Wednesday, August 21, 2019
At The New Yorker Louis Menand riffs on misconceptions about baby boomers and the 1960s, foremost among them being that the boomers actually DID anything in the 1960s of cultural significance (consumption doesn't count)
Menand has written a long riff on the misconception that the youth of the 1960s "changed everything". He rolls out how few of them were actually leaders or significant political or judicial figures during the Civil Rights movement. He points out that a good chunk of the baby boomer cohort was actually too young to even be at Woodstock when Woodstock happened. As for the musical heroes of that era, they were born before the American baby boom happened. Menand throws a bone to Stevie Wonder as a baby boomer who really DID transform popular music but he casts a very skeptical eye on the praise and blame accorded to the Baby Boomer generation in terms of what was actually going on during the 1960s in terms of cultural production. The Baby Boomers were, in Menand's jaded take, famous consumers rather than producers of the cultural zeitgeist of that era.
That reminded me that my skepticism about the baby boomers has been that, well, as Menand has put it, they bought the music but weren't necessarily making it. Even in the case of Stevie Wonder, whose music I regard as magnificent, his really amazing work didn't develop until ... well ... basically the Nixon era!
If a rote conservative claim is the youth of the 1960s ruined everything with free love, drugs and defiance against authority my complaint has been, despite thinking of myself as moderately conservative, more along the lines of Louis Menand's critique, that the 20-somethings kept bragging about buying the popular culture of their day as if that in itself constituted "changing things".
A friend from my college days introduced me to this work decades ago and it's a charmer. Piazzolla's Histoire du Tango for flute and guitar has movements dedicated to presenting tango in various stages of development.
Histoire du Tango pour flûte et guitare (1986) I Bordel 1900 II Café 1930 III Nightclub 1960 IV Concert d'Aujourd'hui
What many ensembles do is skip the final movement, which is too bad. The fourth movement starts about 16:55 and has the most "modernist" approach to tango.
Like Ferdinand Rebay's Historische Suite or George Rochberg's Caprice Variations we get a large-scale work that plays with a series of styles moving across a timeline.
Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Historische suite für flöte und gitarre: 1. Praeludium a la Bachhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YygQ5iPgCLU&list=OLAK5uy_lcDxIo6Jawyv78LpxQ3tPYZ2YUItnY-Fg&index=2
Historische suite für flöte und gitarre: 2. Menuett a la Haydn
Historische suite für flöte und gitarre: 3. Andante con variazioni a la Mozart
Historische suite für flöte und gitarre: 4. Scherzo a la Beethoven
Historische suite für flöte und gitarre: 5. Rondò a la Schubert
Eventually we'll have to discuss this suite for flute and guitar because I've committed to, however intermittently and belatedly, discussing the music of Ferdinand Rebay. Also ... I want to discuss this work as an example of sequential presentation of imitative styles as a possible comparison to Rochberg's Caprice Variations for solo violin. Rebay wrote this work some time around 1930 to go by what I've been able to read on the manuscript from Gonzalo Noque's edition. So code-switching from late Baroque through galant to early Romantic styles and forms was something even a composer as conservative as Rebay could take up writing a chamber piece for flute and guitar.
I am aware some music fans are dismissive toward Rebay but to invoke Leonard B. Meyer ...
MUSIC, THE ARTS, AND IDEAS
Leonard B. Meyer
Copyright (c) 1967. 1994 by The University of Chicago
The ideal of individualism and the goal of intense personal expression have now been repudiated by two of the important ideologies of our time and have been derogated by some traditional artists. In their place has been substituted the concept of the work of art as an objective construct. Originality is no longer tied to the discovery of means expressive of an artist's inner experience, but to the ordering of materials; and creativity is seen not as an act of self-revelation, but as a species of problem-solving. Since any style can constitute a basis for objective construction and for the presentation of principles of order, such views are not incompatible with the use of past art works as sources for materials, relational patterns, and syntactic procedures and norms. Form and technique have thus superseded inspiration and expression. Logically, all modes of organization and all styles become equally available and viable.
