Saturday, December 31, 2016

looking back on a decade of blogging, you can labor to be the best neighbor you can be but you can't control your legacy

Just 378 posts this year and that's if you count this one, too. 

Seems ... like a small number.  It doesn't feel very prolific.  I don't feel like I'm the sort of writer who could make a living doing this.  It's not a matter of whether or not I had fun writing a bit more than 6,000 words in a day.  That was easy.  I even watched a bunch of Batman: the Brave and the Bold this weekend and an episode of The Venture Brothers to take a break from the writing part.

It's kind of strange to realize Wenatchee The Hatchet has been an active blog for a decade.  More than a decade, really, since I started blogging back in January 2006. 

...

When this blog got started up the plan was to discuss music for classical guitar, particularly chamber music from composers from central and eastern Europe.  The idea was to write about non-Spanish guitar literature.  There was also this idea to write about animation from Asia and the U.S.  Sometimes that even happened.  That still happens.  It was only this year that survey of early 19th century guitar sonatas became a series of blog posts.

Beyond reasonable doubt the blog has gained a reputation for a fairly specific range of topics.  When I started the blog a bit more than a decade ago I was a mostly contented member of a church that used to exist, that exists no longer.  It seemed at the time I started the blog I'd be there the rest of my life.

Obviously a lot of things changed.

Mark most likely continues to say that guys should live for a legacy, they should be willing to reverse-engineer their lives so as to arrive at the place in life where they want to be, to leave the kind of legacy they want to have when they die.  At one level this is still a potentially admirable way to consider life. 

The trouble is that you can't reverse-engineer your expected life legacy in a vacuum.  There are always people involved,  people who may or may not need or want to have to deal with the consequences of whatever it is you think needs to be done so as to effectively reverse-engineer for yourself the legacy you want to have when the day inevitably comes that someone publishes an obituary about you. 

You can't usually be certain about the day you die.  You also can't ultimately be certain what your legacy, whatever it is, may be.  One of the things that can be easily missed about the book of Job is that his children all died and he lost his possessions at the start of the book.  I mean, yes, we get told that but it's easy to forget in the midst of all the arguments. What I mean to say is this, a careful and considered nuance reading of the book of Job will keep in mind that no matter how formidable your legacy may be in observable possessions and family lineage, the mystery of divine permissive providence can have all of that destroyed within a single day.

Way back in 2010 I wrote about Amaziah, king of Judah, and how a person's greatest moral failure can come through how they respond to their moment of greatest success.

http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2010/10/amaziah-king-of-judah-youre-biggest.html

Sometimes your great moral failure can be due to what it was you did to obtain your great success.  Oh, maybe it won't be a sin, exactly.  It might not be anything strictly illegal but it could just be ... unwise.  And that can end up being your real legacy.

http://download.marshill.se/files/2006/06/18/20060618_resisting-idols-like-jesus_sd_audio.mp3
http://download.marshill.se/files/collection/documents/PDF/20060618_resisting-idols-like-jesus_en_transcript.pdf

RESISTING IDOLS LIKE JESUS
Part 22 of 1st Corinthians
Pastor Mark Driscoll | 1 Corinthians 10:1-14 | June 18, 2006

...
Here’s the tricky part: Figuring out what your idols are. Let me give you an example. Let’s say for example, you define for yourself a little Hell. For you, Hell is being poor. For you, your definition of Hell is being ugly. For you, your definition of Hell is being fat. For you, your definition of Hell is being unloved. For you, your definition of Hell is being unappreciated. That fear of that Hell then compels you to choose for yourself a false savior god to save you from that Hell. And then you worship that false savior god in an effort to save yourself from your self-described Hell. So, some of you are single. Many of you are unmarried. For you, Hell is being unmarried and your savior will be a spouse. And so you keep looking for someone to worship, to give yourself to so that they will save you. For some of you, you are lonely and your Hell is loneliness, and so you choose for yourself a savior, a friend, a group of friends or a pet because you’ve tried the friends and they’re not dependable. And you worship that pet. You worship that friend. You worship that group of friends. You will do anything for them because they are your functional savior, saving you from your Hell. That is, by definition, idolatry. It is having created people and created things in the place of the creator God for ultimate allegiance, value and worth.


So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to get incredibly personal. This will get painfully uncomfortable if I do my job well. I’m going to ask you some probing questions. We’re going to try to get to the root of your idols and mine and I am guilty. I was sitting at breakfast this morning. My wife said, “So what is your idol?” I was like, “Hey, I’m eating breakfast! Leave me alone. I don’t want to talk about that.” I’m the pastor. I preach. I don’t get preached at. Eating bacon. Don’t ruin it. You know, it’s going good., And I told her, I said, “Honey, I think for me, my idol is victory.” Man, I am an old jock. More old than jock, lately, but I – I’m a guy who is highly competitive. Every year, I want the church to grow. I want my knowledge to grow. I want my influence to grow. I want our staff to grow. I want our church plants to grow. I want everything – because I want to win. I don’t want to just be where I’m at. I don’t want anything to be where it’s at. And so for me it is success and drivenness and it is productivity and it is victory that drives me constantly. I – that’s my own little idol and it works well in a church because no one would ever yell at you for being a Christian who produces results. So I found the perfect place to hide.

And I was thinking about it this week. What if the church stopped growing? What if we shrunk? What if everything fell apart? What if half the staff left? Would I still worship Jesus or would I be a total despairing mess? I don’t know. By God’s grace, I won’t have to find out, but you never know. [emphasis added] So we’re going to look for your idols, too. Some questions. Think about it. Be honest with me. What are you most afraid of? What is your greatest fear? See, that probably tells you what your idol is. Sometimes your idol is the thing that you’re scared of not having, not being, not doing. What are you scared of? You scared that you’ll be alone? Are you scared that no one will ever love you? Are you scared that you will be found out that you’re not all that smart? Are you scared that you’ll be stuck in the same dead-end job forever? What are you afraid of

How about this one? What do you long for most passionately? What do you care about? What do you think about? What are you motivated by? What do you give yourself to?  ...
 
In somebody's case that idol might be legacy.
 
https://www.sos.wa.gov/corps/search_detail.aspx?ubi=601677819

MARS HILL CHURCH
UBI Number                        601677819
Category                              REG
Profit/Nonprofit                   Nonprofit
Active/Inactive                    Inactive
State Of Incorporation        WA
WA Filing Date                  12/22/1995
Expiration Date                  12/31/2016
Inactive Date                      03/24/2016
Duration Perpetual

Inactive as of late March this year, expiration date ... today.

Driscoll spent a good deal of 2015 sharing on the road how God told him he was released from ministry. It wasn't what he expected or wanted but ...

Robert Morris advised it, by Robert Morris' own account.

http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/files/2014/10/Transcript-Robert-Morris-Mark-Driscoll.pdf
Transcript of Robert Morris and Mark Driscoll from the Gateway Leadership + Worship Conference
on the evening of Monday, October 20, 2014, as broadcast live via DayStar Television:
Robert Morris:
 Uh, it was publicized that we cancelled him; that’s not true, we did not cancel. I’m speaking of Mark Driscoll. We did not cancel him. He and I decided together uh that he was going to step out of ministry for a season and get some healing. [emphasis added]

This decision was not explained in 2014 as the result of a divine imperative.

http://web.archive.org/web/20141016105922/https://marshill.com/2014/10/15/pastor-mark-driscolls-resignation
Pastor Mark Driscoll's Resignation
By: Mars Hill Church
Posted: Oct 15, 2014


On Tuesday, October 14, Pastor Mark Driscoll submitted his resignation as an elder and lead pastor of Mars Hill Church. The Board of Overseers has accepted that resignation [emphasis added] and is moving forward with planning for pastoral transition, recognizing the challenge of such a task in a church that has only known one pastor since its founding. We ask for prayer for the journey ahead.

As is well known, inside and outside of Mars Hill, Pastor Mark has been on a leave of absence for nearly two months while a group of elders investigated a series of formal charges brought against him. This investigation had only recently been concluded, following some 1,000 hours of research, interviewing more than 50 people and preparing 200 pages of information. This process was conducted in accordance with our church Bylaws and with Pastor Mark’s support and cooperation.
While a group of seven elders plus one member of the Board of Overseers was charged with conducting this investigation, the full Board of Overseers is charged with reaching any conclusions and issuing any findings.
...

Finally, Mark Driscoll was not asked to resign; indeed, we were surprised to receive his resignation letter. [emphasis added]
Not that anyone seems likely to ever see that 200 pages of information or the results of 1,000 hours of research.  Driscoll's resignation was apparently a surprise to the BoO.  There was no mention of God instructing the Driscolls to do anything in Mark Driscoll's resignation letter, either.

http://www.religionnews.com/?p=109053
 October 14, 2014Michael Van Skaik
Chairman, Board of Advisors and Accountability
Mars Hill Church
Dear Michael:
 ...

Last week our Board of Overseers met for an extended period of time with Grace and me, thereby concluding the formal review of charges against me.
...That is why, after seeking the face and will of God, and seeking godly counsel from men and women across the country, we have concluded it would be best for the health of our family, and for the Mars Hill family, that we step aside from further ministry at the church we helped launch in 1996. [emphasis added] I will gladly work with you in the coming days on any details related to our separation.

As reported by Warren Throckmorton former Mars Hill elders reported ...

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2014/10/19/mars-hill-church-board-of-elders-mark-driscoll-resigned-instead-of-enter-restoration-plan-to-deal/
http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/files/2014/10/Alex-Ghioni-Announcement.m4a
starting about 3:45

The investigation of formal charges against Mark Driscoll has revealed patterns of persistent sin in the three areas disclosed in the previous letter by the Board of Overseers. In I Tim 5:20, it requires that an elder be rebuked for persistent sin. Our intention was to do this while providing a plan for his eventual restoration to leadership. The Board of Elders in agreement with the Board of Overseers are grieved, deeply grieved, that any process like that was lost to us when Mark Driscoll resigned in position and left the church. [emphasis added] Now is the time to move on and consider what God is calling us to next as a church as we participate in Jesus’ mission to make disciples in His name. Today begins a new chapter in the history of our church which has proceeded in one direction under one leadership for many years now, but I want you to understand this, God is our Father. That does not change. Jesus is the chief shepherd of the church and that has not changed.

