Saturday, June 08, 2019

a piece by Jeremy Reynolds at San Francisco Classical Voice reminds me how boilerplate talk of blurring genres is in "Are We Done With Genre Yet? ... "

I guess since I fit into the category of "Generation X" I may not entirely relate to Millenial music journalism ... but it doesn't matter what age a music journalist is, I just don't buy the idea that we are, have been, or ever will be "past genre".  Of course ... editors can often choose titles so if an article opens with a headline "Are We Done With Genre Yet?" there's a decent chance the journalist didn't come up with that title at all!  

During the years when I was blogging studiously about what was once the church known as Mars Hill I was told by a writer who's done work in journalism and book writing that "the institutional press only takes itself seriously", to quote as best I can from memory.  There could be all sorts of things going on but if the institutional press isn't covering it then people in the institutional press don't think it exists.  What that meant in the period from roughly 2011 to the first two thirds of 2013 was that things didn't seem to be going that badly in the former Mars Hill Church because nobody in the Christian media was getting a real sense that anything hugely important was going wrong and the mainstream and secular press sure didn't get a sense anything was wrong.  Within Puget Sound there were subterranean currents of unrest and fury at how abusive and corrosive the leadership culture was and people who had invested years of their lives in the church were resigning at a rate that meant that the reported growth was kind of a compensation for the church bleeding members and burning through staff.  But for journalists there was basically no news until a couple of people who were recognized by the institutional press began to say things on the record about whether Mark Driscoll's books were entirely his ... and thus a plagiarism controversy erupted.

Take the classical guitar ... by contrast and comparison, we live in an era where I can think of half a dozen cycles of preludes and fugues that have been composed for the guitar in the last twenty years because I care about that kind of thing and have gone looking into that stuff.  You will "maybe" read that Nikita Koshkin has published his cycle of 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar and ... even that cycle, which I like quite a bit, has virtually no coverage.  Classical music journalists by and large don't tend to recognize that the guitar exists within what some call the Western literate musical traditions.  It's not that I couldn't walk you through centuries of music for the six stringed guitar here in the West or write about the rudiments of the Russian seven-stringed guitar traditions ... it's that for music journalists in the United States those traditions spanning centuries might as well not exist.  I could digress into Jacques Ellul's description of how the arts critic emerged in the bourgeois era as the stock broker of that class interest in making sure to invest in the right sorts of art products but ... let's get to this piece.

I bring this up because more and more I get a sense that music journalism in general and classical music journalism in particular can come off as insular.  Not all the time ... but ... a piece like this I'm about to quote from does ...

It’s easy for musicians to become trapped in the strictures of genre or style. How many times has an orchestra or chamber group been accused of playing Beethoven “too romantically” or a historical performance ensemble of failing to adhere to some anachronism or another? Crossover music, despite the name, deliberately upholds these sorts of distinctions, as the whole point is to attract listeners from multiple traditions. Conversely, the advent of the internet has allowed artists around the world to experience and assimilate new musical ideas and idioms.
In contemporary art music (we really need a better term than “contemporary art music”), lines between styles are blurring, or have always been blurring. Artists are reaching out not just to absorb new styles, but to invite performers with diverse backgrounds to collaborate and actively participate in the creation of new work.
As I was saying, I don't think we ever have been, can, or will be "past genre".  When people try to describe their music or music that they are writing about as somehow beyond genre this seems patently lazy.  If there's a percussionist and guitarist duo that plays around with electronically modified sounds and signals and plays ambient music that is used to accompany performance art and dance then, well, that's some kind of genre.  Now it's not exactly my preferred thing but I heard a woodwind ensemble work inspired by EDM that sounded great but the composer, whose name I can't recall, alas, made a point of saying he wanted to transfer the rhythmic vitality of electronic dance music into the instrumental possibilities of a more traditional woodwind ensemble.  

If there are journalists who tire of "crossover" perhaps there's a way to describe why so much of what is passed to readers as "crossover" doesn't tend to stick in the memory.  In too many cases bids at "crossover" fail to demonstrate enough mastery of either one style or the other and there is no crossover at all.  

As the Cuban guitarist composer Leo Brouwer once put it, fusion has been going on across genres for half a century now but it doesn't tend to get discussed by academic musicologists and theorists because they are, by their nature, interested in categorizing stuff.  Something similar could be said about music journalism but the "beyond genre" group may be a new "ism", one that attempts to engage what's regarded as the hegemonic influence of the classical music canon while trying to avoid both crossover as a description and also still trying to discuss whatever this music is in the context of concert life that might as well be thought of as concert music.

I was reminded ... since I'm rambling anyway, of something Kyle Gann wrote years ago that I'm going to quote.
A person convinced that there will be no more movements is a person for whom the history of culture is basically over, a person who believes that everything possible has already been perceived, and that there are no new avenues left open to us. We whine about the sanctity of the individual, but art grows by leaps and bounds when groups of people start to have collective realizations. 18th-century music sprang out of a 30-year slump in 1781 when Mozart and Haydn started copying and combining each other’s ideas – neither of them had been able to do it alone. Wagner’s music burst into flames when he discovered Liszt’s harmonic innovations. Modern art changed forever when the Abstract Expressionists started meeting every night at the Cedar Bar. Occasionally one person creates a compelling new language on his own, but it’s extremely rare. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our music, and consciousness of those things is not likely to dawn on only one person at a time. Artists need each other, and the anti-ism diehards want to imprison them each in solitary confinement. A sense of creative community, so crucial to the development of an art, is devalued by the ideology that pooh-poohs purported movements. ...

When I think of the stuff that intrigues me as a guitarist and a composer it's easy to think of what has caught my attention.  I'm interested in the work of Atanas Ourkouzounov, who has been melding avant garde idioms involving extended techniques with folk music from central and eastern Europe and jazz influences.  Nikita Koshkin has been steeped in the classical guitar traditions of East and West as well as having played Led Zeppelin numbers in his youth.  Dusan Bogdanovic is another guitarist who has been playing with a kind of classical/jazz fusion.  Roland Dyens ... I could cover a few guitarist composers at this point but I find that guitarist composers from central and eastern Europe are coming up with the kinds of classical/jazz/rock fusions that I think actually work because they are steeped in all of these styles as a matter of performance.  By contrast, I have not heard attempts at fusion or crossover by musicians and composers whose training is in the traditional symphonic instrumental scene or even the keyboard.  I don't mean "fusion" as a jazz style, I didn't warm up to that.  I don't even mean Third Stream.  

What I mean is something else--when I say that I think of myself as a fusionist it's more of a social musical goal, the aim is to find some way to melt down the high-and-low stratification of vernacular styles and concert music.  I like Haydn and I like Hank Williams Sr. so why shouldn't I see if I can compose guitar sonatas that make extensive use of bottleneck technique and American vernacular idioms?  Is that beyond genre?  No, of course not.  I know Mars Hill, if anyone remembers it at all, will live in infamy but in the earlier days it was kind of like an evangelical Christian arts commune.  I met a lot of writers, musicians and artists in those early days and we had an interest in experimenting with what kinds of things we could do that simultaneously preserved the traditional art stuff we liked while not rejecting avant garde possibilities.  I remember talking with Matt and Jeff about Glenn Branca and Arvo Part and lending Jeff and his wife an album of Steve Reich's earlier works.  I lent another friend who is of Polish descent some Lutoslawski recordings.  I'd compare notes with friends about various anime.  American journalism has declined to a level where too many journalists seem to struggle with the idea that observantly religious people could even make any art, let alone make art of some note.  Yes ... it's been a while since Byrd and Tallis and Bach but ... Messiaen wasn't that long ago.  I digress.

But what all of that refers to is how there were enough artists in the Mars Hill scene that we interacted with each other, traded ideas, experimented with stuff.  Since one of my interests as a classical guitarist and composer is to maintain a synergistic relationship between what would be called vernacular or popular styles and the concert music traditions then it was a good time for me.  I was able to hear what people were listening to (even if I can't stand Radiohead) and get a sense of continuities of popular music while going and listening to the Samuel Jones Tuba Concerto or digging into the work of the aforementioned guitarist composers.  

There was an older jazz musician/composer Ethan Iverson interviewed once who pointed out that half a century ago there was, so to speak, a climate where everybody was listening to everything.  Jazz musicians were listening to classical, classical musicians were paying attention to jazz.  The genre-based listening had not quite taken hold ... and if I may be permitted to make a cranky proposal, music journalism had not mired itself in the insular genre patterns that, as best I can tell, is what music journalists are complaining about.  It's not that there has somehow magically been less music or fewer styles of music, it's that music journalists, to the extent that they still even have paid work, tend to make their livings covering beats.  

Although I trained for it I never ended up getting into arts journalism over the last twenty years.  There was a comment I made at another blog and I'm taking the liberty of quoting what I wrote over there.

I think what tends to go on more than I'd like with these pieces about "can we be done with genre" is it tends to presume a hegemonic style that hasn't been the case since somewhere around 1913. We've lived in what Leonard B. Meyer called a polystylistic steady state since more or less the dawn of the last century and yet most music journalism and commentary from "the youth" assumes a dominant 19th century Romantic paradigm even if virtually any random composer of note did or wrote something to dismantle that status quo, whether Stravinsky or Schoenberg or Messiaen or Stockhausen or even Hindemith or beyond the Western world someone like Takemitsu (coming around to question the assumption that East and West couldn't arrive at a mutually beneficial fusion, if I recall correctly).

