Pop culture from Southern California and beyond.

Carl Stone still setting standards for sonic excursions

Carl Stone

L.A. experimental music pioneer Carl Stone, set to perform Saturday as part of the Getty's Pacific Standard Time celebration.

There will not be 1,024 harpsichords on stage at the Getty Museum’s Harold M. Williams Auditorium on Saturday during the performance of “Sukothai,” a piece written for 1,024 harpsichords. There will be just one harpsichord, played by noted concert pianist Gloria Cheng. There will also be a table, at which a man will be seated in front of a MacBook Pro.

That will be Carl Stone, the composer of the piece. And via the laptop he will be making it sound like the rest of the 1,023 harpsichords are, in fact, there.  

It’s a piece Stone put together originally in the mid-‘70s while a student at CalArts, signaling him as an innovator in what for lack of a better term has been called electronic music.

It’s that sense of experimental adventure that is celebrated in the choice of Stone for one of the handful of Getty concerts tied to the vast Pacific Standard Time exploration of the 1945-1980 era in which the Los Angeles art world’s wide open aesthetic spaces turned the city from a perceived backwater to a pace-setting environment. In a set billed as “Sonic Excursions from Al-Noor to Zang” -- the references to Stone pieces, which he generally names for Asian restaurants -- he will link the early, relatively lo-tech experiments of the ‘70s with works he’s composed in the last few years, including one with vocalist/pipa player Min Xiao-Fen and a premiere of a piece based on a work by Baroque composer Louis Couperin, also featuring Cheng on harpsichord.

“CalArts was very much a laboratory of experimental environments, with exposure to a lot of experimental tendencies,” he recalls, having gone there right out of high school in Woodland Hills. “For me, everything was very fresh and new. L.A. didn’t seem like there was a lot going on musically in terms of experimentalism and the avant-garde. There was stuff, but hard to find. It was more in the visual arts and performance are and the women’s movement coming on. Those were the things that were the great beacons.”

Of course, then he didn’t have a tiny computer to layer a passage he’d taken from a recording of a Henry Purcell piece. Instead he used two tape recorders and spliced loops of the short excerpt, playing and recording them back on to themselves until the full number was achieved. This will be the first live realization of the piece he’s attempted, the results likely to be as bold and entrancing as the original version was in its time.

Stone credits several things for the sensibilities he held back then. His parents turned him on to a wide range of music very young.

“They gave me a little 45 rpm record player when I was two and the first record I had was a Japanese children’s song called ‘The Black Cat,’” he says. “So I loved what we called folk music back in those days, music from North Africa, Spanish music, music from Turkey, folk singers like Germaine Montero.”

It intensified in the CalArts setting.

“I listened to a lot of world music, they had an active world music program,” he says, adding that his job working in the music library was really an ear-opener. “They had these recordings from all over the world and I was responsible for dubbing them on to tape. That was my job.”

That led directly to his experiments layering different sounds into new pieces. At first he had access to the school’s then-state-of-the-art equipment -- multi-track studios, advances synthesizers and such. When he graduated, he had to go with whatever he could get hold of, usually just a couple of tape decks and some microphones and mixers. The limitations became the guide and spark for creative approaches. And in such settings as the Theater Vanguard on Melrose -- “owned by a woman named Judith Stark who wanted to create a citadel for the avant-garde” -- he and others were nurtured and encouraged. He in turn helped cultivate the scene in the early ‘80s as music director and on-air host at KPFK, a beacon itself for conventions-breaking artists of the time.

Today he goes back and forth between L.A. and Japan -- where he teaches sound design at Chukyo University -- and keeps seeking sounds for his own sound designs. It could be pop music (he’s used samples from various rock and pop songs to great effect) or more world and classical music. As such, for Stone it’s never really been about the technology as much as the ideas of sound.

That the approach is still fresh, or maybe timeless, was clear a few months back, when a few dozen people gathered at the Wulf, a cozy, no-frills loft in the industrial strip of downtown L.A. Sandwiched between Little Tokyo and the railroad tracks. While they stood or sat cross-legged on plush pillows, Stone sat at a table operating a few devices from which emanated via sound-surround speakers, music in a style he’s referred to as “acid folk.” In a lengthy piece titled “Shin Chon,” what sounded like Baroque strings, though elongated through sound manipulation, was after a few minutes joined by layers of voices from hard-to-identify origins, though seemingly Asian.

Some on hand sat, eyes closed, in meditative revels. Others stood, fixated on the sedentary performer, simultaneously trying to work out what the elements in the collage were and marveling at how expertly and artistically they were being blended. Maybe it doesn’t matter what the sounds were or where they were from. They were, for all the technology involved in bringing them to us, unquestionably human -- brought to us, in fact, not by technology but by the creative human at the desk in the middle of this little room.

Those with eyes closed may well have been transporting themselves back 35 years ago. A bunch of them were in fact at Stone’s performances in similar settings, with similar aesthetics, back then. The only overt signs of time having passed were that he was using a Macbook rather than tape decks and turntables -- and the graying and/or thinning hair around the room.

