Friday, August 3, 2018

Friday Miscellanea

Paul McCartney and John Lennon had an agreement that all their songs would be jointly credited, no matter if they were written by one individual or the other, or jointly written. Despite this, it has always been an interesting project to look into who wrote what. A couple of researchers have developed a technique that supposedly distinguishes what each contributed. The report is in the National Post:
“You have to rely on memory for those kinds of things,” said Jason Brown, a professor of mathematics at Dalhousie University in Halifax who says he taught himself the guitar as a teenager after hearing a Beatles album. “I was looking for a more scientific way to go about doing it.” So Brown teamed up with Mark Glickman, a senior lecturer in statistics at Harvard, to put the Beatles’ claims to the test.
In a three-month endeavour that only a devoted fan would willingly undertake, Brown worked his way through every Beatles song from the band’s inception through to their seventh studio album, Revolver, released in 1966. He collected data from each song, including chords and chord progressions, intervals between notes, and the shape of phrases — for instance, whether sequences of notes go up or down, or stay the same. He had to do it by hand, he explained, to sort out intentional repetition (think of that line at the end of Hey Jude) from the recurring musical quirks that distinguish the two writers.
Brown and his colleagues then built a model, using the known authorship of most Beatles songs, that could gauge whether a given song was a Lennon or McCartney creation. Called a “bag-of-words model,” Brown said, the technique has been used with text to compare different writers based on their tendency to use certain words.
* * *

Kronos quartet were, among other things, famous for doing "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix as an encore. And it sounded pretty good in their version. Now I find that string quartets are doing Kanye West. Here is the Divisi Quartet with a little excerpt from "All of the Lights."

And here is another version by the GTA Strings:

And still another by the Endymion String Quartet:

When did this song become a staple? I just discovered it a few weeks ago. With stuff like this I honestly don't know why people still keep saying rap is not music...

* * *

On a more serious note, this is an interesting article on a cultural war going on in Medieval Studies that is not so different from the one that should be going on in musicology (but we may have missed it):
Medieval Studies is the critical study of Europe’s self-identity. No understanding of the West is possible without it. Left-wing academics want to introduce the field to gender studies and race theory. When one Chicago professor publicly celebrated the Christian identity of the Middle Ages, she was branded a ‘violent fascist’ and ‘white supremacist’ — by other medievalists. Now Medieval Studies scholars are tearing their own discipline apart with witch-hunts, name-calling, boycotts and intimidation. The damage done to academia could be incalculable.
That's just the teaser. It is a long article, but worth reading as it is a detailed account of how nasty things can get if you don't toe the ideological line--even in Medieval Studies! One interesting summary:
Based on interviews I conducted over the course of several months, the consensus in the Medieval Studies field is that literature departments lost the war against identity politics and social justice decades ago, so ambitious young academics from that world are now looking elsewhere for new disciplines they can conquer, with panels on the intractable problem of whiteness and rarefied feminist readings of obscure manuscripts. Professional cosmognosis propels these entirely parasitic organisms into new growth vectors. They arrive in a new discipline, claiming to speak for the “marginalized” and “under-represented,” publishing forceful denunciations of the usual boogeymen of sexism, homophobia and white supremacy.
They make what at first appear to be fairly reasonable requests for representation but which later metastasize into disproportionate amounts of airtime dedicated to trivial or imaginary problems, and, of course, to congratulating one another and hurling specious, unchallenged and professionally devastating allegations at unsuspecting colleagues. This is how academic disciplines die. Richard Landes notes: “A colleague of mine who started out in Race Studies, and left the field, told me that whenever the conversation turned to race, the collective IQ dropped ten points. The same thing is happening here.”
* * *

I found this mini-documentary on the history of echo chambers to be quite fascinating for a couple of reasons: it uncovers a whole history of technical development of sophisticated recording techniques extending well back into the 1950s that I was completely unaware of and that in turn puts a lot of the technical innovations used by the Beatles into perspective. They were really benefitting from the work of a lot of technical people quite unknown to us today. Right around the 5 minute mark he describes how the amazing sound of John Lennon's vocal in "A Day in the Life" was created.