It would appear that Mark Driscoll became the Richard Nixon of megachurch pastors and quit rather than continue to comply with a restorative/disciplinary procedure he would eventually go on to see he agreed to submit to. 

http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2015/07/a-diachronic-survey-of-driscoll.html

Driscoll said a decade ago he thought his idol was victory.  It seems more likely his idol is legacy and so perhaps the way to reformulate his own possibly rhetorical questions back to him ...

If the sum of your legacy that you've worked for your whole life were to be wiped out so that nobody could look at the churches you helped plant and the legacy you helped build and all this within your lifetime, would you still believe in Jesus?  Would you still follow Jesus?

This isn't abstract. It's not even something we can't find in the narrative literature.  King Saul was explicitly told that he was removed from God's favor for recalcitrant disobedience and that the role of kingship would be given to another.  Saul opted to hold on to his station.  We know how that ended, thanks to the books of Samuel. 

We can work our whole lives securing a legacy that could be wiped out in a single day.  This year the entity that was once known as Mars Hill Fellowship and later Mars Hill Church ceased to exist.  You can find the churches that spun off of that old empire across the Pacific Northwest.  Only time will tell how long those churches last.  Driscoll, for his part, has repurposed decades worth of sermons and teaching in a way that avoids mentioning his legacy in the final years of Mars Hill all that much.  It would be challenging to do, after all, because you can't very well talk about the legacy of having planted Mars Hill without mentioning that Driscoll's resignation precipitated the death of Mars Hill.  It was already crumbling after years of sustained controversy about Mark Driscoll's authorial ethics and competence.  In many ways Mars Hill died because its legacy was too intrinsically bound up in the individual legacy of Mark Driscoll rather than ... it very obviously, ostentatiously was not all about Jesus, wasn't it? 

Starting the blog a bit more than a decade ago it sure seemed like what the blog would feature would mainly be stuff about music and animation.  You can do what you can but you can't control what your legacy, if any, may turn out to be.  You can make decisions about how you treat people, what you say, what you do .. but legacy?  You'd have to be a god to be able to control in advance the legacy you want to have. 

It was worthwhile to take a long hiatus from writing about music and animation for half a decade to document what was going on here in the Northwest.  It's not that I never wrote about music or cartoons or that I didn't write music.  I wrote quite a bit of music, actually.  But I felt obliged before God and neighbor to document what I saw happening and to do so as reliably as possible.  I don't really regret any of that.  It was challenging and I got some hate mail from people who insisted that one day I would have to answer to God for every bad word said about Mars Hill. 

That's the thing ... I never told anyone to leave Mars Hill in ten years of blogging.  I never advised it.  I shared the history and asked a lot of questions and proposed that perhaps there were some systematic problems in the leadership culture.  I didn't tell anyone to leave.  This may be the thing watchdog blogs most suffer from, this idea that if you yell loudly enough to tell people to leave that they will leave.  That's not how it works.  You can document.  You can invite people to reconsider the plausibility of the formal narrative.  You can share what you have seen and heard. You can share your doubts and considerations.  But the second you tell people what to think you'll be ignored, and unfortunately the very probable reason for that is you will have conducted yourself in a way that likely ensured that you deserve to be ignored. 

Now I'm an ex-Pentecostal for a lot of reasons.  I was at a formerly solid church (I thought) that had leaders embracing Latter Rain ideas.  So I stopped attending.  I ended up becoming a Calvinist (boring, boring story, that).  I'm not really a cessationist or a continuationist in the American usages of those terms.  What I'm about to propose probably sums up my thoughts about spiritual gifts and also about this topic of legacy.

We can't be sure that what are called spiritual gifts were given on a recurring basis.  A person might have a spiritual gift for X or Y on one occasion and not have it on another.  We simply can't know.  We know the gist of Pauline argument and instruction but there's endless debate about that stuff.  It is, in any case, secondary to what Paul made clear was his primary concern.  Make love your aim and seek the greater gifts, the greater gifts being those gifts that are of more immediate, practical service to the fellow believers in the local church.

What Paul's argument boils down to can be appreciated and appropriated by charismatics and cessationists alike, make love of God and love of neighbor your primary aim and through such learning, wisdom, study and community as you have the spiritual gifts can be providentially left to the work of the Spirit in you.  The gifts of the spirit and the fruit of the spirit do not seem possible to ultimately separate even if the gifts such as prophecy and tongues will one day cease.  Make love your aim and, so to speak, the gifts will be sorted out as a secondary effect.  The Christians in Corinth had made the gifts the primary rather than the secondary concern. 

For that matter, it seems important to stress that as Paul gave instructions regarding the use of gifts he gave instructions about the gifts of the Spirit as social gifts.  You don't get this or that spiritual gift merely so you can be blessed.  Let's just assume for sake of illustration that somebody says you were called to be a prophet or given a gift for prophecy?  So what?  If your first thought is how you may be blessed by this you're off on the wrong footing ethically, spiritually and socially.  When we look at what prophets said and did as described in the Pentateuch and the rest of the Old Testament we see they had a judicial role, a role that was often ad hoc and supplemental to revealed case law and stories of Yahweh's saving power.  We need to bear in mind that a role such as that of a prophet might not have been expected to be "normative" even within the context of the Old Testament.  Sure, there's cases to be made by Zwingli and Bullinger for how the OT prophets had a role fulfilled by pastors later and all that stuff.  We've discussed that before.  For the moment let's just say that "if" the prophetic role was ad hoc this could explain how someone like Amos could have a normal day job while confronting the powers that were.  The thing is until such time as you participate in Christian community in some way it doesn't matter what you think your spiritual gift is if you're not using whatever it is to be of service to the body of Christ.

and if the way you try to do that is concerned primarily with your own personal legacy you might have missed the boat altogether to begin with. 

Remember how in the book of Genesis God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac?  Abraham was commanded to sacrifice the child of the promise, his legacy, to demonstrate his faithfulness to Yahweh.  God required of Abraham to sacrifice his legacy and Abraham was, obviously, willing to do that as recounted by the book of Genesis.  But we don't just have Genesis.  We also have Job, who refuses to reject Yahweh even when Yahweh permits Satan to destroy Job's legacy in a single day. 

So perhaps to put this all in terms that might be pertinent to someone like Mark Driscoll, who most likely is still eager to live for a legacy, if God one day destroyed everything you'd spent the last two decades of your life working for; if God used circumstances to crush your public reputation and reveal the extent of your character flaws in a way that caused your empire to crumble; if God showed that your moments of victory were gained at a steep ethical price; if you lost the legacy spanning a nation and the memory of your empire was scrubbed away .. would you still serve Jesus?  It's not like there's nobody in the Bible of whom we could say he loved his royal leadership legacy more than he cared to heed the word of the Lord in how he treated people.  That guy was King Saul.

it doesn't matter if you get a direct divine commission to go be a leader of manly man, after all. 

Ishmael was promised a great legacy, too. 

Stuff to contemplate as we head into 2017.  You can labor to be the best neighbor you can be but you can't ultimately control what your legacy is. 

links for the weekend and a few assorted musings on the year that was

Perhaps we should open with a poem, so we will.  Here's a haiku I wrote a while back thinking about all the arts criticism and writing about arts criticism and writing about the arts I've been absorbing in the last few years.  Perhaps it can be a little axiom to ruminate on as a prelude to what's coming next.


every arts critic
must consecrate consumption
to live with their craft


We had a lot of celebrity entertainers die this year.  We've witnessed a lot of outpourings of grief.  George Michael may have had more written about his passing and the extra-musical significance of his music than Roland Dyens may have had written about him.  Pierre Boulez died this year but odds are pretty good vastly more has been written about Prince and David Bowie.  Merle Haggard probably had more written about him than Boulez.  Or perhaps Boulez had plenty written about him.  But that's not necessarily where I'm going.  The poem can suggest a direction, that the artists and entertainers that critics write about are those who are consecrated by the process of criticism.  A. O. Scott can claim that the art of criticism is the art of the voice but what the voice says hasn't stopped being important, has it?  Is the voice enough?  The voice of the critic, certainly if we've surveyed the voices of criticism about arts and politics THIS year, is a voice that either nicely asks or forthrightly demands to be regard as articulating some kind of sacred oracle. 

Years ago, back in my early 20s, I wanted to get into journalism, and I had fun writing arts pieces as a student journalist.  It was fun to talk with artists and theater types and musicians about the ideas that animated their work.  It was fascinating how very few visual artists seem to think in any way at all the way a writer or a musician would seem to think about thinking.  Okay, that reads terribly on the page.  Visual thinkers think deeply but not always in a way that can be articulated in words and so they could at times seem completely inarticulate when I'd ask them about elements of design or approaches to color.  It went better asking VERY concrete questions about using knifework to paint or how to cultivate flooring materials for mosaics and murals.  If the unexamined life is truly not worth living then many of the artists I tried to interview in my journalistic projects had alarmingly unexamined lives. 

But the process of making art and interpreting art was beyond question.  When you meet someone who is interested in being an artist, who is interested in being an entertainer, you can sometimes meet someone who regards themselves tacitly as being part of a priesthood, but a priesthood that most emphatically can and should be able to get laid!

