Thursday, September 29, 2005

Irrelevant picture in an irrelevant post!

I hate calculus....

I have homework.... and any post on this blog of mine is me putting-off what i should be doing. Calculus, for example.

I've included this picture from my recent trip to New York. (don’t mind its irrelevance to the post) (and at least the picture has something to do with music!)

So this thought hits me today, a concept of some mundane pathos, if such a thing can exist. Its not something I’ve ever seen or heard expressed in art, and hell, its not really anything i've heard anyone else ever talk about (maybe for good reason) ... I suppose to explain what i mean, i should explain why this thought jumped into my head.

I was waiting for salmon today in the cafeteria (it was quality fish, believe it or not, and a quality lunch). It was late lunch so there were only a few people there. The salmon looked great- an enormous plate covered in orange peals and spices that the woman working there had clearly laid out with great care, and i was the first person to get any. No one else was waiting in line, and the area in the cafeteria was sort of tucked away from what most people see. The woman serving the fish had a depressed look on her face. She seemed to realize the great waste of all this wonderful salmon she had prepared. It was nearly 2- the lunch crowd was practically gone, and she'd have to pack it up by 2:30 or 3 and there would have been nothing left. Where would all that go?

So, wasted food, mundane, eh? Yet there is a sincere pathos (maybe that words a tad bit too strong) there... as this food was the product of one woman's careful work, a work that could not be appreciated by those it was aimed for. (Well, i appreciated it!) still, enough fish to serve dozens, and only one person enjoys it.

In the Myth of Sisyphus (a wonderful work!) Albert Camus wrote- "All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born of a street corner or in a restaurants revolving doors. So it is with absurdity." This is not a great thought or deed, but it is certainly attached to that existentialist notion of the absurd. That is, A thing which has had every bit of its supposed purpose undermined by circumstances. From this absurdity, i say, comes my (or rather the salmon woman's) mundane pathos.

Thats my bullshit for the day. Hopefully it will have some value to someone (or maybe comedic value) or maybe im just hyper-sensitive and all this is true bathos.


Monday, September 26, 2005

For Arvo Pärt

My newest favorite composer ( it takes a while for someone to be added to the list).

I have a fascination with the expression of spirituality. Its the concept of some noble, heavenly transcendence and all that. (i dont at all buy into that sillyness, but we can all dream) Mr. Pärt's music is surreal, as all spirituality is, and maybe that’s what I love about this type of religious expression. The organ section from The Beatitudes is sublime and this lil' painting o' mine i dedicate to the writer of such a thing. I can only hope it expresses what a second of that music says.

Homage à Pärt.

And im just glad that i can once again upload images onto my blog (blogger had a malfunction for a little while)... so im also exploiting this returned ability.

The other day I played out on the piano some fifths on the lower register of the (and E and B) and then mixed an irregular but quiet rhythm with the tones an octave above middle C- with the shift between the minor thirds B+D and A#+C#. I was just playing around, but there was a subtle yearning from those tones, I said to myself- what does that sound like? and then i realized Mr Arvo had left his mark on me. Funny how a composers style will pop up so suddenly.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Post-Wagnerian Radiohead

As I type I am listening to moody chromaticism- suspended chords in tonal ambiguity. This band's song Sail to the Moon is excellent music, (and this is coming from someone who values harmonic progressions higher than anything else in music). During the piece there is this perfect chromatic shift, exquisite, expressive and worthy of an early Schoenberg. The lyrics fit the tone of the music (or the other way around, i suppose). But lyrics are secondary- and the music is a combination of half-diminished and augmented chords, even hinting at the whole-tone scale. Truly ethereal and beautiful.

I’m currently listening to the uplifting tones of the song We suck young blood. More monotonous, less interesting in terms of musical ideas, but more experimental- still- there’s that moody chromaticism otherwise unheard-of in popular music. It makes them sound "dark" as my friend puts it. Chromaticism is still an easy method of constructing interesting chordal combinations, and this isn’t Bach, it isn’t Beethoven, but its still very good, and worthy of serious listening.

Friday, September 23, 2005

An Online Alban Berg Quiz.

Tears of a Clownsilly has an online quiz on Alban Berg- "what major work of Alban Berg are you?"

Berg, that expressive genius, i wish i had a complete recording of Wozzeck... i only have fragments of it. ( i would also argue that he isn't treated properly by text books.) Anyway, its good stuff, that quiz and Berg's music.

Oh no.

So I showed my father this blog. A mistake-
and what was the first thing he said?

"you're not using proper punctuation and capitalization, why?"

