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    From Claire Rousay, Field Recordings for a Modern World

    With her new album, the emo ambient musician has learned to embrace everyday pleasures.One spring evening, the San Antonio-based experimental musician Claire Rousay was in the driver’s seat of her parked car, smoking cigarettes and sipping a well-concealed beverage, when she picked up the Zoom H5 field recorder that is never far from her reach. “I track my whole day every day,” Rousay says. “If I’m home, I’ll have a pair of stereo microphones in my living room, and a field recorder in my bedroom. I’ll probably have 18 hours of field recordings … I basically record my whole life.”She turns these found sounds into musique concrète that locates grains of emotion in the mundane — a car door slamming, a lighter igniting, the plink of an Apple keyboard mid-text. What a songwriter might convey in poetry, Rousay evokes with raw audio. You could call it sound art, but it’s viscerally vulnerable. More appropriately to Rousay — who declines to confirm her exact age but identifies as “a millennial sun, zoomer rising” — her work has been tagged as “emo ambient.”Last fall, Rousay released the 20-minute composition “It Was Always Worth It,” for which she spun the contents of real love letters she’d received over a six-year relationship through a robotic text-to-voice program. In a year widely lacking in new, intimate conversations of the unguarded 3 a.m. caliber, it was a heartbreaking revelation. In a world of endless distraction, Rousay’s is an art of paying attention. Her immersive new album, “A Softer Focus,” is her first to draw in melody and harmony (“the pleasure of making music,” as it’s been called), and though she’s posted 22 releases to Bandcamp since 2019, it feels like an arrival.In her art as in her life, Rousay seems intent on breaking through the perceived super-seriousness that her work might portend. She calls karaoke “an intimate soul endeavor” (her go-tos are Taking Back Sunday and Lil Peep) and lights up when discussing, with equal reverence, the composer Pauline Oliveros’s book “Deep Listening” (2005) or her longtime favorite band, Bright Eyes. “Being a real person is what I care about most,” Rousay says. “Being present and open.” Evidence of this abiding commitment to honesty can be found in last spring’s “Im Not a Bad Person But …,” another text-to-voice piece that ends on a bold admission: “I think Avril Lavigne’s album ‘Let Go’ is better than Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps.’”Building on her unconventional style, Rousay produced “A Softer Focus” as an equal collaboration with the San Antonio artist Dani Toral. The pair met in middle school there — after Toral had relocated from Mexico City, and Rousay from Canada — but were soon in constant motion, with various tours and residencies, until the pandemic forced them to stay put. In addition to the floral cover art, Toral made a video, took photos, designed a T-shirt, named the record and several songs and created 30 ceramic whistles to accompany the release. The common thread, Toral said, is a “glowy” sense of comfort. The whistles, inspired by Mexican folk art and a 2006 book about the history of ceramic instruments called “From Mud to Music,” were an especially fitting addition. “I love clay because it holds a lot of memory,” Toral says. “It holds every touch that you put into it.”Rousay’s pieces function similarly, and for “A Softer Focus” she even recorded Toral in her backyard ceramics studio sculpting one of the whistles, playing it and reflecting on the process — putting their conversation into the music. On the album, that snatch of dialogue also finds Rousay and Toral contemplating the stresses of Instagram for visual artists — the anxiety of being expected to post not just your work but your life. “It was us smoking joints and talking,” Rousay says, “and I think the recording is like six joints deep.” It’s a detail that speaks to the whole project’s ethos of presence and growth: Toral had never made digital art before and, as Rousay puts it, “I had never really made a listenable record. The only thing that was familiar was the feeling of being in the zone. We were learning together.”Rousay records the minutiae of her life to magnify the joy of simple moments.Liz MoskowitzThe artist Dani Toral made ceramic whistles, inspired by Mexican folk art, to accompany Rousay’s new album.Liz MoskowitzROUSAY GREW UP in a strict evangelical Christian household in Winnipeg, Manitoba — secular music was forbidden — and was 10 when her family moved to San Antonio. She drummed during church services before untethering herself from Christianity and searching for meaning around her instead. After dropping out of high school at 15, she toured with an indie rock band and, after discovering jazz, turned to free improvisation. She traveled as a solo percussionist, doing 200 gigs in 2017 alone.The awe-inspiring swarm of “A Softer Focus” can feel like an amalgam of this all. On the highlight track “Peak Chroma” — named by Toral to evoke “the highest saturation of a color” — Rousay adds a pitch-shifted vocal line about listening to “the newest Blackbear song,” a reference to the Florida emo rapper and Justin Bieber co-writer Matthew Tyler Musto. It’s a conscious nod to a realm of contemporary pop that Rousay finds “infinitely more experimental” than many artists would allow. “I don’t want to be pigeon-holed,” she says. “Experimental music is so limited as it is. There are so many fake rules that the whole thing is not really that experimental anymore. What can I do to change that?”It was around the time that she embraced emo ambient as a descriptor that she decided to stop avoiding her unique confluence of interests. “I couldn’t do it anymore, just being like, ‘Oh, yeah, I really love Stockhausen’ — are you kidding me?” she jokes. “I don’t know how you can go through life being so selective about parts of your personality.” Ultimately, though — and in another nod to Oliveros — Rousay says her greatest influences are likely in the sounds of her own environment.“Sitting on the back porch, listening to the sounds of my backyard — that’s what should matter,” Rousay says. “But if I listen to Fall Out Boy every Friday night after 11 p.m. when I’m blackout drunk, that’s the way it is. Some people have the cicadas in their backyard. And some people have Fall Out Boy.”Rousay has both. And this duality of an almost meditative stillness and earnest emotion runs through “A Softer Focus,” as well as “It Was Always Worth It.” “I know things have been rough lately,” a dispassionate automated voice announces on the latter, “but I want to remind you that I love you, and I’m working hard to be with you. You’ve got a great heart. You are so loved. Even if you weren’t, all you’d have to remember is to love yourself above everything else. That’s the most important love you can experience.”I ask Rousay when she began to feel that self-love was the most important kind. She says it was two years ago, when she came out as trans. “I have a really strenuous relationship with my immediate family,” she says. But she speaks with conviction about where she does find contentment: “Enjoying simple pleasures is a huge part of my work,” she continues. “I love lying in my backyard and having a picnic with me, myself and I. It’s so fun to make a cute meal for yourself and get the sun on your face. I don’t understand why that’s always left out of things.” Capturing the delicate rustle of these small moments is Rousay’s way of magnifying the inherent joy in them.Recently, Rousay took a walk along the San Antonio River with her dog, Banana. She had brought her recording gear — headphones, a couple of mics — and at some point, she and Banana sat down for a drink of water. In the audio, there’s the sound of the river, the jingle of Banana’s collar, birdsong and the hum of traffic in the distance. There are also traces of Rousay texting, sniffling, taking deep breaths. “I’m crying because I’m so invested in that moment,” she says. “To have a dog that loves me, to be able-bodied and walking in a park when the weather’s perfect, to own a field-recording device that I was too poor to own for a while … ”“There were so many points in my life where I would not have been satisfied by simple pleasures,” Rousay says. “But sitting with headphones on, listening to what the microphone’s picking up — that’s the closest to any kind of internal peace I’ve ever experienced. Even if I’m recording essentially nothing. Because I’m in the moment. When you slow down and actually think about what’s happening — it’s beautiful.” More

