Saturday, July 27, 2019

Theodore Adorno on the emotional listener from Introduction to the Sociology of Music, more common in Anglo-Saxon and Slavonic regions than in Germany for ... reasons

Theodore W. Adorno
The Seabury Press, Inc.
originally published 1962
English translation 1976
ISBN 0-8164-92662-

pages 8-9

Next in line would be another type, one defined not by the relation to the specific quality of what is heard, but by its own mentality, grown independent of the object. This is the emotional listener. His relation to music is less rigid and indirect than the culture consumer's, but in another respect it is even farther removed from perception: to him, the relation becomes crucial for triggering instinctual stirrings otherwise tamed or repressed by norms of civilization. [bold added italics original] Often music becomes a source of irrationality, whereby a man inexorably harnessed to the bustle of rationalistic self-preservation will be enabled to keep having feelings at all. Often he has virtually nothing to do any more with the form of what he has heard: its preponderant function is that of such a trigger. The listening process follows the theorem of specific sense energies: a sensation of light results from a punch in the eye. Yet this type may indeed respond with particular strength to music of an obvious emotional hue, like Tchaikovsky's.  [emphasis added] He is easily moved to tears, and his links with the culture consumer are continuous; ·the latter's arsenal too is rarely without an appeal to the emotional values of genuine music.

In Germany-perhaps under the spell of the cultural respect for music-the emotional listener seems less characteristic than in Anglo-Saxon countries, where the stricter pressures of civilization necessitate evasions into uncontrollably introverted realms of feeling; in technologically backward countries, notably in the Slavonic ones, it is also likely to retain a role. The contemporary output tolerated and mass-produced in the Soviet Union is tailor-made for this type; in any event its musical ego ideal is patterned after the cliché of the violently oscillating, now ebullient, now melancholy Slav. As in music, the type is probably naive, or ostensibly naive, at least in his overall habitus. The immediacy of his reactions tallies with an occasional stubborn blindness to the thing he is reacting to. He does not want to know anything and is, therefore easily influenced from the outset. [emphases added]The musical culture industry can plan for him-in Germany and Austria with the synthetic folk song species, for example, from about the early nineteen-thirties on ... .

Now and then I have come across folks who have studied music who have expressed some interest in critical theory.  I would advise they skip a good deal of the secondary literature and just dive straight into the work of Adorno.  Far better to discover that Adorno comes across like an elitist with prejudices against a variety of ethnicities in musical-cultural terms than to have this mediated away by sympathetic readings from critical theorists who post-date Adorno's work.  

Certainly, he observed that there are types of people who listen to music for a mood-altering or even an essentially narcotic effect.  He worked out that there are those who listen to music so that it may function as a mood-altering drug or as a reinforcement of whatever feelings they already have.  

Had he confined himself to that more general observation he wouldn't come across as he does declaring that this emotional listener is more common in Anglo-Saxon and Slavonic regions.  Implicit in his taxonomy of types of listener is a case that it might be possible for those who operate at the lower levels to graduate to higher and more informed levels of music cognition within the parameters of musical thought that are available.  The friendly way to put that is to say that music education can help people think more clearly and with greater appreciation for whatever it is they hear, whether they enjoy the music or not.  I'm not really a fan of Mahler, for instance, but I appreciate a point that one of my music instructors made when he said "My job isn't to make sure you like Mahler, it's to help you understand Mahler." This particular professor wasn't a Mahler fan but he could help explain what it was I didn't enjoy about his work.  But any way ... that's enough for a post like this.  

Hilton Als writes on what he regards as the solipsism masquerading as art in Hannah Gadsby's monologues

I didn’t hear that kind of nuance in “Douglas.” Instead, Gadsby holds you in an emotional choke hold through much of the show: if you don’t like her material, you’re one of them. She is more interested in performing truthfulness than she is in the truth of her performance. 

