A friend of mine today asked me what avant-garde meant. i explained that it is when some art form tries to push or break explicit or implicit rules in the art, stuff that pushes boundries. I used Picasso as an example of Early 20th century avant garde and the impressionists before him as well as John Cage, who she was unfamiliar with. I used 4'33" as an example. "because non-statements are statements, and music is expression, and non-music is a statement" i think is what i said, or something to that effect.*
"Huh" she replied "I guess that makes sense" she seemed very accepting of the concept. "but i dont think i'd want to listen to four minutes of silence, i'd get bored"
same here, same here.
*i cant help but feel full of myself when i resort to quoting myself.
Tears of a Clownsilly has the hope diamond of posts for the Debussy lover- an interview from 1910 published by the New York Times. What struck me in the article is the incredibly modern sound of debussy's words- the world couldnt have changed that much. He is straightforward, direct, there isnt a drop of pretension in what he says.
"you are quite right; my compositions are part of myself, almost like my own children. I hate to see them grow up, for then they have to leave me"
Tchaikovsky had the same kind of thing to say in his letters, i dont have the book handy otherwise i would have found the quote directly, but he even uses the same metaphor for his pieces, he too described the pain of handing his work over to the public and his subsequent insecurity that is accompanied by the public performance. There is more wisdom in this interview than quotation allows, if that makes any sense. Read it, its great insight to both composition, music and Debussy as a musician. There is a universal and timeless quality in what he says.
Nice friends of mine have planned a little trip to keep me busy for the rest of spring break. Nowhere warmer, but i'll take it.
Well, this also means my time with the library cds is about at an end. This time around the Ades cd confirmed my previous summation of it- boring. Interesting sounds, interesting uses of the instruments, but nothing held my interest beyond that. and, no carols on this one - it was a lot of his earlier works, five elliot landscapes (i did like the bit about the mockingbird.) Catch, the first track on the disk was probably the most engaging, and had some beautiful moments and some fun parts, but i really wasnt taken by any of the other pieces, they all just blended together, indecipherable and nothing so new. The titles are great - Darkness visible, Still sorrowing, Under Hamelin Hill, Traced Overhead, but unfortunately, nothing really stood out about them. Its not that i dont like Ades, either, its just this disk doesnt have his best work on it.
The Walter Piston, on the other hand (Symphony #4) perhaps because i wasnt expecting so much, really pleased me. The symphony was energetic, interesting, mostly in the first half (the second half, not as much) but it sounded so incredibly american, its great. I wish i would have had time to give this mid-century tonal modernism more attention, but i had four CDs to cover.
And then the Micheal Nyman. The disk as a whole (Time Will Pronounce) wasnt that interesting, but it did have a great beginning. The first piece, Self-laudatory hymn of Inanna and her omnipotence, was fresh, vigorous, energetic and beautiful. The instrumentation consisted of viols and a countertenor who sings well beyond the range of any male i know. The music struck me as a post-modern Henry Purcell piece, the vocal writing shows a remarkable and wonderful similarity to purcell, and the piece as a whole is compelling, sweet and lyrical, just as Purcell would have it. The rest of it the disk was ok, but not that great, the start of For John Cage was good, but it rambled on and on. Same for the other two, though the rhythmic and tonal evolution in The convertibility of lute strings was fun and i liked the contrast between the contemporary minimalistic feel of music and the ancient sound of the harpsichord.
I already explained my enjoyment of the Machaut mass. But yep, thats my little overview-review. I still cant believe some stuffy, pompous ass art critic criticized Marc Geelhoed for using the word "cool". The use has nothing to do with selling something, but it does have everything to do with expressing ones self. I know i had something more to say, but i honestly dont remember it. Ah well, another time.
Jerk friends canceled spring break plans on me, now im a bum with no where to go. My entire family is traveling somewhere right now except me... but i should be. There is no one around, even the dog's off somewhere, no joke. Debussy is my only consolation in this empty house. Why of all musics does debussy always make me happier?