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    Andy Weir’s New Space Odyssey

    When Andy Weir was writing his new novel, “Project Hail Mary,” he stumbled into a thorny physics problem. The book’s plot hinges on a space mold that devours the sun’s energy, threatening all life on Earth, and that propels itself by bashing neutrinos together. He needed to figure out how much energy would be produced […] More

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    Patti Harrison Wants to See What She Can Do

    Known for scene-stealing side characters, the comedian and actress is pushing past her limits with her starring role in “Together Together.”Patti Harrison, the actress and comedian, has taken one acting class in her life, an introductory course at Ohio University. “It was taught by a grad student and was very loose,” she said. “We mostly just did yoga.”One assignment was to perform an interpretive dance based on a poem. Harrison searched online for “dumb emo poems” and found one called “A Darkness Inside Me.” “Looking back on it now, I think it was about someone who’s an active shooter,” she said. “I did it as a joke, but no one took it as one.”Not many of Harrison’s jokes have fallen flat since. “Scene stealing” is one of the adjectives most applied to Harrison, who has appeared in alt-comedies like “Shrill,” “Search Party” and “Made for Love.” The downside of stealing scenes, of course, is that you generally don’t steal them on your own show. “I haven’t been in a million things,” she said. “And most of them have been really small, or guest parts.”This week, Harrison, 30, moves from one-offs and recurring parts to her first starring role in a feature film, in “Together Together,” one of the breakouts of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The dramedy stars Harrison as a 26-year-old barista named Anna who is hired as a gestational surrogate by Matt, a single 40-something app designer (Ed Helms) who really, really wants a baby — as well as some sort of connection with the woman who’s having it.Ed Helms and Patti Harrison in “Together Together.”Tiffany Roohani/Bleecker StreetHarrison has already earned rave reviews, with critics describing her performance as “groundbreaking” and “revelatory”; The New York Times called the movie “sweet, sensitive and surprisingly insightful,” praising Harrison’s portrayal of Anna and her rapport with co-star Helms.“Patti was the actress for the part,” said the director Nikole Beckwith. “And to get her in her first leading role, I just feel like the luckiest person on Earth.”In a recent video interview, Harrison was in her home in Los Angeles talking about her childhood interests (there were many), the questionable roles she’s been offered as a transgender actress — “the first thing producers see in me is like, I’m trans” — and how “Together Together” came to be.The stories come fast and looping. Ask Harrison what she was into as a kid, and you get the full menu, in chronological order, from age 4 through high school: sharks; dinosaurs; insects/arachnids; Pokémon (“I was super, super into Pokémon”); video games; karate (“I was like, if I ever have to beat up 20 people at one time for absolutely no reason at all, I want to be able to do that”); guns; cars.“Together Together” came at a time when Harrison was at a crossroads in her life. Chantal Anderson for The New York TimesHarrison, whose mother is Vietnamese, grew up the youngest of seven siblings in a rural, conservative town in Ohio called, of all things, Orient. “I looked at the census when I was in high school, and it said there were zero Asian people in Orient,” she said.In college, Harrison joined an improv group at the prompting of a friend. She felt an immediate connection — the tightrope feel of it, the magic moments springing seemingly out of nowhere. “It still triggers a lot of anxiety in me,” she said. “But when it goes well, it’s amazing. You can make up stuff, and things can seem brilliant on accident. People will imbue intention into everything that you do.”In 2015, Harrison moved to New York and began doing standup comedy. There, she found fellow funny people like Julio Torres (“Los Espookys”), Jo Firestone (“Shrill”), and Ziwe Fumudoh, who recently filmed the music video “Stop Being Poor” with Harrison for her self-titled Showtime variety series. “Patti’s comedy comes from such a pure creative place, where she never does exactly the same thing twice,” Fumudoh said. “She’s phenomenally creative and original.”In 2017, Harrison was recording a commercial when she got a call from “The Tonight Show” to do a bit for the show that night about her reaction to Trump’s just-announced ban on transgender people in the military. (“I was shocked,” she said in the bit, “because I assumed he already did that.”) After the appearance, things exploded for Harrison. “My agent was like, there’s all these people who want to meet with you now,” she said.“But at the same time,” she continued, “there were a lot of people I felt that had pigeonholed me into this idea of what they thought I was. They were calling me an activist without any prior knowledge of me other than this piece, because I’m a transgender person who had spoken on something.”So while the appearance got her noticed, it was a very specific sort of notice, at least at first. In those early meetings with production companies, Harrison was brimming with pitches like, say, the one for a show about a dog and its dysfunctional, codependent relationship with the little bird that lives in his rectum. (“I gave them my gold ideas,” she said.) But all they were interested in were “stories about trans girls coming out and getting rejected by their families,” she said, or having her come on shows to talk about the difference between being gay and trans.All of which made “Together Together” that much more special. Here was a story about a clearly cisgender woman — the plot revolves around her character’s pregnancy, after all — in which the relationship between the younger woman and the older man is much more nuanced than one sees in a lot of rom-coms. Not as much will-they-or-won’t-they, and more: Where does all this lead, if anywhere?“It really takes a lot of humility to engage in a story like this, and Patti is very humble, and always authentic,” Helms said. “But then she’s also one of the funniest human beings on Earth.”The film came at a time when Harrison was at a crossroads in her life. “I didn’t know if I was going to go into acting more, or kind of lean into TV writing or comedy,” she said. “And I was processing a lot of feelings about my self-esteem, and body dysmorphia. But then I got the script, and it was very delicate and positive and sincere, which is the opposite of what I normally do in my comedy stuff.”Beckwith, the director, had spotted Harrison performing on a late night show and realized she had found her Anna. Harrison had an “amazing, salty, a little spiky, humor and way about her,” Beckwith said, that went hand in hand with her vision of Anna as “warm, like Patti, but not a totally open book.”“Together Together” was shot in just 19 days in the fall of 2019, with limited chances for retakes. “The scene where her water breaks — that was our version of a stunt,” said Beckwith. “And we only had two pairs of pants, so we could only do it twice.”Playing the lead “was very scary,” Harrison admitted. “But if I had known how much work it was going to be, I would have been way more scared. I think I was shielded a bit by being stupid about it.”The script for “Together Together,” Harrison said, “was very delicate and positive and sincere, which is the opposite of what I normally do in my comedy stuff.”Chantal Anderson for The New York TimesHarrison is getting fewer pitches for trans-centric roles nowadays, and she is busier than ever. In addition to “Together Together,” she is appearing in the final season of “Shrill” and singing, dancing and acting in “Ziwe,” and recently she joined the cast of the feature film “The Lost City of D,” alongside Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum.Still, that doesn’t mean her days of being typecast are over. “Now I’m seeing a trend where people want me to read for stuff where I play a social media-obsessed millennial, this vapid turd person. So I’m moving away from offers where, ‘you’re a de-transitioning sex worker who finds that he likes his old lifestyle a little better than she thought,’ to ‘you’re one of the stupidest people on Earth. You only like social media and likes.’”The confidence Harrison gained from going “so far out of my comfort zone” has only fed her desire to move even farther out of it. What she’d really love to do is some sort of science fiction movie, the more action the better, she said, where she might indulge her childhood love of karate and get to say stuff like “zorbon crystals.” “I think there will always be a part of me that kind of fanboys out about action sci-fi,” she said, “just to see if I could do it.” More