What most attempts to say we're "past genre" seem to mean is playing with language in music rather than diving into formal and structural analytical work. If we're going to move "past genre" what won't happen is that music will be made that cannot, eventually, be placed in a category. Fixations on the late/high Baroque era withstanding, one of the qualities we find in the span of the era of figured bass is that there were a lot of forms and styles and mixing and matching them was practical because musicians and theorists knew enough about the various styles and forms to encourage those kinds of fusions. Thus ... J. S. Bach. He could blend Italian, French, German, English and Polish musical idioms because he had enough mastery of forms and styles to do that. This gets back to what you've described as synthesist vs innovator and I think too much of journalistic discourse on "past genre" is still trapped in a battle with the Romantic legacy of a linear philosophy-of-history approach to music and style. 

I do think forms of genre fusion are possible and practical. I've been incrementally tinkering with ways to develop some kind of jazz/classical fusion but the most substantial progress I think I've made in that direction came from decades of formal analysis of Haydn's work on the one hand, and a dive into Charles Rosen, Hepokoski & Darcy's Elements of Sonata Theory and books like that. I would also say my experience has been that people who want to be past genre rarely go back to a style that genuinely exists in the liminal space between classical and jazz, ragtime specifically. If we want to go back to a style or genre that exists in both the "literate musical tradition" of Western art music and serves as a foundational precursor to jazz ragtime would seem like the most natural style to go back to. If we can formulate a way of writing sonatas and fugues based on ragtime then a "post genre" idiom that, really, tends to be an unrecognized code for a restored synergistic relationship between popular and art music styles, could be more feasible. Most of the elements people want restored to classical music are in jazz, but many of these seem to have been in the galant style, too, it's just people haven't read widely enough on the topic to realize this. I've written this before, but people seem to not realize their beef is with the legacy of German idealism and the Romantic canon rather than with the thousand year history of Western music, which isn't holding them back (whatever that means) if they engaged with more of the music itself rather than the constraints of contemporary music journalism and press materials. 

A lot of what gets presented by music journalists as the insularity of the concert music scene and music journalism is, I think, more of a terrible reflection of how insular music journalism is and how insular the concert scenes can be at a regional level.  It isn't an indication of how classical music or post-classical music is somehow dominated by the same old same old.  I suspect the future of whatever we call classical music will not be symphonic.  Choral music will stick around and I am biased but I think the guitar is a great instrument to write for.  It may be the educational industrial complex is shifting gears and the art of the long 19th century is harder to find relevant but ... I don't buy that, either.  There was a jazz critic who wrote a book in which he observed that the average rock critic is musically illiterate and was an English major or a writing major.  They probably couldn't say anything about the music as music but they can write extensive essays on the cultural or ethnic or social or political extra-musical aspects and personas of their favorite or hated musicians of the day.  

If I had not already happened to hear songs by Beyonce or Taylor Swift I could not for the life of me have guessed what their music actually sounds like from the majority of music journalism I've read from writers who take these two women up as their subjects.  Now I can scarcely think of any writing on music that deals with music itself in arts journalism.  I've been reading Robert O Gjerdingen's Music in the Galant Style this year.  It has me thinking about how many of the schemata he describes could be found, without too much searching, in popular song from the last century.  Let's take "Let it Be" by the Beatles.  Couldn't we describe that as basically a kind of romanesca followed by a prinner?  That's as galant style as you can get.  So the idea that genres get blurred or classic rock and classical music don't overlap because Lennon and McCartney didn't know or pay attention to the rules is dubious.  They had Stockhausen on the cover of their most famous album.  I think Revolution No. 9 is kind of a lame knock-off of Stockhausen's deal but I'm not hear to go on about how I think the Fab Four are an overhyped boy band who got good because George Martin was their producer and a spectacular corporate infrastructure backed them ... . 

I'm suggesting that if you dig deeply into formal analysis and analytic literature about music you'll find points of commonality.  You can apply insights from a book like Gjerdingen's to popular song.  Let me give another example of the applicability of a romanesca to a popular song.  Let's take "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey.  That's a standard I-V-vi-IV progression and we could call it a romanesca but what makes it distinctive?  If the Beatles song presents a romanesca in a fairly cliche form what makes the Journey song stand out from so many four-chord choruses is that while the root movements are all there for the romanesca gesture the bass line keeps rising as it moves through the root movements.  In other words it's a cliche but it's not completely the cliche.  Plus ... this is Journey we're talking about and if there was a popular singer who can belt out the most trite and timeworn lyrics like his life depended on it it's been Steve Perry.  I made fun of them off and on decades ago when it was the 20th century but after hearing twenty years of where popular song has gone since ... Journey was a pretty good pop band.  I'm also a lot more forgiving toward the music of Hall and Oates now, too, but that's something for some other time.  

You probably can't blur the boundaries that define a genre if you aren't musically literate enough to what those are.  You can't move past genre, no matter what you do, because assuming your music even gets heard at all, someone will find a way to describe it.  That doesn't have to be a bad thing.  I love Scott Joplin and Stevie Wonder and Blind Willie Johnson and Hank Williams Sr. and I also love Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Mahalia Jackson, Paul Hindemith, J. S. Bach, Haydn, Byrd, and a lot of other composers.  I'm not one to think I am beyond genre.  I play classical guitar and I compose for the guitar.  I am interested in the idea of stylistic fusions and I'm interested in the possibility (and the reality) of composing a fugue for the guitar that has triple counterpoint for its subject and two countersubjects but you play it using bottleneck technique like it's a fugue that emerged from the mists of old Hank Williams Sr. and Roy Rogers albums.  

I'm very partial to the idea that a thorough immersion in Haydn's use of monothematic sonata principles could be used to create a ragtime/blues sonata where, ideally, nobody who isn't already steeped in Haydn's string quartets would even hear that there's a sonata form going on, that element of the art could be thoroughly disguised.  This sort of guitar sonata would only look like a sonata to a musician reading the score who could pick up that the work draws on Charles Ives' use of cumulative form as a way of organizing the sonata movement around some old shape note hymn.  This could be a kind of being "past genre" but it's the kind of thing that can't happen so easily if you just got out of college and haven't spent your entire life steeped in both vernacular/popular idioms and in score study.  

By the way, the idea that stylistic shifting is post-modern is not something I think I buy at this point.  Sure, shifting styles and quoting could seem post-modern if we're talking Schnittke or Rochberg but I was listening to a duet for flute and guitar by the Austrian composer Ferdinand Rebay and he starts with a Bach style overture and moves through Haydn and Mozart and Beethoven and Schubert styles in a suite that was composed around 1930.  The idea that a cyclical work could tour centuries of styles couldn't have been post-modern as we know it in 1930 and Rebay probably didn't write it as a "post-modern".  That's another composer whose name you wouldn't even have heard of unless you were into studying lesser-known composers from the earlier 20th century.  I still have to write about Rebay's guitar sonatas at some point ... . 

It has really struck me in the last few years that when journalists and aspiring musicians lament the insularity of classical music they seem to really be bristling at the stifling aspects of the long 19th century and its musical canons.  There's a tendency to see the musical canons and, more particularly, how the German-centric approach to the canons and the philosophies of history associated with them, seem stifling.  But ... to throw all these dead white guys a bone, they were not writing and opining in an era of mechanically recorded music.  They did not imagine a future in which a thousand years of musical history were going to be accessible at a few key strokes.  They were also not imagining that the arc of human history was going to pass through two World Wars that they started.  This century's stifling canon was a daring and revolutionary bid for freedom centuries ago.  It's another reason to have some skepticism about the ardor of contemporary folks who aspire to transcend genre and not be bound by the fusty old rules because ... ah, right, writers like Charles Rosen and Leonard B. Meyer wrote about how the Romantics thought that way.

I"m sympathetic, more than that, really, to the idea that we could benefit from shaking free from ideologies and ideals that developed during the Romantic era.  I don't have a real issue with the sounds developed during the 19th century as such.  I'm preparing to study some Liszt, for instance, and his approach to thematic transformation across large-scale forms is interesting to me because I want to look at prototypes for thematic transformation that can be used as a springboard for starting a sonata exposition in ragtime before transforming the theme into more of a Texas blues style recapitulation using bottleneck technique a la Blind Willie Johnson.  I don't think that's the kind of musical experiment that can be pulled off merely at the level of playing with musical language and trying to "get past genre" or even by blurring genre.  There are conventions and expectations where if you're really going to break those down you have to know exactly what conventions you're breaking, how you're breaking them, where you're breaking them and why.

Musicians who are only determined to just blur the boundaries and not fit into preconceived notions of genre won't actually do that.  At best they will come up with something that can, eventually, get designated with a genre by the kind of music journalist who, as almost always, somehow finds a way to put a label on things.  At worst it will lead to music that is going to go in one ear and out the other.  George Rochberg's barbed observation about much of the music of the 20th century that sought to shake off the constraints of older idioms like tonality was that the composers of such music doomed their music to a deserved oblivion.