Recovering addicts are often advised not to go out in the world; they are too raw to cope with society without the buffer of drugs or drink. In a sense, “Douglas” is an act of recovery, or an act about recovery. Gadsby’s story about a failed love affair is especially painful to hear once she reveals that she has “high-functioning autism and it’s a terrible thing to have, in that it gives you the impression that you are functioning highly.” Of course, this confession silences or nearly silences any criticism you may have been harboring: how can you criticize that? Gadsby then said that a recent lover had referred to her, in a group text, as “retarded.” The audience gasped, but I wondered if the woman’s insensitive remark had perhaps been taken out of context to give Gadsby’s act a boffo ending. Gadsby, in her work, espouses a kind of puritan-minded radicalism in which someone else is always to blame for how messed up she feels. [emphasis added] But isn’t that messed-up feeling life? And what about other lives? What about the millions who have it worse, who are fighting to survive? On Gadsby’s stage, solipsism masquerades as art.

This literary moment reminded me of a time when I wrote extensively about a preacher's way of handling a text from the book of Esther.  After going through a variety of not necessarily compelling claims as to why he thought Esther was some kind of whore Mark Driscoll wound up his presentation by invoking a story about his daughter Ashley saying that, were she in a situation like Esther's, she would not agree to serve in a Persian harem and would run away.  What Driscoll did was to present a view by way of personal anecdote so that you couldn't address the dubious idea without going through the story about a teenager.  In terms of rhetoric it could be said that Driscoll used his daughter as a kind of rhetorical meatshield, which seems supremely unmanly.  His case for interpreting a text from Esther the way he did should have been able to stand or fall on his own competency handling the text.  Instead ... after parading a series of not entirely compelling arguments the clincher was the story about his teenage daughter.  

The mistake would be to see what Driscoll did as unique.  Hilton Als has just shown us that wrapping one's self in personal narrative as a way to insulate potentially (or actually) weak arguments from criticism is something that can be deployed by anyone across the spectrum of thought.  Mark Driscoll became a stage artist and blogging master at describing the things that caused him heartache, such as stories about times where sex offenders visited him in his home. Although back around 2001 Driscoll shared how his daughter prayed for a convicted offender and it was a powerful moment of redemption in that narrative, by 2013 Driscoll sharing a story of a convicted sex offender visiting his home was presented not as a defense of Driscoll having his family involved in ministry due to their spiritual gifts but as an indication of how threatening it was to do urban ministry in the Seattle area.

Als has concluded that Gadsby has been doing something conceptually similar. 

David Frum asking whether Trump's presidency presents a challenge by way of dropping (or shifting?) anti-semitism

Seems highly doubtful to me but Frum posing the question as to whether Trump's version of the right, or key parts of it, will drop anti-semitism is his thinkpiece of late.

I suppose ... if I'm trying to throw a bone to this kind of sketchy idea, it's possible that the kinds of religious groups that back Trump are committed to a dispensationalist futurist eschatology in which End Times timelines require the United States to be tied to Israel that in that narrow sense there could be less room for anti-semitic sentiment in that part of the groups that support Trump.  That doesn't mean that more neo-pagan alt right elements would participate in that.  Thanks to the age of the internet there are secularist impulses that present the influence of the Abrahamic religions to be altogether negative.  That antisemitism has found a cozier home in the right in Anglo-American contexts doesn't mean it can't flourish in the left, as notes about antisemitism in Corbyn's orbit make an appearance in the Frum piece.

When I read these kinds of pieces like Frum's I'm reminded of Richard Taruskin's observation that in the history of Western Europe it appears that history keeps showing us that whether or the far left or the far right it hardly matters which of them it is, they somehow end up agreeing that it would be a great idea to make Europe or a European civilization a better place by getting rid of the Jews.  That's the grim punchline, that somehow in European history both the left and the right got up to this ghastly enterprise in spite of seeming to be at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Taking this observation a bit more broadly ... it might be that what we're seeing is that groups that abject or reject the influence of the Abrahamic religions on the West (and by that I mean the trio of Judaism, Christianity and Islam) tend to fall prey at some point to a temptation to decide to enact policies in which the legacy of the Abrahamic religions is dealt with.  "It" can happen everywhere and the most dangerous thing Americans could do is imagine that it can't and, by extension, imagine that the reason it somehow can't is because of an ideological stance.  We've got enough history of antisemitism in both the left and the right to know better than to think it can erupt into violence on just one or the other side.  This really is a "both sides have done this" issue. 

Matthew B Crawford at American Affairs Journal on algorithmic governance and platforms like Facebook, some thoughts on the old Mars Hill Church scene and The City

To grasp the affinities between administrative governance and algorithmic governance, one must first get over that intellectually debilitating article of libertarian faith, namely that “the government” poses the only real threat to liberty. For what does Silicon Valley represent, if not a locus of quasi-governmental power untouched by either the democratic process or by those hard-won procedural liberties that are meant to secure us against abuses by the (actual, elected) government? If the governmental quality of rule by algo­rithms remains obscure to us, that is because we actively welcome it into our own lives under the rubric of convenience, the myth of free services, and ersatz forms of human connection—the new opiates of the masses.
To characterize this as the operation of “the free market” (as its spokespersons do) requires a display of intellectual agility that might be admirable if otherwise employed. The reality is that what has emerged is a new form of monopoly power made possible by the “network effect” of those platforms through which everyone must pass to conduct the business of life. These firms sit at informational bottlenecks, collecting data and then renting it out, whether for the purpose of targeted ads or for modeling the electoral success of a political platform. Mark Zuckerberg has said frankly that “In a lot of ways Facebook is more like a government than a traditional company. . . . We have this large community of people, and more than other technology companies we’re really setting policies.” [emphasis added]
It was early innovations that allowed the platform firms to take up their positions. But it is this positioning, and control of the data it allows them to gather, that accounts for the unprecedented rents they are able to collect. If those profits measure anything at all, it is the reach of a metastasizing grid of surveillance and social control. As Pasquale emphasizes, it is this grid’s basic lack of intelligibility that renders it politically unaccountable. Yet political accountability is the very essence of representative government. Whatever this new form of governance might be called, it is certainly not that.

Or as I've put it in other contexts, people in Seattle spent the last decade worrying about the wrong Mark.  

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Ethan Hein on Jacob Collier's work that reminds me why this former choral singer never liked choral jazz

It may be that the death of the great microtonalist pioneer Ben Johnston has made me more alert to discussions of microtonality but Johnston's death at the start of this week primed me to notice Ethan's writing on Collier's work.  Full disclosure, despite the fact that I sang in choirs in high school and college I have always hated, really hated, choral jazz.  I am not against choral music with complex harmonies as such, I admire the choral music of Messiaen and Durufle, for instance.  I love some choral works by Xenakis for that matter and I gave the Penderecki Lukaspassio score to a relative as a holiday gift a few years ago.

But there's something specifically about choral jazz that I hate for reasons I admit I can't quite articulate.  It can be Ella or Frank or Herb Jeffries or Mahalia singing along with Ellington's band and I love that.  Choral jazz is like ... all the worst excesses of technocratic post-bop tendencies in jazz combined with treating the human voice like the most impressive thing it can do is imitate broadly instrumental idioms as found in jazz.  Maybe the harmonies in choral jazz are lusher than anything you'll find in William Byrd's Mass for 5 voices but Byrd's Mass is the more powerful work for the sheer austerity of the text-setting within the polyphonic style he was working in.  Most choral jazz is opulent beyond what I regard as any reasonable approach to text-setting.  It really is, as Hein's instincts suggest to him, showing off just to show off.  If there's a text-setting based reason for doing something, wonderful.  It can even be shlocky or over the top.  I like some choral settings of the Psalms by Mendelssohn for instance and like any Romantic era composer he could get over the top.

But, let's get to that link, first.