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    Ziwe Endorses Box Braids and ‘Real Housewives’

    The 29-year-old comedian brings her Instagram and YouTube antics to a prime time Showtime series, “Ziwe,” which premieres May 9.Ziwe, the mononymic master of the viral “gotcha!” moment, swears she isn’t out to get anyone.Sure, the 29-year-old Nigerian-American comedian’s largely white guests on her YouTube and Instagram Live show, “Baited With Ziwe,” have a proclivity to make cringe-worthy comments when it comes to race. (The Instagram influencer Caroline Calloway couldn’t correctly identify the Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton, and the cookbook author Alison Roman was nearly stumped when asked to name five Asian people.)But Ziwe doesn’t set out to embarrass her guests. “The goal is not to hurt anyone or get them canceled,” explained the Northwestern University graduate, who cut her teeth working on “The Colbert Report.” “The goal is to have a really thoughtful, productive conversation.”The confrontational questions — often about race — and uncomfortable pauses are, she said, intended to be a learning experience. “They’re all willing,” she said of her guests, though even she isn’t exactly sure why they agree to come on the show. “They’re open to looking silly for a greater discourse beyond both of us.”Ziwe, who uses only her first name professionally — her last name, Fumudoh, proved too tricky for comedy club hosts to announce — will bring her punch lines to a bigger screen when her new late-night sketch comedy series, “Ziwe,” which rhymes with “freeway,” premieres on Showtime on May 9.With six episodes, the series will feature guest interviews, musical numbers and field pieces, and will draw from her go-to brand of humor, which she describes as “highly satirical” and “bombastic.” (Her dream guest? Kim Kardashian. “I’d love to get her perspective on race in America as one of the most famous women in world history,” she said.)In a phone conversation from her Brooklyn apartment, Ziwe shared her cultural essentials, including how watching “The Real Housewives” counts as homework (hear her out), the benefits of box braids and why fuzzy rugs are bringing her all kinds of joy amid her claustrophobic work-from-home existence.1. “The Real Housewives”At first, I looked down at “Real Housewives.” I was like, “I never watch reality TV, I read books.” And then, in college, I started watching “Beverly Hills,” which is like this horrid, dark underbelly of reality TV — I’d never seen this type of storytelling before. Like, on “Orange County,” pretending to have cancer on national television for attention — who does that? As a writer and performer I’m constantly engaging with different characters and I’ll rewatch episodes trying to figure them out. I’ve watched full seasons in a day, from eyes open to eyes shut.2. Emma Brewin HatsThese faux fur, fuzzy bucket hats are my emotional support animals. Rihanna wore a green one in 2017, and I always was thinking about it, but never took the dive to purchase one. But then the pandemic happened and I just needed something to make me feel anything, so I bought a blue hat, and then a green one and an orange one and a black one and a wide-brimmed dark red one … I wear them every day, in a different color to fit my mood. They’re also great for Zoom calls when I don’t want to do my hair. I’m wearing one right now, actually!3. Nicholas Britell SoundtracksI’m writing a book and can’t listen to songs with lyrics when I write, and so I often turn to Nicholas Britell soundtracks, whether it’s “Succession” or “If Beale Street Could Talk” or “The King,” with Timothée Chalamet and Robert Pattinson. I love the way he uses strings and piano chords. “Moonlight” was his breakout moment for me, but he’s a really good composer with a wide range of work. I’ve listened to his entire catalog.4. DocumentariesI like to learn passively, and documentaries are a perfect vehicle for that. “Varsity Blues” is fantastic. The lack of impulse control to photoshop your picture as a coxswain for crew is beyond comprehension. It’s like “Real Housewives” where it’s stranger than fiction you could ever imagine. And they affect me viscerally! After watching the James Baldwin and Toni Morrison documentaries, I go to my computer and start writing furiously because it’s like, “These are great American authors, OMG, I want to be just like them.”5. Blood Orange San PellegrinoI ordered San Pellegrino at the beginning of the pandemic thinking it was seltzer, but I was surprised — and delighted — to learn it was actually juice. I had to cut myself off at one point, though, because I was drinking a lot of these. My friend was like, “You know there’s sugar in that, right?” I was like, “Oh no, it’s just juice, it’s cool,” and then I checked the can and there was sugar. But it’s so delicious. I have one San Pellegrino blood orange left in my fridge — if it’s just a really bad day, I get to drink that.6. CandlesI think every woman hits a certain age and you’ve got to buy a couple of candles. Frères Branchiaux ones, which are made by three young brothers of color who also do sprays for your linens, are really nice, and the profits go to homeless shelters. There’s a candle for every occasion — lavender for the winter, citrus for the summer, or a smoggy oak wood for fall. I have three on my coffee table, multiple in my room and a drawer full of them.7. “Clueless”I would argue my entire personality is based on this film, which was written and directed by Amy Heckerling and should have been nominated for an Oscar. It’s one of the best American satires of the 21st century. I’m so influenced by the schoolgirl outfits, the matching plaid sets, the mixing patterns and textures, the box braids. The fur cuffs — I love a fur cuff. Mona May was the costume designer for “Clueless,” and she was so forward-thinking setting trends for this definitive ’90s girl style.8. Box BraidsWhen I was a kid, my mom made me get box braids, and I’d be like, “Oh, God” — what kid wants to sit for eight hours to get their hair braided? And then I saw Dionne, a character in “Clueless” who had box braids, and I was like, “OK wow, this wasn’t just my parents forcing their culture on me.” It really helped me come into myself. The nice thing about box braids is once you’ve sat down for eight hours to do them, you’re free. It’s like “I never have to brush my hair for eight weeks,” you just get to whip your hair back and forth like Willow Smith. I started wearing box braids again the past two years and every summer, I’m like, “It’s box braid season.” I get 34 inches and I’m walking around like I’m Nicki Minaj knocking things over with my braids like a whip.9. Fuzzy RugsI love to sit on the floor. Maybe it’s this infantile thing with fuzzy hats and fuzzy rugs, but I am moved by textures. On my set for my new show, I have a chair upholstered with a fuzzy rug that I do all my interviews out of. And at home, I have a white fuzzy rug. I haven’t been to a beach in years so I have to replace the idea of sand with a rug. It’s just how it feels on your toes.10. “Oceans” By Jay-Z Ft. Frank OceanI’m a huge fan of Jay-Z as a rapper and Frank Ocean’s musicality, so the song is a really good marriage of two things I love. The melody is really, really calming, but then it has lines like “Only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace/I don’t even like Washingtons in my pocket.” It’s just really audacious and bold and counterculture. More

