Friday, August 17, 2012

The "traditional" myth

By "traditional milonga" many people mean a dance where only golden age tango/vals/milonga is played.

This is a modern invention.

Consider Alberto Podesta's description of milongas during Tango's Golden Age: 1,000 people, low admission, only live bands, and "50/50 music" -- 50% "tango/vals/milonga" and 50% "whatever else is popular" -- with 40 minute alternating sets.

This is where our traditional tango recordings come from. Draw your own conclusions about what milongas of the present or future should be like:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Foreshadowing and Alternative Tango Music

I met an eclectic and tasteful musician to whom I described Alternative Tango music. Helpfully, he gave me some wonderful music to listen to ... really brilliant stuff: authentic and inventive ... with the hope that I might be able to use some of it.

I know I can dance to some of it. I go to a lot of alternative Tango events just for fun. So I can do it. But I'm "looking for new songs". Because the alternative tango songs get boring pretty quickly. Good tango music shouldn't be like that. The great traditional music, which generally has poor sound quality and no hint of modern sensibility, is still easy to dance to over and over again. Sometimes it gets tiring, but there's something in the structure of the music that gives it legs. Let's call it "S".

I finally have realized the reason Alternative Music doesn't inspire Tango for very long. It's because the special quality, "S", needed by Tango cannot be "discovered" in a song. The song needs to be composed and played with "S".

I've also finally realized the essence of "S". It is foreshadowing. You need to build the music, or the song, with a lively attempt to communicate to the dancer (which could be an appeal to instinct or to intellect) the thing that is coming next. This "S" is everywhere in Golden Age tango music. You can find hints of it in other music -- a rhythm, after all, conveys a kind of primitive S, but doesn't change, so it's not interesting "S".

I don't think there will be a new Golden Age for tango music (and perhaps not for Tango dancing) until we see a modern, complex, interesting and exciting movement of composers who are interested in the foreshadowing that dancers need to help them decide upon their next steps.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Sequence

When I need to prepare a milonga quickly, this is what I do ... and this is the order I do it in ... it's an efficient morphogenesis ... the unfolding of the evening's structure. You don't need to do things in this order. But it might be worth trying this, if you think you have trouble in building coherent evenings.

1. Cortinas

I pick out two dozen cortinas for the evening, often from one or two albums, of the same musical genre. This adds unity to the evening. Then I put a line of stars in the comments section so they act as markers between tandas (sets) ... "cortina lines" which need to be filled with dance songs.

2. T-T-V-T-T-M

Except for some adjustments towards the end of an evening, I stick to the Tango-Tango-Vals-Tango-Tango-Milonga Tanda structure.

3. Starting Tango Tandas

I almost always pick the two Tango tandas that start the evening first. They need to be good, be fun for both the advanced dancers and the completely beginners, who stay on the floor after the introduction lesson.

4. Valses

Waltzes are quite a bit more scarce than tangos, so I find the Valse sets I'd like to play that evening, hoping to keep it exciting, while still playing favorites.

5. Milongas

Good Milongas are a bit more plentiful, thanks to a few hard workers like Canaro. I construct a few slow-to-fast Milonga tandas, and put them in their place in the evening's structure.

6. Tangos: moods and hits

Figure out how you'd like the mood to shift over the evening. Peppy to moody to tragic to nutty? Build tandas to fit the mood, or use tandas that you like and have set aside, including variants, as playlists you can just pull it.

While doing that, make sure that you make your more experienced dancers happy by providing songs they know. Tango hits.

7. Energy

Typically, you want to move from slow to fevered over the first two hours, with a few tandas here and there that step back before pushing faster, harder, tougher. But make sure there IS an overall energy, an overall flow threading its way through your songs. It seems incoherent to dancers if you play something slow, then something loud, then something quiet, then something far out. Use gradients instead, in all the dimensions you can think of.

