Saturday, September 16, 2017

How did something so promising go so wrong?

Since 1995 - the last time I produced a movie (To Die For) - the digital distribution of most popular forms of art has reinforced the popularity of a small group of artists and cast almost all others into shadow. To be a young musician, filmmaker, or journalist today is to seriously contemplate the prospect of entering a profession that the digital age has eroded beyond recognition. The deeper you delve into the reason artists are struggling in the digital age, the more you see that Internet monopolies are at the heart of the problem and that it is no longer a problem just for artists.
That quote comers from Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture ... by Jonathan Taplin. Its title comes from the Mark Zuckerberg quote "Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you aren't moving fast enough". In his book Jonathan Taplin points out that the five largest firms in the world measured by market capitalisation are Apple, Google/Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and goes on to ask about the Internet "How did something so promising go so wrong?" Back on digital planet earth the London Symphony Orchestra's concerts with Simon Rattle are available without payment live - i.e. in real time - and on demand for 90 days on YouTube and live on Facebook.

As Jonathan Taplin explains, YouTube is the largest music streaming site in the world, with a 52 percent market share, but it generates only 13 percent of streaming revenues. He goes on to point out that more people than ever are listening to music, reading books, and watching movies, but the revenue flowing to the creators of the content - i.e. musicians etc - is decreasing while the revenue flowing to the big four platforms - YouTube, Facebook, Google and Amazon - is increasing. Are those who are trumpeting that "the biggest threat facing musicians and their work is Brexit" living on the same digital planet as the rest of us?

No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Thursday, September 14, 2017

There should be no demarcation lines in music

My suggestion in a recent post that we are using a too narrow definition when discussing new audiences in particular and classical music in general leads me to Lalo Schifrin's Jazz Mass. In a Facebook comment on this thread Joshua Cheek astutely observed that "'crossover' is a dead end... it has become a genre unto itself". In crossover the imperative of the audience takes priority over the imperative of the music. But in the Jazz Mass art most definitely takes priority over audience despite Lalo Schifrin's reputation for acclaimed movie soundtracks. His Jazz Mass fearlessly challenges comfort zones: it incorporates contemporary modes, improvisation is a key feature and the Credo is aleatoric, with breathing cycles determining changes in vocal pitch and dynamics.

The multifaceted and mystical flute virtuoso Paul Horn commissioned the Mass - which is sung in English - in 1964. His LP recording seen above, which was titled Jazz Suite on the Mass Texts as it does not strictly follow the structure of the Catholic Mass, won two Grammys. In 1998 Lalo Schifrin directed a concert recording in Cologne with the WDR Big Band which is equally commendable; this release used the less opaque title Jazz Mass.

There are many other notable examples where the demarcation line between jazz and classical has been crossed. George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was originally commissioned for solo piano and jazz band by Paul Whiteman, and only later orchestrated by Ferde Grofé. Dave Brubeck studied with Darius Milhaud, and György Ligeti acknowledged the influence of Bill Evans and Thelonius Monk on his Études for Piano. André Previn has recorded a number of successful jazz albums; his 1956 My Fair Lady with Shelly Manne and Leroy Vinnegar became a best-seller. Leonard Bernstein championed jazz, and on his 1956 Columbia spoken word LP "What Is Jazz?" he argued against the critics who preached that jazz is not art. In the 1950s Randy Weston's jazz trio was resident at the Music Inn resort in the Berkshires where its audience included Leonard Bernstein and musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The trio's bassist was the African American musician Sam Gill, who went on to become principal bass for the Denver Symphony. In the photo below Sam Gill is playing with Thelonius Monk (piano), Kenny Dorham (trumpet) and Willie Jones (drums) at Tony's, Brooklyn, NY.*

New audiences remain top of the agenda, yet Lalo Schifrin's Jazz Mass is another work that is unfairly denied an audience. As jazz great Michel Legrand explained: "To me, both jazz and classical music have the same goal. There should be no lines of demarcation between them, for the end result should simply be - good music."

