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Blackstar Theory: The Last Works of David Bowie


Leah Kardos (2022)
[Pre-order here]

Blackstar Theory takes a close look at David Bowie’s ambitious last works: his surprise ‘comeback’ project The Next Day (2013), the off-Broadway musical Lazarus (2015) and the album that preceded the artist’s death in 2016 by two days, (pronounced Blackstar). The book explores the swirl of themes that orbit these projects from a starting point in musical analysis and features new interviews with key collaborators from the period: producer Tony Visconti, graphic designer Jonathan Barnbrook, musical director Henry Hey, saxophonist Donny McCaslin and assistant sound engineer Erin Tonkon.

Together, these works tackle the biggest of ideas: identity, creativity, chaos, transience and immortality. Their themes entangle realities and fictions across space and time; a catalogue of sound, vision, music and myth spanning more than 50 years is subjected to the cut-up; we get to the end only to find signposts directing us back to the very start. They enact a process of individuation for the Bowie meta-persona and invite us to consider what happens when a star dies. In our universe, dying stars do not disappear - they transform into new stellar objects, remnants and gravitational forces. The radical potential of the Blackstar is demonstrated in the rock star supernova that creates a singularity resulting in cultural iconicity. It is how a man approaching his own death can create art that illuminates the immortal potential of all matter in the known universe.


“Leah Kardos deftly uncovers the patterns in David Bowie’s “late style,” seeing the mortality, morality, and self-consciousness hiding in plain sight. While musicological analysis is at the heart of her endeavor, she is nevertheless attuned to the places in his epic career where there are fissures and unexpected correspondences with other forms of art. Blackstar Theory is a feast for any Bowie fan—rabid or casual—and performs the closure that many of us were seeking.
A welcome addition to the growing canon of Bowie studies.” 
Shelton Waldrep, Distinguished Professor of English, University of Southern Maine, USA


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The Wire September 2021 (Issue 451) Review of Caught by the Heart by Tim Finn and Phil Manzanera (p 52)
The Wire September 2021 (Issue 451) Electronics column, feat. Arandel, Container, From Nursery to Misery, Steve Hadfield, Island People, Joakim, Lyra Pramuk, LO records, Kai Whiston (p 63–4)
The Wire September 2021 (Issue 451) Book Review The Moon and the Echo by Robert Porter (ed. Pilot Press) (p 74 link)
The Wire August 2021 (Issue 450) - Review of Leviathan by Robert Fripp and The Grid (p 56)
The Wire August 2021 (Issue 450) - Review of I Mean Alarmed: The Toulon-Pedro Connect by Various (Hifiklub and Mike Watt) (p 57)
The Wire August 2021 (Issue 450) - Review of Banned by Lightman Jarvis Ecstatic Band (p 58)
The Wire August 2021 (Issue 450) - Review of Modern Love by Various (BBE Music) (p 80)
The Wire August 2021 (Issue 450) - Review of Dinner at Eight by Wayne Horvitz (p 74)
The Wire July 2021 (Issue 449) - Review of Cold Wave #1 by Various (Soul Jazz) (p 54)
The Wire July 2021 (Issue 449) - Review of Timeless by Goldie, and Parallel Universe by 4Hero (p 74)
The Wire July 2021 (Issue 449) - Book review - Reminded by the Instruments: David Tudor's Music by You Nakai (p 84, link)
The Wire June 2021 (Issue 448) - Review of Ultrapop by The Armed (p 46)
The Wire June 2021 (Issue 448) - Review of Se•pa•ra•ción by Zoon van snooK (p 60)
The Wire June 2021 (Issue 448) - Review of Songs of Much Gravity… 1993-2001 by Clutch (p 67)
The Wire May 2021 (Issue 447) - Review of Dream Weapon by Genghis Tron (p 50)
The Wire May 2021 (Issue 447) - Review of XXXX by Wollny/Parisien/Lefebvre/Lillinger (p 60)
The Wire May 2021 (Issue 447) - Book review - Radiophonic Times by Peter Howell (p 73, link)
The Wire April 2021 (Issue 446) - Unofficial Channels - Etudes by Sharon Gal (p10)
The Wire April 2021 (Issue 446) - Review of il y a by Griffin Brown (p 50)
The Wire April 2021 (Issue 446) - Review of ~/Library/Mouth/Congress/ by Mikel Rouse (p 62)
The Wire March 2021 (Issue 445) - Review of Ruff Dog and Blue Alibi by Mica Levi (p 51) [link]
The Wire January 2021 (Issue 443) - Review of The Life of Insects by Ale Hop (p 83)
The Wire January 2021 (Issue 443) - Review of Ambient Session by Monika Werkstatt (p 76)
The Wire January 2021 (Issue 443) - Review of Pilots of Purple Twilight: The Virgin Recordings 1980-1983 by Tangerine Dream (p 94)
The Wire January 2021 (Issue 443) - One Thing That Got Me Through (p 44)
The Wire December 2020 (Issue 442) - Book review - A Year With Swollen Appendices: Brian Eno's Diary (p 74) [link]
The Wire December 2020 (Issue 442) - Review of Himalayan Dream Techno by New Age Doom (p52)
The Wire November 2020 (Issue 441) - Review of Lamentations by William Basinski (p54)
The Wire November 2020 (Issue 441) - Review of Wrong Way Up by Brian Eno and John Cale (p74)
The Wire November 2020 (Issue 441) - Review of Spinner by Brian Eno and Jah Wobble (p74)
The Wire October 2020 (Issue 440) - Review of Rupture by Hifiklub/Matt Cameron/Daffodil/Reuben Lewis (p54)
The Wire October 2020 (Issue 440) - Review of Things That Were Lost In The Fire by Hifiklub & Roddy Bottum (p54)
The Wire October 2020 (Issue 440) - Review of Live And Well: Live 97, Ouvrez Le Chien: Live Dallas 95 and Something In The Air: Live Paris 99 by David Bowie (p71)
The Wire September 2020 (Issue 439) - Review of To Feel Embraced by Sparkle Division (p60)
The Wire August 2020 (Issue 438) - Review of Ithaca by Madeleine Cocolas (p52)
The Wire June 2020 (Issue 436) - Review of Mind Food by Philippe Cohen Solal (p49)


