Wednesday, February 08, 2017

incubation phase 3

the "what" to write about hasn't exactly changed.  It's just there's a ton of reading to do for a couple of these projects and for some of the other stuff a lot of watching cartoons.

Which is to say between now and March 11 I might be watching a whole ton of Samurai Jack.   Writing about animation is one of the things that happens here.  Batman: the Brave and the Bold is going to get some attention but it's going to take a month or so.  This month there's the Lego Batman film and supposedly a new release by Studio Ghibli, The Red Turtle, which is temporarily impossible to find any showings for in Seattle.

I'm trying to soak up a bunch of Theodore Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Emil Brunner, some of Gann's writing on John Cage, and a few other things.  I finished a book by David P Roberts on the total work of art in the European avant garde, which was a fascinating if at times diffuse read.  Still not quite done with Taruskin's gigantic Oxford History of Western music but I've got 3.7 of the 5 books read through, I think.  I've been rereading some of Leonard B. Meyer's landmark books. 

I'm also experimenting with a ragtime fugue for banjo and guitar.  I've written bits and pieces here in the last year about ways to manipulate durational units within the syntax of sonata form and ragtime form to arrive at a fusion of ragtime with sonata forms.  I'm doing something sort of like that with ragtime vocabulary and contrapuntal procedures this year. 

Ever since I read that there was a Blind Willie Johnson tribute album I couldn't bring myself to listen to it, just read about it.  I've loved Blind Willie Johnson's music since I was a teenager and I've loved Blind Willie's work more than Robert Johnson's stuff or just about any other blues performer from the pre-war period.  Not that I don't like other singers.  I like Patton and Hurt, for instance, and Lonnie Johnson did some amazing stuff with Armstrong and Ellington besides his own charming work.  But Blind Willie Johnson's work has been a touchstone for me.  So I've been incubating a guitar sonata that doesn't attempt to cover any of Johnson's catalog and bears no direct resemblance to his stuff but draws on his guitaristic approach--it's going to be refracted through a whole lot of Bach and Haydn, though, and some Joplin and Monk. 

I'd write more about the possibilities of a fusion of ragtime with sonata form but to do that I might need to soak up some more theoretical stuff on music.  Gestural manipulation across styles and languages of music must be a field of study but sometimes it feels like the identity narratives can stifle musical exploration at a more technical level.  If you're not already a fan of Haydn or Clementi on the one hand and of Joplin and other ragtime composers, then I could try to explain the significance of regarding structural repeats as essential rather than redundant to understanding the manipulation of associative memory for hybridizing forms.  For now I'll just say that the further away I get from German 19th century pedagogical concepts about what sonata forms "ought" to be, the easier I find the possibilities of synthesizing blues, ragtime, country and jazz vocabularies into sonata forms.  The very idea that sonata forms are somehow obsolete or that 19th century guitarist composers didn't master sonata forms because they didn't approach sonatas like Beethoven is something I've rambled about before. 

If you choose to think that you can't write sonata forms inspired by Hank Williams Sr or Stevie Wonder choruses or Blind Willie Johnson songs then it's a matter of course you won't be able to do those things.  the snobbery on both sides of the high/low divide can be aggravating.  People who are into blues might quote John Lee Hooker saying that you don't need fancy chords or nothing, you just need a big beat.  Sure, and I love Hooker's stuff and his ability to vary 12/8 vamps is marvelous! 

Years ago when I ... wrote that bad review of Andrew Durkin's Decomposition, one of the things I found weak was his insistence on the limitations of Western musical notation.  It's a pedestrian point to say that the Western notational system only conveys so much.  And yet last year Ben Johnston's strin gquartets got released, recordings of works defined by microtonality and just intonation.  When a composer can hear the difference between tones that are one cent apart we're talking a rarified ability to hear thesmallest differences in pitch.  If a string quartet with thousands of discrete pitches can get recorded the canard that Western notation is so limited turns out to be a canard.  It'd be one thing to say that blues and jazz performances traffic in microtonal nuances that are perceptible to the ear but not considered WORTH the trouble of commiting to meticulously accurate notation we can say the music is generally predicated on folk idioms and live performance and leave it at that.  But if we've done that then trying to mystify notational systems is a waste of time. 

I was on board with the idea that even the most solitary artistic work is ultimately a social endeavor.  It's just a shame Durkin didn't fish more for examples of contextual collaboration.  The most explicit case study of consciously chosen contextual collaboration in the Western art music tradition would be someone like Haydn or Mozart, knowing enough of audience receptivity to pander to their interests.  Haydn was direct in saying he constantly gauged audience response and revised his work according to what audiences enjoyed and steering away from effects that alienated them.  When one of the most famous composers in the Western canon plainly states that giving audiences more of what they tell you they want by their applause it would have been worth it to quote that composer.  I'm biased, of course, since I love Haydn's music. 

And yet I keep getting older and still don't like a lot of Romantic music.  The 19th century composers I find I do enjoy (Chopin, Mendelssohn) tended to be into Bach.  They also tended to be Bohemian or Russian more than German. 

I've been thinking of writing a bunch of stuff in response to things by Roger Scruton and others at the Future Symphony Institute.  Their abjection of pop music in some of their pieces is more than just annoying.  But I'm not sure I'm going to tackle that just yet.  This is still incubation time. 

