Sunday, October 30, 2005

A quick defence for Mr. Tchaikovsky.

Why do some many people in academia love to attack poor Tchaikovsky? Because he's popular? because he's emotional? I don’t get it. Recently i read an attack on his symphonies and was, more or less, offended.

Stravinsky and I shared a similar upbringing - in terms of Tchaikovsky- the first ballet i ever saw, when i was very young- 5 or 6, was Tchaikovsky. From then on it was a sort of tradition every year or so to go with my mother to the Nutcracker. I loved the music then, i love it now. I share Stravinsky's admiration.

His music has ideas. Its passionately expressive music, and the emotion is hightened by his melodic inventiveness and lyrical brilliance. Really, could you dream up a melody more sublime than those found in his Symphonies or Ballets?

A while back I read Tchaikovsky's letters (all 400 pages of them), and it turns out (surprise surprise!) that he valued the melody as a core expressive element in music. I cant argue with that, and seeing that was his aims, can you fault him? If we value music in terms of its expressiveness, in terms of its musical ideas what is to stop us from admiring his works?

He certainly wasn’t a perfect composer, but no one is. Tchaikovsky may not have constructed his symphonies in proper symphonic form and all that crap, but maybe its because he wasn’t primarily interested in traditional compositional formats.

I've overheard some attack him for "sounding like a cheesy movie". Come on, he died long before the art of hack-- I meaning writing music scores came into practice. Its not his fault that he proved popular with Hollywood.

His last 3- the 4th 5th and 6th symphonies are masterpieces, no question. if you doubt this, if you think you can do better, please, get back to me.

Im still chuckling over my picture. Is that vanity?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

From an article by Ross Simonini, words from a member of the group Animal Collective :

"...As far as the boundaries and the future of avant-garde, I have no idea. I don’t think the people who reach that next step are thinking about it either. That process of searching out new boundaries to push in order to be the next avant-garde seems too academic for me. People should just do what they want to do, and if it happens to be something that pushes the boundaries, then that’s sweet. If you are just trying to do something to be different, but feel no personal attachment to what you are creating, then that’s a shame. If it’s not something you would respond to on a deeper level, why would anyone else respond to it?

RS: What about your own boundaries? As musicians who create new sounds, what are the limitations you find yourself fighting against? What are your musical crutches?

GEOLOGIST: I would say the only boundaries we fight against are ourselves and our past. But it’s not too hard. We consciously try and move beyond what we’ve done before
....." (source!)

Animal Collective has gained some popularity recently- for good reason. While their music is usually too harmonically static for me to love it, the sounds they're producing are marvelous and inventive. "deconstructed rock/altern" is the term i read earlier, which is a thoroughly shitty term- it fails to express the degree of diversity in the sounds and harmonies, or even give an idea of how rich their textures are. There are folk elements, electronica, rock elements and experiments everywhere. There's a constant stream of sounds, often in thick layers, this music is vertical in an non-harmonic manner. This can be problematic, as they dont have much in the way of dynamics.

But they've got it. Aggressive songs like Grass and even Leaf House are at the avant-garde end of the music spectrum. They're pushing, and its really interesting.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Amusante Part Deux.

So i couldnt resist showing this glaucoma song to my friend last night, so tonight she sends me this link to a new website she and a friend have just created just for this song. (super linkie)

and yes, its a ferret.

I have wonderful friends, and luckly, friends with the same fucked up sense of humor as myself.

today hath brought me much joy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Via The Rest is Noise... THIS made me laugh as i havent in weeks. Its just that music in combination with the little heads floating around in the corner that i find hysterical.

Am i going to hell for laughing at this? eh...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Oh the Existential Absurdity!

"A post on a web blog without comments is like a child who's parents forget to pick him up from school." (source)


Its a little like writing music for no one to play, something im far too familiar with.

In other news, I am currently tuned to the music of a group(?) entitled The Dirty Projectors. They're skilled, skilled musicians. This is genre-bending goodness that needs to be heard. The song Warholian Wigs reminds me of a slightly warped Steve Reich. Its beautiful, haunting, interesting and experimental, mixing violins, woodwinds, cellos, xylophones with electronics and percussion, but in the most unusual of ways.

But it works, it works so well, and what music to stimulate your ideas! Its refreshing and intelligent. This too may be a new favorite.

Im a picky listener, but this is good stuff.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Break on through the other side.

I do not hate popular music- Far from it, and i dont deny popular musical value just because its popular music. The problem is- theres a lot of shit to sift through in order to find the gems, or even the occasional important pebble. I believe all musics can have value.

