Sunday, April 11, 2021

James Wood at Theopolis Institute on Wokeness as Protestant Neopaganism, the claim that wokeness has no institutional or sacramental element seems more assertion than provable claim

There are times when clergy attempt to tackle ideas like wokeness but do so in ways that suggest that the pursuit of theological education did not bring with it much engagement with the history of the arts outside liturgical concerns (if that) and, further, much art history at all.  Why mention that?  Because ever since the Romantic era gave us Wagnerian/Matthew Arnold style art-religion clergy who haven't paid any attention to that by now roughly two-centuries old impulse in the West might get the idea that, well ... 

4. Wokeness, like Protestantism, is more creedal and confessional than institutional and sacramental. It centers on key beliefs to which one must assent.  ...

Ken Burns' documentary on Hemingway has come along. Laura Miller muses on how America moved on from him in 2021 at Slate, while in 2017 Terry Teachout shared how Ernest inspired an entire generation of hack writer men

Over at Slate Ken Burns’ documentary on Ernest Hemingway inspires a riff on how we don’t much need Hemingway’s dubious notions of masculinity now. Laura Miller’s article on Burns-on-Hemingway was summed up by the text below the title before the article proper even starts, “He changed American fiction, and then American moved on.” 

Well, maybe for all the people who ever actually liked Hemingway but I wasn’t one of those people.

Still, let’s look at a bit of the article anyway.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Kerry McCarthy's biography on William Byrd

Kerry McCarthy
(c) Oxford University Press 2013
ISBN 978-0-19-538875-6

McCarthy's biography of the English Renaissance composer William Byrd is an almost breezy primer on the composer's life and times but given how opaque Renaissance choral music can be this is one of the book's several strengths. It may be that we can't entirely describe what happened in Byrd's musical life and times in terms of tonality as taught in US or UK music pedagogy; on the other hand, framing Byrd's recusant Catholicism in light of how much religious non-conformity cost other people in the Elizabethan era is not so hard to understand.  We will learn from McCarthy, for instance, that once Catholic music was banned any proof of owning Catholic liturgical music within Elizabethan England was regarded as evidence of potential or actual sympathy to political intrigues against the crown. 

As long as you're moderately comfortable reading scores the book isn't very taxing for a reader, although it helps a great deal if you have heard, for instance, Byrd's masses and some of his keyboard music.  This is a biography that is geared for a lay reader who, while musically literate, is not going to be steeped in Renaissance liturgical practices among Protestants and Catholics and all of that.  In other words, you don't have to have gotten a seminarian's education on the one hand or anything beyond undergrad level music-reading to be able to get benefits from reading this book.  As Byrd has been one of my favorite composers for decades I had a lot of fun reading this biography. It also brings up a few points I have discussed here over the years about polystylistic exchange within musical eras and the role that improvisation in then-contemporary or even popular styles used to play in the music pedagogy of this or that era.

Alan Jacobs contra Ross Douthat on Douthat's public Christian intellectuals of our time--Douthat keeps picking as Christian intellectuals people who heap contempt on everyone who differs with them (Hart comes to mind)

There's a bit of set up for this one by way of quotation.

Alie Anne Yorgason has a dissertation analyzing Nikolai Kapustin's 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 82 and a short thought on how the prelude and fugue was more commonplace in the 20th century than you might have heard
Title: A study of Nikolai Kapustin's 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 82
Author(s): Yorgason, Alie Anne

I'm not aware that it is a published work or anything like that but as I have linked to dissertations on Kapustin's work in the past this one is one I very much want to read should it ever get published!  I was thinking of blogging through Kapustin's cycle over the years but if someone has already done a dissertation on it, well, why would I blog about Kapustin's preludes and fugues now if I can point people to Yorgason's work?  

If you want to hear Kapustin's 24 Preludes and Fugues as played by Kapustin himself here's where you want to go.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Amar-Hindemith string quartet plays Paul Hindemith's Op. 22 string quartet

Hindemith composed his Op. 22 string quartet a century ago, and thanks to historical reissues you can get the recordings of the Amar-Hindemith string quartet.  Besides recording Hindemith's Op. 22 quartet the ensemble also had the distinction of making the first recording of Bartok's 2nd string quartet.  

Now I realize a lot of people aren't into Hindemith even among those who even know who Hindemith is.  So it goes.  I'm reminded that when Adorno was ranting about how bad the new music was sounding in the 1950s in the era of John Cage and Stockhausen he had a grudging remark or two about how back when  Hindemith was blasting away at the Romantic cliches of tonally anchored chromaticism he knew what the traditions were he was rebelling against whereas the 1950s Darnstadt serialists didn't. Hindemith was a reactionary for turning back to tonality, Adorno claimed, but he was a competent reactionary.  

Curiously, Adorno didn't seem to find Bartok as guilty by the same standard.  Apparently Adorno thought Hindemith, being German, had no excuse for deciding by the early 1930s that tonality was not something to actually be abandoned, after all, whereas Bartok, being Hungarian, was part of a musical culture for which tonal options were not yet all "used up".  Right ... 

Anyway, since I happen to like music by both Hindemith and Bartok it was fun to learn that Hindemith and company were first to record Bartok's 2nd string quartet.  My fantasy string quartet concert of 20th century string quartets would be Bartok's 3rd, Shostakovich's 3rd, Hindemith's Op. 22 and Ben Johnston's 4th.  Honestly, it's tough to pick from three of the four because the cycles they wrote are all really good but for Hindemith there's no doubt in my mind that Op. 22 is his best string quartet.

Anyway, since said string quartet was composed a century ago I thought I'd mention it, and mention that historical reissue recordings make it possible for us to hear (albeit with 1920s recording limitations) how Hindemith himself and the rest of the Amar-Hindemith quartet played through Op. 22. 

The Roaring 20s had a lot of remarkable music, whether it's Blind Willie Johnson, early Ellington or Hindemith (and if you don't like his music, hey, this is my blog, after all. :) ) 

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Blind Willie Johnson: Dark Was the Night

It's a tradition here at Wenatchee The Hatchet to post a link to Blind Willie Johnson's legendary recording of this hymn for Holy Saturday. There are other recordings of this hymn meditating on Christ's entombment but Johnson's performance is justifiably the most famous.

Mahalia Jackson: Dark Was the Night and Cold the Ground on Which My Savior Prayed

In Mahalia Jackson's performance this hymn is more a Maundy Thursday hymn since it refers to Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Having said that, I'm more familiar with the hymn being textually connected to Christ in the tomb because of an even more famous version of the lining hymn.