There's something he wrote about the one-man band thing that he finds unhealthy.  It reminds me, actually, that in classical music there was a one-man band composer, a composer who wrote music wherein after 1933 there was nothing in his symphonic scores he couldn't play himself ... and odds are pretty good only specialists would know or care who Paul Hindemith was.  I care because I enjoy a lot of his music but his appeal is very niche!

But at the risk of guessing, there's something that needs to be pointed out about one-man band type composers.  Hindemith was a music teacher and he also did some work to pioneer work in what we'd call early music studies and ethnomusicology (he and Bartok tried working together but split over how much to use modern recording tech with Hindemith preferring old transcription methods and Bartok preferring what we now call field recordings ... siding with Bartok personally).

The thing I want to point out about Hindemith is that even though he could play every instrument in the orchestra there was a countervailing passion in his work, he loved writing music for amateurs.  He regarded the lifeblood of musical culture to reside in the musical activities of amateurs more than the professional music-makers.  His last string quartet he wrote so that his wife, who was learning cello, could play a string quartet with him and two violin students that regularly visited the Hindemith home.  So the violin and viola parts are all challenging and the cello part is simple.  There's a movement in which there's canon in augmentation so that a viola, say, can play something complex and the cello takes the same melody in canon in augmentation.  Hindemith's last string quartet isn't going to be to everyone's liking but I admit I like the work.

Collier's one-man band in the studio approach sounds well-polished but it's studio.  What I mean to say is that when someone like Hindemith did the one-person band thing his goal was not that everything musical he wanted to express would only ever have to be played by him, he wrote things with the idea for orchestras and chamber ensembles and straight up amateur musicians could play the works.  Stevie Wonder may have been able to play all the tracks on some of his songs but live he plays with a band.

That Stevie Wonder arrangement drives me up the wall.  That stuff Collier does reminds me of basically everything I hate about choral jazz.  The introduction is already so overloaded with decorative riffs and virtuoso display there's nowhere to go in the arrangement except bigger and lusher chords and more frenetic rhythmic pops and squeaks.  Of course he had to make things more complex than Wonder did in the original work.

As for that modulation in "In the Bleak Midwinter".  Well, great that Collier has the chops to land on G 1/2 sharp but in choral arranging and choral compositional terms all that saves that from being a cliche is that quarter-tone's difference.  It's the kind of cheap gimmick in modulating in choral music that I hate and can just barely put up with even when a genius like Stevie Wonder does it.

It's the bane of jazz choral composers and arrangers that they have to leave nothing that could be thought of as "negative space" unless they're over-emphasizing a passage for the sake of a soloist's virtuosity.  I realize I'm ranting a lot against choral jazz here and that there will inevitably be people who disagree me and that's okay for people to disagree with me.  I'm explaining how much I hate choral jazz as distinct from basically all other forms of jazz and I want to be clear that I'm writing as someone who loves choral music and grants that jazz and choral music "can" fit together but that it's too fraught with self-aggrandizing displays.  There's such a thing as scaling the techniques up or down to the communication of the text you're working with.

There's more I could say ... but I'm going to limit myself a bit.

As microtonal works based on traditional tunes go I'd say the benchmark American works would be Ben Johnston's string quartets Nos. 4 and 5.

String Quartet No. 4 is variations on "Amazing Grace", in which Johnston starts simply and in standard notes but as the variations progress he introduces more complex shifts in tuning systems used within which to write his variations.

Quartet No. 5 is a variation work on an old folk tune, "Lonsome Valley".  The short version for tonight's blog is to just say that Johnston used different tuning systems in his variations of these traditional melodies for expressive purposes.

So ... I'm going to stop here for the time being but I might come back and write more or I may find by tomorrow I've gotten this all out of my system.  We'll see.


