Month: July 2013

Misappropriation of Indian, Buddhist & Judaic Culture in Hollywood

There is a great example of Appropriation in the Romantic comedy “Music & Lyrics.”  Alex Fletcher is a hugely successful former pop star of the late 1980’s, but has already enjoyed his moment of stardom. A young bubble-gum pop star, Cora Corman, has asked him to write her a song titled “A Way Back Into Love.” Nervously, Alex accepts the offer, but doubts his ability as a composer. Just when he has exhausted all of his lyric-writing creativity, he realizes that his plant-watering lady, Sophie Fisher, has a hidden talent. Reluctantly, and with much encouragement, she helps him write the song for Cora.

They are thrilled when Cora chooses to use their song rather than one written by a different “retro artist.” However, Sophie is deeply disturbed by Cora’s overtly sexual interpretation of a song that’s meant to express romantic vulnerability. Cora’s typical style utilizes themes from Eastern Religions to enhance her stylistic appropriation of the pop genre.

For example, one of her hit songs is entitled “Buddha’s Delight,” and the lyrics include “I’ve got to get my Buddha’s Delight, Om Shanti, Shanti.” It is sung in a sexually suggestive manner, which makes a mockery of the source material.  To quote Drew Barrymore’s character, Sophie Fisher, the “orgasm set to the Gandhi soundtrack…“simultaneously destroyed 2 musical cultures in under a minute.”

Buddha’s Delight

“I’m starting to believe, boy
That this was meant to be, boy
Cause I believe in karma
Boy, do you believe in karma?

So forget about your past life
Cause this could be our last life
We’re gonna reach nirvana
Boy, we’re gonna be reach nirvana

Chorus

Each time you put your lips to mine
Its like a taste of Buddha’s delight
I see the gates of paradise
You’re a taste of Buddha’s delight
Tell me all your fantasies tonight
And I will make them happen
Cause I’m not satisfied if I don’t get my Buddha’s delight

Om Shanti Shanti(2X)

Like sitting meditation
You give me elevation
Can you take me higher?
I wonder, can you take me higher?
I want a revelation and sweet salvation
and the eternal fire
Show me the eternal fire

Chorus

I’ve got to have my Buddha’s delight
Om Shanti Shanti
I’ve got to have my Buddha’s delight
Om Shanti Shanti”

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

As a real life example, Selena Gomez “mis” appropriates Indian culture into her song, “Come and Get it.” When comparing Gomez’s usage of Indian culture to Cora Corman’s, I would argue that Gomez’s appropriation is even more inappropriate because her lyrics have absolutely nothing to do with theme she’s suggesting. Her dance routine uses imitated cliches to gain more appeal, and it’s as though she is randomly sampling the culture for stylistic purposes.

Selena Gomez wearing a Bindi

Celebrities in Hollywood have been known to make a fashion statement out of wearing Bindis to enhance their prestige. Traditionally, Bindi’s are worn between the eyebrows, which is said to be where the sixth Chakra (Ajna) resides. Indian, Southeast Asian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Nepali Women use the Bindi to retain energy and strengthen concentration. In addition, the Bindi is a representation of the Third Eye, which is a point on the forehead symbolizing mystical perception beyond ordinary sight. The Third Eye, also known as the The Mind’s Eye, by Taoists, is often associated with Clairvoyance and having religious visions. “Third Eye Training” takes devout focus and preparation to properly embrace. Once again, Indian culture is being misappropriated for the sake of fashion trends.

Gwen Stefani misappropriated the “Bindi-look.” As a result, an explosion of American girls wore Bindis in the 90’s.)

Miley Cyrus (Doing her best to look enlightened…..and possibly trying to bring back a 90’s fashion trend.)

Katy Perry (who also had a traditional Hindu wedding with Henna, a nose ring chain, and a white horse.) 

Shakira (who says, “I love India and its people. I have a lot of fans in India and love the culture and food.”)

In 1998, Madonna showed up to the MTV VMA’s wearing full Brahman priest make-up (With a drink in hand). 

