Monday, August 13, 2018

iPads and Scores and TV Interviews

A couple of interesting items this morning. First of all, according to Slipped Disc, the Orchestre National d’Ile-de-France is giving all its musicians iPads to replace the traditional printed parts in performances. This is a very cool idea, of course. Music notation works best as a constantly scrolling stream, an option common with music software. Page turns are just awkward. I have seen string quartets using iPads or laptops instead of printed parts a few times. Mind you, on one occasion there was an interesting problem. You typically have a little foot switch you use to turn the page. On this occasion, due to some Bluetooth error, the cellist was discovering that every time the violist turned his page, the cellist's page turned as well! In the comments to the Slipped Disc post one musician mentions that it ain't gonna be easy to change fingerings or bowings in rehearsal! There is something to be said for paper easily edited with a pencil and an eraser.

Kanye West always manages to make the news and a little controversy came out of his interview on Jimmy Kimmel this past Thursday. Here is the interview:


I found a few things interesting. West has a kind of childlike demeanor with occasional bursts of wisdom. For example, I liked his comment that "in this world we live in there are two main motivating forces--that's love or fear." That's not a bad thing to keep in mind. It reminds me of one of Patton's sayings, "never take counsel of your fears" which apparently he stole from Stonewall Jackson. In any case, it is good to remind ourselves from time to time, not to be ruled by our fears. Of course, there are other motivating forces and Kanye mentions pride. Another couple are greed and curiosity. I think curiosity is a really important one, often left off lists of virtues.

Kanye is a musician and designer so the way he thinks is probably not primarily in terms of verbal logic, but rather visual or musical logic. He mentions that he is not about politics or policy, but about not being afraid to say something outside what is supposedly permitted for an African-American (his term). This was the character of his response when Jimmy Kimmel brought up Trump. At one point Kanye says "we could have a dialogue about the President and not a diatribe." He then goes on to say that love can cure hate and so on. Then Jimmy Kimmel interrupts with the usual litany of leftist criticism (or perhaps, more accurately, smears) of Trump: tearing families apart, how he cares about nobody, etc. Kimmel really wasn't listening, was he? This was the jarring, inappropriate element. We didn't use to insert our political ideology into every corner of life--there was a time when we would have thought that demanding that a rapper defend the political policies of a current administration was absurd. I suspect that time was not that long ago, either.

What I really liked about Kanye's reply was that there wasn't one. Soon after they went to a commercial break and he never answered the "question." These kinds of things are really not actual questions are they, but rather ideological traps? The National Post had a piece on it where they reported on Kanye's tweeting that he wasn't stumped by the question but was thinking how best to answer and then was cut off. That is a very polite way, perhaps, of saying, that the nastiness of the question was simply embarrassing. There is a word we rarely use these days, but it keeps coming to mind: this kind of verbal interaction is really impertinent, rude, disrespectful, not only to the person being criticized, but also to the interview guest. In my experience, there are really only two ways to handle this kind of argument: either stop them in their tracks before they have a chance to hurl much, or simply refuse to engage. Kanye chose the more politic way.

Now let's have something to clear the palate with. Here is a really lovely piece for guitar by perhaps the greatest guitar composer of the 20th century, Joaquin Rodrigo. It is too long to be a short piece and too short to be a long piece, so it was not included in my recent top ten lists. Which is why I want to mention it now. This is the Invocation and Dance by Rodrigo played by Pepe Romero:


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Music and the Feng Shui of Wine