Even if a person goes on to work in some not-so-artsy field after having majored in a liberal art they can go on to collect a paycheck somewhere but the real true love is ...


http://thesmartset.com/english-majors-twilight/
...
My real career as a librarian is all very well, but since it’s fundamentally a paycheck, I can’t muster excessive enthusiasm for an institution that provides a lifelong education free of charge for the broadest conceivable public and generally represents American values at their best. I didn’t major in English to serve American values. I majored in English so that I could spend the rest of my life arguing about books and culture, even if I had to do so in my off hours, even if the argument was chiefly with myself. I still think it was the best decision I ever made.
There are too many Americans writing too many memoirs these days.  But then at the risk of interrupting this with more intermittent haiku ...

we yearn to be more
than one life can be so we
look to our heroes

and to go by what some people publish and admire ... to go by the way people like A. O. Scott have talked about the art of criticism being the art of the voice I ... just sometimes ... worry that when we look to heroes through whom we can vicariously live as full a life as we can that some folks nominate themselves. 

if you're the hero
in the story of your life
pick a new hero

By the time I got done with an undergraduate degree in journalism I'd cast off as implausible the idea of majoring in literature or philosophy or music or biblical studies.  I didn't feel any "call" to formal ministry and probably never will feel such a call, even though I have loved reading theological books. I'm slowly plodding through Emil Brunner, for instance.  Adolf Schlatter's Romans commentary is hard-going but I'm still giving it time when I'm not reading musicology stuff.  I'm also reading Calvin's commentary on the Psalms.  I'm still curious about philosophical questions and literary stuff even if I haven't read much fiction and often set books of fiction aside for long stretches.  The last work of fiction I remember going through was Jane Austen's Emma.  In any case, I got to the end of my college days convinced that while it might be nice to one day get paid to do something artistic the expectation of being able to do so as a regular means of employment had to be regarded as nothing less than delusional.  To put it in more 2016 terms, it takes a delusional amount of college-admitted-and-college-graduated privilege to think you not only "should" be able to be an entertainer for a living but that it's some kind of right. 

... and the kinds of people who can pay the bills by writing or acting or playing music saw fit to tell their fans who they should back this year.  The entertainment industry is a kind of priesthood and the priesthood, among many other priesthoods, had set their hopes on one and not another (though neither were particularly inspiring as far as the big two go). 

...

Commentary from places like Slate withstanding, we couldn't have gotten to the place we've gotten in the United States in 2016 if the traditional left and right had retained their coherency.  I'd read a book by D. G. Hart years ago on evangelicalism and conservatism.  The thumbnail sketch is that the Reagan coalition was a one-off temporary alliance between traditional conservatives, libertarians and anti-communists that ultimately did not survive as a viable coalition in the wake of the end of the Cold War.  The primary point of the book, though, was that if you looked at the sum of the history of what we call evangelicalism in the United States it's as much or more a progressive/populist tradition as a conservative tradition.  Scholars and journalists who labor under the presumption that "evangelical" has always meant Republican will at little length betray an ignorance of both the histories of religion and politics in the United States. 

But ... the contested loyalties and appeals of Clinton and Sanders in 2016 seems like an example of how within the blue scene whatever former unity there was for the liberal/left in the United States also fractured in the decades after the Cold War.  Traditional liberalism, neoliberalism and more hard left elements in the blue America did not necessarily agree on anything any more than the traditional conservatives, libertarians or neo-cons agreed on things in the last decade.  Trump was in some sense only possible because both the left and the right saw their internal coalitions and alliances of convenience fall apart. 

It's fascinating how Ethan Iverson can link to Alex Ross who explained how the Frankfurt school predicted Donald Trump over at The New Yorker.  Over at The New Criterion Fred Siegel can explain at length how Trump's capacity to upset the routine of American politics was the result of the elitism entrenched in high culture by the Frankfurt school ethos.  I remain unconvinced by either. The New Yorker has been in some mode this last month where writers regale subscribers or readers with any number of books and films that somehow "predicted" Trump, which is in some sense a variant of book-of-the-month club advertising.  The odds that the Frankfurt school "predicted" Trump seem ... low. 

Conversely, when conservative intellectuals rue the lack of appreciation the uneducated masses have for Bach or Wagner (ugh!) it's as if the cultural elites left and right and whatever new variables may emerge seem committed to the idea that, whatever nominally populist movement happens the important thing is that if there "were" a class conflict that "we" are not even possibly on the wrong side of it.  When someone at Slate laments that white women betrayed the sisterhood by voting for Trump that may be an example of writers writing for Slate as if they themselves were synchedoches for the entirety of human females across time and space. 

... don't ruling castes and ruling empires regard themselves as the summation of all that is truly human?    Were there no clerics in the medieval period willing to say they had some kind of right to universal political rule? 

https://ethaniverson.com/2016/12/17/universal-remonster-4-or-to-click-or-not-to-click/
...
Perhaps a bit selfishly, I worry about high culture. This past year I noticed how much harder it was to pay attention to the more esoteric arts as the relentless political drama unfolded just a tab away.

...

Trust me, the bosses at every news organization know exactly how many eyes have seen any given dance review or poetry essay. Click! Share! We are all in this together. Click and share even if you don’t read the whole thing or if you disagree with certain aspects of any given article. At the top of the next century we don’t want Star Wars movies and video games to be the only culture left.

I don't know.  Richard Taruskin has set out to aggravate, to be sure, but when he described in his Oxford History how what we now call the symphony was essentially aristocratic party music that eventually gained acceptance, for a time, as publicly accessible music art how swift should we be in saying that Star Wars movies and video games can't possibly qualify as "art"?

Besides, to go by how liberals and leftists have reacted to December 19 this year why are we sure there will even be a next century, exactly?

But then three decades ago the Terminator franchise was imagining a post-nuclear dystopia ushered in by military-funded artificial intelligence.  There's a paranoid apocalyptic imagination for a liberal as there is for a conservative. 

It was slightly surprising that the electoral vote came down to a result in which Clinton LOST pledged votes.  It was not surprising at all that questions about the legitimacy of the Electoral College were brought up in venues like Slate.  Nor is it even particularly ironic that having been aghast that Trump could say that he would accept the outcome of an election if he won that those aghast that Trump won the Electoral College votes would cast doubt on the legitimacy, necessity and viability of a process from an institution that chose someone besides Clinton for the Oval Office.

American red and blue state partisans, or at least a subset of theme, are simply totalitarian ideologues who only recognize something as tyrannical if it's done by the "wrong" team. 

Whether writers at mainstream publications or people within the entertainment industry or academics it can seem as though the thing they have overlooked is the possibility that within a genuinely global market the gatekeepers of economic participation for adult participation in the life of a citizen may not recognize they are part of ruling castes.  To put this in a very blunt way, members of the press did not anticipate that the Electoral College would select Trump because the members of the institutional press, as what Jacques Ellul described half a century ago as the aristocratic caste of propagandists

JACQUES ELLUL
Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 195 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7
from footnote on page 252

... The propagandist is a technician and a member of an aristocracy of technicians that establishes itself above the institutions of a democracy and acts outside its norms. Besides, the employment of propaganda leads the propagandist to cynicism, disbelief in values, non-submission to the law of numbers, doubts on the value of opinions, and contempt for the propagandee and the elected representative; he knows how public opinion is fashioned. The propagandist cannot subject himself to popular judgment and democracy. Finally, the propagandist is privy to all State secrets and acts at the same time to shape opinions: he really has a position of fundamental direction. The combinations of these three elements make the propagandist an aristocrat. It cannot be otherwise. Every democracy that launches propaganda creates in and by such propaganda its own enemy, an aristocracy that may destroy it

For such members of this aristocratic caste the worst thing that could happen would be for representation processes in a democratic state to arrive at a conclusion other than the one the propagandists would prescribe.  The problem here is that red and blue state partisans only see each other and not also themselves as members of the propagandistic castes.  Thus we have entertainers who won't perform for the Trump inauguration.  To put it in a diplomatic way, it might be preferable to never perform at the behest of a head of state given the times, and that this might be the way to go whether the head of state were either a Trump or a Clinton. 

But, in any case, after so many entertainers and journalists told so many people who ought to win it would seem that the tedious scut work of, say, redistricting in the wake of political defeat, was not a huge priority for one of the big two parties.  The way the editors of The Stranger put it, the rural red-state people weren't really Americans and their voices and concerns were not legitimate.  Okay ... but as the sorting of red and blue into their respective regions and districts played out ... what happened?  Was the contempt of urbane urban technocrats and information brokers never going to boomerang?  Would people who could afford to go to private colleges and Ivy league schools really never be able to imagine that compared to people in fly over states might not eventually come to view them as ... to just use Marxist terminology ... class enemies?  No particularly affection for Trump being expressed here ... but it's interesting that whether in The New Yorker or The New Criterion the sort of populist resentment that is considered to have catalyzed the election of Trump is the sort of thing writers at both News can double down on. 

Since it turned out Clinton won the popular vote the scapegoating done by the blue partisans of the demographics associated with a Trump victory seemed like ... scapegoating.  Educated deployment of stereotypes by college-educated people is still ... educated deployment of stereotypes by college-educated people.  There seemed to be more than enough bigotry from the red and blue to go around.

I managed to get more caught up on reading arts stuff this year and sometimes I'd read stuff I found immensely helpful (Hepokoski & Darcy's Elements of Sonata Theory, for instance).  Other times ....


http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/a-universal-music/
...

Composer/pianist Vijay Iyer gave me the first building block I would use to develop my ideas surrounding universal music. In a room full of workshop participants, he said something akin to, “Genres don’t exist. They were invented by record companies to sell albums. Genres are an attempt to categorize a community of people who come together and create something.”[3] [emphasis added]  Once again, I was confronted with a paradigm shift. My musical training, rhetoric, and artistic upbringing had been a world of categories, styles, and genres hinged together. I thought of the countless hours spent trying to play a style correctly and how often I seemed to fail in that goal. At that time, I was already bothered by the mentality that our musical ancestors had somehow received the divine right to invent and that all the rest of us could hope for was to imitate. Yet I was encumbered with the popular notion that I needed to “learn the rules” before I could “break them.” At what point were the rules learned and the breaking could begin? The goal of stylistic execution was perpetually in conflict with my interest as I attempted to occupy both worlds. I embraced Vijay’s comment. He was giving me the words I needed to articulate what I believed and felt all along.


