Sunday, December 30, 2018

Tropes of Soul in a Christmas song: comparing versions of "Silent Night" as a short consideration of principles of ornamentation in vocal performance

Today we're going to take a relatively short stroll through different performances of one of the staples of Christmas music, "Silent Night".  I'll start with versions I love or like a great deal and then move toward versions I ... don't ... quite ... like so much.

Mahalia Jackson
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUt4MBMfPvU

A few observations about what Jackson does with this song.  Jackson definitely decorates the melody all over the performance but as she begins, going through the first few minutes she adds ornaments at the start of the note, the end of the note, and sometimes in the middle of the note, but the duration of the note in a "plain" version of the melody is respected.  She'll ornament the start or end of a sustained and, this part might be easy to miss if you're not listening for the foreground and background, she leaves enough space for the chorus singing in the background to have its role.

Let's take her flourish on "Christ the Savior is born" that you can hear about 3:00. She puts in quite a flourish but you'll hear that the foundational note in the tune for "born" is where she stars and where she ends.

Aretha Franklin
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_hUsoUZNLk

There's a similar dynamic going on in Franklin's approach to ornamentation.  What she does that Jackson doesn't is play with the rhythmic durations of the text in its setting.  There's a nice antiphonal approach to verse 2 where a chorus intones the start of verse 2 and Franklin enters in on "shepherds quake ... ".  The chorus takes half the declamation of the second verse, with Franklin adding soloist commentary in the second half of each of the phrases.  This provides a context for her increasingly florid decorations of the melody--there's a chorus intoning the plainer, simpler version of the song and a call and response dynamic that allows Franklin the liberty to add more ornate decorations.  It's a setting that is still pretty restrained in its way.

then ...

Michael Bolton
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32YLkdk7-6U

Let me just say I've never particularly enjoyed his music.  Even Bolton, though, takes the melody in a pretty straightforward way, adding flourishes at a few strategic phrase endings.  "sleep in heavenly PEEACE" or "our Savior is BOOOOOOORN".  The ornamentation gets fancier and fancier with each verse.  This is moving more in the direction of soul that I confess I have less sympathy for.

but as overcooking the Christmas dinner goes ...  Christina Aguilera might be one of the champions

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLVR0LtXqQQ

Now I'm not complaining about her tone, her tone production and intonation are really good.  It's just that she throws decorative flourishes that are extraneous to the tune itself and, by way of contrast to Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin, introduces the decorations even before the first verse is completed.  By verse 2 Aguilera has a ... slightly more restrained take on the melody but this whole approach is, I confess, more ornate than I happen to like, and it's more baroque (in a bad way, for me) than even the Michael Bolton performance.  If you're into Aguilera's music then I don't want to say you're wrong, I just have found with this season's holiday musical marathon I've felt that Aguilera's approach to "Silent Night" is an example of the kind of florid soul singing that I think can obscure a melody.  Doing a verse in Spanish is cool, though.  Had there been less decoration the linguistic contrast could have been more prominent.

Not even Mariah Carey started off with so florid an introduction.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q63O54RuL-o

and she left the organist room to hit that Leslie speaker effect.  Gotta give her props for that.  It might seem a bit obvious but the soloist/chorus dynamic is in effect here.  It's an important arranging element to keep in mind for settings of songs like this.  You can let the soloist go to town provided the chorus and ensemble are there to anchor the overall performance.

Because I'm a Mahalia Jackson admirer I want to bring this back to one of her performances of a Christmas song to try to explain what I admire about her approach. I've been reading a couple of Bruce Haynes books on Baroque era treatises on ornamentation and performance style.  Back in the Baroque era as we'd know it there were treatises on what was considered good and bad form for decorating melodic passages.  A good performer would decorate a melody in a way that added expressiveness to the material without obscuring it past the point that a person could recognize the phrases of the musical material.    So ... if you're a soloist decorating a melody you want to have a text-based or theme-based reason for doing so.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMJ2UriVc40

now I love this version

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kN3Tm8y71Bg

Jackson takes the majority of the melody and text verse by verse in a straightforward way.  Where she cuts loose and does whatever she feels inspired to do is when she gets to "over the hills and EVERYWHERE!"  She soars and dives away from the notes of "everywhere" in the traditional melody to show that she's going everywhere.  It's a simple text-painting conceit for a song setting like this, but it works gorgeously ... because Mahalia Jackson was a musical genius.  Even when she decorates the final verse it's the final verse.  She's respected the structural integrity of the verse and chorus enough times in the performance that you can hear it underneath her modifications.  The term that's useful here is "reification" but in the Gestalt sense of the term rather than the Marxist sense of the term.  If you don't already have the melody at the back of your mind as the foundation against which built-up variations can be heard then you're less in a position to appreciate the variations.

 So, yes, I admit I'm negatively comparing Michael Bolton and Christina Aguilera to Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin and even ... to some extent ... to Mariah Carey.  Trust me, twenty years ago I never would have imagined I would one day write about Carey displaying any kind of vocal restraint!

To show that the more things change the more they stay the same, there were folks in the Baroque era complaining about soloists interpolating the same over-used florid ornaments into performances centuries ago.

Music in the Baroque Era: From Monteverdi to Bach
Manfred Bukofzer location 7203 Kindle edition

It must also be remembered that the distinctions for extensive ornamentation apply only to music for soloists, especially castrati and the exceptional female singers. Both Tosi and Mancini compared the individual virtues of the two most famous prima donnas of Handel's day: Cuzzoni and Faustina. The first excelled in the cantabile style, in portamento and legato singing, and was praised for her sweet tone quality and for her ability to extemporize affective ornaments, which strikingly contrasted with the often ridiculed habit of singers always inserting the same divisions in different arias. Faustina, the wife of Hasse, distinguished herself in the amazing agility of her divisions, a "granitic" firmness in the execution of trills, perfect intonation, and a breath control that enabled her to phrase and articulate superbly. .. 

I have been thinking for years now we have been living in a new kind of Baroque era, in the wake of the collapse of a refined and perfected ars perfecta (the Romantic era, which any number of musicians and pundits are still committed to in concert music life and not without cause, mind you) we live in an era in which an explosion of different styles and forms have developed and in the wake of an era of instrumental music songs have re-emerged. If theorizing and writing about music keeps anchoring thought about music to instrumental music, particularly autonomous music as it was defined in 19th century debates, then a whole sea of musical thought and writing will get cast off to the side as somehow irrelevant when the history of Renaissance and Baroque era treatises on music could get ignored.

My polemic point at the end of 2018 is to suggest that when we listen to different versions of a popular Christmas carol we can hear that the women I regard as the real masters of soul singing such as Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin, provide lessons in what they did as much as by what they didn't do as by what they did do, and that there's a sense in which soul as a popular mode of song performance has new generations learning as though brand new lessons that were being formulated in polemics and treatises from the Baroque era.  Soloists were overcooking well-known songs past the point of either recognition of savored enjoyment back in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, too.


So, yeah, I think Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin handled "Silent Night" brilliantly while Bolton and Aguilera represent more of what I would prefer people not do with a Christmas carol.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

at Future Symphony Institute Roger Scruton makes a case for counterpoint as musical art and discipline

https://www.futuresymphony.org/counterpoint-and-why-it-matters/

Now I differ with a couple of contributors to the Future Symphony Institute articles on a few things.  I disagree with John Borstlap on a few things, for instance, but I do appreciate the goal of working to sustain and continue what's colloquially known as the discipline of classical music. 

I can't help but suggest that the "non-imitative" contrapuntal writing of Charles Ives that a commenter going by Marc might be referencing would be called "quodlibet", a technique in which a number of traditional or popular melodies are juxtaposed in some humorous contrapuntal way.  Peter Burkholder has a superb book on Charles Ives and his musical borrowings I learned about through the blogging of Kyle Gann, to whom I feel a happy urge to thank since it was through him I learned of the book.