* Sam Gill photo credit The Hospitality Suite. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mahlerian in scope yet denied to audiences

Composer anniversary celebrations are another of classical music's big new ideas that has been quietly dropped. Which is a good thing: because in their ham-fisted execution they did no more than further expose grossly over-exposed composers such as Shostakovich and Mahler. But if handled with flair and finesse they could have done the valuable job of showcasing little-known and deserving composers. Such as Richard Arnell, the centenary of whose birth falls on 15th September. Even at a time when just a few composers dominate the concert repertoire Arnell's neglect is puzzling. He wrote big meaty symphonies that would surely appeal to today's Mahler-saturated audiences, and his trans-Atlantic provenance frees him from the dreaded 'English composer' label.

Despite this there were no Arnell symphonies at the BBC Proms in this his centenary year, nor have any of his symphonies ever been performed at the Proms. And in his centenary week he does not qualify for the BBC Radio 3 composer of the week slot, nor do the station's schedules list broadcasts of any of his music. Instead Radio 3 devotes air time to two more Mahler symphonies conducted by the omnipresent Simon Rattle. But all is not lost, because, as ever, those on the fringes are treading where the mainstream classical media is too myopic to tread. WWFM broadcasting in the New Jersey area and online is running an Arnell marathon on September 14 from 6.00 to 11.00 AM presented by Ross Amico, and conductor Warren Cohen, who knew Arnell, is being interviewed on WWFM between 8.00 and 9.00 AM local time tomorrow September 14th.

Born in London in 1917, Richard Arnell followed Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Sir Arthur Bliss to the States in the late 1930s, and, like Bliss, found himself marooned on the wrong side of the Atlantic when war was declared. He settled in New York for the duration, and became a member of the Greenwich Village circle that included Virgil Thomson and Mark Rothko. Among the works that Arnell composed in New York before he returned to England in 1947 were his first three symphonies (plus much of his Fourth) and a film score for the US Departure of Agriculture documentary The Land. Paths auspiciously converge here as the suite from The Land was given its premiered by African American conductor Dean Dixon and the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1942. Among others who championed Arnell's music in America were Léon Barzin, who gave the first performance of the Fourth Symphony with the New York Philharmonic in 1948, Leopold Stokowski, who gave the premiere of the Black Mountain Prelude with the New York Philharmonic in 1949, and Bernard Hermann. In the UK Arnell's advocates included Sir John Barbirolli and Sir Thomas Beecham.

Despite advocacy by these musical luminaries, concert performances of Richard Arnell's symphonies are today as rare as the proverbial hen's teeth. But we are very fortunate to have a magnificently played and recorded cycle of the symphonies by Martin Yates - who is doing so much for neglected music - and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on the independent Dutton label. Passing on Arnell's monumental wartime Third Symphony for the 2017 Proms season was a huge missed opportunity. It is late-Romantic in tone, Mahlerian in scope and duration with a fifteen minute slow movement that Visconti would have adored, while hints of Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, David Diamond and William Schuman betray its Stateside genesis. But perhaps it is good that it did not receive a Proms outing; because its dedication to "the political courage of the British people" would almost certainly have triggered yet another battle of the flag-waving loonies.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Why you should never trust marketing experts

In a typically perceptive comment on Facebook about my classical music is not a lifestyle accessory post Joshua Cheek muses " do we recruit potential listeners and patrons to the current resources that are already available? Between streaming services like Spotify, Naxos Music Library and Primephonic, damned near the entirety of the Western classical canon is available..." Which prompts me to suggest that we are using a too narrow definition when discussing new audiences in particular and classical music in general.

Recently there has been considerable focus on Classic FM prompted by the station's success in attracting a young audience. In their haste to spread the misguided dogma that the future of mainstream classical depends on a crossover from smooth classics, the experts overlooked the following statement in a Guardian interview by Classic FM's managing editor Sam Jackson: "There is a far bigger audience crossover between us and Radio 1 than there is between us and Radio 3". This leads to a hypothesis that deserves serious consideration; namely that the audience crossover from outside classical music is more important than crossover within classical.

