Cold Crows Dead + Stephen John Kalinich (SoundCloud)

As our regular readers know, File Under ? has a penchant for juxtapositions. Still even by our standards, combining a contemporary “bleak pop” band with spoken word performances by a lyricist with Beach Boys credits is audacious! But don’t be too hasty to judge a book by its multifaceted cover.

Cold Crows Dead has collaborated with poet, musician, and lyricist Stephen John Kalinich. Check out “Man in Bleak” via the embed below.

5/2: Kronos Quartet at the PEN World Voices Festival

Photo by Jay Blakesberg.

Tomorrow, at the PEN World Voices Festival’s featured event at the Met Museum, Kronos Quartet will provide musical accompaniment to writers Tony Kushner, Marjane Satrapi, and Rula Jebreal as they read from selections of their own work. The authors will then listen and respond to pieces in which recorded voices are juxtaposed with music. It promises to be an intriguing colloquy of literary and musical leading lights.

The Kronos Quartet: Exit Strategies

The Kronos Quartet (David Harrington, violin; John Sherba, violin; Hank Dutt, viola; Jeffrey Zeigler, cello) in performance with Tony Kushner, Marjane Satrapi, Rula Jebreal.

Works by Laurie Anderson, Hamza El Din, Morton Feldman, Ram Narayan,

Terry Riley, Omar Souleyman, and Ramallah Underground

When:   Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 7pm

Where: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
4, 5, 6 trains to 86th Street, walk west

Tickets: $30/$20 students and available at or (212) 570-3949

Michael Gordon’s Sad Park recorded by Kronos

The Sad Park EP

Kronos Quartet; Michael Gordon, composer

iTunes-only DL

Michael Gordon’s musical reflection on 9/11, The Sad Park, is an interesting variant on another piece written for the Kronos Quartet to commemorate the terror attacks: Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11. Gordon’s source material is culled from spoken word recordings made by the teacher of his son’s Pre-K class: responses to the attacks as seen through the eyes of innocents.

But whereas Reich used taped voices of first responders and spoken-word reflections of its aftermath as recognizable, harrowing, landmarks, Gordon eschews using source recordings in an overtly referential, or even recognizable manner. Instead, with the assistance of composer Luke Dubois, they are digitally sculpted into ghostly apparitions; distorted to blur the excerpts’ message in favor of allowing their impact to operate on an emotive and sonic, rather than textual, level. Surrounded  by quartet writing in the post-minimal ostinato manner, as well as sustained, siren-like lines that form a kind of keening, mournful refrain, The Sad Park is an unsettling threnody.

It’s interesting to note that in NPR’s 9/6 blog post about The Sad Park, the responses in the comments section diverge widely. Some feel that it is an affecting piece, while others pillory its use of children’s responses as exploitative. I guess one can engender controversy without inflammatory cover art.

Composer Michael Gordon

Brian Eno waxes poetic (CD Review)

Brian Eno
Drums between the Bells
Warp CD

For his second CD on the Warp imprint, Drums between the Bells, Brian Eno collaborates with poet Rick Holland on compositions that combine spoken word with alt-electronica.

Spoken dialogue atop music constantly bombards us on TV and in the movies, but the music is backgrounded and the dialogue is unmetered. The Eno/Holland collaboration puts poetry and music on relatively equal footing. And while the constituent elements may be 21st century experimental electronica and post-modern language, the material actually hearkens back to an older artform, the 18th and 19th century genre of melodrama.

Melodrama has gotten a bad rap in recent years. today, we often use the term melodramatic to describe something that’s overwrought. Even though composers as prominent as Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven composed them, for the most part, musical melodramas haven’t remained in the repertory. That said, one of our most prominent contemporary musical genres, hip hop, certainly is a marriage of spoken word with music on relatively egalitarian footing. But then, the MC is, in a sense, a musical soloist as well as an orator; his or her voice acts in a punctuating and percussive manner that is a bit more overtly metricized than Mozart’s melodrama, or than the collaboration between Eno and Holland.

That said, the balance and pacing of music and spoken word on Drums between the Bells works well. And the recording exhibits a wide range of demeanors both in terms of narration and musical approach. It certainly helps that a number of voices are heard throughout the album, including Holland, Eno, classical vocalist/visual artist Nick Robertson, Anastasi Afonina, and Elisha Mudley, providing a great deal of inflective variety. Eno takes care of most of the instrumental duties himself, with strings and guitars added by guest collaborators.

The album opener sets an uncompromising tone. “Bless this Space” pits a gravelly and booming bass vocal against Leo Abrahams’ edgily distorted and angularly deployed electric guitar playing. On the cut “Fierce Aisles of Light,” the music veers towards trip-house with rap riding buoyantly atop the beats. It’s not surprising that the cut “Glitch” explores the experimental electronica from which it takes its title, with the poetry emitted in robotic stabs. “Seedpods” pits electrofusion riffs and string synth chordal pads against each other and a more theatrical oration. Elsewhere, as on “Dreambirds,” Eno references his justifiably famous ambient soundscaping, creating lush tapestries which beautifully support Holland’s more reflective poems.

Even if the notion of spoken word takes you back to awkward memories of children’s theater, or lame college open-mike nights masquerading as wannabe poetry slams, you needn’t give up on melodrama entirely. Give this Eno/Holland 2011 reboot of the genre a try. Drums between the Bells is well worth questioning your listening biases.

Brian Eno – glitch (taken from Drums Between The Bells) by Warp Records