Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

What global pop star has released more than 100,000 songs and opened for Lady Gaga? She also sings in many different languages. Can't guess? The answer is Hatsune Miku who is a actually a virtual pop star. Bloomberg has the story:
She wears extremely short skirts, sports blue pigtails to her knees and has the boundless energy of a playful puppy. During her 10-year career, she’s released more than 100,000 songs in a variety of languages and opened shows for Lady Gaga.
And yet Hatsune Miku, who boasts 2.5 million Facebook followers, doesn’t actually exist — at least not in the typical way we think of a flesh-and-blood diva.
Miku is a computer-simulated pop star created more than a decade ago by Hiroyuki Ito, CEO of Crypton Future Media in Sapporo, Japan. She started life as a piece of voice-synthesis software but since has evolved to become a singing sensation in her own right — thanks to the creativity of her legions of fans.
Here is one of her hits:

* * * 

I want to tuck this away in a Friday miscellanea instead of highlighting it as a free-standing post because I am not sure if it is a trending problem in music schools yet. The article in The College Fix is titled: Universities abandon core curriculums, offer ‘thin and patchy education,’ survey finds.
A recent national survey found that a genuine, well-rounded college education is a thing of the past at many colleges and universities. Instead, most institutions offer a patchwork of niche grad requirements that often skip over vital subjects such as history, government and economics.
One certainly gets the feeling from recent news that a lot of music departments are moving the focus from the traditional canon to more fashionable areas like "social justice." Over at Musicology Now we find this post: Announcing Music and Social Justice, a New Series from University of Michigan Press.
We are proud to announce Music and Social Justice, a new series from University of Michigan Press. As the series coeditors, we welcome projects that shine new light on familiar subjects such as protest songs, humanitarian artists, war and peace, community formation, cultural diplomacy, globalization, and political resistance. Simultaneously, the series invites authors to critique and expand on what qualifies as justice—or, for that matter, music—in the first place. Music and Social Justice lends a platform for writers who wish to submit traditional scholarly monographs. But we’re equally enthusiastic to work with authors and artists who prefer to unsettle the discursive norms of conventional academic prose in the name of rhetorical experimentalism, anti-capitalism, neurodiversity, alt-textuality, and radical collaboration. We urge people within and beyond academic institutions to build inclusive dialogues about how and why music matters.
There doesn't seem to be any room in there for, you know, music qua music. But this is not a music school curriculum as such, but a publishing initiative. The one tends to transform into the other though.

* * *

Did something go wrong at the concert, or with the reviewer? Flora Willson at The Guardian gives two out of five stars to the Emerson Quartet!
The Emersons’ practice of alternating who leads the quartet seemed to cause difficulties in these works, where balance is everything. In Op 127, Eugene Drucker’s first violin lines were often tentative and never took flight; what musical leadership was in evidence came from Lawrence Dutton’s sensitive viola and Paul Watkins’ sweet, gently humorous cello. And for all that the sound was richly melded, too many phrases were rushed or left gasping for air.
Philip Setzer led elsewhere with greater authority. But the concert as a whole was plagued by serious tuning difficulties, above all in the violins. No amount of cello wit could counteract open strings that appeared to hark from an alternative tuning system in Op 131, and no string quartet tone is so sublimely blended as to make up for basic technical problems in individual instrumental lines.
As a professional musician myself, I regard much critical commentary in the mass media as so much uninformed blather. I think I have told the story before of the Vancouver Sun review of a Ivo Pogorelich concerto performance that complained about some aspect of the interpretation. And the next night Pogorelich played the piece in exactly the opposite manner, just to make the point. In my book, the Emerson Quartet are musical superstars, far more credible than any typical music reviewer. But, you know, they have a new cellist these days, and they are getting on a bit. So perhaps this concert was not at their normal level of excellence. But I wonder. I have sat through innumerable dull but tidy performances of Beethoven late quartets when I longed for playing that was more earthy, more immediate and a whole lot less polite. Perhaps that was what Emerson was delivering in this concert and the reviewer was not prepared for it.