I really don't have a tag for this one! A commentator just sent me an interesting link about a Chilean winery that uses Gregorian chant to age its wine better:
With a mission to revitalize the production of quality Chilean wines, Montes founders Aurelio Montes and Douglas Murray discovered the use of music, specifically monastic chants, enhanced the taste of their product.
“There are studies that prove that soft vibrations make the liquids perform a better aging than in silence or with strident music,” says Montes. The Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh performed one of those studies specifically for Montes' Aurelio wine in 2008. Researchers found that red wine taste was altered 40 percent by powerful and heavy music, and 25 percent by mellow music. Drinkers rated white wine more refreshing when music considered “zingy and refreshing” was played. Other winemakers are following in the steps of Montes, including Chilean Juan Ledesma of Terroir Sonoro, who plunges music speakers directly into the barrels. 
The imaginative techniques employed by Montes Wines extend beyond the innovative use of cymatics (or wave phenomena). The entire winery was built with the principles of feng shui in mind. All the basic elements—think water, metal, wood—are incorporated into the design, with water flowing from outside the winery into a fountain at the center of the building. In the feng shui tradition, water is deemed the ultimate symbol of abundance, and the careful placement of the lily-shaped fountain is intended as a way to connect the building with the prosperous energy of the universe.
That sounds fascinating! I'm wondering what would happen if you aged some fine Canadian ice wine with Shostakovich string quartets? They are about to perform the String Quartet No. 11 in an upcoming chamber music festival concert. This is the Allegri Quartet:


Friday, August 10, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

Tim Cook, CEO of the first trillion dollar company, Apple, worries about "the humanity being drained out of music." Here are some more thoughts:
“I couldn’t make it through a workout without music,” Cook says. “Music inspires, it motivates. It’s also the thing at night that helps quiet me. I think it’s better than any medicine.”
Dude, I worry that you are draining the aesthetics out of music. Ok, you work out to music, it quiets you down at night, it's inspiring and it's motivating and it's like a medicine. Is it also a bit like music? I get that it revs you up, it calms you down and it's medicinal. It just doesn't seem that there is any music in your music. The music that I think is music really doesn't do any of those things, or only secondarily. It worries me that a lot of people listen to music the way Tim Cook does.

* * *

This is cool: a workshop for people wanting to compose for film: Learning from Hollywood's best at a film scoring workshop.
My focus has been, for many years, trying to elevate or at least maintain the level of quality and respect for people who compose music for film and television and games,” said Richard Bellis, who has led the program for 21 years.
The 12 selected applicants spend a month in L.A. under the guidance of Bellis, Emmy-winning composer of the 1990 miniseries “It,” who crams in a year’s worth of education. Each attendee is assigned a scene from an existing film and given a week to write a piece of original score. They orchestrate the music, with insight they gain hearing from pro musicians, and work with established music editors on fitting the piece to film. They learn part preparation as their scores are prepared by JoAnn Kane Music Services, the best in the business.
They’re coached in the interpersonal skills needed for collaborating with directors, podium procedure and running a big-budget recording session. They also meet with music supervisors, concertmasters, agents, studio executives and A-list composers.
* * *

Ever since I began this blog several years ago, I have seen reports of the reconstruction of ancient Greek music. Finally, they all say, finally we have rediscovered what ancient music actually sounded like. And then you listen and it sounds like music from North Africa or modal fusion or, worse, something by Carl Orff from Carmina Burana. And so I read the latest claim without much hope: Ancient Greek music: now we finally know what it sounded like.
In 1932, the musicologist Wilfrid Perrett reported to an audience at the Royal Musical Association in London the words of an unnamed professor of Greek with musical leanings: “Nobody has ever made head or tail of ancient Greek music, and nobody ever will. That way madness lies.”
Indeed, ancient Greek music has long posed a maddening enigma. Yet music was ubiquitous in classical Greece, with most of the poetry from around 750BC to 350BC – the songs of Homer, Sappho, and others – composed and performed as sung music, sometimes accompanied by dance. Literary texts provide abundant and highly specific details about the notes, scales, effects, and instruments used. The lyre was a common feature, along with the popular aulos, two double-reed pipes played simultaneously by a single performer so as to sound like two powerful oboes played in concert.
Despite this wealth of information, the sense and sound of ancient Greek music has proved incredibly elusive.
The more I read, the more I suspected that these researchers and performers were on the right track. Here is a clip that explains their approach and demonstrates the results:


Still, all we have are a few fragments out of the whole corpus of Greek poetry, all of which was set to music. But these performances have an authenticity to them that is promising. And they sound nothing like North African music or Carl Orff!

