Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

All Gibson electric guitars are now going to come with built in self-tuners. Yep, just push a button and tiny motors will tune each string automatically. It is kind of a guitar-players dream. Now, will they be able to do the same for the Baroque lute, whose players were said to have spent half their lives tuning?

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There are excellent reasons why the arts should not rely on government subsidies and here is one of them from Slipped Disc: "Labour leader: "Cut the arts." Political leaders will always throw the arts under the bus if it seems politically expedient. And it often will.

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Courtesy of Norman Lebrecht is this note about a new ballet at the Bavarian State Opera on the biblical story of Jephtha. The dancers are mostly nude. What is it with the Germans? The most disturbing thing I saw on television when I was in Germany was a late night jazz program with a trio of middle-aged guys playing nude. Ewwhheeeggggh!

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This article talks about things classical music needs to do to survive in a way that is not entirely off-putting. I especially like #1:
1) Never dumb down anything
"People can always tell when they are being patronised, and the only way classical music will manage to survive is to reach wider audiences by believing in what it has to offer, and not by trying to change what it is."
Well, yeah. The other ideas aren't that bad either.

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This is an interesting read about how Columbia records picked up four great jazz musicians in 1971 and dumped them all in 1973--apparently because fusion was becoming the Big Thing and they were non-fusion. And people say there are no fashionable trends in music!

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This sounds like it might be a good idea: an app for portable devices that is a technological upgrade of the program note. In the example pictured there is even some fancy musical notation using the tenor clef:

But, like the program note, it really depends on the quality of the content, doesn't it?

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And here, for classical musicians at least, is the most depressing news of the year. When truly great musicians like Hilary Hahn are selling a few hundred albums per week, Katy Perry, last year's biggest earner, made $135 million dollars over the year. She even beat out mega-sellers like Taylor Swift. Let's have a listen to what a $135 million dollar star sounds like:

Geez, it's ALL about the look, isn't it? Take the video away and this is just generic bubble-gum pop.

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Yes, it's a long read, but it is a pretty interesting analysis of what is the better predictor of future success, The Data or the Hunch. Lots of stuff about music. All I can say is that no amount of data will help you compose music. It's pretty much 100% hunch.

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I include this item because of the Eagles' reference and because, well, how often do you see a Finance Minister for a European Union country who has managed to destroy his own economy? Also, a Marxist. If the article is behind the paywall, just Google the headline.
“Those who understand the profound difference between a currency union and a fixed exchange rate also understand what I call the Eagles-doctrine. The Eagles-doctrine? In their hit Hotel California, the Eagles’ last verse was: “You can check out any time but you can never leave”. Thus the… Eagles-doctrine for a currency union (like the eurozone).” 
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Alex Ross has a discussion of Apple Music up over at the New Yorker that is definitely worth a read. Sample passage:
Classical music has long been a kind of black hole in the streaming universe. Spotify, Pandora, and the others organize their libraries around artists, albums, and tracks; the existence of beings called Composers, who write music but may not be involved in its performance, confuses matters. Last summer, I described a few of the struggles of listening to classical music on Spotify: sorting through randomized movements of symphonies; scrutinizing tiny reproductions of an album cover for clues about who is playing; searching elsewhere on the Internet for information.

UPDATE: Forgot to include the link.
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Are there people who simply do not know who Beethoven is? Why yes, yes there are--and they are attending Yale. From an interview with David Gelernter highlighted at Instapundit:
My students today are much less obnoxious. Much more likable than I and my friends used to be, but they are so ignorant that it’s hard to accept how ignorant they are. You tell yourself stories; it’s very hard to grasp that the person you’re talking to, who is bright, articulate, advisable, interested, and doesn’t know who Beethoven is. Had no view looking back at the history of the 20th century – just sees a fog. A blank. Has the vaguest idea of who Winston Churchill was or why he mattered. And maybe has no image of Teddy Roosevelt, let’s say, at all. I mean, these are people who – We have failed.