Sam Jackson highlights the crossover between BBC Radio 1's rock audience and Classic FM. Which may explain Classic FM's success in attracting a younger audience, as 41% of Radio 1's audience is in the age group 15-29, compared with the UK population average of 21.5%. There have been attempts by the BBC to leverage this crossover in recent Proms seasons with a Pet Shop Boys commission and an Ibiza anthems concert. But the results were were so cringe-inducing that these projects quickly joined the Strictly Come Dancing and Sherlock Holmes Proms on the scrapheap of classical music's next big things. Executed with more finesse was a 1970 Prom that brought together rock/jazz band Soft Machine and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a concert which included music by Terry Riley and exponent of electronica Tim Souster, and by members of the band.

In his comment Joshua Cheek refers to the riches contained in the libraries of Spotify, Naxos Music Library and Primephonic. One of the many disappointments of the digital age is that the music industry has singularly failed to capitalise on the huge opportunity offered by this breadth of on-demand music. Instead of the promised long tail of music we now have a short head which is the fiefdom of a few celebrity composers and musicians. This hegemony is reinforced by a music press which is in the service of those who profit most from the short head, the corporate labels and other music establishment institutions. They have the Mahler, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Kaufmann and Rattle bases very well covered. But what our brave new digital world lacks are the mavericks who relish the challenge of going against the flow on the margins of art music. Like former West Coast Editor of DownBeat magazine, mean guitarist and champion of minority genres Lee Underwood who co-authored jazz flautist and genre-busting improviser Paul Horn's acclaimed autobiography Inside Paul Horn.

Inside Paul Horn tells the story of the album seen above. This was an unplanned recording which in 1968 captured Paul Horn's spontaneous solo improvisations under the dome of the iconic Taj Mahal in Agra. His improvisations explored the dome's 28 second reverberation time, a unique acoustic created in the 17th century to enhance Qu'ranic recitations. When he returned to the States with the tapes Horn took them to Dick Bock, the founder of Pacific Jazz Records. Dick Bock was, unlike recent senior figures in Univeral Music and other corporate labels, no philistine; in fact he had been the driver behind Paul Horn's groundbreaking India and Kashmir albums. But when confronted with Horn's oddball Taj Mahal improvisations his response was "Let me run it by my marketing people and see what they think". The opinion of the marketing experts was "The music's too sparse and low-keyed, not exciting enough... go into the studio and add a few percussion sounds, maybe some bells, gongs, a few finger cymbals-you know, jazz it up a little, make it more commercial".

But Paul Horn was not prepared to jazz it up a little. So he took the album to Columbia's subsidiary label Epic which released it unaltered as Inside the Taj Mahal*. Those sparse and low-keyed sounds pioneered the New Age music genre which despite commercial exploitation and consequent devaluing has influenced the development of art music. Inside the Taj Mahal was in the vanguard of the music therapy movement, was one of the first essays in soundscape recording and a precursor of the now fashionable 'slow radio' movement. The album went on to sell more than 750,000 copies, and in a CD coupling with Inside Taj Mahal 2 (which was recorded in 1989) remains in the catalogue today. That is just one of many reasons why you should never trust music marketing experts. And yes, I have to confess that in another life I was a marketing expert in EMI's International Classical Division.

* The album was originally released with the title Inside, but this was later qualified with Taj Mahal as Paul Horn built up a catalogue of 'Inside' projects including Inside the Great Pyramid. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

What classical music can learn from Airbnb

In the early days of music blogging – which is now more than ten years ago – there was a lightness of touch that has long since disappeared. We blogged simply to share our discoveries and to share our experiences. Music blogging was a forerunner of the sharing economy, a socio-economic ecosystem built around the sharing of human, physical and intellectual resources that later spawned hugely popular innovators such as Uber and Airbnb. But today things are very different and music blogs have transitioned seamlessly from the sharing economy to the me economy. With very few exceptions music blogs and their associated social media feeds are now written with the sole intention of promoting personal careers, and shared discoveries have been replaced by undisguised plugs for personal appearances, performances, recordings and books.

