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Friday, March 29, 2013

Accessing BAM’s Past: A New Digitization Grant for the Archives

by Sarah Gentile

1861 to 2013 is a long history for a Brooklyn institution. With all of the intensity of the now in performance, it’s easy to lose sight of the past without careful planning and preservation of the varied events that make up BAM’s history. That’s why we at the BAM Hamm Archives are especially excited to have a chance to record and share BAM’s past through a generous donation from the Leon Levy Foundation. Ultimately, we aim to share BAM’s history with the public, though there are a lot of steps along the way.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Royal Shakespeare Company and BAM: A Brief History

Back in 1969, when Harvey Lichtenstein saw Peter Brook’s legendary Royal Shakespeare Company production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Stratford-upon-Avon, he swooned. Lichtenstein went on record in his oral history for the BAM Archives to say that “if I had to pick one performance of all the ones I’ve seen that affected me more than anything else, it would be that performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Lichtenstein brought Brook’s production of Midsummer, with Patrick Stewart as Snout, to BAM in 1971, and over 40 years later, the RSC still regularly returns to BAM.

Peter Brook's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Charpentier's David et Jonathas: A Tragedy of Love

by Marina Harss

If you think Salieri had it bad, imagine poor Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643—1704), a composer whose career was thwarted at every turn by his over-ambitious rival, the colorful Jean-Baptiste Lully. By 1674, Lully, music master to Louis XIV, had secured an ironclad monopoly over all operatic spectacles in France. Any performance even vaguely resembling opera—using more than a certain number of performers, for example—other than those staged by his Académie Royale de Musique was banned. This, just as Charpentier had entered into a fertile collaboration with Molière at the Comédie Française.

According to Catherine Cessac, author of a 1988 biography of Charpentier, his music for Molière’s
Le Malade Imaginaire was repeatedly vetoed by the courts and had to be rewritten three times, each version reducing the orchestration and number of voices. Finally, Charpentier gave up and entered the household of Mademoiselle de Lorraine, Duchess of Guise (in the Marais), for whose private company he composed a series of allegorical and pastoral chamber operas. One of these, Les Arts Florissants, would inspire the name of William Christie’s Baroque ensemble three centuries hence.

Friday, March 22, 2013

In Context: Planetarium

Sufjan Stevens and Bryce Dessner. Photo: Daniel Boud

Planetarium, the love letter to the solar system from Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, and Bryce Dessner, runs at BAM until Sunday, March 24. Context is everything, so get even closer to Mercury, Venus, and the rest with this curated selection of articles, videos, and original blog pieces related to the show. For those who've already seen it, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Today in BAM History: Helen Keller lecture on “The Heart and the Hand” (1913)

by Louie Fleck

When we think about Helen Keller (June 27, 1880–June 1, 1968), what do we know?

We all know that Helen Keller was deaf and blind, and that she overcame these challenges and became an inspiration to many. And that she was an author, lecturer, and advocate for people with disabilities.

Did you know that Helen Keller was a suffragist, pacifist, radical socialist, and a birth control supporter?

Did you know that Helen Keller gave a lecture with Anne E. Sullivan, her noted teacher, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on March 19, 1913?

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Planetarium-inspired Guide to the Galaxy

by Nathan Gelgud

It’s only three days until Planetarium, a musical celebration of the solar system by Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, and Sufjan Stevens. We've put together a sort of Copernican guide to the stars and planets as seen through the fanciful lyrics, which you can peruse here. Astral geeks, this one's for you.

Click here for a larger version.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Foto Friday: Walt Whitman

There's something about a Walt Whitman portrait. Check out the one in the 1855 edition  of Leaves of Grass: it was a challenge to all comers. Hat cocked, hand on hip, no jacket (to say nothing of the unbuttoned shirt!), this dude was daring anyone not to like his new brand of verse. 

The above portrait of a more stately (and hirsute) Whitman is no small stuff, either. He looks just as defiant as ever, one eyebrow cocked and hair barely tamed. Perhaps weathered by revising Leaves countless times and becoming the most important poet in American history, he was still staring down challengers. Looks like the same shirt he was rocking in 1855, too.

We bring you this portrait today because BAM's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry music festival, named after a poem in Leaves of Grass, has made such good use of this photo in their logo for the three-day music and film festival curated by Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner of The National. Even without those defiant eyes, Whitman is still unmistakable when transformed from a literary icon to a graphic one.

What do you think of the Crossing Brooklyn Ferry logo? Have you checked out our handy reading list?

From the Astrology Dept: The Ides of March and Google Divination™

Dear BAMystic,

What's up with the Ides of March? Is it a real thing? Something Shakespeare made up? Some band I've never heard of? And what does “ides” mean, anyway?



