The listener-centered music social network of the future

Pundits are raving about Apple’s new music social network, but there are a number of elements of Ping that seem old-fashioned and backward-looking to me. I’ll describe the ways that Ping is last-generation, and sketch out the next-generation, listener-centric music social network of the future.

Looking Backwards

First, the social network is tied to a player of downloaded music. Meanwhile, streaming services represent an increasing share of listening time.

Second, the social network is tied to a particular player. One of my favorite music tools is still, because it assembles a picture of music you are listening to in almost any player or service – iTunes, MySpace, Mog, Pandora, Rdio, Spotify, Hype Machine – you name it. I can look at my music history, and the music history of friends.

Third, Ping is not long tail friendly. It doesn’t allow profile pages for Indie artists. At least at first seems biased toward the most popular of stars. When I logged in, Ping recommended that I follow Lady GaGa, Katy Perry, Yo-Yo Ma, U2, Linkin Park, and Jack Johnson. One of the reasons to us a social network service is to discover music through your friends, not to discover the megastars you can already find on Entertainment Tonight!

Ping is not long-tail friendly for artists or listeners. It forces listeners to choose very broad, mass-market-type genres – Rock, or Country, or Jazz – when listener-defined tags provide more a accurate and nuanced picture of music.

Looking forwards

The music social network of the future isn’t tied to a specific player, or the location of the music (in the cloud or on your personal hardware). Like, it lets you record and browse music by people, regardless of where that music is stored and played.

The music social network of the future isn’t tied to a specific piece of software. Unlike, it doesn’t use a proprietary format to record listening – it uses the open format to record and gather listening from any player, in many different software tools.

The music social network of the future isn’t even tied to a specific social network. Instead, you can have different social contexts – your favorite club or local open mic, the Outside Lands festival or Monterey Jazz, fellow Phish fans, Pitchfork or your favorite online music site — and your friends from all walks of life in Facebook. In the different social contexts, you might want to share different aspects of your personality, different favorites, plan different events.

The music social network of the future embraces the long tail. There is no mass market gatekeeper governing who can have a profile – Lady Gaga and Zoe Keating and a friend recording in her basement can have profiles, and cultivate their own communities of fans. Listener-defined tags are used to create a nuanced picture, so Toumani Diabate can be found under Mali and Kora, not just the hopelessly vague “World Music.”

The music social network of the future is about the listener, and her friends in the different social contexts in which she listens to, experiences, and shares music.

Cross-gender song covers, Romeo and Juliet

A little while ago, I had a Twitter conversation with Tracy Ruggles, Thomas Vanderwal, and Alan Lepofsky about gender and songwriting. One of the topics was how a song sounds different, depending on the gender of the singer.

Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls does an excellent cover version of Mark Knopfler’s Romeo and Juliet. As a lesbian, Amy Ray carries the passionate declaration of love for the female lover. In the live version in the link, she also makes a clever, subtle tweak in the chorus to change the power dynamics in the song’s story.

The “movie song” alluded to in Knopfler’s lyrics is “Somewhere” from West Side Story, in which Juliet expresses a plaintive hope that somewhere, there is a place and time for the star-crossed lovers.

Knopfler adapts the phrase for his Romeo, who’s been jilted by the Juliet in his song’s story: “When you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong”. Knopfler’s phrasing comes across as arrogant and perhaps sexist – Romeo knows what the relationship means better than Juliet does.

Amy Ray sings the line differently in each of the three repetitions of the song’s chorus: “One day I’m gonna realize / One day you’re gonna realize / One day we’re gonna realize” … it was just that the time was wrong. In Ray’s version, the changed understanding would need to come from each and both of them.

She also does the same pronoun shift with the reference to West Side Story. Instead of giving Romeo sole ownership of insight that the lovers’ situation is “like the movie song”, Ray’s Romeo says “you know the movie song” and “we know the movie song” – Ray’s version is a plea for shared understanding of the situation.

p.s. Another strength of the cover is that Ray doesn’t just steal Knopfler’s phrasing which is definitive and hard to shake. Ray also takes advantage of her ability to sing more notes than Knopfler can. And she doesn’t try anything fancy on guitar which is just as well.

p.p.s. By contrast, the Killers’ cover clones Knopfler’s vocal phrasing, the National-like sound, and the guitar outro off the album. If you’re going to try and carbon copy why bother? And even Knopfler doesn’t copy himself – he does the ending solos different live instead of copying the album, here’s one or try some other live version from youtube.

p.p.p.s I was reminded to write this down after listening to a very very different take on Somewhere by Vijay Iyer’s jazz trio.

