Saturday, August 18, 2012

News of the Day

There seems to be so much music news out there, that I thought I would collect some stories and comment on them. First of all, computers are getting into the composition business. Again.

No, computers can't be 'creative', though those folks who write the algorithms might be. All I can tell, reading this story, is that computers might be helpful in screening out some of the crap.

The Russian punk group Pussy Riot have been convicted to two years in prison for "premeditated hooliganism". They were also cited for "inappropriate clothing".

Thank goodness these same rules don't apply outside Russia or the vast majority of pop musicians would be going to jail.

I talk about criticism from time to time. It's important, and it's important that it be done right. Here is a post from a literary blog that puts it beautifully in perspective:

Speaking of criticism, one of the important things it should do is distinguish the phony from the real. Of course, sometimes this isn't necessary as the artists do it themselves:

Here are Il Divo slaughtering a perfectly good song by Leonard Cohen:

Oh, by "slaughtering" I mean taking a good song and homogenizing, pasteurizing and melodramaing it so that it becomes Andrew Lloyd Weber.

Brace yourselves, the 100th anniversary of the birth of John Cage will soon be upon us. Already there are a host of articles like this one:

Cage's ideas can indeed be fascinating because it is interesting to do as the writer does and completely surrender, passively, to the sounds all around us. Perhaps it can even be healthy from time to time. I have long wanted to do a performance of one of Cage's talks on music, the one where a whole bunch of stories and brief observations are all read out so that they take up exactly one minute each. This means that some have to be read very, very, very fast and others incredibly slowly. But fascinating as all this is, it still has little to do with music. Cage had enormous talent for the quirky perspective and for being a professional member of the avant-garde. But almost no talent for music.

Now this seems to be swimming against the tide. Beck, the singer-songwriter, is releasing a new album in December that will not be a CD, nor MP3, nor vinyl, nor even 8-track. It will be a song album in the form of sheet music. Actual notation (I assume, though I haven't seen it yet). Here is the promo page:

Let's end with another example of pseudo-science unleashed on music. Here is an article on how listening to music while you work adds to your productivity.

And this passage will give you an idea of the argument:
Dr. Lesiuk’s research focuses on how music affects workplace performance. In one study involving information technology specialists, she found that those who listened to music completed their tasks more quickly and came up with better ideas than those who didn’t, because the music improved their mood.
“When you’re stressed, you might make a decision more hastily; you have a very narrow focus of attention,” she said. “When you’re in a positive mood, you’re able to take in more options.”
Dr. Lesiuk found that personal choice in music was very important. She allowed participants in her study to select whatever music they liked and to listen as long as they wanted. Those who were moderately skilled at their jobs benefited the most, while experts saw little or no effect. And some novices regarded the music as distracting.
I cannot do any work if there is music playing, unless it is the most mundane and repetitive kind. I spent many  years undergoing training to learn how to listen and as a consequence, it takes a real effort of will NOT to listen. When I am listening to music, that is where all my focus and attention is. How could you possibly work if you are actually listening? Therefore, the people examined in the study were very likely not listening, but merely passively hearing vague thumps and tunes in the background. "Some novices" found the music distracting? Would I ever like to hear some detail on that claim. My perpetual beef with all this sort of thing is that we are given a journalistic, distorted, greatly simplified summary of some research. It is rarely credible and it is difficult to even know what is really being examined and how. Professionals can just go to the professional journals and find out what's what, but the people this kind of article is directed at, laypersons, don't have that option. So for decade after decade they are fed this awful crap masquerading as knowledge.

Now let's clear the palate with a tune. Some really spectacular Granados played by John Williams:


RG said...

You say: Thank goodness these same rules don't apply outside Russia or the vast majority of pop musicians would be going to jail.

Aside from the questionable harm you infer as a consequence of decorum laws, "goodness" is hardly the party to whom one would direct thanks for the degeneration of modern morals. But "according to the Daily Beast’s Anna Nemtsova, nearly half of Russians polled believed that a sentence of two to seven years was appropriate for their crimes; much of rural Russia is devoutly Orthodox, and view Pussy Riot’s transgression as an act of blasphemy against the church."

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks for this wake-up call. After I posted this I read quite a thorough analysis of the case on the Volokh Conspiracy. Here is the post:

He says:

"the performers’ actions strike me as a form of trespass: Though the church was open to the public at the time, it was pretty clearly open only to prayer or quiet observation, not for people to use it for their own loud musical performances. It strikes me as quite right to prosecute them for trespass, and a fairly egregious form of trespass at that: The people weren’t just (say) overstaying their welcome at a normal business establishment, but disrupting the quiet of a place that many other people were using for quiet contemplation."

It is amazing how easily one can jump to an erroneous conclusion!