A paragraph like this makes me glad I couldn't afford to go to grad school to study music.  The idea that genres don't exist is so patently idiotic on its face it reminds me of an axiom attributed to George Orwell, the axiom that holds that some ideas are so stupid only intellectuals can believe in them.  Just a few weeks ago I made a long-form case that the boundaries between two musical idioms can be regarded as permeable but both 19th century guitar sonatas and ragtime exist as identifiable genres.  Who could have an incentive to claim and even genuinely believe that "genres don't exist?"  Why would music colloquially and conventionally identifiable as being in a genre really be a categorization given to "a community of people ... "?  The recording process itself commodifies music, reifies it into something that can be bought or sold or pirated or gifted or checked out.  The trouble is that for the sorts of people who write for New Music Box many of them are obsessed with categorizing people as belonging to this or that demographic.  Or, conversely, to aspirations of a "universal". 

There are plenty of complaints that have been and could be leveled at Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music.  He has a not-so-hidden beef with what's called high modernism.  He also can be construed as dropping the ball by writing a history rather than an encyclopedic survey but that's to forget he didn't set out to write an encyclopedia.  However, one of the strengths of the history is that Taruskin builds a case that there were no ultimately benevolent empires of patronage yet each empire of patronage had benefactors and advocates  and partisans and ideologues who were convinced that their particular dynasty of arts patronage and production represented the highest and noblest ideals and values regarding the human condition.  Another way to put it would be to say that Taruskin shows how different empires regarded themselves as expressing in art the universal human condition.

We're closing out a year in which people have become more acutely aware that things that, so to speak, made sense ten years ago can't be brought back as was.  For instance ... let's take Gilmore Girls.

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/11/the-fault-in-stars-hollow/508841/
...
While Stars Hollow may embody some of the best aspects of life in a small town—the intimacy, the democracy, the sense of an “us” to be fought for—it can also, at times, embody the worst: the insularity. The exclusivity. The sense of a “them” to be fought against. [emphasis added] The mingling of all of those things, in the seven original seasons of Gilmore Girls, led to a show that is deeply concerned with questions of belonging—about who may be counted as “one of us” and who, by implication, may not. The show’s Netflix revival, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, has only amplified those anxieties: The Stars Hollow of 2016 is place that, though it congratulates itself on its cosmopolitanism, remains deeply provincial.

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/11/turns-out-rory-gilmore-is-not-a-good-journalist/508883/

Early on in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Rory gets some bad news: The Atlantic, she learns, has spiked one of her stories.

Rory explains this turn of events to Lorelai as just one of those things: a story bumped for space—a common, if frustrating, occurrence. After watching the Gilmore Girls revival, though, I have come to a different, if totally self-serving, conclusion: Maybe The Atlantic has simply realized what Rory herself has not. Maybe our fictional editors simply discovered that Rory Gilmore, her gleaming résumé notwithstanding … is not a very good journalist. That she might even be, actually, an actively bad journalist.

Most publications have ethics guidelines that their reporters and writers follow. And almost all publications have basic standards that they lay out, which are in turn meant to lend some structure to the day-to-day doings of individual journalists. Here are some of the rough guidelines that Rory systematically violates in A Year in the Life ... [WtH it's a long and impressively dreadful list]


http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2016/12/16/jane_the_virgin_is_the_modern_day_gilmore_girls_that_the_revival_tried_to.html

 Gilmore Girls, when it comes right down to it, is a show about white people in Connecticut spouting off pop culture references as rapidly as they can. [emphasis added] For some people, that might be part of the appeal, an escape to an idyllic New England town—or a nightmarish one, depending on your point of view—free from any kind of political turmoil or social unrest. But that’s the same quality that made the show’s 2016 revival feel like such a fossil

Just as Jack Bauer in 24 could be described as a hedonistic red state power fantasy Gilmore Girls could be described as a blue state power fantasy (or The West Wing).  What seemed capable of entertaining and charming a decade ago (I did actually watch a handful of episodes of GG with my sister and Lauren Graham is nothing if not immensely charming on screen) seems to have trouble getting across now.

What changed?  Trump?  Or is it possible that the insular and self-congratulatory nature of the blue state power fantasy inherent in a show like Gilmore Girls had plausibility enough in the age of George W Bush that couldn't withstand 2016?  Rory won't win the Pullitzer, it seems, because as one author put it, here personal and journalistic ethics are so disastrous it's only within the fantasy realm of the entertainment industry itself (which may only be capable of seeing any attempts at journalism as alternately advertising or to serve an adversarial role to demographics looked down upon by entertainers) that Rory could be imagined able to pay any bills writing for publications.

If you like Gilmore Girls as it was, no problem.  But it seems the reboot had mixed results and one of the concerns fans of the old show came to express was that something felt off.  Let's propose that what felt off about a show that imagined, so to speak, Al Gore won 2000, was that there was something in the self-congratulatory blue state power fantasy that seems "off" now, perhaps a discovery in the last ten years of what is now called white privilege, perhaps?  Or perhaps the tide of superhero films is a problem?  Or, what if even our allegedly naturalistic/realistic dramas are more suffused with a super-heroic sensibility than we've imagined?  I couldn't get into 24 because Jack Bauer had cell phone reception that would be the envy of Batman and I figured this, if I was going to watch superhero stories I wanted the characters to officially wear capes.

 A lot of what passed for realistic drama ... journalists in movies talk to people and write a few notes and then produce articles that "change the world".  Generally that's not how it works.  As TV show depictions go the closest thing I've seen to a presentation of how research tends to play out was Karen Page spending hours reading and reading every article in a week's worth of newspapers and finding nothing particularly interesting about what she wanted to find out.  THAT is more like it.  Of course we didn't get shown that, we got shown Daredevil and Electra fighting a bunch of people while the character Karen Page did all her research off-screen. 

In the realm of entertainment there are ideas and processes and results that are regarded as best kept off screen.  One of the laments in the wake of Trump's election is all the nasty resentment and loathing that, thanks to the Electoral College vote, liberals and progressives have had occasion to witness.  But Oregon, for instance, was in many ways chartered as a white separatist utopia that forbade slavery and barred blacks from being able to contract.  It's not as though racism across all categories ever went away, it was just, so to speak, off scene or off screen.  There's a level at which those upset by Trump's victory may not understand there's a potential for self-incriminating judgment when they say, in far more words than this, that the wrong people have been allowed to have a voice in influencing the outcome of national politics.  The majority should never be allowed to lord it over a minority in the political realm in theory but in practice blue state partisans are astonished that Trump won because of how districting played out.  Gerrymandering should not have allowed for this to be possible because, well, Trump shouldn't have won, right?  Maybe ... but had Clinton swept the Electoral College and the popular vote would there be any complaints about a numeric minority of rural/red state voters being treated as though they had nothing to contribute?  Let's consider that the editorial staff of The Stranger declared in an earlier decade that the rural red-state people weren't Americans.  If it's only a disaster that the red state electorate returned the favor then perhaps the problem is with both the red and blue state civic religions. 

http://religionnews.com/2016/12/27/a-columnist-looks-back-and-looks-ahead/
...
Now that Donald Trump has been elected, it is the liberal schools that are worried about possible threats to their very survival based on the overweening power of the federal government.

So the overweening power of the federal government ONLY became a terrifying problem because ... Trump won?  Why was it not terrifying during the Obama administration?  Or was it terrifying?  One of the reasons I regard the United States as a spent force culturally and economically and spiritually and intellectually is because it seems the partisans of red and blue don't seem to care about something being despotic unless the kool-aid being dispensed has the wrong food-coloring.  In the age of the internet it seems that tyranny is only tyranny when "they" do something and not when "we" do something. 

Unfortunately people who say they are conservative tend to fret only about the power of government as though that were the only means of a mass wielding of power toward a negative end.  Do these people forget that lynch mobs involve mass action?  Even William F Buckley could grant in his long life that Ike was right to send the Guard. 

The more time I have had to think about the last Captain America movie the more a failure it seems to be.  Cap takes a stance that organizations can be corrupted.  So can individuals.  The idea that a formal power like government can be corrupted doesn't mean groups can't be.  The mere posing of the question of whether "power" leads to conflict is to forget that not all power is distilled into a readily identifiable individual.  If anything the diffusion of responsibility allows groups to be far more vindictive than individuals would dare to be.  This can be true of racists and white supremacists as well as progressive social justice warriors.  The vindictive capacity is equally alive in both forms of herd behavior.  In that light it's all too easy for educated entertaines to feel as though anyone dumb enough to vote for Trump deserves a disaster. 

And perhaps the aristocrats of Europe had a similar disdain for populist insurgencies in the 18th century.  If the crisis we've seen this year is that neither of the two party machines represented what people wanted the shock and embarrassment of 2016 might be explicable on the basis of a simple suggestion, that this was the year of the spite vote.  People weren't so much unreservedly voting for someone as they were voting against the other, whether we were talking Trump or Clinton.  Once the DNC demonstrated that it would not and could not allow its party to be hijacked by populist agitation (e.g. Sanders) the RNC may have won (for want of a better word) because they were pragmatic enough to decide they WOULD let a populist agitator hijack the heretofore conventional process. 

It's hard to feel much antipathy toward the white evangelicals who are said to have voted for Trump.  That the two party system gave us the options of Clinton and Trump signals the empire is doomed either way.  It doesn't matter which of the two won in the sense that as "the" global empire any nation-state that seeks to rise will automatically have to be regarded as a threat by US and we will have to be a risk variable to "them", whoever "them" may be.  Any attempt to blame Trump for an increased likelihood for us getting into a conflict or Russia or China should force people who think Clinton would have averted all possible military clashes in the next four years merely by dint of not-being-Trump about what stuff she backed in the last sixteen years that might possibly suggest otherwise.  And what about the last two terms of Obama we've had?  Trump may well be the disaster people on the left fear he will be but let's not forget that the United States is the big kid on the playground with nukes regardless of who the executive is.  It seems as though red and blue partisans are only willing to say the President is the antichrist if the wrong party has someone sitting at the desk. 

