Artists explore sound in its pure state, simultaneously bridging and muddling barriers between sound, noise, and music in the contemporary or historical sense. Others investigate the political and cultural implications of certain sounds, using their work to bring human rights to the fore. This event puts spotlight on yet another group of artists who connects Sonic Arts with Neuroscience, attempting to unveil the mystery of human brain and consciousness by playing with the frequency and wavelength of a soundwave.
28.11.2019 / 17:00 – 19:30 / School of Fine Arts / University of Porto
The sixth edition of Laser Nomad at the Fine Arts School of the University of Porto explores contemporary issues of migration. The focus is about the sense of place from a cognitive perspective. Neuroscientists have already proposed the existence of a grey zone around us named peripersonal space, which is an extended boundary of our body. From a technological perspective, mobile devices and gps helped war migrants, for example, to stay in touch with their families and share migration routes. What is the relation between embodiment and borders?
CHAIRED BY: Luca Forcucci
Rosemary Lee (ITU Copenhagen) Rosemary Lee will speak about themes from her PhD research on the influence of algorithms on notions of the image. Several consequences arise from the formalisation of the image as sets of instructions to be executed, including variability, a turn toward non-opticality, and increased automation by machines. In this way, machine learning not only affects the image on an ontological level, affecting what an image may be considered to be, but also its aesthetics and its symbolic relation to the real. Rosemary Lee is an artist and PhD fellow at the IT-University of Copenhagen, where she is researching how notions of the image are impacted by algorithmic media. Her PhD project analyses and contextualises artistic and technical examples in terms of their earlier precursors and considers what this means for what an image is today. Lee’s research and artistic work have been shown in international contexts including SCREENSHOTS: Desire and Automated Image, machines will watch us die, a new we, and her book, Molten Media, which was published in the context of the transmediale Vilém Flusser Archive Residency for Artistic Research.
Rui Penha (ESMAE) Existence and Extension / Lenses and Lentils Rui Penha was trained to see the world through the lenses of musical composition and media art. He is a father of two, a professor of a few more, a thinker and a tinkerer. He is currently employed as an assistant professor at ESMAE and as a senior researcher at INESC TEC. More info at http://ruipenha.pt
Miguel Carvalhais (FBAUP)
Miguel Carvalhais teaches design and computational media at FBAUP. When asked for a short bio he normally presents himself as a designer and a musician, two activities that he finds closely connected and central to his practice. In this talk Miguel will explore how his work hinges on space: on using it as canvas, on manipulating or transforming it, on creating entirely new spaces. http://carvalhais.org
07.11.2019 /14:00 – 17:30 / Edificio 12 – Aula Magna / Viale delle Scienze, Palermo
We explore Consciousness, Representation and Embodiment with the contribution of researchers from the University of Palermo. These keywords are observed through the lenses of human cognition. Why and how do I know that I am experiencing something ? Moreover artificial systems are pervasively entering multiple aspects of our life, what if instead of artificial we focus on extended ones ? Does embodiment applies to artificial forms ?
14:00 – 14:10 Intro Laser Nomad
14:10 – 14:30 Salvatore Tedesco
14:30 – 14:50 Carmelo Calì
14:50 – 15:10 Davide Rocchesso
15:10 – 15:30 Maria Mannone
15:30 – 15:50 Antonio Chella
15:50 – 17:30 Laser NOMAD Discussion / Q&A pubblic
Prof. Antonio Chella
Consciousness and Creativity
The research field of conscious AI systems concerns the computational models of consciousness. The talk will outline the current state of research of conscious AI systems and it will discuss its relationships with creativity, with particular emphasis to musical creativity. The field of conscious AI systems is tightly related with topics as information integration, embodiment, adaptation, emotions, which are all of interest in order to model musical creativity. On the one hand, facing the problem of consciousness could be a decisive move towards the design of effectively creative systems, on the other hand the study of models of creativity could be helpful in order to better understand human consciousness.