I've been reading enough stuff from guys at the Future Symphony Institute that I can confidently say that for conservative or reactionary types in the arts blurring boundaries will fail but ... and this is where I throw those guys a bone, their complaint is that people who try to be beyond category can be beneath competence in the styles they're trying to blur.  The even more vitriolic way that Adorno put it was that many composers who were beyond tonality, so to speak, never mastered the tonal materials and so couldn't do anything interesting with the atonal materials because if you can't figure out how to compose hummable tunes in tonal music you're less likely to come up with stuff people can remember when you insist on never using tonality.

So my personal project has been exploring ways to compose sonatas and fugues and traditional 18th century forms and processes of development using  American vernacular, folk and popular idioms because that is what guys like Roger Scruton or Theodore Adorno said lacked developmental "argument".  Note, if you've read both Adorno and Scruton, that even though one is anti-Marxist and the other was Marxist they could have the same chauvinistic highbrow elitist snobbery.  Don't be fooled into thinking that because your personal politics are progressive rather than reactionary that you can't be a condescending elitist chauvinistic racist asshole.  If you really do think that, however, go immerse yourself in how progressive attempts to educate Native Americans played out in practice.

I exist because a Native American guy and a white woman got married so I'm sympathetic to the idea that boundaries that historically separate can be negotiated and overcome.  This is not even a particularly progressive goal.  There are some Christians who would be thought of as the most fundamentalist sort who have cared about racial reconciliation.  The early Pentecostal movement, for all its problems, had a strong component of racial reconciliation as part of its goals.  I would also add, though I'm ex-Pentecostal for a lot of reasons, that we can't fully understand the development of early rock and roll if we only look at it in terms of race and not also in terms of class.

To put it another way, there's been some work done recently on how early rock emerged from Pentecostal musical circles rather than Baptist or Anglican circles and that when someone like Martin Luther King Jr. spoke against rock music we could consider that opposition as potentially in keeping with some traditional distrust between Baptist and Pentecostal groups.  But I digress ... again.  This is part of a larger case that if we want to figure out how to blur boundaries we need to be aware, maybe even acutely aware of how many boundaries exist across ways of making art.  It doesn't surprise me at all when college educated musicians who are, if they got churched at all, were steeped in the high liturgical traditions, are completely incompetent at mastering the musical styles of the low church American Pentecostal idioms.  If you want the rhythmic vitality of Pentecostal music but not the mind-numbing propensity to vamp endlessly on a single chord then you have to be able to separate the elements of rhythm from the harmonic practices.  You might also potentially want to cut back the shlocky late 19th century Romantic elements of the melodic writing depending on what your interests are. That's all just a for instance.

I've tended to think of myself as moderately conservative and I am ... but the last twenty years of reading about music and thinking about conservative and progressive debates about music has gotten me thinking.  To put it in terms of someone like a Roger Scruton, the question conservatives don't seem to ask is "What are we really trying to preserve and why?"  They will say they want to preserve the timeless eternal verities revealed in the highest and greatest art but ... that's a pretty Romantic notion.  J. S. Bach was probably not thinking in those terms at all most of the time.  He certainly had a sense of posterity and legacy but may not in the artist-as-prophet/priest in a Wagnerian idiom.  Heinrich Schutz was probably not thinking that way, either.  Jacques Ellul wrote a wry comment in The New Demons about how the mythologies and myths of the West have tended to be invented by the left and then appropriated, transformed and codified by establishment and reactionary groups.  An observation Adorno made was that the revolutionary and populist ideals of Beethoven's 9th symphony got transformed into an anti-revolutionary establishment ideal of perfect art.  So .... when I read in the era of Trump this or that comment from an academic about the dangers of populism I ... get that ... but would the academic have told that to Beethoven or revolutionaries in France?  One of the paradoxes of contemporary writing about the dead white guys is that we can find a lot on the white supremacist element ... but that sin is starker for us being able to see how it flew in the face of the ideals proclaimed.

Conversely, when someone like Scruton sniffs at the lack of "argument" in popular styles does he stop to think of how much this makes him like Adorno?  I admit that I think in the era of 45 it is potentially harmful for academics and folks steeped in the liberal arts traditions to turn up their noses at "populism" because ... Trump.  If anything I would suggest that in such a time as this some kind of considered, thoughtful, careful and scholarly commitment to populist aims in the arts could be valuable.

So much of what I see musicians and music journalists writing against is cast as white patriarchal repression.  I half get that ... but I've been listening to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor lately and he was a student of Charles Stanford and the first part of Song of Hiawatha is fun.  The late George Walker wrote five piano sonatas I admire and he won a Pulitzer for his work.  Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint Georges composed violin concertos that fit comfortably within the idiom of Haydn ... and it's fun that his work is getting recorded but if we run with American stereotypes about what black musicians and composers are expected to write based on scholastic presumptions about style then would Joseph Bologne's music sound "black" enough?

I'm still collating material for a new take on why I believe sonata forms and ragtime lend themselves so readily to each other.  I need to put together the musical examples (thanks to IMSLP having most of the great rags now that we're here in 2019!).  I also need to put together quotes from guys like Adorno and Rochberg and Hepokoski & Darcy or maybe William Caplin, too.  Academics are not (or don't have to be) adversaries of fusion and populist interests ... even if they may be tempted to be in the era of 45.  I hope I've been clear at this blog when I write about music that I care a great deal about composing for the classical guitar in a way that restores a synergistic relationship between what most people would call classical music and the popular or vernacular styles people will more often hear sounding from the six strings. Guitarist composers have been working on this issue for generations and I believe some compelling solutions have been given to us in what guitarist composers have been doing on both the popular and classical side of the divide mapped out by journalists and scholars.  I don't think we need to blur any boundaries between genres in the end.

I just name-dropped Ellul so here goes, many of the concerns about blurring stylistic boundaries may be more the result of legitimate worries that knowledge and practical specialization in technocratic societies has fractured what in earlier eras of artistic and cultural life may have been more integrated, paradoxically and ironically in eras in which racial and ethnic segregation was more prominent and vicious than it tends to be in the artistic scenes we have in the contemporary West.

As manifesto writing goes I probably won't improve on what I did as a guest piece of Internet Monk.

But it's more a personal statement than a manifesto because I'm only writing on behalf of myself.
It's one thing to say that genre doesn't exist and assert that for the sake of press releases and marketing concerts. It's another thing to articulate why you believe that is true and on what basis genre distinctives can be regarded as permeable boundaries.

The way to prove that guys like Scruton have missed the boat on the possibilities of popular styles (and to prove Adorno wrong along the way) would be to show that you can take blues and jazz and country and rock riffs and transform them into fugues and sonatas and double variation movements and so on.  It can be done.  In fact it's not even that difficult once you start doing it.  To paraphrase on observation George Rochberg made back in the 1950s, to insist on form being some natural outgrowth of the inherent tendencies of the material is to deny the decision-making capabilities of the composer.  This was, in sum, Rochberg's point of contention with Boulez ... and yet the applicability of this objection goes the other way, to guys at the Future Symphony Institute like Roger Scruton or John Borstlap.  The irony of men like that being able to write about popular styles being limited due to the inherent nature of their materials is that they perpetuate an ideological stance about musical language and content transcending human agency that, half a century ago, Rochberg was criticizing as the ideological dead end of someone like Boulez.

We seem to still live in an era in music and musicology where there are debates about what musical language should be the norm and screeds about how we should be done with genre are really simply a part of that trend.  It's easy to say that genre doesn't exist or that genre is imposed on musicians by capitalists or scholars but then, so what?

Working within the constraints you live with in your actual life doesn't have to be a bad thing.  I've found that playing music now and then in church has been good for me.  It means I'm playing music with musicians I like to work with and helps me keep playing.  I was happy to play in a progressive rock band that ... didn't go anywhere ... but the fights and collaborations were good for me.  It helped me come to a much clearer understanding that leads me to say that the reason most progressive rock doesn't hold up is because the musicians saturate their songs with too many ideas, more ideas than a normal person can be expected to remember.  Overloading musical works with dozens of ideas is not just a problem in classical music.  When a friend asked me if I would be game to help him play Johnny Cash covers and some original country songs I was happy to play along with him and ... spent decades figuring out how to improve me initially pretty awful bottleneck technique.  If you want to master slide guitar techniques skip Brian Ferneyhough and go listen to Don Helms ... .

That's one of the paradoxes of a lot of this past-genre stuff.  Classical musicians and classical music journalists talk about transcending genre but how many of those people could knock out a Hank Williams Sr. cover if their careers depended on it?  I can assure you that mastering ragtime on the guitar is a decades long challenge.  Adding to that experiments in composing sonata forms and fugues based on the ragtime style is even more difficult!  For me it's been worth it and thanks to Hepokoski and Darcy's work on sonata theory I've been figuring out how to synthesize ragtime with concerto and sonata elements for a work I'm getting ready to perform later this year.  I didn't get to the point where I can do something like this by just saying we should be past genre.  I immersed myself for decades in all the genres I've wanted to synthesize and read .. I don't want to say how much formal analysis ...   .  If you've stuck with me for this long slog you saw that I talked about romanescas and prinners in songs by The Beatles and Journey and name-checked Adorno.  I've read some fairly opaque and difficult books on music alongside thinking a lot about really technical things I like and don't like about popular songs. I might as well mention this great blog entry by Kyle Gann.