This shift from the lightness of sharing to the heaviness of self-interest is usually explained away as an inevitable reflection of changes in the way we communicate. But is it? Is classical music, or any other art form, just about selling? Is it just about bums on seats, reader numbers, and volume of likes and re-tweets? Is it not about building something worthwhile, from which the positive metrics will then flow? In his influential book Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow founder of the Joie de Vivre boutique hotel chain Chip Conley talks about wanting his hotel guests to check out feeling “a better version of themselves”. How many musicians, and concert promoters have as their conscious mission for audiences to leave the hall feeling a better version of themselves? How many music writers want their readers to end an article feeling a little wiser?

Yes, this all sounds like hokey corporate-speak; because it is. But it works very well for millennials, and they are the prime target as classical music searches for a new younger audience. Chip Conley went on to become Head of Global Hospitality & Strategy for Airbnb which is one of the biggest success stories in the millennial market. Airbnb has tapped the massive and highly lucrative market offered by the 'explorer' mind-set – travellers who want to venture beyond the sanitised and commoditised world of chain hotels. Who in music writing, or coming to that concert and recording programming, is catering for the 'explorer' mind-set? Where have all the discoveries gone? Gone to sanitised and commoditised concerts. Gone to Mahler symphonies, every one...

Pioneers of the sharing economy such as Uber and Airbnb are categorised as market disrupters because they overthrow the established order through innovation. It has been said so many times that classical music must change to survive. But where are the disrupters? The last industry-spawned disrupter was Naxos which was founded by Klaus Heymann in 1987. Naxos not only disrupted the CD market with its highly successful budget priced catalogue, but also disrupted the business model of the recording industry by pioneering the use of low-cost offshore orchestras. Not to mention disrupting the cosy relationship between journalists and the classical establishment by successfully suing Norman Lebrecht.

Since 1987 the disrupters that have reshaped the classical industry have come from outside; most notably streaming services such as Spotify. In contrast, internal industry forces supported loyally by cohorts of onside journalists - think Sinfini - have all been directed at maintaining the stultifying status quo in the form of more power for the celebrity musicians and their secretive agents, bigger and more expensive vanity concert halls, maintaining profligate funding levels for the privileged few, paying lip service but no more to ethnic diversity etc etc.

Classical music can learn a lot from the hospitality industry. Most notably that if you do not innovate and disrupt from within, someone will do it from outside. Classical music has a choice. Start changing the status quo from within. Or watch as a bulldozer forces its way in from outside and reshapes the classical landscape.

Photo shows Airbnb listed music studio and artist space in Joshua Tree, CA. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

This summer of hate is not something to be proud of

No one who cares can be proud of what happened this summer. Covertly encouraging the hijacking of the BBC Proms by the extremists of the anti and pro-Brexit camps was the worst big new idea ever to be inflicted on classical music. And please let's not hear the canard of any publicity is good publicity. The 89% attendance for the 2017 Proms season showed only a marginal change - plus 1% - over the Brexit-free previous year. In his Last Night speech conductor Sakari Oramo told the audience "For many decades we have heard about the imminent demise of classical music". If this summer is anything to go by, that demise is worryingly imminent.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Classical music is not a lifestyle accessory

Thankfully it is accepted that attempts to sell classical music as an entertainment have failed. But another and equally insidious threat is emerging - selling classical music as a lifestyle accessory. A lifestyle accessory needs to be conspicuously consumed. So the marketeers have decided classical music must now be conspicuously consumed, preferably via social media. Attending the Proms earns maximum online bragging points, and not just for the prommers, but also for the musicians - see photos - and for the new generation of Twitter-obsessed critics.

