Friday, July 28, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

Sometimes really bad ideas die, but then are revived to go on to spread more badness. I give you the office soundtrack from MUZAK:

According to The Guardian, the idea of piping background music into workspaces is returning. Agh!

* * *

Over at the Future Symphony Institute, John Borstlap, composer and frequent commentator at Slipped Disc, has an essay on The Myth of Progress in the Arts:
IN THE LAST CENTURY, VERY OFTEN the concept of “progress” was projected upon the arts as a measurement of quality: “good art” was “progressive art.” If an artist did not commit some “groundbreaking” artistic deed, his work was considered worthless. While progress in science is a fundamental notion, in the arts it is meaningless because the nature of art has nothing to do with progress. There may be progress in terms of physical means – like the types of pigment used in paint, which became more stable in the last century, or the relatively cheap paper for musical notation that became available with the advent of the 19th century’s Industrial Revolution, or the iron fittings in architecture that allowed builders to vault bigger spaces. The discovery of perspective by Bruneleschi in the 15th century was also something like progress, as was the “sfumato” brushwork developed by Leonardo da Vinci, which gave painters the means to create a hazy atmosphere on the canvas. But expression, artistic vision, the quality of execution has never been dependent upon the physical means of an art form: Vermeer has not been superseded in terms of artistic quality by Picasso or Pollock, Bach not by Mahler or Boulez, Michelangelo not by Giacometti or Moore, Palladio not by Gropius or Le Corbusier. And we can appreciate the brilliance of the “primitive” masters of Flanders, who lived before the great surge of 16th-century inventions in Italian painting, just as we can the music of Palestrina, who had no clue of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven or Chopin simply because he lived in an earlier time.
* * * 

How we make music now: this is a desk specially designed as a digital audio workstation.

Click to enlarge
* * *

Somehow, this musician and collector, really made his wife mad:
A woman accused of a rampage through her husband’s violin collection in 2014 was finally arrested on 25 July this year, Japanese press has reported.
The alleged victim, Daniel Olsen Chen, 62, a Norwegian national living and working in Japan, is a former violinist who maintained a making and repairing workshop in Nagoya. He posted a video of the destruction on his YouTube channel, AV Daniel Violin, and has claimed that in total 54 instruments and 70 bows were damaged, including his own Amati, the value of which he places around 50m yen ($450,000).
* * * 

A commentator recently accused me of being paranoid. Well, maybe, but read this and see what you think: a UK professor of composition explains why he is leaving academia. You should read the whole thing, but this will give a sample:
we have in recent times witnessed an administrative coup in UK academia. In an article focussing on Oxford University but painting a picture that will be familiar to most academics, The Spectator wrote that the “university’s central administrative staff is now almost three times what it was 15 years ago. There was no similar increase in full-time academic staff, the people who teach students or do research…”. I won’t speculate here on the many reasons why this might be, rather I’ll merely point out that an increase in administrators—lovely and well-meaning as most of them are as individuals—naturally does not do what you might naively expect, i.e., take care of the administration so that academics can focus on academic work. No, instead it breeds ever more complex administrative mazes that are not just difficult to navigate but are de facto becoming the main part of the job. Kafkaesque would not be pushing it too far by any means.
 * * *

Jordi Savall ignites a controversy over at Slipped Disc:
The veteran Catalan musician, 75, is under fire for some injudicious interview comments in La Stampa.
Savall said, among other things:
– The meaning and value of classical music are in decline
– At this time in the classical world there is no more creativity. There are great performers, great composers, but they do not know how to create, improvise.
– In the eastern world, the soul of music is improvisation. Every time the result is different, even unpredictable. It is a musical culture that is preserved and renewed.
As always, the comment section is full of entertaining responses.

* * *

 Also over at the Future Symphony Institute is an essay on Recovering the Sacred in Music:
“O word, thou word that I lack,” cried Schoenberg’s Moses before falling to his knees silent. Górecki, Pärt, and Tavener have found the Word that Schoenberg’s Moses lacked, and they have sought new expressive means to communicate it. The new expressive means have turned out to be the old ones, lost for a period of time in the desert, but now rediscovered by these three who know that “the rock was Christ.”
That something like this could emerge from under the rubble of modernity is moving testimony to the human spirit and its enduring thirst for the eternal. Is this too large a claim to make for these three composers? Perhaps. But be still, and listen.
 * * *

Alex Ross weighs in on Toscanini, Trump and the Symphony over at the New Yorker:
Trump said, “We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes . . .” The Internet cried with one voice: “We write what?” Like many of Trump’s utterances, the line was at once ludicrous and sinister. His veneration for orchestral music came as a surprise to almost everyone, and the implication that some cultures are incapable of creating symphonies stirred bad memories. Jonathan Capehart compared the passage to white-nationalist rhetoric about the genetic limitations of inferior races. Sentences like “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive” made me think of Oswald Spengler’s “The Decline of the West,” a fixture of the alt-right reading list.
For the New Yorker crowd and, well, the established intelligentsia generally, anything outside their Overton Window is ludicrous and sinister: free markets, public choice theory and any criticism of the tenets of multiculturalism, of course. Actually, I read Spengler's The Decline of the West long before the alt-right was invented, probably back in the early 70s. So let's just take a moment and inquire, are there some cultures that are incapable of creating symphonies? Well, sure. Actually, to make a long story short, the only culture capable of creating symphonies is the culture that invented the form: Western Civilization. Sure, there are some imitators, mostly in Japan and China, but other than that, no non-Western culture has created any symphonies. Why would you think otherwise? Oh, right, it has to be the case because "multiculturalism." 

For our envoi today let's listen to John Tavener's Thunder Entered Her (for credits go to YouTube). Blogger will not embed, so follow the link:


Marc Puckett said...

Whenever I skip looking at SD for a couple of days, t h e n something exciting happens. Tsk.

That excellent Reilly book is in my Kindle, although I'll admit to having been distracted about three quarters of the way through and not yet having finished it. Many cogent observations and so forth, even if one doesn't share the fundamental premise.

Jives said...

I come from the political left, and I thought the substance of Trump's Poland speech was rather brilliant. It was not a jingoistic rant. He simply talked about some of the West's great achievements, in art, in law, etc etc. Made me think that someone in that administration actually understands what's happening to our culture, and that it needs to be defended.

Bryan Townsend said...


Marc Puckett said...

Have been rummaging about at that FSI site and found the Heather Mac Donald essay from 2007 about the Regietheater nonsense-- that woman should have won all the awards by now.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, she is a treasure--and if she were hewing to the party line, she would have lots of awards!

Marc Puckett said...

I hope you saw Anthony Tommasini's continuation of the attack on Mr Trump, Defender of Symphonies in the Times. 'Eleanor Rigby is as profound as Mahler's Resurrection'-- clever tactical move, since the B.s are the B.s and the great and the good have decided that Mahler is past his sell-by date.