In the Stevie Wonder original of "Don't You Worry `Bout a Thing" the bridge has some glorious tightly knit imitative procedures going on in Wonder's vocals.  That frankly makes me angry.  Collier has shoved a lot of plush jazzy chords and "oo-aaah" stuff and he does so by eliminating one of the things that Wonder's music can be full of, counterpoint.  Sure, it's not fugue or invention but there's all kinds of ways to have counterpoint.  "Superstition" is full of counterpoint and there's a lot of counterpoint in the best funk and r&b even if it's not using strictly imitative procedures.  But that bridge ... Wonder does, in fact, use tight little episodes of imitative counterpoint and Collier ... I hate to write this ... Collier takes that element out of the arrangement he does of the song and as a Wonder fan I ... just can't forgive him for doing that.  If you know the track from Innversions I probably don't even have to tell you where the little canonic episodes occur because you've heard the tracks so many times.

So when Hein talks about how Collier is so set on harmonies he leaves out everything else I can tell you exactly what it is in Stevie Wonder's music that got sacrificed on the altar of plush harmonies, Stevie Wonder's counterpoint.

POSTSCRIPT 7-26-2019

I saw some of the comments back and forth and while I would agree that music cognition with respect to rhythm and harmony are activities of the mind I would not suggest that harmony in what's loosely known as classical music is necessarily a result of "Eurocentrism".  Harmony as we tend to think of it in Western contexts was almost like a side-effect of polyphonic disciplines emerging from choral music that were refracted through a significant series of evolutionary shifts in tuning systems.  That would tend to be "Eurocentric" because it happened in Europe but in terms of the ideological freight that can be associated with such a term I would venture, and this is where having been a choral singer shapes my perspective, the Western harmonic approach has been informed by a thousand years of disciplines related to ensemble vocal singing.  We can't even say that, for instance, false relations were "against the rules as far back as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for instance.  We can say that some groups of musicians regarded it as terrible to pepper your music with false relations from Italian schools but Franco-Flemish composers used false relations for quite a while and English composers who emulated the practice of using false relations for dramatic effect during the time of Byrd and Tallis used false-relations with ease.  If you want to watch an amusing video explaining that ... go over here.

Rotem appears to be a Rick & Morty fan and ... season 4 shows up in November 2019.

So ... I might say that what we tend to think of as harmony in a 19th century pedagogical body of work was "Eurocentric" but I'm a stickler for distinguishing between the entire history of Western musical cultural life and theory on the one hand and the post German idealism ideological strands that informed the Romantic era and played a role in the formulation of art canons on the other.  If you try to analyze Byrd's keyboard music on the basis of functional harmony from "common practice" you're going to fail and fail and fail.

It's not for nothing that any number of avant gardists from the last century made a point of going back to essentially pre-major-and-minor-keys music for inspiration.

The more I listened to Collier's work the more I had this strong vibe that it was like he was some mixture of Jason Mraz met Eddie Money met Phil Collins who just ... also happened to pick up the ability to write and sing arrangements that shift from E major to G quarter sharp.

POSTSCRIPT 7-29-2019
Something else has come to mind.  One of my favorite composers, Haydn, wrote that he ended up on the Esterhazy estate and he had no one to trouble or vex him and he was forced to become original. Of course Haydn was not referring to being isolated in the sense of not working with a veritable army of musicians, he was talking about not being tied to the hub of musical activity that was the "New York" of his day, Vienna.  He was able to develop his unique style because he had a patron who was willing to let Haydn do whatever he wanted, and so Haydn experimented with what audiences liked and what they didn't enjoy he stopped doing.  This was not exactly just pandering to the aristocratic patron and his party guests because there were, of course, the musicians who played the music, too.  The string quartet of legend was Haydn working with Mozart, Ditters, and Vanhal, all composers who may not be at the same canonical level in composing but became the most legendary early string quartet in the history of the medium. 