Classical music is now something to be flaunted on Facebook alongside photos of the chicken and squash cacciatore rustled up after the concert. And it is not just a taste for the smooth classics that are good for flaunting - Schoenberg and Mahler have also done big business in 'likes' and 'retweets' this summer. And the boom in country house opera has as much to do with Facebook bragging rights as musical excellence.

Positioning classical music as a lifestyle accessory is much more dangerous that just another silly social media craze. The litmus test for an art form is whether or not it changes personal consciousness, either in a subtle or gross way. Consciousness inhabits our inner personal space, and for that reason true appreciation of music can only happen in personal space. But marketing classical music as a lifestyle commodity moves it from the personal to public space, and as a result that essential ability to connect with our inner sensibilities is compromised.

The fashionable dribbles of applause between movements and the glowing smartphone checked every five minutes by the well-connected executive in the next seat are invasions of personal space that rob classical music of its very raisons d'être - the ability to transport us however fleetingly from the here and now to a better place. Similarly the egregious back announcements by BBC Radio 3 presenters telling us why we should have liked a performance are an invasion of that precious private space in which we formulate our own emotional reaction.

I am just a sample of one; but when the many classical experts agonise over why concert attendances are falling, they should take into account that the remorseless invasion of personal space in the concert halls is one of the reasons why I now attend far fewer classical concerts and hardly listen to Radio 3. Live music desperately needs supporting, but recordings are now my preferred way of listening, because I value my personal mental space.

Tonight is the Last Night of the Proms. One of the classical Taliban, who is also a prolific tweeter of their chicken and squash cacciatore lifestyle, has suggested that the Last Night ritual is somehow sacred and therefore above criticism. Well, I disagree. The Last Night was bad enough as a jingoistic celebration of a thankfully-departed colonial age. But its transition into a made-for-media lifestyle accessory patronised by the corporate hospitality industry puts it beyond the pale for me. How long before Jamie Oliver appears at the Last Night of the Proms?

Source for un-Photoshopped header image is BBC Proms website and the footer is from BBC Music Magazine. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

The beauty of disaster

We are all part of a game. We are the pawns in the chess game. I take it for granted that I am so distant from the masses. However, I am just a small cog in the clockwork of this system of humanity. I am being indoctrinated by our society and surroundings. I refuse to believe that many of my thoughts, of which I am so proud, have been implanted by my surroundings. I ask myself how the people of the masses can have been so foolish, so oblivious of what was going on around them, as to do what they are told without thought. How can I say that I am not falling into a rut like that myself? This is only the start for more questions to come.
That extract is taken from an essay by a second year student in the newsletter of Brockwood Park School, which was founded by Jiddu Krishnamurti. Questioning like that coming from a young person provides some hope that all is not lost. Graphic is the cover art* for J. Peter Schwalm's album The Beauty of Disaster. This is currently high in my playlist despite the unfortunate Stockhausenesque resonances of the title; audition its eclectic electronica via this link. Track 2 Himmelfahrt sample's Wagner's Tristan and that provides a neat link across to the J.Peter Schwalm curated Wagner Transformed, an album that is recommended for those who like their beyond the comfort zone experiences to have familiar points of reference.

* Album artwork is from Glass Study Series 1 by Sophie Clements. No review samples used. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Êtes-vous Gauri?

Sad but predictable that the many self-appointed guardians of a free press around the world who zealously tweeted Je suis Charlie are not now tweeting Je suis Gauri . Let's be consistent...