If a work of art is an impersonal construct, and creation a kind of problem-solving, then experiments with mixtures of means and materials, either within or between works, need not constitute an imperfection. On the contrary, the skillful and elegant combinations of disparate styles (or of ideas borrowed from different works and different composers) within a single work may become a challenging and attractive problem.
... if earlier styles and materials are employed in contemporary art, music and literature, it will most likely be done by those inclined toward formalism, rather than by those who still consider works of art to be vehicles for personal expression. One cannot "use" the expressive quality of a Bach, a Rembrandt, or a Donne. ... In like manner, it will probably be the formalist rather than the expressionist who delights in the possibilities of mixing styles and materials from different epochs within a work or in employing different stylistic models in successive works.
... If this analysis is correct, it should follow that in the future a particular past will be favored and explored because of the specifically artistic problems it poses rather than because of the ideological position it represents.
Saturday, August 17, 2019
Between forms of non-choice: Adorno’s criticism of serialism and aleatory as techniques that obliterated the decision-making subject, Leonard Meyer’s observation on the abjection of choice in modernist musical history, and some brief thoughts on jazz
When I read The Classical Revolution I ended up moving from that book to what ended up being about half a dozen books by Adorno. I eventually got to reading a few books by Roger Scruton, so I have made a point of reading a few books by Future Symphony Institute authors in the last few years. One of the ironies of my reading has been discovering that Scruton and Borstlap have leveled charges against serialism and aleatory as musical styles that lack musical substance and expressive humanity that were, in sum, made half a century ago by none other than Theodore Adorno.
The irony of all of this, which I hope to demonstrate, is that the legacy of Adorno on aesthetics as a philosophical enterprise may live on a bit more in the work of Roger Scruton than in those who have appropriated ideas from the Frankfurt school in order to praise popular music as a new art music. Now I think that, ultimately, Adorno was spectacularly wrong in a number of his assertions about the exhaustion of tonality and the non-art status of jazz but I don't want to get into all of that. Instead I want to highlight the ways in which Adorno criticized both serialism of the Boulez variety and aleatoric music of the John Cage variety on the basis of a core objection to both musical techniques.
But first ... we have to get to his assertion that these techniques were developed in response to the crisis of the lost legitimacy of more traditional tonal musical language.
Hiawatha, as some have put it, is the most famous literary Indian who didn't exist, and Coleridge-Taylor was drawn to the Longfellow poem about Hiawatha and composed a cantata cycle based on it. A student of Charles Stanford, the musical style is post-Romantic and pretty zippy. Since I found that I liked Stanford's choral writing when I sang a work or two of his in college I don't consider it any kind of put-down to say Coleridge-Taylor's work is fun. It really is fun. The other two cantatas from the cycle I'm still getting to but Hiawatha's Wedding Feast is worth a listen.
We've lived in the era of recorded music for a long time and so I feel obliged to point out that there is, as some music critics have liked to say, music that comes off like it's a lot more fun for the performers to perform than for a listener to listen to, such as for a review written up for a platform like The Guardian. Yes, I suppose we do live in such times.
I learned about this work as I've been going through Michael V Pisani's book Imagining Native America in Music. Coleridge Taylor's work could, by light of contemporary discourse on race, cultural appropriation and musical depiction, be viewed in a harshly negative light. The Hiawatha of the poem didn't exist, yet a British composer thought to set the work to music and thereby depict Native Americans through that poetic narrative. As I think I've probably written before, I don't think that's an approach we have to take or should take.
That an African-British citizen was inspired to set to music a long and popular poem about a fictional Native American can be read in a more positive light that discussion of cultural appropriation or presentation. There are forms of musical appropriation and amalgamation that are steadily taking place in music that I think we should encourage. What I believe we should move away from are purity narratives, whether white or black, which attempt to frame music in terms of authenticity. That far I think Andrew Durkin's work could have been helpful if the form of authenticity he attacked was not one dealing with the fuzziness of musical scores but the ideologically and often racially charged notions of authentic musicality based on extra-musical cultural scripts around skin color, i.e. "real" white or black music. The trouble is, as I've hinted at here and there before, those purity scripts have tended to be mediated by literate white liberals. Raymond Knapp was more explicit about that issue in Making Light, his monograph on Haydn, camp and the legacy of German Idealism.
