Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

I frequently refer to the work of brilliant musicologist Richard Taruskin here and he has just been awarded the mammoth $450,000 Kyoto award in Japan. Of course, now he has to write a bunch of articles on Takemitsu! (No, I'm kidding.) But I would hardly call him "combative."

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This sounds like terrible news: The Shrinking Oregon Bach Festival.
“Helmuth Rilling wasn’t the only individual who retired in 2013, so too did many of his most loyal and passionate supporters,” Evans wrote. “And the donor, corporate, foundation, audience, and ticket revenue figures bear this out.”
During the transition from Rilling to Halls, OBF attendance dropped by over 50 percent : 2011 had 44,148; 2014 had approximately 20,000. There are no figures for recent years.
I'm pretty sure this is not Bach's fault; he is just as popular as he ever was.

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AI and machine learning will make everyone a musician. Here's the first paragraph:
Music has always been at the cutting edge of technology so it’s no surprise that artificial intelligence and machine learning are pushing its boundaries.
There are a couple of nasty writing quirks that seem endemic these days. The first is to have a headline that is so absurd its only possible function is to be "clickbait" and the second is to start off by stating something as an unquestioned truth that is probably nonsense. This article starts off two strikes down. I was going to do some more fisking, but as the claims get feebler and feebler the further you read, it's not really worth the effort.

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Also shrinking are sales of electric guitars and the Washington Post has a huge piece on that:
Over the past three years, Gibson’s annual revenue has fallen from $2.1 billion to $1.7 billion, according to data gathered by Music Trades magazine. The company’s 2014 purchase of Philips’s audio division for $135 million led to debt — how much, the company won’t say — and a Moody’s downgrading last year. Fender, which had to abandon a public offering in 2012, has fallen from $675 million in revenue to $545 million. It has cut its debt in recent years, but it remains at $100 million.
And starting in 2010, the industry witnessed a milestone that would have been unthinkable during the hair-metal era: Acoustic models began to outsell electric.
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 The extent to which things like "public policy" are now nearly exclusively tendrils of the progressive project to remake society continues to trouble me. Today's example is an article on a new cultural policy in the UK reported on at ArtsProfessional. For much of the article I wasn't sure exactly where they were going, but the conclusion made it clear:
What if cultural policy makers and cultural organisations began to think strategically about ensuring the cultural capability of all – not only opportunities to participate in great art, but the substantive freedom to make, transform and contest versions of culture?
Such an approach would provide a progressive path beyond the deficit model, in which cultural policy not only invests in great art and audience development but in the conditions which enable everyone to make versions of culture. This is cultural democracy. The possibility of cultural democracy has been of interest to people working in the tradition of community arts since at least the 1960s. Now is the time to bring this approach to the heart of cultural policy in the UK. 
The underlying principle or assumption here is one of "equity" which means replacing equality of opportunity, something that is fairly tricky to handle, with equality of outcome which is a bad idea. The real bonus and incentive these kinds of projects support is the army of cultural bureaucrats needed to develop them. "Ensuring the cultural capability of all" is not only something that government cultural policy should have nothing to do with, it is also contrary to human nature. A whole lot of people don't have a lot of interest in "culture" and don't want to be bothered with it.