Header photo is from The News Minute. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Now here comes the first Sufi rock opera

An out-take from my recent article about the Muslim music market demands a separate post. In 1989 the Tunisian director and actor Fadhel Jaziri created the music spectacle Hadhra celebrating the eponymous ecstatic Sufi ritual of possession. The original production had a cast of 480 with no less than fifteen bendir (frame drum) players and lasted for 90 minutes. The scoring is for oboe, saxophone, three violins, string bass, electric guitars, two synths, ney (reed flute), percussion, and, of course, multiple bendirs. There is some poor quality video of the original production on YouTube, and a double CD was released in 2000 but is now deleted and fetching a premium online. Fortunately the revival of Hadhra with smaller forces for the 2013 Festival International de Carthage in Tunisia seen above was captured on high quality video. Anyone still labouring under the misapprehension that music is forbidden by Islam should watch the clip below of the Sufi equivalent of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Going with the flow is not always a good idea

In 2007 ago I wrote an enthusiastic post about the newly released CD Angels of Jonathan Harvey's choral music sung by Les Jeunes Solistes directed by the Algerian conductor Rachid Safir. It was the first time I had written about Jonathan's music and I didn't know him at that time, but he sent me the following email:
I was delighted to find such a passionate advocate of my and other contemporary music forging his own path (not so overgrown!) clearly in opposition to most current trends. I've always felt that it is and will be strong enthusiasm that will change the world! Thank you so much... all best and bon courage ~ Jonathan Harvey
Those typically astute observations about the importance of passionate advocacy and of not being afraid to go against current trends are even more relevant ten years later. My post that Jonathan Harvey responded to dwelt on his preoccupation with Buddhist themes. Gautama Buddha used the terms 'middle way' or 'middle path' to describe the route which leads to enlightenment. In a similar way the path leading to musical enlightenment is the middle one between the two extremes of going with the flow and standing in opposition to current trends.

Reading that email again ten years later - a period during which Jonathan, sadly, left us for his beloved Pure Land - prompts me to suggest that classical music is now too ready to go with the flow and too reluctant to oppose current trends. For me it is not a problem that Classic FM has a large audience, and, despite people trying to put words of 'outrage' into my mouth, I do not despise the music it broadcasts. But I simply do not find Classic FM to my taste and as a result I do not listen to it. Moreover it is my view that the importance of the cross-over between easy listening classical and mainstream classical audiences is considerably overstated; a view incidentally the BBC now holds*. It is also my view that the audience demographic for Classic FM has no more relevance to the future of mainstream classical music than that for other easy listening stations such as Smooth FM - a station, it should be noted, with an audience similar in size to that of Classic FM.

If I had expressed the foregoing views ten years ago they would have provoked little comment. But today professing anything other than passionate enthusiasm for Classic FM is likely to trigger a social media fire storm; with respondents underlining their street cred - as one recently did - by flaunting their music PhDs as well as their advanced tastes in smooth classics. I wrote recently about how classical music's 'next big thing' obsession is misguided. Right up there at the front of the new wave of next big things is going with the flow. Leading the charge is the new generation of writers who have progressed from unpaid online writing to paid gigs. Backing the current trends and going with the flow means more paid writing gigs, thereby creating a not so virtuous career circle.

I am now well into retirement and should be spending my time on Saga over-50s cruises browsing my iPad and having my comfort zones challenged by the young Turk music writers. Instead I find myself fuming as yet another writer flaunts their passion for Classic FM and brags about their country house opera comps. Yes, classical music needs to go with the flow sometimes. But it also needs to oppose some particularly pernicious current trends. In a desperate drive to avoid elitism classical music has lost that vital ingredient which differentiates art from entertainment - aspiration. Where are the new young passionate advocates and contrarians? Is Petroc Trelawny explaining the secret of Classic FM's success in The Spectator really the only game changer in town?

Let me finish on a more positive note by essaying a little passionate advocacy that brings this overgrown path full circle. I would like to commend a concert in London's Festival Hall on 14 Oct 2017. In it the Ensemble Intercontemporain conducted by Matthias Pintscher performs Pierre Boulez's ...explosante-fixe... (In memoriam Stravinsky) for flute with live electronics, 2 flutes & orchestra, Philippe Schœller's Hermès V for large ensemble, and Jonathan Harvey's Bhakti for ensemble & quadraphonic tape. Classical music needs a middle path; so please could the young Turks among the music writers show the same enthusiasm for that concert as they showed for recent 'going with the flow' concerts such as the Oklohama! BBC Prom.