This was a year where we finally got to dig into technical stuff about music.  The survey of early 19th century guitar sonatas was fun.  In a way that's a commentary on what I wasn't seeing in academic publications that I felt needed to get written.  If guitarist scholarship wasn't going to take Matiegka's work to be serious enough to discuss well, then, let a blogger do it.  If guitarists HAVE (thankfully!) begun to write about different approaches to sonata form in the guitar literature there can (and should be) more written about that. 

One of the things I've been exploring in my reading in the last few years is the disconnect between what I was told sonata form was back in college and what more recent scholarship has unearthed about what has been called sonata form.  More recent scholarly work on 18th century music is basically saying there was no such thing as sonata form as the 19th century called it in the pedagogy of music in 18th century Europe.  There was a grand binary form, for sure, and it had the features we ascribe to sonata form but 18th century music may have been less committed to a "plan" and more committed to a process.  The way my recent favorite writer on music (Leonard B Meyer) put it was distinguishing between a script and a plan, and distinguishing between what he called a syntactic climax and a statistical climax.

http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2016/08/a-riff-on-leonard-b-meyers-observation.html

Blogging about ways you can manipulate the syntax of sonata scripts and ragtime style so as to arrive as a synthesis or fusion of the ragtime idiom with what we call sonata form is admittedly esoteric.  But in an era in which the presence or absence of jazz at Yale; and in which questions about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of jazz as high art music on par with the tradition of string quartets and piano sonatas; it seems that a way forward is not necessarily through the identity politics or critical theory that fixates on what seems to amount to extra-musical club membership rites.  To try putting this more directly, I've come to have a couple of reservations about critical theory as an option in American academic is course.  This seems to be a pet cause for the sorts of people who by using critical theory can exempt themselves from being a member of one of America's ruling castes.  The second is that If we're going to arrive at a persuasive fusion of musical idioms in which something like a jazz or blues sonata can happen we won't get there through critical theory, not in the way I've seen it deployed.  Journalistic/academic score-keeping about who counts as being able to write in a jazz or Anglo style won't help.  This discourse needs to ratify the reification and boundary-making activities of club membership first and foremost.  It has the illusion of asking questions around music in ways that can close off questions of surface. 

Look, if I wanted to introduce kids to the octatonic scale and chromatic median pivoting I wouldn't do it through a Scriabin piano sonata or symphonic tone poem, I'd do it through Stevie Wonder's Living for the City".  I agree with Taruskin the gap between the academic and vernacular/repertoire canon has gotten too big.  Taruskin's contribution could simply be noting that.  But if music scholars want to help rectify that problem then showing that octatonic linear movement and chromatic mediants can be just as fun in Stevie Wonder as they are in Stravinsky.  Music isn't really a language we all understand (pace Stevie Wonder) but music education could play a role in showing that certain musical possibilities can exist across styles. 

As I've been blogging this year, the boundaries between styles are permeable but if you don't set out to demonstrate they are permeable because you believe that there's really a "black" or "white" way to use augmented sixth chords you may just be part of the problem rather than the solution.  We may have to set aside what the accepted scholarly conventions about sonata are in order to do this.  You can say form follows function but if you misread either function or form you misread the whole thing.  My interest of late has been in exploring what the syntax of musical styles is  in a set of styles so that I can figure out which things to manipulate in which styles to increase the odds of arriving at a synthesis of blues, jazz, rock, country and 18th century approaches we tend to have labeled as forms.  A ragtime sonata or a ragtime fugue is inherently plausible.  People in music who set out to master styles so as to provide persuasive accounts of that style may be doing a worthy thing but as a composer I don't see what the point of mastering a style is unless you plan to compose in it.  Given my essentially post hoc approach to theory, I find what I enjoy first and analyze it for what works afterward.  So I love Stevie Wonder's music and then slowly work out what it is I hear that makes me love the music.  Ergo, "Living for the City".  Ergo, exploring the possibilities of overlap between early 19th century guitar sonata themes and ragtime strains along the way of analyzing a few pieces.

The gap between what an establishment says X is and what X can be observed to be might be the theme.  When the gap between what we're told is going to happen and what happens is really big then it can seem like something went way, way off.   Exploring the gap between the narratives characters tell themselves to convince themselves of their heroism and the way they treat people suggesting that they are not, in fact, heroic, has been a staple theme for both Nolan brothers for a while now.  The more assiduously you convince yourself and tell others you're the hero the more you might ... possibly ... be the bad guy.  Sometimes some simple thing changes that forces us to reassess what it was we saw.  Did we see what was there or what we wanted to see?

Back in 2015 I blogged about an interesting thread of articles and blog posts on the subject of style in music and metrics in the popularity of styles.

http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2015/09/tales-of-variance-and-invariance-in.html

anyone remember the old piece in The Atlantic about the shazam effect?

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/12/the-shazam-effect/382237/

Billboard replaced its honor system with hard numbers in 1991, basing its charts on point-of-sale data from cash registers. “This was revolutionary,” says Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard’s current director of charts. “We were finally able to see which records were actually selling.” Around the same time, Billboard switched to monitoring radio airplay through Nielsen.When that happened, hip-hop and country surged in the rankings and old-fashioned rock slowly began to fade—suggesting that perhaps an industry dominated by white guys on the coasts hadn’t paid enough attention to the music interests of urban minorities and southern whites.
If you measure things based on intra-industry reporting rather than who actually picks what you can create an intra-industry echo chamber. 

Perhaps ... that's what the American Fourth Estate did to itself on Trump.  The old rock stars were not necessarily as popular as the intra-industry pep talks made them out to be. 


Thursday, December 29, 2016

a sort of informal review of the year that was 2016

You might have thought, longtime readers, that there was nothing new to say about a certain set of topics in 2016, what with that 2014 resignation.

But since Mark Driscoll has made a point of relaunching himself down in Arizona and in recycling old stuff from decades past there were things to take note of.

an agreement from February 28, 2011 between On Mission, LLC and Thomas Nelson regarding A NEW MARRIAGE WITH THE SAME SPOUSE, better known as REAL MARRIAGE

a 400k advance isn't chump change and the marketing strategy sent along to WtH articulated that ...

Driscoll marketing strategy doc from 2011 spelled out goal with respect to Real Marriage, "In short, the goal is to sell books around preaching campaigns ... ."

We did try to kick off 2016 with more than just a few updates on the crumbling empire that was once known as Mars Hill.  There were other ideas, such as proposing a unified theory of American sci-fi movie nostalgia ...

Nostalgia and the Anxieties of Empire: Toward a unified theory of American sci-fi movie nostalgia

I floated the idea that if film critics stopped venting their spleen about nostalgia in general and looked more carefully at the clustering patterns in WHEN these franchises were launched that Hollywood can't let go of that there "might" be a clustering pattern as follows--Hollywood certainly goes back to whatever was "it" twenty years earlier, but the Star Wars, Star Trek, Terminator, Planet of the Apes stuff?  That suggests clustering around the dystopian and utopian fantasies that were catching on during the New Frontier/Great Society era and the Reagan era, in other words the utopian and dystopian fantasies and sci-fi speculations of the mythological golden ages of the red and blue loyalists from the Cold War era.  

It seems necessary to consider in light of the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek having come along this year.  The possibility that fans of the franchise may not realize the cultural imperialism inherent in the brand has occurred to me a few times this year.  What if Roddenberry's vision, optimistic and compelling as an alternative to the outright dread of nuclear annihilation that animated popular thought and dystopian stories in the Cold War, could stink of a kind of chauvinistic and condescending cultural imperialism in a post-Cold War context? 

Star Trek as both propaganda and art, a proposal for the fiftieth anniversary of the original series premiere

more recently I was considering how in the most recent revamped iteration of the Star Trek franchise the central message is one, however much I agree with it, is parasitically dependent on the ethical teachings of Christ.  Krall and Kirk both fight for what they believe is the benefit of humanity in Star Trek Beyond and the conflict they have centers on the question of "and who is my neighbor?"  Krall is certain only humans are his neighbor while Kirk takes the path of saying that you have to discover who your neighbor is and be open to the possibility that your neighbor is someone you neither want nor expect.  That's the parable of the Good Samaritan there, and Krall is, in terms of another of Jesus' parables, the older brother who won't accept the acceptance by the father of the dissolute brother.  For a secular humanist franchise such as Trek to lean so heavily on an ethical norm so observably indebted to the ethical teachings of Christ seems a little surreal to note in 2016 but there you have it.

In an era in which the "Friend zone" is regarded as a dreadful symbolic place for some dudes, and in an era in which slash fic ensures that there's still pertinence to ... is it Rule 34 (?) it was worth revisiting the passing of Leonard Nimoy last year, by way of discussing that Kirk and Spock are friends.

http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2016/09/for-50th-anniversary-bringing-back.html

In an era in which nearly all relationships revolve around eros or the filial bonds that eros tends to statistically be likely to bring out, depictions of friendship in popular culture can seem relatively rare by comparison.  The Kirk/Spock friendship may stand as one of the most memorable on-screen friendships we've been presented with in the last fifty years, whether on the small or big screen.

We didn't just write about Star Trek, though ...

from the manic pixie dream girl through waif fu to the murderous ingenue: Ex Machina, The Witch and film critics who will fall for the manic pixie dream girl as long as she stabs the patriarchy

I don't think the problems with Rey in the Star Wars franchise are necessarily to do with her character being too perfect.  I liked that Rey wasn't a trophy but the problem, as Film Crit Hulk expounded at length this year, is that the script and direction set up an expectation and then delivered on it IMMEDIATELY.  Back in The Empire Strikes Back, as FCH noted so succinctly, Han Solo's bravado was always misplaced.  We didn't get anything like that for Rey or Finn. 

We did get that a bit more with Jyn in Rogue One but I'm going to hold off on writing about that until 2017, perhaps.  Probably ditto for Westworld because although I would have thought that after literally decades critics would have caught on to the Nolan brother obsession with stories about men who tell themselves one story about their heroic selves while living actually villainous lives ... but not so much .... but that's more grist for 2017.

For better or worse the traffic was for the usual subjects.