Take a look at Madonna’s Frozen Video. At this point in her career, she had discovered both the mystical practices of Kabbalah, and various facets of Indian culture. This video demonstrates her own model of Bhangra-style dance, and Middle-Eastern tonal qualities. I do believe that she is sincerely inspired by Brahman practice and seeks its influence within her music. There is however, a fine line between innovative appropriation, and a disrespectful mis-use of someone else’s culture.

On the flip side, Madonna’s usage of Kabbalah makes a mockery of it’s true, and hidden intent within Judaism. She has even admit to NBC’s “Dateline” tonight, that “she’s a little confused about actual Kabbalah” (http://icydk.com/2006/11/01/madonna-explains-what-kabbalah-means-to-her/). This is probably because “centuries before the medieval Kabbalah came into being, the Talmud stated that the greatest mysteries of creation may only be revealed to one student at a time, and then, only if the teacher believes the student to be wise and understanding [can they learn The Kabbalah.] In a sense, everything that has been ever written on the Kabbalah either transgresses this teaching or, more likely, gives only hints and allusions to the truth […] Kabbalah is a form of advanced study that depends on certain prerequisites. It’s wonderful to learn…yet one who does not know the basics of Torah study, or Jewish law, or the Hebrew language, will be limited by those gaps in knowledge” (http://www.learnkabbalah.com/about/).  Regardless, The Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles [which is controversial on it’s own…] can give a big thanks to Madonna, as it has collected an appealing $18 Million of her earnings. 🙂

These are only a few examples of how Eastern cultures are appropriated throughout American society for stylistic purposes. I am by no means against working together on a global scale. I am rather drawn to the fusion of world music, and plan on building my career upon recording music in a myriad of countries. I am, however, opposed to the wide lack of understanding that comes along with modifying world cultures for the sake of materialism.

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Chinatown Seafair Parade 2013

Thought I would share this video that I took yesterday at the Chinatown Seafair Parade over in the International District (July 21, 2013). This group is called “Filipino Youth Activities (FYA) Drill Team,” and they frequently perform in different locations around Seattle. The girls range from age 5 into their early 20’s, and are dressed in traditional glimmering Sari’s and jewelry. Young men bang and thump with different military-like percussion techniques, and whistles squeal over chanting young ladies. The FYA Drill team is the only Filipino-American drill team in the US.

 

Guest Speaker, Robert Millis: 78 Rpm Records (& A lot More Info & Insight)

Robert Millis is a founding Member of the 1993 Experimental Sound Art Group; Climax Golden Twins. He is a composer of various film soundtracks, both long and short, and a Co-Creator of “Victrola Favorites: Artifacts from Bygone Days” released by Dust-to-Digital in 2008. At a very young age, Rob was interested in exploring the world of sound and sound effects, and was exposed to an attic full of old 78 Rpm records. These memories opened him up to a world full of auditory investigation; A search into the antique world of early recording technology.

Thanks to Youtube, we can check out the history of the Gramophone:

Rob recently returned from a journey to India where he was able to immerse himself in the old music collecting and recording community. He researched the country’s early recording industry, and both studied and created music in its culturally enriched environment. Rob was able to accumulate an enjoyable amount of unique old records and wax cylinders from the Gramophone era, and share his collection with our Listening & Analysis class.

I learned quite a bit from Rob’s presentation, and figured I would recap the highlights. Much of this information was covered in my previous post: http://wp.me/p3J4yb-c (Brief History: Highlights in Music Recording)

~Thomas Edison invented recording in 1877. He built the player.

~Also at this time, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville (Leon Scott) created the phonogram to capture sound waves visually. He wrote down what was needed, expanded upon Edison’s invention, and patented it in the 1860s.

~Edison looked for a way to improve the telephone, and also eventually figured out a way to deepen the grooves on wax cylinders in order to play back audio with an up and down needle.

Here’s a super cool video of a 1902 Cylinder Phonograph playing a song that was written in 1912 (“It’s a long way to Tipperary”). This song was probably recorded shortly after.