Because I’m lazy and I don’t feel like it. I get my point across, and I write casually, is that a sin against the language? are you offended by it? I suppose some are, some aren’t. But even
Shakespeare spelt things a little funny. I'm not as casual right now as i am, say, during an instant message chat. lol. Besides, im capable of writing a formal college essay, and boring the living daylights out of everyone, but i refuse to do that here, today i write for fun.

But back to my point- I may not be the best writer in the world, and i may not be a great grammarian, but language is about ideas, so everything else is secondary.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Ahhh... College

Its that time of year again, and i will be very busy with all this college business for a little while, until i get situated (then, i expect, with this being a challenging quarter, that i wont have as much free time) But i will try to keep things active and moving. Apologies in advance.

But the good of this is that i will once again have a wealth of concerts to attend. I do compose here and there, and hopefully, if all works out, i could even get one of my longer works performed- an exciting prospect.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Mozart for me.

When i am ill, when i am grouchy because of my illness and generally feeling shitty- i like to turn to dear Mozart.

Last Christmas i had a miserable case of food poisoning, and nothing could make me feel better...not even a sip of water for a miserable stomach. No, only Mozart. I listened to the String quartets and piano sonatas. His perfection, his tonic beauty and balance- it was only comfort i could get for the nearly three days of laying on a couch.

Today is a Mozart day. I play it on the piano, i listen to it now, on my laptop. He is comfort in uncomfortable times. It rests in the purity of his tonality, his harmonic/melodic balance. We hear those terms always applied to Mozart: "purity", "perfection", and before i understood tonality this made no sense to me, it just sounded like frivolous 18th century happy-music. I still refuse to give Mozart all the praise some give him, but i wont ever claim he isn’t of enormous value to my life... no matter how grouchy I am.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

For Kicks.

This needs some explanation. Recently Alex Ross made a post about George Bush's infamous statements about Trent Lott's porch and a little bit about his posing with a guitar. George apparently wanted to pose with a G chord, but messed it up, and instead he was positioned on the notes G, G#, A, B, C, and D ( Thank you JD Considine!).

Now this produces a wonderfully ugly chord, which, no doubt, our dear leader intended. I thought it fitting today, after reading this post, and reflecting on the powerful leadership of dear leader, to make a little ditty out of this (though not my usual fare), so this afternoon i did just that. The rest is on the back of this page, and i wont trouble you with that.

A word about the piece. I imagine a warm summer Mississippi day with Dubya on the guitar- on... you guessed it, Trent Lott's porch.

As always, feel free to comment. Im not easily offended.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Unstuffing Classical Music.

Or as I like to call it, reverse-taxidermy. Something clearly needed in the classical music scene, unless we want to preserve the music like a misguided owner preserves their dead dog. Its all so stuffy, no excitement- and the greatest thrill outside of the music is the occasional cough in the audience. Every once in a while you'll get a real hacker, and all you can do is wait in anticipation for them to be ok again. No dancing in the aisles, no boos or hisses, rare are the cheers, just smugness.

But I digress. There’s a real problem with all this, and that is the expectations of the audience. Many who show up for classical music concerts, I don’t doubt, are not there because of some sincere love for the art, but because its so high-class to go. Dress up all fancy and parade around, listen to the old masters in complete silence and seriousness. They like it stuffy, that’s what they're there for, if it didn’t have the reputation, they wouldn’t be there.

So we're a little stuck then, as these misguided fellows probably have some money in their pockets and purses. The orchestra cant change it up, the taxidermists would cry foul and maybe revoke their memberships and all that, so what do orchestras do? they appeal to these people. They accept the image as there remains no financial alternative.

But i propose that we give our orchestras two faces: The old, lifeless face to appeal to our wealthy taxidermists- and a fresh, invigorating concert- maybe with, *gasp*, new music as part of the repertoire: 20th century to contemporary. This is the only pragmatic(?) solution i cant come up with. I wouldn’t mind opinions on this one (and i love opinions).

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe the orchestra leaders really love it stuffy, and obviously these generalities wont apply everywhere.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

More Hovhaness business.

"To me, atonality is against nature. There is a centre to everything that exists. The planets have the sun, the moon [has] the earth. The reason I like Oriental music is because everything has a firm centre. All music with a centre is tonal. Music without a centre is fine for a minute or two, but it soon sounds all the same"

So I may be critical, but i agree with the man who wrote those words ( minus those celestial and mystical connotations). It is against nature, yes, but that does not deny atonality artistic merit. What does it in for me is the dogma... that and.... it all sounds the same. (sometimes)

But i'll save my rant against atonality for another day... a day when im a little more comfortable with making audacious claims. Hovhaness at least realized the problem with his enormous output- the issue of quality. "I write too much, far too much (55 symphonies). This is my insanity, and new music is not published" He ended up writing 12 more symphonies. Why he chose to write so much is beyond me. He clearly understood the problem, but worked and worked all the same.