"God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys has one of the weirdest bridges in a pop song I've ever heard in my life and usually I hate their bridges but that one works ... I don't know, but it does!

If I had spent the last twenty-five years refining a commitment to twelve-tone technique or the New Complexity or even spectralism I would probably have gone further along in my musical path than the one I've chosen, which is more in the direction of figuring out how to compose slide guitar pieces on classical guitar that evoke Hank Williams Sr. or Blind Willie Johnson but that have the structure of a menuet and trio of the sort that can be heard in a Haydn string quartet.  I've been trying to work out how to take half a strain of a ragtime piece I've written and transform that into the subject for a fugue.  Ragtime fugue writing is ... difficult.

Anyway, that's enough semi-organized rambling for a post for now. 


It is worth noting that the ensemble in the SFCV article that is described as blurring boundaries is a percussionist and a guitarist.  I didn't hear anything that blurred boundaries on my end but I never entirely stopped listening to prog rock, rock, country, jazz, blues, folk or a variety of forms of electronic music.  Negatively speaking, the ensemble Reynolds describes as blurring genre isn't doing any blurring that I could hear, it was coming across as more performance art using electrically modified signals.  Okay, that's 1970s era prog rock and dance music there.  But more positively speaking, a drums and guitar ensemble would be in a better position to not be classifiable in terms of the symphonic and long-19th century music pedagogy conventions by dint of neither drums nor guitar being within the music program canons of classical music. 

But, negatively again, any classical guitarist who has studied all of the Giuliani sonatas and is also familiar with ragtime and American parlor song will find out just how quickly you can take Giuliani's charming tunes and transform them into ragtime strains.  You can do something similar with Carulli themes.  Guitarists may be in a better position to grasp how permeable the boundaries between high and low musical idioms are because, as the Cuban guitarist composer Leo Brouwer put it about guitarists and the guitar, we've known for a few centuries that the high/low distinction for guitarists on genre has never been as fixed as it became in the 19th century symphonic and parlor music traditions as the legacy of German idealism worked itself through European cultures (okay, Brouwer didn't say that second part but that's been something I've been learning in my own reading--I'm noticing, too, that in Spanish language classical music, whether it's Albeniz or Leo Brouwer or Manuel Ponce or in Brazil (I know ... not Spanish but bear with me), these are musical cultures in which the boundaries between art and pop have been more permeable in theory and practice and particularly in the guitar traditions.  So even if I get sick of hearing the same old Spanish and Latin American warhorse pieces on the classical guitar I still admire that aspect of the the guitar traditions in Latin America and Spain where if something sounds cool and pleases the audience well then why wouldn't you play that!?  There's no doubt a eat-your-broccoli listen-to-this-Brian-Ferneyhough composition element in Spanish language musical cultures but in a north American context it hasn't worked its way up here that I have heard of.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Mark & Grace Driscoll to publish a book on spiritual warfare set for 10-1-2019. a short note on how you can read Driscoll on spiritual warfare for free here and learn about old Puritan books you could get instead

through Charisma House, it looks like Mark and Grace Driscoll have a book on spiritual warfare slated for publication in October 2019.

Win Your WarFIGHT in the Realm You Don't See for FREEDOM in the One You Do

Now Wenatchee The Hatchet at one point served on the Mars Hill Theology Response Team as a volunteer and, as a result, had to listen to all roughly 4.5 hours of Mark Driscoll's teaching seminar on spiritual warfare in 2008.  If you want to read a not quite comprehensive but formidable transcript of most of that material from lectures 1 through 3, go over here.

Mark Driscoll's 2008 spiritual warfare teaching session transcript and commentary on it (66 posts)

Now there used to be audio or video available for the entire spiritual warfare 2008 session online but that disappeared somewhere around 2013 or 2014.  There were files available at a site but they don't seem to be up or available.  In lieu of that, the large sixty-six post series (give or take a post) with the tag link above can be a starting point for a presentation of Mark Driscoll's past teaching on the topic of spiritual warfare and some commentary and analysis on the context of the 2008 spiritual warfare teaching as something given in the aftermath of the terminations Paul Petry and Bent Meyer and the trial of Paul Petry.  

Overall I would advise prospective purchasers of such a future book by the Driscolls hold off.  This was the kind of material Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill used to give away for free.  There's so much material transcribed in the above series from Driscoll's 2008 teaching session you should be able to get a pretty good grasp of his views over the last fifteen years from that.  

If you absolutely must part with money on something on the topic of spiritual warfare Mark Driscoll once sang the praises of William Gurnall's The Christian in Complete Armor.  You can get a Kindle edition of that for ... about ... 99 cents.

Sure, it's an old book by a Puritan but Driscoll made a point of praising the Puritans and name-dropped Gurnall and Thomas Brooks   That's another one where if you have a Kindle you could get the kindle edition of Thomas Brooks' Precious Remedies Against Satan's Attacks for ... 99 cents.

But you don't even have to spend money to get these if you just head on over to Digital Puritan.
Thomas Brooks' Precious Remedies Against Satan's Attacks is free as part of Volume 1 of the complete works of Brooks.

Gurnall's work is also available for free in ebook formats

Mark Driscoll has to remember that he's recommended these books at some point in the last twenty years of his career, right?  What is the incentive to sell a new book this year on a topic about which he has taught prodigiously for free, and on which he has recommended a couple of Puritan classics that in this day and age you could get both of for a tenth the cost of Driscoll's forthcoming book?  As both books were recommended by Driscoll it might be better to get the Gurnall and Brooks books.


Spirit-Filled Jesus didn't exactly make waves that I can recall, but it was the first book Driscoll published in a while that wasn't a self-published or distributable e-book of some kind that I can recall.  What if, to venture a guess, it was a test balloon book?  It wouldn't matter so much if it charted like the old books so much as that it established Mark Driscoll still had some kind of market viability.  If he's shifting more into a charismatic audience he's shifting to, potentially, a substantially bigger future market than he could have ever had in a neo-Calvinist scene.  He has amassed enough old material over the previous twenty years (whether or not all that material was his own research or included work that may have been picked up when there was a Docent Group association is probably moot) that he could build and re:build a new brand on that foundation.

POSTSCRIPT 06-05-2019
For those who want to ... (I use the word "want" advisedly) go through all the hours of Mark Driscoll's 2008 teaching session on spiritual warfare ...

if you want to do more than just assume I have accurately transcribed the material here and would like to hear the material for yourself, check this out.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

a belated thought on Jordan Peele's new film after reading a particularly harsh review of it by Armond White

I often disagree with the perspective of Armond White ... and I think he goes too far in claiming that Jordan Peele is a charlatan.  That seems too over the top.

And yet, in a limited way, White's complaint that Peele finds the blackest actors he can find, the folks with the darkest skin, as brutal as it is, got me wondering ... what is it about Peele's new film that necessitated casting African and African American actors?  I enjoyed the movie while I was watching it. Nyong'o and Duke put in fantastic performances but White's criticism got me thinking ... what if the leads were Constance Wu and Henry Golding, for instance?  Or Michelle Yeoh and Chow-yun Fat?  Or Erika Toda and Takuya Kimura (because, let's face it, Peele's movie conceptually moved in a direction that wouldn't be completely out of the realm of stuff Takashi Miike "might" do).  What about taking Peele's script but making the leads Jill St. John and Adam Beach?  Or for that matter we could ask if Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas could have played the leads, or even Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. 

Despite the acid way in which Armond White put his criticism of Jordan Peele as a storyteller the point about casting isn't something I think can be just brushed off or ignored.  Peele's newer film is, so reviews have put it, a parable about class so there's perhaps nothing inherent or essential about Peele casting, as White put it, the blackest actors he could find.  But Peele, perhaps, didn't have to cast white actors as we could colloquially understand that term.  He could have cast, I don't know, Chloe Bennett (since Bennett is her stage name, taken up because if she used her birth name Wang, she's felt she's lost out on some roles due to having an Asian background).  I can imagine any number of Asian and Asian American actresses having been able to tackle the role of Adelaide pretty well.  Gong Li would have done a great job, for instance.  That's not to say I don't love Nyong'o's performance, but this little thought experiment is inspired by Armond White's rather scabrous remarks about the ways and whys of his thinking Peele is a charlatan and part of that allegation is predicated on White's implication and statement that there's a kind of stunt casting to which sorts of actors Peele finds for the roles he writes. 

I was talking about Peele's new film with some friends who said he's great at first and second acts but he kills the plausibility of his stories with his sci-fi last act reveals.  If he just stuck with magic or refrained from explaining the backstory to how his stories work, if he didn't pull M. Night Shamalan twist endings, he'd have stronger horror/fantasy stories but because he's insisted on sci-fi twist endings that raise questions that destroy the plausibility of his world-building he's still making movies that depend on fantastic performances from fantastically cast leads which, fortunately for Peele, he's shown he can do!  But as a story-teller playing with genre it might be Peele needs to commit to the horror being horror in ways that don't depend on last act gotcha twists that resemble M. Night Shamalan at his worst. 