Over the course of the evening, from room to room and car to apartment i've listen to Classic Rock, to Mozart, to hard Rap, and back to 70s rock. From each bit i've heard something valuable.


....Blah blah blah, i cant write, blah blah blah....

Nirvana. Listen to those lyrical, almost bartokian tritones. Its music, its not as "sophisticated", and by that term i mean, its actual musical language- the harmonies, rhythms, melodic content, is not complex, but its rough and expressive. Again, i wouldnt necessarily place it above those Bartok String Quartets, but i wouldnt dismiss it so quickly either!

Most important to this post is the idea that we can glean from Rock music, and i see no reason why not to. Its a field 0f musics and languages which we can explore in our own terms. Why treat is different, than, say, Folk Music? Bartok explored all that business in the early 20th century, whats to say that we dont have a new folk music today? Its possible to create an art that is a reflection of the times, but also something beyond mere style, expressing something more universal. Its possible.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I should be writing about John S Mill...

But i'd rather write an essay about Ned Rorem and the song's i've just finished listening to.

My first question is, why hasnt he been marginalized yet? This music is lyrical, emotional and fairly "conventional"... its ripe for marginalization. I mean, why should we care about mid-late 20th century composers who arnt serialists or minimalists or avant-gardists? What "relevance" do they have?

Its really surprising to me, then, that i've heard his name and its not been dismissed in the same breath as "neo-romantic" or "sentimental", or, worse yet, "conservative". We have dismissed the achievements in Samuel Barber, so why not Rorem (who's music sounds very similar, actually) ..? Its beautiful stuff, this rorem music. He's got some really wonderful songs.

Poor Barber, a misunderstood and much maligned (thats right, maligned) composer. Have you heard his Knoxville: Summer of 1915? or for that matter, his sublime, his masterpiece for winds- Summer Music? ...i will leave my words for Barber another day. Back to essay writing...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Aesthetics Part 2

.......apologies in advance.

Art in Definition... part deux.

Art is expression... But does that mean all expression is art? This is the trickiest of all questions, and there are many, many different opinions on what is and isn’t art. But if we accept this most liberal, most generalized idea, then everything can be treated as an art- these words, language itself, gestures of any kinds and ideas of all kinds. There are many working artists who see this as the only definition of art, so consequentially, everything we say and do is an art.

The 20th century has been practically nothing but a series of avant-garde artists who've attempted, in one way or another, to undermine society's pre-conceived notions of what art is. There were the first abstractionists and atonalists who abandoned the notion of representation and tonality as the definition of visual arts and music, later there were conceptualists of all sorts who denied that paint or color or form were necessary in visual art or that harmonic tones are necessary in music. There are tons of examples of this, as this is at the very core of what it is to be avant-garde.

I have not finished my thoughts on the definition of art, but as it is, it reads: Art is deliberately organized expression- so all those phone conversations and hand gestures you make while eating, are out - they aint art, but if you plan it out, it is.

Now what is also necessary is that given that definition, we need to make sure we don’t continue to associate art with anything "high" or "low". Those boundaries don’t exist... yet (or will they ever?) who knows...

"Its all Subjective"

In art, my greatest enemy is the phrase "its all subjective". This cliché has been passed from one person to the next and is nothing short of a mental cop-out.

If art is all subjective, and therefore there is no rational basis for judging art, then a pile of vomit in an art gallery would be just as important as the mona lisa, that is to say, there would be nothing that makes the mona lisa better in any way than a pile of vomit.

This is, essentially, nihilistic. This concept gives no justification for any type of analyzation, because in the end, there are no "good" or "bad" ideas, those terms are based in subjectivity. This thought is rooted in the idea that there is no "objective reality"- an idea which may be true, and thus there is no "objective good" (that is, something good beyond the human mind frame and society), but it does not mean what is "good" does not exist- it exists as a necessary social and mental construction. To deny this is to say that there is nothing "wrong" with anything at all, or any behavior or ideas, which means that you've clearly fallen into nihilism.

So whats the answer? I think we can all agree that intelligence and thoughtfulness are inherently good qualities (actually, the nihilist will deny this too) and there are rational arguments laying around somewhere for why intelligence is important, but i think its rather pointless to do that now, so lets move on.

A Basis for Criticism.

Does an artist value thoughtfulness and intelligence in their art? This is the primary question in judging a work. If we value it ourselves, we can continue, if we dont, we're a dumbshit nihilist who shouldn’t be reading this (or anything for that matter).