* * *

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has just fired their chief conductor Daniele Gatti after allegations of sexual misconduct. This is fallout from the article in the Washington Post I linked to previously:
On 26 July, the Washington Post published an article in which Gatti was among several classical music professionals accused of inappropriate behaviour. Two specific incidents were alleged, one that took place in 1996 and a second four years later. In a statement, Gatti said: “I have always been totally alien to any behaviour that may be referred to [by] the term harassment, whether psychological or sexual. Every time I have approached someone, I have always done it fully convinced that the interest was mutual. The facts referred to took place a long time ago, but if I have offended anyone, I sincerely apologise.”
The Amsterdam-based Concertgebouw, one of the world’s leading symphony orchestras, made no comment until today, when it announced his immediate departure and revealed that since the Post’s article, some of Gatti’s female colleagues at the orchestra had come forward also to allege experiences with the conductor that were “inappropriate”, and that consequently the trust between the musicians and their conductor had broken down.
* * *

Apparently the most, uh, disconcerting composer working today is Austria's Georg Friedrich Haas. Slipped Disc alerts us to a review of a recent BBC Proms concert. As is often the case at Slipped Disc, the comments are the most interesting.

* * *

Also from Slipped Disc is this note about the Teatro Real in Madrid, where I enjoyed a couple of productions last summer. They are doing twice as many premieres as the Met in the coming season.
Next season the Teatro Real has ten co-productions from the Teatro Real, seven of which will have their premiere in Madrid: Turandot (Nicola Luisotti/Robert Wilson), Idomeneo (Ivor Bolton/Robert Carsen), Falstaff (Daniele Rustioni/Laurent Pelly), Capriccio (Asher Fisch/ Christof Loy), La peste, by Roberto Gerhard (Juando Mena/Dora García), Con que voz, by Stefano Gervasoni (Nacho de Paz/Oscar García Villegas), along with the world premiere of Je suis narcisiste, by Raquel García Tomás (Vinicius Kattah/Marta Pazos). The remaining the co-productions have had their debut in the theatres which share these with the Teatro Real: Faust (Dan Ettinger/Àlex Ollé), Only the sounds remains, by Kaija Saariaho (Ivor Bolton/Peter Sellars), and Il trovatore.
* * *

The American Conservative has a pretty good discussion of the problem of the arts and morality.
One of the many questions occasioned by the tsunami of allegations against men in the movie industry is whether we should reappraise their art in light of their misdeeds. Can we continue to laugh at The Cosby Show knowing that its star is a convicted sex offender? Can we continue to identify with Dustin Hoffman after hearing that he groped, flashed, and sexually humiliated underage girls on multiple occasions? Can we continue to enjoy the movies that Harvey Weinstein produced knowing that their creation helped cause so much pain to so many women?
Film and literary theorists have for decades downplayed the deeds—and, by extension, the misdeeds—of artists. In the 1940s, the New Critics, reacting against the “great man” approach to literature that had dominated the field to that point, argued against interpreting artists’ work through their actions. Doing so, they felt, turned literary criticism into a branch of psychobiography.
I have made that argument here a few times. I just don't think that art is necessarily autobiography.
Part of the challenge here, obviously, is linguistic. When we call a person “bad,” we are making a moral assertion; when we call a work of art “good,” we are making an aesthetic one. Complicating matters further is the fact that art can, and very often does, depict very bad things without itself being immoral. Picasso’s Guernica shows the bombing of a Basque town by Nazi and Italian warplanes during the Spanish Civil War. People and animals writhe in agony. A woman wails while holding a dead child in her arms. It is a painting of a war crime. Nonetheless, few people would call it a bad painting merely because it shows a bad deed.
Aesthetics and Ethics have a kind of family resemblance, I have also argued. Go read the whole essay, which takes up a number of questions.

* * * 

For our envoi today, let's have a listen to that great song by John Lennon from Sgt. Pepper's, "A Day in the Life."

If you all just thought, wow, John Lennon has an amazing voice, well, ok, yes, but it was helped by a remarkably sophisticated technical set-up and processing to get it to sound like that.


Will Wilkin said...

Bryan I have often thought any discussion of so-called "race" makes the conversation stupid. And regarding the parasitic and destructive effects of identity politics on scholarship, take heart that the silliness will eventually burn out and the counter-revolution of a post-racial perspective will bring back so many academic fields in a way probably better than ever before, including better than before the current silliness.

Bryan Townsend said...

Well, we certainly hope so! At the moment things seem to be getting more extreme, but yes, it is bound to swing back at some point.