8. Good endings

There are lots of ways to wind up. It depends somewhat on your crowd, but of course a truly amazing final tanda and song really make that possible. It's pretty common to put a La Cumparsita at the end of the last Tanda, without a cortina. If you do this, you need to cultivate your favorite Cumparsita's, and construct great Tandas that work well leading into that version.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Basics

I just wrote this quick letter to a Tango instructor who is now considering Dj-ing a Saturday evening at the Tango Center.


Here are some DJ basics.

At the TC, we always start out with sets of Tango that are on the slow side, for the beginners' sake, with a steady beat but interesting enough for advanced dancers. The slow Di Sarli works well, but so do appropriate pieces by Calo, Canaro, De Angelis, Orchesta Tipica Victor, etc. Using fast tangos to start will fail, miserably.

Inside of most tandas (there are always exceptions) it's important to build up, from slow-to-fast. Think of a tanda as a story, typically with a climax. Also, it's important to put the most familiar or interesting songs at the beginning and at the end, to draw people onto the floor. Slow familiar songs at the start of a Tanda are always a good idea. But, super-exciting songs (Donato's El Huracan comes to mind) can also launch a tanda.

The tanda size that works best is three or four songs ... almost always of the same type of music (same band, same era, and of course, all Tango, all Vals or all Milonga) ... a consistent number (all three or all four) is more important than the actual number itself ... because people count songs. I always use four (except for milongas when I use three) but there's nothing wrong with three in Tango and Vals sets, if you always use three ...

The classic overall tanda structure is usually:


... then repeat ... this works really well.

To keep things interesting, it's important to avoid songs within a tanda that sound identical ... sometimes a band (Tanturi is a good example) will record two songs that essentially use the same rhythm, same tricks, the same key, the same singer, and a very similar melody. It's important to avoid putting those back-to-back! Also, you rarely want to play two covers of the same song near each other in an evening. There are lots of great songs ...

Good luck!"

Saturday, December 17, 2005


The Tango Center is over a 100,000 cubic feet of space. Right now, it's below freezing outside, and we have holes in the ceiling and vents in the roof ... so, until our ceiling is sealed (something we're working on), heating the place is very hard.

As the temperature drops to about 62 degrees fahrenheit (17 C) people start to complain about the cold. As it drops to 60 F, they start to bundle up. At 58 F, they get manic, and try to dance continously, energetically.

So I was wondering ... what kind of Tango music can keep people warm?

Recording "warm tones" is a real acoustic engineering challenge, even today. You need the right microphones, positioned carefuly, on the right instruments ... and a good ear for mixing. Some of the recordings of the "new acoustic movement" in the 1970's (David Grisman is an example) began to approach the true quality of warmth.

So, clearly the original tango recordings before this time won't achieve this quality. But some of the older stuff is quite sensitive and tender, and people will often 'read' the warmth into the playback.

But when the room is cold, that doesn't help a lot.

Much of the modern electronic music doesn't try to be warm, although it tends to sound warmer than the very brassy recordings of Tango from the 50's & 60's. Late De Angelis, including one of my favorite pieces "Pavadita", sounds pretty cold in a cold room. The later Tango covers, like the post-Canaro, 1990's "F. Canaro Orquesta", sound even colder ... you can hear the pauses hanging in the air like icicles. Canaro would know better ... laying down lots of sound helps to make up for sound infidelity at all frequencies.

Luckily, with some late Piazzolla, we have explosive original pieces, semi-danceable, with good recording quality. If it's bitter cold, give them a try, at the end of each tanda. Then play some modern acoustic string instruments for cortinas. And the most romantic golden age songs you can find. That's the best I could come up with, on the spur of the moment yesterday.

I also threw in a Beach Boys song: "The Warmth of the Sun".

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Different fusions

For each of the 200 or more milongas at the Tango Center, the music, the mood, etc, has been marvelously different. They've been all good parties, certainly. At least judging by the happiness of the majority. Certainly, individuals have bad nights ... their dancing is off, everyone else's dancing is off, no one danced with them, the room's temperature wasn't right, something really irritated them, the music didn't please them, etc.