Thursday, March 14, 2013

When Musical Stars Align

by Jane Jansen Seymour

Planetarium. Photo courtesy of the artists

Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, and Sufjan Stevens are musical multi-taskers and have been friends for over a decade. The idea of finding a project to tackle together floated around while tours, recordings, and maxed-out schedules got in the way. Their idea was to create a true collaboration, not just something shaped by emailing musical files back and forth. In Muhly’s words, they wanted “to have that effect of everyone cooking in the same kitchen at the same time, as opposed to an assembly line.” Over the course of a few years, Planetarium materialized simply by carving out time together. Muhly is a composer in residence at Muziekegebouq Eindhoven in Holland, which, in collaboration with the Sydney Opera House and the Barbican Centre in London, commissioned Planetarium, at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House from March 21 to 24.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Guest Post: Brooklyn Poetry Picks

by Mahogany L. Browne

I have the dream job. I write poems for a living. I work with poets every week. I eat, sleep, watch, dream, and digest poetry. In the mornings, I sit at the intimate Australian-owned coffee shop near the Brooklyn Museum, or the woman-owned global soul food café on Underhill near the Brooklyn Central library, and read poetry for hours. Whether online, in books, or via YouTube, I feast on figurative language for daily inspiration. My research of poetry—specifically contemporary poets—arms me as a curator and teaching artist in New York City. It allows me an accessible artillery when introducing poetry to New York City’s Public School system. As a BAM teaching artist, I recognize the necessity of acknowledging all of poetry’s nuances, and take the research of Brooklyn’s own treasures seriously. Here are a couple of my favorite Brooklyn poets!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Living Theatre at BAM: the revolution never was televised, but it was staged

by Louie Fleck

In 1963, New York had the Bread and Puppet Theater.
In 1963, Detroit had the Detroit Repertory Theatre.
In 1967, San Francisco had the Diggers and the San Francisco Mime Troupe.

But before Oh! Calcutta! (1969) and Hair (1967) came along to commercialize the tribal hippie movement, there was The Living Theatre. The Living Theatre was an integral part of their artistic generation and had a profound influence on further generations of artists, actors, poets and musicians, including Allen Ginsberg, Al Pacino, Martin Sheen, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Keith Richards, Jim Morrison and practically countless others.

Photo: Don Snyder, 1969.

Maybe you didn’t notice a recent short article about the closing of The Living Theatre’s Lower East Side space.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

In Context: Mic Check:
Hip-Hop from North Africa and the Middle East


Mic Check: Hip-Hop from North Afrcia and the Middle East comes to BAM this Saturday, March 9. Context is everything, so get even closer to Deeb, Amkoullel, Shadia Mansour, and El Général with this curated selection of articles, videos, and original blog pieces related to the show. After you've seen it, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Foto Friday: 10:30am Mic Check

Amkoullel on stage with his newest fans/back-up dancers; Photo by Ross Kaufman

Earlier today, over a thousand high school students filed into the opera house for a morning dose of North African and Middle Eastern hip-hop. The show was a school-time performance of Mic Check, organized by the BAM Education department. Most of the teens hadn't heard of Amkoullel, Deeb, El Général, or Shadia Mansour until this week, but you would have thought them lifetime fans. The energy was palpable, and the rappers had them chanting along in Arabic and Bambara, dancing in (and on) their seats, in the aisles, and eventually on stage. All before noon.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What We're Looking At: We're Busy Here!

Via The White Haired Girl, 1974. © Zhang Yaxin/Courtesy see+ Gallery, Beijing,
and Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto
We at the BAM Blog know what you’ve been wondering: “If I were to cruise through the offices at BAM and find employees surfing the web, what would they be looking at?”

First of all, what’s wrong with you? We’re busy over here writing press releases, programming film series, and perfecting our Excel skills. Second of all, nobody says “surfing the web” anymore. Get it together.

But let’s say, because you asked, that we do occasionally click on a recreational link. Here’s what we might be checking out …

Nellie in BAMcinématek is into One Terabyte of Kilobyte Age Photo Op, made up of a “a stash of old Geocities home pages.” Remember those? (Why do you care what Nellie's clicking on? Well, she worked pretty hard on the Richard Pryor film series.)

Adriana in Publicity recommends this article in The New Yorker and has a great idea for a book: a New Yorker true crime writing compilation. You can tell it’s a good idea because it seems like it already exists, doesn’t it? (You may have read some of Adriana's work if you've ever seen a BAM press release.)

Susan in Publications can’t stop looking at these. People hate on it a lot, but 1960s China looks like fun. (You've read something Susan wrote if you've ever picked up any BAM material whatsoever.)

