Friday, June 29, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

Starting with something silly: Big guitar outside Hard Rock Hotel contains big typo
A 30-foot guitar installed outside of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City in New Jersey was corrected after onlookers pointed out a massive typo.
The sign, installed Thursday at the corner of Route 30 and Virginia Avenue, contains the details of a Gibson Les Paul guitar, including a rhythm and treble pickup selector switch with a giant misspelling, "RHYTHEM."
In the original Greek it is spelt: ῥυθμός.
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Here is a pretty long piece about how music (and the other arts) make their impact by setting up and then defeating expectations:
Contrary to the proverbial tree-falling-in-the forest quandary, a musical note that fails to materialize is at least as present in our brain as it would be had it actually sounded. That’s because neural substrates of imagined sound correlate with those of perceived external sounds. The more vivid the image of what must happen, the more jarring it is when that certainty is subverted.
Lots of little musical examples there, which puts this article head and shoulders above most other ones!
We found the brain recognizes and reacts to violated expectations in highly specific ways. Not only does it register a wrong event, it also—even more strongly—reacts to the missing event. Furthermore, both the cortical and sub-cortical responses to violated expectation—particularly when a silence replaces a firm and specific expectation—suggests a well-integrated network of brain activity that draws from experientially acquired schemas to focus the auditory system on expected events, and to immediately register and react to failed expectations.
Yep. All the great composers work with this constantly. I encourage you to read the whole thing, which is permeated with interesting musical examples.

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Alex Ross has his annual piece on the Ojai Music Festival up over at The New Yorker:
The Moldovan-born violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, this year’s music director, had selected her programs long before December, but they spoke with eerie aptness to a town that had faced an apocalypse. The central composer was the twentieth-century Russian ascetic Galina Ustvolskaya, who wrote spiritual music of flagellating force. A world première by the Baltimore-based composer Michael Hersch harrowingly evoked the spread of cancer in a body. Works by György Ligeti and György Kurtág mixed bleakness with black humor. The concerts were heavy going at times, but Kopatchinskaja invested them with vital purpose.
The "apocalypse" he is referring to is the wildfires that came close to the town last December.
Not all of Kopatchinskaja’s ideas cohered. On the first night of the festival, she presented a program entitled “Bye Bye Beethoven,” which protested classical music’s excessive dependence on the past—the sense of being “strangled by tradition,” as she has said. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra, a versatile Berlin-based group that was on hand throughout the festival, accompanied Kopatchinskaja in a most unusual performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto, in which the soloist was ceremonially swaddled in yards of fabric before she played. (Her arms were not constrained, fortunately.) Toward the end, the musicians enacted a rebellion against routine, throwing down their music stands and stalking offstage while a chaotic electronic collage of Beethoven excerpts swelled on the sound system. Kopatchinskaja battled on alone and then collapsed in defeat, as the back wall parted to reveal replicas of various composers’ tombstones.
The theatrics were arresting, but the message felt less than fresh.
Yes, that does sound rather 70s. The tour-de-force of the festival was likely the performance of all six of Ustvolskaya's piano sonatas in a single concert by Markus Hinterhäuser who, as Ross notes, in his spare time runs the Salzburg Festival. I think I may have put this up before, but here it is again. This time, give it a listen!


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The weaponizing of music continues apace: He Writes the Songs That Make the Neighbors Cry ‘No More Barry Manilow!’
A Rite Aid spokeswoman said last week that customers had found it difficult to enter “a select few stores” because of loiterers, so Rite Aid was exploring various ways to make it easier, including the use of Barry Manilow. “We are in the early stages of exploring this approach and have not made any decision about the potential rollout of this to additional stores,” she said.
To tell the truth, I find this somehow more comforting than hearing they were using Mozart and Bach to drive away loiterers. But does the shift to Barry Manilow imply an improvement in the musical taste of the "loiterers"? Will they move on to Celine Dion next?

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By chance I ran across this on YouTube. This is the kind of thing that never appears in the mass media these days: a half hour of conversation with Igor Stravinsky. Sure, you might see a composer interviewed on television, but it would be all cut up, interspersed with performances, rehearsals and scenes of him (or her) walking in the park with wind-blown hair. Oh, and for sure there would be one of those slick talking heads interviewing him (or her).


Apparently, in Hollywood in 1957, there was a serious shortage of piano tuners.