There have been a lot of cycles of fugues in 20th century up through our time.  Whether it's the cycle of preludes and fugues Zaderatsky composed on telegraph cards in the Gulag in the 1930s or Hindemith's Ludus Tonalis or the Shostakovich cycle or the Shchedrin cycle or more recent cycles by Henry Martin, Nikolai Kapustin or even more recently by Michelle Gorrell counterpoint is a discipline that spans the world.  Just in the last thirty some years there have emerged no less than half a dozen cycles of preludes and fugues for solo guitar, however belatedly these have emerged compared to keyboard-based precedents spanning from Bach to the present day.

It would be nice if the fugal idiom as practiced by Anton Reicha got a bit more attention, another composer whose work I learned about thanks to the blogging of Kyle Gann. 

I find myself disagreeing with Scruton and Borstlap about any number of things when they stay abstract but when Scruton gets more specific and concrete in his writing about music I am more apt to agree with him.  I thoroughly agree that musicians who steep themselves in the polyphonic traditions will benefit in the tools they learn for composing. 

If Scruton wanted to ... branch out a little bit, he could suggest that some rudimentary mastery of melodic line against melodic line is something we not only hear in the great composers of what's called classical music, it's also something we can hear in the more memorable entries in popular music.  There are moments of contrapuntal juxtapositions in Ellington works such as "Dusk", for instance, and polyphonic possibilities that are often latent but easy to discern in the works of Thelonious Monk.  Even if we cast the net into the waters of pop music there are antiphonal elements in songs by the Beatles and canonic and imitative passages in any number of songs by Stevie Wonder. 

In other words, whether fans of popular music may recognize it or not, there's contrapuntal traditions and practices even within popular song.  It may come more in the form of a call-and-response paradigm with Lennon and McCartney, for instance, but the principle of interlocking melodic fragments whose musical effect is more than the sum of separable parts can be heard. The end of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" is really full of different melodic riffs that relate to each other as subject to countersubject.  The voice-leading might not meet with the approval of 19th century era pedagogues but it would be useful to invoke a scornful warning from Haydn that there are a lot of pointless rules that aren't necessary for a person with a well-trained ear and a developed sense of taste.  In my personal pantheon of musical genius Haydn and Bach share the stage with Ellington, Monk, Joplin, Lamb and Stevie Wonder. 

Scruton is right to assert that the reasons counterpoint is thought to be antiquated are predicated on foundationally inaccurate claims about the history of the discipline and the nature of the materials with which the discipline is thought to be associated. 

Not that this could be be conveyed in a blog post but there's no reason you can't compose a fugue that has fully invertible triple counterpoint for a solo slide guitar.  This can be done.  It ... actually has been done ... and you can guess how I know that. 

Scruton stops short of an observation that I think needs to be highlighted about counterpoint as a compositional practice.  Counterpoint is not just about dropping one melodic line on top of another and having it "work".  Adorno was right to assert that this in itself was not why Bach was a master contrapuntist.  What J. S. Bach did in his expositions was to create interlocking sets of melodies from which everything that unfolded in the subsequent fugue emerged as the work moved along.  It was the organic emergence of developmental processes from the entwined melodic seeds of a subject and associated countersubjects that made Bach fugues what they were not "just" that Bach wrote good strict counterpoint. 

At another level counterpoint is challenging but rewarding as an art and a discipline of gestural transformation.  I love counterpoint so much I have considered writing some kind of primer on how to approach contrapuntal writing for the guitar and before any other considerations of the art I would say that a composer must first come to terms with the sheer number of possibilities a single gesture can have.  The art of gestural transformation precedes other aspects of the art.  The rules of counterpoint as they are traditional described let you know what kinds of things either sound unpleasant or, at a more bluntly practical level, are difficult perhaps to the point of not being worth doing in Western practice.  This does NOT mean they CAN'T be done, just that parallel perfect fifths introduces substantial challenges in intonation and pitch control for a group of singers with no instrumental accompaniment.  In a similar way, if we're talking Estonian or Latvian choral music parallel minor sevenths are not really a big problem they way they often are in a lot of Western vocal/choral traditions (with a likely exception being barbershop). 

In 2019 I hope to continue blogging through Nikita Koshkin's 24 preludes and fugues.  Meanwhile, it's kind of nice to see Scruton addressing counterpoint as an art that is foundational to a lot of Western musical practices. 

I've been thinking about blogging about the fugal cycles of Zaderatsky, Martin, and Shchedrin over the last few years but I'm trying to stick to the Koshkin cycle and the German Dzhaparidze cycles since, as a guitarist and a composer, I think I might find it easier and more practical to advocate for contrapuntal music within my own instrumental field. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

a look back on blogging in 2018, a busier year of blogging than it ever felt like it was at any given time

2018 was more of an artsy year of blogging here at Wenatchee The Hatchet ... or it felt like it ... maybe more because of how much music I was composing this year when I wasn't blogging and doing other normal day to day life things. 

There were a number of substantial additions to the blog connected to the life and times of what was once Mars Hill, most notably a book review of Justin Dean's PR Matters and of Jessica Johnson's Biblical Porn, but a lot of this year's blogging felt like it was about music and the arts ... and to some degree arts education and social media use and emerging concerns raised about celebrities.

We kicked off blogging in 2018 with a poem
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/01/a-haiku-for-start-of-2018.html
our era is sweet
whatever the right hand does
the left hand can tweet

February 2018, what was formerly Mars Hill Portland subjected to dissolution
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/02/church-at-3210-taylor-street-subjected.html

Sherman Alexie got in the news when allegations of harassment emerged
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/03/sherman-alexie-addresses-sexual.html
it was something that continued to be in news coverage through into March

https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/03/more-assorted-links-on-sherman-alexie.html

Justin Dean has done the rounds promoting his book in podcast interviews ...
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/03/justin-dean-in-interview-with-jon.html

in March 2018 I finally did a review of Justin Dean's book PR Matters
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/search/label/PR%20Matters


at the top of April 2018
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLiJsH4yuiI&feature=youtu.be

What's interesting, looking back on that video is what I noted on April 3, 2018
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/04/mark-and-grace-driscoll-discuss.html
...
update
4-4-2018
06.40pm

At about 923 views with seven upvotes and twenty-five downvotes it's not looking like the video from Charisma House is going viral.  

For those who may have watched the video and wondered what comments referencing Driscoll's comments about women as "penis homes" could be, go over here.

https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-raw-text-no-pun-intended-of-william.html

The text of a few pages of "Using Your Penis" by Mark Driscoll on the old Mars Hill php discussion forum known as Midrash went up July 29, 2014.  Also included was a screen cap of the html formatting for the initial conversations sparked by "Using Your Penis".

For a comparison of what Driscoll wrote in 2000 as William Wallace II in "Using Your Penis" to what he wrote and said later in contexts such as Real Marriage, go over here.

https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2014/08/real-marriage-in-january-2012-and.html

Except that comments are disabled and there are no up votes or down votes for the video by now


By the end of April 2018 I started but obviously have not managed to conintue blogging about Nikita Koshkin's 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/04/so-were-finally-blogging-through-nikita.html
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/search/label/Koshkin%2024%20preludes%20and%20fugues

May 2018
The merry month of May featured a 9 part overview of the history of Larry Osborne and Leadership Network's connections to Mark Driscoll.  One of the things that was not really examined in the wake of Mark Driscoll's resignation and the dissolution of Mars Hill was the nature of the star-making machinery that made a star of Mark Driscoll.  A great deal of the "lessons" shared by liberal and conservative Christian pundits and writers tended to focus on "lessons" that did not question the nature of the star-making machinery and processes but, rather, focused intensely on the perceived worthiness or unworthiness of particular stars. When someone has a connection to a guy like Mark Driscoll going back to at least 2006 it seems worthwhile to look at what can be known about someone who was at one Leadership Network.  It didn't just so happen that a video of an interview between Osborne and Driscoll had gone up and that information was sent along to Wenatchee The Hatchet so ...

