Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

Allan Kozinn, author of an excellent book on the Beatles, takes a look at the creation of one of their greatest songs, "Strawberry Fields Forever" in the Wall Street Journal. If it is behind the paywall for you, try googling the title "Let Me Take You Down Creation's Path." Here is the set-up:
In September 1966, John Lennon went to Almería, Spain, mainly to film his only acting role outside the Beatles, in Richard Lester’s “How I Won the War,” but also as a needed respite from Beatlemania, which had turned nightmarish on the world tour that had ended the previous month. There, Lennon examined his life with a detachment that found its way into the gentle ballad “It’s Not Too Bad.” The song proved far more important than the film. By year’s end, the Beatles and their ingenious producer, George Martin—who died at age 90 on March 8—had transformed this folk-like tune into “Strawberry Fields Forever,” a recording (released in 1967) that many critics regard as one of rock’s most enduring masterpieces, a rich-textured, dark-hued four-minute essay in musical and lyrical psychedelia that both captures and transcends its time.
Read the whole thing.

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Here is a piece on the mishearing of the words in pop songs: "Delete 'Hook'. Insert 'Heart'."
It's a common problem with the lyrics to pop songs that they are often misheard by the listeners. These ear blips are called "mondegreens." I have a old friend who has bought apartments in New York City by exploiting and cataloguing the phenomenon in books. ('Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy and He's Got the Whole World in His Pants , among others.)
Mondegreens are commonly explained by the facts of loose recording standards, production choices, and the volume at which all the instruments play and the singers sing. It is more simply explained by the fact, as noted by my old friend Ethan Russell about Mick Jagger many years ago, "Well, you know, he does slur a lot."
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This is a fascinating essay on the difference between training and education: "B.A., M.A., Ph.D., But Little Education." I link it because the writer makes a lot of the same points that I have made in this blog.
Because my degrees involved so much training that was called education, I had no idea that I hadn’t actually received much of an education. It was only after I completed my Ph.D. that I realized how uneducated I was. With the freedom and leisure to think about what I had and had not read, I realized that I needed to educate myself.
So I read things that I’d never been assigned: The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Dante’s Inferno, Goethe’s Faust, Les Miserables, Crime and Punishment. The list of works I should have read and still haven’t, including Proust and many Shakespeare plays, is far longer.
I’m not the only one who has been left undereducated by college. I would venture to say that a large majority of American students who enter college get little in the way of education.
I spent eight years studying music at university and came away with almost no knowledge of the basic repertoire: the Beethoven quartets and piano sonatas, the symphonies by Haydn and Mozart, anything at all by Schubert and so on. I have spent quite a few years filling in the gaps.

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From Joe Morgenstern's review in the Wall Street Journal it sounds as if the new Batman vs Superman film is one to be avoided. But the review is worth reading, if only for this delicious quote on the soundtrack:
everything sounds the same, thanks entirely to a pitiless score, by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, that suggests platoons of percussionists high on magic mushrooms.
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Here is a piece in the Guardian, "Messiaen gets the multimedia treatment" that puts in perspective how some of these projects can actually detract from the music:
For the second evening of their Barbican residency, Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic turned to Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux Étoiles for a performance that was as much an installation as a concert. Messiaen’s profoundly Catholic meditation on the glory of creation as revealed in the landscape of Utah was transformed into a big multimedia event by photographer Deborah O’Grady and lighting designers Seth Reiser and Stephen Terry. Shifting coloured lights reflected the composer’s synaesthesia. Images of Bryce Canyon and Zion national park, their landscapes slowly changing before our eyes, were displayed on a vast screen behind the players.
There were, however, tensions within it. Messiaen saw the canyons as an earthly paradise that formed an intimation of its celestial counterpart. For O’Grady, they are more a despoiled Eden, their grandeur endangered by the humanity that creeps ant-like across their surfaces. She is at her best when she replicates Messiaen’s sense of awe: macrocosm becomes microcosm as the Milky Way is transformed into drifting sands; her footage of the canyons themselves takes your breath away. Elsewhere, however, her shots of pylons, oil derricks and tramping tourists grate at times against the music’s numinosity.
The visuals aroused mixed feelings. Were they necessary at all? Those sitting in the back stalls had to put up with the aggravation of someone noisily cueing the projections during the first half of the performance.
I often listen to music with my eyes closed. There is a reason for that.

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The new Liberal government in Canada has hugely increased funding for the arts, as reported on Slipped Disc. I post that link so you can read the interesting comments. I'm afraid that I have a somewhat jaundiced view of arts funding in Canada as it has long been the case that one hand washes the other. In other words, the jury system tends to keep the funding circulating among the same circle of cronies.

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I guess the appropriate piece to put up as our envoi today would the "Des Canyons aux Étoiles" by Messiaen. Here is just the first movement, "Le Désert". Full credits on the clip:

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