* * *

It is never easy being an artist, but this seems a bit extreme, even in these benighted days: The Chinese Government Destroys Ai Weiwei's 'Zuoyou' Studio.
It's been just seven years since the dissident artist was arrested and incarcerated in a secret location for 81 days. (The government suspected him and other activists of trying to start a "Jasmine Revolution.") Ai also had his passport confiscated and was forced to pay a steep fine of $2.4 million after authorities charged him with tax evasion.
Now Ai has posted several Instagram videos of his "Zuoyou" studio being destroyed without warning over the weekend. As he explained in one video, he had worked in this Beijing studio since 2006. Ai tells NPR that some of his art was damaged in the process, as he had not been given any time to prepare.
* * *

Cellist Jinging Hu had an unfortunate experience flying with her cello even though she had purchased a seat for the instrument: Cellist ‘humiliated,’ kicked off American Airlines flight after buying ticket for instrument.
When Hu boarded her return flight to Chicago Thursday, she was told to get off the plane, WBBM reported.
Hu said flight staff told her that the cello was too big, and the aircraft was too small to hold the cello.
She said she was escorted off the plane by law enforcement, even though her instrument met the seat size restrictions.
I'll be purchasing a seat for my guitar on a flight to Toronto in December so I really, really hope this does not happen often. It is not easy traveling as a musician these days.

* * *

Deutsche Grammophon has signed a deal with Apple Music to have playlists curated by classical music artists. Sounds pretty interesting.
Deutsche Grammophon has signed a longterm deal with Apple Music to have classical playlists curated by major artists.
For today’s launch at Salzburg, the pianist Daniil Trifonov, tenor Rolando Villazón and cellist Peter Gregson curated Apple Music’s three main composer stations: Mozart, Bach and Beethoven.
The DG Playlist will be regularly updated to include videos by DG stars. Check it out here.
Further plans include the first full visual opera on Apple Music – Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette from Salzburg 2008 with Rolando Villazón, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin – along with a Salzburg video playlist, including the Mozart Gala in the composer’s 250th-anniversary year, featuring Anna Netrebko, Magdalena Kožená, Thomas Hampson, Daniel Harding and the Vienna Philharmonic.
* * *

Hey, we've all been there! A woman in Slovakia was arrested for playing Verdi loud to drown out a neighbor's barking dog: Woman detained in Slovakia for playing Verdi for 16 years. I played Stravinsky loud at 6am once to retaliate for a barking dog. Just once, mind you.
According to Hungarian news site Parameter.sk, the woman, identified only as Eva N, played a four-minute aria from Giuseppe Verdi's 'La Traviata' non-stop, in her house with on speakers full blast, from morning until night.
Parameter.sk says that the homeowner in the southern town of Sturovo played the music for years to drown out a neighbour's loud barking dog, and had simply continued doing it.
Residents poured out their anger to local media, furious that the high volume harassment had been allowed to go on for so long.
Police in Slovakia sure seem to take their time responding to noise complaints.

* * *

Wednesday night was Grigory Sokolov's Salzburg recital which I had put in my calendar back when I thought I might be attending this year. There was a thunderstorm, as often happens in Salzburg in August, and the sheer volume of rain caused a leak in the Grosses Festspielhaus:
At last night’s recital by Grigory Sokolov in the Grosses Festspielhaus at the Salzburg Festival, as Sokolov was into the trio of the final menuet of Haydn’s 49th sonata, nearing the end of an all-Haydn first half, water began to pour from the ceiling onto the patrons in the 5-8th rows, center.
I was sitting in the 1st row, directly in front of Sokolov, and was reluctant to turn around, not wishing to distract him…but of course the water was coming down loudly, as if from a large showerhead, pouring from one of the light fixtures high overhead, and it’s hard to believe he didn’t hear it. Nonetheless, I never saw so much as a glance or any other sign he was aware of the deluge – his commitment to the music was absolute – and his performance appeared in no way affected by the fact that roughly two dozen people had to get up right in front of him and quietly file out.
After a slightly longer than customary intermission, during which the leak was stopped, the floor mopped, and dry seat cushions provided for the affected patrons – several of whom did not return – the program resumed with a stunning Schubert D.935, plus the usual generous complement of wondrous encores, six in all. The fourth of these was – naturally – Chopin’s ‘Raindrop’ prélude.
* * *