Antonio Chella is a full professor of Robotics at the Department of Engineering of the University of Palermo, where he is the founder and director of the Robotics Laboratory. He coordinated several Social Robotics projects including Cicerobot, a museum robot guide at the Archaeological Museum of Agrigento; Robotics and Autism, in collaboration with the Child Neuropsychiatry of Palermo; Robotics and ALS, in collaboration with the ALS Center of the University General Hospital of Palermo; RoboDanza, in collaboration with the cultural association Tavola Tonda; Robot Orchestra Conductor in collaboration with the Alessandro Scarlatti Conservatory of Palermo. In 2017 he was awarded the “James Albus Medal” by the BICA Scientific Society (Biologically Inspired Cognitive Architectures). He is a member of the Academy of Sciences, Letters and Arts of Palermo. His main research concerns the study of consciousness in robots and machines; he is the co-author of the main reference text in the field. He is the author of more than 200 international publications.
Prof. Davide Rocchesso
Designing Sound with Vocal Primitives
What are the fundamental elements of sound? What is the
best framework for analyzing existing sonic realities and for
expressing new sound concepts? These are long standing questions in sound physics, perception, and creation. In everyday life, it is our body that helps establishing bridges between distal
(source-related) and proximal (sensory-related) representations of
sound. In particular, it is our vocal apparatus that offers body-based
representations of sound, so that vocal imitations can be used as
probes into the world of sound at large.
Davide Rocchesso received the Ph.D. degree from the University of
Padova in 1996. He is professor of computer science at the
University of Palermo. He was the coordinator of EU FET
projects SOb (the Sounding Object) and SkAT-VG (Sketching Audio
Technologies using Vocalizations and Gestures). He had been chairing the COST Action on Sonic Interaction Design. His main research interests are sound modelling and synthesis, interaction design, evaluation of interactions.
Can Beauty be Translated? A Journey between Mathematics, Music, and Nature
Contemplating the majesty of a tree, listening to an orchestral piece, and studying a mathematical equation might not be too far activities. Mathematics can constitute a bridge to compare objects and transformations between them, as well as to map them from a domain to another one. In particular, musical structures, with their themes and transformations, can be investigated through the language of mathematics (and categories in particular). The same formalism can be applied to nature, comparing shapes and their variations. I present methods of investigation and examples, including trees, ammonites, and flowers. They can be analyzed and translated into music, keeping some essential features and considering specific cognition criteria. From organized musical structures to the sound itself, the presentation includes some hints of how the quantum mechanics formalism can be applied to the analysis of human voice. Might a melodious soprano voice be not too far from the Schrödinger equation’s solutions?
Maria Mannone (Ph.D.) is a theoretical physicist and a composer. She graduated in Italy, France (IRCAM-Paris VI Sorbonne), and in the US (University of Minnesota). Her research involves mathematics, music, and images. Author of books, she gave talks and invited lectures in America, Europe, and Asia, where she is collaborating with the Tohoku University for the development of a new musical instrument, the CubeHarmonic. Currently, she is a subject expert (‘cultore della materia’) at the Department of Mathematics and Informatics in Palermo.
Prof. Salvatore Tedesco
Aesthetics and Embodiment
Construction of form, emotions and aesthetic appreciation can usefully be rethought in the context of an interaction between philosophical knowledge, theoretical computer science and new technologies for production and control of images and sounds. The short report proposed seeks to clarify the terms of reference and to suggest some interpretations.
Salvatore Tedesco teaches Aesthetics at the University of Palermo, and coordinates the Dams course of studies. His main research projects deals with Morphology, evolutionary aesthetics, history of aesthetics, contemporary theories of literature. He has published 11 monographs on various aspects of modern and contemporary aesthetics, more than 80 papers, and is currently editing (with Federico Vercellone) a “Glossary of Morphology”.
Perceptual Grammar of Sounds
Music cognition complies with the perceptual grammar which consists of the properties of sounds as units and the grouping factors as preferential rules. The units have emerged through the interaction with the environment as crucial features in conveying information. The rules are the heuristics that enable the cognition of the environment in the forms of the auditory modality by solving problems of ordering and structure derivation. The specialization of the perceptual grammar of sounds plays a foundational role for music cognition. It provides composers and listeners with shared capacities to build and extract meaning from musical shapes and their relevant qualities in space and time. Musical examples will be presented to argue that the specialization of the perceptual grammar is consistent with historical and geographical variability of musical systems and styles, which draw from the expressive potentialities it affords with a high degree of freedom.
