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If NPR is an indicator, the battle for the ears of the general public has long since been lost. The model for public broadcasting networks like NPR or CBC Radio in Canada or the BBC in the UK used to be that they were a conduit for the less commercial higher culture--classical music in other words. But now, for a generation or two, it seems as if classical music is hardly even a niche anymore, but just a vague historical echo. Witness this item from the Wall Street Journal about NPR Music:
Well before NPR Music was founded, popular music was part of the arts-and-culture coverage of the parent network and its affiliates, though many were committed to classical music or jazz. As a producer for “All Things Considered,” which featured album reviews and artist profiles, producer Bob Boilen heard from folks who wanted more: In the pre-Internet, pre-Shazam days, they clamored for the names of songs excerpted between news items. (Disclosure: Several years ago, I did a few reviews for “ATC” that Mr. Boilen produced.) He proposed a podcast to introduce new music to listeners; “All Songs Considered” launched in 2000. Its popularity, as well as NPR’s forays into presenting live concerts online, led to NPR Music, which launched in November 2007.
For its “Tiny Desk” series, NPR Music challenges its guests to do something different in a stripped-down setting. When I visited NPR in mid-October, Billy Corgan, best known for his work with the Smashing Pumpkins, was playing for the first time with a string quartet. In June, Chance the Rapper not only performed a Stevie Wonder song but read a poem he had written for the occasion. Recent “Tiny Desk” guests included jazz’s Nate Smith + Kinfolk, R&B’s Benjamin Booker and folk’s Ani DiFranco, who was accompanied by Ivan Neville and Jenny Scheinman. The Roots brought along seven horn players and singer Bilal. Randy Newman came alone.The ultimate in diversity these days seems to mean: everything but classical.
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Let's look at two attempts to write a sleep-inducing lullaby: one by composer Eddie McGuire and the other by Jukedeck, an artificial intelligence taught how to compose by CEO Ed Newton-Rex. You can hear both pieces over at the Mirror.
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Now is the time of year when Forbes announces its list of the highest-paid women in music 2017. At the top is Beyoncé raking in a cool $105 million. Adele is a distant second with $69 million and Taylor Swift is in third place with $44 million. I guess that this must be the golden age of music as I don't think any musicians in history have earned even a tiny fraction of the sums that popular musicians can earn in the 21st century.
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On the other end of the music world, the Eugene Weekly continues to chronicle the slow decline of the Oregon Bach Festival:
One gets the feeling that this is one of those situations where exactly the wrong person is given a position of power and influence and abuses it. Sadly, this can destroy a fine musical institution.When Linda Ackerman was fired by the Oregon Bach Festival in 2016, her story didn’t end up in The New York Times.Her departure from the festival wasn’t the subject of outraged posts on classical music blogs like Slipped Disc.But the tale of Ackerman’s firing — pushed through that summer by OBF Executive Director Janelle McCoy — may shed light on the still-unexplained firing this past summer of OBF’s Artistic Director Matthew Halls, a case that has drawn international news coverage and nearly unrelenting criticism of the 47-year-old festival and of the University of Oregon, which operates it.In both cases, it appears that McCoy was behind the firings. Ackerman, a contract artist liaison, was closely allied with Halls, whom she considers a friend. And, like Halls, she insists she still doesn’t understand why her contract was terminated.
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In music we have had a number of critiques based on the concept of "cultural appropriation" lately, but so far the issues of "colonization" and "de-colonization" have not had much play. I'm sure it's just a matter of time, though. So as a little amuse-bouche I offer this article from the Globe and Mail on decolonizing Canada--symbolically at least! The article is really hard to excerpt, but this will give you an idea:
The critique of colonialism originates with Frantz Fanon a "Marxist humanist." Isn't it odd how, without so much as a genuine public debate, we seem to have moved from a basically Western European culture of classical liberalism into a disingenuous cultural Marxism? Canada, widely recognized as being one of the finest places in the world to live with a reasonably strong economy, a fair and open society, a highly respected political and legal system and everything else that attracts immigration from the world over, continues to berate itself and apologize--for what? Being a better place to live? No, with the ideological shibboleths of the extreme left. About the only thing that is unfortunate about Canada is the climate!And then there is Shia's noodle shop, a place where the hipsters are chowing down on noodles savoured for their exoticism but now long removed from the original dish that was appropriated; it's a place where the colonizers no longer recognize the thing they took in the first place."And where does that leave the colonizer?" Wente asks. "It seemed to be addressing Canada in the moment." Indeed, in the figure of Egan Emmett, the diner whose commitment to cosmopolitanism has somehow morphed into a daily bowl of noodles he no longer really wants, Shia seems to capture the settlers' dilemma, trapped in a society they can't see the way to change.The solution? Well, political reform in Canada will only be driven by a change of Canadian attitudes, Wente figures: "For me, storytelling, our making movies like this, is important because it's going to take a cultural shift."
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I'm pretty sure that early on at The Music Salon I did a post on the music of plants. But here is another one.
During a small lecture at a private residence in Delray Beach earlier this month, I watched a houseplant play music, unabashedly and beautifully. Potted and still, it was hooked up to a MIDI machine via electrodes, its bio-emissions creating twinkling melodies. Attached to the same machine, an orchid and rosemary plant played nothing, but this one was active and virtuosic, as though it enjoyed playing.
The MIDI machine is part of a project called Music of the Plants, developed in the 1970s by researchers at Damanhur, a spiritual eco-community in Piedmont, Italy. Damanhur’s primary tenet is that the natural environment is conscious, and meant to exist in cohabitation with humans; in 2005, the community received recognition from the United Nation’s Global Forum on Human Settlements as a model for a sustainable society. While plant music has been created before —Mileece, a sonic artist, makes plant symphonies using similar technology — the Music of the Plants is essentially Damanhurian. It’s as much about art as it is about plant sentience and intelligence, which is its own field of study.The clips at the link offer abundant evidence that, like aeolian harps, MIDI programmed in the right way can take any input and turn it into the dullest new-agey music.
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Let's have a cheery envoi today to celebrate surviving another week, unbloodied, unbowed and unbent. This is the Magnificat by Bach with the Concentus Musicus Vienna and the Arnold Schoenberg Choir. Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt.