Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kassin+2 Review

In 1928, the Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade penned an influential statement of purpose for the modernist movement in his country, a work that appeared under the unusual title “Manifesto Antropófago” (Cannibal Manifesto). His thesis was both radical and banal: Brazil’s greatest cultural aptitude lay in “cannibalization,” tearing juicy ideas from the still-warm flesh of other cultures and digesting them into the Brazilian body. It was this artistic concept that informed the Tropicalia movement forty years later – vanguard musicians like Caetano Veloso, Os Mutantes, Tom Zé, Gilberto Gil, and Gal Costa drew from bossa nova, psychedelic rock, American R&B, avant-garde composition, the blues, and every other living, organic musical style to create a totally new, distinctively Brazilian sound. The theory of artistic cannibalism, then, has always been at the heart of modern Brazilian popular music.

The recent collaborative album by the Rio-based “+ 2” trio – a project consisting of Moreno Veloso, Domenico Lancelotti, and Alexandre Kassin – is the perfect embodiment of the “cannibalismo” ethos. In a unique format, each trio member has taken turns headlining their albums: we’ve already been treated to “Moreno + 2” and “Dominico + 2,” and this Kassin volume, entitled “Futurismo,” completes the triptych. (The album title is an homage to both cannibalismo and to tropicalismo, and it is clear from the first track that Kassin’s beautiful songwriting owes a debt to these earlier movements.)

There is much of this album that is identifiably Brazilian: Kassin and his collaborators freely mix gentle yet complex melodies, breezy bossa guitars, and much of the other musical sweetnesses that conjure beaches, swaying palms, and other stereotypes from the vast South American country. Yet this is not your mother’s idea of Brazilian music. Embedding into the recognizably cool and effortless milieu are cutting-edge programming and electronics, frantic indie rock grooves, and a whole panoply of cannibalized sounds. Paradoxically, perhaps it is this quality of synthesis that makes “Futurismo” such a quintessentially Brazilian album.

Take the song “Samba Machine,” for instance. Here, we have a punchy guitar groove and a plodding samba bass line accompanied by a retro drum machine and vocal harmonies sung through a vocoder. Half way through the song is a distorted blues guitar solo. It is a mish-mash of competing musical signs, from the traditional (samba and blues) to the contemporary (electronic flourishes). In “Namorados,” your ear is initially greeted with a Björk-like electronic soundscape, with synthesizer sweeps and blips and bleeps; but then a bossa nova guitar line enters along with Kassin’s relaxed, wet voice. On “Pra Lembrar,” an orchestral introduction reminiscent of The Beatles and Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys gives way to a lilting, highly chromatic melody with Rhodes piano punctuations and a sunny, tropical disposition. Every song on the record plays out in a similar fashion: stylistic surprises abound.

Behind all the experimentation and deliciously cannibalistic gestures, however, is a set of gemlike songs, all masterfully crafted. Ultimately, analytical categories aside, this is where Kassin’s “Futurismo” truly shines.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Virtual Symphony

This is a fantastic, completely 2009 idea: Tan Dun has composed a symphony and is inviting everybody to download music for their respective instruments, rehearse with a video of the Chinese composer conducting directly to you and your specific part, then record (video or audio) yourself playing it. All submissions will be assembled into a virtual orchestra and will be played in Carnegie Hall this Spring; and the best auditions will be invited to NY to play the work in person under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas. This is music making for the web generation.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Nutrition- 10 Things You May Not Know

Between Biochemistry and Nutrition classes, I’ve learned an awful lot about digesting things this past fall. Eating things just isn’t the same when you can imagine it all breaking down inside your belly—the micelles of fat, the brush border of the small intestine taking up nutrients with passive sodium transport, and the fecal-bulking fiber in the colon. Mmmm!

Of course food is a huge topic in the USA. As a nation, we have gotten fatter. This growth is not just a concern in the USA. In fact, most countries that live in economic prosperity struggle with weight concerns. As I heard Madeline Albright say once, “There are 3 kinds of countries in the world: the countries where people are starving, the countries where people just barely have enough, and the countries where diet books are best-sellers.” It takes a great deal of effort for most people to maintain the same, healthy BMI throughout their lives when our culture encourages constant over consumption of calories. As my nutrition professor put it, “How many calories do you burn by walking/ running a mile? About 100. And how many calories can you fit in your mouth at one time? About 100.”

