Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Political Cul-de-sac #4

I am outraged.

Once again republicans in congress have shown their ideologically infused disregard for the minimum wage. They once again shot down an attempt to raise it. Why? Why on earth does republican ideology say the minimum wage is bad or raising it is harmful? The argument i hear is about business and particularly small business- that raising the minimum wage will decrease jobs and be difficult on small business owners.

Firstly this is not going to be a wide-spread truth no matter how dramatic your scenario- secondly- what state has the highest minimum wage in the county? Mine. Washington state, which has more jobs across the board and a much stronger economy than most of the US states... and there very well may be this relationship between the minimum wage and a stronger economy (or there damn well should be according to republican logic (see below))

Reganomics (see: republican ideology economics) claims as its primary principal the notion that when people have more money, they spend more, they then boost the economy and increase job opportunities. This is the logic and reasoning behind all those tax cuts and those recent ones the republicans passed earlier in Bush's career. Ok, we will just assume this is true. So how does the minimum wage hurt the economy again? small business ...what? so...

When people earn more, they spend more (earn more = have more money) so....
By the republicans own logic- by the their own founding economic principal ( people having more money = people spending more= better economy) i have just justified an increase in minimum wage and contradicted their own argument against the minimum wage using their own time honored logic.

I dont feel the need to expand on this, as its pretty basic connect the dots here. The republicans are simply following a confused and literally self-contradicting economic-ideology, without realizing it, they have just turned their backs on the reason(ing) for tax cuts- something they all seem to hold so near and dear.

But, fuck, this makes it seem like its all just a sham.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Michael Gordon- Instrumental.

I've been just mundaning my way through summer, so far. Sleep, eat, work (in some form), look at computer, repeat, but at least i've had the escape of good music. There is a close-to-sublime beauty in those strings.

My mother recently bought Meredith Monk's Dolman Music, Steve Reich's 1977 recording of music for 6 pianos and some Golijov. I only suggested it and to my surprise she went ahead and got them on amazon. Im waiting eagarly for their arrival.

Friday, June 23, 2006

bothered by historicism

I believe that the vast majority of classically trained musicians, or musicians who have an understanding of the music, are required to one degree or another to understand the historical context of the music- without it they couldnt possibly play chopin like chopin or bach like bach. Classically trained musicians, then, are to one degree or another, rooted to the past- they understand that they work with is relatively old material, they have to.

Many musicians have a kind of historical anchor- the music that impassioned them or brought them to the history and to the training. For example, my anchor is in the music of Debussy (and later Ravel). That music was my first love so to speak* and it later brought me to listening to mozart and beethoven and bach, but it was through Debussy that my musical foundations were set. Im sure this is true for many others- and like a moored boat i can never float too far away from my anchor in the material i was trained with. Stravinsky felt the same way and explained it to his critics- he never abandoned his foundations in russian rimsky training, he applied it in new ways and with new musical materials, but his background was still there, sometimes more obscured, sometimes less.

So if this is true, if that a musicians training will stick through disparate styles and that one may find it very difficult simply to uproot themselves from their training, then what value is there in historicism at all? If we as musicians already know that history, if we've explored it and have it as our anchor, why would one sink into a historical** style as a mode of expression? is there a fear of de-valuing the history or disrespecting the music? of defying the artists that we respect so highly? That clearly cant be the case so long as we keep the training in one form or another- it'll always be there. We can even take up that old french tradition of writing homages (i was always partial to this) just to show our respect to that history.

And thats just one argument against historicism ( and not a particularly strong one, either). Im just waiting for the time to write some sprawling thing on my other argument about historical relevance and its continuing importance and blah blah blah. One problem though is that the postmodern argument of "incredulity towards metanarritives and blah blah blah" might be used to prop-up historicism, but only weakly (in my opinion). Maybe i just need to read more lyotard...

... Or maybe I need to just stop being an ass.

*i knew beethoven and bach and mozart, even shumann and others vaguely at that point through my brother's piano playing, and i liked that music, but it didnt excite my imagination like the Debussy on first hearing.

** i dont CARE how many college professors at harvard and oxford write and say "an historical" thats bullshit by me. In english H is not a vowel, hence the hhhhhhh sound we produce when we say the word (if the h in historical were silent, then by all means, but its not). This tendency appears to be an imitation of French (where h's are often muet), and as an almost soon-t0-be-francophone i find that kind of imitation really, really pathetic.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

I've decided im going to write a piece, or series of pieces that relate to the paraline drawing technique. Im not exactly sure how to go about this, my main idea is to write music that will itself be in paraline form- i've also toyed with the idea of writing music that will create an architectural image, rather than just some abstract space-drawing. I think the second of these is a better idea, maybe both though, who knows. its a project i have for the summer.