Us is still a fun ride of a movie but I could not for even ten seconds suspend my disbelief about all the ways the Tethered would have succumbed to food poisoning, scurvy and other food borne ailments over the course of thirty years.  I couldn't ignore that any mass of people who could afford to get silky red jumpsuits that matched across all human sizes and body types and could all get a hold of golden sets of shears ... surely they could arrange for things like broccoli and cooked meals and orange juice, right?  The logistical planning it would have taken for the Tethered to go above ground and kill off their originals could have been put to some other use like figuring out how to replicate above-ground culinary practices. 

The last act plot twist and reveal doesn't make the film more powerful, it retroactively raises questions fatal to the suspension of disbelief the first two thirds of the film were mainly pretty good about pulling off.  Even the final revelation that the Adelaide we've seen all this time is the double or imposter rather than the original Adelaide, that last Shamalanian twist, destroys the plausibility of why no other clones in the tunnels couldn't have done the same thing.  There's one special kid down there who can switch places?  A chosen one, but somehow vaguely evil?  That's a horror cliche if there ever was one ... but there's no explanation for the most important twist of all being the way it was.  It's not the kind that opens up mystery but, to give Armond White's criticism some serious consideration, raises the question of why the one in countless clones who could switch places with her original was the one who didn't just so happen to be played by Nyong'o. 

This comes full circle back to an observation I made about Peele's film-making approach reminding me of Sam Raimi's, where bravura performances and well-crafted shots conspire to make us forget as we're enjoying the movie that a whole lot of stupid is actually sitting around in plain sight if we get out of "the moment" and start thinking about the mechanics of what needed to happen for the scene to emerge as it did and how that didn't really occur ... but, well, we're having fun so we can forgive this.  Now that I've read Armond White's rather stern take on Us I can't help but wonder about all the other actors of color Peele could have cast. Maybe White's going too far in claiming Peele is a charlatan ... but there might be something to the idea under the verbiage, and if we imagine Peele's latest film as working with a Native American or Asian cast there's nothing I can think of about the film that would be that profoundly different.  Did only black kids find the video for "Thriller" creepy?  Wasn't Michael Jackson pretty strongly appealing across just about all color lines in the 1980s?  If the film was supposed to be a parable about "redlining" it was both too on the nose and too esoteric for that point to be of lasting significance in the overall scope of the film. In other words, it doesn't seem like a rebuttal to the question implicit in White's criticism as to why Peele couldn't have cast other people, and even going so far as to cast actors who aren't black or white.  If he'd cast Jill St. John and Adam Beach, for instance, I still would have gone and saw it. 

more reports of alleged curious behavior and conduct from James Macdonald, who served on the MH BoAA and endorsed Driscoll's Spirit-Filled Jesus,

James Macdonald has been a topic of consideration at this blog over the years inasmuch as he was listed as a member of the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability. So there are by now enough posts to warrant a tag for them.

A few particular posts that may be of interest

Macdonald's most noteworthy public activity in connection to Mars Hill during his membership on the BoAA was ... probably ... being with Mark Driscoll when Driscoll crashed the Strange Fire conference to promote his then new book A Call to Resurgence.

He resigned from that board around the time Paul Tripp did.  The contrast between his departing statement and Tripp's was interesting, for those who remember those.

That Macdonald reportedly gave $50,000 to Mark Driscoll's efforts to launch The Trinity Church has already been reported.  That Macdonald made a point of writing an endorsement blurb at the front of Spirit-Filled Jesus can also be confirmed by anyone who has picked up a copy of the book.

Now in light of Driscoll's memorable claim back in 2008 of having spiritual discernment, as he put it "I see things", whatever comes to light as having been said or done by Macdonald there's a persistent question that remains open to consideration regarding Mark Driscoll's self-described discernment.


Spiritual Warfare
February 5, 2008
Pastor Mark Driscoll
Christus Victor (Part 3)


On occasion I see things. I see things. Like I was meeting with one person, and they didn't know this but they were abused when they were a child and I said, "When you were a child, you were abused. This person did this to you, physically touched you this way." They said, "How do you know?" I said, "I don't know, it's like I got a TV right here and I'm seeing it." They said, "No, that never happened." I said, "Go ask them. Go ask if they actually did what I think they did and I see that they did."  They went and asked this person, "When I was a little kid did you do this?" and the person said, "Yeah [slowly], but you were only like a year or two old. How do you remember that?" They said, "Well, Pastor Mark told me." I'm not a guru. I'm not a freak. I don't talk about this. If I did talk about it everybody'd want to meet with me and I'd end up like one of those guys on TV, but some of you have this visual ability to see things. [emphasis added]

What is striking about the above passage is that when Driscoll described all the stuff that he would see it was sexual abuse or physical abuse.  The sins were sexy sins, so to speak.  Whether Driscoll in his visionary moments saw stuff like wire fraud or embezzlement or ... plagiarism ... we'll never know.  But what we do know is that in 2008 Mark Driscoll said that the belief that the executive elders didn't really love the people of Mars Hill was a demonic lie.  Of course for the many who left Mars Hill in the 2007-2008 period the question was not really so much "do the executive elders of Mars Hill Church love the people of Mars Hill Church?" because even abusers think they love they people they abuse in many cases.  The question was whether or not the level of power that had been consolidated to the executive elders during the controversial course of events in 2007 was proper was the question. It would eventually transpire that the executive eldership team was not, taken as a whole, necessarily being very honest or truthful about the nature of what happened in 2007.  
Here in 2019, about five years on the other side of what was Mark Driscoll's late 2013 plagiarism controversy and the associated controversy about the use of Result Source to promote Real Marriage to a #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, a germane question about Mark Driscoll's self-described spiritual discernment is how and why, if he had such discernment, his citations were so sloppy as to lead him into a plagiarism controversy to begin with.  Now, perhaps, it should be said that whatever spiritual discernment may be described as being it doesn't automatically entail scholarly competence.  In light of Driscoll's documented account of how great his long term memory was for books ... it would seem he didn't have much of an explanation for how so many of his books had citation errors and in the course of later 2013 it was made clear by the Docent Group that the PR move of implicitly blaming Docent research assistants was not on the table.

What has been reported about Macdonald and Harvest Bible Chapel in connection to the now dropped defamation suit and more recent reports of allegations of ... well, it remains to be seen what the results of investigation are.  It's conceivable nothing will come up or things could come up. 

Without access to documents of what was discussed at Mars Hill BoAA meetings it's not possible to establish that James Macdonald did anything as a part of the BoAA that can be established for the record besides being with Mark Driscoll at some point during the time Driscoll decided to crash the Strange Fire conference. 

Whether what has been alleged about Macdonald recently is true and can be backed up is still seeming like an open-ended issue at the moment, so the point of interest here is not so much directly what turns out to be the case with respect to Macdonald but a character question regarding Mark Driscoll's self-attested history of "I see things".  If it turns out that some things said and done by James Macdonald were bad, and bad enough to entail some kind of investigation, it wouldn't be the first time that people at some point willing to endorse Mark Driscoll books turned out to have some vices that led people to conclude they were not fit to remain in formal, employed ministry in the settings where they were well-known.  For a review of some other folks who endorsed Driscoll books who ended up in scandals ...

Monday, May 13, 2019

an index of basic chords possible using natural harmonics on the guitar (standard tuning)

Most writing that has been done on the topic of natural harmonics and the guitar take it as given that you can get natural harmonics at frets 12, 7, 5 and even 4 but not many writers go further than that.  You can, however, get natural harmonics around fret 3.  Depending on the instrument you can get a natural harmonic half-way between frets 2 and 4.  You can get a compound fifth harmonic slightly below fret 3 or, if you will, about 3.1 to 3.2 with variance for the length of your fingerboard.  You can get the septimal minor seventh natural harmonic about fret 2.55 and 5.9, roughly 3/4 of the way down from frets 2 and 5.  These harmonics don't speak as readily on nylon strings with normal tension but you can get them to sing out decently enough on steel stringed guitars. 

All of that is to say that you can play quite a variety of three factor chords using natural harmonics alone once you go to the effort to learn where all the natural harmonics are and account for the fact that there are inevitably microtonal differences between the F sharp harmonics you can get across the strings. 

So if you're a guitarist or a composer who has ever wondered whether chords in natural harmonics are even practical, yes, they are.  In fact a lot of them are fairly easy.

If you don't believe that then give these a try on your guitar.  You should find most of them fairly easy in principle but I suppose I should provide a caveat.  There's nothing like mastering chords played entirely in natural harmonics to show you how clean your left hand technique really is. 

This is not even close to being a comprehensive chart since it doesn't account for harmonics you can get between the fifth and sixth frets. 

The chart has two staves. The upper stave shows how the harmonics look when written at pitch. The lower staff shows how you would play the harmonics chords in terms of both the left and right hand placement needed to execute the chord.  Some of these will require a more flexible approach to left and right hand positioning than some guitarists may be used to but all of these chords, once you refine the basic technique of executing natural harmonics as a starting point, are pretty easy to play. 