Does an artist value expression or not? (expression being the core to all that is art) Does the artist value art at all (including their own)? or do they not? This is the basis of what we can call our criteria for judging a work of art. Artists most likely value something, whether its looking cool and stylish or expressing some form of internal existential crisis, if they didn’t value anything, again, they'd be a ...dumbshit nihilist.

Generally in art, we don’t have to question an artist's intent as being intelligent, as we make the sometimes dangerous assumption that the artists we're dealing with are intelligent human beings and consequently, they value intelligence. But obviously this is sometimes not the case (Brittany spears, anyone?)**.

A criteria, as i said before, is a method of understanding the values of an artist, and in debate the debater has a criteria they're working in, and values which they consequently uphold as part of that criteria. Art is very similar to debate in this manner. They are both to be judged on some criteria, implicit or explicit, and, just like in a debate, you can attack an artist's criteria for (probably not) valuing something.

So there you go- the first, and probably strongest method of criticism: the analyzation of an artist's art-values and a criticism of those particular values. This means that it doesn’t matter on the date or the genre in order to critique something.

**Im not saying that Brittany spears isn’t intelligent, im just saying that she clearly doesn’t value intelligence very highly in her art...(if at all).

Ok, so there’s some more crap for today. Its kinda patched together from older texts and stuff i just wrote, so there may be some confusion, but hopefully its not too awful. As always, feel free to criticize away. God knows i need it.

Aesthetics Part 1

I wrote earlier i would write up something about my aesthetics, so this is part 1 in a series on the issue. I will be drawing off of a lot of things i've already written. feel free to criticize.

Art is Expression.

No matter how you look at it, this art thing is some kind of expression. This may be really obvious to some, but contentious to others. A non-statement is the total antithesis of art, and no matter how close we try to come to expressing in art a concept of non-expression, we will fail, as any attempt to not-express something is also a statement of some sort.

The minimalist, Donald Judd, has tried to undermine the traditional notion of art as an expression by placing randomly colored block "sculptures" in no particular order- installed and placed, not my the artist, Judd, but by other people. But in doing this he makes a statement, a gesture about what is to be an artist- thereby making his art a form of expression, despite how cryptic the message may be to the viewer.

As i've said before, Aesthetics is a ladder of values, the most important concepts on the top, and others of lesser importance below them. In the complex world of a real-life art movement, there are many values that the artist will hold, not just one, but typically there will be one that stands out as the most important.

During different periods in the history in art there have been various opinions on what is important and relevant to art. The question of values have been answered differently by different art-movements, and so we can not approach all art the same way.

I wrote this bit below to explain to someone this concept- my intention was to show the core value of an art movement:

Classicism: The Main concept is that art as the expression of a harmony between forms

Romanticism: Art as the expression of the individual

Realism: Art as the expression of the times, the period, era.

Etc. And then you have many debates on the matter, but the fact is, that the idea of art as expression is a universally accepted axiom, whereas "art as the expression of a harmony between forms" is not. Think of that as the starting point.

It is also important to note that i do not find genres or "styles" from different periods to be the end-all of what any art is. The genre should inform, but not determine, the way in which we look at a work of art. Far to frequently i see critics who just write of some genre as an all encompassing whole- how some artist fits into the definition of the movement(s) associated to them - and not treating an art movement like what it really is- a generalization we've made to organize thought.


Its 3:41 in the morning, i should probably be sleeping. Sorry if this is more boring than usual (or more poorly written). I get to blame it on the hour of day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

John Adams Dances

I am currently tuned to Adams' The Chairman Dances.
If this music doesn’t make you want to dance, I don’t know what will. The irregular accents complemented with a very steady and danceable beat- A classical version of techno music. But can you picture a classical music audience dancing? they didn’t seem afraid of it in Holst's time when spirited dancing broke out during a performance of Jupiter.

no no, we're far too dignified to dance.

Adams overrated? I have heard some mumble these words, but I see no truth in it. What's overrated are super-icons like Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Madonna and, gasp, the Beatles. In fact, practically by definition, popular music is overrated. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Beatles just fine, but they sound like shit when compared to the likes of Beethoven and Bach, or, for that matter, Prokofiev and Stravinsky.

Adams, Phillip Glass and Reich may be pomo superstars, but they are barely known outside of the classical music world. This begs a question to Adam's critics- how could he be truly overrated in this world when people like Paris Hilton are famous? He's far more worthy of fame and a handsome income than most anyone else who's ever achieved musical popularity. He may not be the greatest composer in America, but just be happy that a contemporary composer has actually achieved a degree of public recognition.