Most of that stuff is part of life. And most of that stuff "gets worked out" in the long run. Dancing improves, adaptive ability improves, the party's mood lifts you beyond small concerns and large troubles ... and the music? The musical mix finds its own level: something that pleases most people, most of the time, and teaches tolerance to the rest.

This level is different in different places. And in many places there's no levelling at all: at Portland's Wednesday Nocturnal milonga, you don't know what you'll get, because the DJ's all have very distinct ideas about what should be played. I should say, you know what you'll get if you know the DJ's.

At the Cellspace milonga, on the same night in San Francisco, there's been a lot of discussion and trial and error regarding the appropriate mix for that milonga's community of dancers. And each time I go, I find it pretty much sounds the same. So you don't have to pay really close attention to the DJ's -- the mix is a very reliable "cellspace fusion".

Now, we in Eugene haven't really branded our fusion yet. It leans much more heavily in the Golden Age direction. And it has a taste for ethnic, alternative and nuevo music, in equal parts. It has no taste for traditional covers ... Color Tango, the movie 'Tango', etc. This is pretty distinct ... even in Buenos Aires, traditional covers are more accepted than they are in Eugene. I just danced at a few milongas in Moscow, and most of the music was traditional covers.

Eugene has a strong relationship with tough Golden Age music, because of who we invited to teach & DJ, because of the tastes of our instructors, etc.

But there's one more reason ... the Tango Center's experiments with live music. When live musicians tried to play for tango dancers, they often failed to make people happy. This became a real crisis ... some musicians were insulted, some retreated into Golden Age arrangements ... but ultimately we tried to look at the structure of golden age music to see why it worked.

Most people who don't like Golden Age music, don't like the 'antique sound' and/or the sound quality ... or at least, they don't like too much of it. Usually they're happier with the better Golden Age recordings, like Pugliese from the 60's, or Di Sarli from the 50's, or Canaro from those same periods. But there's a harshness to some of these Late Golden Age recordings (De Angelis & D'Arienzo's particularly), which are a product of their time -- although they're excellent dance pieces, you just shouldn't play them too much.

So, new live tango musicians need to look at pieces from the 1930's and 1940's to really understand what's going on. This is probably why we're still very much into it. Many of us would like to create a "Eugene Tango" new music scene, and Golden Age music is our reference point -- not the mixes of other tango comunities. The real fusion will be the product of this new, second golden age. I hope.

Music & democracy

So much about democracy is little understood in Modern American culture, that it takes a community-level discussion to reveal the basic patterns. The following may seem obvious, but really, we don't think about it or talk about it much.

Democracy happens even without voting, to varying degrees. -- when you're a DJ at a regular milonga, some 10% of the crowd is very vocal about music. But the rest vote with their feet. They're either dancing, or they aren't. They're having a good time, or they're sulking. Sometimes that has to do with the music, and sometimes it doesn't, so you have to get to know a crowd over time. But when you do, the crowd has essentially voted on the musical format.

Don't change my vote unless I tell you to. -- A vocal dancer recently let me know that his tastes had changed, and that certain kinds of alternative music really added spice to the evening for him. He was changing his vote.

Given over two years of this kind of voting at The Tango Center, as we embark on using a computer tool to poll ranges of musical percentages for an evening, we have to make sure (A) that these opinions get recorded and (B) that we don't move them around ... you vote once, until you change your vote. Oregon voters continually have to vote down a sales tax forwarded them by the State legislature. We have the opportunity, electronically, to let someone's vote stand until known otherwise.

Why are we embarking on this exercise in electronic voting? Partly because we want to see if it's a useful tool, something that could be used for weightier matters, outside of the Tango world. But, also, we have two major Tango extravaganzas a week, and many smaller ones ... so many people are involved, and the population is so much in flux, that there needs to be a community memory. We're loading that community memory with pertinent community opinion.

Mixing: an additional possibility ...