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    She’s Marianne Faithfull, Damn It. And She’s (Thankfully) Still Here.

    The British musician has had several brushes with death in her 74 years. But Covid-19 and its long-haul symptoms didn’t derail her latest project: a spoken-word tribute to the Romantic poets.Several times in her 74 years of life, Marianne Faithfull has boomeranged from the brink of death.First there was the summer of 1969, when she overdosed on Tuinal sleeping pills in the Sydney hotel room she was sharing with her then-boyfriend, Mick Jagger; as she slipped under, she had a long conversation with his recently deceased bandmate, Brian Jones, who had drowned in a swimming pool about a week prior. At the end of their spirited talk, Jones beckoned her to hop off a cliff and join him in the beyond. Faithfull declined, and woke up from a six-day coma.That was before she became addicted to heroin in the early 1970s: “At that point I entered one of the outer levels of hell,” she writes in her 1994 autobiography “Faithfull.” It took more than a decade to finally get clean. Since then she’s survived breast cancer, hepatitis C and an infection resulting from a broken hip. But, as Faithfull told me on the phone from her London home one afternoon in February, her recent bout with Covid-19 and its lingering long-term aftereffects has been the hardest battle she’s fought in her entire life.“You don’t want to get this, darling,” she said. “Really.”She said it, of course, in That Voice, coated with ash but flickering with lively defiance underneath. As it’s matured — cracked and ripened like a well-journeyed face — Faithfull’s voice has come to possess a transfixing magic. It’s a voice that sounds like it has come back from somewhere, and found a way to collapse present and past. She can find the Weimar Berlin decadence in Dylan, or breathe William Blake’s macabre into a Metallica song.Right before she contracted the virus in March 2020, Faithfull was working on an album she’d dreamed of making for more than half a century: “She Walks in Beauty,” due April 30, a spoken-word tribute to the Romantic poets, who had first inflamed her imagination as a teenager. In the mid-1960s, the demands of Faithfull’s burgeoning pop career pulled her out of her beloved Mrs. Simpson’s English literature course, “but I went on reading the books,” Faithfull said. And through the ups and downs of her life, those poems stayed with her like well-worn talismans: “If you’ve ever read ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ ‘The Lady of Shalott’ — you’re not going to forget it, are you?”Faithfull had recorded recitations of seven Romantic poems, from Byron (“She Walks in Beauty”), Shelley (“Ozymandias”) and Keats (“Ode to a Nightingale”). After she was hospitalized with Covid-19 and fell into a coma, her manager sent the recordings to Faithfull’s friend and frequent collaborator Warren Ellis, to see if he would compose music to accompany them. Neither was sure Faithfull would live to hear the finished product.Ellis was told, “‘It’s not looking good,’” he recalled, on a video call from his Paris home. “‘This might be it.’”But — ever the Lady Lazarus — Faithfull pulled through. Only once she began to recover did her son, Nicholas, tell her what they’d written on the chart at the foot of her bed: “Palliative care only.”“They thought I was going to croak!” Faithfull said, likely for not the first time in her life.“But,” she added with a wizened chuckle, “I didn’t.”Faithfull said she wanted to attend Oxford and immerse herself in literature. But she was discovered by the music manager Andrew Loog Oldham instead.John Pratt/Hulton Archive, via Getty ImagesMARIANNE’S FATHER, Glynn Faithfull — yes, that improbably perfect surname is real — was a British spy in World War II, and the son of a sexologist who invented something called “the Frigidity Machine.” Her mother, just as improbably, was the Austrian Baroness Eva von Sacher-Masoch — the great-niece of the man who wrote the sensationally scandalous novella “Venus in Furs” and from whose name we are blessed with the word masochism. Put all those things together and you get their only child, born a year after the end of the war.Her parents split when she was 6, and at 7, her mother sent her to boarding school at a Reading convent. (“Glynn begged her not to,” she writes in “Faithfull.” “I remember him saying, ‘This will give her a problem with sex for the rest of her life.’”) When she visited her father, who was living and teaching in a commune, she got a glimpse of the polar opposite end of the spectrum. At 18, she married the artist John Dunbar and gave birth to Nicholas shortly after.“I wanted to go to Oxford and read English literature, philosophy, and comparative religion. That was my plan,” she said. “Anyway, it didn’t happen. I went to a party and got discovered by bloody old Andrew Loog Oldham.”Oldham, the Rolling Stones’ first manager, hadn’t heard Faithfull sing a note; he just took a long look at her and decided this striking young blonde was destined to be a pop star. He had Mick Jagger and Keith Richards write a song for her, the melancholy ballad “As Tears Go By.” It was, in her words, “a commercial fantasy” that pushed “all the right buttons.”Which is to say she didn’t take this accidental pop career of hers that seriously, not at first. On her debut tour, she always seemed to have her nose buried in a book, “poring over my reading list for English literature as if I were going back to school.”But that wasn’t happening. In swinging, psychedelic London, Faithfull was a beautiful girl suddenly in the eye of a cultural hurricane. She met everybody. She left her husband and child behind, dabbling in everything the men did without apology. She and Richards dropped acid and went looking for the Holy Grail. She wrote in her autobiography that Bob Dylan tried to seduce her by playing her his latest album, “Bringing It All Back Home,” and explaining in detail what each track meant. (It didn’t work. “I just found him so … daunting,” she wrote. “As if some god had come down from Olympus and started to come onto me.”)Jagger had more luck, and for a few seemingly glamorous years they were a generational It Couple. But there were tensions from the start, and Faithfull wasn’t sure she was cut out for the wifely muse role that, even in such bohemian circles, she was expected to play. Then there was the Redlands drug bust.Tipped off by a sanctimonious