Carmelo Calì is associate professor at the University of Palermo.
His main research interests are theories and models of visual,
auditory and tactile perception, cognitive foundations of aesthetics,
human-robot interaction and industrial design.
Chair: Luca Forcucci
Not only her work spans over more than 50 years and englobes music composition, performance, theatre and sound installations, but she also has worked with the biggest names in the field, like Stravinsky, Berio, Cage, Stockhausen, just to name a few. Here she comes back on the stories of these unique encounters, and also how she firstly brought this kind of music to Brazil.
Jocy de Oliveira has been involved as a composer/author in a variety of media since the early 1960s utilizing acoustic and electronic instruments, music-theatre, installations, texts, graphics, video, and audiences in an approach to an organic development of performance/composition works.
Her operas were released on 6 DVDs distributed by NAXOS Video Library. Her most recent work is a cinematic opera Liquid Voices – A história de Mathilda Segalescu is a feature film in process of finalization and distribution to International Film Festivals in 2019.
Author of five books published in Brazil, France and the USA, Jocy de Oliveira recently launched Dialogue with Letters, published by SESI SP, 2014, which was acclaimed by the media and received the most important literature prize in Brazil – Jabuti Literature First Prize, 2015. This same year the French edition of this book was very successfully launched in Paris by Editions Honoré Champion as part of the Sorbonne musicology collection. In 2016 the book was selected as finalist for the Premio Rio de Literatura. In 2018 a book Leituras de Jocy coordinated by Rodrigo Cicchelli and Manoel Correa do Lago was released by Editora SESI SP compiling analyses and reflections from 27 authors on her work. FLIP – the most important Brazilian International literature Festival held in Paraty July, 2018 focused on her works and honored her during its opening and two other different presentations.
She was honored with the invitation to write a chapter on Stravinsky ‘s new book – Abécédaire Stravinsky, organized by the Stravinsky Foundation and being published by Éditions La Baconnière, Genève 2018/2019.
She received a number of grants and awards, such as Guggenheim Foundation (2005) Rockefeller Foundation (1983 and 2007), Bogliasco Foundation (2004 and 2016), CAPS (New York Council on the Arts), besides Vitae and Rioarte Foundations in Brazil. She was elected a life member of the Academia Brasileira de Musica, holds a Master of Arts degree (1968) from Washington University, St. Louis, USA and received an Honorary Doctorate from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, 2016.
Pioneira no desenvolvimento de um trabalho multimídia no Brasil envolvendo música, teatro, instalações, texto e vídeo, é a primeira entre os compositores nacionais a compor e dirigir suas óperas buscando reformular o formato convencional operístico.
Suas peças tem sido apresentadas em teatros e festivais como Berliner Festspiele, Haus der Kulturen der Welt , Hebbel Theater em Berlim, StaadtsTheater – Darmstadt, Bayerischer Rudfunk – Munique, Festivals Dresdner Tage der Zeitgenössischen Musik – Desden, Expo 2000 Hannover, Ludwigshafen Opera Festival, Salzburg Festival – Aspekte, Hayden Planetarium, Carnegie Hall, Brooklyn Academy – em New York, New Music America Festivals, Miami Planetarium, Bellas Artes – Mexico, Teatro Avenida, Buenos Aires, Orquesta Sinfonica del Sodre, Uruguai, Orquesta Sinfônica Nacional de Cuba, Radio France – Paris, Gaudeamus e Gulbenkian Foundations, Chengdu University – China. No Brasil, suas obras têm sido apresentadas anualmente em diversos teatros e festivais incluindo os Theatros Municipal de São Paulo e do Rio de Janeiro e em diferentes capitais.
Como compositora e pianista, gravou 25 discos no Brasil, Inglaterra, EUA, Alemanha, Itália e no México; registrou nos EUA e no Brasil a obra pianística de Olivier Messiaen (selo NAXOS). Oito de suas óperas multimídias foram gravadas em DVDs distribuídos pela NAXOS Video Library e pelo SESC, SP.