One thing I'd like to try, is create real Tango 'house mixes' ... basically tanda-length 'pieces', sometimes with golden age pieces embedded in them, carefully, in their entirety, etc ... with nuanced use of pauses and switching between different nuevo & alternative effects. Many new pieces have no real endings, but bits of them are wonderful ... this kind of sound engineering isn't done much in tango ... but it could be interesting now and then.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Pleasing everyone

In the big picture, of building a tango community, it seems that an all-golden-age milonga, or an all-alternative milonga, is not really aimed at community inclusiveness. It's divisive.

That's ok, most nights. But not on Friday & Saturday nights. These are like the worker's sabbath: a couple that hasn't seen each other all weekend, want to go out, socialize, and dance. They want to hear all differents kinds of tango-danceable music. That can draw from a range of musical eras. But it has to be good. And good for Tango.

It is important to have the other, more divisive kind of milonga or practica. It's an opportunity for DJ's to test music -- not all golden age Tango is danceable, for example. But a higher percentage is danceable, relative to later Tango eras. That's why a high percentage of golden age music, like 75%, works well for a growing community. But you have to pepper it with nuevo, traditional covers, and alternative. Later in the evening, a few of these could even be strung into tandas. Depending, as usual, on the crowd. A DJ is there to please the dance crowd -- in this case, a Tango dance crowd.

A DJ knows that, but very few musicians have experience with this. Some do, and try to play for dancers. It isn't easy, when there's no culture of musicians who do this.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Community music machine

We needed a learning tool for Tango music, for Dj-ing etc, at The Tango Center. It seemed kind of strange that a small number of DJ's were doing all the work, collecting all the music, sorting through it, learning orchestra names, etc. So, we put together an old Mac G4, and made it part of the DJ station. Now everyone puts their playlists on one machine, so we can all listen and learn from the music in classes, practicas, milongas etc. It really works wonderfully. Highly recommended for any community project.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Piazzolla take one

Astor Piazzolla was an innovative and brilliant musician & composer. His pieces are superb and suffused with feeling. They are a major contribution to the World's musical canon.

The music he wrote was Tango, because it is recognizable as Tango. But it probably wasn't intended for dancing ... Piazzolla led a highly skilled Tango band in Tango's Golden Age, and was part of the culture that created the classic Tango dance structure. At Eugene's Tango Center, we had one of his proteges, Claudio Mendez, playing at a milonga ... and he plays classic dance Tango like a firestorm. So clearly Piazzolla knew the difference between classic Tango, and his Nuevo Tango, as well as anyone.

But because they weren't written for dancers, most of Piazzolla's pieces confuse most dancers. Very relaxed dancers can still have a good time ... they can dance even without music. After all, Tango is an improvisational relationship between two people.

But the classic structure of Golden Age tangos is more likely to work well, for most dancers, and more likely to show everyone a good time. The classic tangos evolved to serve Tango, a kind of cooperative physical movement. New dance Tangos can be written, of course ... but this apparently wasn't Piazzolla's goal.

That said, some of Piazzolla's pieces are so good, as music, that they have slipped into the regular Tango repertoire. This is certainly true of the Piazzolla/Goyeneche recording of 'Vuelvo al Sur'. Many Piazzolla pieces have a slow, sensuous quality, which provides a nice change of pace during an evening of dance. His 'Oblivion' is among the most common pieces played in Tango performances.

The fast pieces are more problematic, but many get played, sometimes recorded by other Golden Age musicians. Troilo & Pugliese both recorded danceable versions of Piazzolla's 'Verano Porteno'. His "Fuego Lento", "Adios Nonino", "Festajando", "Fuga y Misterio" etc. often find their way into an evening, and his "Libertango" -- whose original progressions and rhythms have been imitated for years around the world -- is still a favorite. They are great tunes, and inspiring pieces, even though they can be pretty hard for dancers.

Piazzolla also purposely twisted the classic Tango structure, sometimes in ways that are good for dancers, such as in "Ciudad Tango", and sometimes in ways that are comically difficult, as in the original version of "Escualo".