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 Jazz musician Maria Schneider makes an impassioned argument about the ills of the music business and how they can be addressed in a piece at JazzTimes:
Why am I speaking about the power of music? Because at this moment in history, our livelihoods and the entire culture of music—jazz and more—stand in jeopardy. And so does the power for good that music brings the world.
So, who exactly has put all of this in jeopardy? I see three culprits. First: big data, with their endless appetite for eyeballs and information. Second: our government, buckling under oppressive lobbying from Silicon Valley. Conflicts of interest are everywhere, as Google inserts their people into all three branches of our government.
Third is, sadly, some powerful people within our own industry. A good example is how the three majors [Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group] made Spotify the giant it now is. Together, they handed over 80 percent of the world’s recorded music in exchange for equity. At a recent intellectual-property [IP] conference, counsel for Spotify confirmed that that contract “made” Spotify. He additionally volunteered that, of the 1,200 employees at Spotify, 900 are data analytics scientists, making the streaming service more of a big data company than a music company. What a breach of trust, to trade our music for ads and data. It’s like when the Titanic started sinking, the executives at the majors elbowed their way to the lifeboats, right past the musicians, who just kept on playing. And those musicians are still playing, but are also slowly drowning. And not just those trapped in steerage by their contracts: We’re all drowning, the whole jazz family and beyond—all being sucked down the sinking ship’s vortex, because the majors gave the unsustainable model of streaming a monopoly over how music is distributed.
But you should read the whole thing.

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 Terry Teachout has an article in Commentary on the hoary old problem of classical musicians' participation in the Nazi regime in Europe.
The story of European classical music under the Third Reich is one of the most squalid chapters in the annals of Western culture, a chronicle of collective complaisance that all but beggars belief. Without exception, all of the well-known musicians who left Germany and Austria in protest when Hitler came to power in 1933 were either Jewish or, like the violinist Adolf Busch, Rudolf Serkin’s father-in-law, had close family ties to Jews. Moreover, most of the small number of non-Jewish musicians who emigrated later on, such as Paul Hindemith and Lotte Lehmann, are now known to have done so not out of principle but because they were unable to make satisfactory accommodations with the Nazis. Everyone else—including Karl Böhm, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Walter Gieseking, Herbert von Karajan, and Richard Strauss—stayed behind and served the Reich.
Like so many other commentaries the claim is that people who cling to the belief that high art is ennobling to the spirit are sadly mistaken. The evidence that classical musicians were at the very least compliant with the Nazi regime is all too clear:
The admiration that Austro-German classical musicians had for Hitler is not entirely surprising since he was a well-informed music lover who declared in 1938 that “Germany has become the guardian of European culture and civilization.” He made the support of German art, music very much included, a key part of his political program. Accordingly, the Berlin Philharmonic was placed under the direct supervision of Joseph Goebbels, who ensured the cooperation of its members by repeatedly raising their salaries, exempting them from military service, and guaranteeing their old-age pensions. But there had never been any serious question of protest, any more than there would be among the members of the Vienna Philharmonic when the Nazis gobbled up Austria. Save for the Jews and one or two non-Jewish players who were fired for reasons of internal politics, the musicians went along unhesitatingly with Hitler’s desires.
But the same is true of the ordinary people of Germany and Austria who were equally supportive. This is a knotty problem and I would love to see someone write a book discussing it. My instinctive reaction is to say that the arts are a kind of medium or tool or channel that can be used or misused, just like so many other social phenomena. Music, or any other art, is not inherently ennobling. It is only so when used in the proper way. It does not immunize its practitioners against racism or fascism or socialism, in fact it has been used in the production of propaganda both for and against those and other ideologies. It can be a force for good--or evil. But I think that if we look at the history of music as a whole, we might find that it is usually and commonly a force and discipline for good. The story of European classical music under the Third Reich was a squalid chapter--but just a chapter.

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Let's have a cheery envoi to balance that last item. This is Grete Pedersen conducting the  Oslo Camerata/Det Norske Blåseensemble & Solistkor Oslo in Haydn's Nelson Mass:


Marc Puckett said...

Oh my! I imagine that Tom Manoff article made the chickens in the henhouse at the University squawk! And it is just like those people not to fully engage with an outsider, at least with one who isn't approaching on bended knee with knightly (or should I write, 'knight-like', just to make my point clearer?) courtesy.

I dislike going to Beall Hall because of my personal logistical issues (buses, taxis), frankly, but it is true that the seats are uncomfortable and that the balcony over there is where they used to put the bad, very bad students in punishment for their sins: the heat can be stifling, purgatorial; I don't care about the seats really but the heat can be distracting. OBF propaganda has it that our voices have been heard! and the AC will be CRANKED UP this time around, and they are providing OBF seat cushions. We shall see.