Paul Hindemith: Mathis der Maler Symphony, Entombment

As longtime readers know I don't tend to blog a lot on Holy Saturday. Instead I link to musical works that are thematically connected to the day.

I am actually a Hindemith fan so for Holy Saturday it's not out of the blue to link to the second movement of his symphonic suite Mathis der Mahler.  Something I also noticed is that at 1:38 the oboe gets a sequence of rising perfect fourths followed by a stepwise descent that sounds an awful lot like the opening fanfare from the Star Trek theme song. 

Hindemith converted to Catholicism late in life after having spent much of his life, as he put it, being a very bad Protestant but a loyal one. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

on double standards from music journalists: Norman Lebrecht's riff on Stravinsky as over-hyped would seem more witty if he didn't get livid last year at Philip Ewell's proposal that we say Beethoven was above-average and just leave it at that

There are a number of music theorists I only know about because of the ranting of Norman Lebrecht to the effect that smart and decent people shouldn’t be reading anything they have to say.  Ethan Hein is one and Philip Ewell is another.  Even if Lebrecht is taking a Swiftian hand at satire with his recent “myth of Igor Stravinsky as great composer” it is, I’m afraid it must be said, the kind of satire that’s made in bad faith. 

That Stravinsky turned out to be a significant and influential composer seems hard to contest, whether you enjoy his music or not.  I enjoy a fairly sizable chunk of it but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Stravinsky towers over Bartok or Shostakovich or Messiaen or Ellington or even Scott Joplin so much as to claim that Stravinsky’s influence is unassailably “top drawer”.  He was an above-average composer and let’s leave it at that. ;) 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

so I DO plan on blogging about Matiegka's Op. 31 sonatas but I'm incubating a lot of solo guitar sonata blogging projects right now

I'm working on preliminary work toward blogging series on not just the Matiegka Op. 31 sonatas but also others.  The current set of blogging series on solo guitar sonatas is currently incubating as:

Justin E H Smith thinks humanist inquiry should be defended because it elevates the human spirit ... has it elevated the human spirit, which human spirits?

As defenses of what Richard Taruskin and other scholars have called the Matthew Arnold style of art-religion go, this is fairly routine:

I have the luxury of working in France, where the crisis the university is facing is somewhat different than in the Anglophone world (and where upper administrators are less likely —I hope!— to search out critical words from a peculiar foreign professor in their system writing in a foreign language). This distance frees up my tongue to say some things about the US system that I probably would be too cautious to say if I were trapped inside it. We are of course not totally free here either from the forces that are warping higher education elsewhere, and I have myself directed MA theses in France —a country second only to Japan in its manga and comics enthusiasm— on such topics as post-humanism in Ghost in the Shell (the original of course, not the Scarlett Johansson vehicle). I’d like to think I have done so supportively and helpfully, even as I remain open about my concerns regarding the loss of a meaningful tradition of humanistic inquiry, where students are left to pick up decontextualised shards of cultural production and to make whatever sense they can from these of our common experience: post-humanism, if you will.

Here is why I actually think humanistic inquiry should be defended: because it elevates the human spirit. Nothing is interesting or uninteresting in itself in a pre-given way. What is of interest in studying a humanistic object is not only the object, but the character of the relation that emerges between that object and oneself. What emerges from humanistic inquiry is thus best understood as an I-Thou relation, rather than an I-It relation. 

Admittedly, in principle such a dyad could be achieved with Marvel comics as much as with Nahuatl inscriptions. But in reality the institutional and cultural context in which pop-culture-focused pseudo-humanities are studied ensures that the student usually remains at the level of I-I identity, which is not a relation at all but pure narcissism, or at best attains a sort of I-Us community, where he or she can bask in the like-mindedness of other comics fans: in other words, academic studies as an institutional buttress for what youth subcultures have always been perfectly able to achieve in a much more anarchic way. (Thank God there was no option for goth studies when I began college in 1990 — in any case I was already an expert.) Humanistic inquiry is not fandom; it is a basic category mistake to suppose that it is. Conversely, the indulgence of a young person’s prior identification as a fan can seldom result in humanistic inquiry, even if the object of her or his fandom is not in principle excluded from the list of humanistic inquiry’s possible objects. ...

In other words ... not too hugely different from George Steiner's In Bluebird's Castle as laments of literacy lost go in some ways. ... ?

Okay, so this is out of left field since posting on analytics stuff is not usually my thing but every once in a while shows up in the analytics.  As I've refused on general principle to ever monetize this blog it's not like I feel "ripped off" if people appropriate content published here in terms of any money.  Perhaps readers can share what plagscan is (or remind me since I dimly recall someone did explain what it's for). My gut sense has been that it's a sign that somebody isn't doing their own work for a paper of some kind. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Ethan Hein links to Adam Neely's discussion of "Hey Joe"--some thoughts on the plagal cascade as a guitarist's rhetorical equivalent to the circle-of-fifths chain used by pianists

Along the way there's mention of modal mixture and modal mutation; the concept of the plagal cascade (i.e. C-G-D-A-E chord progression that makes up the song); and blues tonality with some comments from Ethan Hein, which, of course, you can get to by way of Ethan Hein's link to Adam Neely's discussion. 

Now something that's fun about Neely's presentation is that he points out that plagal cascades are a morphological outworking of the tuning of the guitar.  To put that in more colloquial terms, when guitarists let their fingers do the walking they tend to let their fingers be guided by shifts of consecutive fourths that let them use as many open chord root movement shifts as possible.  In Baroque keyboard-based music, by contrast, circle of fifth chain progressions were the norm. 

Thus "Fly Me to The Moon" and "I Will Survive" use chains of circle progressions (variants of the V-I/V-i/vii-I) in contrast to guitar music that tends to use plagal cascades a la "Hey Joe".  Depending on how short the plagal cascade loop is D-A-E could be just short enough to define one of the more prevalent chord loops in rock and blues.  

Monday, March 15, 2021

Alex Ross on "Switched on Pop" ends with a Captain Obvious observation about how pop music discussion often traffics in the same cult of genius as post-Romantic discussions of classical music's canonical works and people

An irony attendant on contemporary pop is that the discourse around it recycles many of the grandiose formulas that have long beset classical music. Reviews of Taylor Swift’s 2020 album “folklore” routinely used the words “genius” and “masterpiece.” Sloan and Harding have called Swift “Beethovian.” Such genuflections may seem less problematic in pop than they do in classical music, where the grim weight of European history looms behind the idolization of Beethoven and Wagner. Yet American culture has its own engulfing shadows: white supremacy has shaped popular song from the minstrelsy days onward, and celebrity power mirrors the radical inequality of the winner-takes-all marketplace. I’d love to see an intelligent podcast like “Switched On Pop” push past the façade of triumphal innocence. The deepest kind of music appreciation takes music not as a divinely gifted art but as an agonizingly human one. 
It is a Captain Obvious observation but one that is worth making.  I've noticed that Wesley Morris' praise for African diaspora music within the United States (popular music, in other words) relied on what amounts to the same core script used in Romantic and 19th century discourse on musical authenticity. One of the reasons I identify as a "formalist" in Leonard B. Meyer's use of that term in Music, the Arts, and Ideas is because I'm not a Romantic and I'm not eager to talk about music in terms of concepts like "authenticity" and "roots too deep to steal" whether it's about German symphonic traditions of African American popular styles.  Why?  Because talking about those styles in terms of "soul" too easily risks replicating the same scripts of racial authenticity that can't be "stolen" by people who don't measure up to tacit or explicit ethnic or racial purity codes, that's why.

As for the Romantic era and its legacy ... some quotes from Leonard B. Meyer have been handy for me:

Saturday, March 13, 2021

some links for the weekend: The New Yorker on the "end of genre" (again); Bachtrack on how Spotify's revenue distribution isn't great for classical music; Claude Mariotinni has a series on women as prophets in ancient Israel and how many of them wrote songs

Amanda Petrusich has written that genre is disappearing but where is genre disappearing in music?  Within "pop"?  I would suggest that is because there are simultaneously only so many ways to write songs and there are so many ways to write songs.  Genre within music that is anchored, at whatever level, to the sound of the human voice may be having a moment of dissolving boundaries and that's something fun to observe.  But ... while there's this Petrusich article at The New Yorker there's another by David Karlin at Bachtrack about how the age of streaming may spell disaster for the monetization of classical music. Spotify may be a friend to pop in an era where genre is said to be disappearing but instrumental music isn't necessarily the same as "pop" and "classical music", however that gets defined, is not, at the moment, aided by Spotify's approach. 

If you ever wanted to read a series of brief but interesting posts on women prophets in the Hebrew Bible Claude Mariotinni may have just the series for you. One of his observations is that among the seven women regarded as prophets in the Tanakh several of them are known for songs (Miriam, Deborah, and Hannah). Mariotinni also points out that there were daughters of Heman who, depending on how the text is translated, were prophets among the musicians in 1 Chronicles 25:5-6.He argues that based on the textual evidence available there may not have been legions of women serving in formal cultic capacities in ancient Israelite religious practice but that women were accepted as having public prophetic roles is indisputable and that in several of the cases available in the canonical texts women as prophets were associated with song and dance.  

Belatedly throwing this one in about how the arts in Canada have taken a beating in the covid-19 era but live music has taken a particularly hard beating from the lockdown protocols.

Tuning is for Killjoys: Ted Gioia's pejorative take on Pythagoras and Augustine in Music: A Subversive History

Music: A Subversive History

Ted Gioia

Basic Books, Hachette Book Group

Copyright © 2019 by Ted Gioia

ISBNs: 978-1-5416-4436-6 (hardcover), 978-1-5416-1797-1 (ebook)


More than ever, we need a subversive history of music. We need it both to subvert the staid accounts that misrepresent the past as well as to grasp the subversive quality inherent in these catalytic sounds in our own time. This book aims to provide that alternative narrative. But the goal isn’t to be iconoclastic or controversial. I have no interest in adopting a provocative revisionist pose so I can stand out from the crowd. I simply want to do justice to the subject. I want to tell the story of music as a change agent, as a source of disruption and enchantment in human life.  


I started work on an alternative approach to music history more than twenty-five years ago, but back then I didn’t realize the scope of what I would uncover. My starting point was much simpler than where I ended up. My core belief back then—unchanged today, so many years later—was that music is a force of transformation and empowerment, a catalyst in human life. My curiosity was piqued by the many ways songs had enhanced and altered the lives of individuals throughout history, and especially the great masses of people who don’t get much visibility in surviving accounts.  I didn’t exclude kings and lords, or popes and patrons, from my purview. But I was perhaps even more interested in peasants and plebeians, slaves and bohemians, renegades and outcasts. What did their music sound like? Even better, what did it do?


… My aim is to celebrate music as a source of creation, destruction, and transformation. I affirm songs as a source of artistry, but will also insist on taking them seriously as a social force and conduit of power, even as a kind of technology for societies that lack microchips and spaceships. I want to cast light on the neglected spheres of music that survive outside the realm of power brokers, religious institutions, and social elites, and explore how songs enrich the day-to-day lives of small communities, families, and individuals. Above all, I hope to show how music can topple established hierarchies and rules, subverting tired old conventions and asserting bold new ones. 

Ted Gioia’s would-be subversive history of music is the most conventional wisdom an American historian of jazz and blues could have written.  Gioia believes that music is magical and has the power to shake things up and that music, when it taps into what he regards as its shamanistic powers, can heal people and, according to the ancient Greek figure Empedocles, raise the dead.  Gioia has read the history of American popular styles of music pioneered by African Americans as a synecdoche for the history of music the world over and molded the rest of music history to fit that American mythology.

recycled: There is neither Art nor Pop, neither Indie or Mainstream--a guest piece from 2012 at the old Internet Monk

This was originally published back in 2012 at Internet Monk.  Internet Monk has since been shut down and so the guest piece isn't necessarily there at the new archives (it might be but I don't know).  In any case, this was the piece I wrote that was published back in 2012 at iMonk below. 

The Conventional Wisdom of Ted Gioia’s Music: A Subversive History

Part One: The ostensibly subversive premise

Music: A Subversive History

Ted Gioia

Basic Books, Hachette Book Group

Copyright © 2019 by Ted Gioia

ISBNs: 978-1-5416-4436-6 (hardcover), 978-1-5416-1797-1 (ebook)


Pages 1-2

The real history of music is not respectable. Far from it. Neither is it boring. Breakthroughs almost always come from provocateurs and insurgents, and they don’t just change the songs we sing, but often shake up the foundations of society. When something genuinely new and different arrives on the music scene, those in positions of authority fear it and work to repress it. We all know this because it has happened in our own lifetimes. We have seen firsthand how music can challenge social norms and alarm upholders of the status quo, whether political bosses, religious leaders, or just anxious parents fretting about some song bellowing ominously from behind a teenager’s bedroom door. Yet this same thing has been happening since the dawn of human history, and maybe even longer—although you won’t get told that side of the story in Music 101, or from the numerous well-funded music institutions devoted to protecting their respectability and the highbrow pretensions of their mission statements. 

Page 3

Musical innovation happens from the bottom up and outside in, rather than vice versa; those with power and authority usually oppose these musical innovations, but with time, whether through co-optation or transformation, the innovations become mainstream, and then the cycle begins again. 

Page 5

… The songs of outsiders and the underclass have always posed a threat, and thus must be purified or reinterpreted. The power of music, whether to put listeners into a trance or rouse them to action, has always been feared, and thus must be controlled. The close connection of songs to sex and violence has always shocked, and thus must be regulated. And the narratives that chronicle and define our musical lives are inevitably written and rewritten in recognition of these imperatives.

Gioia makes his thesis plain that the history of all music is a battle between superego and id; between masculine music of order, discipline and the state and the feminine music of eroticism, emotion and passions; and between the ideal of music as the decoration of luxury and the healing magic of song by, for and from the downtrodden.  For Gioia music has always been a source of magic and revolution whose real history has been suppressed by all the powers that be since basically the dawn of history as we know it but now, here in the 21st century, he’s going to give us the real history of music.  Gioia’s history overtly apocalyptic literature, a story that will tell us the previously hidden truth about the history of music as a cosmic battle of dualities that has been written in “official” stories by the side of technocrats who want to suppress the magic of music.

Ethan Hein on Prince's guitar solo for "Kiss", some scattered thoughts on modal mutation across asymmetrical and symmetrical modes as an expressive option
Now I tend to shy away from GOAT (greatest of all time) declarations in general but Prince's solo on "Kiss" is, to my mind and ears, indisputably one of the top tier guitar solos in rock and pop.  He discusses the solo at some length in the post linked above.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

deBoer on the Synecodche problem and Terry Mattingly on a Latino shift toward the GOP

David Shor is characteristically brilliant - and characteristically indifferent to conventional wisdom - in this insightful New York interview. There’s a ton of interesting stuff in there but I want to focus on one element, which is a problem I’ve noticed many times in a life spent in academia, media, and left politics. I call it the synecdoche problem.
The synecdoche problem is just this: when people consistently advocate for a particular group, they come to believe that they know what’s best for that group, can speak for that group, or just literally are that group. The constant advocacy creates a sense of identification that deludes the advocate. They become incapable of seeing that their point of view is not universally shared, or even broadly shared, by the people who make up that group. This is relevant to an important point that Shor makes, which is that our perception of the concerns and positions of voters of color is often far out of line with their self-reported preferences.
Rather than quote much more of deBoer's post I will link to something Terry Mattingly wrote at GetReligion on recent coverage about how some Latino voters are shifting to the GOP and for Mattingly the news peg is that the coverage says the shift is about money whereas anyone covering religion beat news for decades would point out that, unsurprisingly, religiously-shaped social beliefs play some kind of role.
Whereas someone like Mark Driscoll could bluntly declare that engaging Latino evangelical or even Catholic voters would be a way to shift politics rightward in A Call to Resurgence back in 2013 contemporary press coverage seems to, as Mattingly assesses it, tiptoe around the religion angle.  It can be easier, per deBoer's elucidation of the synecdoche problem, for members of the press to imagine an intra-press cultural set of norms and expectations that would explain a Latino shift than to consider other possibilities. 
Which is to say that deBoer has spotted a problem and Mattingly may have at least a potential explanation for one potential way in which the problem of the press not quite tracking an otherwise inexplicable Latino electoral shift away from the DNC in the last eight years as being explicable but not necessarily on the premises that most readily spring to mind within institutional journalism. 

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

a wry axiom about axioms

 silence is golden
unless you are a parent. 
then it's suspicious!

PS, not that I'm a parent. I'm paraphrasing into a haiku something one of my relatives shared.  

Monday, March 08, 2021

quintuple meter in the Renaissance, the English composer Christopher Tye's In Nomine for five instruments

In her readable and concise biography on the English Renaissance composer William Byrd, Kerry McCarthy points out that among early works by Byrd were a set of In Nomines.  Despite the Latin title these works, McCarthy points out are neither sacred works no choral works. Instead they are a set of instrumental works riffing on a chant but technically secular instrumental music.  Other English Renaissance composers would write In Nomines and get weird and adventurous on purpose.  Christopher Tye, for instance, wrote an In Nomine for five instruments in, of course, quintuple meter.  So off-kilter assymetrical meters have steadily shown up throughout Western musical history 

Saturday, March 06, 2021

John Fea on the wasting of the evangelical mind (assuming there has been one in the US)

Fea linked to a paltry entry in The New Yorker but then I haven't been able to take The New Yorker all that seriously in the last eight years. Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind opened bluntly by saying that there has never been much of an evangelical mind in the United States.  Perhaps to be more specific, the neo-evangelicalism that emerged in the Cold War era has not produced scholars, humanists, artists or writers of any long-term distinction.  

I wonder, though, if another way to put things is to say that white evangelicals have contributed little to civic life that isn't about the topics of gaining and wielding political power and, of course, family life and sexuality.  There may be contributions toward, say, American civic religion a la Billy Graham, but that hour has passed.  Whether or not Christians should contribute to American civic religions is another topic I don't want to get into too very much ... but I noticed Pliable over at On an Overgrown Path noted a juxtaposition between a young poet's words and the Biden administrations actions recently.  It's possible that when an American poet writes using the first person plural there's an implicitly or explicitly American civic religious impulse at work.  

But since some folks who are in the broadly evangelical or conservative low church Protestant scene have been lamenting critical race theory let me try to provide a specific example of what I think can be said about the wasting of the evangelical mind, if we're going to assume for the sake of conversation that American conservative evangelicalism has any serious intellectual capital to invest in cultural activity to begin with .... which ... you may infer from that I have doubts about this from time to time even though I would say I'm an evangelical and a moderately conservative one.

so ... 

Fredrik deBoer has a new Substack blog and did an experiment on readership and analytics, the application of which is germane to his observations on the insularity of the contemporary institutional press (i.e. NY, et al)

Although it is possible to read deBoer's trio of posts as an experiment in online rage and reactions that might be too fly-over an appraisal of what deBoer was doing at his new Substack blog.  As deBoer put 
it at his new Substack blog, what he did was an experiment from the subscription/analytics side of what kinds of posts get what level of attention and subscription activity.  The "Nitro" post got more 
readership and reactions than the "non-nitro" version of the same core observation about a journalist's assessment of Substack as something harmful to more traditional journalism.  

Now people have been saying traditional newspaper-based and magazine-based journalism has been dying a slow and miserable death for at least a generation.  Some people, like Andrey Mir, think that journalism is going to die out and that postjournalism, a new form of ... let's not label it just yet ... information dissemination customs is going to emerge.  Journalists call it "activist journalism" but if you're not for whatever the activist journalist is for then you might regard it as agitation propaganda or tract writing.  

Alan Jacobs on the not-quite-censorship Amazon can accomplish in an age of technocracy; thinking back to how neo-cons had no qualms about deplatforming people who objected to Gulf War 2 15 years ago

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Atanas Ourkouzounov - Asymmetrical Improvisations (score/video)

I'm going to blog about Ourkouzounov's solo guitar sonatas at some point in the future, I hope, but meanwhile, linking to videos of his works is something I like to do.

Douglas Shadle has a new book coming out Dvorak's New World Symphony and its legacy in American music and musicology

While on the one hand I was kinda bummed Shadle wasn't blogging at Substack so much 

he's got a new book Antonin Dvorak's New World Symphony is about, well, Dvorak's "From the New World" Symphony and its reception history.

His earlier book Orchestrating the Nation, which I learned about from Kyle Gann's blog review, was good. I still prefer George Walker's music to the music of Florence Price, personally, but I respect his advocacy for her work and I hope more of her chamber music gets recorded.  If the current pandemic guts concert life for the big institutions as much as music journalists still fear it will chamber music is going to be what keeps musical legacies alive, whether the old canonized white guys or women composers of color whose works are just now getting attention they didn't get in the past.

My reading list is pretty backlogged already but what I've read of Shadle so far has convinced me that if you're into classical music and want to keep up with what contemporary writers are saying on racial politics and aesthetic politics then Douglas Shadle's one of the authors you want to keep track of, maybe more especially by those who don't agree with him than the ones who do.  I found his case that American music journalists scuttled the still-born American symphonic tradition with a double bind of a Beethoven/Wagner problem to be largely persuasive, but then I'm a guitarist who plays classical guitar and admires blues and jazz from the 1920s ...s o I'm already sympathetic to Shadle's idea that a lot of beautiful music was ignored by the music journalistic powers that be in the 19th century. :) 

as in, yes, I'm getting the book and plan to read it.  

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

John Ahern at Theopolis Institute on how Calvin's view of music was more positive than you might have heard, and less ambivalent than Augustine's


On the one hand, Calvin agrees with Augustine that music is subservient to the ends of the text. This is plain from his comment that music is a “help” to the wandering mind. Music is, in Lutheran terminology, a sermon on, an exegesis of, the text. Calvin may have a positive view of music, but he would be no fan of the ideology Beethoven, Hanslick, Nietzsche (or, dare I say, Roger Scruton) applied to church music. Even Calvin’s positive principle of music is, I believe, totally incompatible with “absolute, autonomous art music” in an ecclesiastical setting. (In the same vein, Calvin would, I wager, have little patience for the organist who insisted that their flowery introductions were “their own act of worship” and so ought to override the pragmatic concerns of congregational worship. Just so we’re clear.)

On the other hand, though, Calvin clearly paints music as some sort of alarm clock on our noetic failings. So Calvinist music should be anything but dull. And, indeed, as originally composed and performed, it wasanything but dull—it wasn’t for nothing that Calvinist psalm settings were called “Genevan jigs.” I think Calvin’s positive view of music can be used to endorse some kind of Christian musical maximalism: yes, music is subservient to the text, but that does not mean that it is meant to be backgrounded. It is subordinate in a hierarchy of ends, but not necessarily in a hierarchy of means and certainly not of perception. Music might well need to shout at us to get us to hear. Like Flannery O’Connor’s vision of the good Catholic writer, the good Calvinist musician must “make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”[3]

So, if we agree with Calvin’s principle, we should be more comfortable with Josquin’s chaotic polyphony than Palestrina’s tidy counterpoint (certainly Luther was). Perhaps we should be happier with Olivier Messiaen’s dissonant, screaming organ sketches than Widor’s frilly Victorian organ symphonies. Possibly even happier with a hard rock rendition of Psalm 2 or a Lecrae track than the soothing sounds of Chris Tomlin’s mic held ever-so-close to the mouth. I would judge that our approach to the text is better served in the former of each of these pairs. The overly familiar text is made strange and unfamiliar. And that is just what we need, lest we draw near to God with our lips but not our hearts. I don’t merely mean to defend an ugly aesthetic, but perhaps to place music less in the category of “aesthetic” altogether, and in a category more consonant with ancient thought, that of “rhetoric”. Music should speak intelligibly and prophetically in order to be edifying, just as Paul says in I Corinthians 14.

and I can well imagine Jim West, if he read the piece, wondering why Zwingli didn't get mentioned. :) 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

A Prelude and Fugue on demons and exorcism in American civil religion (by way of statue toppling and punditry on critical theory)

What I’m about to present is not so much an essay in a usual sense but more as the literary equivalent of a prelude with a fugue--a path of reading by way of a river of citations.  Think of it as a literally prosaic variation on a methodology of quotation used in T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”.

This is a survey of some reading I was doing in 2020 on the topic of statue toppling, statue vandalism, and the reactions of leftist, progressive, liberal, conservative and maybe even some reactionary responses.  I saw a fair bit of coverage that tacitly discussed the toppling of the statues of slave traders and slave owners in terms of political history but less often in terms of civic religion.  The conservative bromides about how toppling statues was a bid to erase history seemed to me in egregiously bad faith because, well, that may give me the opportunity to quote extravagantly from Jaques Ellul’s book The New Demons on the concept of the sacred as it relates to political life.  So ...