I've heard and read a great deal of historical material on the 'old guard' 's accusations against Piazzolla, that he "killed tango". I don't know who these "old guard" were -- there are always people who don't like new fashions. But Piazzolla's fellow Golden Age musicians held him in high esteem, and the older dancers I've met from Argentina seemed very touched by his music. To the current generation of dancers, emerging after 1980, his jazzy Parisian/Tango fusions are just part of the fabric -- contributing to the distinctive, fascinating diversity of music in Tango.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Experimental results

So, after 2 years of milongas at The Tango Center, just this weekend we started to embark on the Tango Music educational program. It needed to happen, because I can't DJ for the next 5 weekends.

It takes a lot longer to load a library of disks & Tandas on a machine than I thought! Especially when the machine is 6 years old & pretty decrepit. So I didn't get very far ... I loaded a couple of CD's from major orchestras, a couple of cortina CD's, a couple of alternative CD's, and a couple of Nuevo CD's. The best 10% of the collection, but only about 1/4 of what it should be.

More unfortunately, I didn't have time to put Tandas on the system. Luckily Jim reminded me to bring Tanda lists from DJ's, and he copied them and passed them out to those interested. So it should be possible for people to read those, search the library, create a tanda for themselves, learn from it, create their own, etc.

I trained Jeff on the technicalities of performance with iTunes on our DJ schoolroom computer. We forced Rebecca & Andrew to teach the intro (which included close embrace) to Demare's orchestra, which was interesting to watch. We created some Tandas on the fly. And we played from that old machine, over the Tango Center's massive 8-speaker system, from the 8pm pre-milonga class start until the 10:30pm performance. Then I switched over to my laptop.

Pretty good start. These things take time.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

DJ teams

"How can a bunch of people DJ?" I am asked.

It's a good question. I don't think it will be as wild as it sounds.

This weekend, in much the way that people work the front desk, people will work the DJ station. There will be three "active people" per one-hour time slot. They'll be selected randomly from the pool. I'll hang around to give advice at "decision moments".

Person 1: whoever has the steadiest hands (if it's a toss-up, take turns) does the actual playlist manipulation. They drag the tandas & cortinas that the trio agrees upon, down to the playlist. Then every subsequent group will be able to see what's played so far. They can program ahead, but the next trio can make adjustments.

Person 2: controls the volume on the board, and helps decide on which Tandas/Cortinas to choose.

Person 3: makes sure that the trio is paying attention to the crowd, to what they want, to what they can do, to the sound quality, and to the energy in the room.

Others will swing by occasionally, to learn what's playing. Comments & criticisms will be welcome and necessary.

That's the experiment. We'll see how it works.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


I think we've figured out how to teach more people to DJ: share the equipment.

There are a few ways to do this. For example, a few dedicated DJ's could share a laptop. But our particular problem at the Tango Center is broader. We have lots of people interested in the music, but few who would like to devote time to preparing an evening.

So we'll have a shared machine nailed down to the Dj Station. Here's how it will work, from my announcement to the community, earlier today:

"Each person who's signed-up and been-trained to use the system, will have an account on the machine. There will also be a general account open for non-event times."

"We'll have all the music from Tango CD's we can find, loaded up on the machine. Each account will have access to the music on the machine. People can make Tandas & playlists, and export them to a general library, and import the tandas & playlists they want to use."

"So we'll finally have a way to share knowledge about the structure of an evening. ( I'll load up all my playlists, Tandas, Cortinas, alternative pieces etc, and all those from other DJ's I've collected). We'll have just a single piece of technology, a Mac running iTunes, so there won't be any compatibility problems, and people can group-DJ, partner-DJ, individually-DJ, or just help each other out. We'll all also get to know the music Much better. "

We have to raise the money for the machine. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

New milonga

It's so rare to find a milonga that breaks new ground ... but this one sure sounds like one, from the group Electrocutango -- written, I guess, for Pablo Veron and the Oslo production of "Tanghost".