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The New Woman: Kate Bush from 1977 to 1980


Leah Kardos (2019)
[Link]


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Aretha Franklin: sublime soul diva whose voice inspired the civil rights movement


Leah Kardos - The Conversation (August 16, 2018)
Music culture owes Franklin a debt for bringing ecstatic pentecostal fervour to popular music, pushing the expressive boundaries of the contemporary singing voice.
[Link]


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Making room for 21st century musicianship in higher education


Kardos, L. (2018). Making Room for 21st Century Musicianship in Higher Education. Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education, 17(1), 33-47.
[Link]

Abstract:
Having been asked to respond to Action Ideal VIII by the Mayday Group, concerning technology and its impacts on music education, what follows are some observations and reflections from my experiences teaching undergraduate music and music technology degrees in the UK. I put forward the idea that Post-Digital music aesthetics reflect an emergent sensibility in contemporary music cultures, and this represents an opportunity for music educators to reconfigure and strengthen their pedagogical approaches. By recognizing the legitimacy of new and varied forms of musicianship, and acknowledging the ways in which our subject area continues to grow in its range of practices and necessary literacies, strategies can be developed to support a music student experience that is cohesive, inclusive, hybridized, meaningful and useful.


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Brits 2018: why everyone loves Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You


Leah Kardos, Kingston University - The Conversation (February 21, 2018)
The UK singer-songwriter's single was the most downloaded song of 2017 and the video has been viewed 3.2 billion times.
[Link]


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Book Review: 'Playing with something that runs : technology, improvisation, and composition in DJ and laptop performance' by Mark J. Butler. 