Friday, February 26, 2021

Augustine defined music as "the science of mensurating well", but he also built social and cultural context into his definition of music

On Music
The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation (Volume 4)
Augustine, translated by Robert Catesby Taliaferro
Copyright © 1947 by Ludwig Schopp
ISBN-10 : 0-8132-1319-3
ISBN-13 : 978-0813213194

On Music
Page 172
M. Music is the science of mensurating well. Doesn’t it seem so to you?
D. It might seem so, if it were clear to me what mensuration is.
Page 173
M. Don’t let this disturb you, that, as you just said, in all things made, music included, measure must be observed, and yet that this is called mensuration in music.   …
M. For you to understand that mensuration can regard music alone, while measure, from which the word is derived, can also be in other things. In the same way diction is properly attributed to orators, although anyone who speaks says something, and diction gets its name from saying.  …
Page 174
M. Then, mensuration is not improperly called a certain skill in moving, or at any rate that by which something is made to move well. For we can’t say anything moves well unless it keeps its measure.
Pages 175-176
M. Music is the science of moving well. But that is because whatever moves and keeps harmoniously the measuring of times and intervals can already be said to move well.  For it is already pleasing, and for this reason is already properly called mensuration. Yet it is possible for this harmony and measuring to please when they shouldn’t.  For example, if one should sing sweetly and dance gracefully, wishing there-by to be gay when the occasion demanded gravity, such a person would in no way be using harmonious mensuration well. In other words, that person uses ill or improperly the motion at one time called good because of its harmony. And so it is one thing to mensurate, and another to mensurate well. [emphasis added]
Ever since I read Ted Gioia's Music: A Subversive History I have been reminded of how there are people who have felt obliged to sound off on Augustine's treatise.  Paul Hindemith, at least, summarized what was actually in De Musica in the lectures that became Hindemith's book A Composer's World: Horizons and Limitations, but even his summary was a bit idiosyncratic.  Hindemith may have misunderstood aspects of Augustine's treatise but he didn't foundationally misrepresent what was going on in the book.  Gioa's bid at a history of music has reminded me that when it comes to popular level descriptions of what Augustine did and didn't say about music there are much worse historical and historiographical takes on Augustine than Hindemith's, Gioia's being most prominent. 

Crawford Gribben has new book on emergence of new forms of Christian Reconstructionism in the Pacific Northwest

It looks like it will feature Doug Wilson pretty prominently.  Wilson admirers can seem to keep Wilson's variations of his ideas pretty distinct from the versions of the ideas about men, masculinity and gender roles that Mark Driscoll made use of, at least since 2014, but Mark Driscoll wasn't so creative as to get his ideas about gender roles out of thin air.  It was known across Mars Hill circa 2000 to 2009 that Wilsonian ideals about men and marriage were guidelines within Mars Hill--it's not hard to see how Wilson's ideas were like a person who was taken to the gym, put on steroids and blood-doping, and then sent off to win a couple of bike races but the conceptual connections were there and not hard to spot in even, say, "Pussified Nation".  So an academic monograph that deals with the influence of Doug Wilson and Pacific Northwestern variations of Christian reconstructionism may potentially be of interest to anyone wanting to do a longer-form historical survey of the socio-political conditions pertinent to the emergence of the former Mars Hill.  

Whether Doug Wilson and associates even talk about Mark Driscoll is a bit hard to assess.  He's moved on to other topics and opportunities.  If readers (however many I have by now) read the Gribben book and have feedback the moderated comments box is available. 

UPDATE 3-2-2021 7:15am

Gribben's book Writing the Rapture, a survey of Rapture fiction in American evangelicalism in the last century actually looks like an interesting addition to the big reading list. Since Rapture related themes crop up in spiritual warfare manuals because of eschatological themes a survey of eschatologically themed fiction might be an interesting addition to the ... already sprawling reading list. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Ravi Zacharias coverage, more disclosures about abuses--some thoughts on how vicariously living through favorite teachers, preachers and artists is probably how "we" let "them" keep harming people

The problems and corruptions as they are getting revealed seem to be board level and institution-wide.  

Kevin H at Phoenix Preacher had a piece recently called "How They Get Away With It… "
Ravi Zacharias.  James MacDonald.  Carl Lentz.  Bob Coy.  Mark Driscoll.  Bill Hybels.  Tullian Tchividjian.  Bill Gothard.  The list goes on and on, and these are names from only the past few years.  These are all Christian leaders who abused power for purposes of their own gains and desires, leaving a wake of countless broken and victimized souls in their self-indulgent trails.  These are only the ones who finally experienced some manner of fall from grace after the exposure of their sinful deeds became too staggeringly extensive such that they could no longer vanquish them all.  Who knows how many more cases are still successfully under wraps?
I have been thinking for years, particularly since the demise of Mars Hill, that Americans mediate their concept of religious life through their celebrities.  For some the celebrity might be Mark Driscoll, whose scandals became cumulatively enough to catalyze his resignation from Mars Hill and the dissolution of the corporation known as Mars Hill Fellowship/Mars Hill Church.  For others their Christian celebrity hero might be Karl Barth.  Jim West had some choice words for Americans who "recently" discovered Karl Barth had a lengthy affair with Charlotte von Kirschbaum:

Julie Roys with a roundtable on the evangelical industrial complex

The term evangelical industrial complex is very niche but there's a transcript so you can read or listen, whichever is faster for you.  I mention this separately because I think there's a larger theme than just Christian popular level culture industry patterns but to springboard past that it won't hurt to mention this.  

Julia Duin has a lengthy piece at Politico on charismatic/Pentecostal prophets and how prophets in those movements fed into fantasies that Trump won 2020

As I've blogged in the past I am ex-Pentecostal for a whole lot of reasons but here, half a century after Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth, ridiculous unfulfilled dispensationalist-futurist derived prophecy is one of the big ones. Of course no one who graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary was likely to be a charismatic/Pentecostal!  But as with spiritual warfare so with End Times timelines, fundamentalists and Pentecostals and charismatics could often overlap on those issues despite seriously dividing on applied pneumatology.   I heard about how we were living in the End Times for years and in my teens I felt some anxiety that if Jesus was coming back so soon what was the point of going to college and getting a degree or getting married?  Wouldn't there be no marriage in the age to come, anyway? Then if that would be upon us soon by way of the Rapture dating and getting married was the biggest possible waste of time.

That was not how someone in my life wanted me to interpret End Times timeline stuff, to put it delicately. :)  

But when I saw so-called prophecies claiming the European Union was where The Beast was going to rise and I looked into the absurdities of the EU not enforcing its own green laws on ecological issues and its historically dependent relationship to us (U.S.) in terms of, say, a nuclear umbrella, it seemed way, way more likely that the United States would be where the big old Antichrist would come from.  That, too, was not where Pentecostal, evangelical, fundamentalist and charismatic categories of thought went.  I became an amillenial partial preterist and the rest should probably bore you so I won't mention more.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

a lookback on something I wrote about Joss Whedon in 2017: revisiting the one-trick quippy pony in 2021 as having a rep parasitically dependent on actresses who were better than the lines he wrote for them decades ago
Whedon's really gone much farther on the good graces of actresses better than the dialogue he writes for them than he may have deserved.
A less delicate way I put it around Whedon's pivot to the MCU was I told a friend that Whedon's a one-trick pony whose gimmicks are played out, who foisted waif-fu on us more than anyone else in the last twenty years and whose reputation has depended on women who are better at playing with his lines than he is at writing them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Schenker and counter-Schenker, coverage and counter-coverage

We've waded a teensy bit into Schenker in the past and I will say up front I'm not a Schenkerian and am grateful that I didn't go to grad school in music in the U.S. (didn't do the grad school path in music) and so was spared having to spend any time on Schenkerian analysis.  I've been interested in the last twenty or more years in fusions of ragtime, jazz, blues, country and American vernacular styles with late Baroque and galant era practices; in other words I've been wanting to write sonata forms based on ragtime strains and fugues based on riffs that could fit into songs by Muddy Waters or Thelonious Monk songs.  I like J. S. Bach and Haydn, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Hindemith (yes),, and contemporary guitar music from central and eastern European composers.  So let me admit up front I haven't been and don't plan to be a Schenkerian.  I have also written about how even the conservative philosopher on the aesthetics of music Roger Scruton (who died last year) concluded that Schenkerian visual analysis was simply not as cogent or useful as its advocates advertised.