An unusual trajectory discussed here, from his early poetry works to bio art experiments where his dna is implemented into flowers, to space research, minitel works (french own internet version) and their restoration, to artworks visible from google earth. A fascinating iconic artist.
Eduardo Kac, (born July 3, 1962, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Brazilian American artist who was best known for his works featuring genetically altered organisms in ways that frequently had conceptual or symbolic import. He termed these endeavours “bio art” or “transgenic art.”
Kac began staging performance art pieces in Rio de Janeiro as a teenager. He frequented the city’s beaches and, especially, Cinelandia, a square that served as a hub of bohemian activity. There Kac would declaim pornographically inspired poetry, often wearing only a pink miniskirt. During that period he also experimented with other forms of poetry, graffiti, and multimedia art.
Kac began investigating the use of holograms as a medium for poetic expression, and in 1983 he published his first “holopoem,” “Holo/Olho” (“Holo/Eye”), which rendered the words of the title in holographic text that shifted as the viewer changed position. The next year, he debuted a digital poem, “Não!” (“No!”), which comprised a block of text that scrolled across an LED display. Kac created a number of other holopoems and digital poems, some of them more elaborate. He also made his first forays into art transmitted via Minitel, a videotext precursor to the Internet. He received a bachelor of arts degree from the School of Communications at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro in 1985.
In 1986 Kac debuted what he dubbed a “telepresence” work, a radio-controlled robot that served as a transmission system for conversations between viewers and a remote operator. While at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (M.F.A., 1990), Kac began a collaborative telepresence work, Ornitorrinco (“Platypus”). It involved the remote manipulation of a robot, first by telephone signal (1989) and eventually through the use of the Internet (1994). In 1996 Kac created another telepresence work, Rara Avis, which consisted of a robotic bird with a camera inside that was positioned in an aviary with live zebra finches. Visitors to the exhibit could don a headset connected to the camera and experience the view inside the aviary. Get unlimited access to all of Britannica’s trusted content. Start Your Free Trial Today
Time Capsule, a combination of performance and conceptual art, was staged in 1997 in São Paulo. The piece centred on the injection into Kac’s leg of a microchip normally used to track pets; he registered himself in the tracking company’s database. That year he became an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Increasingly preoccupied with the corporeal and visceral, Kac in 1998 first suggested the possibility of transgenic art with an article on a theoretical genetically engineered fluorescent dog. Though the creation of a glowing canine was ultimately infeasible, in 1999 Kac debuted Genesis, a work that represented his first foray into actual bio art. He translated a passage from the Christian Bible into Morse Code and then into the four-letter code that represented the base pairs of DNA. He commissioned the creation of synthetic DNA using that sequence, and it was injected into bacteria, images of which were projected onto a gallery wall.
In 2000 Kac premiered what would become his best-known and most-controversial work, GFP Bunny. Again mixing conceptual and performance art, Kac centred the project on a rabbit engineered to express the green fluorescent protein (GFP) from the jellyfish Aequoria victoria. The animal, named Alba by Kac and his family, was seen by the public only in photographs. Though Kac claimed to have commissioned the rabbit, the French National Agronomic Institute (INRA), which owned it, had actually, of its own volition, created multiple rabbits that expressed the protein. GFP was a common tool in cellular research; cells of a certain type could be engineered to express the protein and thus would be more easily visible. And, though Kac promoted images that suggested that the animal glowed a uniform green, in fact only its living tissue glowed green under blue light of a certain wavelength (meaning that its fur would not glow). INRA ultimately refused to give the rabbit to Kac, a turn of events that the artist used to further promote the project through several shows centred on “freeing Alba.” GFP Bunny was, Kac claimed, the provocation of the controversy, rather than the rabbit itself. Debate did indeed ensue; though many questioned the ethics of using genetically modified organisms in art, some applauded the initiation of a dialogue on the subject.