Today i rented from our little library Machaut's Notre Dame Mass, which is an absolutely amazing work. I had heard parts of it, but not in full, until now. A masterpiece, really. I also checked out Ades' life story and other songs, i had rented it before, back in highschool, and i wasnt particularly impressed, a lot of interesting sounds but not much interest, that is my memory of it, who knows, perception could have, and very likely has, changed.
And the third CD is Walter Piston, some symphony. We'll see.
But right now, Debussy time. Tomorrow im going to see if i cant find a way to get somewhere warmer.
My favorite section of Einstein, and i cant help but think, as i listen to this music and various other more purely minimalist music of Glass (particularly 12 parts) of the things im writing about in my classes. These things all bleed together, and its quite interesting.
Im currently employed writing a dull paper about one section of Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and all these things in it, the stories it contains and detailed descriptions of the changes that went along with scientific discoveries that overturned previous assumptions, how that relates in so many ways to artistic breakthroughs - The controversies, the inevitable conservatism and backlash that comes with breaking with the established system, the pattern just repeats and repeats, on and on. Sometimes the reactions are more violent and angry than others - Copernicus, Galileo, and some times they just end up with mere debates within science itself. Another pattern that repeats over and over again (from Copernicus all the way up) is that the discoveries of younger generations are nearly never accepted by the older generation, its amazing really how prevalent this pattern is.
Needless to say, Dalton's conclusions were widely attacked when first announced, and Berthllot, in particular, was never convinced...
And the other thing which relates is directly to minimalism itself. Glass' works here reflect on Kuhn's notion of a paradigm shift. (he invented the phrase, now common, in this text) but i cant think of a better kind of musical equivalent. 12 parts in particular, there is an establish paradigm for the music, this one symmetrical concept that we hear and feel and through the repetitions learn very (sometimes too) well, it goes on and feels so absolute, unchanging and then suddenly that musical paradigm shift, a split second of confusion, of revolution where what we thought was so regular and symmetrical suddenly feels so irregular, and it feels as if the earth has just moved under us. Just as Kuhn says, the old paradigm is replaced by a new one, repeating, then once more we get to know this new paradigm and its symmetries soon become clear to us... and then another shift and another paradigm comes to replace the old, sometimes these shifts are more dramatic, sometimes less, but they are always perceptible. Its a kind of cycle that pushes the music forward, despite the stagnant harmonies and repetitive rhythms.
This is the history of art too, as made clear by this juicy bit about some minimalist-hating berkeley professor. The Death of civilization? they said that about stravinsky too. How flattering!
_ _ _ _
Its a great book dont get me wrong, its just not fun to write about.
What have i been doing recently? frantically and yet lazily trying to finish up the quarter. I took this picture of my desk on tuesday night (well... couldnt have been wednesday) while i was getting it ready for thursday (when it was due). I dont post this because im particularly proud of anything, but self-documentation can be fun.
So i've been busy, and after wednesday will be the beginings of fun time.
I should explain the drawing- you take an original drawing by piraneci(sp?) and the mddle section is cut out (piece of paper on the right) . Then you have to fill it in with whatever you want. Then you have to take your completed plan and draw the whole thing straight onto a board. It takes more time to do it well than you might imagine.
I have not gotten very far on my spam songs. Im pretty much done with the third song, but there are 4 more to be written. Maybe break will give me time to finish it up.
I try to restrain my political outbursts on this site (i think this will be my 3rd), as its not a political blog, but sometimes i read something that just pisses me off. For better or for worse, im a political animal...
The 101 most dangerous professors bit by David Horowitz is just a continuation of the conservative dogma. The assumption of the text, and the argument frequently put forth by republicans, is that its the institution of the university that is the problem, it’s the problem with our system, its infested with liberals who are corrupting the youth, thats why these universities are so liberal. Does this kind of argument sound familiar? it should.
This is the same kind of logic that is used for the marxist-lenninist-soviet philosophy * - there is nothing wrong with the people, its society that makes people bad and corrupts them, it’s the capitalist system, its the institution, not the people. This kind of argumentation is actually the root of all Marxist-communist thought. Not surprisingly, the soviets also ceaselessly criticized (and purged) those in high ranks at the universities, bourgeois, they said of them then. Well, Liberal they say now.