* * *

One gets the distinct impression that the road to academic success these days is simply a matter of stating the post-modern party line as stridently as possible. In musicology one recalls the occasion when Susan McClary described the recapitulation of the first movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 as "the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release." She toned that down a bit later on, but it sure made her famous! In a similar vein, Bryan W. Van Norden gives us the party line on Western Philosophy:
Mainstream philosophy in the so-called West is narrow-minded, unimaginative, and even xenophobic. I know I am levelling a serious charge. But how else can we explain the fact that the rich philosophical traditions of China, India, Africa, and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas are completely ignored by almost all philosophy departments in both Europe and the English-speaking world?
He gives a pretty good argument for some interesting philosophical traditions in China, but I'm a little less convinced by his arguments for the inclusion of African and Aztec philosophies. Still, the whole piece is rather interesting despite the overwrought title (likely added by an editor): "Western philosophy is racist. "

* * *

Allan Kozinn gives us a history of new music in New York with his article Bang on a Can at 30, Part I: Creating the Space:
In May 1987, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, and Michael Gordon — three composers not long out of Yale University, in New York to kickstart their careers — decided to try mixing composition with entrepreneurship by presenting a 12-hour, new-music marathon at Exit Art, a gallery at Broadway and Prince Street, in SoHo.
There was the barest hint of enlightened self-interest in the plan: Each of the young composers would have a single work on the program. But they could hardly be accused of commandeering the spotlight. Their pieces would be nestled among music by 25 composers whose work fascinated them, including downtown legends like John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, and Phill Niblock, established minimalists and post-minimalists, like Steve Reich and Louis Andriessen, and younger composers like the genre-mixing iconoclasts John Zorn and John King, and relative newcomers like Aaron Kernis and Lois Vierk.
Before they got things like this launched the situation in New York seemed to be like that in most places today:
“You remember how depressing things used to be,” Gordon says, “when they’d have these concerts and nobody would come. That was the world we grew up in. Our teachers basically said, ‘No-one is going to play your music, no-one is interested in your music, no-one’s going to listen to your music.’ So I think that first concert was really us asking, ‘Is that really true?’ Maybe if it’s actually enjoyable — maybe if it’s in an art gallery and you don’t have to wear a jacket — it will be received in a different way.”
Oh yeah!

* * *

I have said here before that the most likely candidate for a Canadian composer who might achieve international status would be Claude Vivier, who died tragically young, at age thirty-four. The New York Times offers some support in the form of this recent article: A Canadian Composer’s Death-Obsessed Search for Connection
Death-haunted, drawn to danger and desperate for connection, with his ceremonies in sound charting transitions from life to something beyond it, the Canadian composer Claude Vivier should be the great downer of modern music.
But so shimmering are Vivier’s drones, so sweetly childlike his invented languages and mystical geographies, so energetic his need to communicate his cravings and insecurities, that the effect is one of warmth rather than dread.
* * *

 Let's have some Vivier for our envoi today. This is his Musik für das Ende:


Anonymous said...

Re: Music and Social Justice, it's worth pointing out that music departments and music schools have very different functions and points of view. While students and faculty at music schools (or conservatories) focus on making music and perfecting their craft, those in music departments by and large are content to write and theorize about music. There are, of course, exceptions but by and large the AMS represents music departments. A conservatory student can win a major international competition or a job with the Chicago Symphony while being quite innocent of the works of Susan McClary or Theodor Adorno; on the other hand, I have observed musicologists who have read any number of erudite articles about, say, Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony but are not familiar with the way the work actually sounds. What I'm suggesting is that these are two parallel universes. Conservatory students are too busy practicing to pay much attention to matters of social justice, perhaps to their detriment. If MusicologyNow is any indication, then students in music departments are all about social justice and critiquing popular culture.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for a very thoughtful comment. I know the phenomenon you describe quite well having taught in private music schools, conservatories and university schools of music. I have also been a student in the performance department and also a student in the musicology doctorate program. One of my colleagues in the latter with whom I shared an office was actually a good example of someone who lived in both worlds. He was a Haydn specialist and I swear, he could play for you, on the piano, just about any theme from any Haydn symphony!

But sadly, an awful lot of the younger musicologists, fighting for a job, are avidly in pursuit of whatever the latest intellectual fashion might be. Right now it is social justice, sexism, racism, classism and all that stuff.

So the reality is likely that the music scholarship we see tends to be mostly in the areas you mention, social justice and popular culture, while the stuff we don't see so much of is more traditional. And yes, there are all those performance majors who have no time to do much other than practice. Two friends who are very successful orchestral musicians both began their professional careers with orchestral positions when they were still in their teens, so neither of them did degrees in music at all!