* BBC Radio 3 may have finally realised that "Strictly and Sherlock audiences fail to stick around", but instead is now selling 'slow' radio - the bastard child of smooth radio - as the next big thing.

So what is the link between the CD artwork for Eliane Radique's Triptych and this post? Take your pick from the Buddhist connection, her music deserves passionate advocacy, the subliminal message of that lack of bums on seats, or Eliane Radique's willingness to go against current trends. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, September 04, 2017

This is the new $1.4 billion music market

New markets are the holy grail for the music industry. Which is why all eyes are currently turned east towards China where the music market is forecast to reach US$1.05 billion by 2019. And it is also why Simon Rattle is taking the Berlin Philharmonic to China in November 2017 before his contract with the orchestra expires next year. China is a huge opportunity for the music industry, but there is an even bigger opportunity which is overlooked for the wrong reasons.

There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, which is almost 30% more than the population of China. A dearth of data on the Muslim music market reflects the low priority placed on it in the West. But extrapolating the forecast for China gives a potential value of US$1.4 billion dollars for the Muslim music market. As another illustration of the size of the opportunity, the Muslim population of Europe is estimated at 45 million, which is almost exactly the same as the population of Spain.

Two misapprehensions contribute to why the Muslim music market is badly documented and overlooked in the West. The first is the populist stereotyping of the typical Muslim as a jihadist living in a cave in Afghanistan. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Of eleven countries forecast to join the elite club of economic superpowers this century, six have a dominant Muslim majority and two substantial Muslim minorities. The music market is driven by a young demographic and two-thirds of Muslims are under the age of 30. Many of these are on the doorstep of the West. The Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region to the south of the Mediterranean has an estimated Muslim population of 315 million, and at its closest point is just 9 miles from the Spanish border. In 2014 the global halal food and lifestyle market was valued at US$1.8 trillion and is forecast to increase to US$2.6 trillion in 2020. Shelina Janmohamed's book Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World is an invaluable study of this emerging market, and my header graphic is sampled from the book's cover art*.

The second reason why the Muslim market is overlooked is the widespread misapprehension that music is haram - forbidden - in Islam. Again nothing could be further from the truth. Islam has age-old music traditions which range from the qawwali of Pakistan and India, through Egyptian divas such as Oum Kalsoum, to the gnawa of Morocco. In fact music is very big business in Muslim countries. Egypt is home to the Al-Azhar University where Islamic scholars (ulamas) pass down judgements (fatwas) based on Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, and is also the birthplace of the controversial activist group the Muslim Brotherhood. But Egypt also has a great popular music tradition, epitomised by Oum Kalsoum whose records still sell a million copies annually forty years after her death, and who is credited with influencing among others Bob Dylan, Salvador Dalí, Nico, Bono, and Led Zepplin.

Oum Kalsoum may be known in the West, but other popular Muslim musicians are not, despite spectacular record sales. They include Lebanese/Swedish R&B singer, songwriter & music producer Maher Zain who has 10 million Facebook followers and 100 million YouTube views, the Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram who is described as 'the Britney Spears of the Middle East' and has endorsement deals with Coca-Cola, Sony Ericsson, and Damas Jewelry, and Samira Said from Morocco who has sold more than 50 million records worldwide and sung for Pope John Paul II outside St. Peter's Basilica in 1996. There are major music festivals in the Muslim world, with the three in Morocco each attracting audiences larger that that for the famed Glastonbury Festival. The thriving heavy metal scene has been documented by academic and guitarist Mark LeVine in his recommended book Heavy Metal Islam, and qawwali has spawned Sufi rock pioneered by Pakistan's biggest rock band Junoon.