Something else that comes to mind. Kyle Gann wrote some time back that Haydn and Mozart meeting each other helped them both get out of compositional ruts they had found themselves in.  So, pertinent to Hein's comments about the need for collaboration and comparing ideas, if even canonized composers at the level of Mozart and Haydn needed to exchange ideas and draw inspiration from each other then surely the rest of us can follow that example.

a sound of failure

"jukebox hero" is 
Foreigner trying to sound
like AC/DC

Monday, July 22, 2019

Ben Johnston (1926-2019)

Ben Johnston died yesterday.  I came to his music only in the last six years, mainly thanks to the writing and blogging of Kyle Gann.  I recognize that microtonal composition isn't everyone's liking and I can get why.  A lot of it doesn't really "work".  I think that Johnston's work does.  He was articulate enough a writer that I am not sure I could do much better than quote him.   While I've never personally been a Cage fan I have recognized that it's possible for composers I admire to be influenced by composers I dislike intensely.  For instance, I actually enjoy music by Hindemith and he was influenced by Wagner (among others) whose music I find a chore.  I tend to enjoy Bartok more than I enjoy Lizst ... although I'm trying to give Lizst a chance.

Johnston studied with Cage and Partsch ... but his work is not necessarily out to be iconoclastic in quite the same way as his teachers.   Compared to his teachers Johnston might not be considered an "innovator" (although that can be contested), but he did a lot to consolidate new and fertile pathes in the realm of music written using just intonation and microtonal possibilities.  I've found myself coming back to Johnston's work, particularly his string quartets, in ways I've never found myself doing for Ferneyhough or Birtwistle, whose works are, eh, whatever, if you like that good for you.

Johnston managed to articulate what seemed to be a core problem in twelve-tone technique, that it was more or less a reaction to conventional 19th century tonal options seeming cliche, yet the Schoenberg legacy meant that in the end all the other non-traditional non-tonal options were "used up" even more quickly than the traditional tonal options had been in the previous centuries.  Johnston described Schoenberg's whole methodology as an interesting but ultimately marginal stopgap attempt to address a crisis that, in Johnston's estimation, was more the result of the standardization of tuning systems around a single chromatic scale with twelve tones than it was ever the result of tonality having been "used up".  So, here are a few passages from his writings where he explained his take on things.

Ben Johnston
Edited by Bob Gilmore
Copyright (c) 2006 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
ISBN-13: 978-0-252-03098-7
ISBN-10: 0-252-03098-2

Kindle edition

Location 2142
We can expect opposing isms for some time. But there is a common problem, the solution of which could eventually integrate musical styles on a new basis.

This problem is musical intelligibility. Without alert reception by ear, music can mean nothing. Attention must be engaged. A failure on this level is catastrophic but all too common.

Good composition is good mnemonics. A listener needs to discover order in music. He will even impose order upon it if his interest is intense enough. 

Location 2275
Schoenberg is especially important because while greatly expanding the sound vocabulary of music he also tried to provide new means for organizing new complexities. But in the long run a conception like "atonality" is, like Cage's "no-continuity," an abandonment of the problem of rendering complexity intelligible. Serial technique, Schoenberg's solution to the problem of organization, is applicable even to noises. yet in an important and basic way serialism is, as I have suggested, a less sophisticated technique than tonal organization.

It is clearly necessary to generalize the concept of tonality if it is not to be abandoned altogether. The solution should have the characteristic of including the traditional tonal methods within it, as special, limited cases. Serialism does not provide such a connection between tonal and nontonal sound patterns.  It is an elaborate development of thematicism, not incompatible with tonality but not a fully satisfactory substitute for it. Tonality is based upon ratio organization, whereas serialism is based upon ordinal and interval ordering. A ratio scale does not, like an interval scale, provide equal sizes in all adjacent intervals. Its special virtue is that it expresses each term as a relation to a single point of reference. This is precisely what is characteristic of tonality. [emphasis added]

Now this next passage from Johnston might resonate with some points John Borstlap has been making in his writing.

Location 2481

Schoenberg replaced a tired system with a less subtle but more vigorous one.  Alternatively, others tried to replace tonality with parallel alternative systems such as the Asiatic ones just mentioned. But when your own tradition outgrows its childhood, it is not a workable next step to abandon your own line of development for a parallel one. Nor can you permanently abandon overworked sides of your development to concentrate on potentially healthier ones.