Diet and nutrition is something that has always been interesting to me, especially when I became vegan for 2 years in college. I was encouraged by my father to take vitamins as a teenager, and even more strongly persuaded when I became vegan. I wasn’t completely convinced, so I read a lot about various nutrients, vitamins and minerals. The information seemed confusing- some argued that certain combinations were harmful, or that preservatives and chemicals were causing many health problems.

After learning more about the topic of digestion and nutrition this semester, I’m not convinced that the truth is simpler than what I read before. First of all, most data and research regarding nutrition is recent. Additionally, many results are different for certain populations- such as BMI. What is considered “normal” BMI for Americans (18-24) is actually considered overweight in Asian countries. This is due to differences in body-type and percentage of body fat. Needless to say, ALL people are different, so it follows that there isn’t a “perfect” diet and lifestyle for everybody.

I don’t have any magical knowledge now that I’ve studied this topic, although I feel as though I could (and should) engage in more conversations with patients regarding their nutrition. I think most people understand how they should eat- whole grains, lean proteins, “good” fats, less processed foods and less restaurant meals. However, here’s a list of ten interesting facts you may not know about nutrition:

1. Americans on average eat very little fish, even though it is reported to be a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids. It’s recommended that we eat 2 servings a week, but Americans eat on average less than one “fish meal” per week. FYI, 2 servings of fish (5-6 oz.) does not put you at risk for mercury poisoning. Shrimp & shellfish don’t provide the same benefits as fish. Shrimp, in particular, in high in cholesterol.

2. Getting more of your calories from glucose (sugar) rather then other foods won’t make you fatter. In other words, calories count the same, no matter where they come from. So eat candy and corn syrup- but people do get more cavities- so brush like crazy if you do.

3. Certain vitamins, like B12, can stay in your body for years (25+ years) before they are depleated. This means that somebody could be vegan for a long time without any problems, and then suddenly develop problems years later. It follows that fat soluble vitamins (Vitamins A-K) do not need to be taken daily. Note that Vitamin D is the only “vitamin” that isn’t really a vitamin because the body can make it with sunlight exposure.

4. There is no evidence that taking multi-vitamin pills has any health benefit. The only vitamins that have proven health benefits are folic acid, daily calcium (especially for women), and in some cases vitamin D, iron, and B12. Many doctors still recommend daily vitamins because there aren’t any adverse effects from taking them. However, take them with food- otherwise you might as well not take them.

5. US breakfast cereals and other foods are typically fortified with many vitamins. A single serving of cereal can be very rich in vitamins, and watch out because some vitamins, such as A, can cause liver damage and other toxic effects.

6. This will seem contradictory, but fiber slows gastric emptying from the stomach, but increases speed of digestion in the intestine. That means, eat your salad first if you want to feel full faster, but eat your salad second if you want to stay more regular.

7. There are no diets (Atkins, South Beach, DASH, etc.) that show significant, long-term weight loss for large groups of people. Not a single one. Even gastric bypass surgery patients usually gain enough weight back over time to be overweight or obese again. Diet counseling combined with lifestyle changes has the best results, but there is no easy way to lose weight. Nevertheless, losing just 5-10% of body weight for somebody with a BMI above 24 greatly reduces the risks of heart disease and has many physical benefits.

8. Eating less calories for a significant period of time (more than 2 days) produces hormones that make you hungrier, and then make you store body-fat faster than before. People who have malnutrition as youth, are more likely to be obese.

9. As humans age, muscle turns to fat. A person’s metabolism and the amount of calories needed to survive depend entirely on fat-free body mass. Therefore, as we age, we can eat the exact same foods and get the same exercise, and still gain weight.

10. Our tastes (what we like, and don’t like) have correlation to what our mother’s ate when they were pregnant with us. If you don’t like something, and never have liked it, the chances are that your mom didn’t eat it when she was pregnant with you.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

$$ great op-ed piece $$

-from the ny times-

Provides a critical overview of the financial collapse.

While i've read countless examinations of the recent financial collapse, this is the most provocative piece i've encountered. He regards the situation with the harsh criticism it deserves but does so in a way that is comprehensible and illuminating.