In 2001 Kac exhibited a project that consisted of a collection of transgenic animals contained in an acrylic dome. Two years later he began another transgenic project, which involved the insertion of a sequence of his own DNA into the genes that coded for the veins in a petunia flower. He dubbed the resulting plant—engineered by a botanist at the University of Minnesota—“Edunia” and made it the centre of a new installation, Natural History of the Enigma (2009).
Kac’s various projects toured widely, and he frequently lectured and wrote about the theoretical foundations of his work. Among his publications were the essay collection Telepresence and Bio Art: Networking Humans, Rabbits, & Robots (2005) and the poetry compilation Hodibis Potax (2007). His artist’s book Escracho (1983) became part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. (Richard Pallardy)
During is long career as photographer, cameraman first and director then, Luca de Luigi introduces here his view on filming musical events, from the arena of Verona, to Bayreuth with the director Werner Herzog and then a long series of live concerts at the Montreux Jazz festival including Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock among many others.
Artisan video director for music and documentary films. He has created also cultural shows for the Swiss Italian TV RTS , photographer, cameramen, and since 23 years director.
Artigiano regista video musicale e documentario. Ha creato Emissioni Culturali alla RTS Fotografo, Cameraman e da 23 anni Regista.
In this interview, Jill Scott and I are sitting in a Ethiopian restaurant in Berlin. We learn about her large body of work spanning from performance, video to sonic arts, media arts and neuroscience. How all this could possibly connect ? A series of travels, experiments and encounters informed this important and very inspiring artist, which are embedded into a unique research in art and science.
Professor Dr. Jill Scott is an artist, teacher and context provider with 40 years experience in the unique transdisciplinary field of art, science and technology interactions. Her research spans neuroscience, electronics, ecology, sociology, sculpture, performative installation and media art. Her artwork is focused on the human body, the social and physical impact of technology on our bodies and the health of our environment. She asks: How does technological and biotechnical “progress” affect way we “see” our body? How can artists raise awareness about the human body and the scientific structure of sensory perception? How can artists shed light on the health affects of our physical environment? To address these questions, she builds interactive media installations that immerse viewers inside designed environments. She explores how visual metaphors and poetic analogies might create an alternative forms of art and science communication to help others learn more about sensory perception and reflect on their own ideological, biological, ecological, gendered and ethical futures.
More than 500 references have been issued on the Subrosa label since the 1980’s. Guy Marc Hinant, poet, writer, publisher, music producer and cinematographer together with Fred Walheer, started the label, with recordings of William S. Burroughs. Here he discusses the journey where noise and spectres enter the discussions (literally).
Guy Marc Hinant dirige le label indépendant Sub Rosa spécialisé en musique électronique et expérimentale dont il est le créateur. Il y édite la série An Anthology of Noise and Electronic Music. Il a écrit plusieurs fragments narratifs et notes sur l’esthétique pour les Éditions de l’Heure, diverses revues internationales telles que Leonardo Music Journal (SF), Luna-Park surtout (édité par Marc Dachy à Paris), la revue Pylône (Bruxelles) et pour la revue Lapin (L’Association, Paris). Par ailleurs, il donne des conférences sur l’émergence du bruit dans la musique occidentale – preuves à l’appui. Compagnon de l’auteur de bandes dessinées Dominique Goblet, il apparaît dans ses albums sous le nom de « GM » . Au début des années 1980, il était membre du groupe Pseudo Code avec Alain Neffe et Xavier Ess. En 2001, il fonde OME – L’Observatoire – avec Dominique Lohlé, ensemble ils réalisent une série de documentaires sur l’art de l’écoute et le bruit.
Guy-Marc Hinant (Charleroi, 1960) is a Belgian poet, writer, publisher, music producer and cinematographer. In the late 1980s Hinant, together with Frédéric Walheer, founded the Belgian record label Sub Rosa, which specializes in avant-garde, electronic and noise music. The name of the record label was deduced from the first sentence of Gilles Deleuze’s book Mille plateaux. He lives and works in Brussels. From 2002 to 2004 Hinant worked on the musicological project Anthology of Noise and Electronic Music. Hinant wrote poetry and prose to the works of his lover, the Belgian visual artist Dominique Goblet.