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The Wall Street Journal has a little item up about the genesis of that classic song by Janis Joplin: "Mercedes Benz." And that gives us our envoi for today:


Ken F. said...

Wow, how time passes! (Wie die Zeit vorgeht? When I was a kid, circa 1968, I thought Janis Joplin was such a FREAK! Now I think she could be my granddaughter!

Ken F. said...

my bad: the correct verb is vergehen, to pass; I misspelled it as vorgehen, which is to proceed...

Bryan Townsend said...

Time both passes and proceeds!

Marc said...

'Elect Liz Kendall [the candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party mentioned in the Slipped Disc post] Leader, Guarantee Labour Remains in Opposition for 15 Years!' I can't tell if that headline at the right-wing Guido Fawkes last evening was meant to be ironical or wishful; it is getting too complicated if the left winger is supposed to be the bad guy since I've long been under the impression that the bad guy has to be a right winger. Am grateful, by the way, to the European and British taxpayers and their governments for making lovely performances available to me free of charge e.g. via the BBC or the new-ish

Matthew Barley is a name I recognize for some reason, and so looked around the Multi-Story web site; still don't know what the 'immersive, across four levels' 'Living Programme Note' is, necessarily, although I can guess at it. If the temperature in Peckham is anything like the upper 90s Eugene lived with during the last fortnight I wouldn't want to be traipsing back and forth between floors in a parking garage for half an hour before sitting down to listen to Beethoven.

The Octava app may have some promise, sure, but I'd be more likely to use an app like that at home, before or after the performance: an adult version, sort of, of Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts on the tablet.

I see (at Zero Hedge, ahem, although from that bastion of accurate reportage the Guardian) that M. Varoufakis is now ready to say publicly that Herr Schauble "... wants Greece to be pushed out of the single currency to put the fear of God into the French and have them accept his model of a disciplinarian eurozone". 'Oh, there's a solution/ I want to fly like an eagle/ Through the revolution'-- something like that, although on second thought that's not the Eagles, is it?

Alex Ross is right that Spotify's organisation of the 'metadata' (thanks! to the NPR writer, Anastasia Tsioulcas, to whom you linked) is less than perfect. My listening habits aren't very normal, perhaps: I don't make playlists with an eye to randomising them, e.g.; started making one the other day, yesterday, with all the available 'songs' (a couple of Masses, a recording of profane songs, and then a series of tracks on compilation CDs) of the Alexander Agricola fellow, simply because it'll be a convenient way to sit down and listen to the oeuvre-on-Spotify, eventually anyway. All of Handel is in playlists, one for each version of each oratorio. I just search online for the names of the conductors, soloists etc when that information isn't present and my ignorance has become unbearable.

Bryan Townsend said...

I'm a bit behind the times because I listen mostly to CDs for the quality, though, yes, it does cost money. Mind you, there are a lot of great CD boxes out these days for a bargain. I got all the Haydn symphonies for under $30. I do listen to a bit on YouTube because everything is there. But I have never tried the streaming services. I suppose I should, just so I know what they do.

How do you like Agricola?

Marc said...

Haven't had a chance to listen to any of the Agricola; this weekend.

You are right about YouTube, ha. There was a premiere at the Bach Festival, a performance I couldn't attend, alas, of a work by a composer I'd never heard of, Kenji Bunch-- but lo! there are several pieces at YT.

So am coming to terms with the fact that really I should have a basic library, anyway, on CDs. Is it the machine itself or is it is the speakers that make the difference? I could begin with an inexpensive CD player that plays via Bluetooth on the Bose speakers.... It won't stop with a 'basic library', however, which is why I have resisted for so long....

Bryan Townsend said...

I have heard a couple of pieces by Kenji Bunch played by the Ahn Trio in a chamber music festival here. I would describe his music as up-tempo tonal with some influence from traditional musics. Not bad at all.