~Thomas Edison then invented the lightbulb.

~At this time, everyone was thinking, “How can we capitalize on these inventions?” Edison never thought about making music…

~1890’s- Emile Berliner didn’t get directly involved with previous recording inventions right away because there were a number of lawsuits regarding who and when things were invented. He understood that there was no way to reproduce the wax cylinders that were being used as a medium for recording. He figured out that you could move the needle side to side, and up and down with the groove. With this knowledge, Berliner invented records that could be stamped, and hence, easier to reproduce.

~In England in 1898, Frederick Gaisberg worked on Berliner’s flat records, and served as an accompanist for The Gramophone Company as the first recording engineer. Gaisberg embarked on a trip around Europe with the intention of recording music. Some of the highlighted countries for Gaisberg were Spain, France, Italy, and The Soviet Union. It was in Italy that he discovered the first recording star; Enrico Caruso, who quickly became the Opera Tenor of the century.

~Because India was a British Colony, they realized that they could be selling Gramophone’s. Gaisberg recorded through out India in 1902, and mass produced media could now be materialized. Commercial recordings were now a way to make money, and India served as a huge importance. People were understanding that you could now record to supplement your income.

~Gaisberg and his team than traveled to Burma, Asia, and Japan, and then mass produced the records in Germany. The records were pressed by Victor Records & The Gramophone Co. Each record at the time could only hold about 2 minutes, so the music had to be shortened many times.

The Victor Talking Machine Co. was founded by Eldridge R. Johnson who had made Emile Berliner’s Berliner Gramophone Records.

VictorTalkingLogo

~For a long time it was understood that wax was the best material to inscribe. A performer or musician had to sing or play loudly into a horn, and the sound would go through a diaphragm and vibrate a needle that would create grooves. Eventually, shellac was discovered in both Asia and India, and it quickly became the favored medium.

Here’s a picture of a large orchestra playing closely together to ensure that the horn could “hear” all the different players.

Beardsley.Elgar_acoustic_session

Here’s an example of a press for 16 inch transcription discs

Beardsley.press

~1925/26- The electric microphone was invented.

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The first record that we heard was from Japan, and recorded in 1902. The record quality was quite pleasing considering how old it was, and the instruments were still completely detectable. The vocalist was quieter/further away from the horn during the recording, and the flute and the shamisen were seemingly closer. The overall experience of hearing this record made my heart drop into my stomach. I have never heard anything like this in my life. Everything that we were hearing was exactly the way that it was. There was no editing, processing, or anything to alter the performance from the reality of the performance. This was incredibly inspiring for me because I find solace in my field recordings. Any sound that is projected in the environment is then picked up by my recorder. These recordings are intended to be as natural as possible, which is the blooming theme of my development as an artist: “EarthPop.” 

The second record that we heard  was recorded in India, also in 1902. Gauhar Jaan was the 1st Indian superstar that could sing in a lot of different languages. In this recording, I could detect a Harmonium, Sarangi, Tabla, and vocals from the diva herself.

Here’s a picture of Gauhar Jaan from Gaisberg’s Grand Tour to India

Beardsley.Grand_tour

Third, we listened to a song that was written in the 1890’s, and recorded by George W. Johnson in 1902. It was called “The Laughing Song,” because at the time, laughing records were very popular and served as good party music. This recording was a big pop hit in America and consisted of piano and voice.

Throughout the rest of the time we shared with Rob, we sunk our ears into early recordings from all over the world. An Indian drum solo called “Tabla Turong,” which means “Circle of Tuned Drums,” Jelly Roll Morton who recorded some New Orleans Jazz in the mid/late 20’s, Chinese Opera from Peking in 1919, Ethnographic field recordings from Africa in the 1930’s, A late 20’s recording of a Theremin, A Middle Eastern Turkish/Arabic recording from 1912/1915, Argentinean Jazz by Oscar Alemán recorded with an electric microphone, and a classic American 50’s hit- “Fever” by Little Willy John.