HT Warren Throckmorton--Driscoll claims to have had a Malthusian past that he's repudiated, although it was ten years ago he bluntly articulated his "shoot your dogs" approach to practical ministry and eight years ago he said whole family lines could be demonically inspired

Having finally gotten around to reading Propaganda by Jacques Ellul this year, it was a book that was not only prescient about ... oh ... politics in the most official sense ... but also about what may be called megachurch cultural dynamics.  That subject, for longtime readers, was what we obviously explored at some length here.  Ellul's taxonomy of propagandas featuring agitation and integration made for a succinct and coherent lens through which to observe what was once William Wallace II's fusillade about a pussified nation.

http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/search/label/Ellul%20on%20propaganda%20%26%20MH

While people have over the last fifteen odd years attempted to distill Driscoll's views on women and gays down to his Calvinism (not that any traditionally Reformed sort would consider the self-identifiably Amyraldian Mark Driscoll (for now) a what Internet Monk used to call "truly Reformed"), a far more plausible explanation, to go by Driscoll's own accounts ... would be his blue-collar nominally Irish-Catholic upbringing.  The necessarily less delicate way of putting it ...

Mark Driscoll and the Gospel of [escaping] white trash

featured a lengthy overview of Driscoll quotes about himself, his family lineage, and events from his childhood and teens to establish that by his own account he was urban white trash, a redneck of rednecks.  Driscoll's balancing act within Seattle was playing to stereotypes about and against rednecks.  For every joke about rednecks he made he was simultaneously distancing himself from his own social milieu and pandering to the prejudices of Seattle audiences.  For the time he was here in Seattle Driscoll was kind of a red state fundie mirror of Dan Savage.  Both Driscoll and Savage are guys who grew up in Catholic homes and have gone on to appoint themselves multi-media pundits interested in telling other people what to think and how to live and reveling in select amounts of controversy. 

and both have a penchant for talking about sex for the record.  In Driscoll's case, it's not clear that his desire to talk to guys about the deleterious influence of porn has not been steeped in more familiarity with it than he may have, in the past, let on.

a whole lot of celebrities died this year.  For we classical guitarists the most prominent passing in the last few months would have to have been Roland Dyens.

http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2016/10/roland-dyens.html

It's only been in the latter half of 2016 we've finally had the time and energy to get the blog back to some admittedly kinda technical and theoretical analysis of music.  In particular, we did a week-long survey recently on a survey of early 19th century guitar sonatas.

I was hoping to get around to writing about Ferdinand Rebay's guitar sonatas this year but stuff happens and stuff doesn't happen.  Maybe in 2017.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

in the wake of Slate's Wonder Week tribute to Stevie Wonder, let's discuss exactly why the chorus for "Living for the City" is a work of genius-a fusion of chromatic mediant pivot chords soaring above an octatonic bass line

"At least we still have Stevie" coming from Slate could be the most jinx-causing headline an online publication could possibly run with this late in 2016.  David Bowie and Prince died, right?  We lost Alan Rickman.  Given the number of musicians who have passed this year Slate saying "at least we ... " could be asking for trouble.

We do, however, for the time being, still have Stevie Wonder around.  There are some fun and fascinating pieces at Slate's Wonder Week but ... but ... it's disappointingly short on what we musicians call the shop talk of "what did he actually do?"

This post is going to try to rectify that by discussing what is easily one of the most justifiably legendary chorus in a pop song from the last fifty years, that chorus from "Living for the City".  First we need to look at what's over on Slate about this chorus.

https://redux.slate.com/cover_story/2016/12/the-greatest-creative-run-in-the-history-of-pop-music.html
...
Innervisions also marked Wonder’s full ascendance as a composer. At 23 years old, the kid who could play every instrument on earth (including chromatic harmonica like it was Charlie Parker’s alto sax) was now writing like some combination of George Gershwin and Smokey Robinson. The bridge to “Living for the City”—“da-da-da DAH, dah dah, DAH …”—is among the more harmonically counterintuitive chord progressions in pop music, a bunch of sounds that shouldn’t fit next to each according to every rule in the book and yet somehow fit perfectly.
***
I'm going to make a slightly long-form case that this sentiment about how the sounds "shouldn't fit next to each other according to every rule in the book" is completely wrong.  Music theory is a post hoc explanation of what works, not a prescriptive explanation of what you're allowed to do.  Okay, maybe it became that in the wake of dodecaphonic and serial procedures but within the realm of more conventional tonal organization based on diatonic or non-diatonic scales ... the rules are less hard-and-fast prescriptions that aggregated summaries of the things you can reliably get to "work" in the sense of asking moderately trained musicians you've never met before to reproduce reliably for you from a score.  Keep that in mind, because when you keep that kind of thing in mind you may find that Stevie Wonder didn't break the rules because those rules aren't necessarily there.  I'm on a kick against 19th century era musical pedagogy creating double binds by laying down as a law the kind of rules it claimed to be against being stuck with.  We were just talking last week about how in the 18th century there wasn't actually a thing known as sonata form.  By extension, we can do in writing about popular music what we did last week talking about sonata procedures in early 19th century guitar music, we can take some time to look at what was actually done without feeling obligated to say it does or doesn't "break the rules". 

So ...

I regard what Hamilton calls "the bridge" to be the actual chorus itself.  Everything in the harmonic and melodic activity of the song is building up to this point.  Besides, if we're going to call it a bridge why is it the "bridge" that ends the song?  It's not that you can't end a song with material that could be regarded as "bridge".  I've done that myself, it's that I think it's fairly audible that what Hamilton calls "the bridge" is the chorus for Wonder's song.  The bridge, I think, is where the recorded voice-over conversations are in the song, which can be omitted altogether during live performance.  Composing a transitional bridge that only needs to show up on the album performance is another kind of musical shrewdness that could be discussed by someone else at some other time.  On to the chorus ...

The justifiably legendary chorus shows up for the first time at 1:10
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rc0XEw4m-3w&t=1m09s

I'm going to enharmonically respell the descending bass line for those who think of this song as being in G flat. 

CHORD
F#7   A Fr6    G  D    C   C7    A    G   F#

BASS NOTE
E       D#         D        C   A#    A    G   F#

Wonder's melody sounds pretty pentatonic because of that initial hook but he chromatically shifts from A sharp to A natural and then swivels in melodic fourths between A, D and E.  The line is decorated, obviously, but in the movement from the D in the bass line to the C he's swooped through the interval of a minor seventh. 

There are several things that can be highlighted about this little chorus.  If we listen for perceivable root movement what this chorus has is a series of chromatic mediant relationships in which Wonder starts on one chord, uses oblique and parallel motion to leap to a chord with a root a minor third above the previous chord, and then uses that chord as a way to repeat the process with occasionally help from passing chords.  The effect of that second inversion G (chord 3) is to set up an implied circle progression (D here is just a passing chord, albeit an amazing passing chord) from G to C.  Wonder sets up a move to the tritone chord of G flat/F sharp major with help from a G-C progression that's the strongest root movement you can have in conventional tonal harmony. 

But we're obviously not dealing with conventional tonal harmony.  Most crucially nobody except music journalists and other people who write about music ever said we had to.  Look at that bass line.  Granting the D natural may potentially fuzzy the overall linear movement what makes that descending bass line remarkable for a pop chorus is that it's in the octatonic scale, the scale of alternating whole steps and half steps that divides the octave into eight rather than seven tones (i.e. the diatonic scale we're probably taught is the foundational scale in Western music). 

So Wonder has a cycle of chromatic mediant pivots from F sharp to A to C natural and back to A and
back to F sharp.  This set of root movements outlines a diminished triad.  The majority of the notes in ths chorus are explicable in terms of the octatonic scale.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octatonic_scale

One of the only times I'm going to regard a wiki as worth referencing because you're probably not going to trawl through many theory textbooks or music history surveys on this weekend.

The octatonic scale features prominently in the work of composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky.  It's a scale with a history of being favored by a number of early 20th century avant garde composers in the Western tradition.  Chromatic mediant relationships go back fairly far.  Schubert and Beethoven were playing with mediant relationship modulations in large-scale formal units in the early 19th century.  Debussy and others played with chromatic mediants.  Wagner had a chromatic submediant or two in a few of his works. 

The short version of this point is that what makes Stevie Wonder's chorus to "Living for the City" so remarkable is that we can hear French sixth chords, octatonic bass lines, chromatic mediant pivoting by minor thirds from the initial tonic to the tritone chord and back through circular harmonic pivoting--and thanks to help from a neapolitan to tonic phrygian plagal cadence we're back to our opening chord like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Stevie Wonder's legendary chorus just took us through all the most durable harmonic innovations of the last two centuries of avant garde experimentation in tonal organization this side of the twelve-tone row and he did it in a merely twelve second chorus tagged on after what we thought (at first hearing) was going to be a pretty standard issue I-IV-V pop song. And he did all this in one of the simplest and most haunting chorus hooks in the 20th century. 

But the genius of the chorus is that it does not, in fact, come out of the blue.  Wonder has been preparing us for it calmly and steadily from the opening chords throughout that first full minute of the song. Those opening four chords move through a linear 1-2-3-1 in F sharp minor while harmonizing the chords in G flat major/F sharp major. This tension between minor mode linear movement and major mode tonality doesn't reveal its full range of possibilities for a minute, not until after Wonder's given us that classic IV-V-I conventional tonal resolution.  He gives us the most by-the-book harmonic resolution for Western pop music and the high Classic era.  Okay, now that we've got that done, bam, the music takes flight into that remarkable chorus. 

And it's also the end of the song, obviously.  It's here where the genius of the harmonic/melodic craft is also audible.  What Wonder does is simple, he refuses to let the step-wise root movement in the octatonic bass line reach its by-now predictable end point.  We're not going to go back to where we were before.  We can stop at a higher, brighter, more shining place.  That G major chord, the Neapolitan harmony, is allowed to do two things.  First, remember how I mentioned that the G was set up as an implicit dominant that moves by circle progression to C?  It gets to play that harmonic role, a kind of half cadence to a never-arrived-at C major triad that is as harmonically far away from the "ground" of G flat major as could be possible.  The voices are striving ever upward toward a world in which no one has to live just enough or give just enough for the city (let's just throw in a direct reference to "the city" as Babylon or the City of Man while we're at it, that's not inimical to Wonder's approach). 