The discussion turns around the long friendship that Stanley Moss developed with the iconic musician from New Orleans Dr John. Stories emerging from their twenties in Los Angeles while working for a musical label, in New York in the 1980’s for parties in loft space where David Byrne was present too, and New Orleans until today. Graphic design, brand strategy, and Dr John: the story of a friendship
Stanley Moss (b. 1948), is founder of DiGanZi Group, a brand advisory, and The Club of Venice, a private conversation on brands and branding. He is global brand ambassador for Gottschalk + Ash of Zürich. He’s also author of novels including The Hacker, HACK IS BACK, The Crimson Garter and Fate & The Pearls, and The Book of Deals. A brand guru, philosopher, writer, and artist, he divides his time between Europe, India and Southern California. He served as CEO of The Medinge Group, the Stockholm-based think-tank on international branding, 2004-2012. He was a fine artist, sponsored by Absolut and Johnnie Walker Black Label, and exhibited landscapes in the US State Department Art in Embassies program. His “New Wave Cookbook” is in the permanent collection of the MoMA NY. He is a faculty member at Academia di Belle Arti Cignaroli of Verona, Italy; Travel Editor for Lucire, a New Zealand fashion magazine; and served on the Board of the Rocket Mavericks Foundation.
Dr. John belongs to a prestigious lineage of New Orleans keyboard greats that includes such names as Professor Longhair, Huey “Piano” Smith and Fats Domino.
His name has become synonymous with the city in which he was born.
Dr. John’s music is stamped with the rhythms and traditions of the
Crescent City, and he has spent a career that now spans more than half a
century championing its music.
His best-known work includes Gris-Gris (1968), an album steeped in the otherworldly sounds of Louisianan voodoo culture; Gumbo (1972), wherein he offered an authoritative overview of New Orleans’ finest music; and In the Right Place (1973), which gave him the Top Ten hit “Right Place, Wrong Time.” His concerts are ritual invocations of New Orleans’ enduring musical spirit. More broadly, he has helped bring the sound of New Orleans into the national mainstream.
Born Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack, he learned piano and guitar as a child. As a child growing up in the 1940s, he was steeped in the music of the city. “It was a special time in New Orleans,” he told USA Today’s Edna Gunderson. “The radio stations played basically New Orleans music, and I thought that was what the whole world heard.” His father ran an appliance store that carried records, and he also repaired P.A. systems for clubs around town; it was through him that young Mac gained exposure to the world of music in New Orleans.
As a musician, he was schooled by local legends like Walter “Papoose” Nelson (Professor Longhair’s guitarist), guitarist Roy Montrell, keyboardist James Booker and Cosimo Matassa (whose J&M Studio was the hub of the city’s recording scene). Rebennack became one of the first white sessionmen on the local scene. A fixture in New Orleans’ clubs and studios, Rebennack found himself making music night and day. “We used to work twelve hours a day, seven days a week, on Bourbon Street,” he told interviewer Robert Santelli. “That was real easy to do because there were so many clubs.”
He participated in sessions for records released on such labels as Ric and Ron, Minit, Ace, Ebb, Specialty and AFO (“All For One,” started by a cooperative of New Orleans musicians).
In short, Mac Rebennack was a pure product of New Orleans. “The old-timers schooled me good,” Dr. John reflected. “They brainwashed me to respect music, whether we were playing rockabilly or blues or rock and roll.”
Rebennack began recording as far back as 1957 and released his first single, “Storm Warning,” under his own name in 1959. As much as he loved New Orleans, he moved to Los Angeles in 1962, joining an exodus of local musicians who left town after a new district attorney began cracking down on clubs and nightlife in an effort to curb vice. Working in L.A. with producer Harold Battiste, a fellow Crescent City expatriate, he created the character of Dr. John the Night Tripper, a voodoo sorcerer and healer. His first album, Gris-Gris, masterfully evoked the mystical spirit of back-alley voodoo in a musical setting of otherworldly “N’Awlins” swamp funk. It meshed perfectly with the age of psychedelia in which it was released. Dr. John cut this startling release during unused session time for a Sonny and Cher album, as that duo had become involved in a movie project. Such cuts as “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” evoked a late-night, back-streets netherworld of ritual and mystery. The album remains a unique achievement in the realm of popular music, a touchstone to a world that few even knew existed.
