Friday, January 8, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

Kicking it off is a review of a new book titled "Inside the Great British Recording Studios." Oh, and that microphone you see in the top photo? That's a Telefunken U47 and it runs about $10,000 US. A great microphone is about the only thing that hasn't changed in the recording studio:
The technology that Jagger and Stones road manager Ian Stewart fitted into a good-sized truck to go mobile is now available inside a well-equipped personal computer and sophisticated audio interface. It’s now possible to make a very good sounding record in a project studio -- particularly if the goal is to record a demo recording; drum machines and drum loops eliminate the need for a large room and scads of expensive condenser mics to record a drummer, and excellent samples of strings and other orchestral instruments are readily available. Guitar and bass modeling devices, and beautiful sounding hardware and software synthesizers fill out the rest of the band. A vocalist can be recorded via good condenser mic, a portable vocal booth, and a carefully-treated room.
* * * 

It's my feeling that we haven't had enough funny items in the miscellanea lately, so, to rectify that, I am going to put up a non-musical item. This is a collection of some of the best corrections of 2015 in the media:
"Norma Adams-Wade's June 15 column incorrectly called Mary Ann Thompson Frenk a socialist. She is a socialite." - The Dallas Morning News.
"Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the number of years E.B. White wrote for The New Yorker. It was five decades, not centuries." -The New York Times.
"Just to keep the record straight, it was the famous Whistler's Mother, not Hitler's, that was exhibited at the recent meeting of the Pleasantville Methodists. There is nothing to be gained in trying to explain how the error occurred." -Titusville (Pa.) Herald.
"Karol Wojtyla was referred to in Saturday's Credo column as "the first non-Catholic pope for 450 years". This should, of course, have read "non-Italian pope." -London Times.
"The Ottawa Citizen and Southam News wish to apologize for our apology to Mark Steyn, published Oct. 22. In correcting the incorrect statements about Mr. Steyn published Oct. 15, we incorrectly published the incorrect correction. We accept and regret that our original regrets were unacceptable." - Ottawa Citizen and Southam News.
I have no idea what kind of suit Mark Steyn threatened the Ottawa Citizen with, but it must have been a doozy!

* * *

Here is an interesting anecdote about Pablo Casals, the great Spanish cellist:
Casals' first visit and tour of the United States came in the year 1901, when he traveled across the nation with a popular vocal artist, Emma Nevada. It was to have been an extensive series of engagements, with performances in 80 different locations! However, midway through the tour Casals suffered a serious injury to his left hand, while hiking in California. He had been climbing Mount Tamalpais, near San Francisco, when a large rock somehow become dislodged, and fell on his hand, crushing some fingers. Casals said that the first thought that came to his mind at the time was, "Thank God, I'll never have to play the cello again!" It may be helpful to amateur cellists, and young professionals, to remember that even the truly great musicians of history have had to contend with self-doubt, stress and burn-out. Casals, master of the cello that he was, still was always nervous before and during performances.
* * *

This is what perfect pitch is like:

I was in an ear-training class with people like this: ear-training virtuosos that came up through the Québec Conservatoire system from a young age. They could not only do stuff like this, they could sight-sing anything in any clef you liked. But were they musically creative? Not especially. A friend of mine with perfect pitch was nearly driven mad playing in a Baroque ensemble doing the Brandenburgs because they were using A = 415 instead of A = 440. Everything either looked wrong or sounded wrong!

* * *

This year and next Wigmore Hall is planning to present ALL of Schubert's 600 songs in a series of concerts. Worth a trip to London! Or several... The Guardian has an extended interview with some of the singers involved that is worth looking at.

* * *

Pierre Boulez has died, aged 90. There is an extensive obituary in the Guardian:
Pierre Boulez, who has died aged 90, was arguably the single dominant figure of the classical musical world through the second half of the 20th century and beyond. Without his compositions, his legacy of recordings as a conductor, his writings on music and his administrative skill and drive, the musical scene today would be of a quite different order. To some extent this dominance was achieved by the application of remorseless logic to both organisational and interpersonal problems. But at the same time he was a man of great warmth and charm.
I will have some posts on Boulez in the near future, but I see that Amazon is temporarily out of stock of his Oeuvres Completes. There is much that I would disagree with in the above evaluation, though. As a conductor, he was outstanding, as a composer, however, he had little influence in the last few decades, tied as his music is to the hyper-complexity of the immediate post-war years. There are lots of people that might disagree with that statement, but I hope to provide some basis for it in future posts. It is as an ideologue and behind-the-scenes manipulator that he had perhaps an unfortunate influence on the music world. Still, it is time for a thorough re-evaluation and perhaps I might change my mind!

This discussion, also in the Guardian, is closer to the truth, I think: "Pierre Boulez changed how we listen to the music of our time."

