Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Time for a post on those little things that drift by that are not quite worth a post on their own.

  • Forgive me for drawing your attention to something that is not about music specifically. Business Insider has a piece about new scientific concepts that are going to make us smarter. Ha! And that's a sardonic 'ha'. I've noted this before: just about everything that makes its way into the mass media is so watered down as to be useless. My advice to everyone: stop paying any attention to the mass media. These so-called scientific concepts are neither new nor useful. Instead they are old crap with new packaging. Take the first one, "cognitive humility": take away the "cognitive" part, which is just a five-dollar word meaning "thinking". This boils down to "be humble" which is a concept that has been around for a few thousand years. Sadly, the rest of the ideas are no better. One sage reviewer summed up by saying, "Not only did it not make me smarter, it annoyed me. Trite and smug little essays which are either too abstract to be understood or frustratingly brief." The problem with most of this stuff is that the useful stuff would be in the details, but it is precisely the details that are omitted in popular writing. I have commented on this ad nauseam in writing about how music is discussed in the mass media. Test it out for yourself. Look for any story in the mass media that is in an area in which you have professional expertise. I think that you will find that it is all, or mostly, wrong. Now remind yourself that the same low standards prevail in those areas about which you know nothing!
  • £2,500 for a vinyl record? Wow, do I ever regret throwing away my old LPs! Pete Hutchison sounds a bit like one of the more florid writers on wine when he describes the sound of a really good analog recording. But he is probably right. I was visiting a friend in Niagara-on-the-Lake one summer and we got into discussing this whole audio fidelity thing. Chris Donison is a professional musician like myself and at the time he was music director for the Shaw Festival. He had a very high-end sound system with, yes, a turntable for playing vinyl. His view was that the digital CD had a pretty bad sound, but it sounded clearer and punchier on cheap sound systems. On a good sound system, analog vinyl sounds better.
  • Here is a composer reflecting on his first negative review. It would have been a whole lot more interesting if he had actually bothered to link to the review itself so we could see what he was talking about. As a performer, the only negative reviews I ever received were when my concerts were ignored! Total silence is pretty negative. But I never was able to benefit from really negative comments on my playing, which might have been of great help. It is pretty hard to be objective about your own work, so most outside perspectives, positive, negative or whatever, are potentially valuable. When it comes to composition I tend to do my own interior negative reviews: "oh God, I hope nobody thinks this piece sounds like Hindemith!" Or, "that sounds a bit like Shostakovich getting mugged in an alley by Rossini--maybe I should revise?"
  • Here is a pretty good interview with composer John Adams. Here is a good quote: "Part of [the problem of how to be a successful classical composer] is that there is this entity called pop music, and a certain potential audience is siphoned off by hip hop, rock, or other genres."
  • Here is an essay that attempts to track down and comment on everything Ludwig Wittgenstein ever said about music. Here is a good quote: "To watch Wittgenstein listening to music was to realize that this was something very central and deep in his life…I will never forget the emphasis with which he quoted Schopenhauer's dictum, 'Music is a world in itself.'”
  • Wittgenstein was particularly fond of Schubert songs, so let's end with one. Here are two of the finest interpreters you could hope to find, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Sviatoslav Richter with "Am Fenster":

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