So if someone like, say, Sofia Gubaidulina, wanted to know what kinds of chordal sonorities are possible on the guitar using only natural harmonics she's got an answer ... if someone were to send something like this her way.  I'd welcome whatever sort of work she'd write for classical guitar that makes use of all natural harmonics chords, personally, but that's just my own personal opinion. 

Just to be clear, even though I published this chart here I'm telling you that I think of this particular chord chart as something that is for anyone to use (i.e. public domain).  If you found this here at Wenatchee The Hatchet please do mention it when relevant, but also feel free to use it as a reference for your own guitar composing. 

George Sandow blogs about how American orchestras don't divulge ticket sales, how sales have been dropping, and this reminds me why I mainly write for the guitar

From time to time I have been asked, when I've presented my music in different settings, but more often this has been asked when I play at a composer salon, if I have considered writing for more instruments than just the guitar.  At one level, I have, often.  I've been slowly working on a set of chamber sonatas pairing up the guitar with woodwinds, strings and brass in duo sonatas since the start of the century. 

But what I have never seriously considered was writing anything symphonic and not because I don't enjoy symphonic music.  Over the last twenty some years I have begun to get the impression that the day of the symphony as the apex of prestigious musical art has come and gone some time in the last century.  As a guitarist I find enough interesting and enjoyable challenges working with just my instrument that even though I love to write chamber music going the next bigger step into something symphonic just doesn't appeal to me. 

George Sandow's recent blogging has reminded me that even if I ever had such a fancy as to write music for orchestra it's not clear that it would ever get a premiere or that it would necessarily make any money.

I’ll repeat very strongly what I said at the start of the previous paragraph. Orchestras do not want to reveal their ticket sales. (Which, if the data were available, should be clearly divided into subscription sales and single ticket sales, and into sales to core classical concerts and sales to other events. We should be given both the number of tickets sold in each category, and the revenue from those sales.)
Once at a break at a conference I was at, an orchestra CEO told me outright that the data couldn’t be revealed. I’ll be discreet and not mention this person’s name, but anyone who knows the recent history of American orchestras would  recognize it. This person said to me (in words as simple anbd direct as this): “The public must never be told how badly we’re doing.”
The fear is that if the truth were known — and ticket sales figures would reveal it —donors would be scared away.
Not the best thing to do
Which seems to be a very bad road to go down. Do orchestras really want in effect to lie to their donors, to keep the money flowing in? Surely that’s going to backfire.
So back to orchestras not — to put it mildly — being transparent about their ticket sales. To me, this is greatly unfortunate. Among much else, it deprives the entire classical music field of data we badly need. We know classical music is in crisis, and has been for quite a while. (I’ve been teaching a course on the crisis at Juilliard ever since 1997. That’s one quick way to measure how long the crisis has gone on, though of course signs of it can be found earlier.)
So our field is in crisis. One part of the crisis is a decline in ticket sales. But how bad has the decline been? By far the largest amount of data on that is orchestra ticket sales. But we’re not allowed to know those. So the whole field is deprived of data that would show how bad the crisis is. Or, for that matter, if ticket sales improved, data that might show how the crisis might be easing.
Orchestras also hurt themselves, I think, by not telling the world how many tickets they’re selling. Because if they admitted they were having a problem, wouldn’t that give them the strongest incentive to fix it? Once you tell the world you’re in trouble, you have to say how you’re going to improve. Which I think would help orchestras greatly, no matter how much of a shock it might be at first.
Some years ago I was shown some of this secret data, and it truly looked alarming. Ticket sales for orchestras’ core classical concerts were headed strongly downward, over nearly 15 years.
I don’t know what the picture looks like now. But all of this would have to be in the book. All the data that orchestras don’t want us to have.
What is colloquially known as classical music probably has a future but that doesn't mean that future is necessarily going to look like a symphonic future.  As someone whose musical education and life in concert music traditions has been split between choral music and guitar music I've managed to have a pretty happy musical life having hardly any involvement in symphonic stuff, which isn't to say I didn't have a blast performing Durufle's Requiem or Bernstein's Chittchester Psalms.  Those were great experiences for me but they were outliers.  Durufle's Requiem is one of those works that singers can really love and people with more instrumental backgrounds can find exasperating.  I know a flutist who hated the Durufle but her brother-in-law, a cellist, loved it ... of course that the orchestral version of the Requiem has some pretty killer tunes for the cello probably had something to do with that ... 
Still in something of an incubation phase but ... well ... I really like to write even if I'm not necessarily getting my projects done as fast as I'd like. 

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Driscoll is working on the resurgence of The Resurgence

Since Driscoll seems to have gotten most of the intellectual property that was associated with the former Mars Hill during its period of dissolution this isn't particularly surprising.  Driscoll is working on the resurgence of The Resurgence, which is a reminder that I was going to read A Call to Resurgence before getting to Spirit-Filled Jesus.

Whether this new The Resurgence will bring back his old materials about Oprah as a cult leader (possibly the more ironically themed post in light of the last years of Mars Hill and what has been written about his leadership style in the past), his response to the Ted Haggard controversy, his post on Adriana Lima as the naked virgin Catholic model, or on Jenna Jameson, remains to be seen.   Possibly, those posts won't be part of the resurgence of The Resurgence.  Whether Driscoll will bring back John Catanzaro's contributions to The Resurgence is also an open question. Whatever form the resurgent The Resurgence takes it will probably have to be refurbished.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

incubation phase (again)

I still want to blog more about Nikita Koshkin's 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar.
I also want to blog about guitar sonatas by Wenzel Matiegka ...
and I've been meaning to write about the guitar sonatas of Dusan Bogdanovic, Angelo Gilardino and Ferdinand Rebay and ...  the preludes and fugues of German Dzhaparidze that he's composed for solo guitar. 

and I forgot I wanted to write about the chamber music for double bass and guitar composed by Annette Kruisbrink.

But ... sometimes it's good to take breaks from doing stuff online for  a bit.

That's not even getting to the other stuff, like blogging that could be done about MD's last book or things like that.

But I'm settling for the realization that after so many years of writing at such a prodigious rate (and you can peruse just how much I wrote between 2011 to 2015) that there are times to slow down a bit.

I want another crack at writing about "Living for the City", though.  And I am definitely drafting a new version of "On spatial/temporal correspondence between the syntactics of ragtime and sonata forms". I've been compiling musical passages from some great classic ragtimes since it's 2019 and the best ragtime pieces have become public domain.  That will give me an opportunity to more clearly demonstrate how and why I believe ragtime lends itself as a style to the syntactic processes observable in sonata forms.

But ... that can be for later, too.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

links for the weekend

This narrow dramatic determinism is the principal reason that the Marvelization of movies ultimately feels deadening, despite the occasional spectacular delight or dramatic twist. It’s not because of the ubiquity of the advertising or the number of screens on which the movies play. It’s because their hermetically sealed aesthetic narrows the inner lives of the characters depicted to a terrifying 
homogeneity, grooming audiences to welcome precisely such movies and to imagine themselves in their terms.

... and the person who was inadvertently responsible for catalyzing that cycle was basically Joseph Campbell in terms of popular influence.  But ...

From the Richard Brody who made a point of heaping some small praise on Michael Bay and writing hundreds of words on how Josh Trank's Fantastic Four film would have been quite a great film if the studio hadn't interfered and declared that A Quiet Place was more or less racist ...  I might see Endgame anyway.  He is aware that the problem isn't the source material of comics as such, but he regards the corporate anticulture as the problem and the demagogic nature of fans and ... well ... it's not like I haven't gotten a sense Brody has a didactic streak in him ... but I am likely to watch Endgame.  I'm personally a bit more curious about Godzilla.  That is ... not the American film that I thought would bring Ziyi Zhang back on to the big screens in the U.S!

By way of thematic transition on the topic of the sorts of movies some guys think nobody past 40 should even be talking about ... anyone who read Justin E. H. Smith's rant on "It's All Over" and remember my riff on that might be interested (maybe?) to know there's a review of his book out.

At The New Republic there's an article discussing a book that gets into sexual aggression and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.  

Exposing sexism is not the stated purpose of David O. Dowling’s new book, A Delicate Aggression: Savagery and Survival in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. That, according to the introduction, is to examine “the impact of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop on literary culture and the publishing industry” by narrating the careers of important contemporary authors who taught or studied there under a series of distinctive directors, from its founding to the present. The impact is certainly profound: In 15 brief biographies, Dowling demonstrates how many of the twentieth century’s most celebrated American authors shaped this institutional setting and were shaped by it. He shows too how deeply entwined the Workshop and the publishing industry have been since the 1940s—it is no accident that so many books reviewed in The New York Times bear the imprimatur of Iowa. The poet Paul Engle, who took over the directorship of the Workshop in 1941, emphasized professional development; over more than two decades at the helm, he worked tirelessly to secure prize money and corporate sponsorship for individual students and for the program as a whole. The goal for students in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop is and has always been to publish. Dowling is intrigued by the contradictions generated under Engle’s stewardship, which he traces through the Workshop’s later decades: How can writing be both pathbreaking and popular? Does institutional orthodoxy stifle innovation? How can one be a “man of letters” and a “man of business,” as Engle aimed to be? 

