Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

Are music researchers getting better? Certainly seems so as more and more they seem to come up with findings that are neither insulting to the intelligence nor insulting to music lovers. Take for example this recent study by two Irish researchers:
In the journal Psychology of Music, Groarke and Hogan report older and younger people tend to express different ideas when asked why they listen to music. While the responses of four groups of participants—two featuring people under 30, and two composed of those over 60—were predictably wide-ranging, the researchers found some distinct patterns.
For younger adults, social connection is a strong component of music listening; you bond with your peers over your choice in tunes. By one measure, this consideration placed second only to "mood improvement." (This finding aligns nicely with the theory that music originally developed as a source of social cohesion.)
But that aspect of listening was far less important to older adults, who largely looked at music as therapeutic—a source of meaning and personal growth. While some younger participants did refer to music's ability to provide them with a private "personal space," the bulk of the responses suggest older people are more interested in music as an intense, inner experience, while younger ones view it as a way of escaping bad moods and connecting with friends.
On the other hand, this study examined only 43 people in two age groups, so it is probably what we might call "suggestive" rather than "definitive".

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Stanislavsky, call your office. There may be aspects of current academic culture that are reaching beyond parody. Take this one for example. A professor of film and cultural studies is going to research David Bowie for an monograph by using method acting. He will try to live like David Bowie for a year.
He has started wearing vintage clothing and adopting Bowie’s hairstyle and makeup. He has been taking singing lessons and trying to paint in an expressionist style. He has experimented with sleep deprivation and even spent a few days sampling Bowie’s dubious diet of raw red peppers and milk.
Well, sure. I'm thinking of trying it out myself. In an attempt to better understand the compositional practices of Anton Bruckner, I'm thinking of trying to live like him for a year. I've already got my eye on a 17-year-old Austrian peasant girl. Mind you, the make-up is going to be hell:


Not a pretty man...

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We all love Ghostbusters, right? So here is what we have all been waiting for, a heavy-metal cover of the Ghostbusters theme:


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Some airlines, in their never-ending effort to cause as much trouble as they possibly can for working musicians, lose instruments or severely damage them. But the gold medal goes to US Airways for their success in managing to lose not one or two violins, but EIGHT in a special shipping trunk, checked in at the airport in Barcelona. Go to Slipped Disc for the full story. (Update: apparently the violins turned up eventually, but the airline still can't explain what happened.)

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Time for some good news, right? A physicist has devised a way of non-invasively "reading" the audio information on older recording media so that it can be preserved and heard in a pristine form. The story is at the Wall Street Journal.

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Here is an interesting review of two operas presented in Edinburgh recently. The operas were The Rake's Progress by Stravinsky on a libretto by W. H. Auden and Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart on a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte. The reviewer comes to the not terribly startling conclusion that:
While a first-rate performance of The Rake’s Progress can’t disguise the fact that it’s just an ingenious toy, a misconceived Figaro remains unsinkable
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Is food the new music? This seems to be a developing meme these days:
Food has replaced music at the heart of the cultural conversation for so many, and I wonder if it’s because food and dining still offer true scarcity whereas music is so freely available everywhere that it’s become a poor signaling mechanism for status and taste. If you’ve eaten at Noma, you’ve had an experience a very tiny fraction of the world will be lucky enough to experience, whereas if you name any musical artist, I can likely find their music and be listening to it within a few mouse clicks. Legally, too, which removes even more of the caché that came with illicit downloading, the thrill of being a digital bootlegger.
Wouldn't it be great if we could see the return of aesthetics in the form of developed tastes in music and other art forms? At least that is the official position of the Music Salon because it would be so much more egalitarian: it costs nothing to have good taste.

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Are we seeing the Rise of the Cultural Libertarians? Some people think it is about time:
The new authoritarians aren’t merely concerned with policing art and entertainment, but also everyday expression, especially in advertising. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and free speech advocate Greg Lukianoff recently published an article for The Atlantic in which they describe a new movement to “scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offence.” By controlling the language of society, cultural authoritarians hope to control society itself.
Cultural libertarians disagree. Liberal columnist Nick Cohen points out that changing words and changing society are two different things. “The lie that you can change the world by changing language is back,” he writes. “I cannot tell you how many good people [are driven] out of left-wing politics … because they did not realise that words that were acceptable yesterday are unacceptable today.”
In order to control what they see as dangerous expression, authoritarians often resort to casual and spurious accusations of misogyny, racism, and homophobia. The goal is to manipulate the boundaries of acceptable speech by smearing their targets with socially unacceptable labels and to write off speakers they don’t like as bigots so they don’t have to engage with the speaker’s arguments.
Worth reading the whole thing as it presents a whole manifesto of cultural libertarianism. The Music Salon is probably culturally libertarian in its basic assumptions.