Unfortunately, in tacitly accepting s an arbitrary "given" the twelve-tone equal-tempered scale, Schoenberg committed music to the task of exhausting the remaining possibilities in a closed pitch system. [emphasis added]

There are people who cannot stand to be confined in no matter how large an enclosure. They find the walls and are made miserable by them. They don't care how many bars you put in the cage--twelve, twenty-four, forty-eight, nineteen, twenty-two, thirty-one, fifty-three--they will hurt themselves on them. Or break them down.

When you reach a philosophical impasse you need to get to a more basic idea.  You need to raise your assumptions about your field to a higher level of abstraction.  If you do this successfully, what used to be basics will turn out to be special cases of more general principles.  Einstein's physics does not invalidate Newton's. It simply reveals Newton's laws to be special cases of more general ones.  The discovery of DNA, a substance which controls the intracellular synthesis of proteins and is thus basic to life itself, does not knock out all of biochemistry up to that breakthrough, but rather forces a reevaluation of many of its assumptions. 

The implication of this proposal that Johnston worked out in his composing was to retain tonality but drop equal temperament.  He also had some comments in the early 1980s which remind me of some comments that were made around the same time by George Rochberg about how much modern music consigned itself to oblivion by using techniques and forms of organization that worked against the cognitive processes involved in memory and listening.  

from  "BEYOND HARRY PARTH" (1981)
Location 4788
Much so-called new music does not really deserve the wider audience it complains about being denied. If the only alternative to this is the endless replay of "the classics" or an attempt to rewrite them or to quote them or to even parallel them, we have already abandoned the serious effort to keep concert music alive.

I would be unhappy to see this happen. I would like the tradition of Western concert music to continue to develop among the world's musics in a future in which its dominance will have ended.
Location 4859
We already face a situation in this culture where the values of "serious music" are threatened economically as well as culturally. If we elect to preserve only the museum aspects of this tradition because of the anachronistic social and economic organization of the main channels of its dissemination, we will ensure its atrophy.

In the face of this prospect, two main problems demand solutions: how can the tradition continue to grow without losing its public, and how can it become a healthy, fruitful, and even powerful stimulus to the world's other musics rather than an adulterative and disintegrative influence? If these problems are not addressed successfully, the traditions of European concert music will not only wither in this country [the United States] and elsewhere but will be displaced successfully by rival traditions of music which reject above all its aristocratic anachronisms.

Not that I "have" to but if I "had" to choose between something like the New Complexity and Ben Johnston's approach, I prefer Johnston's.  Between Rochberg's criticisms and Johnston's observations of serialism I personally don't see that it's all that useful a form of composition to learn.  Now, by contrast, I think there's all sorts of benefits of taking up cyclic form or cumulative form even more so by way of works by Benjamin Britten (Nocturnal!) and Charles Ives ... but I trust I'll get some understanding about that as I'm writing as an American about an American composer. 

Anyway ... in memory of Johnston's work, a good deal of which I enjoy, here are some links to some of his works in case you're interested.

String Quartet No. 9
String Quartet No. 10

"Blues" from his suite for microtonal piano

POSTSCRIPT 7-27-2019
It took them until 7-25 but the NYT obit is up

a passage from a sermon by Richard Sibbes pertinent to social media use--"So flesh and blood. If there be anything done that is good, all the world must know it presently."

It was about thirteen years ago that a friend of mine gave me a birthday gift, Richard Sibbes' The Bruised Reed.  The book made quite an impression on me, a strongly positive one.  Americans tend to think of Puritans and immediately think of Cotton Mather or Jonathan Edwards rather than Richard Sibbes and Roger Williams but I don't mind saying that I do admire a few of the Puritans and I have found I admire Sibbes the most and respect Williams' valuable contribution to theological/political thought in the embryonic United States.  Without getting into boring or maybe unpleasant details I was immensely grateful to my friend for giving me The Bruised Reed during that period of my life. 

