Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

Here is a short documentary in French about the Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili who seems to be living in Paris these days. Never mind if you don't speak French, the music (and the visuals) come across anyway:

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Speaking of visuals, here is something you don't see too often--or ever: a composer posing naked onstage while a string quartet premieres his latest work:

Only in Australia, you say? That's composer Andrew Batt-Rawden re-enacting his appearance at the concert. Let's let reporter Amanda Hooten tell the story:
I was in the audience for the Australian Art Quartet's Butt-naked Salon concert at Sydney's Yellow House. As the show began, the quartet came in and sat down. Nearby, multidisciplinary artist Clementine Robertson was lying motionless on a dais with vials of beetroot juice dripping all over her. Then, in the silence, Batt-Rawden entered wearing a fluffy bathrobe, à la Muhammad Ali. With him came Archibald Prize-winning artist Wendy Sharpe. Batt-Rawden walked to a low white box, took off his robe, climbed onto the box, and struck a pose. The quartet played, Robertson dripped, and Batt-Rawden stood starkers while Sharpe painted him onto the walls.
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And on the instrumental front, the Strad reports that a violin made from one of Winston Churchill's cigar boxes is to be auctioned off:
A 1950s violin crafted from one of Winston Churchill’s cigar boxes is to be offered for sale this October in London by Ingles & Hayday.
The 1956 fiddle ‘in a rustic style’ was made by self-taught English maker and former master saddler William Robinson, who spent his childhood converting empty boxes into violins, according to the auctioneers. The instrument was played by Yehudi Menuhin in a radio broadcast to America in April 1958, and is expected to fetch between £500 and £1,000. It is branded ‘Made in Havana – Cuba’, and on the back, ‘Selección Privada, Fabrica Tabacos Don Joaquin, Habana’.
Here's a case where the aroma of the instrument might be better than the sound.

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The problem of the intersection of identity politics and aesthetics is hardly a new one, and the classic response is age-old as well. But rarely has it been put better than by J. R. R. Tolkien in his letter replying to a German publisher in 1938 who, as part of the process of arranging to publish a German translation of The Hobbit, inquired as to the ethnic background of the author. Was he German? Did he have any Jewish blood?
25 July 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford
Dear Sirs,
Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject — which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.
Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its sustainability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.
I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and
remain yours faithfully,
J. R. R. Tolkien
Yes indeedy, the inquiry as to an artist's ethnic (or other) identity is indeed impertinent and irrelevant.

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The prize for The Least Gracious Comment on Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize goes to, and why am I not surprised, Norman Lebrecht:
They couldn’t find a writer so a musician was the next-best thing? Or was the committee just looking to big itself up with a blaze of celebrity? For lyrics written half a century ago and known the world over?
And if literary merit of lyrics had anything to do with it, shouldn’t Leonard Cohen take precedence?
Much as we love Bob Dylan, this gives no cause for cheer.
For further entertainment, the fifty comments are worth a look.

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The New York Times has a story on the fascinating and growing field of forensic musicology. I used to tell people that I was a forensic musicologist, but I meant it as a joke: "this man was obviously killed with a violin bow, re-haired by the Viennese bow-re-hairer Herr Helmut Schmidt-Wolfenbüttel."
Peter Oxendale, a onetime glam rocker (“We all have skeletons,” he says), is perhaps the world’s leading forensic musicologist, the person musicians call when they believe someone has ripped off their work. In a penthouse overlooking the English Channel, he analyzes songs, everything from pop hits to classical pieces, until he is sure there has been an infringement, or not.
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I'm not sure precisely why, but every time I read something that is intellectually opaque and hopelessly confused it is at NewMusicBox. The latest is about A Universal Music and I wish I knew what they were talking about:
Prior to this lesson, I was fervently driven by a personal mission to express the hybridity of my biology and experience as a half-Indian/half-Euro-American person within my music. The search for stylistic confluence manifested itself in numerous trips to study in India and four recordings of original music that explored Indian concepts, environments, and sounds within my jazz quartet.
I'm not trying to be difficult, honestly, this paragraph is not ripped bleeding from a context which would explain it. Go read the whole thing to be sure. Here is some more:
As I ruminated on my Banff experience, I began to understand that the idea of musical genre is an illusion that ignores the plurality of ideas, experiences, and sounds that exist within a community. When a sonic experience is reduced to a category, we establish boundaries that inhibit creativity with notions of stylistic correctness. This approach creates myriad problems that throw into question the objectivity that is inherently placed on genre.
What could it possibly mean to "express the hybridity of one's biology"? What is "stylistic confluence"? There are problems of agency and abstraction in this: "the idea of musical genre is an illusion that ignores the plurality of ideas..." How can an "idea" ignore anything? Does anyone, when listening to a minuet or allemande or symphony or polka, "reduce it to a category?" How would that work? How does "genre" have objectivity inherently placed on it? How do you train your mind to think in this bizarre way? You got me.

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A really appropriate envoi for today would be some transcendently cool tune by Bob Dylan, but I just put up a bunch yesterday, plus the really good Dylan tracks are mostly not available on YouTube. So in honor of J. R. R. Tolkien, here is Galadriel's song of Eldamar, sung by Signe Asmussen in the original Elvish:

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