part 1 Mark Driscoll recounting his Fall 2004 meeting with Larry Osborne at a Leadership Network event
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/05/a-larry-osborne-conversation-with-mark_31.html

part 2 The plan announced in 2006 for growth runs aground on city zoning, Driscoll and associates regroup by way of a controversial re-org that leads to terminations in 2007
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/05/a-larry-osborne-conversation-with-mark_47.html

part 3 Driscoll teaching that “I see things” in a post-2007 context in which he presented dissent or distrust of executive elders as a demonic lie
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/05/a-larry-osborne-conversation-with-mark_5.html

part 4 By 2012 Mark Driscoll began to share irreconcilable accounts of his personal history
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/05/a-larry-osborne-conversation-with-mark_54.html

part 5 A quick overview of 2012-2014 comments about and by the BoAA
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/05/a-larry-osborne-conversation-with-mark_12.html

part 6 Mark Driscoll’s resignation—the BoAA expresses surprise, and among the BoAA members was Larry Osborne
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/05/a-larry-osborne-conversation-with-mark_57.html

part 7 in the 2015-2017 post-resignation era new stories emerge about how and why Mark Driscoll resigned
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/05/a-larry-osborne-conversation-with-mark_41.html

part 8 Larry Osborne interviews Mark Driscoll in 2016 about his resignation and his account that 30 some former leaders weren’t willing to reconcile with him
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/05/a-larry-osborne-conversation-with-mark_20.html

part 9 some analysis and some questions.
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/05/a-larry-osborne-conversation-with-mark.html

June 2018
also reviewed Jessica Johnson's book Biblical Porn

https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/06/prelude-and-review-of-jessica-johnsons.html

wrote about Raymond Knapp's Making Light: Haydn, musical camp, and the long shadow of German idealism
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/06/raymond-knapps-making-light-haydn.html

someone wrote a piece of criticism about The Incredibles and The Incredibles 2
http://www.mbird.com/2018/06/the-real-battle-lines-in-the-incredibles-2/

July 2018
finally began to blog in some detail about John Borstlap's The Classical Revolution
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/07/john-borstlap-on-impossibility-of-pop.html
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/search/label/the%20classical%20revolution

at the end of July 2018 I wrote hat is one of my favorite posts of this blogging year
hegemony may be in the eye of the complainer--the Western art music canon or Anglo-American popular music can be the current hegemony depending on what you want to teach in a class vs what you see.
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/07/hegemony-as-point-of-view-western-art.html

I felt like I was finally able to articulate something I've seen in online statements and debates abot music education, music history and musicology in the last few years that's been bugging me.  I also managed to realize why it was bugging me. 


August 2018

assimilation of Redeemer PDX (formerly MH Portland) into Door of Hope made official
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/08/door-of-hope-churchredeemer-church.html

writing about John Borstlap's book continued, featuring a mid-length discussion of George Steiner's In Bluebird's Castle. 
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/08/george-steiners-in-bluebirds-castle.html

Borstlap left a comment with a link to some responses.  That begat a response where I explained that I don't see things the same way he does.  The gap between abstract precepts that classical music can't be revitalized by reference to popular styles or world music and the actual history of Ravel's use of jazz gestures makes it seem that Borstlap has been trying to lay down a prescriptive approach to classical music that is contradicted by the appeals he makes to composers he admires. 

Aretha Franklin passed this year ...
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/08/rip-aretha-franklin-some-brief-thoughts.html

what I wrote wouldn't do her musical legacy justice ... but I wanted to write something. 

August 2018 was also the same month George Walker died
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/08/george-walker-african-american-composer.html

I wound down August with a piece
Richard Wagner's Alberich (an incel), and the curse of the Rhinegold that ultimately dooms the world
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/08/richard-wagners-alberich-incel-and.html


September 2018

I composed a rebuttal to John Borstlap's comment that Charles Ives was an over-rated composer by cross referencing Kyle Gann's writing and Burkholder's writing on Charles ives to Borstlap's mention of Ruskin.
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/09/john-borstlap-on-why-he-thinks-charles.html

Brian Ferneyhough: No time (at all) for two guitars (with score)--on the use of extended techniques in guitar music in the European avant garde and American vernacular music decades earlier
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/09/brian-ferneyhough-no-time-at-all-for.html

October 2018
the post-Weinstein #MeToo era as a Donatist controversy for Western art religion
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-post-weinstein-metoo-era-as.html

an interview by The Morning Invasion with Mark Driscoll got cancelled because Driscoll's people said there were questions he wouldn't answer
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/10/an-interview-that-wasnt-morning.html

November 2018

guest piece at Mbird on the passing of Stan Lee and some thoughts on Spider-man
http://mbird.com/2018/11/stan-lee-generational-alienation-and-spider-man-an-aspiring-novelist-becomes-a-comics-legend/

on Scott Joplin's piano music being among the canonical piano music in the Dover edition of The Classical Revolution
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/11/on-scott-joplins-work-listed-in-piano.html

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Francis Poulenc - Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël--audio with score video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOVAJI7SLXE

as I noted a few days ago, I'm fond of choral music by the French composer Francis Poulenc.  This post features motets for Christmas. 

Arvo Part, Magnificat, video with audio and score

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4NY3iXMBTc

I don't have very many scores by Part (The Berliner Mass, which I regard as a musical jewel!)

but ... as music for this particular season goes ... Part's Magnificat seems more fitting since the Mass is more in season with Pentecost as I'm recalling it, plus I'm not sure if there's video of that just yet.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

links for the weekend, what's left of it: a "year of Zuckerberg", the end of The Weekly Standard, a piece from TWS on orchestras, the illegality of reselling digital music in US (for now?), and links on Bach as Lutheran and musical recycler

To read Brian Phillips at The Ringer, this could be thought of as the year of Facebook.  It's not so much that Facebook is necessarily different now, Phillips proposes that this year's revelations about what Facebook has done illuminates the way Facebook has corrupted the internet as we've known it.
It's an emotionally charged statement more than an argument, overall, but the proposal is that Zuckerberg's empire has corroded the internet in ways that are unique but also emblematic of corrosive trends on the internet in the last decade.

https://www.theringer.com/tech/2018/12/19/18148701/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-year-in-review

...
This is what I mean when I say that Mark Zuckerberg is a context. No one short of President Donald Trump did more to define the online experience in 2018. But 2018 wasn’t the year of Mark Zuckerberg because of the things he did in his office or the way he dodged questions when he testified in Congress. It was the year of Mark Zuckerberg because almost everyone I know who spends time on the internet feels as though they have lost something. It was the year of Mark Zuckerberg because people who were once thrilled by the internet now talk about it in a tone that combines gallows humor, weary resignation, and a kind of cynicism toward the possibility of mercy. It was the year of Mark Zuckerberg because people in their 20s have stopped being ironic when they talk about what they make as “content.” It was the year of Mark Zuckerberg because half the good writers I know are out of work. It was the year of Mark Zuckerberg because I can’t think about the love I feel for other people without wondering how it’s being used to sell me shaving cream. It was the year of Mark Zuckerberg because we don’t even talk about how absolutely, hideously sad all this is, since talking about it would mean questioning why we still spend so much time online, and, after all, we’re the people who live here. It was the year of Mark Zuckerberg because our jadedness toward the internet is really a form of grief.

...

I'm not sure that I feel jaded because I view social media platforms as advertising and propaganda tools.  Data mining is the aim, and targeted advertising is also the game.  If that involves ... sharing your direct message Facebook correspondence at some level with Netflix and Spotify ... well, that happened.

https://www.theverge.com/2018/12/18/18147616/facebook-user-data-giveaway-nyt-apple-amazon-spotify-netflix
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/dec/19/facebook-shared-user-data-private-messages-netflix-spotify-amazon-microsoft-sony

For ... reasons ... Franklin Foer eulogizes The Weekly Standard.

...
These days, I find myself subscribing to political magazines on the left because that’s where stylish political-opinion magazines seem to now emanate. There’s Current Affairs, with its foppish progressivism; the Menckenlike spirit of The Baffler; and the more refined cultural criticism of n+1. They are all beautifully produced and aspire to cohesion. Every time an issue arrives, there’s the possibility that an article might shove me from an ensconced position. There’s the exoticism of encountering new arguments, something fresh to turn over in the head. There’s the romantic possibility that in a grubby world driven by material interests and base prejudices, ideas might actually matter. It was a spirit I sometimes found in the Standard, which was never remotely woke but quite often full of life.