But there's a second way in which this non-resolved G chord can function, as the new tonic.  It's able to be heard or "read" as arriving at a new, higher, better and brighter tomorrow or as the aspiration toward it (the aforementioned function of the G chord as a dominant that pushes toward C major).  The key of G flat major, in terms of extra-musical association and symbolism, can telegraph that the people who live in Wonder's song-world live in a world of all flats and the emergence of G major is the paradoxically "natural" world that does not yet exist, where things will be made right and the oppression of racism no longer exists.  With either interpretation of the final harmony we're given a vivid musical image of an eagerly anticipated world in which injustice has been defeated.  Wonder has deployed several of the musical tools of the trade of mystical apocalyptic of the sort we might also hear in Scriabin but puts it to more compelling and socially engaged use.  Yes, I said that, it's not meant as an offense to Scriabin fans as such, I just enjoy Stevie Wonder more than Scriabin if I "have" to pick one of the two. 

But in both cases we could propose there's the possibility, existing as a flame within the music itself, of apocalyptic that is not a thing predicated primarily on fear (more or less the base line for the super-majority of apocalyptic imagination in 20th century pop culture a la James Cameron's Terminator or Kubrick's Strangelove), but apocalyptic expressing the paradoxical but natural mixture of anger and hope.  If that closing G chord is the new tonic it may just be a dream, if the closing G major chord is, as it has been up until the end, a quasi-dominant function preparing to launch us into C major, then the harmonic irresolution/resolution is wordlessly asking a question--we could be on the cusp of launching into C major, that bright shining realm in which the injustices of racism no longer define how blacks get treated in the city ... but will we get there?  Not just "we" in the sense of Wonder addressing "his" people, but all of us in the United States who can hear his song.  Wonder has made a song in which "we" can be read at different levels.  He couldn't have been more direct about his voice of sorrow and his hope that what we hear in it will motivate us to make a better tomorrow.

This isn't a chorus that somehow breaks every rule in the book, it's a chorus written by someone who, however he opted to do it, familiarized himself with the panoply of harmonic innovations from avant garde music in the Western idioms over the last two centuries and distilled them into a twelve-second chorus that uses musical ideas we could also hear in Debussy, Scriabin, Stravinsky and other composers in what's known as the classical tradition, but all within Wonder's idiom of R&B/Motown. 

As I was saying earlier about genres such as early 19th century classical guitar and ragtime, it's one thing to say that genre doesn't exist and another thing to say that genre boundaries are permeable.   People who say genres don't exist in music are being morons of the sort who would have us believe a cinematic equivalent, that there's no such thing as superhero movies.  But that the boundaries between and within genres are permeable is something we can be reminded of by those musical geniuses who show rather than tell us that this is the case.  The octatonic scale isn't the exclusive property of Russian or French avant garde pianist composers from the late 19th and early 20th century.  French sixth chords are just called that because the French were most observably likely to use them.  Chromatic mediant pivoting well outside a previously established key was common in German music since the early 19th century.  But there's no reason a black pop musician in 1970s America couldn't take all of these musical innovations and distill them into a single twelve-second tag in a pop song that sums up the greatest innovations in the Western musical traditions.  That's not "breaking the rules" at all, except the most draconian and generally unwritten rules of musical styles, expectations of what "ought" to be in a genre on the basis of what writers write about music.

The thing is, too many writers want to keep the genius of what Wonder did mysterious.  It's amazing but not necessarily mysterious in the sense that we can't work out what it was he did in that beautiful chorus and explain it in terms that at least musicians can understand. 

But non-musicians can understand the affect of what's going on.  While the doctrine of affect from the Baroque era won't really be applicable today we can at least say that the cyclical vamping Wonder lays down at the start of the song can be a kind of meta-textual tone-painting of the circularity and confinement black people deal with.  Living just enough for the city is confining, we get that clearly from the words but we ALSO get it from the music.  The plea to stop living just enough for the city abandons conventional words for the chorus, which bursts open the deliberate strait-jacketed I-IV-V in favor of letting the minor-mode linear pattern of the upper-voice in the keyboard guide the entire musical substance into the chromatic mediant shifting octatonic chorus.  Wonder saves this explosion of harmonically expanded music, a musical symbol, perhaps, of what the music can be like if we don't live just enough for the city, until he's made the primary plea.  All of this octatonic/mediant shifting music is the sort of thing we can also hear in Scriabin and, well, Stevie Wonder's kind of pan-spiritual 1970s New Age optimism and activism isn't "that" impossible to correlate to Scriabin's apocalyptic theosophical aspiration for universal human brotherhood, is it? 

Maybe Stevie Wonder could be regarded as a kind of late 20th century pop-maestro American counterpart to Scriabin ...

if Scriabin wrote gorgeous, unforgettable hooks for pop songs that dealt with the plight of black people in the United States dealing with systemic racism. 

That only took about 2,600 words to explain what's so brilliant about twelve seconds of music in a Stevie Wonder song.  What's nagged at me this week is that Slate has been that when it came to explicating Wonder's genius there was a more telling than showing when it came to discussing that musical genius.  Go ahead, tell us (again) that Wonder is one of the greatest pop musicians of the age.  I've never disagreed!  When I added love for Haydn and Bach to my musical admirations Stevie Wonder was in no way displaced.  But let's not shy away from explaining, even in technical and theoretical terms, what it is that Wonder's done in his music that's so brilliant.  If we don't do even this it's almost as though we pay lip service to the brilliance without showing we have to wrestle a bit with understanding it.  When we're talking about a musician who called one of his albums Music of My Mind, the least we can do is take seriously that however schmaltzy some of those love songs are, there is also a vibrant intellectual substance to it.  It's just that, perhaps, with Wonder the intellectual substance may be pulsating within the music itself and far too few people who deign to write about Wonder's music may have the technical and theoretical interests to discuss the genius of what the music does, preferring instead to use bromides about how it somehow breaks the rules.  Well if it does break the rules, at least say what those rules are.  If Wagner fans can write reams on the Tristan chord can't fans of Stevie Wonder spare a few thousand words for that twelve-second break in "Living for the City" to describe what it is that's so amazing about it?  I think that's the least we can do.

POSTSCRIPT
04-26-2017
10.00pm

Here's something extra to consider about the chorus. The two chords that don't fit into the octatonic scale that would seem to explain the instrumental parts are G and D.  These two chords would obviously not fit into the octatonic collection that would start on F sharp or, if one chord could the other one could not.  It's known as the "diminished" scale because a dominant-tonic circle progression can't happen in the alternation of whole and half steps that characterizes the scale.  Secondary dominant functionality obviously also doesn't happen.   What the chords G and D have is that they have to be borrowed from the other two transpositions of the octatonic scale, a mode of limited transposition.  So the sense of aspiration and transcendental grandeur that the song ends with can "still" be explicable in terms of octatonic sets if we take it to mean that Wonder sets up a chorus with an octatonic collection for the instrumental parts that uses passing chords to borrow chords from the other two transpositions that are available before pitch replication occurs in a way that precludes truly differentiated sets within the twelve-tones of the chromatic scale. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

some concluding remarks on a survey of early 19th century guitar sonatas--on scripts vs plans in composition and analysis, recovering a script-based approach as we see guitar sonatas don't follow the prescribed "plan" paradigm

This was supposed to be more comprehensive.  Molitor was largely left out.  Carulli was omitted altogether.  Molino was merely referenced.  Didn't even mention Darr or Luckner.  If I'd wanted to expand out into chamber music that featured sonata form Matiegka would need more mention, as would, obviously Giuliani but also Christian Dickhut, whose trios for flute, horn and guitar may not seem very deep but have their charms. 

If I'd dared to explore sonata forms as explored by 20th century composers the range of possibilities would explode.  Ponce, Jose, other usual suspects, these have already been written about at least a bit here and there.  Ponce's sonatas are probably going to remain at the top of the pyramid in terms of prestige and craft.  I'd like to make a case that Ferdinand Rebay's cycle of solo guitar sonatas deserves a more than just sympathetic hearing but that's going to likely have to wait until 2017 for that case to be made.  Probably ditto for sonatas by Dusan Bogdanovic, Nikita Koshkin, Guastavino and others.  Someone was kind enough to send me Cristiano Porqueddu's five-disc box set of guitar sonatas and the Gilardino sonatas in particular are pieces I hope to write about in 2017.  While they don't necessarily feature a traditionally recognizable sonata form the guitar sonatas of Atanas Ourkouzounov have been on me "to get to" list for blogging topics. 

So you probably get the idea by now, this could have become and could perhaps still become part of a larger project.  It didn't.  It took years to put this together as it was.  But it was nice to finally get something done and up on the blog. 

Years ago I read a transcript of a lecture by Matanya Ophee, Repertoire Issues.  Reading that lecture transcript was one of those change-your-life moments for me.   Ophee's suggestion that guitarists select and play repertoire that will win the respect of other musicians in the guild, so to speak, rather than just playing the old stand-bys that are beloved within the guitarist scene and by guitarist audiences, stuck with me.  That the guitar has never had the prestige of the violin or the piano seems to me beyond dispute.  In fact that Richard Taruskin mentioned in a passing sentence that the guitar was and is basically not really a part of the literate Western musical tradition (contentious though the assertion obviously is in many details) might well reinforce Matanya Ophee's point--if Taruskin could quite seriously think he could "get away with" saying the guitar has not been part of the Western literate musical tradition it's because in writing five-thousand odd pages about the whole of Western music he could skip it.  So Ophee was right, there not only wasn't a golden age for the guitar in the past, a fairly mainstream music historian could explicitly say the guitar is an instrument whose traditions aren't really worth bringing up as having a significant role to play in what we call classical music.

