Saturday, January 10, 2015

an anecdotal case for why Wenatchee The Hatchet would say you'd better listen to Boston than "country" these days

Back when there was this thing called "new country" Wenatchee The Hatchet heard about it sounded like old rockabilly that was reheated in a microwave, much like grunge was the same sort of thing with punk.  WtH has no problem with country in principle.  Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr. and Merle Haggard may be a bit more pop than country, maybe, but basically country written and performed by people born before 1960, that's okay.

New country, no.  New new country of the sort that gets targeted at the link above ... that's basically just pop.

Most of the contrasts across styles in contemporary Western popular styles that gets anywhere near Billboard seem to be more a matter of preferences in timbre and the pace of harmonic rhythm.  If you lean toward long and tedious rambling on over a single chord then you're more of a Zeppelin fan, natch. 

But the chords in the six songs mashed up in the link. The chord changes sounded threadworn and lame ... like the chords were used in some chorus in some song that's not even country but more like ...

oh yeah
"chords for heroes"

If the six mashed up songs are the sound of new country then why don't people just keep on listening to Boston?

The first couple of Boston albums may have been played to death but the songs that cement the clich├ęs are the ones that get to own `em better.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

a drift (back) toward music stuff and toons ... still pending

It's going to happen, eventually.  Got a couple of analytic discussions in mind of the sort that have been alluded to but not published just yet.  Maybe half a dozen of you know the stuff about the evolution of sonata forms in solo guitar literature, that stuff is going to come back up again. 

But 2014 was a busy year for Wenatchee The Hatchet, 688 posts.  It didn't feel like a whole lot of writing activity at the time but there's some saying about how things can seem one way but be another, right? 

Well, though Wenatchee The Hatchet would not say "I'm done" (if for no other reason than because too many people who have said "I'm done" with that stuff not only haven't been done but have more stuff they're saying since they said they were "done") about the usual suspect topics, there's also that old axiom "To everything there is a ... ." 

And while there was a time for documenting the history of a certain organization and its brand there are other things in life, even for a blog that seems to be recognized almost entirely (if inaccurately) as something like a watchblog.  Fear not, readers, a discussion of Matiegka's grand sonatas is still going to happen.  It just takes time to do musical analysis and finding suitable ways to explain the evolution of sonata form in solo guitar literature but Grand Sonata 1 is on the to-get-to- list for blog posts. 

And Diabelli's F major solo sonata, too, perhaps.

And cartoons ... been watching Legend of Korra and Archer lately.  One of the cartoons works better than the other and even if you aren't familiar with Wenatchee The Hatchet on the subject of cartoons you probably don't have to guess too much which cartoon WtH is likely to think has worked out more effectively. 

But there's such a thing as taking breaks.

688 posts ... it didn't seem like much blogging at the time, really ... at least not until transcribing that astonishing morass from 2008 got started.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Atlantic--"the death of the artist" lament vs Ribbon Farm, "we bring consumption sensibilities to production behavior choices"
The democratization of taste, abetted by the Web, coincides with the democratization of creativity.

The makers have the means to sell, but everybody has the means to make. And everybody’s using them. Everybody seems to fancy himself a writer, a musician, a visual artist. Apple figured this out a long time ago: that the best way to sell us its expensive tools is to convince us that we all have something unique and urgent to express.

“Producerism,” we can call this, by analogy with consumerism. What we’re now persuaded to consume, most conspicuously, are the means to create. And the democratization of taste ensures that no one has the right (or inclination) to tell us when our work is bad. A universal grade inflation now obtains: we’re all swapping A-minuses all the time, or, in the language of Facebook, “likes.”
It is often said today that the most-successful businesses are those that create experiences rather than products, or create experiences (environments, relationships) around their products. So we might also say that under producerism, in the age of creative entrepreneurship, producing becomes an experience, even the experience. It becomes a lifestyle, something that is packaged as an experience—and an experience, what’s more, after the contemporary fashion: networked, curated, publicized, fetishized, tweeted, catered, and anything but solitary, anything but private.
Among the most notable things about those Web sites that creators now all feel compelled to have is that they tend to present not only the work, not only the creator (which is interesting enough as a cultural fact), but also the creator’s life or lifestyle or process. The customer is being sold, or at least sold on or sold through, a vicarious experience of production.
Conspicuous Production

The future of work looks bleaker than it needs to for one simple reason: we bring consumption sensibilities to production behavior choices. Even our language reflects this: we “shop around” for careers. We  look for prestigious brands to work for. We look for “fulfillment” at work. Sometimes we even accept pay cuts to be associated with famous names.  This is work as fashion accessory and conversation fodder.