* * *

Alex Ross has a piece praising John Williams' movie scores:
This is not to deny that Williams has a history of drawing heavily on established models. The Tatooine desert in “Star Wars” is a dead ringer for the steppes of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” The “Mars” movement of Holst’s “Planets” frequently lurks behind menacing situations. Jeremy Orosz, in a recent academic paper, describes these gestures as “paraphrases”: rather than quoting outright, Williams “uses pre-existing material as a creative template to compose new music at a remarkable pace.” There’s another reason that “Star Wars” contains so many near-citations. At first, George Lucas had planned to fill the soundtrack with classical recordings, as Stanley Kubrick had done in “2001.” The temp track included Holst and Korngold. Williams, whom Lucas hired at Spielberg’s suggestion, acknowledged the director’s favorites while demonstrating the power of a freshly composed score. He seems to be saying: I can mimic anything you want, but you need a living voice.
 * * *

The obvious choice for an envoi today is a piece by Pierre Boulez. Here is one of his most important works, Répons, recorded in Japan in 1995:


Marc Puckett said...

The French comments I've seen (and the sample is skewed of course since they are at Catholic and reactionary sites, ahem) are full of praises for Boulez, requiescat in pace, as a conductor and glory of France without so much enthusiasm for the works and theory. I suppose there will be a wave of releases and re-releases in the months ahead, some of which will be worth listening to; I'd happily hear Répons at the concert hall but doubt I'll listen again much at home.

Bryan Townsend said...

Certainly a very important conductor. But, as noted in the second article I linked to, Boulez' creativity seems to have declined sharply over the years. I'm going to do some re-evaluation, but I have to say that I can't think of a single piece that has caught my attention.

Marc Puckett said...

Just read a quotation attributed to Ravel, to the effect that music must be first of the emotions and only then of the intellect, and thought of B.

Bryan Townsend said...

Boulez is a bit of a mystery to me, which is why I am going to take another look at his music. But I have issues with Ravel's view as well. I don't think that music is condensed lacrymosity, though that might be the Romantic view!

Christine Lacroix said...

So I'm learning French on this website! I'd never seen the word 'répons' I thought it was a typo until I looked on Wikipedia.

That's sort of sad about Pablo Casal hoping he wouldn't have to play the cello any longer after his accident.If that thought popped spontaneously into his head makes you think the pain of playing outweighed the pleasure. One of my two favorite cello players,Stjepan Hauser, was asked if his hands were insured. He replied that there was no point since if he couldn't play cello life wouldn't be worth living anyway. Another extreme.

Perfect pitch. I'm guessing it might be incredibly useful for someone with talent but wouldn't make that much difference if talent were absent?

Found this in the journal Le Monde: La mort de Boulez met un point véritablement final au XXe siècle musical avant-gardiste qu’il avait notablement contribué à façonner avec d’autres compositeurs nés au cours des années 1920 : les Italiens Bruno Maderna (1920-1973), Luigi Nono (1924-1990) et Luciano Berio (1925-2003), l’Allemand Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007), l’Autrichien d’origine hongroise György Ligeti (1923-2006) et le Belge Henri Pousseur (1929-2009). A l’exception de Ligeti, ils avaient tous adhéré à un langage qui remettait en question les acquis fondamentaux de l’harmonie classique et s’étaient, dans un premier temps, conformés aux lois du dodécaphonisme – réorganisation par « séries » des degrés de la gamme chromatique – puis du sérialisme intégral – application de ces principes sériels à tous les paramètres musicaux : hauteur, durée, timbre, intensité. Avant, chacun à leur manière, de s’en dégager.
En savoir plus sur

Your jokes were very funny and very welcome. Reminded me of true excerpts that were once printed from accident reports. One man reported 'I drove around a curve and suddenly a pedestrian appeared in the street in front of me. He didn't know which way to run so I ran him over'.

Bryan Townsend said...

I think that the moral of the Casals story is that being a musician is such a great responsibility that sometimes one wishes to be free of it. But at the same time, one's identity is bound to it.

Oui, c'est tout vrai!

One of the things I hold against Boulez is that he called Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphony "bordello" music because it had added sixth chords and did not follow the austere rules and structures that Boulez thought necessary.

Damián López-de Jesús said...

I have a random suggestion (not at all related to this post):

I think it would interesting for you to come up with a "manifesto" of sorts that brings up your disdain and concerns over current life in arts and culture, and addresses them with new or re-established tenets and theses. Think of it as your own "95 Theses", addressing the corrupt Catholic church that is the still prevalent post/modernist ideologies of art- and music-making, an uninformed and uncultured public, etc.
If anything, it would be interesting to see you condense your ideas into a single document of sorts.

Thoughts on such an idea?

Bryan Townsend said...

It's a great idea! I have made stabs in this direction previously if you do some digging around on the blog. There are a gazillion posts under the general rubric "aesthetics", some of which address this. Here is one example:

There are even a couple of posts where I do attempt a kind of manifesto, though I call it virtues and sins:

I'm a bit allergic to manifestoes as such, as I wrote in this post:

And check out today's post on Scylla and Charybdis.