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In Rotation: Bassoonist Katherine Young on music from Malian cell phones 

Plus: Reader music editor Philip Montoro on King David’s harp, Joan of Arc drummer Theo Katsaounis on Leonard Cohen’s everything, and more

Rorcal, Vilagvege

Rorcal, Vilagvege

Philip Montoro, Reader music editor, is obsessed with . . .

Rorcal, Vilagvege Swiss band Rorcal titled their third full-length with the Hungarian word for the end of the world. Vilagvege combines the frenzied nihilism of black metal, the barely coherent rage of hardcore, and the suffocating density of doom—plus the drummer sounds like he's playing on garbage trucks with cannonballs. Lung-collapsing screams scour guitars that swing from seesawing dissonance to tooth-­grinding drone to what sounds like the wandering melody of an ecclesiastical chant, all of it blackened by heat as it plunges to earth at 40 times the speed of sound.

The begena This Ethiopian pentatonic bass lyre, also called King David's harp, is traditionally played during meditation and prayer, accompanied only by the voice. Hard U-shaped pieces of leather wrapped around its ten strings at the bridge give its throaty thrum a twangy, dilating buzz. I first heard the instrument on a 1996 cassette by Ethiopian Orthodox monk Tafese Tesfaye, who arcs his high, raspy voice over eccentric five-pulse phrases that float in a gentle, contemplative orbit.

Ken Vandermark's Midwest School band playing "Dogon A.D." The high point of this nine-piece group's March 23 concert at the Green Mill was the title track of Julius Hemphill's landmark 1972 quartet album, whose weaving 11/8 groove turns its overlapping licks into a consciousness-altering kaleidoscope. With six horns instead of two plus double bass and viola instead of cello, it felt like a sacred dance around a bonfire that'd been launched into the heavens to circle the aurora.

Montoro is curious what's in the rotation of . . .

Katherine Young, composer and bassoonist

click to enlarge Music From Saharan Cell Phones Vol. 2
  • Music From Saharan Cell Phones Vol. 2

Steven Takasugi, "Iridescent Uncertainty" This 11-minute track, which Takasugi recorded, edited, and mixed himself, is intended for headphones, and its meticulous sonic and musical detail gives me goose bumps every time. Every little sound in its abstract acoustic assemblage sparkles with life: the plucked and bent strings, gentle metallic scrapes and whirs, and pattery percussion swirl around between your ears, piling up and crumbling down. If you like sounds for their own sake, you'll be captivated.

Art Ensemble of Chicago, Full Force I love the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and this record enchants me with its surrealist arc, stylistic breadth, and supertight ensemble playing. The nearly 20-­minute lead track, "Magg Zelma," opens with seven spacious minutes of ritualistic but playful percussion and bird calls. Then a bass groove comes in, the tune takes a perfectly timed turn, and soon things are in full force—be sure to listen for Joseph Jarman's killer bassoon solos. After all this, there's a hard cut to track two, the breezy "Care Free," which is just 51 seconds. Really special stuff.

Various artists, Music From Saharan Cell Phones Vol. 2 My friend Bela Shayevich shared this beautiful compilation, and I like to listen to it while I bop around during the day. Its diverse tunes were collected from cell phones in northern Mali in 2010 and center on electronic drums, rhythmic guitars, catchy bass lines, and impassioned vocals that might be overdriven or acoustically naked. (Since then, according to the release's Bandcamp page, music on cell phones has been banned by Islamists.) I especially like "Waihidjo," with its minimal arrangement of Auto-Tuned singing, hand claps, and bass.

Young is curious what's in the rotation of . . .

Theo Katsaounis, drummer for Joan of Arc, percussionist for Anatomy of Habit

click to enlarge Leonard Cohen - DOMINIQUE ISSERMAN
  • Leonard Cohen
  • Dominique Isserman

Ataraxie, "Funeral Hymn" I stumbled upon this chipper tune a couple of months ago, and I just can't seem to tear my ears away. A self-proclaimed "extreme doom/death metal" band from France, Ataraxie has the emotional range of a prepubescent teen trying to claw his way out of Easter Sunday mass so he can go home and reread his ex's breakup letter for the 100th time, then do something "extreme" like write a song about it so everybody else can suffer with (or because of) him. Me? No way, man—I'm just a sucker for that punishing intro!

Major Scaled song videos Some brilliant person has taken familiar songs, predominantly in minor keys, and manipulated them with scale-changing and transposing software to turn them into wake-up-on-the-right-side-of-bed major-scale tunes. This social experiment is a sure hazard for creatures of habit. I'm so intrigued by this hopeful phenomenon—if whoever's responsible for this twist on entertainment could somehow land a record deal, that would make me a happy man. I won't hold my breath, though.

Leonard Cohen, "Famous Blue Raincoat" I recently saw Leonard Cohen perform and was completely floored by his everything. At the young age of 78, he has more energy than most young-buck bands I see these days. The sharp-tongued man with a heavy heart dances with light feet. He's a true inspiration, an asset to humanity, and living proof that no one is ever too old to do anything. It was an experience I'll never forget. Since the show, this song has been a great source of fuel—and stuck on repeat.

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