Ben in Digital Media likes the way Beck re-imagines David Bowie's classic "Sound and Vision" with a groundbreaking 360-degree online performance. You can control the cameras and see this immersive concert film online. (You know who Ben is if you've ever seen a bearded guy lurking around a BAM performance with a video camera.)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

5 Questions for Deeb

by Claire Frisbie

Muhammed El Deeb is not your average rapper. A former banker, he is a poet, and a full time advocate for Arabic hip-hop. Born in Egypt, and raised in Qatar and Dubai, his first rap verse came about because he did his homework. He is a seasoned member of the Egyptian hip-hop scene, having performed with the groups Asfalt and Wighit Nazar before going solo in 2011. Weeks before the Egyptian revolution, he filmed the video for his song "Masrah Deeb" ("Deeb's Stage") in Tahrir Square, urging Egyptian people to "wake up." On January 25, Deeb joined the protests, and performed for the crowds with other artists. Since the revolution, he quit his job to focus on his music full time.

He rejects the label "political rapper," emphasizing that he raps about everyday life and the realities of the Egyptian people. His flow is impeccable, and you don't need to speak Arabic to appreciate his music. Read on for more from Deeb, who makes his US debut this Saturday at Mic Check, and download his 2012 album The Cold Peace below.

What was your first introduction to hip-hop, and when did you start rapping?
The way I got into rapping was very random. When I was in high school, I was asked by my teacher to write a rap verse as part of an assignment for French class. I was so excited doing the assignment that I put a lot of effort into it. Unlike the other students who submitted their verse on paper, I looped a beat using a tape deck and recorded my verse on a TDK cassette and played it to the class. The reaction from my colleagues was overwhelming, and that was when I realized that I had to be doing more of this. I started writing in English since it's my second language and then eventually started writing in Arabic in 2005, which is the year I moved back to Egypt. I was 13, which was around the same time I started listening to hip-hop music.

This Week in BAM History: BAM at BAM, 1971

Forty-two years ago—March 6, 1971 to be precise—BAM was one of three venues in the NYC region to take part in a three-day festival of poetry, New Black Poets in America 1971. Organized by the influential poet and playwright Amiri Baraka, the festival showcased nearly three dozen emerging African-American poets in three venues over three consecutive days. Most of the participants in the festival were associated with the Black Arts Movement (or BAM, as it's referred to), which was at its peak in 1971. (The other two participating venues were the Apollo Theater and Newark’s Temple B’nai Abraham.)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Amkoullel, A Hip-Hop SOS for Mali

by Sophie Shackleton

At the beginning of many West African hip-hop shows, you’ll hear the cry of “ESSUKUH ÇA-VA?!” (basically the equivalent of “Wassup!!”—but it literally translates to “is everything good?”). Recently, in Mali, non, ça ne va pas. Everything is not all good.

Mali occupies the center of the “ear” of West Africa, but its enormous land mass is split between sub-Saharan land in the south and sprawling desert in the north. It holds more than 40 different ethnicities of people, from the ancient Bambara to the nomadic Berber Tuareg, and while it has only been independent from France for 52 years, these groups have lived together since the ancient Mandé empire of Soundiata Keita. Since before then, they have been making some of the most beautiful and powerful music in the world.

The importance of artistic voice is built into the very fiber of Malian society, and while the great musical traditions of Mali—the kora, guitar, griot singers, djembe rhythms, and other gems—live on vibrantly, it is no surprise that the resonating voices of hip-hop and rap have found their place among those ageless instruments of communication. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Saharan Frequencies

By George Mürer

Presented in conjunction with Mic Check at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, BAMcinématek’s Saharan Frequencies (Mar 4, 11 & 18) features seven rare gems that explore the sounds of North Africa. Influenced by the aesthetic of the pioneering film and record label Sublime Frequencies, the series will feature appearances by Byron Coley, Hisham Mayet, Olivia Wyatt, and Robert Gardner.

An ethnomusicology PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center and an experimental and documentary filmmaker, George Mürer contemplates the unique mission behind Sublime Frequencies’ catalogue.

Deep Hearts, screening Monday, March 11

Founded by Alan Bishop and Hisham Mayet in 2003, Sublime Frequencies is a record label and independent film distributor based in Seattle dedicated to foregrounding vibrant musical milieus around the world that are outside the scope of the global mainstream. The documentarians and independent archivists working with Sublime Frequencies differ from anthropologists and academic ethnographers in that they do not "study," interpret, or explicate cultural groups and their practices (you won't find much in the way of subtitles in a Sublime Frequencies film and frequently musicians go unidentified) but rather offer subjective, kaleidoscopic, and starkly immediate impressions of musicians and communities from Burma to Sumatra to Brazil, Syria, and Niger.