What if your house was a musical instrument?

The Symphony HouseAn unusual house overlooks Lake Michigan. Known as the Symphony House, it not only emphasizes natural sounds but can be played like an instrument. Architect David Hanawalt and sound artist Bill Close designed the 6,200 square-foot home for Steelcase heir Jonathan Wege and his wife. At a cost of $2.4 million, the concrete-and-wood structure blends Japanese and Scandinavian architectural design. (I’ve included a video that provides a tour of the house’s unique musical properties.) Continue reading →

Funk queen Betty Davis reveals little in documentary

Betty Davis documentaryFilmmaker Phil Cox has produced a wonderful documentary exploring the life of funk singer Betty Davis. A model and uninhibited performer—famously described by Miles Davis as being even too wild for him to handle—Davis oozed unbridled sexuality. As the documentary Betty Davis: They Say I’m Different makes clear, she was Prince before Prince and Madonna before Madonna. The challenge for Cox? Davis turned her back on music and society during the 80s, becoming a recluse who refused to come out from the shadows. The documentary is stunning visually. With performance clips, album covers, photo shoots, and music tracks, we easily understand her appeal. Continue reading →

The Fifth Dimension and singing about racism

The Fifth Dimension - Age of AquariusIn the 60s and 70s, pop music lyrics began focusing on issues of brotherhood and racism like no time before or since. Peace and love were in the air, fueled by growing outrage over the war in Vietnam and mistreatment of black Americans. The sweet pop style of The Fifth Dimension lended itself to a gentle approach, in contrast to the clever and overt lyrics of Sly Stone’s 1968 “Everyday People” or the edginess of Nina Simone. But like so many other artists, the Fifth Dimension confronted racism through their music. Even when they acknowledged pain, though, the songs focused on uplift and hope—on the optimism of what was possible. Continue reading →

Solange reinvigorates music scene

SolangeWe may be turning a corner (finally) with the quality of contemporary popular music. Although Solange gets dropped into the R&B/Soul category—just like Janelle Monae with last year’s Dirty Computer—her latest album warrants broader attention. Why? Because standard fare pop is on life support, and desperately needs an infusion of new blood. Not new artists, but new perspectives and creativity. I’ve been lamenting the awful condition of pop music for the last fifteen years. After four decades exploding with creativity (the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s), music went into a dismal hibernation shortly after Napster changed music habits. Maybe it was coincidental, but I believe the two were related. Continue reading →