Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

The urge to always "make it new" undeniably leads to some interesting innovation. But, at times, it also leads to stuff we could do without hearing. Imagine if you took the horsehair of a cello bow and wrapped it around the wood of the bow several times and then played with it. You will get a rather random alternation of clicky col legno sounds interspersed with brief bowed bits. Liza Lim's piece Invisibility (2009) uses this effect for the first half:


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There have a been a lot of criticisms (some more appropriate than others) of the new music streaming services and how they present classical music. But this one is perhaps the most entertaining. Plus, lots of illustrations.

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Prince criticizes the standard record contract as "slavery" in a talk for journalists given in his studio in Minneapolis.
His pitch to the group was simple: Typical record company contracts turn artists into indentured servants with little control over how their music is used, particularly when it comes to revenue from streaming services playing their music online — and he wants to change that.
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There was a time when classical artists could mature gracefully without having to pander to the crossover crowd, or, as it is termed in this release, the "club" crowd.


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I suspect that Bill Whittle's Afterburner series will not be to everyone's taste. I remember back in the early days of the blogosphere when he would post the occasional lengthy essay also titled "Afterburner". He makes a lot of good points in this one which dovetails with some of my observations about why classical music is losing its audience.


The allusion, by the way, is to The Great Learning, one of the "Four Books" in Confucianism.

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Another item that might seem rather peripheral to music is this one from a philosopher professor. Quassim Cassam proposes that the reason some people believe things that are obviously false is not that they don't have enough information or the right information, it is that there is something wrong with the way they think. Read "Bad Thinkers" for the whole argument. Here is a core part:
Gullibility, carelessness and closed-mindedness are examples of what the US philosopher Linda Zagzebski, in her book Virtues of the Mind (1996), has called ‘intellectual vices’. Others include negligence, idleness, rigidity, obtuseness, prejudice, lack of thoroughness, and insensitivity to detail. Intellectual character traits are habits or styles of thinking. To describe Oliver as gullible or careless is to say something about his intellectual style or mind-set – for example, about how he goes about trying to find out things about events such as 9/11. Intellectual character traits that aid effective and responsible enquiry are intellectual virtues, whereas intellectual vices are intellectual character traits that impede effective and responsible inquiry. Humility, caution and carefulness are among the intellectual virtues Oliver plainly lacks, and that is why his attempts to get to the bottom of 9/11 are so flawed.
I think the relevance to us is that while the discussion in that essay focuses on intellectual virtues, much the same applies in the world of music with what we might call musical virtues. A lot of how we train to be musicians is by developing the right kind of work habits and listening habits. Not so surprising, the same virtues that apply in the intellectual realm also apply in our realm: humility, caution and carefulness are pretty important when you are learning a piece of music. But I'm sure that there are virtues particular to what we do as well. We don't usually think of things in this way, but aren't things like the ability or willingness to follow an idea to wherever it leads, to work out the implications of a certain form, to seek out the unity in diverse motifs or textures the kinds of virtues that a composer needs?

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As the theme for the day seems to be "slouching towards idiocy", let me link to a review of a new book by Mario Vargas Llosa titled "Notes on the Death of Culture."
We may not be living in the worst of times, although a case might very well be made for it, but anyone with a thought in their head would be entitled to say that we’re living in the stupidest. Mario Vargas Llosa, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, certainly believes we are. In this series of coruscating and passionate essays on the state of culture he argues that we have, en masse, capitulated to idiocy. And it is leading us to melancholy and despair.
Want some more?
 On some aspects, such as the art business, Vargas Llosa practically foams at the mouth. The art world is “rotten to the core”, a world in which artists cynically contrive “cheap stunts”. Stars like Damien Hirst are purveyors of “con-tricks”, and their “boring, farcical and bleak” productions are aided by “half-witted critics”. 
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I think that I have made clear my views on identity politics and quota systems in general, so I will put up this link without comment: "Chineke! Europe's first black professional orchestra."

I will just pose this question: do they expect to be judged by objective aesthetic standards? Or should other factors come into play?

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Hmm, what would be an appropriate envoi for today's oddly mixed-up miscellanea? Aha, I have it! How about a heavy metal "cover" of the last movement of the Symphony No. 5 of Dmitri Shostakovich? You got it:


6 comments:

Rickard Dahl said...