A good deal of the time when I read articles by authors proclaiming classical music needs to die or be reborn I regard that as a dubious argument. The symphony has never quite taken hold in the United States. We don't lack for a robust body of symphonic literature in American music, we lacked a critical establishment willing to take that musical work seriously in comparison to Beethoven and Wagner and other European masters. As a guitarist I don't dismiss the beauty and value of the symphonic literature so much as I recognize it is worthy of study but not necessarily going to play out in a direct way in what I do as a guitarist composer. I don't have Yamashita level chops to transcribe Mussorgsky. I could maybe transcribe Hindemith works, for instance, that's workable, but chamber or piano music rather than symphonic music.
There are enough choral societies in the U.S. that I hope one will tackle a recording of the complete Coleridge Taylor cantata cycle at some point. I'd rather that than recordings of more Beethoven choral music because while I love Beethoven's piano sonatas and string quartets and like his symphonies alright I find his choral music to be a chore at best. Of the big name Classic era composers I like Haydn's choral music the best and find Beethoven drab and Mozart ... eh ... he sang, too, but I find I'm not much of a Mozart fan. So, sure, I'd rather hear a full recording of the Coleridge-Taylor cycle, even if it's not considered "important" by music journalists, than yet another recording of Mozart's Requiem.
I have found that I have limited patience for arguments to the effect that classical music is Eurocentric or white supremacist. That white supremacist cultures produced a lot of the people who created music that has made it into the classical music academic canon doesn't necessarily have to entail a rejection of the musical work. To flip the script, I don't have a reason to believe that increased diversity from composers in the present means those contemporary composers are nicer people than Brahms or Beethoven or Haydn (it's really a bit difficult to imagine which composers would be nicer than Haydn, for some reason).
Coleridge-Taylor's work has some very fun hooks. It may be a testament to his era of training he overplays his hooks a bit but overall I find this cantata charming. I don't doubt it would be a blast to sing. If you want to study the score ...
retrospective documentary on China's one child policy, Brandon Yu mulls over the brutality of implementing the policy and how a recent documentary seeks to implicate only the state
Not that humanity hasn't been here before in the West, a thousand years ago theologians were concerned about how the underclass was breeding faster than agricultural methods had resources to feed them with. We're basically "there" again here in the twenty-first century and this time around the sticky wicket may partly be that educated people can go back and look up how Catholic theologians were advising against reproduction out of concern for lack of resources to feed the exploding population.
Conservatives, often I think in bad faith, highlight totalitarian elements in progressive and leftist thought regarding the environment. I say I think conservatives can argue in bad faith about ecological disaster as a pretext to limit human freedom because conservatives did not defend traditionalist Catholic sexual ethics on the basis of "this will be good for the global ecological welfare of the planet". The West is grappling, again, with the possibilities that the West has created crises for the planet that may not seem soluable apart from what are ultimately totalitarian actions. If you can repackage people not having babies as a form of social freedom or even legal rights then you can bypass the larger global policy goal of having people having fewer people out of a fear that the contemporary Western level of consumption, if merely sustained (not to say anything of expanded out into the rest of the world as the consumer-activity derived basis for understanding human rights), could render the planet barren.
Conservatives can point out the changing of freedom to slavery and slavery to freedom a bit too easily. But in mentioning conservatives I haven't clarified whether I mean some Russell Kirk style conservative, a neo-con, a libertarian or some variant of fascism. But when it comes to Western concerns about global ecological collapse caused by Western consumption patterns a fascist and a communist are not necessarily going to be different if the observation is that the contemporary West has to make an abrupt course change to prevent environmental catastrophe.