Music critic curmudgeon tells blogs & twitter to get off his lawn

The familiar complaints of old media curmudgeons bemoaning the rise of the unwashed, pajama-clad blogger tribe, have now reached the rarified domain of music criticism, with a much-forwarded entertaining rant about how blogs and twitter are ruining music.

Christopher Weingarten, a critic at the Village Voice and other publications runs through every curmudgeonly cliche in the book, raising arguments that have been swatted down for a decade by Jay Rosen and other internet-age thinkers: bloggers in pajamas, echo chamber, 140-character essays, nostalgia for savviness, all of it. Critiquing Weingarten’s arguments is like shooting fish in a barrel (in the words of some original internet ranters). I kind of hate to contribute to the negative energy, but Weingarten’s rant is getting an undue level of cheering given the retro content. So here goes.

Bloggers in pajamas
Weingarten’s first complaint is that swarms of bloggers came from nowhere to do for free, and with less quality, what music critics used to do for money. This is the “bloggers in pajamas” argument, thousands of people posting rumors and blather on the internet from their parents’ basements. Sure, the internet enables people to post junk, but also provided a platform for new projects and voices – Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, Marcy Wheeler a superb investigative analyst who blogs at Firedoglake, strong local voices such as West Seattle Blog and more. The fact that it’s easy to publish doesn’t negate or prevent powerful new voices from arising.

The echo chamber
One of the early critiques of the blogosphere is that the internet would give rise to an echo chamber where people would listen only to the voices that re-inforced their pre-conceptions. There’s a similar concern that on the internet, people self-segregate into groups for hiphop, reggaeton, viking metal, and then don’t cross the boundaries. The thing is that hasn’t turned out to be true with respect to news and politics. A Pew Internet and American Life study in 2004 found “Wired Americans are more aware than non-internet users of all kinds of arguments, even those that challenge their preferred candidates and issue positions.”

With online music, my personal experience is that the social network helps extend preferences as well as re-enforce them. Plus, I don’t see why it’s bad thing to go to a reggaeton expert for reviews of reggaeton music. It is delightful to search the internet and find people who know about the topic they are discussing. All too often, general-purpose mainstream critics write reviews of musicians and types of music that they don’t know well and/or don’t like much.

Fans are fans!
A more interesting critique is that people who aren’t professional critics write like fans. In music blogs, “You can find out about new bands without cranky snarky stuff.” The jaded tone of the professional critic is a music-world analog to the news journalism “church of the savvy” as described by Jay Rosen. In an attempt to be “objective”, news journalists adopt a savvy, cynical attitude that can keep them from seeing the real story – for example, when “horse race” coverage predominates over actually covering the differing records and policies of politicians. Internet-style journalists don’t pretend to be dispassionate and free of opinion. They disclose their beliefs and desires, and are more credible for it.

Now, simple-minded music fandom is not very interesting. Look at youtube or shoutbox comments and you can see fans saying unedifying things like “awesome song!” and “best solo evar!”. Educated fandom on the other hand, involves discussing the sound, emotion, influences, performances – from the perspective of someone who continues to be excited and moved by the music. It’s interesting that when musicians talk about their heroes, mentors, who they’re listening to, they sound like fans, not like jaded critics.

Weingarten alleges that there has been a loss of venues to explain *why* a piece of music is good or bad is nonsense – “google: band review” will often find informed and insightful reviews and opinions about pretty obscure acts. What is actually missing is is better tools and venues for fans to have intelligent discussion. Currently, the intelligent discussion seems to be fragmented in harder-to-find online forums.

Loss of elite status
Music criticism was dominated by a handful of elite voices back when you needed an expensive printing press or radio license or TV channel to get the word out, just as opinion columnists like Tom Friedman and David Brooks used to have more exclusive status. These days, there’s no longer an exclusive club of arbiters. I understand why Weingarten cares that his elite status is devalued, but not why anyone else should care. There was also nostalgia when the rise of printing enabled members of the hoi polloi to read and write. From the view of history, there is very little sorrow for the monks’ monopoly.