Julia Duin comments on the predictable labeling by some clergy of VP Harris as "Jezebel" and usage variables of the term

To no one's surprise "Jezebel" means something different coming from clergy than taken as the name of an online magazine.  The propensity in the US to wear insults as badges of honor doesn't mean what Jezebel is recorded as having done in the Samuel-Kings literature is praiseworthy. Framing someone on false charges of blasphemy against god and king so as to procure a vineyard so the king can get a vegetable garden is eventually punished by Yahweh later by way of the prophets of Ahab being deceived by a lying spirit to go to his death in battle, despite being warned by a prophet that this was going to happen.  In other words, within Jewish and Christian literature Jezebel's misuse of royal power "could" be compared to figures like Nixon and other presidents but not necessarily (yet) to someone who only recently got sworn in as VP.  

As Duin expounds in her piece what Baptists and Pentecostals mean by "Jezebel" or "Jezebel spirit" won't always be the same but there's no version of it that is "positive" which is why some clergy have publicly rebuked the use of the term to describe VP Harris, which is a big chunk of Duin's piece. 

Alex Ross on the Wagnerian legacy of ... Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers)

As in Ross has already figured that an updated or revised edition of his recent book Wagnerism needs to now include a reference to Mr. Rogers.

... Tiarks writes: "Although his ego was at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to Richard Wagner’s, Rogers took Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk approach, writing all the scripts, as well as the lyrics and music for the more than 200 songs performed on [the show]." I will see if I can incorporate that provocative insight into a revised version of Wagnerism. Years ago, Jim Smith told me Rogers enjoyed reading my New Yorker columns; it's the best compliment I've ever received.

To say that Fred Rogers ego was at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to Richard Wagner's might be an understatement of a year.  What's the Wagnerian connection? The total work of art, the way Rogers could compose music and write stories and develop characters. We don't have to like Richard Wagner as a person or enjoy his music to appreciate that without Richard Wagner's operatic legacy Scott Joplin might not have aspired to composing Treemonisha. Michael Jackson could arguably embody in his whole persona the Wagnerian ideal of the total-work-of-art and popular level defenses of Jackson's legacy zero in on the fact that Jackson wrote songs, could sing, and also dance, in other words, whether Jackson's advocates know it or not they are explicitly arguing for the creative significance of Michael Jackson on Wagnerian terms of the synthesis of arts.

Ethan Iverson notes the passing of Chick Corea and mentions the jazz pianist's conversion to Scientology, (early) Corea admirer Terry Mattingly at GetReligion notes how few obits have much to say on that topioc


A lot of what Chick Corea played came directly from McCoy Tyner, but his approach had a freshness and a lightness that was distinctive and seductive. There was some kind of basic and intuitive grasp of uptempo clave that sparkled like nobody else. Corea also had serious knowledge of modernist classical music. Indeed, of all the top-tier jazz pianists, Corea may have been the best “student,” someone who checked out and assimilated countless genres from Brazilian to Bartók to the blues on a deep level. On “The Brain”– especially with DeJohnette large and in charge — the balancing act is simply beautiful.

The style on “The Brain” could have been one of the next steps in the music, but other factors intruded. All four of these musicians would be on Bitches Brew later the same year; eventually Corea would be a high-profile Scientologist. (In 2016 Corea completed Scientology’s highest auditing level, Operating Thetan Level 8, for the second time, apparently a rare “feat.”) Chick Corea’s life and music deserves a historian/critic willing to make some tough calls.

Terry Mattingly has noticed that obits mention the Scientology but without little explanation as to what Scientology is or how obit authors think it influenced Corea's music.
... What puzzled me, of course, was this statement: “Corea converted to Scientology, and the religion’s teachings informed much of his music from then on. …”

The word “informed” is interesting. However, my journalism question, in this case, was practical, rather than philosophical.

Hear me out. If the science fiction of Hubbard and the religious teachings and methods of Scientology played such a major role in Corea’s art, maybe the Times team could have included a sentence or two explaining that? Maybe a few practical examples or, perhaps, a quote from Corea (or Hubbard) demonstrating what this influenced looked like, in practice?

These religious teachings shaped “much” of his music? That implied some pieces composed by Corea were influenced by these teachings more than others (as opposed to J.S. Bach signing “Soli Deo Gloria” at the end of every piece — from, logically enough, sacred choral music to solo organ masterworks).

This was, apparently, an important force in the life of a great artist. Maybe it was worth a few sentences?


So, throwing that out for consideration.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Crawford Gribben at The Critic on why conservatives should not rush to shift to Gab from other social media--Gab founder into Rushdoony and Evola

While the article clearly has a tie in, as such articles often can, to the author's forthcoming book, there's a case that conservatives should not migrate from Facebook or Twitter to Gab because the Gab founder positively references Julius Evola

Friday, February 12, 2021

Augustine's De Musica, Book VI--the necessity of having followed the tedium of Books I-V to understand why all those numbers are significant in terms of human cognition

Now we can finally get to the more famous final book of Augustine's treatise, having seen at least some of what books I-V were discussing.  Someone like Ted Gioia can get hung up on the mere fact that numeri show up in Augustine's treatise without, it seems, remembering why Augustine had his master and disciple discuss where those numbers were perceived and how that is significant.  It's no surprise that a post-Pythagorean and post-Platonic thinker like Augustine would turn toward number but we can see, from what I quoted earlier from the first five books, that Augustine's interest was in things like mobile and immobile meters and in the last book we get to the matter of the minds that are able to perceive the numbers in the flow of a poetic or musical rhythm.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

excerpts from Augustine's De Musica (Books I-V), his never-finished treatise on music--proposing that Augustine's discourse on poetic rhythm could correspond to "flow" in hiphop if music historians stop using him as a punching bag (hint, Ted Gioia)