Ross Douthat has a column at the New York Times about the battle between technocratic ambition and humanism. Spoiler: humanism is losing.
...in the end neither a Christian humanism nor any other has been able to withstand the spirit of Conant, the spirit of technocratic ambition, the spirit of truth-replaced-by-useful-knowledge, that rules today not just in Washington and Silicon Valley but in much of academia as well. 
...this trend is sharper among elite liberal arts colleges, the top thirty in the US News and World Report rankings, where in the early 2000s the humanities still attracted about a third of all students, but lately only get about a fifth. So it’s not just a matter of the post-Great Recession middle class seeking more practical degrees to make sure their student loans get repaid quickly; the slice of the American elite that’s privileged enough and intellectually-minded enough to choose Swarthmore or Haverford or Amherst over a state school or a research university is abandoning Hermes for Apollo at the fastest clip.
Douthat offers some thoughts on the deeper cause of the problem:
That problem is the one that Auden identified seventy years ago: In an Apollonian culture, eager for “Useful Knowledge” and technical mastery and increasingly indifferent to memory and allergic to tradition, the poet and the novelist and the theologian struggle to find an official justification for their arts. And both the turn toward radical politics and the turn toward high theory are attempts by humanists in the academy to supply that justification — to rebrand the humanities as the seat of social justice and a font of political reform, or to assume a pseudoscientific mantle that lets academics claim to be interrogating literature with the rigor and precision of a lab tech doing dissection. 
I have certainly noticed both these trends: on the one hand the continual invasion of the "diversity and inclusion" warriors and on the other, the pseudo-scientific attempts to explain how music works. From my point of view, music really doesn't need either of these remedies, but I guess I have a minority view.

* * *

Though I have posted about her before, I am really not that familiar with the work of composer Missy Mazzoli. The San Francisco Classical Voice has a nice article about her.
Mazzoli’s musical accomplishments include a notable performance career with her own ensemble, Victoire, and premieres of a variety of works with classical organizations from Opera Philadelphia (Breaking the Waves, 2018) to the L.A. Philharmonic (Sinfonia, 2014), as well as collaborations with more cutting edge performers and composers such as percussionist Glenn Kotche (Vespers for a New Dark Age, 2014) and cellist Maya Beiser (Salt, a “mini-opera,” 2012). Currently on the faculty of Mannes College of Music, Mazzoli makes for a new kind of role model, a working female composer who is creating works on her own terms and receiving prestigious commissions and high praise from top critics. Recently, Anne Midgette of The Washington Post dubbed her “less a black sheep than a sacred cow: the ‘it’ girl of the contemporary scene.”
* * *

 Let's listen to some of her music for our envoi today. This is the quite lovely Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) in its European premiere at the BBC Proms last year. The performers are the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Karina Canellakis.



Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Sofia Gubaidulina, Part 15

Sofia Gubaidulina continued to be regarded with animosity by the Soviet authorities. She was invited to attend a special fiftieth birthday concert in her honor in Dusseldorf in 1981, but was refused permission and when musicians from Moscow tried to perform her music in concerts in the West they were routinely eliminated from the program. Gubaidulina continued to be inspired by religious themes and her next major work follows from that and from hearing a performance of Haydn's unique piece the Seven Last Words of Christ in an arrangement for cello and strings by her friend Vladimir Tonka. Gubaidulina's piece is for cello, bayan and strings. You will recall that the bayan is a type of Russian chromatic button accordion often used in folk music.