British tabloid in February 1967, the police raided Richards’s Sussex home during a small party, and found a modest amount of drugs. Faithfull had just taken a bath when the cops arrived, and the only clothes she brought were dirty, so without thinking too much about it she flung a rug over herself.Jagger and Richards’s subsequent drug trial is now generally seen as a pivot in mainstream acceptance of certain countercultural behaviors. But Faithfull bore the brunt of the backlash. One headline blared in all caps: Naked Girl at Stones Party. “I was slandered as the wanton woman in the fur rug,” Faithfull wrote, “while Mick was the noble rock star on trial.” It certainly wouldn’t be the last rage-inducing double standard she’d endure. “If you’ve ever read ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ ‘The Lady of Shallot’ — you’re not going to forget it, are you?” Faithfull said.Danny Kasirye for The New York TimesA FEW YEARS ago, over a Christmas dinner, Faithfull gave Ellis’s teenage children a long, anecdote-filled talk about why they should stay away from drugs. She spoke about the infamy at Redlands as though it was something they would be familiar with.“My kids had no idea what she was talking about,” Ellis said. “But when I drove her home, my son just looked at me and goes, ‘[Expletive], she’s awesome.’”Ellis — who Faithfull affectionately described to me as “a sexy old thing” — conducted his interview from a low-lit, brick-walled room that looked like it may or may not be a dungeon. This is where he was holed up for long hours last spring, listening to the voice of his dear friend, who may or may not have been dying, read him Romantic poetry.He said he found the poems “so incredibly beautiful and uplifting, a total balm for all this turmoil and sadness that was going on in the world.” This was new: When he read them as a schoolboy in Melbourne, Ellis had found the Romantics mostly “impenetrable.” But listening to a masterful interpreter like Faithfull intone them, he said, “suddenly they felt ageless. They felt freed of the page. Because of this authority and absolute belief in them. She believes what she’s reading.”In composing the tracks, Ellis wanted to shy away from the expected “lutes and harpsichords” approach. Instead he studied some of the records he thought most successfully blended spoken-word and music, like Gil Scott-Heron’s “I’m New Here,” Sir John Betjeman’s “Late-Flowering Love” and Lou Reed and Metallica’s “Lulu.” Like Faithfull’s fiery readings, Ellis’s meditative compositions — featuring contributions from Nick Cave and Brian Eno — accentuate the poets’ enduring modernity. (The Romantics might not have yet lived to see rock ’n’ roll, but they certainly knew a thing or two about sex and drugs.)Before Ellis was finished, he got the news that Faithfull had woken up from her coma, left the hospital — and, in time, recorded four more poems. “She survived Covid, came out, and recorded ‘Lady of Shallot,’” Ellis said shaking his head, referring to the 12-minute Tennyson epic. “She’s just the best, Marianne.”The remarkable — and even fittingly spooky — thing about the record is that you cannot tell which poems Faithfull recorded before or after her brush with death. Perhaps only Faithfull herself can hear the difference. “I was quite fragile, but I didn’t start to do it until I was better,” she said. “And I liked it very much, because I sound more vulnerable — which is kind of nice, for the Romantics.”Faithfull has fashioned sticking around into a prolonged show of defiance — a radical act, for a woman. She did not come into her own musically until her mid-30s, with the release of her punky, scorched-earth 1979 masterpiece “Broken English.” In the subsequent decades, her artistry has only deepened, and she has gradually, grudgingly earned her respect (“I’m not just seen as a chick and a sexy piece anymore — though I should think not, I’m 74!”). Her anger about the industry and the media subsided a great deal in the time between her 1994 and 2007 memoirs. What happened?“Just time, you know. From everything I know about life in general — which is probably not much — is that you have to get over those things, or they eat you up,” she said. “And I’m not going to let that happen. So I let it go. I don’t hold resentment anymore about the press.” She laughed, genially. “But of course I don’t let them near me, really!”She has a lighter attitude, but Faithfull has not made it out of her latest battle without some lingering scars. She lost her dear friend and collaborator Hal Willner to the virus. And after initially feeling better, a few months ago she started feeling worse. She has since been experiencing the stubborn symptoms of long-haul Covid, which for her include fatigue, memory fog and lung problems.She has been working diligently on her breathing; a close friend comes by weekly with a guitar to lead her in singing practice — her own version of the opera therapy that has shown promising results in long Covid patients. She’s been spending quality time with her son and grandson, reading (Miles Davis’s autobiography, among other things), and counting the days until she can once again go to the movies, the opera, the ballet. When she first got out of the hospital — après Covid, as she likes to call it — it seemed like Faithfull may never sing again. Now, she is looking forward to writing new songs, and envisioning what a return to the stage might look like.“I’m focusing on getting better, really better — and I’m beginning to,” she said. “I’ll certainly never be able to work as hard as I was, and long tours are not going to be possible. But I do hope to do maybe five shows. Not very long — 40 minutes perhaps.” Still, she admitted, “It’s a long way away.”Ellis said, “If anyone can do it, it’s Marianne, because she just doesn’t give up. She constantly surprises you.”Sometimes she even surprises herself. Earlier in our conversation, Faithfull had let me know, in her admirably no-nonsense way, that she hadn’t called me up to chat for fun, but because she had an album to promote. But she ultimately admitted to finding it vivifying to talk about her life, her art, her past and future. “It’s good for me to remember who I really am, not just an old sick person,” she said.“Of course,” I replied. “You’re Marianne Faithfull, damn it!”She mulled it over for a long moment. “It’s true, I am.” Then, with an unexpected surge of strength, like a hammer’s blow, she added, “Damn it.” More

