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POP MUSIC | FAST TRACKS

Ex-Head Byrne now in `Love'

July 01, 2007|August Brown | Times Staff Writer

DAVID BYRNE has a fondness for the strangest sounds of far-flung cultures. His Luaka Bop label has released Afro-Peruvian soul (Peru Negro), maniacal Brazilian psych (Os Mutantes) and slinky Francophile post-punk (Nouvelle Vague). But his latest endeavor will take him into even weirder territory: polygamous suburban America.

HBO has tapped Byrne to score the second season of "Big Love," the domestic drama that follows a Mormon (of sorts) family consisting of Bill Paxton, seven children and a trio of clandestine brides in separate houses outside of Salt Lake City.

"I have friends who are lapsed Mormons," the onetime Talking Heads frontman said. "The Mormon mythology -- to say nothing of the polygamy -- is wild and fascinating."

Byrne follows Mark Mothersbaugh (the Devo stalwart and an accomplished film and TV composer) as the house composer for "Big Love." Byrne himself has a history of melding music and screen image in sophisticated ways, with his Oscar-winning score for "The Last Emperor" and his performance in the Jonathan Demme film "Stop Making Sense" springing to mind quickly. Byrne has composed more than half of the new season, and at its core is Mormonism source material.

"I suggested that all the music should evoke Mormon hymns," Byrne said. "Just slightly, but I imagined that the 'spiritual' underpinning might be evoked using the music. I wrote and recorded a bunch of these, but only a few were used. Ah, well, they'll turn up somewhere."

The most recent episode of "Big Love" left off with an untimely visit from state police and a simmering sense of doom at the future of the four-way marriage at the center of the show. Byrne suggests that the surrealist effect of dropping a cult-adhering family into mainstream America is about to get even more bizarre.

"In some of the later episodes I'm working on things that get pretty weird, borderline David Lynch territory," Byrne said. "So we'll see how that goes over."

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KCRW is leveling the playing field

A little-known secret about the life of a DJ at KCRW-FM (89.9): It's actually physically dangerous. To properly scour the Santa Monica studios archive that is 60,000 titles deep and 30 years old, they have to climb precarious ladders to shelves that reach dizzying heights. They also dig through allergy-exacerbating file cabinets and brave paper cuts handling vintage vinyl sleeves.

Their staff should be thrilled then at the prospect of an entirely digitized and cataloged music library. KCRW is soon to undertake a massive project that will put its entire catalog of rare (and often one-of-a-kind in-studio performances) LPs, cassettes, reel-to-reels and other formats into one central digital database that will let DJs search, spin and investigate a song's history with a mouse click. The archive spans every genre imaginable, from avant-garde German rock to early-career performance tapes by local heroes Los Lobos and Ozomatli.

"All of our DJs have a sense of adventure," said KCRW General Manager Ruth Seymour. "This will be a fantastic way for them to demonstrate it without risking life and limb climbing up ladders."

The database will serve a practical business purpose too, as new regulations will require Internet radio stations (KCRW operates three) to pay high royalties depending on how many listeners tune in. The digital database will make this more efficient to track if no less heartening to KCRW programmers, who recently led an Internet radio "Day of Silence" featuring small- and large-scale webcasters discussing the damage these laws will do to their stations.

Still, for DJs braving the upper reaches of the library shelves, and for the fans who love them for it, the new system will remind everyone how good KCRW has it, as far as the music itself is concerned.

"We're going to make the music of the past live again," Seymour said. "Those in our audience who are 25 weren't born when this library began. This is an opportunity to connect with that heritage."

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Dueling personalities

DEBATE on T.I.'s upcoming album, "T.I. vs T.I.P.," is split.

On one hand, his 2006 album, "King," was a barnstormer, rife with regal synthesizers and molasses-heavy wordplay that remained measured and potent.

But it's hard to shake suspicions about this concept album, ostensibly a character study of his competing personas, whose main distinction appears to be their sunglasses. Check out www.allhiphop.com and its stunt interview between "T.I." and "T.I.P." that approaches "Space Ghost Coast to Coast" echelons of awkward cutaways.

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august.brown@latimes.com

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