Soundscape Signals: Actors who Sing and Singers Who Act and How That Gets Played Out Throughout the Genres

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Huffington Post’s Megan Overdeep wrote back in June about her views on how singers and actors should stick to what they do best and not overstep their professional boundaries.  She gives a few examples, the most recent being Justin Timberlake in his new movie “Friends With Benefits,” and Gwyneth Paltrow with her appearance on “Glee.”

The question remains: why is it celebrities get ostracized for trying new things?  And what does this say about us, as a people, if we get antsy just by being mere spectators of someone daring to step outside their comfort zone?

Although Overdeep did go on to name Jennifer Lopez’s singing-acting-judging crossover career, as well as going on to distinguish Bette Midler, Barbara Streisand, Meatloaf and, of course, Cher, on their craft, her post failed to mention a few other notables who are currently making waves throughout the music industry, even going on to change the way we think and view artists.

Singer-songwriter Josh Ritters’ Novel Debut

When the news came out that singer-songwriter Josh Ritter was penning his first novel, you could almost feel the universe cringing over yet another starry-eyed songwriter-turned-author attempting to strap themselves down to their writing contraptions and pen the next great American novel.

But unlike other examples of writing enthusiasts, Ritter’s pivot into the literacy world wasn’t a fanciful impulse.  It was more like an idea that exploded and Ritter was powerless but to follow the urge to write it all down.

Named one of Paste’s top-living songwriters and drawing comparisons from Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, it wasn’t too much of a surprise when critics began to commend Ritter on his folk-based rock that has underlying literary nuances with fantastical imagery and sincere emotive strengths.  His 2006 album, “The Animal Years,” demonstrated his talents for concocting wartime stories with biblical references, while last year’s “So Runs The World Away” had traces of humor in its gothic sounds, reports NPR.

While these vignettes into wartime accounts offer us insight into Ritter’s creative process, it is possible that his prior albums also played a strong role in actualizing the author’s debut novel, “Bright’s Passage.”

About a young West Virginian who has just come home from serving WWI in France, Henry Bright is soon bombarded with new trials that will test his strength and his belief in the fantastical.

The book is executed in a series of minute details that go on to exemplify Ritter’s skill in “penning beauty within small spaces,” reviews PopMatters.  According to the pop culture website, the novel is layered with rich, detailed language filled with many a startling turn of phrase.

It is obvious here that Ritter’s novel-writing ventures were developed through his musical talents.  And it is also surmised that both disciplines will become very useful in fostering future artistic endeavors.

Yet it will be Ben Fold and his versatility within the musical genre that will give us genuine insight into the mechanics behind the creative process.

Ben Folds’ Collaborations

Ben Folds first came to our attention as frontman and pianist to his former band, Ben Folds’ Five.  Prior to their breakup in 1999, the trio would go on to release tracks like “Song for the Dumped,” “Battle of Who Could Care Less,” and “Brick.”

A commandeering musician, Folds would set out to launch a solo career with collaborations across the spectrum, the latest with Damian Kulash (Ok Go), Amanda Palmer (Dresden Dolls, solo), and author Neil Gaiman.  Under the moniker 8-in-8, the group set out to write and record eight songs in eight hours (4pm to midnight) at Berklee College, Monday, April 25 and release them 10 hours later during Rethink Music, a conference in Boston, reports MVRemix Blog.  And the result, which can be sampled on Amanda Palmer’s website, is “Nighty Night,” a strong album tailored to discredit record companies who are becoming superfluous in their attempt at building buzz and distributing music.

Although 8-in-8 was able to successfully debunk the traditional strongholds regarding the music making process, it will be Ben Folds’ prior collaboration with bestselling author, Nick Hornby that will better articulate this passage’s message.

Folds and Hornby’s contributions to “Lonely Avenue,” a project that was conceived when Folds had asked Hornby to contribute lyrics to an album recorded by William Shatner in 2007, is raved among critics as a favorable collaboration.  Folds’ music has always been elaborate, widely textured ensembles – mix that in with Hornby’s tendency to turn the tables on his readers and his characters and you got an effortless marriage that has produced a masterpiece with “Lonely Avenue.”

No one would’ve even dreamt that when Ben Folds Five came out with their hit single, “Brick,” that their lead singer and front man will be pooling his efforts with one of the masters of contemporary fiction.  But this is what a good collaboration does: surprise and startle audiences and even the practitioner into realizing that everyone on the team is a valuable resource and that what they are bringing to the table might be in an altogether different ballpark, but because this is a joint-effort, you see pass the differences and rely on the similarities to get you through.

And that is precisely how art, artists, and audiences as an ensemble should function – as a collaborative effort that works together to either produce a work of art or further a movement.

Not every project will garner the same reaction that Ben Folds and Nick Hornby received during their venture.

Radiohead Releases Newspaper and The Guardian Covers “Creep”

Back in March when Radiohead’s eighth studio album, “The Kings of Limbs,” was released, it was announced that alongside the physical release of the CD the band will be distributing a special newspaper in select vendors worldwide for free.

Named “The Universal Sigh,” after a lyric from the “King of Limbs” track “Bloom,” Radiohead has also established “The Universal Sigh” as a website on the Internet for fans to track down venues that were distributing the newspaper.

The Guardian took a stab at the band’s news-making efforts and tried their hands at music-making with their rendition of Radiohead’s hugely popular hit “Creep,” reports

Under the new moniker, Radio Eds, The Guardians’ editorial team made a slideshow music video, which can be found on their web page here.

But whether you’re the practitioner or a member of the audience, it seems beyond stifling to marginalize a piece of art and say an artist should keep within their expertise and not overstep their bounds.  What ever happened to trying new things?  Crossing over genres should be exactly what talented artists like Nick Hornby and Josh Ritter should be doing.  Besides, this will keep us in the audience occupied.

Photo Courtesy of Politics and Prose Bookstore and Ella Mullins and Kathryn Yu  via Flickr

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