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A Selection of Curios, Links & Foghorns
I have an assortment of curios to share, but first some personal news and housekeeping.
The personal news is my planned move to Austin in July. I know this sounds like a cliché, but we decided on this long before Elon Musk came on the scene. A few years back, I started spending time in Austin—I heard directly from the mayor about his commitment to the music scene, saw the good work coming out of the Texas Music Office (a role model for other communities), and met many local musicians and civic leaders. I’ve concluded that Austin has the best local music ecosystem in the United States right now, and also will be a good place for me to work on my current projects. We would have made this move a year ago, if not for the pandemic—but better late than never.
And a housekeeping note: So far all of the posts on The Honest Broker have been free, but my report on the best albums of the month—coming on Monday—will be solely for paid subscribers. I’m still working on the details of different benefits for paid and free subscriptions, and this is a first step in that direction.
If you’re a free subscriber, consider upgrading to a paid subscription at this link.
And now on to my broker’s selection of offerings.
Here’s a rare article on barbershop quartets. Author Jonathan Rowe wants us to know that, despite the name, “the best of the best barbershop quartets had five voices.” So much for truth in advertising—but this is the music business, after all.
My favorite part of the article is this photo, which makes me feel a little better about staying away from the barber shop for most of the last year.
If you listen to jazz while eating dinner, you will have an easier time losing weight—but it needs to be “a high-pitched, slow-tempo jazz melody on piano.” On the other hand, dissonant guitar melodies in a minor key may lead to weight gain.
That feeling when you come back from the Gallic Wars, and all you have to show for it is a compact disc.
If you heard this music without knowing the composer, you would probably guess it was a pastiche of Gershwin and concert jazz formulas from the 1920s. I’ve been a fairly ardent defender of the visionary who recorded Black Codes from the Underground and later released that fiery album Live at Blues Alley, half a lifetime ago. But I still can’t figure out how he got from those origins to something that now resembles a revived work from the Paul Whiteman band.
Then again, what can you expect from a genre “invented by demons for the torture of imbeciles.”
I learn a lot about music from Bandcamp tags—for example:
Want to go to the theater, but still feel you’re at home during a pandemic? Consider the new production of Blindness, based on the José Saramago novel—which has no actors, no stage, socially-distanced seating, and each member of the audience connected to headphones.
Ken Fritz devoted 30 years to creating “the best stereo system in the world.” And what exactly does that involve?
Well, first you build a annex to your house of cavernous proportions, and with concert hall acoustics. Then you design speaker towers customized to the space you’ve created. But those aren’t worth their (considerable) weight unless you also add a 1,500-pound, three-armed “Frankenstein turntable.”
I don’t know the cost of that turntable, but Fritz’s son Scott says he has seen inferior ones selling for more than $100,000. I won’t even go into the custom woodworking, shelving, etc. etc.
I’m not an audiophile, which disappoints those who come to me for advice on such matters. But I admire these intrepid souls the way my fisherman friend admires the captain in the movie Jaws—from afar and amid a much smaller setup.
My favorite music device looks like an old Victrola phonograph—but it was designed to communicate with ghosts and spirits from the other world. Let me introduce you to the Psycho-Phone.
A journalist asked for my comments on how to celebrate Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday. I shared the following—which perhaps fell short of expectations.
In all fairness, things were a lot different in the 1960s. Here’s how painter Asger Jorn responded when he received a $2,500 prize from the Guggenheim International Award Exhibition.
Scientists can now tell the sound of a musical instrument even before it’s made. If they could only do that for an album.
Here’s the TikTok video that tells people to stop wasting time watching TikTok videos.
As if music critics don’t have enough to worry about already, we now need to consider the ethical implications of record labels "algorithmically reanimating dead musicians to sing against their will."
It’s creepy. But let’s be honest: This represents the ultimate dream of many record label execs—namely to have complete control over superstar musicians, with none of messiness of actually dealing with them.
My obsession with bells and bell towers is no secret, but I now realize that I’ve neglected another hidden influencer in the history of musical tones—namely foghorns. There’s a whole coastal music soundscape that I’ve hardly considered.
So I’m fortunate that Jennifer Lucy Allan has now written a book on the subject. “I love the compelling simplicity of drones and massive amounts of fog,” she recently commented. And, frankly, who doesn’t?
Here’s 45 minutes of foghorns—just enough to whet your appetite for more.