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Stephin Merritt must have sonar. Whether helming The Magnetic Fields or penning songs for films and musicals, he finds depth in even the shallowest of topics and creates meaning by exploring meaninglessness. The title of his new, self-produced album, Love at the Bottom of the Sea, hints at this process as it summons daydreams about mermaids, pirates, and amorous octopi.
Efterklang can hear dead people, or so it seems. Perhaps that’s why the Danish post-rock ensemble visited Pyramiden — a ghost town on the Arctic Norwegian island of Spitsbergen — to create its new album of similar name.
At the abandoned Russian settlement, its members wandered a landscape of streams and mountains, recording the sounds of seabirds, footfall, and rushing wind. In the studio, they added the ethereal vocals of a choir and the chime-like peals of a glass-bottle collection. Whether or not these sounds are messages from another realm, they summon haunting melodies and shiver-inducing rhythms. It makes perfect sense, considering that “efterklang” means remembrance and reverberation.
Daniel Bernard Roumain: Symphony for the Dance Floor
The acronym DBR might sound like a spinoff of PBR, the bargain-priced, hipster-approved lager, but it actually belongs to something even more buzz-inducing: the music of violinist and composer Daniel Bernard Roumain. This classically trained musician gets W.A. Mozart aficionados to buy hip-hop records along with symphony tickets and makes clubgoers rock out to sounds inspired by Johannes Brahms and Ludwig van Beethoven.
His latest opus, Symphony for the Dance Floor, is a fusion of electronica, symphonic sounds, and lots of hip hop, created via collaboration with choreographer Millicent Johnnie and photographer Jonathan Mannion (whose shots of Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, and Eminem have appeared on the most memorable album covers of the past 15 years). The piece premiered at Arizona State University on February 5, 2011 and will be performed again this fall at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival.
ALARM spoke with Roumain about Symphony for the Dance Floor, his curious moniker, and how playing the violin can start a revolution, both in the musical world and the sociopolitical landscape.
What was on your mind when you began composing Symphony for the Dance Floor?
I’d been thinking a lot about the concept of performance. There’s a lot of art-making and art consumption in mainstream America right now. There are shows like American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and Glee that have revealed a real excitement about performance in the US, and even in Europe and Asia and East India. So Symphony for the Dance Floor is a response to this unique movement that’s happening, one that makes singing shows the first, second, and third most-watched programs. That’s really unusual and remarkable, and I’m excited for what it means for the violin and for composers.
With a layered, complex, and indigenous sound, Tuvan throat singers Alash sound like a mix between Tom Waits and a flock of swallows — all while inviting listeners back to their geographically diverse homeland.
This trio from North Carolina is one of the few remaining African-American string bands in the world, and its music aims to tell the history that history books left out. In the process, an oft-overlooked tradition is reinterpreted into something completely new.