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Cirque Du Soleil
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Cirque Du Soleil
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Ralph Towner
Time Line
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Anoushka Shankar

Amos Lee
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Julius Curcio
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Alligator Shoes
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"Come Alive"
Changing Into Me
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Spotlights [Issue # 24 ]
Tony Levin: Resonator

By Paul Adams

Tony Levin. To most musicians, enough said. The guy’s been everywhere and played with everybody who has made a dent in the world of music for the last 30 years: Peter Gabriel, John Lennon, King Crimson, Herbie Mann, etc. A musician’s musician.

The man loves to gig, and he’s constantly on the road. But, the last few years he’s started doing his own music, and RESONATOR is the current release on Narada Records. He also releases solo work on his Papabear Records label (available exclusively through his website).

In my discussion with him, he expressed concern that the lyric in these songs work well. There was also concern about the use of his voice. He wanted the music to stand - to be valid within itself, and be not enslaved to a point in time that may not be as appropriate for an audience ten or twenty years from now (Tony expressed this same concern with some of the album covers for KING CRIMSON). The themes are universal: life, loss, existence, humor, and the sometimes precarious dance between science and the spiritual. These former themes expose Tony as a bit of a mystic, which allows him a bit of objectivity. He can acknowledge the overwhelming impact of these themes, yet balance the heavy, with the “Zen like” willingness to take the impact, dust himself off, get back on his feet, and rejoin the dance for all its beauty.

PA: I’m betting that approaching music in a non-formulaic way may be very natural for you. I believe we are living in a time when formula music has never been stronger and more encouraged. I don’t see people looking at music on its own merits, but rather as a commodity and product to be compared. Consumers ask, “Is that as good as this? Or is this one as good as the previous one?” - rather than looking at one particular piece on its own merits?

TL: It’s an interesting time for music, partly because music is somewhat a way of communicating, and it’s a wild time for opening up new ways of communicating.
PA: This album showcases vocals in a prominent way. As someone known as a musician’s musician, and one of the “go to” guys for instrumental excursions with many people, do you think you took more chance or risk? Was it frightening?

TL: Not quite frightening, but a big leap for me. Like many musicians, I like challenges, and even with my comfortable territory (Bass, Stick, and instrumental music) I’m usually pushing myself to move off the old ways of doing things, learn new techniques, make some up, stuff like that. Maybe it’s from being in King Crimson for so long, a band where challenging ourselves individually and as a band is standard practice. So, for years I’ve had a lot of material brewing - things I wanted to communicate that I couldn’t get across with my instrumental writing. And finally it seemed time to take a deep breath, write the material the way I felt it suited me best, and do lead vocals on it. I’d sung backgrounds a lot (with Peter Gabriel, King Crimson and some others) so I was familiar with my voice (its qualities and lack of qualities). The recording process took me much longer than usual this time, but in the end I’m happy it did so that I had time to adjust the compositions the way they needed.

PA: There’s a bit of the mystic’s imagination with this outing. One song example might be “Throw That Dog a Bone.” Dogs have the simple mind thing down, don’t they? So much to teach us! Care to comment? By the way, Lilly has great timing.
TL: “Throw the Dog a Bone” is somewhat characteristic of this new music - its humor kind of masks a somewhat deep theme. Dogs look up to us, kind of like we’re gods to them when you think about it. And the song is a processing of that fact midst our natural tendency to look up above us, and try to obey the edicts of our God or gods. It’s amusing when our dogs, wanting so much to please us, break the rules sometimes, and feel so bad afterward - are we that different about our commandments? And then, science almost always being a component of these songs, what is going to happen when we create some new life (not so far in the future) and need to program it to obey ‘commandments’ of behavior from us? All interesting fodder for music, I think. Meanwhile, there’s Lilly, my dog, happy to perform some barking for the song. I have to admit she did not bark on cue - but getting her barks on tape was as easy as, well, as getting a dog to bark!

PA: Do you think this new delivery system of selling digital downloads of songs - with the ability to bypass many middle men - is going to be a lasting vehicle for purchasing music?

TL: I’ve got no insight into the digital download world - seems to me that things are changing fast, and we don’t know how music is going to be shared, and maybe paid for five years from now. It’s certainly made things interesting! And maybe there’s a lesson there for coming challenges in other areas - I think the rate of change with this new technology is increasing, and we’ll have to get better at adapting, if we don’t want to get stuck in the feeling of being left behind. It’s complex now, in the field of music and music sales, but I think it may get like that with all media, and with information itself. n




Resonator Tony Levin Resonator

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