Friday, October 11, 2019

Atanas Ourkouzounov: Postlude in Green, hommage a Takemitsu-performance with read-along score

Since every note Toru Takemitsu wrote for the guitar was a gem it's understandable that guitarist composers have paid homage to his music.  Atanas Ourkouzounov wrote "Postlude in Green" and here's a video of the work with a read along score.

The work is on the CD Autoportrait II. 

I have heard, from reliable sources, that the CD set of Atanas Ourkouzounov's five guitar sonatas is going to be ready this December through Naxos, recorded by Kostas Tosidis.  I am so getting that album when it comes out.  I've been enjoying Ricardo Gallen's two-disc recording of the complete Leo Brouwer guitar sonatas and to have a recording of Ourkouzounov's guitar sonatas will make for a pretty good year for classical guitar sonatas for 2019! 

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Mahalia Jackson, "Let the Church Roll On"

If there's a preacher in the church and he won't preach right, now tell me what we gonna do?
Here's what we will do ... !
We won't do that, we'll just ... pray for him ... and let the church roll on.

As humorous novelty songs go this one has stuck with me for decades. 

Since I'm reading an academic monograph about Mahalia Jackson, sharing some of her music seems like a thing to do at a blog. 

at LARB Adrian L Jawort discusses YA lit, sensitivity readers and mentions something about how First Amendment protections don't necessarily exist in reservation contexts for Native Americans


While no work is immune from critique, the Native American art world is witnessing a dangerous trend of “appropriation” arguments escalating toward de facto censorship. Many people will outright agree with and defend the statement by Joy Harjo, a Muscogee Creek and US poet laureate, who wrote in a 2017 blog post entitled “Erasure,” “What about enlarging the purview of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 to include the literary?” [emphasis added] This act was initially proposed to prevent forgeries of Native arts and crafts. The penalty for a first-time offense is a fine of up to $250,000 in addition to a five-year prison term; a business could face up to a $1 million fine for producing counterfeit crafts. Suggesting that the IACA apply to literature would put potentially controversial art under the government’s microscope. Unenrolled tribal descendants who don’t appease the colonized concepts of blood quantum requirements would fall under this act — unless they catered to political pressure to appease cultural committees like Saad Beez Hózhǫ́’s propaganda-like definition of art should be.
While Harjo’s suggestion was made with the best of intentions — whoever thinks their intentions are meant to hurt? — her proposal could theoretically ban Roanhorse’s books from being produced: under those rules, she wouldn’t have the authority to write about Navajo culture. While it’s unlikely this suggestion would ever be deemed constitutional, it must be noted that on most Indian reservations there are few legally coded free speech rights, so attitudes like these are not an anomaly. (For instance, a Blackfeet man once sat in jail for five days after a post on Facebook complaining about tribal corruption.) Moreover, consider the optics of the US poet laureate advocating government control of literature-as-crime, while those nodding in agreement or condoning it by silence are not right-wing fascists but academics and fellow Native American writers. This is not only failing to see the forest for the trees, but also setting a wildfire to burn it down. [emphasis added]
I'm reminded of something Richard Taruskin wrote about how in the history of European nations it turns out that if you go far enough to the left and the right the extremes somehow had a history of agreeing that the way to improve European culture would be to exterminate Jews.  When I have written about what I regard as problems in using a post- Herder post-Wagner conception of the authentic, and how the post-German Idealist Romantic conception of the authentic "folk" has had the script flipped so it's not the white German symphonist but the black American musician working in popular styles, my concern is that the core script has been retained, yet that is precisely the script about authenticity and legitimacy I think we should be rejecting. 

In the last ten or so years it has seemed that artists and writers of fiction have sought a kind of journalistic credentialing for their art, something that imbues their work with a sense of relevance and urgency that can catalyze social and cultural change.  Identity politics, for want of a better phrase, across the left and right can seem to leave us in a moment where what in the past might have been some kind of "orientalism" is only really practically avoided by dint of demographics of identity.  If you "are" the demographic you are writing about you are free to speak your truth.  If you aren't and you're writing about a group that isn't your ethnic, religious, cultural or other heritage than there are groups across the left/right spectrum that can harbor suspicions that you have not adequately met the criteria for a range of sumptuary codes that determine whether you are legitimately able to write about X because you are yourself X. 

There is no pan-Native Americanist movement that I'm aware of and it's not something that might take off.  Even within the Pacific Northwest there are a variety of tribes that don't necessarily get along with each other, for instance. 

In some Native cultural contexts, such as the Pacific Northwest tribes, there can be a tradition or custom in which a song can only be heard by those to whom it is bestowed the right to hear or learn the song.  Others, or outsiders, if you will, don't get to hear the song.  Which is a way of saying, for regular American readers, that there are concepts in Pacific Northwestern Native American cultural traditions of what we in the contemporary U.S. might define as concepts of intellectual property.  Not every Native culture has these concepts but it's something that shows up in PNW Native customs. 