We can think of this as conspicuous production, by analogy to conspicuous consumption. First-world artisan tendencies take this to a logical extreme.

When you subconsciously think of work as something you consume for pleasure, you end up with a possibly irrational (economically speaking) attraction to artisan work. Even those who don’t actually end up as artisans choose work the way they choose cars, jewelry or handbags, over-valuing things like resume-value and exposure-value. [emphasis added]

The result is a misguided analysis of the impact of computers and automation that makes us think the future of work is much darker than it is.

What’s the difference between a tradesman and  an artisan?  Think chimney-sweep versus bard as the extremes of the spectrum. Both are archetypes that mostly disappeared with late industrialization in the early twentieth century, thanks in part to automation, but there the similarities end.

One fulfilled a critical economic function by engaging in unpleasant and inconspicuous production. The other fulfilled a non-critical economic function in the economy by engaging in pleasurable and conspicuous production. [emphasis added]

Kyle Gann from 2003 "Make way for the guitar era" ... but haven't the last sixty years of popular music kind of already BEEN the guitar era?
Something else I meant to add about my students and the piano: Perhaps it’s just Bard culture, but I see many students today, perhaps a majority, coming to musical creativity from the guitar rather than the piano, as they used to, or any other instrument. This could have profound consequences. In the Renaissance, composers usually got their start as child singers. Baroque and Classical composers were often string players (Corelli and Haydn, the violin; Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, the viola). Romantic and modern composers were more often than not pianists. Such choices have profound consequences, and if there really is a sea-change of composers now coming from the guitar world rather than the piano, that alone could bring about a rift in musical eras.

In popular music the guitar has all but reigned supreme in contemporary American culture (and by contemporary let's just say since 1950ish?).  Sure, in concert music or classical music or art music or whatever you'd prefer to call it the piano has dominated for a long time.  And Gann's synopsis is certainly compelling for the shifts that happened in that stream of music ... but for all of us who grew up listening to rock and pop the guitar was always around. 

And yet, circa 1999, Matanya Ophee, speaking as a publisher and a guitarist, seemed quite a bit more pessismistic.
Let us go back to Segovia’s declared intentions to “raise the guitar to the same level as the violin, piano and cello.” This is an important task for us, particularly for those of us who contemplate making a living as practicing performers on the guitar. It is important not only because it is a question of pride in one’s own instrument and its heritage. It is also a matter of survival. Economic survival. Pianists and violinists who win the first prize in a major international concourse like the Tchaikowski Competition in Moscow, are pretty much assured an easy road into the international concert scene, and in a big way. Concert tours in foreign countries, recording contracts, and so on. There are many young guitarists today in many parts of the world, and also in Mexico, who are certainly on the same level of artistic development as some recent winners of the Tchaikowski. It would be nice if a guitarist was allowed to enter. But this is only a pipe dream as long as the prejudice against the guitar by main-line musicians. Hence, the major task before the intelligent guitarist in selecting his repertoire, is to do so in a manner which can only bring respect and appreciation. Not from the audience, what ever it may be, but from other musicians. Your colleagues in school, your teachers, music critics, officials of arts organizations and so forth. This is not a matter of contributing altruistically to the general well-being of the discipline. It is a matter of the personal survival of the individual guitarist. If you could be the first to be taken seriously as a musician by the general community of music, your life as a professional musician will be so much more rewarding.