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    The Pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali’s Lone Album Arrives, 56 Years Later

    The Philadelphia musician’s only album as a bandleader was long thought lost in a fire. Now his legacy could undergo a reassessment.Hasaan Ibn Ali worked in an ensemble led by Max Roach and was credited as “the Legendary Hasaan” on one of the groundbreaking drummer’s mid-60s releases. But the pianist didn’t release an album as a bandleader during his lifetime — and in fact, only ever appeared on that one studio album — making him more of a jazz-world footnote than a household name.Now his legacy could undergo a reassessment. Ibn Ali did helm an ensemble in the studio in 1965, and the resulting album, long presumed destroyed in a fire, will be released on Friday as “Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album.”The saxophonist Odean Pope, who played on the record, said Ibn Ali’s talents have long been overlooked.“He can play the most complex piece, like a ‘Cherokee,’ or the most beautiful composition like, ‘Embraceable You,’ and play those tunes extremely good,” Pope said of his mentor, who died in 1981. “Sometimes, he would play a ballad and tears would be coming down my cheeks.”Ibn Ali, who was born William Henry Lankford Jr. in 1931, evolved from a tradition-minded performer in the late ’40s after assimilating the bop advancements of the pianist Elmo Hope, who along with Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk is credited with helping reimagine the keyboard. And through living-room sessions at his North Philadelphia home, as well as at sporadic club gigs, Ibn Ali helped guide performers amid early, exploratory periods of their careers, like the saxophonist John Coltrane and the bassist Reggie Workman.A regular on the rich Philadelphia jazz scene, Ibn Ali was known for his adventurous playing as much as his sometimes-difficult demeanor. While Pope recalled the pianist as an empathetic and thoughtful teacher, Ibn Ali was said to have booted lesser players off the bandstand mid-performance. He also was renowned for a particular fashion idiosyncrasy: If he had to wear a tie at some gigs, it would hang only about halfway down his torso.Ibn Ali cut “Metaphysics” the same year Roach released “The Max Roach Trio Featuring the Legendary Hasaan,” which featured seven compositions by the pianist. Atlantic, which released the Roach album, was impressed enough to sponsor a quartet session for Ibn Ali.For the sessions, the pianist enlisted Pope, the bassist Art Davis and the drummer Kalil Madi, and the ensemble holed up in a New York hotel, working to grasp the bandleader’s new compositions. Sessions for the album started Aug. 23 and concluded on Sept. 7. But according to Alan Sukoenig’s liner notes for “Metaphysics,” following Ibn Ali’s incarceration on drug charges, Atlantic executives shelved the album, believing they wouldn’t be able to rely on the pianist to promote his work.Master tapes from the sessions were thought destroyed in a 1978 fire at an Atlantic warehouse in New Jersey. But a previously made recording from the reference acetates survived and was located in the Warner Tape Library late in 2017 through connections of the archival release’s associate producer, the jazz pianist and retired educator Lewis Porter.The saxophonist Odean Pope, who saw Ibn Ali as a mentor, was in the quartet that recorded the lost album in 1965.Frans Schellekens/Redferns, Via Getty ImagesUntil this point, Ibn Ali has been seen as an idiomatic performer and composer, though perhaps not a consequential or definitive figure of the genre. But artists as diverse as the pianist Brian Marsella and the vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz have covered his compositions, and the avant-garde pianist Matthew Shipp included him among a cohort of individualistic performers in a recently published essay titled “Black Mystery School Pianists.”“It’s an attitude, a code, a stance, a way of holding yourself against the jazz tradition,” Shipp said in an interview, explaining the qualities that defined such players.During the 1950s and ’60s, Ibn Ali was stretching for something new, Shipp said, adding that he was a precursor to ideas and sounds that today would be associated with the avant-garde.The release of “Metaphysics” serves to fill in an unknown bit of history. It also ramps up the total number of available tunes recorded by Ibn Ali from seven to 14; three cuts on the upcoming disc were captured in alternate takes and tacked on to the end of the album.The ballad “Richard May Love Give Powell” is a tribute to the bop pianist Bud Powell that features Pope playing fairly conventionally. But on pieces like “Atlantic Ones,” “Viceroy” (Ibn Ali’s cigarette of choice) and “Epitome,” the band pushes itself into more experimental territory, toying with melodic, harmonic and rhythmic ideas that coincided with the ascendance of the experimental wing of the genre.“After I had a chance to really start absorbing it, I was like, ‘OK, I hear it. I hear him searching and finding his voice,” said J. Michael Harrison, an educator and host of “The Bridge,” a long-running jazz program on Philadelphia’s WRTI, about the 26-year-old Pope’s playing on “Metaphysics.” “He had a lot of territory to travel through. But what I know today as Odean, I heard it start to seep through.”Following his experiences with the “Metaphysics” sessions, Ibn Ali remained in Philadelphia and largely eschewed public performances. After a 1972 fire destroyed his parents’ Philadelphia house, where he spent his adult life, the pianist lived out his final years at a convalescent home. Pope, who helped arrange his funeral, said poetry had supplanted the piano as Ibn Ali’s main mode of expression there.Even if the pianist’s myth rests on just a handful of published songs and memories of other performances and impromptu sessions from the early ’60s, his whispered artistic largess continues to pervade Philadelphia’s jazz scene.“Hasaan was like the whole town’s university. He’d explored and done so many things,” Pope said. “There should be a plaque, like at [Coltrane’s] house. I think he should be remembered as one of the great forerunners of our times.” More

