Saturday, August 26, 2017

HT Jim West, NPR discusses "The Brief, Tumultuos Reign of an Erstwhile Best-seller

West's post linking to the news is "`Best Seller' Lists Are a Farce"

Won't disagree in the least, seeing as regular readers of Wenatchee The Hatchet will have read about the Result Source gaming of the New York Times best-seller list that got Mark and Grace Driscoll's Real Marriage a spot atop a NYT list.  The first print edition of that book was part of a months long controversy covered in the news cycle regarding allegations of plagiarism throughout Mark Driscoll's published work.  The evidence available from the first print edition of Real Marriage as examined here and by Warren Throckmorton seemed pretty compelling.

Eventually it seemed nearly every single book Mark Driscoll had published had something in it that could have been better attributed in the first edition.  Cumulative, as reported by Throckmorton, it seems many of the glaring attributional omissions in Real Marriage got fixed in a second printing and the press began to report the plagiarism controversy in the Christian press as if all the plagiarism alleged were precisely that, alleged.  The total absence of any acknowledgment of the writings and influence of Dan Allender on the Driscolls in the first print edition, in contrast with the note of thanks in the second print edition, makes it difficult to chalk up all the allegations as mere allegations.  That by itself seems like a fairly big adjustment of content across print editions.  It's impossible to make any claim that Mark and Grace Driscoll were simply unfamiliar with Allender's work because, as has been documented extensively here at this blog, the Driscolls name-dropped Allender's work too many times for them to profess unfamiliarity with his work prior to 2012.

Which is wind up for this, the discovery that a new author can somehow land a spot, if briefly, on a NYT best-seller list without even the background of author sales the Driscolls had.

and ...

By way of contrasts, I haven't seen a single review or write-up on Nikita Koshkin's 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar.  This constitutes, to the best of my knowledge, the first large-scale contrapuntal cycle composed for solo guitar by a guitarist composer that has been published in the traditional publishing way, ever.  Nary a peep about it and that's not necessarily a bad thing since a commercially available recording isn't available yet but also because a cycle that's more than a hundred pages long can't be considered and discussed in heat-of-the-moment news cycle ways in any case.

I had planned to have blogged about the Koshkin cycle by now but learning about the Dzhaparidze cycle came up and I've got the Rekhin cycle so I've begun to think that I should probably really blog about all three cycles to the extent that I can.   That will require a mount of listening and score study and even more listening and considering the polyphonic techniques preferred by each composer and ... well ... etc., etc.

Meanwhile, yet another book that hit a best-seller list looks like it got, effectively, its place bought on the list.

While it's no doubt tempting for advocates of high art to sniff that this is just how mass culture works it's not necessarily the case that high art is exempt from being bought its place in history.  If anything it's more inescapable that high art has had its path into history bought for it.

I played the first several minutes of Elliott Carter’s Double Concerto.
Student #1: Who decided that this work was one of the great pieces of 20th-century music?
Student #2: It’s just like what happens in popular music.
Student #1: But no, popular music becomes popular because people like it.
Student #2: No, popular music is made popular by the industry. Somebody decided that Miley Cyrus could be popular, and so they poured a ton of money and publicity into her. Her career was completely orchestrated.
Me: Between the two of you, you have just arrived at the insight that Elliott Carter and Miley Cyrus are mirror images of each other.
[General laughter]
UPDATE: Let me be clear – other examples besides Carter and Miley Cyrus (whoever she is) could have served. I’m trying to teach the class that the canon is an artificial construct, and that it is indeed created by people in power making decisions. Musical academia has its collective narrative, critics tend toward a different narrative, the classical-music performance world has yet another narrative, and the corporate world makes decisions on a different set of criteria. All of these narratives are contaminated by self-serving premises, and none should be misunderstood as resembling any kind of pure meritocracy. And thus every student needs to judge every piece on its own merits as they appear to him or her, and such decisions should not be made on the first listening, or necessarily the second or third. It took me listening to the Double Concerto about a hundred times before I decided there just wasn’t anything there for me. It’s part of what Bard calls “Critical Thinking,” and I’m really into it lately.
Thus a moment in which it is proposed that Elliot Carter and Miley Cyrus became part of the history of music in some way because enough people with enough money decided she should be paid attention made sure that a bunch of people would pay attention to them.  If being the offspring of a previous generation's pop country celebrity system is really so different from someone who inherited money from silk trade as to make Cyrus and Carter different it's not necessarily "only" about the quality of the musical products associated with them.  I have relatively little use for either Carter or Cyrus.  Carter's done a couple of pieces I thought were okay but if his entire output were to have retroactively never existed I'd still have my Stevie Wonder and Blind Willie Johnson and Scott Joplin and Haydn and Stravinsky and Ellington and ... you get the idea.  
If in what's been dubbed the "winner take all" arts and entertainment market seems more difficult to break into what the age of the internet may have opened up for closer scrutiny is how the game has been, well, gamed from within the industry.  

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