But we have a problem. The majority of musicians who play the main instruments of art music, are those who play the instruments of the orchestra. The guitar is not part of the orchestra and never will be. The same can be said about the piano. So how come the piano is one of the main foundations of art music for at least the last two and half centuries, and the guitar is not? ...

Ophee's lecture presupposed that the guitar, to that day, was not regarded as quite as serious or substantial as the other instruments in the concert repertoire, if it could even be counted as worthy to fit into that tradition at all.

The thing that seems exciting about the musical era we live in is that there's no set style.  There may be styles that are popular and styles that aren't but there's no reason a musician needs to feel obliged to dig into any one style.  Ours is an era that is able to have a more encyclopedic knowledge of all styles of music the world over from whatever era from which music can be preserved and passed down. 

We may be moving toward a guitar era, even if I think Gann is being a bit optimistic about this.  Even as a guitarist I'd hesitate we're necessarily entering a "guitar era" in "classical" repertoire.

from Atlantic Monthly: T. S. Eliot as the first hipster, self-consciously looking for an unattainable authenticity

Rather than quote extensively, it may be better to quote in cryptic and allusive ways an article by Karen Swallow Prior on T. S. Eliot as the first hipster and on J. Alfred Prufrock.

Modernists are generally held responsible for having dug the deep chasm between high culture and low, and Eliot is often regarded as highbrow fare fit for college classrooms and academic journals.  But the erudite, Harvard-educated Eliot saw high culture not as opposed to popular culture, but as its fulfillment, ...

In a culture too detached and disconnected to give birth to anything new, people turn to curation, pastiche, allusiveness, and hyper-referentiality—the hallmarks of the hipster aesthetic.
But these were Eliot’s hallmarks, too. Eliot did not create the world depicted in his poems; he merely gave it expression in the form of fragments we might shore against our ruins. Hipsters—a movement many say has passed—have perhaps done no less.

musicology as identity politics first and musical analysis second?

Poor Charles Ives. He never got over his father’s death, and kept trying to fill in the gap. He was driven to keep using certain tunes and instruments in his music because they reminded him of George. He kept pretending that he’d learned more from his father than from his college teacher Horatio Parker. Unlike most composers, Ives couldn’t make up his own tunes anyway, so he’d find one and rearrange it until no one could recognize it. He never knew what he really wanted. He claimed that he didn’t need any public recognition for his music, but he mailed it out into the world anyway. He was clearly really conflicted. He was laden with a lot of gender issues that made him express himself inappropriately, and he tried to write about Transcendentalism, though he didn’t really understand it. He wrote crackpot letters to the president about crazy schemes involving political referendums, and he really didn’t understand the issues involved. He took all those dissonances out of his music for fear people wouldn’t take his music seriously, and then when he made friends with other composers who wrote dissonant music, he piled dissonances back in, with the competitiveness of a former athlete, so he could seem to be more modern than they were.

Gann goes on to explain the how of the satire of contemporary musicology in the above-linked post.  A bit further along he puts his complaint another way.
As Larry Polansky once said to me, “Composers are now doing the work that musicologists used to do, while the musicologists are all off doing gender studies.” And now composers aren’t even allowed to do that in books anymore.

and on the other side of the world, Tom Service at The Guardian is lately remarking:

Diagnosing composers’ ailments from their music has become something of a mini-industry over recent years. The latest is research that suggests that the quirkiness and elemental unpredictability of Beethoven’s rhythmic imagination stemmed from a putative arrhythmia of the heart. According to Zachary Goldberger’s findings, Beethoven’s deafness would have meant he was hyper-aware of his dicky ticker, whose off-kilter rhythms ended up in his music, such as the late string quartets, not least op 130. I say Goldberger’s “findings”, but an actual diagnosis of whatever Beethoven was suffering from can only ever be high-level speculation, since we don’t and can’t know what precise cocktail of conditions led to his death in March 1827.

Richard Taruskin has proposed that the reason music criticism about popular music actually gets read (in contrast to criticism of concert music) is that popular music deals with the concerns of regular people while music criticism in classical (or perhaps also jazz) devolves into shop talk, stuff about chains of chords and structural stuff.  But perhaps there's some kind of golden mean here.