These questions have been tackled ably elsewhere, by scholars such as D.G. Myers, Mark McGurl, and Eric Bennett. What Dowling offers that is new, and important, is a thoroughgoing record of the varying ways sexism has shaped the Workshop experience. He has been through the literature and archives, and he has found a number of letters, interviews, and memoirs describing incidents of sexual misconduct. The book is heavily footnoted. (Dowling, an associate professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa, follows academic practices of citation.) His book demonstrates how institutional sexism involves more than just discrete incidents of sexual harassment: It permeates a program’s culture and expectations. Dowling relates anecdotes about boxing matches, the rampages of Norman Mailer, and the challenges of attending seminars while mothering two small children. He also tells of the aid that women writers offered one another, of their defiance of male authority, and of alternative workshops they formed in contradistinction to Iowa. There seems to have been plenty of savagery in Iowa City, but that same place gave rise to creative forms of resistance and strategies for survival. 
There's been a bit of a theme along this line about academia ... 


Keeping things in The Atlantic vein .. there's a piece about the ways in which A. I. requires a lot of scut work and human surveillance

Take Charles Perrow, a sociologist who published an account of accidents occurring in human-machine systems in 1984. Now something of a cult classic, Normal Accidents made a case for the obvious: Accidents happen. What he meant is that they must happen. Worse, according to Perrow, a humbling cautionary tale lurks in complicated systems: Our very attempts to stave off disaster by introducing safety systems ultimately increase the overall complexity of the systems, ensuring that some unpredictable outcome will rear its ugly head no matter what. Complicated human-machine systems might surprise us with outcomes more favorable than we have any reason to expect. They also might shock us with catastrophe.

When disaster strikes, past experience has conditioned the public to assume that hardware upgrades or software patches will solve the underlying problem. This indomitable faith in technology is hard to challenge—what else solves complicated problems? But sometimes our attempts to banish accidents make things worse.

In his 2014 book, To Save Everything, Click Here, the author Evgeny Morozov argues that “technological solutionism”—leaving the answer up to Silicon Valley—causes us to neglect other ways of addressing problems. In The Glass Cage, published the same year, Nicholas Carr points warily to “deskilling,” which occurs when the skills of human operators working a job begin to erode, as automation makes such capacities unnecessary. On average, automation is safer than error-prone humans, so a typical response to deskilling is “So what?”
Eh, that seems like sufficient posting for this particular weekend.  

Jordan Peele's Us, an energetic but diffuse follow up to Get Out and how Peele's work is strangely reminding me of Sam Raimi

While it's been praised in more than a few reviews there were bound to be some dissenters on Jordan Peele's film.  Not that I went out looking for articles that were devoted to negative assessments as such but ... this one jumped out at me when I was perusing.

Beyond its vague evocation of America’s history of violence, Us relies on a strange twist that further muddles its imagery. The Tethered turn out to be more than doppelgängers: they are clones of every American who have been forced to pantomime their opposites’ every move for their entire lives. The logistics of this plot detail are virtually nonexistent, but even as a metaphor it’s a baffling conceit. If the Tethered are the oppressed and neglected, the wage workers and homeless, the scapegoats whose misery sustains American dreams, then what about the actual homeless folks and wage workers and scapegoats? Why would the people who know their pain and their struggles most intimately seek to replace them, to murder them in cold blood? What are the Tethered even getting in return?
To answer this question, Peele relies on a second, obvious twist: the revelation that the two characters played by Lupita Nyong’o met and switched places as children. In order for Us to make the case that the Tethered are sympathetic and all Americans equally guilty of their bloodlust, it has to rely on a literalist conceit that downplays the family at the film’s center—and all aspects of identity other than nationality. While Adelaide and her family have a clear stake in the Tethered’s uprising due to Adelaide’s history with Red, it’s strange how much of a foregone conclusion their opposition to each other is. Albeit for different lengths of time, Red and Adelaide have both suffered at the hands of a twisted government experiment. They have both been separated from their families. They are both black women in America, which is generally a raw deal. Besides their personal scorn for each other, what do they really have to fight over? Is their bitterness so all-consuming that nothing else matters? Are they just American? To work, the film has to elude these questions at every turn. Like two mirrors placed face to face, it just reflects, endlessly.
Kearse doesn't even mention the prevalence of slavery in Native American societies so it's ... possible ... to suggest that even Kearse's criticism of Peele's essentially mythological conception of America and American history is potentially (I'm not saying actually) predicated on a kind of counter-mythology that will be of little help to people with, say, Native American ancestry who know just how pervasive and inhumane Native American forms of slavery were reported to be in the Pacific Northwest.  Then again ... it seems like a lot of cultural criticism and historical ruminations on the nature of America (TM) originate in places like the East Coast, the Midwest and ... the South and ... California.  The Pacific Northwest, the older I get, seems to figure not so prominently on musings about us, whether in a film like Us or in musings about a film like Us.

Now I'm writing what I'm writing because I have seen the film.  It's fun but it feels like it's a film that is buoyed by a strong cast that offsets what seems like muddled storytelling.

This might seem weird ... but Jordan Peele's two films remind me of Sam Raimi.  I'm not even entirely sure why, although the delicate mixture of horror, jump scare methods, weird situations and character arcs in which protagonists make terrible discoveries is not exactly a uniquely Raimi set of traits.

There's not really any splatstick in Jordan Peele's work and he seems to be going for more "pure horror" than horror comedy.

But perhaps I'm trying to say that Peele and Raimi are the kinds of cinematic storytellers where they invest in the emotional power of a scene at a visceral level with an idea that once they've engaged the viewer the plot mechanics of why the scene is even happening will just vanish. Those questions don't vanish, really, but ...

Let me give an example from a movie I still really enjoy, Spider-man 2.  Raimi has a scene in which Peter Parker is about to kiss Mary Jane Watson (you may know this scene), and suddenly realizes by way of his spider-sense, that a great big sedan is hurtling through space toward them both and he uses his reflexes to save himself and Mary Jane.  As Steven Grant put it, as fantastically memorable as this scene is it just defies all sense.  If Otto Octavius, who threw the sedan their way as he approached them in their diner moment, knows Peter Parker is Spider-man then he can get Parker's attention in some other way and if Octavius doesn't know Parker is a superhero then he's just being a fool flinging sedans to and fro in New York because he'll kill people who can't help him find Spider-man but ... hey ... the scene does look impressive.

In that sense, Jordan Peele has something in common with Sam Raimi.  Memorable, even iconic scenes in genre film are juxtaposed in narrative contexts where the second you stop thinking about the plot mechanics of "hey, so, how did all of this get set up again?" you begin to have some doubts about the plausibility of the set up.  Now I still really like Spider-man 2 but I've had time to think about how Raimi and company have some memorable scenes that have sometimes been set up with no regard for either plot or character logic.  That's kind of part of what you get with Raimi films and I'm willing to forgive that in his work.

I think I'm basically willing to forgive that in Peele's work so far but I also feel some kind of intellectual/critical obligation to note that Peele has this issue popping up in his approach to film like Sam Raimi's work has.

So I saw Us with some friends earlier this week and we enjoyed the film but these friends are middle-aged guys like myself but who have had kids.  One of the guys said the movie was engrossing and fun while he was watching it but that, you know ... if all the tethered had to eat was raw rabbit for decades they'd all have scurvy and they'd be physically weak and have really brittle bones. They wouldn't have all of this strength, agility and stamina to run around like they do in the film.   Yes ... there is that.  I had a different thought, which was that a lifetime of eating raw meat would waylay a lot of them with food poisonings.  Rabbits are not exactly the cleanest animals and the kind of infrastructure and maintenance required to keep all those rabbit cages poop free would seem to have involved enough infrastructure to get some vegetables down there.

The idea that you can clone physical bodies but not souls doesn't seem all that unique and perhaps the point was to say that somebody, anybody apparently, but probably somebody meaning a cabal of some order, tried to clone people with the idea that the clones could be used as tools to manipulate activity. But the experiment didn't work. The tethered were those bodies that were compelled to replicate, by way of sharing a soul with the original human, replicate in some truncated fashion, the activities of those humans they were cloned from.

This is obviously not a science fiction tale so how that sort of cloning was done isn't really even the point, nor is it even so much the point that clones somehow can't have souls.  It's been a while since I've read Aquinas on the topic of the soul but it's not really clear to me that you could even argue from within the context of theology that a clone somehow "could not" have a soul.

So as a social and political allegory the Tethered are those clones in the underground tunnels of America who rise up in 2019 to kill their "originals" and thus claim fully for themselves the souls they have had no choice but to share with their above ground "original selves". The plot twist in Us is that Adelaide (Nyong'o's character) is a tethered who switched places with her original, "Red", who was trapped down in the underworld.  The clone Adelaide successfully grows up, gets married, becomes a mother, and by movie's end has successfully killed and defeated her original.  This kind of switch saved for the end is not all that potent in horror film by now.  It often doesn't even really work for me, it's like the end of Candyman.  I guess it works for some people but I find these kinds of gotcha endings don't stick with me.  Maybe if you're a Calvinist that kind of ending can't be entirely horrifying because you think people rarely realize how bad they can be?