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    How a Multimedia Whiz Became the Go-To for Virtual Productions

    The projection designer Jared Mezzocchi has become a go-to guy for ambitious virtual productions. Next up: Starring in his own haunted house play.In March 2020, live venues closed, and the theater industry was shocked into numbness. But for the multimedia designer and director Jared Mezzocchi, the moment felt like a ringing alarm.Mezzocchi warmed up in early May by co-directing a livestreamed student production of the Qui Nguyen play “She Kills Monsters” at the University of Maryland, where he is associate professor of dance and theater design and production. The show made imaginative use of filters in Zoom. Who knew that you could generate creature features in an app conceived for office meetings?Numerous projects of diverse sizes and genres followed, playing to strengths Mezzocchi had developed as a projection designer, the person making new images or fashioning existing footage to be shown onstage. He is comfortable in the digital realm, can create a visual environment to tell a story, and has the technical know-how to handle virtual live performances — he is a whiz with Isadora, a software that allows users to mix and edit Zoom on the spot.Highlights have included Sarah Gancher’s acclaimed “Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy,” which Mezzocchi directed with Elizabeth Williamson; video and web design for “The Manic Monologues”; and multimedia design and direction on Mélisande Short-Colomb’s recent “Here I Am.”Next, Mezzocchi is starring in his own interactive virtual play, “Someone Else’s House,” which starts previews Friday at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.To be sure, Mezzocchi, 35, didn’t wait for March 2020 to get busy. In 2017, for example, he won Obie and Lucille Lortel Awards for his projection design on the Manhattan Theater Club production of Nguyen’s “Vietgone.”But his workload and influence have exploded over the past 13 months. Last September, he further extended his reach by creating the Virtual Design Collective (ViDCo), a think tank, networking hub and problem-solving resource (watch it in action during the live event “Word. Sound. Power. 2021” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Friday).“He’s unafraid to ask bigger questions and push what’s really possible theatrically,” May Adrales, the “Vietgone” director, said over video.“Someone Else’s House,” produced in association with ViDCo, is yet another experiment for Mezzocchi, who is stepping in front of the camera to recount a haunting story that happened to his family in their home state of New Hampshire.“I’ve never seen myself as a tech person,” he said in an email. “Hell, I was an actor my whole childhood and through grad school. Multimedia became an extension of myself as a storyteller — not the other way around. So this is a really thrilling moment of convergence for me.”Based in Silver Spring, Md., Mezzocchi maintains strong ties to New Hampshire: Since 2015, he has been the producing artistic director at Andy’s Summer Playhouse in Wilton, which he attended as a kid and where he now implements many of his ideas about the interconnection of community, art and technology.He discussed them and more in a pair of conversations conducted on — what else? — Zoom.Mezzocchi described the chance to perform “Someone Else’s House,” an interactive play about his family, as a “thrilling moment of convergence for me.” Greg Kahn for The New York TimesDo you think the disappearance of live theater has changed the way we approach storytelling?Without getting into better or worse, I think this period has allowed for more strategies to emerge. Think of TikTok or Snapchat: We hear words with visuals in a way that we weren’t 10 years ago — we’re now telling full stories with a series of memes online. The most successful works I’ve seen this year had technology as a scene partner, not as lipstick and blush. I hope that remains when we get back to in-person.Ideally, what should happen when in-person performances return?First, everyone’s like, “I can’t wait for theater to be back.” I don’t want to nitpick, but I would love us to say: “I can’t wait for in-person theater to allow us to create story inside of a venue again.” People are making performance right now, and we need to embrace that. A lot of theaters are not going to stop the digital marketplace because they’ve seen great value in the accessibility to it. I’m excited for where that takes us when digital performance is a choice rather than survival.Haskell King in “Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy,” which Mezzocchi co-directed.via TheaterWorks HartfordYou were a video projectionist at the Manhattan nightclub Santos Party House for a few years starting in 2008. How did that influence your theater work?I would spend hours making the perfect thing, and no one would care, and then I would put up a cat video and everyone would cheer! Learning pop culture, learning how to engage with an audience, how to listen to a D.J., how to engage with a band — it became much more musical to me. Sarah Gancher comes from a musical background, and on “Russian Troll Farm” we found ourselves talking about cadence, tempo, percussiveness. It’s not about, “This is what it’s going to look like,” but, “Here’s the energy we’re trying to generate.”In an essay for Howlround Theater Commons, you wrote that “theater must stop making films during the pandemic.” Ouch! Do you think being live defines theater?Absolutely, and that’s unchangeable for me. You make different decisions when you have to make them in the moment, and I think it has to do with audience engagement. If an audience feels like it’s important that they’re there and listening, they’re going to listen differently. And if the performer knows there’s an audience listening in a particular way, it’s going to be different. Is it perfect? Totally not [laughs]. Digital technology’s value system, for whatever reason, is married to spectacle and a different kind of quality. I’ve noticed a lot of people running from liveness so they can get a higher spectacle at a higher quality. I’d rather be rough and dirty and maintain liveness.You often talk about community-building, which has included instituting talkbacks at Andy’s Summer Playhouse. Why is that important to you?It’s important to leverage localism so that we can really understand communities. Right now the only way into a community is often a national tragedy, and that’s too late. How can art help? Well, there’s no tragedy involved when you’re creating something. I love Andy’s because it reminds people that debate is important, and that kids can and should lead a lot of conversations in local environments. They are the reminder that change is beautiful and necessary. More

