Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

The big story of the day is the death, yesterday, of Prince, whom the New Yorker honors with one of their iconic covers:

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There was a time when this was considered to be where music was going:

It went there and, like someone visiting Caracas, Chibougamau QC or Detroit, it decided that this was not where it wanted to be. So, it left and went to live in Copenhagen.

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Here is a plagiarism controversy about to go to trial: "Did Led Zep Rip Off Spirit in 'Heaven' ?". Spirit was an LA group in the 60s (I owned one of their vinyl LPs way back then) and of course you know who Led Zeppelin are. They were quite notorious for ripping off both musical and lyrical ideas from, among others, the great 1930s bluesman Robert Johnson. You should read the whole article. This clip explains the similarities:

The Led Zeppelin song progression is actually more complex and more original, though it seems to be heavily influenced by the Spirit tune. After last year's court case about Robin Thicke's song, one wonders how the court is going to rule... Maybe I should have gone into forensic musicology!

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Even scarier than a SWAT team at your door: "If You Don't Pay These Taxes, Expect a Troupe of Drummers at Your Door."
THANE, India—For five years, real-estate developer Prahul Sawant ignored government orders to pay his taxes. Then the drummers showed up, beating their instruments and demanding he cough up the cash. Neighbors leaned out windows and gawked.
Within hours, a red-faced Mr. Sawant had written a $945 check to settle his long-standing arrears.
Shame is the name of the game as India’s local governments try new tools to collect taxes from reluctant citizens. Faced with meager collections and mounting spending needs, Thane’s municipal commissioner, Sanjeev Jaiswal, is resorting to public embarrassment of tax scofflaws.
 Possible future strategies might include EDM djs with massive sound systems camped outside the houses of over-reaching unaccountable government bureaucrats now that tar and feathering seems to be out of fashion.

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Here is an interesting story: recently a Roman villa, apparently quite well preserved, was discovered in Wiltshire.
But in a move that will surprise many, the remains – some of the most important to be found in decades - have now been re-buried, as Historic England cannot afford to fully excavate and preserve such an extensive site ... “Unfortunately, it would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to fully excavate and the preserve the site, which cannot be done with the current pressures."
One can only imagine what they are budgeting for instead...

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The Globe and Mail has an interview with Steve Reich that delves into his recovery of his Jewish heritage, but also talks a bit about his music:
Since the last part of Drumming in 1971, I’ve been incorporating more aspects of the traditional Western vocabulary – harmony, melody. So it’s always one step forward, two steps back for me – one step forward into the new, two steps back into the tradition.
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Alex Ross has a good piece on the Big Ears Festival held in Knoxville, Tennessee every spring:
Big Ears is the creation of Ashley Capps, a Knoxville-born concert promoter who co-founded the Bonnaroo Festival, one of the monster operations of pop. Capps’s father worked for a company that had an office in New York, and when Capps was a teen-ager, in the nineteen-seventies, he often visited the city and wandered downtown. He soaked up rock and jazz and also embraced contemporary classical music, especially the minimalism of Glass, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich. In 2009, he launched a festival that gathered outlying artists from various genres, in the hope that their audiences would find common ground. The festival has had its struggles—it went on hiatus from 2011 to 2013—but it has stabilized with support from local foundations. This year, more than eight thousand people showed up.
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 There was a time in the early 80s when I re-discovered pop music and did a lot of listening to people like Men at Work, The Police, The English Beat, XTC and, of course, Prince. Our envoi today cannot be by Prince because none of his music is available on YouTube. But we can listen to something by The Police. Here is "Every Breath You Take" from Synchronicity:

UPDATE: It turns out there are some Prince clips on YouTube, just live performances of variable quality, though. There are five embedded in this Wall Street Journal story.


Marc Puckett said...

Relying on your judgment, I knew it had to happen sooner or later: a Steve Reich piece I've actually enjoyed listening to at its first hearing. Thanks! "It decided that this was not where it wanted to be..."-- very good!-- & I did look up Chibougamau, even. But it has to be ironic in some meta- way that Denis ApIvor's 'other' life was that of an anaethetist? Will add his name to my list 'composers to attempt listening to'; in his case, Spotify won't do me any good apart from one song, 'Saeta'.

Bryan Townsend said...

I wasn't aware that Denis Apivor was also an anaesthetist! But I certainly knew him as a composer for guitar. In fact, I think I used to have a copy of his Saeta. He was of that generation that was pretty sure the future was all serial music. But, like a number of others, by the 80s he had changed his mind. I remember listening to a panel discussion of three composers, all of whom wrote for guitar, in Toronto in the 80s sometime. The composers were Leo Brouwer, Stephen Dodgson and Gilbert Biberian and I asked them why they had all returned to writing, more or less, tonal music. The answers were kind of interesting. Brouwer attributed it to simple exhaustion with the syntax of serialism.

Anonymous said...

It's by comparing Prince with the current crop of pop stars one realizes what we lost with his death (or Bowie's). These two guys had undeniably musical sensitivity and creativity (and chops! Prince could play many instruments very well).

On the subject of plagiarism I beg to disagree respectfully. I don't particularly care for LZ and their pilfering of black music is just part of an old white tradition... :-) But when it comes to Stairway, I find the charge unsustainable. A chromatic descent in the bass line starting from the root in a minor key is an old cliche of classical music. If LZ plagiarized it, then so did Spirit and so did George Harrison (While my guitar gently weeps) and so did Schubert and so did Haydn and so did just about everyone!!!

That's point 1. Point 2 is more important. It is that in music borrowing others' ideas is what it's all about. That's how Bach learned and taught music: he learned his craft by taking known compositions and rewriting them. Handel was accused of plagiarism but maybe he pushed the idea too far. But you know the saying: the mediocre artist borrows; the genius steals. I think this concept of creating new art from scratch is partly why modern art is such utter garbage. Great art takes from the old and tweaks it in a novel way.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, it seems that few of the newer generations of pop stars have anywhere near the originality and genius of the ones we are losing.

You aren't actually disagreeing with me, I don't think. Apart from saying that the Led Zeppelin progression is rather different from the Spirit one, I wasn't making a judgment. In fact, I think that we are pretty much in agreement. You should have a look at some of my other posts on the subject:

Marc Puckett said...

[ You might be interested in a 'study' (scientific!) about reviews and reviewers that NL noticed today. ]

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks for the link, Marc. I will have to investigate. It almost sounds like it might deserve a post.