...

I read Current Affairs only intermittently; the Baffler more regularly and ... n+1 ... eh ...

but, anyway, Foer's piece eulogizing TWS feels like ... it reminds me of stuff I wrote about Frank Turk quitting blogging for some reason I can't put my finger on.

https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2017/01/frank-turk-at-pyromaniacs-on-calling-it.html

On the internet collective memory can be ferocious or inconsequential.  Something can vanish from the internet and then it's as if it never even existed at all and the only people who might remember it existed would be the author, any editors, and those who read whatever was once published.  I don't doubt more people will miss The Weekly Standard than will miss whatever Frank Turk blogged.  I've had people, in the wake of the Mars Hill dissolution, ask me irl if this blog was retired or somehow gone from the internet.  There's less than one percent of the readership for this blog that it had a mere four or five years ago.  Dust in the wind, dude ...

perhaps a way to demonstrate how and why Foer thought The Weekly Standard was ending on a high note could come by way of an article by Joseph Horowitz that discusses high culture.  The pun isn't intentional and it's as unfunny as puns tend to be, but so it happens at times.

https://www.weeklystandard.com/joseph-horowitz/going-high-culture

I have ... my doubts that the symphony and the orchestral tradition were ever civic bulwarks in the United States in the way they probably have been in Europe.  Terry Teachout has written that it may not be meaningful to speak of the "death of opera" in the United States because that could imply or assume that opera was ever vital in the United States as a tradition to begin with which Teachout has admitted he's not sure has ever been the case.


In Douglas Shadle's account of the American symphonic tradition Orchestrating the Nation, the history of the American symphony has been one in which symphonies are active playing German repertoire and American composers were active composing symphonies that were often enough well-received by audiences and given some mild consideration by critics and then swiftly ignored by critics and music historians. What Dvorak changed, he may have changed by proposing that a "real" form of American music could be based on the melodies and musical idioms of African Americans and Native Americans.  This was not received so well at the time ... and in our own age there might be a sumptuary prohibition against cultural appropriation at an academic and critical level.

It may not be entirely as Horowitz described, that the American symphonic tradition disappointed audiences ... but if we cross reference that description to Shadle's account of how music journalist and music teachers managed to discretely drop decades of American symphonic music down some not-German memory hole ... it's possible to suggest the symphony has never quite "made it" in traditional concert contexts.  And yet ... how many Americans can sing tunes from the Star Wars soundtracks? There is, I would suggest, a greatness in American symphonic music that has been hiding in plain sight through film music (once we stop insisting on an iron-fisted devotion to "argument"), and that there's symphonic music of beauty and value in the American tradition if we go out actually looking for it.

But ... and here's the part where I reiterate my being a guitarist, it may be possible that the greatest American contributions to what we could call the world of music have been for the guitar, certainly at a popular level ... .

Not that I'm anti-symphony and Horowitz has been interesting to read for what he's had to say about Ives and Gershwin and a variety of American composers.  I have admitted to being skeptical about how robust the American symphonic presence has really been in the last two centuries but it's not because I don't love or appreciate symphonic music.  I used to go to the symphony steadily when I was a bit more liquid.  I was happy to hear the Samuel Jones Tuba Concerto when it got its premiere here in Seattle.  Matanya Ophee's "Repertoire Issues" was a lecture about just how thoroughly marginal the guitar is to the rest of concert music life in the "classical sense"; I believe guitarists should take some effort to familiarize themselves with non-guitar literature.  If you know the Poulenic Sarabande  but have not heard his gorgeous choral music ,please, go fix that problem as soon as you can!  I can help out, actually ...

Quatre Motets pour un temps de pénitence springs to mind. I've had a fondness for "Vinea mea electa" ever since I sang it in choir at college.  Not that the motet is quite ... proper for the season but I'll have to go find his Christmas motets and share those some time very soon.  I've loved a bit of French choral music from the 20th century, Messiaen, Poulenc, Durufle most specifically.  It would not surprise me if in the future with the future of arts funding still in question if Americans might find there's more musical activity going on in songs (duh!), choral music, and guitar music than the more traditionally considered symphonic route.  Ophee used to quip that guitarists who said that the guitar is a miniature orchestra rarely ever had the ability to conduct but maybe we can playfully suggest that conducting isn't the only way to have an ensemble conception of musical life.  Singing in a choir will surely acclimate you to thinking of a musical work in holistic terms as a matter of literal practice!   I'm not trying to rain on the parade of advocates for symphonic music but here in the early 21st century I really do wonder whether the age of the symphony hasn't been giving way to an era of song and an era full of other instruments of the sort that 19th century and early 20th century pedagogy tended to ignore.  

In another variation on "digital content is a license to use, not in any way necessarily a right to the information as such", Slate has a piece about an appeals court decision about a music enterprise that was reselling digital media, which the court ruled was illegal.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit says that if you buy a digital copy of music you don't buy with that a right to resell that would accrue if you were buying a physical copy of an album by way of CD, cassette or vinyl.


Ever bought a song or an album on iTunes and, after a while, decided you didn’t like it? Did you wish you could sell it somewhere, to someone, for something, the way you might have done with an old vinyl record or CD? In 2011, a company called ReDigi figured out a novel way for iTunes music purchasers to do just that. But for the past few years, it’s been tangled up in litigation. In what may prove to be ReDigi’s death knell, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit has all but shut the business down.

Here’s how ReDigi’s resale market worked. Using ReDigi’s Music Manager software, consumers would upload unwanted songs to ReDigi’s Cloud Locker. Music Manager made sure that the iTunes songs being uploaded were lawfully purchased in the first place. It also uploaded the songs in small packets—little segments of computer files that are individually useless but that can be aggregated to make a complete music file. As a packet was uploaded to ReDigi, the same packet was deleted on the music owner’s computer. This process ensured that the complete song never existed in two places at the same time. It also ensured that the music owner didn’t retain on her computer a copy of the song she was selling. Once ReDigi had the song on its cloud server, it resold the music to a new owner. The proceeds of the sale got split between ReDigi, in the form of a transaction fee, and the original owner, in the form of credits used to purchase other music.

Sounds pretty great, right? Users got to sell used digital copies of music the same way they used to sell used albums and CDs. (Bonus: no warped albums or scratched CDs!) New music gets purchased by people who want it. And record companies had some assurance, because of the Music Manager software, that owners weren’t retaining bootleg copies of songs.

If only it were that simple. In 2012, Capitol Records sued ReDigi, claiming that just because a music seller got rid of all the copies of a song on her computer didn’t mean that she didn’t have an undisclosed bootleg copy on some other device not registered with ReDigi through Music Manager. In 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled against ReDigi and basically said that its business model is illegal. ReDigi appealed but lost this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

The problem for ReDigi is in applying what’s called the first-sale doctrine. The first-sale doctrine says, essentially, that once a lawful purchaser buys a “particular copy or phonorecord” (i.e., the digital recording) of a song, she has the right to “sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord.” According to the 2nd Circuit, though, “that copy or phonorecord” means just what it says—that specific copy. It doesn’t mean the copy that ReDigi makes when it uploads the song from a user’s computer or phone. That the uploaded copy and the now-deleted copy on the user’s machine are, in every respect, identical, just means that the former is a really good copy of the original. It doesn’t mean the new phonorecord on ReDigi’s server is the “particular phonocopy” that the original owner bought from iTunes. (As an aside, “phonorecord” sounds like it was made up by someone who thinks the internet is a “series of tubes,” right?)

So if a user has the right to sell her copy of her phonorecord of, say, “House of the Rising Sun,” but can’t upload it to ReDigi to sell it, how useful is that right? The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit says that there is a solution to this problem. Instead of efficiently uploading her copy to ReDigi, she should just plan more carefully when she buys that sad song of debauchery, loss, and sin. First, she could save her new purchase to a cheap thumb drive with a bunch of other songs and create just that one copy of the song. Second, when she wanted to sell that mournful, tragic phonorecord, she could just mail the whole thumb drive to ReDigi. In this way, the purchaser avoids making any new, illegal phonorecords.

