongs to Haya people habituating northwestern Tanzania. I never heard the Tanzania Instruments record but I know it features recordings by the Haya people. The recordings on that record were also made by Hugh Tracey, and, no doubt, the cover photo was also taken by him. 

The painting (but not the photograph) would have been an appropriate illustration too, of a water drum recording that belongs to my favorite African field recordings ever made. The water in the painting is the result of yet another landscape painting demo produced in front of a group of students. In a 6-week landscape painting class, a student had asked "how to paint water?" since I do not know the answer to that question, I figured I would just try.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The geography of the Top 100 2013/14

  1. Canada (2, Leonard Cohen and Inuits)
  2. US: northwest (4, Oregon, Washington)
  3. US: west (1, San Francisco)
  4. US: south (8, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee—the blues)
  5. US: midwest (1, Ohio)
  6. US: New York (12)
  7. US: southeast (5, Cat Power)
  8. Bahamas (1)
  9. Jamaica (2)
  10. Cuba (2)
  11. Ecuador (2)
  12. Brazil (1)
  13. Iceland (1)
  14. Ireland (1)
  15. England (12, London-9, Manchester, Liverpool, and Brighton)
  16. Russia: St. Petersburg (2)
  17. Russia: Moscow (4)
  18. Poland (1)
  19. France (2)
  20. Spain (1)
  21. Italy (1)
  22. Central Europe (2, Hungary and Bulgaria)
  23. Yugoslavia (3, Bosnia and Serbia)
  24. Turkey (1, Kurdistan)
  25. Lebanon (1)
  26. Syria (1)
  27. Iran (2)
  28. Egypt (2)
  29. Morocco (1)
  30. Algeria (1)
  31. D.R. Congo (1)
  32. Burundi (3)
  33. Tanzania (2)
  34. Kenya (2, Swahili)
  35. Botswana (1)
  36. Malawi (1)
  37. India (4)
  38. Thailand (1)
  39. Cambodia (1)
  40. Indonesia (2)
  41. Japan (2)
  42. Tahiti (1)

Rapioen

Cover of Folk and Pop Sounds of Sumatra
12" x 16", oil on canvas, 2014
"I’m starting off 2014 with what I believe is a pretty exceptional rarity. Certainly it’s one of the earliest commercial recordings of regional music from the highlands of Western Sumatra made by the Minangkabau people, known as Urang Minang in the local language. With most of the local recording industry at the time based in Java and Singapore, we are lucky that music of the Minang, a matrilineal, Islamic culture primarily based in the Minangkabau Highlands, was set to shellac."

Such is the opening paragraph of an article on traditional Sumatran music, written by Jonathan Ward for Excavated Shellac at the start of 2014. The article is a contextual analysis of the recording Tandjoeng Sani by the female singer Rapioen. The singer and two musicians that accompany the recording hail from Bukittinggi (formerly known as Fort de Kock). The song was recorded in 1938. Here then, towards the end of 2014, is an illustration for that song. The source image I found clicking through links, starting at the comment section of the Rapioen web-page. The music of the Minang people is a rather appropriate topic at the end of a year in which I was more than casually interested in matriarchy in history. That this recording then too, comes from an Islamic tradition, further informs, and complicates, historical issues I've studied this year. No less than eight titles (and perhaps more) in this year's top 100 are by female Islamic singers. 

Alright then, dear readers, time for a final push. There are just a handful of paintings left to do, to complete the series. In a week or two I'll be posting the list and announcing an exhibition where all hundred paintings will be shown, accompanied by all this year's writings on this stage, as well as the customary seven-hour loop of the prerecorded one hundred songs.

Monotypes (2)

Abdellah el Magana
20" x 15", monotype, 2014
Less than a month after a first monotype workshop I hosted a second, and, in keeping with the custom of 'every-opportunity-a-top-100 illustration', the demo featured an attempt to portray a Moroccan group around Abdellah el Magana. Some technical improvements happened since the first workshop, but this time, after the initial demo, the students didn't allow me to focus thoroughly on a result. The web presence of Abdellah el Magana evolves around the recording Kassidat el Hakka (poem of truth), originally a 45 recorded in Casablanca during the 'golden era' of the Moroccan record industry the 1960s. The song features on an album called Raw 45s from Morocco, collected and compiled by David Murray.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Swami

Swami Dattatreya Rama Rao Parvakitar
12" x 16", oil on canvas, 2014
Track 12 from The Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, Vol. XII: India is a recording of a Svarāramandalā played by Swāmī D.R. Parvatikar. The Swami was recorded by Alain Danielou in Hyderabad (Deccan). Rama Rao Parvatikar was a prominent Hindu saint and sanyasin (Wikipedia), he was born in 1916 and died in 1990. He would stand on his head every morning for at least fifteen minutes after which he would play his dattatreya veena (a self built folk harp) right side up. Danielou, a professor at the University of Benares recorded Rama Rao Parvatikar on several occasions between 1950 and 1955.