The song is "retrotango", and I've never heard so many references, or quotes, in a danceable modern piece: milonga, candombe milonga, brazilian, Piazzolla, D'Arienzo, Canaro, and Vince Guaraldi's sweet piano jazz (obviously a reference to his Brazilian collaborations).

I'll play it tonight, to see if people are excited about it.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

More gestalt evidence

After four months, or 32 milongas, of trying to create an evening with more "analog" methods (i.e. CD's) I'm certain that no system of CD's can ever achieve the quality in an evening possible using a laptop computer.

First of all, CD's are less holistic than a computer can be. You cannot adjust their relative volume on the fly. You cannot rearrange them on the fly, you cannot preview them easily ... but most importantly, absolutely, is that when you make a discovery, you'll lose it, if you don't write it down. And even if you do write it down, it is out of context, and you have to try to re-create the evening from your head or your notes ...

I've seen quite brilliant DJ's, like Alex Krebs & Robert Hauk, try to do this. The more I listen to their evenings, the more I feel they are limited by their technology. And what if someone is less brilliant or educated than they are? I don't know as much about musical structure as Alex, so I need to listen carefully, and make carefully considered Tandas, with careful notes, integrated with the music files. Otherwise I'll just forget good stuff, and I won't be able to improve bad stuff.

The cortina problem is typical ... some cortinas simply fit beautifully between two particular Tandas. But you don't always want to play those two tandas in a row. But having the same music on multiple CD's is maddening. I've tried it. It kinda works, but it doesn't work well. You'll end up limiting your range to compensate.

It's back to a laptop for me. A solid DJ laptop, the low-end iBook, isn't that expensive these days. But we'll be setting up a desktop (or two, for pair dj-ing) at the Tango Center's DJ station, so people can arrange their own playlists. And share their playlists with each other ... borrow & learn.

But I still believe real analog can beat digital ... live music: for dancers, for tango.

Pair DJ-ing

At the Tango Center last night in Eugene, I DJ'd together with Demetrius Gonzalez, who's part of the DJ pool at Homer Ladas' collective Cellspace milonga in San Francisco. Technically, "pair dj-ing" is pretty easy: two to three tandas per dj, and show each other what you'll be playing, so adjustments can happen on the fly. It probably gets better as DJs know each other better.

I think this is the second time I've shared DJ-ing a night: Jaimes Friedgen & I did it last weekend at the Tango Center, but it was more "I'll take the first half, you take the second". Still, Jaimes & I have a closer range of Tango music, so it sounded pretty smooth to the dancers.

Although I told Demetrius that we were doing a "traditional" night, I didn't explain what I meant by "traditional". At Cellspace, "traditional" apparently includes post-golden age covers, such as Hugo Diaz, Tubatango, Color Tango, etc. So, during my share, I stuck to Golden Age music, to keep the evening from getting out of people's normal range. I also tried to play three sets to Demetrius' two.

I liked his music, and enjoyed dancing to it. I've always enjoyed dancing at Cellspace. But Golden Age music is critical to a Milonga: it's very organically intertwined with Tango as a dance, and it helps you to play with dancing on the beat. But I also believe new music to be critically important too, in doses ...

... and when a real live Tango music scene re-emerges, I'm quite sure it will sound completely different than what anyone imagines.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Gestalt evidence

If you want flexibility, to adapt to the evening's crowd, you need to be able to put tandas on independent of a plan. If that's true, you need to have the cortinas separate from the Tandas ... you can't burn them on the same CD and get that nice cortina which relates to the previous piece and the next piece.

People have known this for a while. After a computer, the second most desirable piece of DJ-ing equipment is the two-player box. This lets you adjust the cortinas as often as you adjust the tandas, and find the perfect one. This is a gestalt accomodation ... the less-gestalt version would have you burn CD's with a neutral cortina onto the end of each tanda. Not much chance for interconnectivity.