And what’s this crazy business about putting “an” before a word like “handsome“? that’s crap. Its a consonant, not a vowel, no matter how British your h’s may be.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Jean Sibelius - Symphony No.6

Again, no one ever told me about this masterpiece, I had to discover it on my own. This symphony, in my opinion, is Sibelius' greatest achievement. I know the 5th, the 2nd, the 4th, the 7th, Tapiola, other works, but this has always remained my favorite work. Its odd to me that the 6th is rarely commented on or given the attention that is showered upon Tapiola and the 5th (or even the 7th!)

The work is sunny, it is cheerful- but with a subtle melancholy so distinct to Sibelius' late work. The harmonies are rich, vigorous. Here he isn’t afraid of dissonance and breaking the rules. Here we have a unique, a truly original and independent musical voice, fresh and universal in its language.

Common in any discussion of Sibelius is the term "organic" unity- applied in particular to the symphonies. There is no doubt in my mind that this common phrase touches the truth. Its hard to describe his sprawling (yet distinct and organized) structures- it moves from one idea to the next (when at his best) flawlessly and logically, just as Beethoven might. There are shifts, sudden, yet fitting, and the movements have a cyclical feel- a massive epic that turns and shifts about... eventually returning to the main idea, the main concept of the movement. The best example is in the sublime first movement in his 3rd symphony which is nothing short of miraculous, but you'll find it in all of his best symphonies. Timothy L. Jackson and Veijo Murtomäki in their Sibelius Studies described the music as being in "rotational form".

I have seen writers describe the later works of Sibelius as "austere" -yet this work is a wonderful counter-example to that claim. The harmonies, rich and full of variety, the incredible lyricism- emotion pours out of the melodic lines. This not emotionalism in the typical romantic or modern modes, but a powerfully sincere - a deeply felt kind of emotion that really hits on the profound.

Sublime, the last two movements in particular, sublime. Sibelius, not Brahms, is the only worthy successor to Beethoven in the symphonic form.

Sibelius held up these same values that Beethoven clearly held- emotional sincerity, individualism, universality.

Thats the heap of praise I give Sibelius. If you have criticisms of this work (or my post) I wont cry. As always please speak your mind.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Today i bought Bartok

and then i listened to the Gurrelieder.

Why didn’t anyone tell me that the Gurrelieder was so... hypnotically beautiful? My god. This is something else... I downloaded the complete work yesterday so this is the first time I’ve ever listened to it. Wow, i mean, at first listening i already know Gurrelieder is going to be on the favorites list. I knew Schoenberg was capable of beauty, but not this. The term eargasm works well enough.

In other news I bought the complete Bartok's string quartets.

I’m finding it hard so far to get too excited. They're supposed to be great, but there are a number of string quartets i find to be exceptional that I’ve heard already- ( those by Janacek, Ravel, Borodin, and of course, Beethoven) so Bartok already has a lot of competition, and standing next to those works it may be difficult to be great in my book.

Im afraid for Mr. Bartok. Is he up to his longwinded-ness again? I cant be sure. A quick listen to the 4th and 5th didn’t offer me many musical ideas to really appreciate, it just sort of went on and on from dissonance to dissonance without giving me too much flavor. I was left licking my lips for any residual interest... but found little. I cant contemn these quartets though, not at all, they need a good listening still. Maybe they'll get one after i listen to my dear Gurrelieder .

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Speaking of Post-modernism

Read my post first, but here's a Post-modern essay for you.

This is awesome. Now i cant ruin it... but just read through the essay, skim it if you must, but at least get a sense of what its saying, then when you've had enough, scroll down to the bottom and read the rest.

i hope you enjoy.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Philip Glass- Music in a Similar Motion (1969)

I have discovered that real minimalism, that is, the works of the late 60s up to the mid 70s, is very good to listen to while reading math. It can be, in a way, zone-out music, making my calculus text book look god-damned fascinating.

When i was younger i used to hate minimalism, bu justt now im really starting to appreciate it. It occurred to me that minimalism is akin to Chinese water torture, slowly driving everyone, participants and performers alike, insane. There may still be truth in this, after all, it almost making me enjoy reading math.

Minimalism is gestural, that is to say, not substantive. There isn’t meant to adhere to the traditional notion of musical material and ideas, so its about as close to conceptualism as you get. (this rejection of traditional "substance" is probably the aspect of minimalism that causes the greatest controversy.)

This music is about an entire abstract thing, rather than the music itself. Glass's early music values the concept behind the work over the work itself- that is, the idea of the way the music is takes complete control.