To Taruskin's assertion I disagree in practice while agreeing on principle.  It really is tough to make a case that even the most ambitious works of Sor experimenting with sonata form stick with audiences or resonate with audiences the way a piano sonata by Brahms or Haydn or Beethoven do; or that the finest musical works by Giuliani linger in the mind in quite the same way as Satie or Chopin or Bach do.  Koshkin has had moments that approach Scriabin but more people are likely to be familiar with Scriabin's piano sonatas than Koshkin's guitar sonatas (though I appreciate both)

The prestige thing may be lame, it may be annoying, it may be freighted with a lot of white cisgender Eurocentric heteronormative baggage in the lexicon of contemporary Western scholarship, but the most prestigious compositional processes in the Western tradition have been, as Reicha more or less put it, the sonata and the fugue.  Guitarists have all too often said that these forms or processes are inimical to the nature of the guitar.  This is provably false.  Sonata and fugue may prove inimical to those who lack the intellectual curiosity, emotional commitment and physical dexterity to try their hands at contrapuntal music for the guitar or composing sonata forms.  But there is nothing inherent in the possibilities of the guitar, however severe its restrictions are, that dictates that we can't have sonatas and fugues for the instrument in every major and minor key. 

In that light there has never been a Beethoven of the guitar and there may never be.  Ophee, in his lecture, said that we must shed any inferiority complex we have about our instrument and the worth of its music.  I agree. 

Part of shedding any inferiority complex about the music written for our instrument includes casting off old assumptions about what constitutes a "real" sonata form.  It may be that the guitarist composers of the early 19th century did not write what Hepokoski & Darcy call a "Type 3" sonata form, the textbook sonata form that, as described by German-awed music theorists looking to Beethoven, opens with a masculine theme in one key followed by a feminine theme in another key leading to a kind of Hegelian dialectical synthesis.  But then the rulebook for what a sonata form was and "ought" to be had not been all that finalized at the time the early guitar masters were experimenting with sonata forms.  They were drawing on conventions in thematic development that, as Hepokoski & Darcy showed in their writings, were normative--the incomplete recapitulation was regarded as a normal option. 

As we've seen this week in the guitar sonatas of Diabelli, Molitor, Matiegka, Giuliani and Sor the incomplete, the truncated recapitulation was often more normative than the eventual "textbook" conception that would get formulated later in the 19th century.  Let's bear in mind that these guitarist composers had audiences and had their own physical and intellectual horizons and it would appear that for the most part they had a bag of tricks that could be easy to predict, perhaps, but they tried to avoid descending into building entire musical experiences through what Leonard B. Meyer delicately called "statistical climax", which can be described in more recent terms as the ethos of "crescendo rock" or the endless vamping of Jimmy Page in a Led Zeppelin song.  Guitarist composers have been tempted since the dawn of the instrument to find a sweet groove and subordinate all other musical concerns to that.  That's a part of the wonderful possibilities of music but there are other parts.

I've found Meyer's distinction between the "script" and the "plan" enormously instructive. Meyer explicitly wrote that sonata forms were script-like in the eighteenth century but that the nineteenth century theorists and composers began to treat them like plans.

Now here's where all of this abstraction has practical implications.  In the last century the divergence between popular musical styles and academic musical approaches has gotten fairly large.  One of the recurring fracture points between classical and jazz, or classical and pop, is how the respective canons seem incapable of overlapping.  Yet when we go back and survey the degree to which Haydn or Beethoven or Bach could employ popular, simple tunes in the process of composing large-scale works, it seems as though the intransigent gap between canons could be, in part, the result of a mixture of marketing and pedagogical approach.  If you teach classical music with a "plan" based approach rather than a script-based approach (and it's to the credit of Hepokoski & Darcy and William E Caplin that they have done work that attempts to recover, so to speak, script-based approaches to sonata) then the vernacular of popular music may be inherently precluded. 

There's no intrinsic reason ragtime or blues or country couldn't be assimilated into the script possibilities of the process we call sonata form ... unless those idioms are by definition not "part of the plan".  Well, maybe Isaac Albeniz didn't get "the plan" when he composed his piano sonatas.  Maybe Scriabin didn't, either.  There really isn't any intrinsic reason you can't write a sonata movement starting with a 12-bar blues or a ballad tune.  But perhaps it's easier to teach sonata as if it were a plan, as if it were a form rather than a flexible thought process.  Contra conservatives like Roger Scruton or Roger Kimball, George Rochberg stated that musical forms commonly associated with tonal music do not themselves derive from anything inherent in tonality itself.  They derive from two things--interest and clarity.  Something has to get your attention and keep it.  Another way of putting it is that musical form depends on a collaborative and directive approach to associative memory.  If you overload the cognitive capacities of your listener they tune out.  If you insist on making a demand of your listener that they can't keep up with, they lose the thread. 

But we know that in reality people want to be surprised while simultaneously being reassured.  A composer like Haydn proved to be a genius at simultaneously fulfilling and subverting expectations.  He was mercurial enough in how he developed his ideas that theorists are reluctant to regard Haydn as the example to study for sonata forms as we now know them.  But that would seem to be a reason to absorb his work all the more.  If we want to teach what the music does not what the textbook requires it to have done that's what we'll need to do.

But there's an opposite path that seems like a dead end, and it's most characteristic of the stuff I've read in the last few years of some folks over at NewMusicBox.

Some writers at NewMusicBox can solemnly and excitedly intone that genre doesn't exist.  Right, genre doesn't exist in music because people writing at a blog say so.  Let's try this idea out in another artistic medium and declare that genre doesn't exist therefore there's no such thing as a superhero movie so there wasn't a surprise hit in the form of Deadpool this year because Deadpool wasn't a superhero movie.  Saying that genre doesn't exist will not make more people suddenly want to go listen to more classical guitar music.  If I were to indulge in a bit of surliness, it's the people whose art isn't raking in money that have the incentive to say their work transcends genre or is not delimited by it because who's buying it as it is?  It's the people who are staking the mortgage on their house that something will work who let what they do be defined by a genre.  Bon Jovi could say he made an album to get another house because he could be confident he made music that people would buy. 

There's a world of difference between saying the boundaries separating what we regard as genres are permeable and saying that the genres themselves don't even exist.

I can make a case in terms of musical analysis that with just a few modifications to rhythmic profile and harmonic rhythm you can transform a Giuliani guitar sonata theme into a ragtime strain without saying that early 19th century guitar sonatas and early 20th century piano rags aren't identifiable genres.  To say that there's no such thing as proto-Romantic guitar literature and ragtime is absurd.  You can't even really say that these genres don't exist only the communities that formed the music that's been handed down to us because thanks to a process called reification (reducing those musical experiences, in whatever limited ways scores provide for us) we don't have access to the communities that forged the ragtime we hear on ice cream trucks or the communities that created the guitar sonatas we've discussed this week.  Those communities died out and the contemporary interest in these styles is from a different set of communities. 

What we call works of art conceal as much as they reveal but that's what we've got, and reliance on written published scores for both ragtime and guitar sonatas suggests that, to restate an obvious point, the boundaries between these two musical idioms are permeable.  It's not like the German augmented sixth chords preparing for a cadence become different across a Joplin rag and a Giuliani sonata.  Part of the difficulty guitarists will have in selling the sonatas written for our instrument by guitarists in the past is that hearing them as they were heard is not possible.  We can make historically informed guesses but that's as far as we can go.  That said, we can try to see how historically informed we can be.  Distinguishing between a "script" and a "plan" can help us--the distinction isn't even subtle.  It's possible in a musical performance to go "off script".  Matiegka's Grand Sonata I has that "ad libatum" instruction to bring something to the performance that isn't in the script.  Paradoxically that was all part of the plan.  You don't find that kind of open-ended spot to put your own solo into a Sor sonata. 

Perhaps the easiest way to explain the profound practical implications for script vs. plan composing in large-scale forms can be likened to theater or cinema.  There's value in both a script and a plan but there are limitations.  The limitation of a script can be how formulaic it is and how readily things can be anticipated once you know the ins and outs of the script.  The strengths, in the hands of the capable, can be immense.  We'll get to that but you may already have perceived what the strength of a script can be.  The advantage of a plan is that it gives you a clearer sense of the entirety of what you're aiming for.  The plan lays out the ultimate goal and lets you subordinate everything toward that goal.  It's great for big picture stuff. 

I'll admit that I lean very strongly toward the "script" over the "plan" as a way to approach sonata or fugue.  I don't plan in the sense that I have some clear idea what the overall musical work has to sound like, I script in the sense that I'm constantly tinkering with the syntax and the developmental implications of whatever I'm working on.  I like plans, in theory, and I try to plan but life has a way of wrecking plans and this can be true in art as well as life. 

That wasn't easy ... so let me try again.  The difference between a script and a plan is this (and obviously very simple)--you can go off script whenever inspiration or observation suit youYou'll still find your way back to what the next part of the script would be because diverging from the script never means not having a script.  You can't go off plan without changing or reassessing the nature of the plan itself. The very nature of the project you're working on changes when you go off plan.  Sonata forms have been taught as plans since the 19th century, it seems, when it could make more sense to teach them as a range of possible scripts.  It's to the credit of the likes of William E. Caplin, James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy to work toward recovering what may be thought of as a script-based approach to what we call sonata forms. 

Sonata forms, for want of a better term, never became obsolete.  What became obsolete was, arguably, the vast field of scholastic pedagogy that spent generations telling us to regard sonatas as plans rather than scripts.  Analyzing sonatas as if they were scripts is more difficult because to assess what kind of sonata we're looking at, or if we're even looking at a sonata, depends upon familiarizing ourselves with the range of possible scripts composers could be working from, whether for form in general of the developmental procedures used on a set of gestures in a particular work.  Where the guitar sonatas of the early 19th century masters are concerned coming to appreciate the range of scripts they worked from can help us appreciate their works for what they were rather than find them wanting for failures to adhere to what we may have been taught in school was the prescribed plan for a proper sonata as it was passed down to us by way of 19th and early 20th century pedagogy.