This is Yo-Yo Ma’s third recording of Bach’s six Cello Suites, which is wild in its own way, and they’re all different (of course). I’m not an expert on classical music in any respect, but it is totally fascinating to listen to someone else’s interpretation, over many years, of this music. Based on a few pretty cursory listens to the three versions of the Cello Suite in G Major Prelude that Ma has recorded, it seems to me like the one he did in his 20s was around the same tempo as Rostropovich’s recording, which is to say, maybe about what you’d expect. Then the recording that Ma did in his 40s is much faster, sort of high energy and a little thinner on the sound (at least it feels like that to me — again, I’m no expert). When I first listened to the G Major Prelude on “Six Evolutions,” I think my jaw dropped a little — it’s so much slower than I expected. There’s like a little hitch in between phrases at some points, and it catches me off guard. Ma said he wanted to make a new recording because Bach’s Cello Suites have had a huge impact on his life, and he thinks that music and culture can provide solutions to difference, and he wants to share the music with a more diverse audience. To me, it’s always fun to think about how one’s interpretation of a work of art can change with age — how certain aspects of a work can acquire (or lose) meaning, how you respond with totally different emotions at one point in your life than you might later.
Olympia has never stopped producing great music. CCFX, the supergroup that released some of my favorite music last year, is composed of members of CC Dust and Trans FX. CC Dust released one EP, “CC Dust,” and it is incredible. Mary Jane Dunphe and David Jacques were (are?) the band. Dunphe’s voice dominates the record. The music is synthscape post-punk, early 80s, full of drama. You can hear it all loud and clear on “Abra.” That bass is authoritative, dark and menacing. And Dunphe’s voice does so much on this track: she’s up-and-down on the verses, changing dynamics, and then it’s full-throated, open exuberance when she sings the chorus. Her vocals on this EP (and on the CCFX EP) are astounding. The CC Dust EP is $5 on Bandcamp for 20 minutes of beautiful music, go get it.
Music comes in so many forms and serves so many purposes—it can provide catharsis, inflame passions, deliver solace, inspire hope, cultivate lethargy, frighten/freak you out, make you dance, etc. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of Gebrauchmusik (utility music or music for use), popularized by Paul Hindemith, since it can provide a fun way of thinking about certain pieces of music and which scenarios they might be most appropriately utilized for. E.g., to my mind, Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” is the correct music to have playing when you’re sitting in the dentist’s chair, mentally preparing yourself to be anesthetized against forthcoming harm, etc.
“Living In Symbol,” the new album by Astronauts, etc., like a lot of pleasant and fun music, is a good hang. The whole album is great. You can pay a lot of attention to the sweet melodies and the production, or you can kind of zone out and let it pass you by, but it will seep into your brain and you’ll end up humming these songs to yourself no matter what. This album feels like a close friend who will always forgive your faux pas, your crankiness, your inattention, your negligence, and will still invite you over to their summertime cook-out.
Also: Astronauts, etc. (Tony Peppers) is from Oakland, and this album sounds like Oakland (where I lived for four years) to me. Oakland is welcoming, forgiving, and fun. You can find people who will support you in Oakland, people to play music with, to make art with, to discuss ideas with, to hang out with. “Living In Symbol” sounds like everything’s that’s great about a city like that, where you can be yourself.