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The Toronto Star launches a new series of heretical (their term) opinion pieces with one slagging the Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven: ‘Ode to Joy’ has an odious history. Let’s give Beethoven’s most overplayed symphony a rest.
Western classical music usually thinks of itself as being apolitical. But the Ninth is political. Beethoven saw it as political when he wrote it in the early 1820s. And his fellow Germans, looking for a sense of identity, embraced it with fervour.
Beethoven’s Ninth became the musical flag of Germanness at a time when nationalism was a growing force in all of Europe. It also became a Romantic monument to the artist (Beethoven, in this case) as a special creature worthy of special treatment.
Franco-Argentine scholar Esteban Buch analyzed these intersections and the good-evil paradox in an insightful book, Beethoven’s Ninth: A Political History. Buch argued that the Ninth was the right piece of music at the right time — socially, politically and aesthetically.
But from today’s perspective we know that unilateral calls to world brotherhood in joy have a flip side, which is tyranny. We appreciate now more than ever that joy is accessible to everyone only if some people are taking antidepressants.
If you follow the link and read the whole piece looking for the argument, you won't find much more than I have quoted. The influence of this piece on music and composers is monumental and very complex and its political influence no less so. It is surprising to see all that reduced to the odd critique that, if this particular joy is not accessible to everyone, then it is a form of tyranny. If we apply a little reductio ad absurdum to that we might conclude that all great art, whether it be expressing joy or sorrow or existential despair or perhaps just sheer elegance, is also some kind of tyranny because it is not equally accessible to everyone. The writer, John Terauds, needs to look up "tyranny" in the dictionary and perhaps the word "aesthetics" as well.

What does the "odious history" of the headline refer to? Here is the relevant passage in the essay:
Adolf Hitler adored the Ninth Symphony. Musicians waiting for their deaths in Nazi concentration camps were ordered to play it, metaphorically twisting its closing call to universal brotherhood and joy into a terrifying, sneering parody of all that strives for light in a human soul.
Ah, odious by association! Hitler's favorite composer was actually Franz Lehár, but we don't hear anyone calling for a moratorium on The Merry Widow. I knew one of those musicians who spent time in a Nazi death camp and he would be shaking his head at the absurdity of attaching blame to Beethoven. Honestly has everyone completely lost the concept of moral agency?

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I'm actually not a huge fan of the Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven, especially of the last movement the "Ode to Joy," but my reasons are different from Terauds'. I just think that it was an error of genre to slap a half-hour long cantata in as the last movement of a symphony. But hey, what do I know! Let's give it a listen. The first movement alone is a spectacularly brilliant piece of music. This is the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Christian Thielemann:


7 comments:

Anonymous said...

The central composer was the twentieth-century Russian ascetic Galina Ustvolskaya, who wrote spiritual music of flagellating force.

"spiritual music of flagellating force"

What does this mean?

Bryan Townsend said...

I ask myself that same question after a lot of Alex Ross' prose! In his efforts to be entertaining he sometimes gets prolix. By "flagellating force" he might be referring to some of her music that is rather pounding and forceful. The combination of the flagellating metaphor with the word "spiritual" results in the unfortunate image of Medieval flagellants however.

Patrick said...

Maybe it's my browser (Safari), but I don't see any link to the "pretty long piece" about composers frustrating musical expectations. It looks interesting, could you provide url?

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

paradoxically the tyranny of calls to universal brotherhood inspire ... advocacy for new Canadian repertoire? So the cure for the perceived tyranny of old German music that aspired to a proto-Herderian universal brotherhood is ... Canadian nationalism?


Bryan Townsend said...

Sorry, Patrick, I forgot the link. Fixed now.

Mr. Hatchet, yes, thanks! Another instance of paradoxical nonsense in the essay.

Marc said...

Vienna, schmiena-- Althouse also noticed this nonsense of Terauds and a regular over there linked to a video of a chorus of 10,000 Japanese singing the 9th-- 10,000 voices!! More has got to be better, right?

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Marc. I just missed seeing that. Terry Teachout tweeted: "How utterly tired I am of such art-hating philistinism." Yep, that was a really moronic article. But what I find heartening is the huge number of responses to Teachout agreeing with him, not to mention all the comments at Althouse with a similar opinion. Is the tide finally turning? Are most people finally seeing through the bullshit?