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I don't know about you, but I've been longing to hear choral arrangements of the Sex Pistols for some time. And now, thanks to an Estonian festival, here it is. I know that you are longing to hear the original, so here it is, the Sex Pistols "Anarchy in the UK":


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One definition of a poorly done review would be one that would be unrecognizable by the musicians. I think this one by Norman Lebrecht might qualify. The composer is Prokofiev and the writer speculates:
Taken on its own, the Second Violin Concerto reveals more of the composer’s state of mind than is readable in his letters and memoirs. He is going back home out of creative necessity and his mind is made up, but anxiety seeps through the work like mildew through a garden shed. This is the work of a man at life’s crossroads, a man who seems to know that whichever way he turns will be the wrong one.
And when I say "speculates" I really mean completely invents a whole psychological scenario with only the slightest biographical evidence and absolutely no support in the music itself. Why? Very simply because a piece of instrumental music, no matter how much you torture it, cannot reveal things like "anxiety seeps through the work like mildew through a garden shed". This is the work of a music critic who has run out of anything to say and starts making up metaphors inspired by looking out the window at his back yard. Norman must be at his life's crossroads, a man who seems to know that whichever way he turns will be the wrong one.

But that does give us our envoi for today. Here is the Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, op. 63. The performers are Janine Jansen (Violin), Mark Elder (Conductor) and the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra:


8 comments:

Marc Puckett said...

Estonia is the place to be, I guess. Last night I fussed with a post about the Nargenfestival in Estonia, which features the Arvo Pärt Days and the Cyrillus Kreek Days etc-- which festival of course I had never heard of. There seems to be a strong tradition of choral singing there, with the widespread participation of amateurs. I suppose being such a small country with its own language etc contributes to this survival but whatever the reasons it's quite attractive and praiseworthy.

Bryan Townsend said...

There seems to be a lot of interesting music in both the Scandinavian and Baltic countries. I don't know much about the Baltic nations, apart from listening to some Arvo Pärt, but I posted something back a while about an article by Richard Taruskin on some Baltic composers in which he commented on how much their music used consonance. After all the dissonance of modernism, rather a new idea!

Marc Puckett said...

Got around to reading the Alex Ross you linked to; he apparently has to use the rhetoric of Progress etc but at least he likes certain contemporary symphonies. It is true, though, that symphonies are not as prominent in the concert halls as they used to be? I counted 'em up in the upcoming season here in Eugene and there are four symphonies in the eleven concerts.

Rickard Dahl said...

That article about Cultural Libertarianism was well worth a read indeed. Well, I believe the idea is based on the political compass: http://politicalcompass.org/ Basically a 2 dimensional (Cartesian coordinate) representation of political views with a left-right economic scale on the x-axis and an authoritarian-libertarian scale on the y-axis. I did the test once (few months back) and ended up in the middle of the 4th quadrant (which is right libertarian): https://www.politicalcompass.org/analysis2?ec=4.88&soc=-5.08 Either way, it's a good to see more people speaking out against censorship etc. There are many other issues in our current (Western) political system though. Corporations might not in themselves be bad but currently corporations have too much influence/power over politics. The federal reserve is not actually owned by the government but by a wealthy group of people. US has an "unholy trinity" of the government, corporations and government feeding of each other. There is also potentially scary future of improved technology being used to spy on citizens. We've already seen what NSA can do but that would be nothing compared to what would happen if for instance RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) chip implants were mandatory. Not to mention the Patriot Act already limiting freedom and the wars for oil in the Middle East. And lets not forget the destruction of environments. Europe has its' own problems with excessive immigration and also the bureaucracy/authoritarianism of the EU. Well, even if our votes don't count as much, money does and more educated spending of money would solve some of these issues. I suggest the documentary "Ethos", sure it borders on conspiratorial stuff but it was still very interesting.

Anyways, I think libertarianism is the way to go but not too much of it. What I mean is that we can't give government too much power but at the same time we can't give corporations too much power. Some regulations are needed, especially environmental and worker condition regulations. Governments being able to break monopolies is probably a good thing also. For instance Theodore Roosevelt (if I remember correctly) broke the oil monopoly which was beneficial for the US.

@Marc, on the topic of Estonian composers I recommend you check out Eduard Tubin, especially his symphonies. His 3rd symphony is a good starting point.

Marc Puckett said...

Thanks, Rickard, I will listen to Tubin.

Bryan Townsend said...

The ideology of modernism tended to condemn all use of traditional musical forms like the symphony. There are really two phases to the symphony. The first one goes from the early or mid 18th century where it started as an instrumental appendage to an opera. People like Sammartini and C.P.E. Bach started writing free-standing symphonies and then Haydn took up the form and it became the center of his musical output and the most important musical form or genre (other than the opera). He was followed by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and a host of 19th century composers from Berlioz to Mahler. It extended into the 20th century with Sibelius, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. But for a long time it was rejected by the high modernists as being obsolete. Then, oddly enough, it has seen a revival with symphonies by Philip Glass, Peter Maxwell Davies, John Corigliano and others. Plus, there has always been an ongoing tradition in Scandinavia with people like Allan Pettersson and Einojuhani Rautavaara. But you won't find any symphonies by people like John Cage, Boulez or Stockhausen!

Marc Puckett said...

Was going to suggest this-- "Akiho said the [ping pong] ball was a unique musical instrument and its bouncing was in perfect harmony with string instruments"-- for Friday's Miscellanea but I realised it's already Friday. (Medici.tv, on my Facebook page, has a video-- am not ordinarily a reader of Xinhuanet.com, ha.)

[http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2015-07/19/c_134426226.htm]

Bryan Townsend said...

That's going in next week's miscellanea!