Since the right to resell physical media has not been ruled as equivalent to the right to upload information, if we have to insist on calling it that, the point is moot.

But perhaps we can play a game here.  If it seems alright for an individual to take an album obtained by a transaction, load it up to a platform and then sell the digital content .. what are the things that make this difference from entities like Facebook giving away personal information?  There are, absolutely, differences, but what is interesting about a platform like Slate is that writers can argue implicitly and explicitly that a court ruling that rejects the idea that the right of first sale applies only to physical media where the data of music and media sale is concerned, has seemed aghast about stuff like Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.  I am being a bit of a punk here, but I am not sure that the crises of media use and construed rights of resale are "entirely" separable.

HT Bryan Townshend at The Music Salon blog for this one,  J. S. Bach is one of those composers where there's been an insistence on the part of some musicologists and music historians that Christian beliefs were not the most primary motive for how and why Bach composed as he did.  That idea seems pretty ridiculous to anyone with even a modicum of familiarity of how much choral music Bach composed and the kinds of musical symbolic codes he worked into his works.  In the last twenty to thirty years there's been some work done to move away from that ... let's just call it a kind of positivist mythology about the not-so-Lutheran-Bach.

So here's a piece from the NYT about Bach, the Brandenburg Concertos and how even his instrumental works, which some musicologists have suggested are "secular", would not necessarily have been construed as "secular" music in Bach's era in the way we might understand the term "secular".

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/20/arts/music/bach-brandenburg-concertos.html

If you're of a TL:DR to the point where you don't even click on links, the case is that even in Bach's instrumental works they can be thought of as church cantatas when you understand which hymns with which traditionally associated texts are played with in instrumental contexts.

Bach also made a point of using existing tunes and was a prodigious self-recycler when it seemed appropriate.  Recycling musical ideas is something composers have been doing for aeons. Bach recycled and recomposed materials but Haydn also did it, too, though on the weekend I admit I'm not going to just roll out examples ... besides ... this is a links for the weekend moment.  Why should I try to do myself what other writers have done?

One of the points I've hammered away at in the last few years is proposing that the Romantic era introduced a series of cultural shifts in what we think of as classical music that were discontinuous with musical traditions in Western music prior to that point.  Prior to Beethoven and subsequent mythologizing of Beethoven and other similar composers, composers might copiously copy existing works or derive inspiration from stock bass lines and chord progressions; Manfred Bukofzer wrote a monograph on Baroque music mentioning how fused improvisation over formulaic riffs and known tunes was part and parcel of compositional theory and practice.  To translate it a bit, sampling and recontextualizing known musical materials was commonplace in the 16th through 18th centuries in "classical music".  It was as the Romantic ideals of the genius began to take shape that it began to be thought of as bad to compose new works on ideas that you didn't come up with yourself or somehow make your own.  George Stauffer puts it in the following way:

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/12/20/bach-master-recycler/
...
From the St. Mark Passion onward, Bach relied almost exclusively on existing compositions to produce large-scale vocal works. The Christmas Oratorio of 1734–1735, the Easter and Ascension Oratorios of 1735, the Four Short Masses of the late 1730s, and the Mass in B Minor of 1748–1749 are compilations of reused material. Recycling crept into other areas of his composition as well. Bach returned to the Cöthen violin and oboe concertos and reworked them again, this time creating harpsichord concertos for his collegium musicum ensemble; he revised and expanded miscellaneous preludes and miscellaneous fugues to produce new prelude-fugue pairs for The Well-Tempered Clavier, volume 2; and he transformed a series of instrumental trios into organ music to gain additional movements for the Six Sonatas, to cite but three examples. Bach the composer was rapidly becoming Bach the recycler.
...
When Bach’s heavy reliance on parody technique came to light in the nineteenth century, scholars found it embarrassing. It ran counter to the Beethovenian principle that composers must write new, highly original pieces, and the realization that several of the St. Thomas Cantor’s most-revered sacred works—the Christmas Oratorio and the Mass in B-Minor, in particular—were derived largely from secular tributes to earthly kings and queens was difficult to accept. In more recent times, scholars have moved beyond those prejudices and embraced Bach’s use of parody, devoting much study to the brilliant ways in which he carried it out. But large questions remain: How did Bach work with his librettists? Did he compose certain secular cantatas with parody potential in mind? And most significantly: As Bach grew older, did he find it more and more difficult to write original music?
...

Later in the article there's an interesting summation of Daniel Melamed's proposal on what the "musical topic" of the Mass in B minor is:
...
Melamed’s discussion of the “musical topic” of the Mass in B Minor is possibly the most enlightening section of the book. He begins by posing the question: “So what were eighteenth-century pieces about, if anything?” The Latin text of the Roman Catholic Mass Ordinary was set over and over again by hundreds of composers, often in a routine, mechanical way. Such settings were not intended to make an individual statement—they were written to get through the Mass text. So what makes Bach’s setting different? What is the Mass in B Minor about?
To Melamed, it is about Bach’s desire to reconcile old and modern musical styles. Old style, or stile antico, meant the a cappella writing of the Renaissance motet, with its slow-moving, mostly stepwise themes and imitative textures. It was emotionally neutral and best represented by the serene vocal polyphony of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (whose music Bach performed in Leipzig in his later years). Instruments had no independent role in old style: at most, they doubled the voice parts. The new, or modern, style, stile moderno, meant opera and instrumental writing of the eighteenth century, with its animated, emotional themes and ensemble textures. It was highly expressive and best represented by the music of Vivaldi, Handel, Bach, and their contemporaries. [emphasis added]
In the Mass in B Minor, the vast majority of movements are set in modern style, including bright “trumpets and drums” choruses such as “Gloria in excelsis Deo” and “Et resurrexit.” In modern movements, instruments set the tone, and in arias, which are by definition modern style, the solo vocal parts often sound as if they were written for violin, flute, or oboe (Melamed points to the “Laudamus te” as a typical example). But in a number of special movements, most notably “Kyrie eleison” II and “Confiteor,” Bach cast the music in old style (albeit with a Baroque-style walking bass under the vocal fabric in the latter).
...
I've been making a case that a way to understand Bach is as a composer who developed a fusion of a variety of styles.  This is an observation that goes back generations but it's relevance in our own time is one that I want to put some emphasis on.  We live in an era in which a plethora of forms and styles exist and partisans for one or another of so many styles often focus on the purity of a style over against intermixture.  I've written in the past about how Richard Taruskin has claimed there is a Bach for the right and a Bach for the left, a relatively pedestrian observation but one that can be a springboard for what I consider the more interesting angle on this kind of observation--there can be a J. S. Bach for what I call stratifiers or can be known as purists, and a J. S. Bach for fusionists, composers and musicians who can see and hear in Bach's work a fusion of a variety of styles and forms.  I was thinking about this sort of thing before I ever came across Ethan Hein's blog but he wrote something interesting that has stuck with me.  I browsed a bit in his blog after he got in the sights of Norman Lebrecht and others at Slipped Disc.

http://www.ethanhein.com/wp/2010/bach-to-the-future/

I’m not a big classical music guy for the most part, but I never get tired of Bach.


This stodgy eighteenth century Lutheran doesn’t seem a likely inspiration for a hipster electronica producer like me. There aren’t too many other wearers of powdered wigs in my record collection, and Bach is the only one in the regular rotation. Why? When I studied jazz guitar I was encouraged to learn some Bach violin and cello music. I learned a lot about music theory that way but I had a surprising amount of fun too. Those pieces are complex and technical, but they’re easy to memorize – it’s one catchy hook after another after another.
Why is Bach’s music so much cooler than anything else of his time and place? There are plenty of beautiful melodies and interesting thematic developments in other Baroque music, but they’re usually buried under tweedly curlicues. I get exhausted from all the jumping up and down between adjacent scale tones.
You never get the sense that Bach is just throwing notes at you to fill the space between ideas. This spare, economic quality shows most clearly in his solo instrument stuff. The single lines spell out both the melodies and the chord progressions clearly, using the spaces between the melody notes to deploy fragments of basslines or arpeggios. Bach gives your imagination just enough data to easily fill in the rest. Leaving notes out is a great way to draw in the listener. It invites us to participate in our heads.
...
I am a guitarist who loves the music of Bach and it's interesting to me that people who have said they don't tend to be into classical music can find things to appreciate about Bach.  I would suggest that if classical music fans tend to think of their favorite music as having "argument" and fans of popular styles want a groove, that J. S. Bach's music is a touchstone in the Western musical tradition because it, more than so many other bodies of music, has this mysterious but finely balanced fusion of "argument" (what Bach does with musical gestures at a formal and developmental level) and "groove" (an apotheosis of musical styles that can be traced to the dance music idioms of his time and place).

