Music

Where Are We?

We’ve all been in that Uber, looking down at our phones and playing Candy Crush or whatever, when we look up to see that our gig-economy cabby is taking the absolute weirdest route to our destination. They don’t know the area and rely on the algorithm to tell them where to go. And the algorithm doesn’t know shit.

I get it. GPS can be a very useful convenience and might even save your life, in certain situations. But, is it really much more different than carrying a printed map in our glove compartment or pockets?

Knowing the terrain entails so much more than just finding the right intersection. It’s about recognizing the landmarks, engaging with the memories and feeling the feelings a particular place, neighborhood or city elicits.

I’m no Luddite. Much of my work depends on all the technological “wonders” of our time. I use digital cameras, lots of different software and I know how to code. But, I’m also keenly aware of the price we are all paying for making them such a prominent feature of our lives.

I was here before all of this and I remember what it was like to get lost in a city with only my wits to carry me through. You see the world in a far different light when you’re the only one looking. Today, we have a million eyes looking along with us. A million different opinions to color or override your own.

This may sound like an advantage, but it is most definitely a curse. At least, it is a curse for the individual. Only a hive mind can thrive in such an environment. The further we go down this road, the more the individual human recedes and blends into the amorphous nothingness of single mindedness.

FLIE PHOTO – Movie still fromthe 1972 film Network. Towatrds the end of the film, the protagonist, Howard Beale, delivers a speech to his audience declaring that the individual is finished.

Nowhere is this so apparent than in the contrast between the popular music of the late 20th century and that of the early 21st. It is becoming nearly impossible to find musicians these days. People who express a creative urge through instruments and song are being replaced by the algorithm, that know-nothing know-it-all infecting our real lives. I have written about this before, but I want to do more than that.

The Creative Impulse

Many of the creative ideas I have revolve around ways to mitigate the alienating aspects of this tech-infused world. It is an instinct, more than anything. Like all creative endeavors, it is an individual journey of self-discovery that may or may not yield a “piece of art”.

If I was a sculptor, perhaps I would chisel away at a big rock that would end up on a street corner. And it would end up there so other people could see it and appreciate it. Make it part of their inner landscape. The algorithm has no use for my art.

So, the question is why do we make art to begin with? Why make music in the first place? We have gone from using technology to make art to making art for technology. And that, in my opinion, is complete insanity.

I have just launched a Kickstarter campaign for a project many years in the making called Inspired Ground. And as the name implies, it has to do with the literal ground we walk on and the value of the unexpected. It is about an art form the algorithm is intent on destroying: Street musicians, colloquially known as “buskers”.

Buskers are the very definition of what we call the “gig economy”, except that what they do falls short of perceived notions of value in our algorithmically-driven world. While some people are too captivated by their devices to listen to a man rocking it on the sidewalk, even those who do stop can’t give the performer a tip because they’ve pretty much gone cashless.

Inspired Ground is a musical anthology/film documentary project that will take advantage of all the technology available (Internet, crowdfunding, digital cameras) for a chance to create a lasting space outside of it.

Drew Dunbar

The pilot of what I hope will turn out to be an ongoing series is about the busker who inspired it all, Drew Dunbar.

Five years ago, I was in Las Vegas doing some video production for a mobile technology company – ironically enough. After the conference I was covering was over, I had some time to kill before heading to the airport and decided to take some pictures around town. That’s when I spotted Drew jamming on one the pedestrian bridges along the strip and I recorded him doing a great cover of the classic rock song, “Hey Joe”.

I had also recorded an original tune of his, but had not uploaded it to my YouTube channel because I wanted to establish a line of communication with him in case there was any ad revenue he could collect. I was never able to find him until now, when a fellow busker emailed me back in May.

But the story is already on the Kickstarter campaign page. Go there >>

Ultramiami

It’s Ultra Music Festival time, and the kids are back with their short shorts, fishnet stockings and lollipops to let loose for a few days in Downtown Miami. We took some pictures as Ultramiami kicks off, and thousands descend on the Magic City for their annual EDM ritual.

Lucky Stars

Once in a while, you get lucky in Miami. No, not that kind of lucky; the kind that lets you escape the ubiquitous flashiness and frivolous pursuits that characterize our touristy enclave. Last night, at the North Miami Beach Bandshell, everyone got lucky and witnessed a virtuoso performance by acclaimed Iranian musician, Sahba Motallebi, who was accompanied on stage by Naghmeh Farahmand, an accomplished percussionist trained by her father, Mahmoud Farahmand, considered a master of ancient Persian drum music in Iran.

