Friday, January 10, 2014

I'm Back! --With the Friday Miscellanea

Forgive my absence for most of this week. I was in Mexico City for a few days and it wasn't conducive to putting up any posts. I did see a couple of interesting museums I might comment on at some point.

But I'm back now and the first item that caught my eye was this one about a young man who got hearing aids that enabled him to properly hear for the first time in his life. So he binged out on music!! What's really fascinating is what music comes out on top for him. In order:
Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Bob Marley, blues, Queen, Beatles, Explosions In The Sky, Sigur Ros, and Radiohead.
 Obviously he hasn't had the opportunity to listen to any Haydn yet...

Here is a comment on aesthetic value;
How would you describe the evolution of music? You're in a pretty unique position to comment on it.
I wouldn't call it evolution. It's easier to find good songs pre-digital age. They end up sounding more authentic. Modern music is so much louder. But there are a few modern bands pushing music to the next level. I just didn't expect to love classical more than any genre. So, from my point of view, music has been in a confused and downward spiral ever since classical ended. Some got close but no one has touched on Mozart’s requiem. I rank classical 99/100, the blues 91/100 and Reggae 85/100.
Wait, "classical ended"? And no-one sent me a memo?

Memo to: Bryan Townsend, classical composer
Re: The End of Classical Music

Text: Yes, Bryan, it is unfortunately true: classical music is all over. It's just as Frank (Zappa) said, all the good music was written by dead white guys in wigs. The precise moment it ended was during one of John Cage's "happenings" in New York in 1968. The confirming evidence was the release of The White Album by the Beatles in November of that year, which showed that popular music was now where all the action was.

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Since Austin Chapman's favorite piece of music is the Lacrimosa from the Requiem of Mozart, let's have a listen:

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The Guardian has an interesting article summing up the year in music with numbers. The most-performed composer, in the UK at least, was Benjamin Britten, partly because of the 100th anniversary of his birth. Mozart just edged out Beethoven as most-performed in the world. Tom Service is most disappointed that there are not more prominent female conductors and composers. Well, sure. But apart from onerous government regulation I'm not sure how we would get to actual gender equality in these areas.

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As the traditional models for the studies of the humanities fade under the Long March through the institutions of cultural Marxists, new models seem to be coming to light. Witness the development of a more rounded "creative" curriculum for undergraduates at Stanford University in California. This is not as innovative as it might sound. I used to teach a very similar kind of course at McGill in Montréal called The Art of Listening. It was basically a music appreciation course for non-music majors. With about a hundred students in the section, it was both fun and challenging. I remember starting off one year with a semiotic analysis of a song by Stevie Wonder.

For the life of me, I can't remember which song I chose. But here is some Stevie Wonder to contemplate:

Coolio's Gangster Paradise is based on it:

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And finally, via Norman Lebrecht we have a street guitarist that he raves about:

His name is Estas Tonné and yes, very good player. But he is very much in the Paco de Lucia mold: i.e. a lot of fast notes, flailing around and tossing of hair while sticking to the same dreary chord progression that they all seem to. Of no actual musical interest therefore. Or is it just sour grapes? No, I swear not! What he does is so carefully crafted to match exactly what the guitar does best that if you listen closely it really isn't very interesting musically. But virtuoso, certainly...

For comparison, here is a little Manitas de Plata from 1975:


Rickard Dahl said...

"Tom Service is most disappointed that there are not more prominent female conductors and composers. Well, sure. But apart from onerous government regulation I'm not sure how we would get to actual gender equality in these areas."

As a matter of fact none should see this as a problem. As this ( episode of this Norwegian documentary explains it's more a matter of biology than anything else that men seem to prefer certain lines of profession and women others. Men seem to enjoy more abstract or technical professions. Women seem to be more human-oriented in their choice of profession). It is also a myth that men and women earn differently (as in per hour or similar ways), it's more a matter of choices. Men generally choose works that pay more (and sometimes those works are very dangerous), work longer hours etc. Anyways, back to the composer issue. Yes it's true that women composers have been discouraged in the past. But today it shouldn't be a problem, of course it comes down to a matter of talent, skill and dedication but it's also about choice. I believe that simply less women are interested in conducting and/or composing (I don't refer to pop "composing") the same way less women are interested in becoming engineers or police officers for instance. I would love to see more living women composers but if we are going to hear things like these: then no thanks. As for pieces composed by dead women composers frankly there's way way less to choose from. Sadly like with every professional area where men are dominating there is a trend to push women into those areas by various organizations even if it means a reduction of quality (with things like affirmative action). If it's the other way around and women are dominating (like in human resources) none is complaining.

There is ofc also a push towards multiculturality (with things like affirmative action once again). Governments and various other organizations shouldn't push employers to employ people based on criterias like gender or ethnicity rather than the actual skills, experience etc. It's just silly, unfair and simply stupid. I'm not very familiar with cultural marxism but it seems like it's one of the ideologies pushing these kinds of politics (correct me if I'm wrong).

Rickard Dahl said...

Btw, amazing that Austin regained his hearing. A while ago I saw a TED speech about regaining hearing and the speaker said that hearing is the sense that we are closest to being able to restore. He also said that music poses a big problem, the hearing aids are mainly designed for understanding speech and someone with his hearing restored probably won't enjoy music (it will sound wrong due to some details I don't remember). I don't know if Austin's story is a sign of progress being made or that Austin wasn't too deaf for the hearing aid to work with music. Either way, lets hope the future will bring lots of great innovations in restoring senses.

Btw, since there is a mention of 3D glasses in the article: I can't actually see artificially created 3D effects with glasses or any other way I've tried, I guess I'm simply stereo blind ( A shame considering I have a TV that can convert 2D content to 3D. Maybe next generation of 3D will be better.

Bryan Townsend said...

While there certainly seems to have been considerable discouragement of women composers in the 19th century--the cases of Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann, for example--I'm not sure that you could argue that women are positively discouraged from being composers today. The Pulitzer Prize in music was won this year by Caroline Shaw:

In conducting we have the example of Marin Alsop who was honored this year by being invited to conduct the last night of the Proms:

So, it is certainly possible for women to have successful careers as both composers and conductors. But it also seems to be the case that most women prefer not to.

Rickard, thanks for your Norwegian perspective on this.

In the case of Austin Chapman, it seems as if huge progress has been made in hearing aids. Fantastic news for him, as he seems to be a born music lover!