For Gubaidulina the cello is associated with Christ on the cross and the bayan with God the Father while the orchestra represents the Holy Spirit. The work was premiered at a concert on October 20, 1982 as part of the fourth "Moscow Autumn" festival. This performance was not entirely successful, perhaps because of its placement in the overlong program and the performers scheduled another outing in the Spring as part of a program of works entirely by Gubaidulina. Since then it has seen a host of successful performances. This one is by Jean-Guihen Queyras, cello; Geir Draugsvoll, bayan and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra:


One aspect of Gubaidulina's approach to music that I have perhaps not emphasized enough is her work with the improvising trio Astraea. After Victor Suslin, one of the members, emigrated to West Germany in 1981, the trio dissolved. But in 1983, as part of another all-Gubaidulina program, she organized a group improvisation in which the role of each performer was determined by the Chinese book of changes. If you recall, one Western composer also used this book, the I Ching, as a compositional tool--that was John Cage. Here is a photo of Gubaidulina, Laurel Fay (author of a biography of Shostakovich) and John Cage in Leningrad several years later, in 1988.


The problem with a composer like Gubaidulina is that you might ask her for some short piano pieces and receive instead, much later, a fifty minute piece for soprano, baritone and seven string instruments. Such was the case when she wrote Perception, a thirteen-movement piece that explores the relationship between male and female concepts of art and between human beings and God. After two years hard work on this piece, a staff member at Sikorski, the Soviet publishing house, told her that the piece would likely not be published due to its length and troublesome texts. The piece as a whole is not available on YouTube, but the separate movements are. Here are the first three:




At this point, Gubaidulina, fifty-two years old and with very little recognition or success in her own land, is having some rather dark thoughts.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

It's Not a @∞¢¬÷“# Autobiography!!

One of the really great things about the traditional classical concert presentation was NO TALKING! I can't emphasize this enough. How blissful it was to experience the carefully-honed fruits of years of study and practice without having to listen to the performers' jejune thoughts on What It All Means. Sadly, in some benighted jurisdictions performers are mandated to give verbal introductions to every damned piece.

You're going to say that surely the performers' introductions can really add to the listener's experience, especially if they are not familiar with the repertoire. Yes, they can and for one of the pieces in the string quartet concert I heard last night, they did. The viola-player for the quartet gave an excellent introduction to some selections from Antonín Dvořák's set of songs arranged for string quartet, Cypresses. But then they followed this with a long-winded and misleading introduction to the A minor late quartet by Beethoven that was annoying for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was much too long. The first violinist recounted Beethoven's tribulations in trying to find a stable relationship and how he fixated on his nephew Carl and won custody of him when his mother died. He then tied all this into the string quartet along with Beethoven's illness at the time and confidently asserted that the string quartet is Beethoven's autobiography. No, it's not a @∞¢¬÷“# autobiography!!

We live in declining times when it comes to intellectual and aesthetic ideas and values and a symptom of this is the fact that a performer can make this kind of statement as if it were simple common sense, uncontroversial. This applies to an astounding amount of the things we are presented with every day in the mass media as well. Not only are they wrong, but they are not even wrong. They are not the wrong answers to the right questions, they are a perversion of the whole reality and context.

Why is intense, expressive music like the Beethoven late quartets not an autobiography? Let's start with some simple facts: an autobiography is an account, in prose, of someone's life. The benefit and the drawback of such is that it is told solely from the perspective of the writer who is hardly ever objective about his own life. A piece of instrumental music cannot be an autobiography because it is incapable of communicating a single factual detail about someone's life. All it can do is present mood, atmosphere and aesthetic expression. They are simply utterly different kinds of things. But even more than this, a composer like Beethoven would not be even attempting to communicate his personal life in a piece of music. Or, rather, his interior life is his music. And no, I am not contradicting myself. A musician like Beethoven does not have an ordinary kind of inner life. Sure, he may be worried about his financial situation, about where he can find his next housekeeper (having driven the last one away with his bad temper), about running out of manuscript paper or that broken string on the piano--but these things are mere incidentals, things he worries about when he is not composing.