Crowd sourcing killed punk rock
The reason to lament the loss of the elite, says Weingarten, is that “people have awful taste.” If opinions about music are left up to people who aren’t professional critics, then the only thing left will be mediocrity. The thing is that the internet isn’t just “people” it’s a ton of individuals with widely varying tastes, backgrounds, and expressive skill. The beauty is that on the internet, you are not forced to pay attention to people you think are mediocre or dull. On Twitter you choose who to follow. You choose which blogs to read, based on your evaluation of taste. Unlike the mass media world, you’re not stuck with a handful of magazines and radio stations.

Not only that, the argument that he makes is applies even more strongly mass market hit-based model that’s being replaced. “All this music that rises to the middle – boring, bland white people with guitars.” Remember the good old days of clearchannel radio? You couldn’t possibly get any more bland than that. It was the mass market model that drove extreme homogenization of music, and it’s the “long tail” on the internet that is facilitating the recovery of things that have audiences smaller than mega-popular.

Down with Guitars!
To prove his point about value of being jaded and opinionated, Weingarten makes a point of trashing “guitar bands”. Now, I have to admit that I’ve never been particularly fashionable. Clearly I missed the memo to purge guitars from my iTunes, and can’t say I regret it. This probably puts me into one of the many categories of listeners that he disdains. (To be a slightly less snarky, there is plenty of boring music with guitars, synthesizers, fiddles, horns, you name the instrument used in popular music. Picking on an instrument as the epitome of dull seems philistine to me.)

Shakespeare in 140 characters
If you can’t beat them join them – Weingarten is taking his music criticism to Twitter. There, Weingarten subscribes to the absurd fallacy that writers now need to compress their writing into 140 character chunks. Following this fallacy, Weingarten is spending this year writing 1000 reviews of albums on Twitter in 140 characters or less. Social media savvy folk know that Twitter is the new headline — when you have something extended to say, you don’t write 100 tweets, you write an essay and post a link to it from Twitter.

Compressing his reviews to 140 characters this limits Weingarten to the tone of savviness and snark that bedevils the critic tribe. Recent examples of snark:
473: Major Lazer/Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do: Bug-style dancehall dumbed down for people that wear scarves in the summer.#4
472: Cheap Trick/The Latest: There’s more to power-pop than just hooks.#3

Let’s say out of those 1000 recordings he likes 50. I’d much rather he write longer posts on the 50 and link to them. Unless there’s some really interesting reason he doesn’t like something, I don’t want to read it.

Discovery and aggregation
So, what to do now that new bands are being discovered by people on blogs and Twitter. One of the roles that critics can continue to play is to aggregate information discovered around the web. This, too, is displeasing to Weingarten, who looks back fondly on the time that critics helped spot bands.

Web-savvy journalists from Dan GIllmor to Josh Marshall and others take happy advantage of the state of affairs where, in Gillmor’s words “My readers are smarter than I am”. They realize that their readers include people with information and expertise, and rely on their broad community for tips, fact-checks. If Weingarten respected his audience more, he might be happier about picking up information from readers.

Weingarten’s rant applies to music criticism the full range of fallacious, self-interested arguments by old media journalists lamenting the decline of their once-privileged position. The arguments are even inconsistent — the internet is somehow leading bland homogenization and narrow specialization at the same time. Critics on the internet don’t bother to explain “why”, and the response is 140-character reviews.

There are real challenges and opportunities in the new world of social media influenced music. I don’t see Christopher Weingarten articulating compelling problem definitions or solutions. In a world where everyone is trying to understand and adapt to new conditions, I don’t want to be too hard on Weingarten. It would be easier to be more generous if his rant didn’t take aim at the listening public and many of its subcultures. Attacking fans instead of adapting only increased the depth of the music industry’s woes. In music distribution, initiatives like Trent Reznor’s to reach out to fans are working a lot better than strategies attacking fans. Hopefully as more people engage and innovate, we’ll see the music commentary equivalent of this superb presentation by Michael Masnick on Trent Reznor’s innovations in music distribution.

Updated last paragraph to sound less hard on Weingarten and harsher on fan-bashing.

Punk icon loves Elton John – fashion is out of style

Earlier this week, record label head, old skool LA punk Brett Gurewitz tweeted that he loves Elton John. He’s not kidding. His playlist is linked on his bio. The queen of pop piano is number 3 in the most-played artists list, next to the Killers, the National, David Bowie, Hot Chip, and LCD Soundsystem.

Back in the day, the punk ethos was aggressively opposed to middle of the road, safe, pretty, pop/rock music that got radio airplay and commercial success. If you were cutting edge, then you liked things edgy, dark, weird, ugly, distorted. Either brutally curt or meandering.

