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.

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.

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.

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.

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".

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:
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.

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.

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