So it is then a massive orgasmic irony that the republican pundits use this (ill)logic, since they will explode at the very mention of communism, and they never hesitate to criticize communism for being founded on a misunderstand of social behavior - fails because of human nature. Well, thats funny, their argument fails because it uses the same reasoning. Why are professors usually liberal? Could it be because they’ve seen errors and endless contradictions in the logic of conservatives? No no… it’s the system, remember? The system!
* well, it started with Rousseau, but unlike Marx, Rousseau was a nice man.
Every now and again i get this urge to set up a mock-conservative website because i read these comments by conservative pundits, and they are so extreme and so ridiculous, so over-the-top insane that i feel like i too should promote conservative insanity, in my own way, of course. To think, we're at a point were anne coulter is a celebrity, david horowiz and rush limbaugh have an audience. I suppose the more bombasic the better, the more press and more money, and what is talk good for if it doesnt bring more money? I was trying to think of a title, but "put liberals in jail for anti-american terrorist slander!" was all i could come up with. The website would be about how the 1st amendment should be overruled because it was written "in a time when they didnt have websites and computers or terrorists and emails, so they couldnt have possibly known what the current world was like" soundslike a solid argument to me.
i stand behind the claim that cognition is recognition, in some form or another. The argument goes into human cognitive theory and epistemology, which i dont want to get into because im pretty much ignorant of most of the subject, BUT if we accept this concept (sounds sound enough to me) then there are certain concepts relating to music, 20th century music, which should be mentioned.
The seralists will have a serious problem if they accept this claim. If the listener can not recognize something in the music, if the pattern can not be deciphered auditorily (since the medium of music is sound, not images), then it is failing to give the listener much intellectual material to work with, aside from pure sonic material. It makes perfect sense that most people, even many serious musicians, have trouble enjoying 12 tone music.
How can we really cognitize music that never gives us something to recognize? I once became thrilled in the middle of a Schoenberg concert because i recognized the tone row... briefly, then it went away and i never heard it again. I then fell back into a strange state boredom - interested in the sounds themselves and not interested in the music beyond that. The same is true often in the avant-garde, im fascinated by the sonic experiences but the musical material is often uninteresting. (the counter to this is that there is no division between musical material and sonic experiences, that they are one in the same)
In Berg its understandable, since he imprinted serialism with such passion, in Webern, even, understandable, since he discovered new possibilities in sound and a different mode of intensity and expression (however cryptic) all together. But still, to enjoy the webern and the berg to a greater extent i have to hear the music more than once. I will go Anablog and open one of those windows and listen to about 5 minutes of a 30 second Webern piece. Im not really comfortable leaving one before that . So it could turn out, surprisingly, that repetiton in some form actually increases intellectual stimulation for the listener instead of diminishing it, that for the listener, a chopin ballade may use more brain power than the most solidly intellectual piece of Boulez, more interest for our intellect than something that never repeats or is unrecognizable.
i listened to some terrible playing downstairs. Really bad. I had a friend in high school who's nickname in art class was kinderhulk, because his drawings reminded someone of a kindergartener and the hunk, combined. This pianist shared in the spirit of kinderhulk, if that gives you an idea. He played chopin without emotion, mechanically and sped-up to create some sort of warped pseudo-virtuoso showpiece out of nocturnes. Poor chopin.
Then some really banal something or another, sickeningly sweet stuff, reminiscent of contemporary non-denominational church music. Then back to the chopin nocturnes, beat black and blue. bizarre accelerandos in places they dont belong, mechanical playing. He hit all the right notes all wrong. Kind of amazing, actually.
Then he played some good ol ragtime. He could play that well. And then i realized, he was playing chopin nocturnes like ragtime pieces. ahhh, it made sense now.
But all this terrible music and terrible playing is good for the soul, i think. It keeps you modest. You sit down and play, and think- how much difference is there between his playing and mine? how much do you think is actually perceptible to a non-music person? Eh, I stand by my claim... its good to know whats bad, its good to hear bad every now and again.