The problem is how to remember all those nice transitions ... a computer could be helpful in this, but the current software doesn't let you save tanda-cortina-tanda ideas, except as text notes somewhere ...

Friday, February 18, 2005

Mutual aid? Be prepared!

Thursday was opening night of Valentango, one of the best tango events anywhere. But when I walked in the door, fashionably late, some kind of disco was playing! Huh? Christopher looked at me and asked "do you have any CD's with you?" Apparently the complex and expensive sound system, which was rented, had no cables, so he couldn't hook-up his iPod.

I remembered humbly the first Milonga I hosted at The Tango Center, where I just put on some kind of Tango compilation, and people started complaining. Luckily Alex Krebs & Andrew Burt both had their music with them, on CD & laptop. Within 30 minutes or so, they'd taken charge.

Since then I've DJ'd, I dunno, a few hundred milongas, but I don't travel much, so I didn't really think to take my music & cables. Sure, Christopher should have his back-ups with him ... but what if those failed? Or if he had some emergency? 250 people were there from around the world to dance Tango. Robert, Alex, Jaimes, Andrew, myself and all the other DJ's there ... some of the best in the world ... we should have had our gear with us. Luckily Ward didn't live very far away ...

It's a good lesson.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Solid Biagi, later Biagi, odd Biagi

The tanda below is not right. The later Biagi [Santa Milonguita, Milonga Triste] is quite different from the super solid Biagi's above it. There's also some very 'odd beat' Biagi. These all have different effects ... the odd stuff is definately for advanced dancers. The late songs have a rich orchestration. But the old, solid stuff will haunt you for days. Clearly Biagi's version of Quejas de Bandoneon is the best. But it needs to be mixed with similar Biagi, or else everything else will pale. Unless you end with it.

But I like putting the best known song at the beginnig, and the best song second ... to make sure everyone dances to it. Robert likes to put the best song last, but I find that too many people are done before the fourth song. Again, it depends on the crowd. It's best to DJ from a computer, but that makes it hard to train other DJ's ...

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Milonga kit - metanda 1

These meta-sets aren't easy to make.
I'm just putting together those I can use,
and I'll analyze them later. Here's
the first CD:

[Tango - early, medium speed Di Sarli]
Verdemar : Di Sarli
PorteƱo Y Bailarin : Di Sarli
Duelo Criollo : Di Sarli
Tu Intimo Secreto : Di Sarli

*Cortina* Chuluchululu : Bula Fiji Bula

[Tango - early, medium speed D'Arienzo]
Compadron : D'Arienzo
Dime Mi Amor : D'Arienzo
Uno : D'Arienzo
Ya Lo Ves : D'Arienzo

*Cortina* Valse Lento : Quadro Nuevo

[Vals - Romantic Canaro]
Bajo El Cielo Azul : Canaro
El Trovero : Quinteto Pirincho
Tristeza Criolla : Canaro
Corazon De Oro : Canaro

*Cortina* Freddie Freeloader : Miles Davis

Monday, December 27, 2004

Tango DJ toolkit

So, I want to start a number of people at the Tango Center as DJs. They must, of course, be dancers, love the music etc. There are a lot of people like this, and I've been trying to think of how to get them going.

So I'm going to make maybe 10 CD's, with a format like ...

... and characterize them, with a little high-level guide to adjusting the mood of an evening.

Starting the evening, "Slow, steady, lovely, interesting, easy". For me, the first two sets are often:
  Orchesta Tipica Victor
  Mid-to-late Di Sarli
  Early De Angelis
  40's D'Arienzo

Then there's "rock-solid beat, romantic":

The first waltz set and the first milonga set should also start slow.

Then, mid-evening, energy & romance ...