Identifying the potential of the Muslim music market is one thing, but breaking into it is quite another. Which in fairness to the Western music industry, is why this market has been viewed as a low priority. However the default strategy of sending celebrity acts on tours to to the Muslim world runs the very real danger of being seen as yet another form of globalisation and Westernisation, a perception that is a trigger for deplorable reactionary violence by Islamic extremists. The alternative strategy of token integration of non-Western music traditions into fusion projects, whether rock, jazz or classical, is all too often disastrous both musically and culturally.

There have been a few laudable grass roots projects. These include in the classical world French conductor Olivier Holt's work with the l'Orchestre Philharmonique du Maroc which I have been privileged to sample first hand, and Paul MacAlindin experience with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq which he documented in his book Upbeat. But there is no easy way for the West to exploit the Muslim music market. Which is good news: because, if there was, it would simply result in self-interested exploitation. Until we discover a new 'Fourth world music' that is independent of commercial and cultural allegiances, that US$1.4 billion will remain no more than a potentiality. But note that I deliberately use the word 'discover'. The new 'Fourth world music' may already be written by Beethoven or Bjork and others, or it may not yet be written. In conclusion I suggest it is attitudes and not music that needs to change. As the young U.S. based Muslim architect Maryam Eskandari explains in Generation M:
I am you. I am not defined solely by where I am from, my traditions, heritage, rules, and culture. I believe in the best from everybody, everywhere, and everything; morphing it into a modern culture. We all should be global citizens where we learn from each other and import the best things from others into our own lives. We should be open and yearning to change; push for new things and be unique.

Sources include:
~ Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World by Shelina Janmohamed
~ Heavy Metal Islam by Mark leVine
~ Rebel Music: Race, Empire and the New Muslim Youth Culture by Hisham D. Aidi
...and lots of CDs.

* Header artwork is by Arianna Osti. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Miles faster

That is Miles Davis with one of his Ferraris. The autobiographical The Speed of Sound by Thomas Dolby is well worth reading despite the inevitable hubris - "Hello magazine... published a story about our family home..." - for its portrayal of the perfidious ways of the music industry. This anecdote about Miles Davis comes from it:
Wayne [Shorter] cracked me up with a story about Miles and his brand-new Ferrari Testarossa*. Apparently Miles had gotten pulled over recently by the cops on the Pacific Coast Highway. He always felt he was unfairly victimised for being a black man driving a nice car, and he went to court to fight the ticket. "Mr. Davis," said the judge, "do you have any idea how fast you were going?" In his raspy voice Miles replied: "Hey, man, I just drive it till it sounds good".
* Not every jazz musician starves. Miles Davis owned four Ferraris, a 250 California Spider, a 250 GT Lusso, a 275 GTB/4 and a Testarossa. The car in the photo is his 275 GTB/4. No review samples - books or Ferraris - used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Let's be consistent with our outrage

There have been widespread expressions of outrage at a provocative and tasteless promotional video made by the youth association of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra featuring a young lady in a short skirt, a leaf blower and Bach's music. The half-life of that particular big new idea proved to be very short, and the video has been removed from YouTube (but not Vimeo) to the sound of furious back-pedaling in Amsterdam. However the outrage continues in a sequence of Slipped Disc posts in which Norman Lebrecht describes the video as "insensitive" and "shameless". So let's look at the bigger picture. The Concertgebouw's error of judgement can be explained but not excused by a desperate attempt to boost its audience. For years Norman Lebrecht has used insensitive and shameless material in a desperate attempt to boost his blog's audience. Just three examples from Slipped Disc are shown here, with the one below carrying the same message as the "shameless" Dutch video.

Slipped Disc receives support from the whole classical music industry, including musicians, record labels, orchestras and professional journalists. But a dodgy video from Amsterdam receives widespread condemnation. In his blog Norman Lebrecht quotes Nicholas Daniel as describing the Concertgebouw promotion as "appalling sexist rubbish" and Jessica Duchen as explaining that this kind of stunt is why "why we keep having to fight sexism in all its forms". More power to your crusade Nicholas and Jessica. Now I look forward to you directing your perfectly justified outrage at other purveyors of appalling sexist rubbish in the classical music industry.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).