So far as Manoff's more serious criticism goes, I don't know, of course. I wasn't a great Rilling devoté, so that whole line of argument doesn't much move me. This season's 'smallness' I had attributed back in January (or whenever I first saw the program) to a shortage of funds without speculating further on the OBF institutional issues. The 'aspiring professionals' i.e. students versus professional musicians business, well, well, yes, I'd rather have a professional soloist or ensemble on stage than not but, eh, I'm not myself going to lose any sleep over one season's balance between them. I heard people last season remarking, ah, negatively about the HIP Bach Mass in B minor in the larger venue of Silva Hall: it sounded just fine to me but perhaps such things depend on where one was seated, at least in part-- in any case, the HIP versus non-HIP business isn't going to keep me sleepless, either.

In my own case, after attending almost every performance last season, I had made a decision not to do that this season-- between work and the travel logistics and the expense and the realisation that I need more peace and quiet between goings out to concerts-- before seeing the program. Nothing whatever to do with OBF people/decisions/politicks (and in fact I made a small donation in honor of a friend who retired from the opera stage and became a voice professor, even though I knew this would subject me to begging emails and other solicitations from the UO)-- although I suppose that had this or that composer or artist been featured I might have been lured in, in spite of my resolution.

As it is right now have tickets for only four concerts, three of them at Silva Hall, the large city-owned downtown venue, one of them being the St Matthew Passion, which is at Beall on campus. As for all the rest of the performances, well, I may decide after all not to miss this or that and head over to Beall (one of the benefits of the purgatorial balcony is that there is always at least a seat available), or may stick with my plan.

Am afraid that I'm going to bail on the Thigpen The Woman of Salt tonight, even though my schedule at work was changed and I have the day off. Tsk. If she goes on to compose a series of operas that make her the new Rossini! I'll kick myself over having missed tonight's spectacle.

Bryan Townsend said...

I was just reviewing the programs at our summer chamber music festival and only found one that I really wanted to attend! That is out of a dozen or so. Every string quartet seems to have fallen into the same dreary template of programming and I have been to so many that I find it tiresome.

Odds of Thigpen being the new Rossini: somewhere between slim and none!

Marc Puckett said...

Had never seen that Oregon ArtsWatch site before yesterday. Reading their About information it sounded as if they've taken the lead from ArtsProfessional's 'cultural capability for all' nonsense, pretty much as one would expect. Some things are just predictable.

I didn't go out to hear The Woman of Salt but an aquaintance who did identified four or five in-her-estimation positive things about the event; no, no comments on the music itself beyond e.g. 'the soprano had a lovely voice'. I had the impression, however, that she was in large measure being polite since I'd given her the ticket. Will be interested to read the reviews, though.

Marc Puckett said...

Finally have gotten around to buying Taruskin's Oxford History, or the first part of it, to the 16th c. The comments at NL's site are... sometimes quite amusing. Taruskin is evidently known to be someone who suffers not fools gladly.

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh yes, the Slipped Disc comments on the Taruskin award were a mix of interesting, depressing and more depressing. One thing for sure, the commentariat here at the Music Salon is a cut above that there! What a bunch of dyspeptic ignoramuses!

Will Wilkin said...

I cannot avoid pop music: it is played at the gym where I lift weights, and in the work truck where I spend hours daily, and sometimes even on the roofs where I work (yes, I finally got a job!). And I'm not surprised guitar sales are down, particularly the electric guitars that used to dominate pop music, back when it had a large component called "rock." The kids' music these days doesn't seem to have any real musical instruments, its just computer sounds, including metronomic drum machines and voice manipulations and just plain weird electronic noises. If you want to hear contemporary electric guitar, turn to the horribly mis-classified "country" music station that plays what would have been called pop music 10 or 20 years ago, except sung with a southern drawl. And ALL of it is horrible.