Motallebi’s story is one of resilience in the face of religious and gender bias in her country, which she left in 2003 to pursue graduate studies. Although her supreme talent was recognized by winning the Best Tar Player award in the Iran Music Festival for four consecutive years, the graduate of the Tehran Conservatory of Music was impeded from continuing her studies as a result of being part of Iran’s largest non-Muslim minority, the Bahá’í. The fact that she was also breaking into the traditionally male-dominated world of Tar playing, made her advancement that much more difficult. At the age of 27, she left Iran for Russia, and later Turkey to further her musical education. Motallebi would eventually emigrate to the United States, where she resides today with her husband and two daughters.

Beyond the strings

Sahba Motallebi travels the world performing her beautiful compositions for the Tar, which means “string” in Persian, and is one of the oldest known musical instruments. The Tar is both the literal and linguistic ancestor of the guitar (gui-tar), which was brought to Spain by gypsies, and is the direct progenitor of Flamenco and other rich musical traditions of the Iberian Peninsula.

 

Naghmeh Farahmand
MIAMI BEACH, USA – JANUARY 27: Naghmeh Farahmand on stage playing the Daf, an ancient Persian drum, at the Bandshell in North Miami Beach, Florida on January 27, 2018 | PHOTO CREDIT: Raul Diego for deepcitychronicles.com ©2018 Deep City Chronicles. All Rights Reserved.

 

In a recent interview with the Miami New Times, Motallebi said that she sees herself as an ambassador for Iranian culture: “Naghmeh Farahmand and I are trying to introduce audiences to Iran through our music.” As well as a role model for Iranian women: “They are going to see me as a person that is going to talk on their behalf, on behalf of women who don’t have civil rights.”

Her passion for music and learning has led Motallebi to impart her knowledge through online instructional materials, which she does whenever she’s not on tour. Fortunately for us, she came to our little slice of dubstep hell, and graced the audience at the outdoor beach venue with a magical and inspiring performance many won’t soon forget. The first piece of the concert is presented in the video, and if you find yourself wishing you could listen to the rest of the show, all I can say is, better luck next time.

Electric Moon

Every city has something that sets it apart, an intangible quality that makes people want to stay forever or leave immediately. It is determined as much by geography as it is by its culture and for Miami, this quality is youth. Miami is a perennial teenager. Immature but beautiful. Full of potential but infuriatingly trite.

The sun is always shining and even when it rains the big, warm drops hug you like a Cuban grandmother. The humidity is legendary, but it’s only really a problem when stepping out of the airport to hail a cab. The rest of Miami is nearly 100% air conditioned. In short, there’s very little to complain about, climatologically speaking, in Miami. Like all teenagers, however, people in Miami complain almost incessantly and loudly.

Whether it has to do with corrupt city officials and politicians, the incompetent yet costly public transportation system, unaffordable housing or the increasingly horrible traffic, Miami does have legitimate issues to bitch about. Miami natives and adopted cousins from around the world complain, not in order to solve the problems per se. Like all youngsters they have an ulterior motive and that motive is to remove all obstacles to keep doing what they love to do more than anything else: party.

Hey, Mr. DJ

Naturally, every good teenage party needs a DJ and there are no shortage of them in the tri-county area. The Miami music scene is probably the only one in the world that doesn’t include actual musicians and with good reason, since learning an instrument requires discipline and patience; qualities rarely found in adolescents.

But a skilled DJ can do what few trained musicians can on their own. They can have thousands of people dancing to the point of ecstasy, give or take a few pills. The throbbing beats and tantric rhythms of a well-put-together set can generate a mesmerizing energy, enveloping an entire room – or stadium – in a state of complete rapture.

Electronic Dance Music or EDM caters to a certain age group, regardless of the actual chronological age of its fans. It’s for kids, the young at heart and those who want to escape responsibility, if only for a brief moment. Miami, therefore, should rightfully be considered the mecca of EDM because it is a place where all of that is possible.

The Ultra Music Festival was not only born in Miami, it is Miami. The bright, fluorescent clothing; the youthful exuberance; the classic sense of invincibility and the juvenile flirting techniques all bear the mark of a city that will never grow up because it doesn’t have to. The sun will keep shining, the water will stay warm and the party will go on.

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