His real inner life has to do with his music. How is he going to organize that new quartet? How many movements? How will this motif relate to that one and what kind of modulation will that require? Will he write a moderately paced minuet or go with a quick scherzo? And so on. All these are technical questions that he will be struggling with for months while he writes the piece. This is his real inner life. And it is not an "autobiography" as we understand it. I'm quite sure that the thought that "in my new quartet I am going to distill down all my feelings about my nephew Carl so that the listener can experience what I was going through" never entered Beethoven's mind. But that is the implication of the violinist's introduction to their performance and it is thoroughly false. You might say, "but you were not there in Beethoven's mind, so you can't know it is false." Yes, true, but of course, neither was the violinist so his claim has no evidence and while his claim requires special evidence, mine does not.

The great mystery of classical instrumental music is that it can have such a profound effect on the listener and we really don't know why. A great piece of music feels like it takes us to another world, another universe, richer and more glorious than our own. And it does this with nothing more than compression waves in the air. Now there is a miracle for you. A far greater truth than any that can be derived from the dysfunctional private life of Beethoven.

Let's all, the next time someone tries to sell us this bill of goods, stand up and shout:

It's Not a @∞¢¬÷“# Autobiography!!

And in the meantime, let's have a listen. This is the Alban Berg String Quartet:


Saturday, August 4, 2018

Musicians and Telephones

Musicians have an unusual relationship with telephones, one that I first noticed early on when I was a classical guitar student. The first teacher I had who was a real classical guitarist was a Dutch fellow who lived in Vancouver but had studied in Spain. Whenever I would call him on the phone, he would answer very curtly: "Hello?" I wish I had a good orthography for it! Just think of the tone of voice of someone in a bad mood. As soon as I identified myself his demeanor would change completely: "oh, hi Bryan" and he would be quite cheerful. It wasn't me he hated, it was the telephone, or rather, the interruption caused by the telephone.

When you call a musician on the phone there is about a 30% chance that they are practicing and will find the interruption to be very annoying. Hence the brusque way of answering the phone. I have been known to shout out a string of curses upon hearing the phone ring. I then suppress this and try and answer in a pleasant manner. I read a study done by a British university a while ago that stated that if you are working in an interrupt-driven environment it is actually worse than being under the influence of marijuana--that is, you lose about ten points off your IQ.

Classical musicians are one of those groups whose work can only be done in a certain environment: one that is utterly silent and free of interruption. You have to be able to concentrate for fairly long spans of time, typically thirty to fifty minutes. You also need to take occasional breaks. For this reason, in order to work at your maximum potential, you need the whole day to practice for perhaps five hours. Scholars and scientists have similar requirements. I recall Jordan Peterson mentioning in a video that he could only read for two or two and a half hours at a time. Of course he is not reading a newspaper or magazine: he is probably reading Nietzsche or Jung.

Doing any of this kind of work: tight focus on the sound, phrasing and articulation of the piece you are practicing, or close attention to not only what the writer is saying, but what might be implied, all this demands total concentration. At first you might not be able to keep it up for more than ten minutes at a time. If your attention is wandering, it is best to stop and take a break. But over time you can increase it to twenty minutes, thirty minutes, perhaps even an hour. After all, there are classical compositions that are twenty or thirty minutes long for guitar and even an hour long for piano.

So the next time you phone a musician and he seems to answer a bit curtly, just bear in mind that he might have been playing Bach...