The single most important problem with Ted Gioia's Music: A Subversive History with respect to Augustine of Hippo is he never quotes Augustine. He also never mentions that  Augustine's treatise on music was never finished. Augustine is merely collapsed into Gioia's patently pejorative take on Pythagoras and the entirety of all Pythagorean and quasi-Pythagorean or neo-Pythagorean conceptions of music as Gioia takes them to be over the last 2,500 years.  Well, let's at least quote Augustine and associated scholarship to give people a chance to decide what they think.  Just because we might not endorse a post-Pythagorean neo-Platonic cosmology in which the divinely ordered cosmos is full of musical resonance that can be replicated or imitated in human music doesn't mean we can't at least disagree with Augustine for what he says rather than by way of some person telling us what to think about Augustine without ever quoting him.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Ted Gioia's history of music as Europe vs. Africa traffics in an artificial binary--exploring the Native Hawaiian ancestry of slide guitar and Anton Reicha's advocacy of microtonal melodic ornament in 1814

… No matter what the political structure one advocates, the wrong music can apparently send it toppling. Perhaps the strongest aspect of this evolution is its reversal of the ancients’ philosophical dichotomy. The guitar, a kind of modern lyre, is now the dangerous source of disorder, while the flute is seen as a prim, subdued instrument evoking respectability and orderliness.  This is one of the most striking examples of the dialectic at play in music history in which things turn into their opposites.

 This is not mere happenstance. The guitar shook things up in the twentieth century because it was the focal point for the African diaspora’s attack on the Pythagorean paradigm that had dominated Western music since 500 BC. As blues guitar techniques entered the mainstream, they validated the use of bent notes and introduced sounds outside conventional scales. This assault on Pythagorean notions of playing in tune—which for centuries had required musicians to keep within the boundaries of carefully delineated scales and maintain a proper tone—threatened to overturn all the hierarchies of established music, both social and aural. [emphasis added]

 … This African counter-paradigm represented the most forceful attack in more than two millennia on the codification of music into a system of discrete notes. The knife could bend a guitar note in a way that a hand or finger could not. With a weapon in hand, the subversive performer could rediscover music’s origins in unconstrained sound. As such, the modern guitar represents the exact danger that Plato had perceived in the flute more than two millennia before: an untuning of the universe. Music: A Subversive History, page 106

 The rise of the blues may offer the most powerful test case we could devise for assessing a key thesis of my book, namely, the assertion that musical innovation comes from the underclass. This hypothesis, if it could be proven, would show how different music is from other art forms.  Innovation in painting and sculpture, for example, has almost always happened in close proximity to rich patrons—even today, a couple hundred affluent collectors set the tone for the visual arts economy. The rise of the novel drew momentum from the wealth-creating enterprises of the Industrial Revolution. The new artistic mediums of today—video games, virtual reality, and probably whatever is coming next—appear inextricably connected to profit-generating businesses in Silicon Valley. Only music plays by different rules, almost defiantly so. Music: A Subversive History, pages 335-336

Being a guitarist I’m flattered that Gioia thinks the guitar has been so revolutionary in music in the last century. I’m tempted to agree but …   is Ted Gioia imagining that all post-Pythagorean bids at tuning system represent repressive norms?  Did blue notes really defy the established order by not obeying “the rules”, whatever those are of “properly” ordered scales and notes?  Are we talking about the rules of sixteenth and seventh century species counterpoint grounded in the performing traditions of acapella vocal music? Those rules emerged for some practical as well as theoretical reasons. 

Or is Ted Gioia trying to say that blues riffs with notes a quarter-tone away from the notes E flat or A natural on a keyboard is subversive?  String players who perform Haydn string quartets already know that E flat and D sharp are not the same pitch, which was why when Haydn went to the trouble of saying to play a passage scored in E flat starting from the pitch of D sharp that was because he felt he needed to. 

Ted Gioia's Music: A Subversive History has a theory of Pythagoras that got debunked by Kyle Gann's history of tuning systems more than a month before Gioia's book came out

Music: A Subversive History

Ted Gioia

Basic Books, Hachette Book Group

Copyright © 2019 by Ted Gioia

ISBNs: 978-1-5416-4436-6 (hardcover), 978-1-5416-1797-1 (ebook)

At a certain point in Western history, music became a quasi-science. Or, to be more precise, those who theorized about music managed to impose a scientific and mathematical framework that would marginalize all other approaches to the subject. We can even assign a name, a location, and a rough date to this revolution. The alleged innovator was Pythagoras of Samos, born around the year 570 BC. The impact of the Pythagorean revolution on the later course of music is still insufficiently understood and appreciated. I believe he is the most important person in the history of music—although his `innovation’ has perhaps done as much harm as good—and I will make a case for that bold claim in the pages ahead. Yet he is often treated as little more than a colorful footnote in cultural history, a charming figure who appears in anecdotes and asides, but not the mainstream narrative of cultural history.…

Pythagoras’s attempt to define and constrain musical sounds by the use of numbers and ratios continues to shape how we conceptualize and perform songs in the current day, and even now we distinguish between melody and noise. Music, as it is taught in every university and conservatory in the world today, is explicitly Pythagorean in its methods and assumptions. And even when musical styles emerged from the African diaspora that challenged this paradigm, threatening to topple it with notes that didn’t belong to scales and rhythms that defied conventional metric thinking, the algorithmic mindset prevailed, somehow managing to codify non-Pythagorean performance styles that would seem to resist codification. [emphasis added] Even today, I see the Pythagorean spirit as the implicit philosophy undergirding the advances of digital music—the ultimate reduction of song to mathematics—and technologies such as synthesizers, drum machines, Auto-Tune, and the dynamic range compression of current-day recordings. From pages 48-49

Gioia's would-be subversive history of music was a fun read in terms of breezy style but exasperating in terms of its history. Gioia has a pejorative take on Pythagoras and anyone and anything he has bracketed into the category of Pythagorean. 

Monday, February 08, 2021

Atanas Ourkouzounov: Toccatchenitsa (video with score)

This piece is fun and a good introduction, for those who have never heard of Atanas Ourkouzounov, to what he does.  From page one we can hear and see an interest in non-metered musical ideas that make use of extended techniques and riffs and grooves in which timbre, melody and harmony are inextricably bound to what is physically possible on the instrument. If you're a guitarist as skilled as Ourkouzounov this means there's few things that can't be done that aren't impossible on the instrument to begin with.