And there's a lot of music I've been trying to write.  Ever since that controversy where Yale said they wouldn't have jazz and that jazz wasn't part of the Western musical canon that set me off.  I was unhappy with Yale's approach but also unhappy with the pro-jazz reactions.  Why people seem so set on snobbery for one and against the other when both styles are as inextricably bound up on Western musical art as first and second practice in Baroque music is beyond me. We've got another version of first and second practice in musical art.  If jazz has brought back or rediscovered the art of composing via improvisation on standard grounds that was once characteristic of Baroque music I say make MORE people learn how to play jazz.  The idea that you can't teach jazz, anyway, seems idiotic to me.  It's actually offensive because the kind of essentialist narrative that claim has to presume needs to be examined for the kind of racist essentialism that it is.  If you put the shoe on the other foot and tried to walk a mile in it you'd have to actually agree with Wagner in his claim that Jews couldn't write decent music because they lacked soul.  This gets to another problem I had with Durkin's book, you can't attack the idea of authenticity as some abstracted notion of a reified performance or score o fa particular work, you have to attack authenticity as the social contract of club membership as to who is or isn't legitimately on the team.  Stereotypes about how soulful and intuitive jazz is will miss how abstract, esoteric and thoughtful it is.  There's a whole lot of Romantic era detritus emphasizing music as if it conveyed the feelings of the composer or musician rather than bein ga shared game of associative memories and memory-building.  Music is a game of cognition that can, ideally, engage both hemispheres of the brain.  Unfortunately the partisans of this or that style of music seem pretty hell-bent on emphasizing just one hemisphere over against another.  The Western avant garde overdid the left hemisphere, so to speak, while pop music has overdone the right. 

But I've rambled enough at this point.   

7 comments:

Cal P said...

Why Brave & Bold? And I too am going to rewatch Samurai Jack. It's been awhile since I've seen it. I'm excited to read your commentaries.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Brave and the Bold started shortly after Nolans Dark Knight came out and theaim was to have something more deliberately Y7. I couldn't quite get into The Batman but B&tB has a nice Adam West/silver age throwback vibe to it. But their take on the Batman origin story hooked me. The idea that Bruce is Batman in part because of guilt about his ingratitude that he displayed the day his parents were killed was a unique twist.

It's been so long since I've watched Samurai Jack I'm feeling like I have to start the series from the beginning. Here's hoping this revival works. I read bad, bad stuff about the Powerpuff Girls reboot.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

plus there's this thing about how in the last year or so I've been catching up with cartoons I couldn't watch while I was jobless for three years and that are in the city library. So I've caught up with Archer and The Venture Brothers. I didn't even see Avatar: the Last Airbender until about 2013! That series was amazing, a terrible shame about Legend of Korra!

Cal P said...

I find the 50's Batman impossible to stomach and Adam West is a stain on the franchise. I watched some clips for Brave & Bold and couldn't handle it. Some characters should have certain features (especially if you dress in dark and prowl at nighttime!). Batman should be a darker and more brooding character and Superman should be more light, optimistic, silly. The 90s and 00s Batman/Superman/JLA cartoons got it right. I equally detest the new movies that are trying to make Superman into a broody character. And, while we're on it, I think it's absolutely retarded that Batman is forming the JLA in the new movie. It's like DC is purposely trying to destroy their own movie franchise.

The occasional Superman meltdown/depression or the Batman silly pun or smile is the exception that proves the rule!!

Cal P said...

I was intrigued to find Beware the Batman. It sounded interesting but I'm not big into 3D Animations. Have you seen it? What did you think?

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I've managed to watch half of Brave and the Bold. It's absurd and over the top with Batman making bad puns and yet for some reason I enjoy it. It's half-way between the 200 proof camp of West and BTAS. It's not going to supplant BTAS/JL/JLU or Nolan's films for me, but since the goofy/camp side of Batman's always going to exist I'd say Brave and the Bold struck the right note on that side of the Bat-continuum. I think Denny O'Neil and Miller set a precedent that was taken too far with the grim loner angle. Both BTAS and Nolan's films corrected that, though in dramatically different ways. But the core correction was to highlight that Bruce would have to be highly socialized with either a large but perhaps shallow network of contacts to draw on to fight crime on the one hand or a tight-knit set of intimates who help him do the things he knows he needs help to do, which is VERY broadly the distinction between BTAS and Nolan Batmen. The respective solutions worked for serialized and feature film versions.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I couldn't get into The Batman, although the casting of Mitch Pileggi as Jim Gordon was an inspired move. Having Director Skinner from the X-Files as Jim Gordon isn't a bad move, even if it was stunt voice casting. But Pengui kung-fu killed it for me.

I'm afraid that I never managed to finish an episode of Beware the Batman. They hamstrung themselves with the commitment to avoid the big names in favor of ... Magpie and Professor Pyg? They restricted themselves, functionally, to the C-Listers. And trying to make Alfred some bad-ass ex-spy also seemed like a total failure for me. Alfred as a surrogate parent has stuck around for a lot of reasons, not least that he may help Bruce fight crime but represents a tie to a lost set of filial connections. This is where BTAS and Nolans films were more effective.

CGI TV cartoons have been a let down. Either they have to use Flash and a design sensibility that emulates cel work as closely as possible (Archer and My Little Pony) or they have to forego any pretense of plausibly anthropomorphic humans (Transformers Prime, which benefited greatly from getting Peter Cullen and Frank Welker to reprise their old roles and getting Steve Blum to voice Starscream).

At least with library discs I don't have to live with having bought the stuff only to discover I can't stand it. :)