Musical instrument museum promotes global theme, locally

The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona offers a look at the history of musical instruments from over 200 countries around the world. The interactive collection of instruments tells a story of musicians, instrument makers, recording studios, and musical traditions significant to our shared past, present, and future.

In 2012, the museum has a special focus on American Music. Specifically: music tagged to Arizona. A new exhibit includes artifacts, photographs, and audiovisual content designed to bring the subjects to life and ignite interest in the global, binding nature of music.

Some noteworthy objects in the I Am AZ Music exhibition include the gold dress worn by singer Jordin Sparks during the American Idol finale, instruments played by the Gin Blossoms and a double-neck guitar played by Duane Eddy on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” in 1960.

Typical of the past/present/future focus of the exhibit is an exact replica of a stage suit worn by rocker Alice Cooper in the 1970s, then also worn during the filming of Dark Shadows, a film slated to be released this year.

Also part of I Am AZ Music is an exhibit on Canyon Records, founded more than 60 years ago by Phoenix media pioneers Ray and Mary Boley, that highlights the production and distribution of Native American music. Another exhibit is dedicated to Floyd Ramsey, whose music studio hosted sessions in the 1950s by Duane Eddy, Waylon Jennings, Wayne Newton, and Alice Cooper.”Country fans will enjoy our tributes to Buck Owens and Waylon Jennings, while jazz enthusiasts are sure to love the exhibit centered on Russell ‘Big Chief’ Moore, a member of the Gila River Indian Community who played trombone with Louis Armstrong” said MIM curator Cullen Strawn.

Musical instrument
manufacturers of today that make Arizona their home are also featured, such as the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery, Navajo-Ute flute maker Aaron White, Yaqui drum and rattle maker Alex Maldonado, White Mountain Banjo Works, Phoenix Guitar Company, classical guitar maker Brian Dunn, and Apache fiddle maker Anthony Belvado.

To make the exhibit interactive, visitors are given wireless headsets to wear throughout the museum. Approaching each display, they can hear the instruments being played, either solo or as an ensemble. Audio and video clips familiarize guests with the unique sounds of each musical culture, allowing them to “share a common experience”, very much the global theme of the Musical Instrument Museum, brought down to local, street level.

“Somewhere, out there, on the farthest rim of the earth, a sound wails into the night” begins this short video from the museum proposing that “from our first breath music is the instrument of the soul”.

The museum is also opening an African Piano exhibit in February that will examine the sanza and its musical tradition among Central and East African story tellers, historians and ceremonial or ritual experts.

Photos courtesy Musical Instrument Museum

“No Reservations” season 4, episode 15: American Southwest

Location: After four weeks of glamorous international travel, Tony returns “to his roots” with an adventure in the American Southwest, road-tripping it across the arid desert stretching from Southern California through Arizona to New Mexico and on to a final stop in Texas.

Episode Rating: One-and-a-half bloody meat cleavers out of five. Given that this summer has seen one of the more memorable strings of No Reservations episodes in recent memory, the American Southwest has to be one of the blander installments. It’s not that Mr. Bourdain ever makes for uninteresting television or that his destination is uninteresting – far from it. It’s just that compared to trips to Laos, Colombia, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay, it was kind of a letdown.

Summary: OK, so last week we were in Uruguay. And before that Saudi Arabia, Colombia and Laos. Where to this week, Tony? The American Southwest? Aw gee, well I guess that’s OK – there’s still plenty of cool stuff to see. To get things started, Tony rents a BMW for an old-fashioned American road trip and peels off into the sunset. The car choice was certainly a departure from Tony’s usual vintage car selection, but an appropriate one nonetheless. Things get going just southeast of Palm Springs at the Salton Sea. Read on after the jump to find out what happened.Although it appears to be a marvel of nature, the Salton Sea was formed by a man-made accident in 1905, flooding a low-lying desert plain near the Colorado River. For a short period the area was a vacation boomtown, though lately it’s largely become a ghost town. Tony makes a pit stop at the local hangout, the Ski Inn. After working up an appetite chatting with the locals, Tony orders the house specialty, the patty melt. It’s gooey and cheesy with a nice hamburger patty in the middle. Nothing spectacular, but certainly tasty.

Not wanting to relish his patty melt too long, Bourdain speeds onward towards Indio, California to visit the Shields Date Farm. After learning about the “fascinating” history of dates, Tony gets rewarded with a date-flavored milkshake. This looked delicious. Remind me to try one the next time I’m in California.

Like any good roadtrip, it was soon time to move on, and Tony crosses state lines into Arizona, eventually pausing in Phoenix, Arizona. In one of the more contrived moments of No Reservations, Tony has lunch with rock legend Alice Cooper, who owns a sports bar in Phoenix with baseball great Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson. Tony’s meal at the sports bar? The house specialty – “Randy Johnson’s Big Unit,” a two-foot hot dog smothered in chili and cheese. Let us not speak of this ever again.

Next on the Southwest itinerary was a remote ICBM missile silo. Tony gets a guided tour from a woman who used to work in the facility. Seeing this sort of thing doesn’t evoke the same sense of dread that it once did during the Cold War, but it’s an imposing sight nonetheless. And you know, missile tours can make you thirsty. That’s why Bourdain finishes his tour with the house’s special cocktail, the Titan-tini made with pomegranate, grain alcohol and vodka. How’s that for explosive?

Bourdain just keeps wracking up the miles though, and soon he’s in New Mexico, where he has a chance to sample the world-famous chili peppers in Hatch, New Mexico. To cool off from this spicy experience, the crew takes an invigorating run whitewater rafting. That’s all that happened in New Mexico. Sorry citizens of New Mexico, I’m sure there’s more to your state than Tony gives you credit for here.

At last, after numerous hours on the road, plenty of antacids and ample bathroom breaks, Bourdain reaches the “promised land” of the American Southwest in Texas. After doing a few blatantly stereotypical things like boot shopping and eating a 72-ounce-coma-inducing steak, I was about ready to turn off my television set. But then things took a turn for the better when Tony drops in for a visit with America’s favorite right-wing bad boy and Texas resident Ted Nugent.

Ted and Tony might not necessarily agree on politics, but they had plenty to talk about when it came to meat and guns. The two tool around Nugent’s huge ranch outside Waco, Texas, stocked with the world’s largest herd of African Oryx and a private firing range. In addition to shooting some of the world’s most deadly automatic weapons like the M60 as well as a sawed-off shotgun, the pair enjoy plenty of barbecue. At Ted’s house they grill some freshly-slaughtered specimens, including venison and wild-boar bacon. And because they didn’t eat enough barbecue, they have a second Texas-style meal of brisket and ribs at the Rusty Star.

Certainly a gratuitous ending to a gratuitous episode. The American Southwest is a place of great beauty and plenty of interesting cuisine, but I came away with the feeling Mr. Bourdain did not do it justice. Sometimes your destination takes care of itself. But other times you have to work for it a little. I think this particular installment falls into the latter category. Oh well, there’s still plenty of new episodes to go this summer – stay tuned dear reader, stay tuned.