Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

Here is a rant about modern art:

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And here is a really interesting review of Grigory Sokolov's recital at Salzburg by Jay Nordlinger:
On Tuesday night, Grigory Sokolov played a recital in the Great Festival Hall here at the Salzburg Festival. The Russian pianist is a fixture at this festival. He plays an annual recital. And he is a hero of the festival.
This year, there were seats on either side of the stage—extra seats. I had never seen this in the Great Festival Hall, for anybody.
He is a remarkable pianist, Sokolov. At times, he can play amateurishly, incomprehensibly. You can’t understand how he got a career. And then you do understand—because he is now playing sublimely.
When he’s on, no one is better. And almost no one equals him.
At first when I read this I went "huh?" because, while I have not had the pleasure of attending a Sokolov recital, I have the DVD of a recital in the Theatre des Champs Elysees and quite a few recordings--all live. No sign anywhere of a wilful amateurness. Quite the contrary. But Nordlinger goes on to specify exactly why he is saying this and perhaps it is true. I really need to hear a Sokolov recital! Here is how Nordlinger describes the encores:
The audience gave Sokolov due applause, and they knew, probably, that they were in for a second recital: a slew of encores. Sokolov made them wait for a long time for the first. But then he started a Moment musical (Schubert). And then another. And then another one . . .
Ladies and gentlemen, it was sublime. Unerring. Perfect. The music was aristocratic, stately, soulful. I had no sense of Sokolov at all. I barely had a sense of Schubert. This was just music, from some beyond-earth place.
Yes, I know what he is talking about. Now and then, fairly rarely, one has the feeling that music is coming from a whole other universe...

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On the other hand, some kinds of "music", using the term very loosely, are very much in our universe. The Globe and Mail has a remarkably dreary article about a piece by John Luther Adams that manages to combine the worst features of musique concrète and John Cage's 4'33. Wow, you would hardly think that possible!
It was with some trepidation that I set out last week to try Soundwalk 9:09, a piece the Metropolitan Museum of Art commissioned from John Luther Adams, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer. Composed of sounds recorded in the area, the work is intended for people to listen to on their smartphones as they make the eight-block walk between the museum’s mother ship, on Fifth Avenue, and its new outpost, the Met Breuer, in the old Whitney building on Madison Avenue.
So it is not just music for pedestrians, it is truly pedestrian music.

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Somehow I find it reassuring that there are still audiophiles around who are this obsessed: A Gift for Music Lovers Who Have It All: A Personal Utility Pole. The article is in the Wall Street Journal and you can probably Google around the paywall. Worth reading. Turns out that some Japanese audiophiles have discovered that their neighbors appliances can seriously degrade the "purity" of their electricity, causing a less than ideal listening experience--well, if you have a sound system worth close to a hundred thousand dollars, at least.
Takeo Morita wanted absolutely the best fidelity possible from his audio system, so he bought a utility pole.
The 82-year-old lawyer already had a $60,000 American-made amplifier, 1960s German loudspeakers that once belonged to a theater, Japanese audio cables threaded with gold and silver, and other pricey equipment.
Normal electricity just wouldn’t do anymore. To tap into what Mr. Morita calls “pure” power, he paid $10,000 to plant a 40-foot-tall concrete pole in his front yard. On it perches his own personal transformer—that thing shaped like a cylindrical metal garbage can—which feeds power more directly from the grid.
In Mexico this isn't so unusual. By the way, it's not the utility pole that is important, it is having your own dedicated electrical transformer to convert the voltage from the transmission line for use in a domestic household. I know of a number of people with high-end homes that have their own transformer. An in-house voltage regulator might do the job for a lot less.

Mr. Yoshihara had a pole and transformer installed five years ago, along with a new circuit-breaker panel and wiring. Makeover cost: $40,000.
A performance of a Mozart violin sonata by violinist Arthur Grumiaux and pianist Clara Haskil after installing the pole and accessories brought tears to his eyes, he says. “It sounded so fresh and vivid, like they were playing in front of my eyes.”
“It’s completely beyond my understanding,” says his wife, Reiko, 57. “But if I take it away from him, he will lose the motivation to live.”

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The really neat thing about choirs is that they can give a performance at the drop of a hat, just about anywhere. Even on an airplane: University choir gives impromptu performance on plane. Follow the link for the video.

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Here we have proof that Olympic athletes do have multi-faceted talents:

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We haven't had an article about computer composition for a while. Here is one from the Toronto Star:  Algorithm and blues: Putting a Google-written song to the test.
In recent months, the team behind Google’s Magenta project — which blends music, art, and artificial intelligence — issued one of the first results of its experiments with algorithms-as-artists: a 90-second piano melody punched up by some added percussion.
Uh-huh. Well it turns out, as we can see in the brief video accompanying the article, that if you give this little theme to some actual musicians they can, after playing around with it a bit, turn it into a really dull and forgettable fragment of a song. Or try at least. Three out of four decided it just wasn't worth the trouble. Now that is a pretty good critical commentary on computer composition.

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 I ran across this photo on Alex Ross' blog: Schoenberg watering his garden:

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Let's have some Schoenberg for our envoi today. This is the introduction to Gurrelieder, the enormous cantata on poems by Jens Peter Jacobsen. It was begun in 1900 but not finished until 1911, after Schoenberg had already begun to compose in an atonal style. This piece reflects the earlier influence of Wagner and Mahler. The performers are the Israel Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta:


Jives said...

"With Magenta, we want to explore . . . developing algorithms that can learn how to generate art and music, potentially creating compelling and artistic content on their own,”

First point:
Why does anyone need this? Have we so totally forgotten what makes compelling art that we need a computer to figure it out for us again? Please Google, stop this, people can write bad songs all by themselves, no computer needed.

Second point:
that is not a song, but it might be the most depressing collection of sounds I've ever heard.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, no mere human could write a theme that bad!

The whole idea of developing artificial intelligence is the the Big New Thing these days and the folks with billions of dollars to invest are into it in a big way. I suspect that is why pointless exercises like this take place.