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“Silver Apples of the Moon” is an ugly piece of music—when held up to traditional definitions of beauty, at least. But Morton Subotnick’s wacky 1967 composition defined “computer music” for a generation that hadn’t thought about it yet. Most Americans at that time were jamming to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and The Beatles’ “Penny Lane”; Subotnick, meanwhile, was plugging away at the new Tisch School of the Arts, figuring out how to make music that sounded nothing at all like music. He composed “Silver Apples” on a Buchla modular synthesizer, the synth that pioneered musical sequencing. The contraption resembled a telephone operator’s switchboard—enormous, difficult to learn, and intentionally complex, unlike the piano-like Moog synthesizer that debuted at the Monterey International Pop Festival that same year. Subotnick’s piece was such a sensation that Johnny Carson invited him to appear on his program, but the composer declined, telling the Wall Street Journal last year, “He would have wanted to talk about something happening at that moment, but I was too busy looking to the future to stop.” Subotnick lectures at 6:30 p.m. at the University of Maryland’s Dekelboum Concert Hall, Stadium Drive and Route 193, College Park. He performs “Silver Apples of the Moon” at 8 p.m. Both events are free. (301) 405-ARTS. (Ally Schweitzer)
UrbanArias’ spring festival continues tonight with a double bill of short operas: Before Breakfast, based on the Eugene O’Neill one-act, and The Filthy Habit, Peter Hilliard and Matt Boresi’s short work set to the backdrop of the 2003 implementation of New York City’s smoking ban. In his review for Arts Desk, Mike Paarlberg says the hilarious second half of the program is worth the agony of the first. Fair enough! At 8 p.m. at Artisphere, 1101 Wilson Blvd. (703) 875-1100. $22.
Increasingly sophisticated chillwave standard-bearers Washed Out perform with another modern dream-pop weaver, Memoryhouse, at 8 p.m. at Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. $15. (202) 667-7960.
Always chill Houston rapper Devin the Dude shares a bill with his old crew, Coughee Brothaz, at 8 p.m. at Rock & Roll Hotel, 1353 H St. NE. $25. (202) 388-ROCK.
Read our wall-to-wall guide to the annual festival! Here are three sure bets:
As War of the Arrows proves, you can make one hell of an action movie without using weapons that make big booms. A historical epic set during the second Manchu invasion of Korea, the film is as brisk and breathless as the genre gets with none of the exposition that can slow it to a plod. Even the prologue—a whip-snap sequence that follows Nam-yi (Park Hae il) and his sister Ja-in (Moon Chae-won) as their father gets cut down after being branded a traitor—is all efficient and bloody. Dad bequeaths his trusty bow to Nam-yi, makes him swear he’ll protect Ja-in, then promptly bites the dust. That’s all we get, and bless ’em, that’s all we need before the plot jumps 13 years ahead. But War of the Arrows doesn’t suffer from a thin story, it just knows the action is what’s paramount. So, after Manchurian soldiers abduct an adult Ja-in, putting Nam-yi and his full quiver on the warpath to track her down in a series of beautifully staged action sequences, director Kim Han-min hits his stride. It just so happens to be a sprint. Wednesday, April 18 at 8:30 p.m.; also on Thursday, April 19 at 8:30 p.m. Both showings at E Street Cinema. (Christopher Heller)
In the digital age, it’s hard to conceive of music as an information provider on par with, say, a newspaper’s editorial page. But calypso once filled that role: While it reveled in the ribald, it was also a fierce political weapon. Artists like The Mighty Sparrow and Lord Kitchener often battle for the crown of greatest male calypsonian, but there’s no doubt whom the queen is: Calypso Rose, “the Lioness of the Jungle.” This documentary unspools the tale of the nearly 72-year-old Trinidad and Tobago singer, who began composing songs at 15 and won the prestigious Trinidad Road March competition in 1977 and 1978. Around that time she also became the first woman to win the Calypso King competition, which was later renamed Calypso Monarch, thanks to Rose’s victory. She was raped at 18 and was never with a man again, but Rose’s Baptist faith and dedication to music provided enough companionship for her to thrive after the trauma. Her cherubic face, onstage energy, and powerful pipes portray tremendous joy, which Calypso Rose captures ecstatically. And crucially, the movie also traces Rose’s journey back to Africa to reconnect with her roots and the foundations of the music that sustains her. Wednesday, April 18 at 6:30 p.m.; also on Thursday, April 19 at 6:30 p.m. Both showings at Regal Cinemas Gallery Place. (Christopher Porter)
Blood in the Mobile is the film Mike Daisey would have made had he known a thing about journalism and not inserted himself into the story. In this harrowing documentary, confessed Nokia addict and Danish filmmaker Frank Poulsen dives head-first into discovering whether his phone contains conflict minerals. While activist work like Kony 2012 and Daisey’s shown-to-be-mendacious Apple monologue offer a ham-handed exchange of facts for spectacle, Poulsen’s film obsessively and deftly seeks an explanation and a solution, rather than the spotlight. In doing so, the director daringly descends into the parallel hells of Congolese casserite mines and corporate communications, navigating around the armed militias guarding mineral riches and stiff-jawed PR professionals guarding Nokia’s polished public image. Each journey has its own excruciating realities, forcing Poulsen—the viewer’s surrogate—to confront the contradictions of his own consumerism and activism as a Westerner. He does so with unblinking honesty, whether it is during an unforgettable, claustrophobic sequence where teenage miners berate him for filming them working underground or when he clutches his phone like a junkie after he learns that the stream of commerce that put it there is more like a trail of bodies. Wednesday, April 18 at 8:45 p.m. at E Street Cinema; also on Friday, April 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Naval Heritage Center. (Trey Pollard)
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