Bach was a master of implying harmonies and gestures without actually writing them out.  There's a lot that goes on in the violin partitas and fugues (I've been listening to Hilary Hahn's recordings of them)--Bach mastered composing music in which a mere two or three notes or even just a single succession of linear movements in a melody on the violin imply a wealth of harmony that some Romantic era arrangers felt some need to add.  Or sometimes they felt that, say, the prelude in C major from Book 1 of the Well Tempered Clavier needed an "official" tune and added one that Bach so reason to have.  That even Bach's instrumental music can have a concentration of expressive thought that can be found in, see above, his cantatas, helps set Bach's work apart from music in the broadly "long 19th century" idioms of instrumental music.

Back in the Renaissance and Baroque era, and even into the Classic period, you'll be able to hear a lot of music where idioms are transferrable.  Violin parts can be written to mimic vocal lines and vocal lines can mimic trumpet lines and continuo writing could leave room open for filling in chords underneath a prescribed melody and a figured bass line.  As we've moved closer to our time what has begun to happen is music has gotten ontologically thicker, to borrow a term coined by Theodore Gracyk attempting to describe the difference between classical music and popular music and, more pointedly, between music conveyed by the page compared to music created in electronic recording processes.  Music has gotten ontologically "thicker" as recording conventions and expectations have shaped how we hear music and use technology as an aid in compositional processes and thought patterns.

Music in the Baroque was considerably more "ontologically thin"; Bach didn't specify instrumental for Art of Fugue, as I recall.  He also translated and revised works from one set of instrumental/vocal possibilities to another.  A way to translate what Bach did into more contemporary jargon would be to say that Bach was steadily sampling available music and revising and re-sampling his own work and work that was part of the church traditions he worked within.  Because the ideological expectations of the stand-alone super-genius had not emerged in the later 18th century and 19th century when Bach was around, he could do all sorts of things that didn't fit the expectations of a later age.  I adore the music of J. S. Bach and Haydn and as I get older it's struck me that I love a lot of German language music by Austrian and German composers who were working before an ideological program was developed that was self-consciously German.

It's also interesting to me as I get all middle-aged to think about something else, that I find that as self-consciously German music tends to leave me a bit indifferent, self-consciously American music that makes a bid at Americanness leaves me bored.  I adore the music of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk but I don't know that I'd say they set out to be "American" TM in the way that Aaron Copland or Leonard Bernstein did and, honestly, I've got no real use for either them even if I thought Chittchester Psalms was a blast to sing and Bernstein's most inspired work.  If as the television proverb has it you never win the Emmy by going for the Emmy, it might be that aiming to be "the" musical voice of a nationalist experience may keep you from attaining that.

I mention that partly because I love Bach and Hein's comments about Bach have had an interesting overlap with some thoughts I've been having over the years.  I mention this also because I'm reading a very dense monograph by Nicholas Cook on Heinrich Schenker in which he is building a complex but interesting case that Schenkerian ideals about music and about what constitutes rule Germanness in music can be seen as a reaction on the part of Schenker (an assimilated Galician Jew) to the anti-Semitism of Vienna shifting from cultural to explicitly biological-racial anti-Semitism.

Schenker's opposition to Wagner is known, but Cook makes a case that what Schenker was working to accomplish in his polemics was to define what was "real" German music in a way that inverted the ideological positions staked out by Richard Wagner in his notorious anti-Semitic rants; to argue that it was the "new German" composers who were obsessed with shallow and cosmetic surface effects and not on the underlying substance of the pre-German nationalist musical works of masters like Bach or Haydn or Beethoven or Mozart.  Cook has a case that Schenker's moving the boundaries of the greatest German music to a canon that stopped before Wagnerian and post-Wagnerian anti-Semitic trends developed is an interesting case.  I'll admit I'm not sure I'm in a position to either confirm or deny the scope of the project as Cook presents it--but Cook seems to be building toward a case that Schenker's American disciples brought only part of his ideas to American music education and failed to anchor Schenker's ultra-conservative stances in the context of Schenker's Jewish background in a virulently anti-Semitic culture.  Schenker was, in a paradoxical way, presented by Nicholas Cook as developing his tendentious and polemical project as a way to save German music from the Germans who were embracing increasingly racist and biologically determinist conceptions of who could write "German" music.

That Bach is widely considered anti-Semitic is still a controversial point ... but this might be an occasion to consider whether we want to forget that history is full of people who can be admirable and heroic in one realm while disturbing or even terrible in another.  I think we can make a case that for our time and place there are legions of benefits to emulating what I would describe as J. S. Bach's fusionist interests while we can consider how he regarded Jews and Judaism as something to keep at a critical distance.  There's no doubt that a generation of three from now what seems just and normal to us may seem appallingly evil to those who live in a future century.

I'm probably going to have to write about Nicholas Cook's The Schenker Project once I've finally finished it but, I tell you, it's a dense read!

Finally ... since we haven't linked to Orthocuban in a while and he saw fit to write about the different understandings Christians have traditionally had about the stepfather of Jesus, here's a succinct overview of four different ways of considering Joseph in Christian traditions.

https://www.orthocuban.com/2018/12/about-st-joseph-the-stepfather-of-jesus/


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

the point and counterpoint about the risks the liberal arts face in the US and the question of whether, say, an MFA isn't a big scam continues to percolate

In a lot of ways worries in the current administration that the liberal arts may not survive the tech era seem pedestrian, even if there have been real reasons to be concerned how well arts funding may go in the United States. 

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/12/the-liberal-arts-may-not-survive-the-21st-century/577876/

Yet it can seem that for any concern about the future of liberal arts educations in high education as questions about testing and class and austerities go, there can reliably be a question as to whether or not the higher education in liberal arts isn't itself part of the problem.  In some cases there can be polemics to the effect that the master in fine arts has become, basically, a giant scam. Thus Charlie Tyson writes:

https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-expensive-superficiality/245260

...
One of the glorious features of contemporary art is that any material — tangled museum ropes, used lipstick tubes, untreated lumber — can be made interesting with the aid of a canny framing. (One student brings in a basket of bread for participants in his critique; the program director hastens to explain that the bread is not part of the work.) The ability to position one’s efforts as protest or satire, experiment or dream, is more than glib posturing. What the ritual of critique tests, however, is command of a particular vocabulary, one that emphasizes transgression, resistance, and rupture. An irony is that this insistence on verbal virtuosity privileges certain educational and class backgrounds.
In today’s M.F.A. programs, Fine concludes, "learning to think takes priority over learning to make." But do M.F.A. students learn to think well? Art schools require students to justify and explain their art in highly theoretical terms, but give them no adequate instruction in philosophy, literature, or any other discursive field that prizes subtle distinctions or analytical clarity. M.F.A. candidates are assigned books by Fredric Jameson, Jacques Rancière, Alain Badiou, and other prophets bellowing down from the cliffs of high theory. But the students seldom do more than skim the reading, Fine reports, so as to reserve the bulk of their time for work in the studio. Seminar discussions of these complicated theoretical texts — led, typically, by professional artists, not art historians, literary theorists, or philosophers — do little to explicate the ideas. Students are encouraged to invoke theory, Fine suggests, as a way of claiming authority. The actual texts often remain unread.
The problem, as I see it, isn’t that M.F.A. students are being educated in what is sometimes dismissively called "bad philosophy." We can, and should, argue about the merits of the various theorists in the art-school canon, and about how much theory artists need in the first place. The problem is that this education in theory, supposedly central, is superficial: The thinkers are too often reduced to slogans or catchwords. (Scholars in the humanities are not immune to this kind of posturing, but judging from Fine’s account, it seems rarer there.) That we get artist statements quoted here that begin, "I question modernity, while constantly interrogating Cartesian duality …" — blind lumbering in the dark plains of philosophy — results not from student incompetence but from misplaced expectations.
...
The single most significant effect of the proliferation of M.F.A. programs, Fine surmises shrewdly, is as a benefit not to students but to their teachers. Art schools have created a job market for working artists, granting badly needed stability to practitioners. The M.F.A. is a place where the specialized tastes of the art world are promulgated and where ascendant artists claim time to experiment. But it is, above all, a patronage system.
...

