Friday, February 19, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

Here is something new that I never knew I needed: wireless earbuds that enable you to shape your acoustic environment.
What it can do, via the app, is let you swipe to adjust the volume on a conversation you’re having with a friend who’s standing in front of you (or, say, a TV show you’re watching without having to change the sound level for anyone else who’s watching). You can play with an equalizer to fine-tune the bass, mid-range, and treble tones you hear while listening to music, or tap on one of many preset filters to give tunes a specific sound.  There are also eight different filters, still in “beta,” meant for eliminating noise in specific situations—on a subway, bus, plane, or office, for instance.
Wow! You can not only filter out or block what you don't want to hear, you can also amplify what you do want to hear. I want to try these. Not yet commercially available, but soon.


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A while back I put up a post about the artist manifesto and how it functions. I just ran across an excellent discussion of arts manifestoes from the point of view of the Stuckist movement, a trend in British artists to move past the postmodern and rediscover the roots of art--something I am very much in sympathy with.
...many SJW artist types preen over the perception they are somehow cutting edge and challenging. They are oblivious that they are espousing the same causes and attitudes being championed by the universities, all the major newspapers, the big three networks and the majority of cable stations, Hollywood studios, ensconced and entitled government bureaucrats, go-along-to-get-along corporations, the official leadership of every major political party pretty much, and the authoritarian brow beaters of social media.
Such rebels, to be in unquestioning conformity to the steady diet of propaganda that barrages us from every angle.
This is what I call The Narrative.

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Alex Ross has a nice piece up at the New Yorker about upcoming performances of Messiaen and in the process gives a good account of him and his historical importance in 20th century music.
After the Second World War, Messiaen formed links to the European vanguard, and taught three of its chief practitioners—Boulez, Stockhausen, and Xenakis. In the sixties, though, he swerved back to the eccentric, vivid tonality that marked the music of his youth. Explosions of E major cap his gigantic choral-orchestral piece “The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (1965-69). And “Zion Park and the Celestial City,” the final movement of “From the Canyons to the Stars . . .” (1971-74), dwells for a short eternity on a hyper-luminous chord of A major. What makes it unlike any A-major chord in history is the noise that wells up within it: clanging bells, bellowing gongs, an upward-glissandoing horn, the sandy rattle of a geophone (a drum filled with lead pellets). This supreme consonance seems less to banish dissonance than to subsume it.
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 There is brief, but hilarious item in Alex' blog titled "Critic at a loss". You have to read it! But let me say that this is one of those jokes that has a grain of truth in it. If you are going to write about a performance it is a great help to have followed it in the score. On the other hand, surely a music critic knows the Beethoven sonatas pretty well, even without the score.

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Ok, maybe there is a God after all. A recording by Agustin Hadelich with conductor Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra of the violin concerto titled "L'arbre des songes" by Henri Dutilleux has been awarded a Grammy for Best Classical Instrumental Solo. We were just talking about this piece here at the Music Salon.

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Here is a piece of good music journalism that talks about the kind of life touring soloists often have and how to handle it:
Once, many years ago, as a very young arts journalist, I asked superstar performer Pinchas Zukerman about the glamorous life of an international violin soloist.
“Glamorous!” he snorted. “Here’s what I can tell you about my glamorous life. I can tell you that the baggage carousels are a long walk from the taxi stands in the Narita airport in Tokyo. That the duty-free shops are excellent in Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. That Chicago’s O’Hare is a nightmare. Here’s my life. I arrive in a new city. I go to the hotel, then to rehearse with the orchestra. I’m playing one of the same four concertos I always play – the Beethoven, the Mendelssohn, the Brahms, the Tchaikovsky. I play the concert. Go to the postconcert reception. Go back to the airport, get on a plane and do it all over again.”
Yep, it can often be like that. Sometimes I describe it as "become a classical solo artist and practice in small rooms the world over!" Yes, and perform in larger ones, but still, it is a strange and isolating existence. But violinist Gil Shaham is coping:
he often travels with his wife, violinist Adele Anthony. Balancing home and career, family and profession, is very important to him.
Shaham has also been both assiduous and creative in expanding his repertoire beyond the “four horsemen” of the violin concerto repertoire. He’s recorded and performed Bach’s solo works for violin, has added the Bach violin concertos to his repertoire, is involved with mutimedia projects and generally tries everything he can to amplify his music-making.

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Here is a lovely account of how French horn player Roger Kaza came to know the great solo in Des canyons aux ├ętoiles…  by Messiaen and record it in the Grand Canyon on a rafting trip. Courtesy of Alex Ross.
Finally, at mile 168 (measured from the put-in at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona), we found our ideal space. Fern Glen Canyon is a tributary of the Colorado, with hundred-foot vertical walls thirty to fifty feet across. Dripping springs create grottoes of ferns, greenery, and delicate wildflowers. Tim and I hiked up the canyon, played a few notes, and immediately reveled in the lush echo resounding off the ancient stone. This was the place to record the Messiaen. We convinced the group to stay an extra day, so we could carry out our recording project.
Read the whole thing!

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UPDATE: I saw this item just after posting the miscellanea. Roboticists invent a third arm just for drummers:

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Gil Shaham is in Toronto to perform the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Prokofiev, so let's take that as our envoi today. Here he is playing with the Orchestre de Paris conducted by Dima Slobodeniouk.


4 comments:

Marc Puckett said...

Excellent FM! and not just because I found each of the items of interest, ha-- usually, such being the nature of things, one or two are, however wonderful in themselves and fascinating to probably 90% of your audience, of less than compelling interest to me. Had put that Grammyified Hadelich Dutilleux on my list, e.g., and missed the Alex Ross Messiaen.

Those Here devices, hmm. I get that an audiophile will be able to correct for the acoustic deficiencies of a concert hall (if he thinks that So-and-so's recording of Boulez is off somehow, would they work to correct that offness?) and so forth. I suspect that they won't be of much use to those of us who can tolerate the streaming services. :-) From a different perspective, however, I might be willing to criticise such things that may contribute to the further radicalising of society's pervasive individualism: what have we come to that we can't even experience the same concert or show? Hmm.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks so much, Marc.

Re the ear buds: I'm hoping that they will be able to filter out excessive amounts of cumbia and ranchero music! But yes, there is a disquieting trend towards withdrawing into individual retreats.

I blame Society!

Marc Puckett said...

Noticed that Deutsche Grammophon has released Grigori Sokolov's Schubert and Beethoven CD on vinyl. Is the difference between CD and vinyl appreciable even to us streaming people (although I have been adding to the CD collection...), do you think? You may remember that I can hear the difference between Spotify and the higher quality streaming at... well, cannot recall the name for the life of me just at the moment; the other German recording company... but it's been so long since I listened to a vinyl recording of anything classical that I have no sense at all of the difference in audio quality.



Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, it has been a very long time since I have listened to anything on vinyl either. But a friend of mind, a professional musician, who had a very, very high end sound system was very certain that vinyl was far superior to digital CDs. Mind you, this was in the earlier days of digital recording. And there was always the surface noise and potential scratches to worry about. Still...