The World of Music (new series), 6((2017) 2), pp. 157-159. ISSN (online) 0043-8774
Leah Kardos [Reviewer] (2017)
[Link]


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Bowie musicology: mapping Bowie’s sound and music language across the catalogue

Leah Kardos (2017) Bowie musicology: mapping Bowie’s sound and music language across the catalogue, Continuum, 31:4, 552-563
[Link]

Abstract: David Bowie’s music career is one marked by dramatic image transformations and unexpected and frequent aesthetic changes. However, if we look beyond the surface and analyse Bowie’s back catalogue for patterns and trends in his songwriting methodology, we can start to see evidence of a consistent creative voice that has been present and evolving throughout. This music language uses vocal articulations, idiosyncratic approaches to melody and harmony, mode and tonality, familiar and foreign sonic landscapes and nostalgic references to encode meanings beyond the lyric and immediate pop/rock style representation. Practices and processes that lead to the creation of shared meanings are located in the communicative exchange between creator and listener, a conversation that occurs at the intersection of Production and Consumption.



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SoundCloud survives but it’s bad news for musicians


Leah Kardos, Kingston University - The Conversation (August 15, 2017)

SoundCloud has been saved by its biggest injection of cash yet. [Link]




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Book Chapter: The Curious Musician 


Kardos, Leah (2017). In: Ruthmann, Alex and Mantie, Roger, (eds.) The Oxford handbook of technology and music education. Oxford, U.K. : Oxford University Press. (Oxford Handbooks) ISBN 9780199372133 (In Press)
[Link]

Abstract: Music technologies can lead us to a transformation of perceptions and the reinvention and refinement of our processes— from the way we see, interact with, and understand the materials of sound and music to the way we learn new skills, communicate, and share with each other, the way we represent ourselves to the world as music creators and professionals, and especially, the way we teach. Technology has and is transforming our language around music content and consumption (“I streamed a podcast of glitchcore mashups, reblogged it and gave it a ‘like’ ”). It is creating musical and sonic possibilities that transcend the facilities of traditional music notation and analysis. It sometimes requires interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches to bring projects, artworks, and products to fruition. (Music technology resides not in the field of music only but also in the fields of media; science, technology, and society [STS]; electronics and computer science.) Finally, it grants music creators agency and control of their works (Taylor, 2014).As a composer, I am completely enchanted and continually inspired by the way new music technology applications so readily challenge my own understanding of what music is and can be. The proliferation of digital applications, computerization, and online connectedness has given rise to a diverse and evolving collection of practices or “literacies” that are advantageous skills for creative musicians working in commercial and contemporary new music scenes to possess (Durant, 1990; Hugill, 2012). At the time of writing, these literacies can include skills associated with multitrack recording and production using digital audio workstations, MIDI sequencing, audio editing, sound design, synthesis, sampling, looping, triggering, live sequencing, coding, controlling music and sound with interfaces and apps, instrument and effect building, app development, hacking and circuit bending, mixing, remixing, and mashing up, score typesetting, publishing, broadcasting, and contributing knowledge and expertise to online communities of practice. To the composer in me, these technologies represent an opportunity to expand my creative vocabulary with pure magic: to capture any sound and turn it into music that is meaningful; to conjure up ghosts of the past; to bend space and time; to hold the air. Speaking from my perspective as a teacher, they represent a new promise of freedom: never before have the materials of music been so pliable, touchable, easy to understand and access.



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Essay: I Don't Want To Leave, Or Drift Away: the transition from David Bowie’s Lodger to Scary Monsters


Leah Kardos (2015)
[Link]

Abstract: David Bowie in 1979 is finishing off and promoting Lodger but is being beaten in the charts at his own game by a new generation of artists he himself has inspired. Faced with the strange new reality of being a figurehead of and patriarch to a new musical and aesthetic culture, Bowie must reassess, redefine and re-exert who he is at the start of a new decade. With divorce proceedings wrapping up, as he nears the end of long financial and contractual commitments to his record label RCA and his old manager Tony DeFries, Bowie is drawn to the tough, concrete energies of New York, and back to the raw, visceral songwriting style of his old friend John Lennon. Scary Monsters was set up to be a return to pop dominance: no more studio games and improvised vocal sessions; it was time to confront his past, to mine through the artefacts of his own myth to find some personal truth.