Here’s a great track by Oscar Alemán- Besame Mucho

& Another one of my favorites by Little Willy John- I’m Shakin’

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I wanted to share a trailer  from the musical documentary filmed by Millis titled “Phi Ta Khon: Ghosts from Isan.” “[Phi Ta Khon] documents a traditional Buddhist Ghost festival that overflows with gorgeous costumes and masks, ceremony, alcohol, phallic charms, and endless music. [It is a] psychedelic and mysterious bacchanal in an obscure corner of Thailand’s Isan Province” (Quoted from the Phi Ta Khon trailer below). My gut level reaction to this kind of work is none other than pure joy, thrill, and excitement because let’s face it, Rob is out there doing the work of my dreams. He will most definitely serve as a beacon of light to guide me through the rest of my journey within the Audio Design Technology program at AIS. The next step is for me to follow the Sublime Frequencies record label, which “is a collective of explorers dedicated to acquiring and exposing obscure sights and sounds from modern and traditional urban and rural frontiers via film and video, field recordings, radio and short wave transmissions, international folk and pop music, sound anomalies, and other forms of human and natural expression not documented sufficiently…” (http://rmillisaudio.wordpress.com/sublime-frequencies/).

David Tudor (1926-1996): Pianist & Experimental Music Composer

Here is a presentation I created on (Prezi.com), regarding the Life and Works of David Tudor; Avant-Garde Pianist & Experimental Music Composer who lived through the years of (1926-1996). Enjoy and feel free to play around with this Auditory/Visual arrangement of Information 😉

Click Here: The Life of David Tudor!

You should also check out this 18 minute Webisode called “The Prepared Mind: John Cage & David Tudor.” It most certainly opened my mind to the concept of Avant Garde music throughout the 1950’s & 60’s.

http://www.mercecunningham.org/film-media/mondays-with-merce/episode-15-the-prepared-mind-john-cage-and-david-tudor-sd/

 

David Tudor: Rainforest-1968, composed for The Merce Cunningham Dance Company

 

The Cambodian M’baut

  • The Hulusheng (in Chinese) or M’baut is a traditional Cambodian Mouth Organ found all throughout East Asia, and Southeast Asia under different names with slight variations. The Lisu people stem from a mountainous region in Burma, Southwest China, and the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh, and call the mouth gourd a “Fulu.” The Lahu people originate in Southeast Asia and China and call the instrument a “Naw.” The Akha are a small hill tribe of people that come from Thailand, Burma, Laos, China and the Yunnan Province, and refer to the mouth organ as a “Lachi.” The instrument is also known as the “Laotian Khene.”
  • The M’baut is an instrument constructed and played by the East/Southeast Asian upland ethnic minorities, and is constructed in different ways depending upon the region. For instance, some mouth organs use an elongated tube of wood rather than a gourd, and in other instances, there are open holes at the bottom of the pipes that allow for pitch sliding from one note to another, or tone bending.
  • The Hulusheng/M’baut is at least 2500 years old, and has a range of one octave. It has a smooth and graceful timbre and is not very loud. The M’baut is played as a solo instrument, or to accompany more instruments during song and dance. In recent years, people have added an additional few pipes, which enriches the tonal quality of the Hulusheng. They instrument makers have also began broadening the space within the gourd or wood, which has increased volume and added an additional octave.
  • The (aerophone) instrument is played by breathing air through a free-reed mouth piece, which flows into the body of the gourd. The air is then filtered through the open or closed holes (dependent upon finger placement), and resonates through 5-7 bamboo pipes of varying lengths. Like with an Organ, contrasting pipe sizes and lengths create lower and higher pitches, while created different tonal qualities as a result.

Brief History: Highlights in Music Recording

(1857)– The Phonautograph was created by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a French Printer/Book seller. This revolutionary development was used to visually study amplitude envelopes, and analyze waveforms of speech and other studied frequencies and musical elements. The device could not aurally reproduce audio. It would 2-dimensionally transcribe lines that represented audio on either paper or glass. It wasn’t until 2008 that scientists were able to scan the old Phonautograms into digital audio files.