The thing is that when you are a rebel, you are defined by your enemy. In retrospect, maybe the taste of the avant garde was harmed by the dominance of the commercial. To be hip, you needed to sneer at music that was popular, pretty and well-structured. That eliminated a lot of mediocre and well-forgotten schlock, but also cut out a lot of music that, in retrospect, was great or good.

So Gurewitz saying he loves Elton John comes across a radical statement. Now, Bad Religion the band always liked melody, and maybe they were never as punk-elitist as the Bad Religion fans I knew back in the day. Publicly coming out for Elton John, or Crosby Stills, Nash and Young (or pick your fashion poison) is an expression of the spirit of the time right now.

By contrast, Jim O’Rourke, the Chicago avant-guitarist who completed the studio production of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, appears to have hipster contempt honed to a fine art. While Wilco is less avant garde than it thinks it is, O’Rourke on his home turf is a master of truly “out” experimental improv. In 1999 and 2001, he made a couple of albums, Eureka and Insignficance with stripped down and much more straight structure and melody.

Seemingly in exchange, the lyrics are misanthropic edging at times into sociopath territory (seriously, I’m not gonna link to 3-way, having friends with disabilities who’ve had problems with fetishist stalkers). These albums seem like they’re intended to be a rude joke on bourgeois fans of artful music who’d love the elegant spare guitar and not bother to listen closely to the lyrics until it’s too late.

But the joke is on O’Rourke – the economic structure that drove the hostility is crumbling. The message from Gurewitz is that in age after the fall of the megahit, you don’t need to hate on things that are pretty and people who fall for the pretty. You can pick and choose, because pretty doesn’t mean selling out anymore.

As the big hit model fades these days, a lot of people are listening to older stuff. Only 35% of 2008 album sales were for 2008 releases; the lowest ever measured. Some of the older stuff is deep back catalog that never was popular. And some of it is music that once was both very popular and very unhip.

So we’re going through older stuff to find the things that were good even though they were popular. Part of the difficulty here is that the popular stuff was way overplayed – we’re retrieving it not from obscurity but from seemingly knowing it too well. The catchy tunes are stuck in our heads and our guts whether we like them or not, whether they ever were good or not.

When Cake covers Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, people think the band is being ironic, but they say they’re not, and I believe them. Sincerity is the new sincerity. Art-guitarist Bill Frisell covers Streisand’s People because he likes the tune (there it helps that he’s an instrumental guy and leaves out the words). The cool thing is to find what speaks to you and what you think is genuinely good, and rescuing songs from decontexualized top 40, where all you heard was fashionable sound.

p.s. Epitaph is a Socialtext customer.

p.p.s. Edited to cut a few paragraphs on my personal explorations of the tensions & relationships between the popular and the specialized. Folks who are interested can find that thread on and occasional link notes on FriendFeed.

iTunes, and the politics of folksonomy

So, I’m listening to some perfectly nice folk/country/bluesish music by Eric Bibb in iTunes and I notice that the Genre column has the recording listed as Blues. I enjoy the multi-dimensional space of folk/country/blues/rock/etc, and like stuff at varying points in the coordinate matrix. This is the only album of Bibb’s I have, and I suspect it’s on the folkier side of his folk/blues mix. The reason this particular recording is categorized as “Blues” seems to be, er, at least as much visual as auditory.

For alphabetical reasons the song following Bibb is Eric Clapton’s cover of Going Down Slow, written bySt Lous Jimmy Oden and popularized by Howlin Wolf. Clapton’s cover is classified as Rock. The Clapton tune is much straighter blues than most of that Bibb recording. But Clapton is more vulnerable to sunburn.

Does anybody other than me find this aggravating? It seems *late* for this to be an issue. Obama likes star trek and jazz, he has the right to his choices as do the rest of us. Why do I need to look at this obsolete marketing category that classifies music ethnically not sonically.

Aha! The tag cloud does a better job of things. The top tags for Bibb are blues, acoustic blues, folk and singer-songwriter. The top tags for Clapton are classic rock, blues, blues rock, guitar, singer-songwriter.

This issue is less vital than the discrimination that keeps gay families from legal protections of marriage, and other issues where real people get hurt by badly applied categories. It’s is more superficial than #amazonfail, the category mistake that pulled books on gay and lesbian themes out of Amazon search results and hence into more limited sales prospects.