After losing most of my CD collection because of an evil moving company a number of years ago, I have been stocking (or re-stocking) my own basic library. And after making do with a mediocre system for several years, last year I decided I had to get a decent one. After a bit of research, I settled on the MS150 integrated unit from Harmon Kardon:

I am very happy with this system, but for extra realism in the bass, I added a sub-woofer:

You will need to get a connector cable as well.

I am very, very happy with this system which I consider, for the price, to be outstanding. In order to go up significantly from this system, I think you would have to pay $3000 or more.

But it is the CDs themselves that is where a lot more money is going to go, to put together a basic library. I did a post on that once:

Marc said...

The HK machine seems great but I'm afraid that is months of saving away, ha. I can, however, this afternoon go out and buy an inexpensive CD player that will use Bluetooth to connect to the Bose Mini speaker and also begin the CD library-- I think I don't understand how the CD system sound reproduction works i.e. what differentiates a higher end CD player from a $40 model from Target? they are both playing the same CD through (in my specific case) the same Bose Mini.... I don't expect you to spend much time on this! I can look through what Wikipedia has to offer.

Marc said...

Listened to the Agricola CD Fortuna desperata, or most of it, while doing the Saturday Market produce etc shopping earlier, very incidentally. Pleasant enough although am in no position to make any judgments about his particular skillfulness or originality-- certainly more pleasant music than Taylor Swift. Having thought about it, I had heard some piece or pieces on a compilation/mainly? Ockegham album weeks or months ago.

Marc said...

More about streaming. This is the first time I'm reading Alex Ross and am also at home with the large laptop i.e. the Spotify one sees on one's mobile or tablet isn't the same version one sees on this machine. When he wrote, in that previous essay that (my emphasis)--

... What is the point of having amassed, say, the complete symphonies of the Estonian composer Eduard Tubin (1905-82) when all eleven of them pop up on Spotify, albeit in random order? (When I searched for “Tubin” on the service, I was offered two movements of his Fourth Symphony, with the others appearing far down a list.)

-- he had simply not taken the time, I think, to look about and see how the site is arranged. I just searched 'Tubin', and then selected the artist's name (yes, this is what passes for 'composer' and he wouldn't have known that, I guess), and then a window appears with the most popular 'songs'/tracks followed (on the same page) by a list of albums, beginning with the most recent. The most popular 'songs'/tracks section precedes the album lists for every 'artist', band or musician or composer, Eagles as well as Bach.

My point is that some of this aversion to streaming is perhaps the cognoscenti not wanting to avail themselves of the demotic 'new techology'.

Bryan Townsend said...

The Harmon Kardon is all most people should ever need. Wonderful sound even without the sub-woofer (but I like the bass drum and double-basses to have some punch!) If your computer has a optical disc player as most of them do, then can't you just play your CDs with it and use the Bose? That's what I do sometimes. I'm sure that a $1000 Marantz CD player is a lot better than a $40 one, but exactly why and how much, I have no idea about. Glad you are enjoying the Bose!

Hm, well that is certainly interesting about streaming. I'm not too surprised that Alex Ross didn't look too closely. What about the NPR article? She seemed to dig around a lot more?

I think my reluctance to give streaming a go has to do with two things: I dislike all mass market distribution because most of what is out there is of no interest to me. I don't want to pay for something 90% of which I don't want. I have very specialized tastes. The other issue for me is that I don't really trust the quality.

So I stand convicted of being a cognoscenti!

Marc said...

Ha, sorry to go on about the randomisation business but I knew when I first read AR the other day that he didn't know really what he was writing about, anent that specific function of Spotify, I mean-- the Gell-Mann Effect in action. The NPR writer, Anastasia Tsioulcas doesn't address the randomising (a great desideratum for pop music, I gather, but not so much for classical music). And, well, on first read the other day I didn't notice anything amiss in her essay but....

"... But in every instance, on all the streaming services, one track equals one movement, so I find myself skidding along from emotion to emotion, missing larger compositional arcs. What's on offer is bleeding chunks of music that are missing the rest of their limbs. (And if I buy a symphony or other long work to download, by the way, I'll have to pay for each movement individually, or else buy the whole album.)"