Tom Wolfe wrote near the end of The Painted Word that by the 1970s art theory had ascended far up its own fundamental aperture and came whisking down, as if from the heavens, as pure theory, literature.  One of his insults of the way art education had developed within the United States was with the mock axiom that if he didn't have a theory of seeing he couldn't even see a painting.  The irony was not even implicit, Wolfe spelled it out in page after page, that a great deal of what passed for compelling modern art was less about the art itself than about the literary theorizing and philosophy with which the art object was presented as an art object, the proverbial as well as more literal framing contexts within which the art object could even be perceived to be an art object.

Which could be put another way, that the literary processes of branding can take precedence over the art work itself being explicable as a work in visual media. 

Now I love theoretical stuff.  I sincerely love theoretical and analytical studies, particularly in music.  So I'm working on refining a piece I wrote last year about the possibility of temporal/spatial correspondence between the syntactics of ragtime and sonata form because I realize I should include musical quotations from the works I've referenced which I hope to do with some help from IMSLP.  I can "tell" you that James Scott recapitulates B strains in some of his work but I should really show you how he does that, or that a recapitulation of a B strain as a conclusion to a ragtime can also happen in something like "Grizzly Bear Rag".  I hope to tackle that some time in the next few weeks if I don't end up waiting to do that until 2019. 

But I hope you can pick up that working toward a conceptual or theoretical foundation from which to write sonatas in ragtime, one of the immensely popular styles of music in the United States in the 1890s through 1920s, is not "just" a theoretical enterprise.   What I sense has been a problem perceived on either side of the academic and commercial art scenes is that each of these scenes in the United States in particular, has seemed to become, in the eyes and ears of many people, far too insular and self-referential.

In a way there's not a lot that can be done to remedy that ... but in another way there's a lot you could do to remedy that if people were willing to restore some kind of synergistic relationship between academic and popular art forms.  It's been happening for generations.  Guitarists could turn to Villa-Lobos and Leo Brouer as exemplars of such a high/low fusion in classical guitar music.  But I don't want to belabor that point with too many historical instances.  Ideally you can already think of any number of such instances yourself.

It's not that the idea behind an MFA has to be a bad thing ... it's that it seems there are people who are regarding the contemporary American MFA as having picked up a lot of bad elements. 


Monday, December 17, 2018

over at OldLife D. G. Hart muses upon something Kevin DeYoung wrote that gets me wondering about something else


 

 Chortles Weakly tweeted a link to an old (2014) article by Kevin DeYoung and Ryan Kelly about denominations and parachurch organizations. One paragraph stood out:
The ministries of T4G and TGC are distinct and prominent on the landscape of American evangelicalism, but they are not novel or unique. Other ministries share many of the same aims and inhabit the same theological universe of evangelical Calvinism. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), founded by the late James Montgomery Boice in 1994, is something of a forerunner to today’s most popular partnerships. This multi-dimensional networking and resourcing ministry is similar in many respects to TGC. Several church-planting networks also contribute to the scene, including Acts 29 (now led by Matt Chandler) and Redeemer City to City (under Tim Keller). While some such church-planting networks function as something closer to denominations, with pastoral training and a vetting process, they nevertheless together represent this growth of intentional collegiality that is not merely denominational.
Notice that one parachurch organization is insufficient for all the interested parties. TGC wants unity. Its members want to be the voice of broadly Reformed evangelicalism: 
...
And yet, we’re supposed to look to these gents for wisdom?

I keep thinking of that rave review Kevin DeYoung had for the Doug Wilson and Randy Booth book called A Justice Primer, retracted after the first edition was found to be brimming with plagiarism, now republished in a second edition as of August 2018.  I plan to get around to reading the book once a suitably second-hand copy is at hand. For those who don't remember the review, it's brief.

...
Douglas Wilson and Randy BoothA Justice Primer (Canon Press, 2015). I thought this was a book on social justice, economics, and big picture politics. It’s actually a book about how the Bible would have us judge each other (or not) in the mad, mad world of blog warriors and internet vigilantes. This book is full of refreshing wisdom. I hope it reaches a wide audience. And if you already know that Doug Wilson is a good-for-nothing scoundrel (and I don’t know him personally and do strongly disagree with him at times), then that’s an indication that you really need this book. [UPDATE: It seems that portions of the book were plagiarized, which, while not changing the nature of the content, cannot help but affect one’s opinion of the book. I hope Wilson and Booth will respond to the evidence presented in the link above. NEXT UPDATE: The book has been discontinued by Canon Press because of “negligence and gross incompetence” resulting in plagiarism and improper citation.]

...

since this blog somehow got a reputation for being a watchblog on the subject of Mars Hill it's only natural I might be curious to eventually find out what Wilson and Booth might have to say about blog warriors (of which Wilson himself is a particularly determined exemplar).  But when I was about to get a copy of the first edition, poof, it was gone ... like the Joker's pencil in The Dark Knight

But now it's back, in a second edition.  Is the book still awesome or has DeYoung forgotten about it? 

So when Hart closes his post with, "And yet, we’re supposed to look to these gents for wisdom?" there's more than just the spread-too-thin issue to consider by now. If TGC contributors can rave about a book that turns out to have been full of plagiarism rather than, oh, being the kinds of readers and scholars who could have spotted the plagiarism and noted it in a review when they first had a chance to review it ... should we take these guys seriously as knowing how best to advice us about things related to church stuff?  It would seem increasingly the answer to that question or set of questions is very likely "no".  


HT Phoenix Preacher, Nadia Bolz-Weber says it's okay to look at porn if it's ethically sourced ... a reminder that affirming the legitimacy of Christian pornography was something Mark Driscoll mentioned as William Wallace II back in 2000

If the mantle of hipster cussing pastor who has edgy things to say about sexuality has been passed from Mark Driscoll to another, the mantle may have passed on to Nadia Bolz-Weber.

But somewhere maybe William Wallace II realizes his shtick has been appropriated by an ELCA pastrix ...

https://phoenixpreacher.com/linkathon-218/

https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/lutheran-pastor-its-okay-to-look-at-porn-especially-if-its-ethically-source?fbclid=IwAR2hS0AUrFqGnVqT6nkdX3OA51aD5qI2BvyOqUpH4IuLi7CxcTDK3kjJPtk

https://relevantmagazine.com/culture/pastor-nadia-bolz-weber-wants-to-remove-shame-from-the-porn-industry/

In a recent interview with a New Jersey-based publication, pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber says her new book—Shameless: A Sexual Reformation—touches on the issue of sexual ethics and the church.
Bolz-Weber argued we shouldn’t shame those who consume pornography if, and only if, the pornography is “ethically sourced.”
...
I wonder if Bolz-Weber understands that this gimmick might be at least twenty years old as a core idea and that it is at least eighteen years old by now in terms of being published on the internet by a pastor.  
Who else among the cadre of cussing pastors who are hip and real have broached the topic of how pornography can be done in a Christian way?

Ah, that's right, Mark Driscoll, when he wrote as William Wallace II and published a post called "Using Your Penis"

We've published this before here at Wenatchee The Hatchet but let's revisit a somewhat lengthy stretch of it just so people can see for themselves.  A few salient passages will be highlighted in red.

http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-raw-text-no-pun-intended-of-william.html

Author  Topic:   Using your penis  
William Wallace II
Member   posted 01-08-2001 10:59 PM              
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The first thing to know about your penis is, that despite the way it may seem, it is not your penis. Ultimately, God created you and it is His penis. You are simply borrowing it for a while. 