There wasn't exactly such a thing as the internet that we know of today in the life and times of Richard Sibbes.  Nevertheless, his observation that there are some people who say `Come up and see my zeal for the Lord' seems relevant to the era of Christian righteousness by Twitter ... or Facebook ... or some other form of social media.

The Description of Christ
a sermon by Richard Sibbes

Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall show judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets, &c. Matt XI. 18.


Now, by Christ's example we should learn this, ,not to be vainglorious, not to make a great noise. You have some, if they do anything that is good, presently all the world must know it. This was not Christ's disposition. [emphasis added] It is a disposition that is hardly wrought out of man's heart without an exceeding great measure of the Spirit of God; for we see good men have been given this way. David would number the people, that it might be known what a great monarch he was, what a great number of people he had, 2 Sam. xxiv. He was a good man, yet vainglorious. He smarted for it. So good Hezekiah. Ambassadors were sent to him from the king of Babylon, and that they should know Hezekiah was no beggarly prince, out must come the vessels of the temple and all his treasures, to show what a rich king the king of Judah was. 2 Kings xx. 18, et seq. His vainglory cost him all his riches, as the prophet told him. So the disciples. Before they received a great measure of the Spirit, how vainglorious were they! They contended for the higher place; therefore they advise Christ to go up to Jerusalem, that he might be known. As Jehu said to Jonadab, `Come up and see  my zeal for the Lord of hosts', 2 Kings x. 16, he accounts it nothing unless it be seen. So flesh and blood. If there be anything done that is good, all the world must know it presently. Christ chargeth them that no noise should be made, but that they should conceal him. [emphasis added]

What should we learn hence?

To be of Christ's disposition, that is, to have no more care of the knowledge of things than the light of the things themselves will discover, to do works of light, and if the things themselves will break forth to men's eyes and they must see our light shine, then let them, and imitate our good works; but for us to blazon them abroad ourselves, it is not the spirit of Christ.

Let us labor to have humility of spirit, that that may grow up with us in all our performances, that all things that we speak and do may savour of a spirit of humility, that we may seek the glory of God in all things more than our own.

And let us commit the fame and credit of what we are or do to God. He will take care of that. Let us take care to be and to do as we should, and then for noise and report, let it be good or ill as God will send it. [emphasis added] We know ofttimes it falls out that that which is precious in man's eye is abominable in God's. If we seek to be in the mouths of men, to dwell in the talk and speech of men, God will abhor us, ad at the hour of death it will not comfort us what men speak or know of us, but sound comfort must be from our own conscience and the judgment of God.  Therefore, let us labour to be good in secret. Christians should be as minerals, rich in the depth of the earth. That which is least seen is his riches. We should have our treasure deep.  For the discovery of it we should be ready when we are called to it, and for all other accidental things, let them fall out as God in his wisdom sees good. [emphasis added] So let us look through good report and bad report to heaven; let us do the duties that are pleasing to God and our own conscience, and God will be careful enough to get us applause. Was it not sufficient for Abel, that though there was no great notice taken what faith he had, and how good a man he was, yet that God knew it and discovered it? God sees our sincerity and the truth of our hearts, and the graces of our inward man, he sees all these, and he values us by these, as he did Abel. As for outward things there may be a great deal of deceit in them, and the more a man grows in grace, the less he cares for them. As much reputation as is fit for a man will follow him in being and doing what he should. God will look to that. Therefore we should not set up sails to our own meditations, that unless we be carried with the wind of applause, to be becalmed and not go a whit forward [emphasis added]; but we should be carried with the Spirit of God and with a holy desire to serve God, and our brethren, and to do all the good we can , and never care for the speeches of the world, as St. Paul saith of himself: ` I care not what ye judge of me, I care not what the world judgeth, I care not for man's judgment,' 1 Cor. iv. 3. 

Twitter or Facebook or, yes, a blogger account, too, can give all sorts of people the opportunity to set up sails to their own meditations.  The era of Twitter can show us how many Christians there are who, like Jehu, count it nothing unless it is seen whatever the good they believe they have said or done.  All the world must know it presently.