In the article about the playlist issues there's a commentator that says that The Piano Guys are as good performers as Yo-Yo Ma and an answer to the comment used the ad hominem argument by calling people who disagree with the initial comment as elitist. Here's the initial comment: "I agree to ALL of this except for The Piano Guys guys dig. I've performed with them at Carniegie Hall, and on tour in front of over 13,000 people. They are as good as Yo Yo Ma. And if you haven't seen them live yet, you have absolutely no credibility making digs that you actually can't back up. Coming from a classically trained Opera singer here... Just because we also dabble in pop music doesn't mean we are any less trained or 'legit' -- Yo-Yo Ma is a god on the cello. Yes. But the piano guys are right up there."

Well, I don't know about The Piano Guys' performance abilities but two things can be sure: They do not play classical music, at least not in their videos. It is rather a sort of dullification of classical music. They take something that works well on its' own and make a dull version of it (quite an accomplishment (in a negative way of course)). The second thing is that they are toxic for classical music. They shouldn't be associated with classical music at all. Their association just gives a terribly wrong impression of what classical music is. The same goes for the rest of the crossover show-people such as Lindsey Sterling.

Bryan Townsend said...

I can't see what that comment is responding to--I don't see anyone dissing the Piano Guys. So it all seems pointless to me. The Internet is full of people with ill-informed, half-baked opinions they are eager to share with us. Best to ignore them, I think.

Marc Puckett said...

I did see what Rickard is referring to (it's the first comment on the linked post about streaming, by Peter Hollens, who does evidently have a contract with Sony) but, as you say... well, as I say, pft. (I only know the Piano Guys from that start-up screen at Apple Music, funnily enough.)

It hasn't struck me before, and I suspect it was the amusing illustrations that did it-- but first can I point out that the quality of the sound streaming wasn't mentioned anywhere in that BuzzFeed article? which seems to me to be the one incontrovertible defect of even the best streaming, the sound quality-- the rest of it that I see adverted to over and over again (the lack of proper information-- 'metadata'-- on each piece, e.g., well, even I could figure out who the composer of the Lang Lang 'piano concerto in E minor op 11' is, ahem, even apart from the fact that 'streaming' by its nature implies current access to the wonders of the Internet) is very much in the category 'First World problems'. People, BuzzFeedians, who live on the Internet expect uninterrupted speed and constantly available access and who knows what.

Marc Puckett said...

Ah, the Chineke project; I had to laugh at places. "... (E)very concert will feature at least one piece of music by a composer of relative ethnicity." What does 'relative ethnicity' mean? Did you see at Slipped Disc that Anne Akiko Meyers (had never heard of her, nor of Miss Nwanoku) tweeted about this but promptly recovered her senses and took the offensive tweet down? [http://slippedisc.com/2015/08/soloist-is-forced-to-apologise-for-errant-tweet/] The thing is, 'BME' means 'black and minority ethnic', into which category Miss Meyers might also fit, no? Although the Brits tend to mean 'South Asian' when they say black without a modifier and say 'black African' when they mean people of partly African descent... although perhaps I haven't kept up with the right and proper jargon... it gets very complicated.

Good luck to Miss Nwanoku and her orchestra! As a person of non-color, I can't know what this or that person of color has lived with, and while I can think of several reasons not to go the Chineke route, perhaps had I lived the life of a person of color I could see sufficient reasons to try it out. I don't know.

Marc Puckett said...

I almost edited that comment about the Chineke! because while I had been intending to be quite sarcastic and dismissive in the first part I was sincere in the second ("Good luck..."), and perhaps my use 'person of color'/'person of non-color' obscured that; the fact is that at this stage of my life I'm not going to learn to use the politicised jargon of the identity politics people just to demonstrate my bona fides.

Bryan Townsend said...

Marc, I'm sure you have colour! Though living in Oregon, you may need to get out in the sun more. However, you don't likely have one of the Officially Approved for Special Consideration colours. Anne Akiko Meyers made the fatal mistake of saying (or Tweeting) something expressing simple common sense. I made a similar comment. But since few rabid activists read this blog, I received no bullying attacks.

While I appreciate your generosity of soul, that leads you to an empathic response, the way I see this being politicised these days makes me more inclined to resist as much as possible.