The latest edition of Scientific American has a short ethical reflection on the computerization of music:


Apple's GarageBand program for Mac computers lets you create fully orchestrated “compositions” just by dragging tiles into a grid. Everything sounds great, whether or not you know anything about rhythm, pitch or harmony. At the time of GarageBand's introduction, its product manager told me that even if the program semiautomates the composition process, it still gives people a taste of the real thing. It could inspire a novice to learn music, maybe take up an instrument.

Agreed. But how can we gauge artists' talent without knowing how much of the work was theirs? Should it affect how much we pay for their output? And what about when commercial musicians use GarageBand to produce their tracks—as Oasis and many indie bands have done?


Disclosing when our creative works have come from canned parts isn't just important for intellectual honesty; it would also make a better barometer for the rising tide of robots entering creative fields. (If you hadn't heard, robots are now capable of composing chorales and painting portraits.)

These days even professional musicians, artists and performers can substitute an on/off switch for human talent. Shouldn't the public know which is which?”


Regarding the ills of the music business, they don't seem so different from the ills of the American solar business, where my company (Made In USA Solar LLC) just got pushed out of the market by greedy billion dollar import-installation companies with zero regard for their workers, their customers, or the manufacturing industries of our country --much like the traitorous politicians in Washington DC who made a free trade policy that virtually guarantees the destruction of our domestic manufacturing in most industries, not just solar.

And so I had to take a job with a big solar company and now I install imports....

But I quit politics and will devote myself to the people I love, to my own personal wellness and fitness, and to becoming the best (bad) amateur musician I can become. I can't save my coontry from globalization and greed and corruption, the republic is a fraud (and dead). I will "fiddle while Rome burns." Which is a fine seque to the discussion of classical musicians under the NAZI regime:

Of Furtwangler I once read he said something to the effect of "my country needed music most in the worst of times." [Very much a paraphrase by WW, but true to thye spirit of what I read]. Think of your own country what will YOU do? As a patriot, I will stay and play my fiddle for whoever will listen, no matter what regime takes us to hell. It doesn't make the musician complicit in the war crimes of their government that they cannot stop or even influence. The republic (at least in the USA) is already DEAD. So plant a garden and learn an instrument and love your family and friends.

Bryan Townsend said...

Will, thanks for the long and thoughtful comment and especially for the link to the Scientific American article. Congratulations on your job! I don't remember where it came from, but a quote comes to mind: something about how there are times when it takes courage to just be an ordinary, decent human being. So more power to you.

Marc Puckett said...

That is an interesting SA article! I don't think to look at that magazine for such 'reflections'. How much of that CD of Julia Varady singing Strauss is Varady and how much the technicians in the studio? With more and more capable machines (i.e. robots making chorales...) there are only going to be more and more questions.

Using a VPN (ahem, cheating, yes) I have gotten access to the Qobuz streaming site that is based in France, and Primephonic, based I think in the UK. The latter seems to have a comparatively few tracks available but Qobuz certainly is in Spotify's league so far as music available goes (more Biber even than Spot, it seems at first glance) and the sound quality is CD level with the capability of streaming even to '24 bit Hi-Res up to 192 kHz', although everything I've listened to has played at CD level (16 bit/44.1 kHz)-- whether that has to do with the fact that I'm in the 'free trial' or because I've not tried listening to a CD recorded in 'Hi-Res', no idea. Qobuz does cost twice as much as Spotify, however.

Bryan Townsend said...

My knowledge is certainly not up to date, but my experience with classical music recording is that it does not customarily use the kind of processing of the raw takes that pop music does. Mind you, there might certainly be some fiddling with the sound (reverb, compression, etc.) around the fringes, in the crossover stuff, for example. But the more serious artists wouldn't be caught dead having their sound altered in that way.

You are the streaming expert!