I think the movie works, perhaps more because of the fantastic cast than the script. I mean, the script seems pretty solid in terms of getting from scene to scene and with motives in place.  Adelaide is the doppleganger who has been living in our world and the rise of the Tethered is not just a threat to her family and the people of the U.S., it's also a threat in the sense that her identity could be revealed to others, that she would at some point have to admit she is someone who was among the Tethered, a clone who rose up and beat down her human original and locked her away. Even if that's never discovered there's the imposter syndrome aspect of Adelaide's self that she can no longer escape.  She has only been able to have so much luxury and comfort and love because she stole the possibility of these things from her double.

Ash does battle with a double in Army of Darkness in a far more comedic way, and the "good" Ash wins, more or less. The Dark Half, a Stephen King tale I just barely remember, had a motif of a character fighting an evil double. It's a pedestrian trope in itself but Peele's variation on the well-heeled being pursued by their doubles is slightly different. The premise that the underdweller copies have wearied of having to share the soul of their better-off originals is the added detail.

That the tethered/copy Adelaide prevails and kills her original is the twist ending that, if known from the outset, creates a variety of plot mechanical questions that the film doesn't seem written to answer.  Or perhaps, as with so many a film, the questions are the aim. The "imposter" Adelaide has become the real one by way of having killed off the original.  Critics have described this film as a kind of political fable about class and it does seem to be that but I come back to my friend's observation about just how scurvy-addled the Tethered would have to really be if they only lived on raw rabbit.

The moment where Red (original Adelaide) talks about how the clone Adelaide could have taken her with her is a reminder that, well, there's dramatic moments and then there's, well, not sure.  Perhaps in the film as fable only one of the two Adelaides could prevail.  Stories about how the seemingly well-heeled and well-off ultimately show themselves willing to murder and steal and do terrible things to get the American dream are legion and go back to film noir as well as horror.  Affluence at the price of a broken moral compass has inspired stories going back centuries.

But after the thrill ride of the film is over some basic questions about where all the rabbits came from emerge.  Rabbits breed quickly, sure, but where are THEY getting their food?  Who's feeding them?

A story in which the imposter kills off her original and has to live with being the imposter ... I've read a little bit about imposter syndrome

But the clone back story ... that just seems to be a wonky thing that causes a lot of elements to unravel when I think about them.  So the cloned Adelaide knocks original Adelaide out and handcuffs her down in the tunnels, then goes up and takes over the life that Adelaide was going to have but the parents, attempting to deal with the trauma they think their girl has gone through, spare no expense at inspiring her.  So I'm not entirely sure how the film plays out with imposter syndrome readings if the big plot reveal is that the imposter killed off her original.

That someone who seems like a good person has a cauldron of cruelty and evil inside them is ripe for narrative exploration and in this respect the story that sprung to mind as I've thought about Peele's film is Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell, the film he did that was regarded as a kind of horror-comedy penance for Spider-man 3. Alison Lohman''s seemingly demure and angelic bank officer decides that she's within her powers to deny an extension on a loan to an old woman who turns out to have the power to curse her and, since this is a horror comedy, makes a point of doing so.  Lohman's character then spends a lot of effort trying to negate the effects of the curse or undo its effects (except for, if memory serves, actually doing anything about the loan decision she made).  In the end she thinks she's beaten the curse and the powers behind it but in the final climactic and, frankly, hilarious scene, her fiance recalls that there was something she dropped, the cursed button from her old shirt and when he hands it to her hell opens up and hands, well, the title is Drag Me to Hell. Raimi's film was a return to form for him and a memorable riff on how there is a whole lot of evil hidden in the sweet-seeming bank worker.

Us was enjoyable while I was watching it but the moment I started thinking about it, well, a lot of the story mechanics and particularly in the explanatory back stories shared by Adelaide to her copy, unraveled quickly.  Fortunately Nyong'o and Vernon Duke are so good at what they do their performances make it easy to forgive the tangle of world-building issues in this genre film.  But ... as a sophomore film this is, well, kind of how those films can be, where the second film is not quite as compelling as a memorable and lively initial work.

But ... seriously, the Tethered seem like they should have succumbed to malnutrition of various sorts and food poisonings way back within the first few years they existed.

A whole lot of the somewhat predictable switched doubles plot twist hinges on one dad having too much to drink and not keeping track of his kid ... which ... well, that kind of fits a horror movie trope where chaos bursts forth ... eventually ... because someone made a bad, irresponsible decision.  It raises yet another question as to how and why, given how even inattentive parents can remember and treasure moments with a child, wouldn't have worked out the ways in which this clone of Adelaide was in some way not their original child.  Peele's attempt to anchor things in some kind of shadowy technocratic conspiracy backed by a government or corporate interests or a combination of both with a punning U. S. in the Us title might be too clever for its own good by not having any clarity about the implications of this sort of world-building.

There's an axiom I've heard that some screenwriters have that if you have to choose between writing for continuity and writing for "the moment" you always write for the moment.  Well ... I don't agree.  The problem with writing for "the moment" is that writers can very often decide to write the moment out and then work toward whatever it is they think gets there even if that means bending a few things like character arcs and the ground rules of the narrative world along the way. 

It's probably going to seem a bit weird now that I've been comparing Jordan Peele's films to Sam Raimi's to now step sideways in another direction and invoke Hayao Miyazaki but in Miyazaki's tales the world-building is pretty immaculate and interacts with character arcs. If you know a few things about statuary and religious and folklore from Japan there's a certain moment in My Neighbor Totoro where you know Mei is going to be okay because of which statue is shown in a scene.  There are moments like that in his films where the world-building is detailed enough that there's symbolism in it that is welded to the plot points.

With Peele's work, by contrast, the big reveals in his films have invited viewers to say "What?"  The idea in the last act of Get Out that white liberals who voted for Obama turned out to secretly be racists who are mining black bodies in which to transplant white brains constitutes a kind of social and political commentary on a kind of white liberal cultural theft or appropriation ... but it also raises simple questions about how many body-switching brain transplants have happened.  I mean, sure, I saw Eyes without a Face last year so I get that in horror these kinds of speculative tales are about other things than the literalness with which the plot points can be realized. but the plot twist that the white liberal-voting family turns out to be racist and in a more Texas Chainsaw Massacre kind of brutal way seems ... well, it's like Peele has figured out to write for moments more effectively than he's figured out how to establish how those emerge from the backstories he tags on in his third acts.

Us kind of works better than Get Out in this sense, the copy Adelaide who we see at the start of the film has killed her "original" or "real" self in the process of rising from the tunnels and joining American society.  But the suspense that seems presupposed throughout the film is that the Adelaide who is fighting to defend her family is the "real" Adelaide, not the imposter.  That only works if, as Peele has done, crucial information about what happened years ago is withheld.  Yet if the two bodies share a soul do they not share memories at some level?  To put it another way, why would the connection only work one way?  Underground Adelaide had to do or replicate whatever was going on with her above-ground "original" which would mean she'd have memories but the connection apparently does go both ways ... which ... if it does ... brings things back to some questions.

What made Adelaide "special" so that her underground clone recognizes this special quality?  That they can switch places?  Well, what's the reason for that?  Peele never answers the question and perhaps the aim in the horror is to suggest by implication there simply isn't an answer and that we don't have an explanation for why those of "us" live in relative peace and affluence in contrast to the "them" who live in the tunnels below ground.  But if that's the case then the film is made by "us" for "us" about "us" with a plot twist that the central character is a "them", an imposter who has so thoroughly assimilated into the "us" she almost forgot she was one of "them" until she has to kill the doubles of her family from the tunnels underground to save the family she has made here above the tunnels.

All of that could have, perhaps, been more poignant and pointed without so much backstory about how the people living in the tunnels had to eat only raw rabbit.  And ... where did they get their water?  The film places so much of the weight of its drama and the "them" that emerge from the tunnels that Peele's lack of interest in explaining more than sketchy harrowing accounts of what the "them" had to do makes the "us" of the film seem like it's the point of the film to a fault.  Basic questions I've mentioned so far about why only rabbit meat and raw at that? There don't seem to have been any security precautions to keep "them" from riding the escalator up to Santa Cruz as we're supposed to know it?

If the original Adelaide spent years, decades, fomenting a "them" revolution she had to live long enough to do so and there's a lot of food poisoning and sickness she'd deal with.  Raw rabbit meat, after all, has zero fiber content.  So when Red (who turns out to be the original/real Adelaide, shares that the Tethered living underground had to eat raw rabbit she doesn't look like she's had to spend thirty years doing that.  Is it a bit much to point that she's a pretty attractive woman?  Her performances are great but they also highlight just how much Peele's backstory reveals in the third act seem to collapse if you stop and think about them for any significant length of time.

Peele has a clear grasp of how to write for and to moments ... but between his two films he seems to have a habit of bringing about those moments by way of last act reveals that involve backstories that not only raise some questions that can't be answered but that, if revealed within the first acts would drain a lot of the liveliness out of his stories.

Having had a few days away from the film to think about it, it helped a lot that Peele's leads were really good.  I just can't imagine the film working at all if the leads had been more along the lines of Tyra Banks and Damon Wayans.  Nyong'o really is good at presenting the two different Adelaides, which is central to the film's plot and substance.  Vernon Duke is also memorable playing her affable but lunk-headed husband and his even more lunk-headed and implacable doppleganger.