(1877) Gramophone – Developed by Emile Berliner, A German/American inventor who founded the Berliner Gramophone Company; a premier record label. The Gramophone device could both record sound, and successfully reproduce sound recordings. To record, waveforms were engraved into a spinning cylinder with a needle that would vibrate to emulate the recorded sound waves. Similarly, in (1877), Thomas Edison introduced his version of the Phonograph, which is technically an equivalent to the Gramophone. These were the first devices that could record and recreate sound. The Gramophone/Phonograph/Record Player was dominant all throughout the 20th century.

(1930) Electrically powered phonographs were introduced, which now made it possible to use microphones to capture various sound elements. Through (1925-1930), the major record labels switched to using microphones to record, which drastically increased sound quality. Electrical recording also shed light upon the concept of over-dubbing.

(1901-1925) Victor Talking Machine Company, at the time, was one of the leading phonograph companies in the world. They were the first company to release a record that introduced over-dubbing techniques. The company was founded by Eldridge R. Johnson.

After Telegraph systems became popular in the 20’s and 30’s through the Magnetic Recording process, in (1943) Magnetic Tape Recordings were developed, and AEG was in charge of creating the first Stereo Tape Recorder. Both American Engineer John T. Mullin and Bing Crosby helped with the commercial advancement of Magnetic Tape Sound Recording. In (1947), Mullin met Crosby and gave him a demonstration of the new tape recording device, to which Crosby responded quite well. Crosby could now record his radio shows and play them as many times as he liked without having any noticeable diminished sound quality. Crosby hired Mullin as his chief engineer, and the two paved the way for Crosby to become the first American Music Star to pre-record radio broadcasts.

(1947), Colombia, Victor, Decca, Capitol, MGM, & Mercury were the 6 leading record companies.

Multi track Recording is now developed by allowing tape to be divided into multiple tracks working in sync with one another. In (1943), Germany Audio Engineers paved the way for the 2-track recorder, which became highly influential througout the (1950’s) as audio signals could be combined concurrently. Although this was a true technical advancement, both Jazz and Pop music continued to be produced monophonically until the (1960’s).

(1950) Les Paul began experimenting with tapes and recorders, which led him to custom order the first designed 8-track recorder from Ampex, (An American Electronics company founded in 1944.) Paul and his wife investigated the potential capabilities of Multi track recording.

(1956), CBS broadcasted their first network show with videotape.

(1958)- The Willi Studer Company of Switzerland comes out with the Studer 69, an early analog mixing console using reel-to-reel tape.

Ampex produces 3-track recorders for widespread commercial use until the mid (1960’s). Motown records regularly produced music with the 3-track recorders, as did American Producer/Songwriter, Phil Spector.

Late (1960’s) The 4-track tape recorder was released, and became a standard. The Rolling Stones and The Beatles produced much of their work via the 4-track. The 4-track also allowed for an early simulated version of surround/quadraphonic sound.

Before (1963), Philips came out with the new and improved compact audio cassette.

In (1970), Dolby Laboratories used “Compansion” (compression/expansion) to reduce tape hiss problems. Dolby A/Dolby B introduced in (1968), made high fidelity recording possible.

(1972) Denon introduced a digital audio recorder using reel-to-reel techniques. (1979) Soundstream introduced their version, and then shortly after, Mitsubishi did the same, using Pulse Code Modulation.

(1972) Philips introduces laserdisc playback-only deck

(1980), Digital Recording methods were introduced.

(1980), Home LaserDisc systems are now sold to the public.

(1981), First compact disc was created.

(1990’s), Computers are able to store digital sound files, and hard disk recording becomes popular.

In (1991), Alesis releases the ADAT machine which can record 8-tracks of audio to a VHS video cassette.

(1999), Portable MP3 players were created

(2001), Apple Computer released the I-pod

(2004), First HD car radio sold

(2005), Apple Computer released the I-pod Shuffle.