The genre categories in iTunes are annoying throwback to the bad old days where music access was partitioned by segregated radio station. The result of the bottom up social network folksonomy is yet to fully express itself and yet to be measured. But I’d much rather look at the more nuanced, more accurate, less stereotyped tag cloud.

Wilco: I am trying to break your heart

“When you strip it down, it just sounds like a folk song.” That’s Jeff Tweedy of Wilco talking about their music early in the 2003 documentary about the making Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which I watched this weekend after recently digging YHF out of the garage. Tweedy is right. Pull off the sonic layers and add half the words back to the fractured lyrics, and you have accessible, good folk and rock’n’roll. The live performances of Tweedy and the band make that clear. This music is not that hard.

But YHF was off-center enough that Reprise Records dumped the band when Tweedy wouldn’t take their advice to make the music more accessible. Wilco put the recording on the internet in the iterregnum before Nonesuch, another division of Time Warner, picked it up. Internet distribution only heightened interest in the recording and helped fans stay keep up with the band before the record came out.

The Wilco saga was a fairly early sign of the breakdown of the oligopoly. The tactics to try to preserve the economic scarcity of physical distribution in an age of digital download were unsustainable. The fact that YHF is a problem at all is a problem. Jim O’Rourke, who gets a speaking part of about 15 seconds, on the other hand, who was brought in to help production, is a ringer for music that resists easy. Nobody’s asking him about commercial music; that would probably keep the documentary from being produced.

Suroweicki argued in Slate that the conventional reading of artistic victory against commercial philistinism doesn’t hold because after all, it was another division of Time Warner that picked up the record; others have observed that Reprise didn’t have to have the grace to let the band buy their contract out. Still, Tweedy and manager didn’t have to have the balls and economic confidence to reject the advice to tone down the eccentricity and up the catchiness.

Interesting that it was Howie Klein, the music exec turned political blogger, whose ouster led to Reprise rejection of the record. Among other things, Klein has been one of the curators of the wonderful “Late Night Music Club”, a virtual fireside chat with youtube clips across wide range of excellent and interesting music irrespective of fashion and nominal genre. Communities like NLMC are taking the place of the radio playlist for music discovery, and that’s for the better.

In the Lefsetz Letter an entertainment industry lawyer makes the nostalgic argument in favor of the role of massmarket hits at creating common public consciousness. But the trade always was too high, in segregation, genre-focus, overplay, and the loss of cultural context in a narrative focused on hits. (Not to give Lefsetz a hard time; reading his blog, he is otherwise in favor of digital distribution and taking advantage of the long tail.)

Maybe we’ll eventually get a good “digg” for aggregating and voting up digital plays, which can play the role of a zeitgeist track. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, since it wouldn’t prevent people from discovering long-neglected performances on YouTube and discovering wonderful stuff through the playlists of friends and acquaintances. Network math works like that – there’s still a tall head in the age of the long tail – it’s just that you can get to the long tail now and you couldn’t before.

p.s. interesting that the Wikipedia definition of Playlist is now dominated by digital tools and the digital definition.

The death of the hit narrative

Bios and reviews of musicians often talk about careers in terms of hits; when a musician is good but not super-popular, the narrative is about whether this new record might be the one where the artist makes it big. But this story is starting to seem quaint.

Recorded music evolved in an economic context of mass marketing and mass distribution. To make money in this model, where there are high upfront costs and venture risk, you need to sell a ton of stuff. Mass media and mass distribution enable you to sell a lot of stuff. Thus, the evolution of music as a “hit-making” business. This story isn’t just inside baseball; some genius realized that the emergence of hits was a simple, dramatic story for the audience. “Greatest hits” shows told the story of which record was at number 12 on the charts and climbing.

The hit leaderboard takes attention off of the music itself and puts the focus on popularity. Music, within this narrative, lacks context, other than the genre in which it’s being ranked (r&b top 40, country top 40). Just as political coverage using the “horse race” narrative focuses on who’s up, who’s down, who’s stumbled, and ignores substantive coverage of the politicans’ records and campaign content, hit-centric coverage focuses on what’s climbing the charts at the expense of other aspects of the music.

A spot at the top of the charts has become a lot less relevant as tool for becoming aware of popular music, given the tools available for music discovery, surfing your friends’ collections on, trading earworms on blip, googling influences and band members. Out of factors that make music interesting and appealing, raw popularity seems like one, somewhat interesting factor, among others – what’s that sound? Who are they playing with? Where do they come from? What are their influences? What do they want to do next? Where are they playing live?