Gris-Gris was followed by three more albums in the same vein: Babylon (1969), Remedies (1970) and The Sun, Moon & Herbs (1971). The last of these was intended to be a three-record set, each reflecting a different time of day. Some sessions were conducted in England, with such musicians as Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger participating. However, because of technical and budgetary issues, it was pared down to a single album.
In the first half of the 1970’s, Dr. John released a series of albums that mixed New Orleans classics with original material, all driven by his remarkable piano playing and superb bands. This change in direction from underground mystic to overground eminence began with Gumbo, Dr. John’s fifth album, released in 1972. The idea that he pay tribute to New Orleans’ musical legacy came from Jerry Wexler, the renowned producer and talent scout for Atlantic Records, who co-produced Gumbo with Harold Battiste. Dr. John was signed to Atco, an Atlantic subsidiary, and Wexler made the suggestion after hearing him warm up with such material in the studio. It brought broader exposure to both the artist and his city’s musical heritage.
This paved the way for a pair of albums, In the Right Place (1973) and Desitively Bonnaroo (1974), that carried his career to the next level. Both were made in collaboration with Allen Toussaint and the Meters, longtime stalwarts of the New Orleans scene. “Right Place, Wrong Time,” from In the Right Place, became a Top Ten hit that spent nearly half a year on the chart. The album’s other hit single was “Such a Night,” which Dr. John performed at the Band’s The Last Waltz farewell concert.
In the late Seventies, he moved to New York and worked with producer Tommy LiPuma and lyricist Doc Pomus, resulting in the albums City Lights (1978) and Tango Palace (1979). In the early Eighties he made his first solo piano recordings (Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack, 1981, and The Brightest Smile in Town, 1983). He ended the decade with In a Sentimental Mood (1989), an album of standards that reunited him with LiPuma.
The Nineties witnessed an artistic rebirth and rekindled connection with his New Orleans roots. In 1992, as remarkable as it may seem, Dr. John actually recorded his first album in New Orleans. Entitled Goin’ Back to New Orleans, it was “like a little history of New Orleans music—from way back in the 1850s to the 1950s,” Dr. John explained. In 1998 he returned to the mystical aura of his Gris-Gris period on Anutha Zone, which included cameos from such younger British admirers as Paul Weller and members of Spiritualized and Supergrass. Creole Moon, released in 2001, assimilated the various aspects of New Orleans music into a tasty gumbo. In 2004, Dr. John again saluted the Big Easy’s musical heritage on N’Awlinz: Dis, Dat or D’Udda, which rounded up such New Orleans legends as Earl Palmer, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Willie Tee, Snooks Eaglin, Eddie Bo, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and a member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
Beyond his vast discography as a recording artist, the list of sessions on which he has played for others is lengthy and impressive enough to merit his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a sideman, too. Dr. John’s bottomless sessionography includes releases by Maria Muldaur, Johnny Winter, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, Van Morrison, the Band, Frank Zappa, Ringo Starr, Canned Heat, the Rolling Stones and countless others. He has even done well for himself as a jingle writer, tinkling the ivories on funky-sounding commercials for Levi’s blues jeans and Popeye’s Chicken.
For more than three decades Dr. John has been a perennial performer at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. He has also become an unofficial spokesman and ambassador for the city and its musical history. Meanwhile he continues to make creative, challenging records in the New Orleans style.
In 2008 Dr. John and his band, the Lower 911, released City That Care Forgot. The most topical and hard-hitting album of his career, it addressed the toll taken on his beloved hometown by decades of neglect and its near destruction by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. City That Care Forgot won Dr. John a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album—the fifth of his career. Meanwhile, he continues to keep the city’s musical heritage and history alive.
“The most important thing to remember is this: New Orleans music was not invented,” Dr. John noted in 1992. “It kind of grew up naturally…joyously…just for fun. That’s it. Just plain down-to-earth happy-times music. When I was growing up in the Third Ward, I used to think, ‘Oh, man, this music makes me feel the best!”