While His penis is on loan you must admit that it is sort of just hanging out there very lonely as if it needed a home, sort of like a man wandering the streets looking for a house to live in. Knowing that His penis would need a home, God created a woman to be your wife and when you marry her and look down you will notice that your wife is shaped differently than you and makes a very nice home. 
Therefore, if you are single you must remember that your penis is homeless and needs a home. But, though you may believe your hand is shaped like a home, it is not. And, though women other than your wife may look like a home, to rest there would be breaking into another mans home. And, if you look at a man it is quite obvious that what a homeless man does not need is another man without a home. Paul tells us that your penis actually belongs to your wife, and once you are married she will trade you it for her home (I Corinthians 7:4), and every man knows this is a very good trade for him to make. 

With his penis, the man is supposed to please his wife and learn how to be patient, self-controlled and be educated on how to keep his home happy and joyous (I Corinthians 7:3). The man should be aroused by his new home, and his wife should rejoice at seeing his penis rise to greet her (Song of Songs 5:14b). 

[This message has been edited by William Wallace II (edited 01-08-2001).]
IP: Logged

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William Wallace II
Member   posted 01-18-2001 11:13 AM              
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Christian pornography. Christian phone sex. Christian cyber-sex. Christian lap dances. 
Someone recently asked me about these issues. And, they are quite valid. 


The problem with many unfaithful unmanly unmen is that they have heads filled with desires and dreams, but they marry a Christian women raised on a steady diet of gnosticism (so she hates her body) psychology (so she thinks too much before she climbs into bed) and guilt ridden don't have sex because it's a dirty nasty thing that God hates and makes you a slut youth group propaganda from hell/Family Books. 

So the poor guy is like a starving man who is told he can only eat once ever couple weeks and his restaurant only has one crummy unspiced bland item on the menu and he either eats it or starves to death. 

Bummer for that guy. 

What the guy wants is to see a stripper, a porno, and have some phone and cyber sex. What the guy needs is a good Christian woman. The kind of woman who knows that men like unclothed and sexually aggressive women. Why? Because they are breathing. As long as a man is alive he is ready for sex every minute of every day. 

Ladies, listen closely. The guy will never get the big dreams out of his head. He can either explore them with his wife, become bitter and sexually repressed, or sneak off to Deja Vu or log on to the net and escape in a moment of adventure. Birds fly, ducks float, dogs bark, and men think about sex every minute of every day because they have a magical ability to continually think of two things at one time, one of which is always sex. Any man who denies this is a liar or has broken plumbing.


So it would behoove a good godly woman to learn how to strip for her husband.
Some nice music, a couple of drinks, candlight and a wife who has thrown her youth group devotionals to the wind would be nice. Most women do not do this because they are uncomfortable with their bodies. Know that for a man there are two variables with a woman's body. One, what does she have to work with? Two, how does she use it? Now I will tell you a secret, number two is the most important. 

How about a Christian guy who wants to watch porno? Maybe his wife should get a Polaroid and snap a few shots of her in various states of marital undress and bliss and sneak them into his Bible so that when the guy sits down to eat his lunch at work and read some Scripture he has reasons to praise God. Or, maybe if the lady would plug in a camcorder and secretly film herself showering, undressing, making love to her husband etc. she could give it to him when he's on the road for weeks at a time, or maybe just so the poor guy can see his wife as some undressed passionate goddess. I have yet to find a wife take me up on this be rebuked by her husband. 

And what guy breaking his stones on the job every day wouldn't like a hot phone call from his wife now and then telling him in great detail what awaits him when he gets home. Or how about the occasional instant explicit message from his wife rolling across his screen giving him some reasons to expect that dessert will precede dinner that night. 

Do you know why the adult entertainment industry is raking in billions of dollars? Because people like to have sex and have fun. Does it lead to sin? Yes. Can it lead to worship. Of course. If you resist this message, please stay single until you get your head straightened out. If you are married and fully constipated, bummer for you and your upcoming divorce. 

***

If all of that quoted above was not Mark Driscoll's way of saying that ethically sourced porn was something Christians could legitimately enjoy within monogamous marriage, well, I don't know what else it could have been saying.

If Mark Driscoll, as William Wallace II, extolled the possibility of "Christian pornography" as being legitimate between husband and wife then whatever train Nadia Bolz-Weber thinks she may have boarded with her forthcoming book is a train that Mark Driscoll boarded back in 2000 as William Wallace II.  He first preached through Song of Songs back in 1998. Some twenty years ago there was that Mother Jones article wherein Driscoll said ...

https://www.motherjones.com/politics/1998/07/generation/

“There are gays all over our church and I don’t need to yell at them like the religious right,” Driscoll says. “You can be a gay or punk and we’ll treat you like everybody else. Even if you never become a Christian, we’re still friends.” 
 
Mars Hill is all about acceptance. Compared to the religious right’s favorite son Ralph Reed, a vision of fundamentalist zeal in a blue suit, Driscoll seems downright countercultural. He’s unabashed about using the pulpit to discuss sex. “I speak very frankly about the reasons God made our bodies to experience orgasm, the Bible’s approval of oral sex between a husband and wife,” he says. “Once you’re married and as long as you remain monogamous, God tells his children to be unblushingly erotic and passionate.” 

He offers classes at church on topics such as “evangelical feminism” (“the Bible is clear that men and women are both created by God in His image and likeness and totally equal in every way,” he says) and disavows any link with conservative politics. “I used to think it was part of Christianity to be conservative,” he says. “I was further right than Falwell and Limbaugh.” Now he says he doesn’t even vote. What changed? “It got boring,” he says with a shrug. “And I realized that politics didn’t change anything, that in the meantime, people were still starving.”  [emphases added]

So if Bolz-Weber might really believe she's bringing something new to the pop Christian publishing table here's a news flash, Mark Driscoll was going that direction twenty years ago.  If even William Wallace II, better known as Mark Driscoll, could produce a litany of pornography that he considered, in Bolz-Weber's taxonomy, "ethically sourced" it may just be that there's absolutely nothing about Bolz-Weber's idea at a practical level that wasn't articulated by ... Mark Driscoll, two decades ago.

Sure, it's likely Bolz-Weber is aiming to endorse as okay a variety of things that Mark Driscoll would consider sinful but the core gimmick of saying that the right kind of porn is the right kind of thing for Christians to consume can't be one of those things.  Mark Driscoll, as we've quoted at moderate length from his William Wallace II days, was praising the legitimacy of Christians enjoying what Bolz-Weber might call ethically sourced pornography back in 2000.

There is nothing new under the sun ... apparently least of all at the pop Christian publishing industry ...
POSTSCRIPT
12-19-2018
10:53pm

Having seen a response over at Phoenix Preacher regarding what Driscoll advocated, a bit of clarification.  The point I've considered at the post is not whether Driscoll and Nadia Bolz-Weber would agree on homosexuality or pornography use, the point I've proposed is that these are two celebrities who are using a cheap gimmick to sell books that never needed to be written and published in the first place and have assimilated talking about sex as a spiel into their public personas.  What these markets rely upon is the assumption that nobody reads across their respective liberal or conservative, red-state or blue-state trenches to observe the ways in which the same cheap gimmicks and rhetorical flourishes get used.  The long-form case that Driscoll became increasingly permissive across his twenty year career of writing publicly about sex and marriage and what was acceptable in marriage (which Driscoll himself, as William Wallace II, outlined as the creation of some kind of Christian porn) is a somewhat different topic.  There's any number of arguments to be made that what he advocated as acceptable within a Christian marriage is still ridiculous, foolish and perhaps even dangerous in terms of media use and production; but that's also not what I was looking at in this post.  Let's put it in a more direct and polemical way, hacks of this sort resort to the same stunts and gimmicks to promote their brands regardless of real differences of conviction about any number of issues. 

If either a Bolz-Weber or a Driscoll were writing a book-length treatment on recovering the value of lifelong celibacy that would be more of an effort to buck trends in the pop-level Christian book industry.