Of course, people in the know have always had access to their friends’ collections; the recommendations of the crotchety person at the record store; references in liner notes. And there were always subcultures that engaged with the music, not just the hit leaderboard. To take advantage of these things, you needed a strong social context and a fair amount of diligence. Many more people consumed what was provided on the radio and tv. The methods available to the cogniscenti have been democratized.

And this is changing the underlying story that is told about music. The dominant story was one of high peaks and low valleys. The change in music distribution seems to be enabling a tier of musicians who musicians who can make a living, more or less, playing live, selling indy, and exploring their music. Articles that ponder when an artist might hit the big time, and wondering why they haven’t seem irrelevant, as long as the artist is able to eat and stay out of the rain.

The new story, as it is emerging, is more picaresque – where did you come from, where are you now, where are you going?

Gilberto Gil online

Thanks to this webjay roots playlist from Prentiss, and this inspirational Lessig article about free culture and live music extravaganza with the popstar turned minister, I’ve been having much fun rummaging through Gil’s 5-decade online mp3 discography.
Looks like it will take Portuguese to get beyond thumbnail reviews and hagiography.
Addition: Gil speaks about digital freedom at NYU before his Creative Commons conference:

I think that the most important political battle that is being fought today in the technological, economic, social and cultural fields has to do with free software and with the method digital freedom has put in place for the production of shared knowledge.

What’s on the playlist?

Inspired by Nashville and the influences of Nancy Griffith, I’m listening to Loretta Lynn, new and old.
Apparently Nashville’s fragile country diva was modeled after Lynn. The Nashville soundtrack itself is mostly mediocre 70s folk-cheese, except for cameo appearances of Vassar Clements, next up on the playlist, and a few other, lesser known real live bluegrass bands doing background music.
Skimmed another dating service form that asks for favorite romantic music, and what objects are found in one’s bedroom. It is infinitely more fun to surf the music of one’s cultural influences and one’s friends than to script a romantic encounter with an unknown stranger, complete with music, lighting, and stage props. Finding common ground and discovering new ground is joyful; describing a stage set for an anonymous other is chilling.
Years ago, I learned the art of the job interview; how one is supposed to answer when the question is “tell me about yourself”, or “tell my why you left your last job”. The interviewer is looking to find relevant qualities and skills for the job at and, and figure out, in a few unrepresentative minutes, how you’d be to work with.
I’m sure there’s a corresponding art to the dating service profile. I’d be a lot better off if I conceded to the process of marketing, packaging, and product positioning. I really hate turning a process of joyful discovery into a short-answer quiz where there are right and wrong answers.
Vassar Clements Living With the Blues now on, just fabulous.

Music: From Jerusalem to Cordoba

I heard these folks tonight at Casa de Luz.
From the promo email:

Music, chants, and texts from Mediterranean sacred traditions.
A musical voyage through history and spirituality.
Catherine Braslavsky, chant, drum, dulcimer;
Joseph Rowe, texts, oud, drums, tampura, mbira, Tibetan bowls.
Hildegard of Bingen, Gregorian chant, Troubadours, Ibn Arabi, Yehuda Halevi,
Judeo-Spanish, and original compositions


  • Braslavsky’s beautiful voice
  • Musical illustration of cultural influences and differences in Christian, Arabic and Jewish songs from Andalusia
  • Cross-cultural themes of spiritual openness, in liturgical poetry by Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, Ibn Arabi (Sufi)
  • Meditative atmosphere (also see not-as-good)


  • High seriousness. The performers strode onto the stage seriously, Rowe ringing a meditation bell. Rowe narrated the performance in * a * serious * performance * voice. There were Judeospanish and Arabic pieces that could have been celebratory. There were Sufi pieces that could have been done with more energy.
  • Western-european style. The vocals were beautiful, the instrumentals were fine accompaniment; they complemented the singer and created atmosphere without overshadowing the vocals. But the rhythms, phrasing, and tonality were westernized. This isn’t a big complaint because it sounded good, and because cultural purity is exactly beside the point.
  • Uniformly meditative pace. Her specialty is Gregorian chant; he’s studied with Hamza El Din, so it stands to reason.


  • The concert was held in a performance space of Casa de Luz, a local macrobiotic restaurant and community center. The average audience age was about 50; a central-Austin ex-hippie crowd. One can imagine such concerts being held at the estates of monarchs and nobles in Andalusia; this was good American pay-at-the-door democarcy.