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The Sonic Vernacular: Considering Communicative Timbral Gestures in Modern Music Production


Kardos, Leah (2015) The sonic vernacular : considering communicative timbral gestures in modern music production. In: 138th Audio Engineering Society Convention; 07 - 10 May 2015, Warsaw, Poland.
[Link]

Abstract: Over the course of audio recording history, we have seen the activity of sound recording widen in scope “from a technical matter to a conceptual and artistic one” (Moorefield 2010) and the producer’s role evolving from technician to “auteur.” For recording practitioners engaged in artistic and commercial industry and discourse, fluency in contemporary and historic sound languages is advantageous This paper seeks to find the best, most practically useful method to describe these characteristics in practice, identify a clear and suitable way to talk about and analyze these uses of communicative timbral gestures, as heard in modern music productions.




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Book Chapter: Activating Digital Creativities in Higher Music Education


Kardos, Leah (2015) In: Burnard, Pamela and Haddon, Elizabeth, (eds.) Activating Diverse Musical Creativities: Teaching and Learning in Higher Music Education. London, U.K. : Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 223-240. ISBN 9781472589118
[Link]

Abstract: Technology has become intertwined with commercial and contemporary arts practices, shaping the formation of new aesthetics, giving rise to diverse new creativities and essential digital music literacies. This chapter looks at examples of such practices to inform a strategy for developing effective curricula for higher music education where (1) fluency in digital literacies is promoted through practice-led enquiry, (2) technical learning is designed to be flexible and adaptable to future technologies, where (3) excellence of execution is upheld as a priority and (4) learners are encouraged to be active in and contribute knowledge to online communities of practice. The study of digital creativities through creative practice research can lead our students to develop skills that will equip them with improved employability, musicianship, technical excellence, entrepreneurship and creative confidence.




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PhD Thesis: Folio of compositions and critical commentary


Kardos, Leah (2014) Folio of compositions and critical commentary. (PhD thesis), The University of Queensland.
[Link to commentary]
[Link to folio]

Abstract: This folio of compositions and accompanying exegesis presents a collection of my original music that demonstrates an individual approach to composition which often seeks to exploit the various unique creative opportunities made possible through the use of music technology applications. 


Within the folio there is experimentation, collaboration, muscle memory improvisation, sampling, triggering and the “mashing up” of styles and contexts. Various forms and formats range from piano solos to concept albums, song cycles to orchestral scores, electro cover versions and live laptop electronics. The folio demonstrates a fascination with the transient, spatial quality of performed music versus the unchanging, deliberate nature of recorded musical productions, and the subjective listening experience of both. 


Particular approaches to composition explored in this exegesis include: the life of the score and recycling score-based music materials through human filters; attempting to communicate ideas using “sonic vernacular,” referring to the subtle sound language built from musical clichés, samples of other recordings, perceived sound quality and colour; exploring personal narratives through experimentations with muscle memory improvisation. 


This folio presents five works to illustrate these creative processes that are aided, facilitated or actualised by technology. It includes two “concept albums,” Feather Hammer, a collection of productions for multi-tracked prepared piano, and Machines, a song cycle; Three Preludes, a work for solo piano that is designed to be remixed and sampled; a work for chamber orchestra, Kick, and You Can’t Hide Beat, a collection of David Bowie cover versions created using samples from his own famous recordings.



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How music technology can make sound and music worlds accessible to student composers in Further Education colleges


Kardos, Leah (2012) How music technology can make sound and music worlds accessible to student composers in Further Education colleges. British Journal of Music Education, 29(2), pp. 143-151. ISSN (print) 0265-0517
[Link]

Abstract: Potential students are drawn to music technology courses for many different reasons – perhaps their individual interests lie in sound engineering, acoustics, live sound reinforcement, computer programming or software application design. As a teacher of composing in this context, I am faced with a challenge: how to bridge the knowledge and confidence gaps that exist between students with more and less formal musical experience? I believe that music technology applications can help in this area, particularly with fostering confidence and motivation in less-experienced students. What follows is a student profile and a case study of one assessment task in composing, which will illustrate how such strategies can work.



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The New Woman: Kate Bush from 1977 to 1980


Leah Kardos (2019)
[Link]