There's "Jazzy, fascinating, good beat":
  early Pugliese
  early-mid Canaro
  Early Calo
  Early Troilo

There's "super-romantic":

There's "super-improvisational":
  Mid Pugliese

Then there's "fast beat":
  Early Di Sarli
  Early D'Arienzo
  Fast Canaro

There's more. I'll put them together, and post the results here. Then I'll update the toolkit as it gets polished.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The tone of an evening

Usually a Tango DJ is responsible for the mood of the evening. Or, that's the conventional wisdom.

Certainly a DJ can ruin an evening with a bad ear and a bad eye. But a DJ has little other influence over the social scene. People dance with whomever they want, get tired, or get moody. The Tao of Tango: if each evening was equally delightful, it would be meaningless.

That's a convenient philosphy, of course, and shouldn't be used as an excuse for hurting an evening. For example, I think the best dancers have a community responsibility to dance with a wide range of people through the evening, peppered with dancing with favorite partners. Because it's good for the community, and because it makes the best moments. But all dancers don't see it this way.

Partner dancing is about trying your best, all the time. That's pretty exhausting, and it can't be 100% successful. It's quite important to try ... and it's of course challenging to try to be sensitive, positive, inventive, strong, community-minded, calm & playful; as well as encouraging, to yourself, to your partner, to the DJ & musicians, to the people around you. It's a tall order. But if everyone is trying ... that sets the tone for an evening!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Patterns of an evening

Sets of closely related songs give structure to the evening.

For recorded tango music, Tandas, or sets, consist of 3-5 solid, danceable recordings of a particular band (say, Di Sarli), of a particular era (say, the late 1930's), and a particlar genre (Vals, fast Tango, medium Tango, slow Tango, Milonga, candombe Milonga). Generally you try to make each Tanda coherent in itself ... playing profoundly with a particular range of moods, speeds, sounds, and rythms & melodies.

A wide range of music can punctuate the effect of a tanda.

Cortinas bridge bewteen two Tandas ... and contrast to them as well. It can be music with no relation to eaither Tanda, and which relate to other cortinas over the night. A cortina can also playfully suggest something from the previous Tanda, or suggestively lead into the next. The main purpose is to get people to stop dancing ... but also ....

The Alternative song Cortina
Sometimes a single alternative dance song fits just right in between two tandas.

If you want to play a chacarera, a salsa, swing, nuevo or alternative Tango song, later in the evening usually, it's not a bad idea to skip the cortina, and just play the alternative piece. This isn't always true ... especially if the crowd tends to dance to everything! But it is a useful pattern.

The odd song Tanda finish
Sometimes a single unrelated or alternative dance song makes the perfect ending for a Tanda.

The first three songs please you, but you can't finish it with the same band. You might find another piece, or an alternative dance piece, that complements the mood.

Tango-Tango-Vals-Tango-Tango-Milonga [repeat]
The large-scale structure of an evening

Usually you want to start an evening with a few sets of tango, and slow-to-medium speed, but exciting in some way. Then a Vals set, then one or two Tango sets, then a Milonga set ... then repeat. Approximately. Milonga sets are the only thing you can have too much of ... it depends on the number and energy of the crowd ... but this meta-structure works well.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Useful links

Robert Hauk has a nice list of solid classic CD's

ToTango has comments from Dan Boccia, "Lucia", Alex Krebs, Stephen Brown, Andrew Burt, Keith Elshaw.

Stephan Brown's excellent Tango music pages are well worth studying.

In the alternative realm: Santiago Steele's CD reviews on tangonauts, Sharna Fabiano's DJ List of Neo Tangos and Jackie Wong's Neo-Tango Music.

A list of Portland Tango DJs.

And this entry in wikipedia needs a lot of work.

Probably the most important thing for a Tango DJ, is to contribute original work -- it's quite possible to be an average DJ by reading the above pages and copying Tandas, and using nothing else. It's instructive to copy, but we need to do more, or our laziness will come across to the dancers. None of the above authors would recommend just copying - so, we go back to the albums, listen to as much as possible, and find new approaches. We test them on the crowd, and we watch them carefully. Or else we don't develop a feel for the people on the floor.

And we post it in blogs, to keep it exciting.