Placing the welfare of humanity in general over the individual doesn't have to be just a fascist or a communist paradigm, it can also exist in some kind of neoliberal form, too, because an impulse on the part of those who feel and think in terms of an obligation to save humanity from its worst impulses can find ways to argue their cases.
I have come to believe in the last ten years that Americans venerate the power of pre-emptive lethal force but this veneration can take different forms based on other social or political allegiances. The red-state version can be seen in the cult of the gun and the cult of the soldier but the blue-state form favoring abortion does not seem, on the whole, to be better. In both cases Americans celebrate or defend the right to use pre-emptive lethal force to defend an American lifestyle and I am not persuaded that in either case these defenses can be made in good faith while simultaneously rejecting the alternative stance.
Nor should Americans be too quick to imagine we haven't done variations of negative Malthusian eugenics practices. The enforced sterilization of Latina and Native women or the recommendation of sterilization of African American women doesn't seem better than the Chinese solution to its perceived population crisis. China's one-child policy might be of historical significance more for the attempt to enforce it across every demographic category rather than on the basis of eugenics based policy attempted in the United States.
Friday, August 16, 2019
I consider myself pretty traditionalist in a lot of my musical interests but ... I also have a streak of sympathy for avant garde stuff, too.
And I'm awaiting the release of that album of the guitar sonatas of Atanas Ourkouzounov whenever that's ready. :)
an older piece by Melanie Benson Taylor at LARB on the ways in which liberals and conservatives use Native Americans as a political football without regarding more detailed histories
Indians have simply functioned far too long and incoherently as ciphers for anti-establishment and anticapitalist idealism, and not just for white liberals. The phenomenon has been a national tradition of sorts at least since the Boston Tea Party, when the aggrieved subjects of a fledgling nation donned Mohawk disguises to toss their pecuniary burdens into the sea. Twenty-first-century Tea Partiers similarly protested Obama’s tax plan while garbed in homemade headdresses, warpaint, and signs that read “On Warpath Against More Taxes!,” “Paleface Taxes Too High,” and “Let Little Brave Keep Wampum” (this last directive affixed strategically to the shirt of a protester’s young child). Indians have been irresistible victim-symbols for anybody who wants to join a struggle against colonial-capitalist aggression.
But Indians have always been held to unfair standards of representation — expected to function as foils for not just our hopes but our deepest fears as Americans. While liberals have understandably partnered with the indigenous cause at Standing Rock, conservative pundits leaped at the chance to condemn Native Americans for their inveterate decision to stand as outsiders of polite society.
That Native Americans can be treated like a political football whose utility more or less begins and ends with their relevance to white establishment figures finding them useful is something I've noticed over the last twenty years to slow and steadily increasing annoyance. I'd write more about that if I felt like it but I don't, not for this post.
Trump’s own history of casino ownership has proven especially appealing for tribes keen to launch their own gaming enterprises, such as the Mashpee Wampanoag of Massachusetts, who have struggled to develop their first casino since winning a protracted federal recognition battle in 2007. In a statement posted on the tribe’s website, Chairman Cedric Cromwell announced, “The president has vowed to put America first. We are poised to assist the president in turning his words into action.” Jason Giles, member of the Muscogee Creek Nation in Oklahoma and executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association, likewise announced, “We’re going into this with open arms.”
These open arms have managed to shrug off Trump’s abundant incendiary remarks about Native Americans, including repeated references to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.” More insidiously, Trump’s advisors have announced a plan to privatize oil and mineral extraction on reservation lands, which would essentially eradicate nearly a century of federally protected tribal sovereignty. Such a move promises a legal firestorm far more sweeping and enduring than the DAPL conflict. And yet, despite obvious opportunities for exploitation, the increased competitiveness could actually benefit many tribes’ coffers.