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    A Tireless Actress, Back at the Scene of the ‘Crime’

    Before the pandemic, Catherine Russell had missed only four performances of an Off Broadway perennial since 1987. She was onstage for its reopening.On Sunday, before a small, masked, spaced-apart audience at the Theater Center, the most persistent show in New York made a return after what might be described as — in the scheme of things — a brief intermission.Warren Manzi’s “Perfect Crime” opened on April 18, 1987, and stubbornly stayed put. The unflashy murder mystery has remained more or less the same as everything changed around it. It took a pandemic to shut the show down for 13 months.Until then, Catherine Russell, now 65, had missed only four performances in the lead role of a possibly murderous psychiatrist. She is also the general manager of the Theater Center, which is also the venue for “The Office: A Musical Parody.” That show is running again, too; Russell hands out tickets at its box office.“Perfect Crime” was the first Off Broadway show with a live audience to open with approval from Actors’ Equity. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke before Sunday’s show, telling theatergoers, “The show must go on.” Russell has been outspoken in her belief that the show might have gone on much sooner.After her 13,524th curtain call, Russell selected a familiar spot in her book-lined office onstage to talk about 34 years of “Perfect Crime.” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.Congratulations on reopening. How does it feel to be back?It’s wonderful being onstage in a room full of people. I value that so much, and this is what I always wanted to do. I’m selling the tickets before the show to the other show. I get offstage, and I go downstairs and take the garbage out of the dressing rooms on the third floor. Occasionally I plunge a toilet. I love every part of it.I’m a person who likes stability who chose a field that wasn’t very stable. But I’ve been able to have a fairly stable life in the theater.What was it like to suddenly lose that stability last year?I was fine! I missed being onstage, but it was fine not doing it. I didn’t dream about it.You weren’t itching to do a version on Zoom.Oh God no. I went to the theater every day to work. It’s a few blocks from my apartment.If I were not near a theater, I think I would have missed it. But I was still here, in my home away from home, teaching acting privately, and working toward reopening. We found extra unused paint and repainted walls unusual colors, fixed seats, Marie Kondo-ed the backstage areas.I did a lot of research on how to make it safe, and spent a lot of time trying to figure out how, not just for me to get back onstage, but for theaters to open again in New York. We have our Atmos air scrubbers over there. It’s very safe here.Russell, as a psychiatrist, with costar Patrick Ryan Sullivan in the murder mystery.The Theater CenterYou also organized a lawsuit against the city and state, pushing for reopening?I felt really strongly that everything needed to be closed down and I was fine with that. But then things started reopening. Restaurants were open, gyms were open. Bowling alleys is what pushed me over the edge. I have nothing against bowling, but if you put your fingers in these holes and wear rented shoes, why can’t you go to the theater? It was nothing malicious, but theater fell through the cracks.The suit is still going on. We’re pushing for 50 percent capacity. I think we will prevail.Mr. de Blasio was here tonight. Did you bring this up with him?No. I don’t know if he knows that I’m suing him. I’m grateful that he and [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo let us open. But I’d like to be more open.I’m also raising money to convert a garage down the street into a five-theater complex. We need more Off Broadway theaters, especially now after Covid. Smaller theaters are going to be more practical — it’s a lot easier to raise money for an Off Broadway show than a Broadway show. And I really think we need more midtown theaters that are clean and safe, and Covid-safe, that people feel comfortable going to. I built this place 15 years ago. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. So I kind of want to take what I learned here and apply it.You must have missed interacting with audiences.In normal times, I love talking to people after the show and hearing what they thought about it. Occasionally someone will wait for me afterward and say: “You know what? I’m a librarian and I’ve never missed a day of work.” That sort of mentality, showing up to work every day, strikes a chord in many people. They admire that.There are no times when your heart’s not in it?People sometimes come thinking, She’s going to be phoning it in. And I’m kind of like, Screw you! You can think I’m stupid or something for doing it, but I am not phoning it in. I’ve done it when I didn’t feel well, I was really tired, when I was grieving horribly. But honestly, if I thought that I was phoning it in, I would say it’s time to go.“She’s a really complicated character, and it’s fun to find different aspects of this character as I’ve gotten older,” Russell says.John Taggart for The New York TimesDo you feel you’ve missed out on anything because of your commitment to the show? There must have been a few refused dinner invitations over the years.I was actually engaged to somebody else when I first started doing “Perfect Crime.” He said it ruined his life. He did not want to be married to somebody who would be onstage eight times a week. Though I didn’t know the play was going to run this long … obviously.But I was blessed to eventually be married to somebody who understood it. We got married at City Hall at 11 o’clock and had lunch at The Palm. Then I went back to work and he took a nap, and we were both really happy.I notice there’s a prop book of the complete works of William Shakespeare there. Do you ever fantasize about doing another play eight times a week?I’m happy in this play. She’s a really complicated character, and it’s fun to find different aspects of this character as I’ve gotten older. I haven’t gotten bored doing it.One good thing about doing a play like this, it lets out whatever you’ve been feeling during the day. I can cry onstage, pick myself up, walk off the stage, and whatever I’ve been feeling is gone. Do you know what I mean? I don’t want to say it cleanses the soul. That sounds pretentious. But it’s a good way to use all the stuff that’s happened to you in your life.Does the character feel different to you today?I think that my performance is a little different after the year that we’ve had. At the end of the play, I used to fall apart more. But she pulls herself together. She’s a little steelier, a little stronger. More