And that’s just fine with Stone.

“Those sensibilities have carried forward into the present day. Some artists have, like Picasso as an example, reinvent themselves every era and radically change. But what I’ve done is more evolved through the period of time. The concerns I have now definitely track in a consistent road from the concerns I had when I first started out.”


Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars; makes announcement on Twitter

The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences Tribute To Sophia Loren

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Actor Billy Crystal arrives to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' tribute to Sophia Loren on May 4, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California.

So, Billy Crystal is hosting the Oscars. This follows Eddie Murphy pulling out after producer Brett Ratner, who Murphy is close friends with, made controversial remarks about gays and stepped down.

Crystal made the announcement on Twitter, writing, "Am doing the Oscars so the young woman in the pharmacy will stop asking my name when I pick up my prescriptions. Looking forward to the show."

The Academy later confirmed that this was, in fact, happening, and not just Crystal having fun with Twitter.

It's an interesting contrast to make an announcement like this on Twitter on the same day Ashton Kutcher pulled back from his longtime relationship with Twitter after accidentally posting something defending Penn State coach Joe Paterno without knowing the full story about the allegations against Paterno and his staff. Kutcher explained that his management team would be handling his tweeting, as he didn't like the fact that he couldn't be as off the cuff on Twitter as he wanted to be.


Remembering rapper Heavy D, dead at 44

BACARDI Rums' "Like It Live" Las Vegas - Inside

Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Bacardi

File: Late recording artist Heavy D performs at the Bacardi "Like It Live" Las Vegas event with Cee Lo Green, Travis Barker and Mix Master Mike at the Marquee Nightclub at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas June 15, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Rapper Heavy D died Tuesday in the emergency room at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. The self-named “overweight lover” was 44 years old; his last album was released just two months ago. Authorities say Heavy D collapsed outside his Beverly Hills home.

His given name was Dwight Arrington Myers. His family moved from Jamaica, where he was born, to New York City when he was a boy. If music lovers were still unsure about the hip-hop art form in the late 1980s, his group Heavy D and the Boyz did a lot to convince them that it had heft — and a future.

In 1991, the group released the third of seven albums, "Peaceful Journey," featuring the hit “Now That We Found Love," sampling the 1973 O'Jays song of the same name and adding rap to create a smash.

“Believe it or not, here comes a brother with flow/A snuggling, bubblin’, overweight lovin’ hugging pro/So what’s it gonna be: me or the TV? Let me take time to set your mind and your body free.”


Google+ goes corporate, launching branded pages - including the Muppets

Yesterday, Google+ rolled out branded pages. Essentially, they're like Facebook Pages, but, you know, on Google+.

Google had resisted rolling these out until they were ready. When companies tried jumping the gun and setting up pages using regular Google+ accounts months ago, Google+ began shutting those accounts down.

Well, Christmas is here for all those businesses that wanted to be on Google+ before.

It's hard to say how successful these will be. Google+ has struggled in its early going, quickly gaining a lot of followers but leaving many scratching their heads about why they'd want to be part of Google+ rather than doing similar things somewhere else, particularly on Facebook.

However, there are some compelling possibilities. The coolest thing I've seen since the launch: A Hangout with the Muppets. For those of you who haven't used Google+ yet, Hangouts are Google+ video chats that manage to rather seamlessly allow groups to chat. Now, the Muppets hangout was fairly structured, but it was the latest in a series of bold attempts by the Muppets to utilize digital media to promote themselves, such as spoof trailers for their movie and other random online videos.


Van Dyke Parks & Inara George at the Getty: Anything but Standard Time

Steve Hochman

Van Dyke Parks, Inara George and orchestra provide Pacific Standard Time delights at the Getty.

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Photo by Autumn DeWilde

Inara George

MusiCares 2005 Person of the Year Tribute to Brian Wilson - Show

Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

FILE: Musical consultant Van Dyke Parks speaks onstage at the MusiCares 2005 Person of the Year Tribute to Brian Wilson at the Palladium on February 11, 2005 in Hollywood, California.

If any song could serve as the theme for the vast Pacific Standard Time celebration of the Southern California art boom time, it might be Van Dyke Parks’ “Orange Crate Art,” the title tune of his 1995 collaborative album with Brian Wilson.

Parks performed the song midway through a delights-filled show he and singer Inara George put on Saturday at the Getty Museum’s Harold M. Williams Auditorium, kicking off a series of music events tied to Pacific Standard Time — just hours before we all reset our clocks for the fall seasonal shift.

The song encapsulates everything PST represents: wistful nostalgia, willfully selective memories and, above all, an appreciation of art that is at once ambitious and functional. It filters the image of California through an idealized lens, the image quickly reshaping and remaking reality every bit as much as those put on screen by the Hollywood dream-makers. In this song’s case, it’s accomplished with a very personal memory, an association of the glorious paintings, transformed from from functional fruit crate labels to colorful decor, with a lost love.