HOWL: A Music Article That Doesn’t Describe the Music?

The context that arts and entertainment preview stories offer tends to be see-through clothing that dresses a recommendation, and A.D. Amorosi’s “Caravan leads music fans on a tour of the Balkans” in the Philadelphia Inquirer is no different.

This piece is poorly structured. It opens with three graphs about why Philadelphia producer Aaron Levinson likes nouveau Gypsy music, and never quotes him. The third graph implies that he’s the man behind this week’s Caravan Festival event, but it’s unclear. Amorosi offers up quotes from members of Philadelphia bands that explore this genre—Erik Petersen of Mischief Brew and Elliot Levin of the West Philadelphia Orchestra—but doesn’t explore the genre much himself. And the piece equates “Baltic,” “Balkan,” and “Gypsy,” which are three different things. But through these interviews, Amorosi finds local ties to this musical movement, which the Inquirer‘s TV, film, and gossip columns frequently fail to provide for their genres.

But this piece caught my attention because of Aaron Levinson’s name. He’s a moderately well-known producer, having won a Grammy, and he’s produced a wide array of incredibly cool projects, including the albums “The Philadelphia Experiment” and “The Detroit Experiment.” I did a quick dive in to Lexis-Nexis, and apparently Levinson’s never been profiled (anywhere!), so the Inquirer would be a natural fit, right?

Wrong. For quite some time now, Inquirer cultural coverage, and particularly its reviews and previews, too often has informed readers about what’s going on without discussing the reasons that what’s going on is important. This may be a philosophical difference between their approach to criticism and arts reporting and mine, but I’d still argue that criticism and arts reporting should generate synthetic pieces that shed light on not only activities in the region, but also the significance thereof.

Second, after reading the article, I don’t know what the music sounds like. (Well, I do, but because I’ve heard it, not because Amorosi described it.) One apology for the Inquirer‘s approach is that the newspaper is for a general audience, and should be comprehensive and accessible. In this article, Petersen, of Philadelphia’s Mischief Brew, describes his group thusly: “Above all else, we’re a punk rock band that incorporates a variety of influences into our songs, from Gypsy-punk to circus music to traditional English folk.” Of these four genres, the only one you can assume an average reader has heard is circus music, so the general-audience argument starts to crumble here.

Finally, the newspaper industry has bemoaned the decreasing space allocated for everything, including arts and culture stories. So burning 500 words on a musical trend that’s rather old hat, and at the same time doing a middling job of informing readers what that music even sounds like, seems a little wasteful. But that’s the nature of the preview.

– Nick Gilewicz

(photo by J.J. Tiziou via PennLive)

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