Now i have no problem with this, but i thought of possible objections that musicians might have- that its music thats relies so heavily on the visual aspect of notation and isnt that a preoccupation with creating images rather than creating music? isnt it non-musical?

my response:

Well, no more non-musical than serialism. A drawing is just giving you the perimeters for the notes to go, just as a tone row does- they both rely on some sort of notational structure first and then musical (aural) attributes secondly- not to say serialism doesn’t deal with musical attributes, of course it does, but it is just as pre-occupied with the visual as i would be if i drew, say, the spire of the Chrysler building in musical notes.

so why didnt a school of visual-musical artists who draw in notes not develop along side serialism? The value structure is the same for both- fulfilling the notational criteria is primary, everything else is secondary- so im really not sure why composers didnt adopt this idea. Probably because the extra-musical value here is too explicit, it could seem banal or trivializing to music (as if it doesnt with the serialist meathod!)ah well.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Beauty in crude recordings?

well, maybe not beauty, but hopefully its not too boring. I just recorded myself playing on top of a recording of me playing on top a recording of an improvisation.* I like the results. Its in a very free cannon structure dominated by one 3 note theme.

*here is the first recording which is the basis of the whole thing.

Anyway, im just glad to be home!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of mr. Ligeti. His music has left a deep impression on me and i truely respect his contribution to the art- the world is richer today because of his work. I can only hope that my kind of respect will also be expressed by the broader music world.

Ligeti's open-minded and natural individualism reminds us that some of the greatest artists cannot always be boxed into a simple ism, and that the very nature(s) of isms, as a historical-artistic concept, are always open to suspect.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


June improv-

This was frustrating. I played a much better improvisation before recording this one only to find out the thing wasnt actually recording, but, patron saint of mediocrity that i am*, i am presenting this second and sub-par improvisation without hesistation.

*if you dont get this obvious reference, someone should throw a shoe at you.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Implicit assumptions in instrumentation

One of the things i dont understand is why we are still carrying around some implicit assumptions about classical music- in particular the public and musicians assumption that there are "classical" instruments and "popular" or "non-classical" instruments. This is pure and utter bullshit. There are instruments which were historically used in "classical music", yes, but we must keep in mind, when new instruments arose in the old days, they were embraced, not wholly rejected, as the developments and changes in the possibility of instrumentation from the 1930s-on have been. Looking at Monteverdi, Haydn, at Beethoven and Berlioz will teach us that new instruments were not subject to such suspicion or rejection in the past, why are we still rejecting these new developments in electronics, amplification, in drums, of electric guitars and basses and all that into the orchestra? (when we're really turning our back on historical precedents, not preserving them) There is no reason but empty-headed conservatism, that preservation of some "tradition" that never existed- If papa haydn can reform the orchestra, i think we can do it now.

This is a problem we could easily trace back to the 19th century and the standardization of the orchestra, but even then we see some substantial changes... from the introduction of the harp with berlioz to the tuba of wagner and the invention of the saxophone, rimsky korsakov and even Saint Saens' and tchaikovsky's experimented with new instrumentation. There was some new stuff going on too, though not widely spread- but there were not as new, or radically new instruments to embrace, and the standardized orchestra at that time was still a fairly new. There were many attempts to bring in some new instruments in the 20th century by many composers- but nothing has been able to become standard. Why? because the institution of the orchestra had already grown too conservative and resistant to dissonant modern music.

The freshness of the instrumentation of the standard orchestra is gone. We're still sitting around trying to get new sounds out of an old ensemble (Adams? Del Tredici? Philip Glass?!?) - this multi-foliated instrument of the orchestra has existed relatively unchanged since the mid-19th century, and as far as i can tell, this is an example of bend or break. Since musicians or orchestras (and composers!!) have been resistant to change, the natural result is an ever-increasing obscurity. Jazz may also fall into this trap in the next few decades (or already has?) and get swallowed by a conservatism that would have appalled the earlier masters of the genre.

As far as i can tell, ensembles like Philip Glass' and Reich's were on the right path back in the 70s. Michael Gordon and Gollijov are on it now. They got it right. The old instruments of the ancient oboe, the clarinet, the piano, the violin, Does anyone in their right mind suspect that they're going to actually disappear from use in the next century? anything’s possible, but its highly unlikely, so what is this fear of change? why the lack of warmth to new instruments? Are they that threatening?

When i was younger i used to believe in some platonic "purity of form" or "uniformity" of sound- that it didnt matter what instruments the chord was playing it, it was still the same, the same music. That concept, i realized, along with all those other platonic assumptions we're still collectively carrying around in our culture, is complete bullshit. Music does not operate or exist in some perfect platonic form in the ethos beyond perception (which is in part, as far as im concerned the implicit assumption of all 12 tone music)* it is essentially determined by its instrumentation and performance, by its perception. The same tone row on an electric guitar and on a piano are two different musics, they are not the same. Analyze the sound waves- do an electric guitar and a piano produce the same waves of sound? no, they are different- and that means that the essential (not the incidental) part of the music is altered- meaning its not some trivial detail of "mere instrumentation". To think otherwise is to buy into that concept of Platonic " perfect forms" in music.

So its sink or swim (ok, maybe not that dramatic) as far as i can tell. If you have any rational argument for why we shouldn’t embrace new technology in the classical establishment, im all ears- but as it is, i see no reason for it- just a lack of reflection and clear thinking, (and maybe its the historical aspect that draws people to the genre in the first place?).


*i have just crushed the theory behind 12 tone music. **

**ok, maybe thats a bit presumptuous.....Maybe.