AT has it confused in part, which perhaps is an editor's responsibility; who knows. She wrote her essay before Apple launched its Apple Music streaming service.

The point of streaming is that you aren't downloading a file, ahem. Spotify streams whatever tracks you want, however many you want, and you pay a monthly fee for this (or deal with their advertising and don't). You download tracks' files from iTunes, from their servers onto your computer/iDevice, which you pay for (either individually or by album, the latter usually at a discounted price of some sort) and then 'own', the qualification there because your ownership is limited by the licenses etc etc. Presumably, Apple's new Apple Music operates in more or less the same way as Spotify, Rhapsody etc etc.

Tsioulcas on the 'bleeding chunks' (although I appreciated the turn of phrase) just has it wrong, I'm afraid, at least so far as Spotify is concerned. You can add one movement of a symphony to your library (or to any playlist therein) but you can also add the entire work to your library, easily preserving the correct sequence of movements, albeit you must do this track by track, or you can add the entire album.

I don't doubt that the streamed quality is less than that of CDs; it has to do with how many bits per second of data are pushed along through the ether, ha, but beyond that all I know is that I have the mobile and the tablet set at 'extreme quality' and the laptop is at 'high quality': with any audible effect that my ears and poor head notice, I don't know (have never experimented with listening to a piece in each of the different settings).

As to what is or isn't available, obviously I have no idea who you may want to listen to etc etc. Kenji Bunch, who you knew and I'd never heard of, has three albums there, with another fourteen on which he appears, either as a performer or as a composer (his Intersections is on the CD 'Kristina and Laura' from 2003, K. and L. being the cellist and violinist, I guess: but the metadata issue is very obvious here, K. and L. performing with a pianist, who isn't identified at all).

You certainly are one of the cognoscenti! but you aren't 'convicted' since you have good reasons not to mess about with the streaming services and thus there's no crime. AR just supposes it all infra dignitatem, I imagine, although of course I don't really know.

Marc said...

Using the optical disk tray on the laptop, ha, simply didn't occur to me (have never used it for anything, as a matter of fact). Gosh. Unfortunately, it isn't Bluetooth equipped (a practical decision: large storage capacity, 8 gb of RAM, etc but relatively inexpensive) but perhaps I can run a cable from the laptop to the Bose. Hmm.

Bryan Townsend said...

Marc, thanks for filling in all the gaps about streaming services. All new to me. How would you like to write a guest post on music streaming services from a classical point of view? I'm sure a lot of readers would welcome it!

I bought the Bose Mini Soundlink specifically to use with my iMac to beef up the sound. I mainly use it with the playback of my music notation software, but it works with DVDs and CDs played in the optical drive as well as with YouTube clips. It just replaces the iMac's speakers. So how have you been using the Bose? And with what brand laptop? Yes, the Bose has a couple of inputs on the side, but I haven't used them.

Marc said...

I use the Bose to listen to the Spotify version that's on the Samsung tablet, via Bluetooth. Did, last night, check out the input and it takes a standard 3.5mm audio plug, so there should be no problem using this Asus laptop to play CDs and listen via the Bose; will shop for that this week. It'll be interesting to see whether listening from the tablet or from the laptop makes any difference. And if there is some discernible difference then I'll shop for a CD player of some sort.

Thank you for the invitation, but my memories of the details of how iTunes work are vague, and while I've used Pandora and Rhapsody in the past it's been only Spotify for two or three years, so my practical experience of the business is limited. There is this [] at Wikipedia, a long list of streaming services and some of their details. Perhaps in the future? I will look about, as time and circumstances permit, at the streaming services that concentrate on classical music and see what they offer-- I can't immediately see how any of them can provide higher quality sound, however. Perhaps their catalogues in some areas are more extensive. Very rarely have I searched in Spotify and not found what I wanted to listen to, and these times have generally been occasioned by reading a review of a new composition performance somewhere i.e. have had no motivation to look into the specialised classical streaming sites.

Bryan Townsend said...

Whenever you feel in the mood!