"My purpose is to create music not for snobs, but for all people, music which is beautiful and healing. To attempt what old Chinese painters called 'spirit resonance' in melody and sound."

It would not be a stretch to see this as a post-modern attitude, or see his works as anticipating post-modernism. His facination with the east links him to other west-coast american composers, Cage and Harrison, and several critics have already written that he anticipated minimalism and new-age as well as the latter-day mysticism of pomos like Arvo Part. He even played with Indian ragas before Glass and others made it fashionable. Good for him, i say.

Mr. Hovhaness?

So i have some fondness for Hovhaness in concept, and his mystic mountain symphony is a gem, but its hard to have true artistic sympathies for someone who clearly valued quantity over quality. A phrase (is it from dostoyevsky? i dont remember) came to mind when listening on the radio to one of his lesser known works: Of noble birth, but impoverished from the begining. That pretty much sums up to me several, if not most of his compositions. His works are still being discovered, it seems, so another jewel may pop up.

Im currently exploring his website, and listening to his cello concerto, which isnt bad, really. A little campy, maybe, in its blatent, beating-out of "eastern" scales. But overall, its a solid work. Its not really compelling until the end of the long, sprawling work. Its clear he didnt have the traditional approach to melodic content, an original approach that, again, works once you see it loop back as it does in the end- though it seemed to take forever to get there!

I still dont know how i feel about all this mystic talk and eastern philosophical connections. (the same goes for you, Mr. Cage, and dont think i dont see you in the corner, Henry Cowell) Seems, again, more of a pretence, a whim, than an authentic profession of eastern ideas. Meh.

Friday, September 09, 2005

I saw the Daily show yesterday with Brain Willaims. Its frightening to hear what he had to say abut New Orleans. Bodies were just floating around, apparently, but the authorities were refusing to allow the media to show images of them. Mr. Willaims seemed sincerely upset, infuriated even, by the situation in New Orleans. For good reason.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Seriously! PDQ. Bach!

I was going to write some sprawling post about how the avant-garde poses problems and how the rest of the world tries to figure them out or accept them, but then PDQ Bach came on. And it occurs to me, isn’t the last refuge for the avant-garde- humor? Seems no one in the classical establishment can take humor seriously, yet all self-respecting music historians and critics take john cage's four minutes of silence seriously.

Works like PDQ's Shleptet (a work of far more substance than Cage's) are enjoyed and even celebrated, yet i have not heard of another person who sees the great art in it. Why cant we agree that Peter Schikele's works are of importance? I thought post-modernists were supposed to undermine the concept of high art, but here we are, still treating humor like second-class (so to speak). So just what is so unart-ful about humor?

We accept the dadaists in visual arts and literature. What irony! they set out to destroy the establishment and make fun of it, but since the art world takes them seriously as great precursors of modernist avant-garde conceptualism, their works (or anti-works) are now placed in major art museums . It reminds me of that quote of Camus- "All modern revolutions have ended in a reinforcement of the power of the State." And so it is with art.

And back to the Schikele business. PDQ Bach's oeuvre are some of the greatest post-modernist works- some of the greatest compositions and constructions in the last 50 years. I dare say it. And why not? There is no logical reason that we should not take humor seriously.

Monday, September 05, 2005

a few words.

It may seem trivial, but i cant refer to this hurricane as Katrina. Katrina happens to be the name of one of my closest, most beloved and most missed friends. It hurts that such a name should go into history as connected to such a monstrous disaster.

Alex Ross may have written that Beethoven and Dylan produced the only music that "makes sense" when such a disaster as this occurs. But i would add Thomas Tallis. Nobler expressions than his Ave Dei Patris Filia are very rare.

Its difficult to mourn when you dont know and simply cant understand the scope of the disaster.

...Back to the Suburbs.

Back from New York. It was a fun week, art and food. What more can one want? Well, maybe a piano to play, but other than that... The met, the Frick, The gugenheim, no major art museum was left untouched. (ok, so thats not quite true, but its fun to say). It certainly feels like i've seen everything- how could there be more?

Anyway, at the Whitney i saw some peculiar paintings, painted by an Alexander Ross. hmm... a connection? plausable. The exhibit was interesting, i enjoyed many of the works a great deal. I was pleased that they had a Rothko upstairs.