Friday, August 3, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

Paul McCartney and John Lennon had an agreement that all their songs would be jointly credited, no matter if they were written by one individual or the other, or jointly written. Despite this, it has always been an interesting project to look into who wrote what. A couple of researchers have developed a technique that supposedly distinguishes what each contributed. The report is in the National Post:
“You have to rely on memory for those kinds of things,” said Jason Brown, a professor of mathematics at Dalhousie University in Halifax who says he taught himself the guitar as a teenager after hearing a Beatles album. “I was looking for a more scientific way to go about doing it.” So Brown teamed up with Mark Glickman, a senior lecturer in statistics at Harvard, to put the Beatles’ claims to the test.
In a three-month endeavour that only a devoted fan would willingly undertake, Brown worked his way through every Beatles song from the band’s inception through to their seventh studio album, Revolver, released in 1966. He collected data from each song, including chords and chord progressions, intervals between notes, and the shape of phrases — for instance, whether sequences of notes go up or down, or stay the same. He had to do it by hand, he explained, to sort out intentional repetition (think of that line at the end of Hey Jude) from the recurring musical quirks that distinguish the two writers.
Brown and his colleagues then built a model, using the known authorship of most Beatles songs, that could gauge whether a given song was a Lennon or McCartney creation. Called a “bag-of-words model,” Brown said, the technique has been used with text to compare different writers based on their tendency to use certain words.
* * *

Kronos quartet were, among other things, famous for doing "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix as an encore. And it sounded pretty good in their version. Now I find that string quartets are doing Kanye West. Here is the Divisi Quartet with a little excerpt from "All of the Lights."


And here is another version by the GTA Strings:


And still another by the Endymion String Quartet:


When did this song become a staple? I just discovered it a few weeks ago. With stuff like this I honestly don't know why people still keep saying rap is not music...

* * *

On a more serious note, this is an interesting article on a cultural war going on in Medieval Studies that is not so different from the one that should be going on in musicology (but we may have missed it):
Medieval Studies is the critical study of Europe’s self-identity. No understanding of the West is possible without it. Left-wing academics want to introduce the field to gender studies and race theory. When one Chicago professor publicly celebrated the Christian identity of the Middle Ages, she was branded a ‘violent fascist’ and ‘white supremacist’ — by other medievalists. Now Medieval Studies scholars are tearing their own discipline apart with witch-hunts, name-calling, boycotts and intimidation. The damage done to academia could be incalculable.
That's just the teaser. It is a long article, but worth reading as it is a detailed account of how nasty things can get if you don't toe the ideological line--even in Medieval Studies! One interesting summary:
Based on interviews I conducted over the course of several months, the consensus in the Medieval Studies field is that literature departments lost the war against identity politics and social justice decades ago, so ambitious young academics from that world are now looking elsewhere for new disciplines they can conquer, with panels on the intractable problem of whiteness and rarefied feminist readings of obscure manuscripts. Professional cosmognosis propels these entirely parasitic organisms into new growth vectors. They arrive in a new discipline, claiming to speak for the “marginalized” and “under-represented,” publishing forceful denunciations of the usual boogeymen of sexism, homophobia and white supremacy.
They make what at first appear to be fairly reasonable requests for representation but which later metastasize into disproportionate amounts of airtime dedicated to trivial or imaginary problems, and, of course, to congratulating one another and hurling specious, unchallenged and professionally devastating allegations at unsuspecting colleagues. This is how academic disciplines die. Richard Landes notes: “A colleague of mine who started out in Race Studies, and left the field, told me that whenever the conversation turned to race, the collective IQ dropped ten points. The same thing is happening here.”
* * *

I found this mini-documentary on the history of echo chambers to be quite fascinating for a couple of reasons: it uncovers a whole history of technical development of sophisticated recording techniques extending well back into the 1950s that I was completely unaware of and that in turn puts a lot of the technical innovations used by the Beatles into perspective. They were really benefitting from the work of a lot of technical people quite unknown to us today. Right around the 5 minute mark he describes how the amazing sound of John Lennon's vocal in "A Day in the Life" was created.


* * *

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has just fired their chief conductor Daniele Gatti after allegations of sexual misconduct. This is fallout from the article in the Washington Post I linked to previously:
On 26 July, the Washington Post published an article in which Gatti was among several classical music professionals accused of inappropriate behaviour. Two specific incidents were alleged, one that took place in 1996 and a second four years later. In a statement, Gatti said: “I have always been totally alien to any behaviour that may be referred to [by] the term harassment, whether psychological or sexual. Every time I have approached someone, I have always done it fully convinced that the interest was mutual. The facts referred to took place a long time ago, but if I have offended anyone, I sincerely apologise.”
The Amsterdam-based Concertgebouw, one of the world’s leading symphony orchestras, made no comment until today, when it announced his immediate departure and revealed that since the Post’s article, some of Gatti’s female colleagues at the orchestra had come forward also to allege experiences with the conductor that were “inappropriate”, and that consequently the trust between the musicians and their conductor had broken down.
* * *

Apparently the most, uh, disconcerting composer working today is Austria's Georg Friedrich Haas. Slipped Disc alerts us to a review of a recent BBC Proms concert. As is often the case at Slipped Disc, the comments are the most interesting.

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Also from Slipped Disc is this note about the Teatro Real in Madrid, where I enjoyed a couple of productions last summer. They are doing twice as many premieres as the Met in the coming season.
Next season the Teatro Real has ten co-productions from the Teatro Real, seven of which will have their premiere in Madrid: Turandot (Nicola Luisotti/Robert Wilson), Idomeneo (Ivor Bolton/Robert Carsen), Falstaff (Daniele Rustioni/Laurent Pelly), Capriccio (Asher Fisch/ Christof Loy), La peste, by Roberto Gerhard (Juando Mena/Dora García), Con que voz, by Stefano Gervasoni (Nacho de Paz/Oscar García Villegas), along with the world premiere of Je suis narcisiste, by Raquel García Tomás (Vinicius Kattah/Marta Pazos). The remaining the co-productions have had their debut in the theatres which share these with the Teatro Real: Faust (Dan Ettinger/Àlex Ollé), Only the sounds remains, by Kaija Saariaho (Ivor Bolton/Peter Sellars), and Il trovatore.
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The American Conservative has a pretty good discussion of the problem of the arts and morality.
One of the many questions occasioned by the tsunami of allegations against men in the movie industry is whether we should reappraise their art in light of their misdeeds. Can we continue to laugh at The Cosby Show knowing that its star is a convicted sex offender? Can we continue to identify with Dustin Hoffman after hearing that he groped, flashed, and sexually humiliated underage girls on multiple occasions? Can we continue to enjoy the movies that Harvey Weinstein produced knowing that their creation helped cause so much pain to so many women?
Film and literary theorists have for decades downplayed the deeds—and, by extension, the misdeeds—of artists. In the 1940s, the New Critics, reacting against the “great man” approach to literature that had dominated the field to that point, argued against interpreting artists’ work through their actions. Doing so, they felt, turned literary criticism into a branch of psychobiography.
I have made that argument here a few times. I just don't think that art is necessarily autobiography.
Part of the challenge here, obviously, is linguistic. When we call a person “bad,” we are making a moral assertion; when we call a work of art “good,” we are making an aesthetic one. Complicating matters further is the fact that art can, and very often does, depict very bad things without itself being immoral. Picasso’s Guernica shows the bombing of a Basque town by Nazi and Italian warplanes during the Spanish Civil War. People and animals writhe in agony. A woman wails while holding a dead child in her arms. It is a painting of a war crime. Nonetheless, few people would call it a bad painting merely because it shows a bad deed.
Aesthetics and Ethics have a kind of family resemblance, I have also argued. Go read the whole essay, which takes up a number of questions.

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For our envoi today, let's have a listen to that great song by John Lennon from Sgt. Pepper's, "A Day in the Life."


If you all just thought, wow, John Lennon has an amazing voice, well, ok, yes, but it was helped by a remarkably sophisticated technical set-up and processing to get it to sound like that.