One of the proposal’s main supporters is Markwayne Mullin, co-chair of Trump’s Native American Affairs Coalition — himself an enrolled Cherokee tribal member. What drives such partnerships, ultimately, are the more immediate and tangible prospects of economic and social development in indigenous communities plagued by inordinately high poverty and crime rates, or very simply looking for their belated opportunity to take back and get ahead in ways that privileged Americans cannot always comprehend, and certainly should not judge.
I recognize that there are a variety of cases to be made that Trump is a racist and so he may be ... but Native Americans could still, with a somewhat long memory, point out that Woodrow Wilson sure was a racist, and so was Theodore Roosevelt when it came to Indians. It's not that racism is some positive thing as that contemporary criticism of Trump for his racism can present it as if it's more unique than it has historically been, on the one hand, and on the other the real sting in the assessment has more to do with the mind-numbing power of surveillance and executive power available to the President in our era ... although at that point the question as to why it's terrifying for Trump to have such power that Obama had tends not to come up ... which is one of a variety of reasons why I have begun to distinguish between liberal, left, and progressive writers and thinkers since 2016.
Even though I've tended to think of myself as moderately conservative (and a friend of mine in my early college years went so far as to tell me I was a conservative in an Edmund Burke form) I can be sympathetic to progressive writers and thinkers who argue that the United States should embrace the application of the ideals expressed in the founding documents.. Contemporary narratives that put a great deal of emphasis on the white supremacist aspect of the founding of the United States are not wrong to point out that aspect ... if we're talking about pressing for the implementation of policies that let American citizens benefit from a more just and consistent observation of policies that express egalitarian ideals ... but if the rhetoric starts and stops at America being founded upon white racism because slavery this roughly half Native American will disagree.
There was plenty of slavery practiced by Native Americans for centuries before whites showed up. It's not even exactly the case that all processes of Native and white trade and relationship played out in the Hollywood tragic sense of mythology. A lot of bad happened but, here in the Pacific Northwest for instance, Natives could practice forms of slavery that whites found ghastly but whites and Natives, in the earliest stages of interaction (aka in the Bostons and King George men phase, for those who have read on this topic) people could sorta mostly get along, give or take some tense confrontations.
All that is to say that I have found it annoying that the kinds of folks I've run into online tend to be red state or blue state in ways where all too often the often implicit reason they bother to invoke Native Americans at all is as a trump card for their own ideological and political commitments. Or as Adolph Reed Jr. has been putting it, there's a type of anti-racism as ideology that is not concerned with practical policy goals or political activity so much as expressions of righteousness on the part of people sufficiently enmeshed in establishment strata to want to feel good about themselves. Reed was writing about how a Ta-nehisi Coates can be annointed as a thinker for his case for reparations regardless of whether or not the policies even happen, but I'm thinking of how the relevance of such a criticism could be applied to white liberal and conservative invocations of Native American history as a merely axiomatic rationale for commitments they are already settled on even if there was no Native American history to consult.
In sum, conservatives annoy me by invoking Native Americans as a case study for why government involvement is prima facie bad. A bit too often it's a specious nature of the invocation--there's a difference between saying that the United States government ignoring and violating treaties is bad and saying that the United States government taking any regulatory action of any kind is automatically bad.
Liberals, however, are not necessarily any better. Native Americans who exist at such times as Democrats are angry about voter suppression activities that they believe could cost them elections are not necessarily expressing anger because they have necessarily done things for Native Americans. As Sherman Alexie used to complain, the average Native American can be much more socially conservative than the most socially conservative white guy, it's not a foregone conclusion that people of color will lean Democratic because the party machinery assumes such should be the case. Native Americans were willing and able to fight in most of the wars conducted by the United States even when they had neither citizenship nor legal rights other groups were, from time to time, able to bring to bear on court cases. In other words, it's one thing for liberals to say it's awful the United States broke all its treaties with Native American peoples and another to actually let them cut down their own trees and mine their natural resources that may be barred from extraction due to environmental protection policies. As recently as the 1970s American Indians got arrested for fishing and hunting on their traditional lands in the Pacific Northwest, i.e. Washington state, one of the bluest of blue electoral regions.
Now there can be stuff from the realm of critical race theory I find interesting to read from time to time. There's a piece at Mere Orthodoxy with a title that invites readers to consider an irony, that white supremacist ideology began to be formulated by Spanish and Portugese imperialists and colonialists in the fifteenth through sixteenth centuries, but their forms of whiteness and white supremacy steeped in a Catholic cultural milieu of colonial expansion were overtaken by more Anglo-Saxon forms of whiteness and white supremacy, leading, over the centuries, to an ironic development in which Latin Americans and Latino populations are viewed as not white whose forebears first formulated why they thought whites were superior to aboriginal Americans and Africans.
But this gets into a blunt, indelicate matter, that when people argue that America's original sin involved native genocide and mass slavery this is lately cast in literally as well as figuratively black and white terms, per Adolph Reed's criticism of the ideological cast forms of anti-racism take in his reading of Coates. There's a propensity to view racism within the binaries of oppressor and oppressed which has some value but which can ignore that the legacy of the Spanish as imperialists and colonizers is the most ghastly when it comes to Native Americans--the English and the French could be bad but compared to the Spanish they were far from the worst. The trouble is that accounts of racist animus against Latino populations on the part of Anglo-Saxon whites in the United States can't entirely ignore the Spanish legacy of attempting to exterminate Native Americans along the southwest coast of North America, or can they?
The victims of racist ideology in one context can be ghastly perpetrators of it in another context and it is this aspect, in particular, that can seem to get glossed over in popular level journalism that aims to have a conversation about race. One of the pastors at my church shared in a sermon how he grew up hearing that whites treated blacks terribly and though that was assuredly true he was confronted with the reality that black animosity against Asian Americans was also something real needing repentance from. In my own experience I've heard Native American relatives regard Mexicans as more or less job-stealing rapists so as unsettling as that kind of talk is it's important to remember that being part of a people historically exploited by people in power shouldn't exempt us from examining racial prejudices in our communities. We can replicate the evils brought upon us in how we attempt to address what we regard as evils. I want to avoid that. I can affirm both that Native Americans in the region I've lived in were treated badly by whites via state and federal government while also affirming that their practices of slavery were ghastly and inhumane and that I'm glad those practices were ended. But I can also have some appreciation for how white-Native relations here in the Pacific Northwest are, in some good ways, not like the stereotypical understandings of white-Native relations so often recounted in popular imagination and popular culture from the legacies of other Native groups in other regions. More on this, I hope, later.
The older I get and the more I read the more I find myself annoyed by liberal and conservative whites attempting to shoehorn Native American histories spanning the continent over the course of millenia into a one-size-fits-all age of Trump master narrative. I couldn't be a pure-blooded Native American or white person if I wanted to and I emphatically don't want to. Fortunately that's moot. But within the context of contemporary racial discourse, to borrow from Adolph Reed's work a bit more, there's a sticky wicket in that Native American people from the Pacific Northwest don't necessarily always "read" as that to people acclimated to discussing race histories in terms of plains Indians or Indians from the Texas region or Indians from the New England area or California. As I've been slowly getting into some of the scholarly work on Pacific Northwest tribes in the last few years I might end up writing other things later but, for now, this is more of a simple post of frustration that when I look at how white liberals and conservatives make use of Native Americans it's ... just shameless.
As John McWhorter has put it about the kind of anti-racism he's been seeing in the last few years, the problem with this approach is that it time and again shows that it's not people really being involved in concrete ways to make things better for people who have been discriminated against as it is about certain types of white people wanting to feel good about themselves and their current political commitments. American Indians lived through the era of Woodrow Wilson and they'll make it through the era of Trump ... and it would be nice(r) if white liberals and conservatives could dial back the apoplectic apocalyptic panic mode a bit in invoking Native Americans for causes that ... I sometimes feel are mercenary clickbait.
There's a book or three I hope to write about later after I've finished some more reading but tonight it's about time to wrap this post up.