In his monograph on Native American as imagined in European and American classical music Michael V. Pisani wrote about how for many musicians and composers and music critics the idea of basing any kind of concert music on Native American musical materials was a bad joke, a notion beyond all serious consideration.  The Indianist movement, which the name telegraphs, in American composers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, was committed to developing types of classical music that drew from Native American musical traditions.  Such a movement would now be, as the phrase has it, problematic. 

I've never been much for writing fiction, though I've considered it, but I'm glad to not be a writer of fiction when I read things like the article above and discussions of sensitivity readers.  It reminds me of reading about the stifling aspects of Socialist Realism in Soviet musical life, but what makes this newer ideology seem actually more pernicious is that it is, as I've indicated above, a kind of get-out-of-orientalism-in-the-arts free card that is based on being able to establish your ethnic or racial bona fides rather than rejecting Herderian conceptions of a "folk" authenticity for art. 

When Leonard B. Meyer wrote about the Romantic era as a historical period and romanticism as an ideology he described an ideology of elite egalitarianism and he proposed that although there have been cycles of romanticism and classicism over the ages what has made the Romantic era different is that in many respects the ideologies of the Romantic era are still with us, still saturate our thinking about the arts, and this despite a proliferation of styles that could be considered modernist or anti-romantic in terms of style.  Yet a John Cage can be a sign of what Meyer called late late Romanticism in terms of ideals and ideology.  I confess that I have found many of the ideas of the Romantic era repellent and I hope I can be granted some understanding about that because half my lineage being Native American I got to hear and read about what Europeans and Americans managed to do in spite of the idealism of their ideals.  It's not that classicism can't be racist or repressive, classical cultures from Greece and Rome could be plenty colonial, imperial, repressive and all that. 

Myths of authenticity and legitimacy regarding "folk" clearly saturate debates about which Native or non-Native writers are thought of as having a "legitimate" or "authentic" claim to be able to write about Native people, culture, stories and situations.  That prominent Native poets and writers can be sympathetic to an expansion of an existing law into imposing restrictions on literature that would all but inevitably run afoul of the First Amendment gives a range of conservative writers what, if pressed in a moment of pundit-vs-pundits, a liberal or progressive might deny is happening, a case study of a kind of "liberal fascism", and a kind of race essentialism that dictates who can't write about a race by dint of cultural arbiters deciding the person isn't pure enough an exemplar of the ethnicity to have any figurative or literal business writing about X. 

some recent writing regarding Relevant Magazine involving race, editorial direction, and a member of the Strang family reminded me of Drew G. I. Hart's comments on Rob Bell vs John Piper
In [Andre] Henry’s Medium post, he wrote that working at Relevant made him feel like a “token” at an institution afraid to alienate its largely white constituency. “No D.C. stuff,” he was told, a warning to avoid polarizing political content. Three months into the job, Henry wrote, CEO and founder Cameron Strang shot down his plans to publish daily Black History Month content in February, mentioning a concern for “people who aren’t interested in that.” Soon afterward, Henry wrote, he was stripped of editorial decision-making power, though he remained a writer and podcast voice. “I’ve come to accept that many young-ish, white, evangelical leaders with large platforms … are simply not committed to being antiracist, but only in appearing non-racist,” he wrote, “and they’re using us as props for the show.”

[Cameron] Strang is the sole owner of Relevant, so he is unlikely to leave the company altogether. He founded Relevant in his early 20s—he’s now 43—and has worked there for almost his entire professional life. He is the son of Stephen Strang, the founder and CEO of Charisma Media, which publishes a magazine with a charismatic Christian perspective, including an emphasis on healing and “spiritual gifts” like speaking in tongues. Several former employees told RNS that Cameron Strang once fired an employee for being a negative spiritual presence in the office; around the same time, they say, Stephen Strang and several colleagues came to Relevant offices and appeared to “pray out the evil” from the space. (A representative for Stephen Strang told RNS he had no recollection of the event.) Stephen is also the author of God and Donald Trump, which Politico Magazine called “part spiritual hagiography, part Fox News bulletin and part prophecy.”

So Relevant is owned by someone who's the son of the person who runs the media company that has lately published Mark and Grace Driscoll's newest book on spiritual warfare? 

Now I've linked to some criticism Adolph Reed Jr. has leveled at antiracism in the past, which he regards as an ideological stance embraced in lieu of there being any functionally meaningful left criticism of the establishment.  Reed Jr. and John McWhorter have written critically of antiracist trends that have developed in the last twenty years and as best I understand their work it's not because they are against liberal or progressive development in race relations.  McWhorter has written about how whiteness has become a kind of original sin in a civic religion in which expiation of that sin is only provided by listening to a select range of black intellectuals. 

I have been reminded of something Drew. G. I. Hart wrote all the way back in 2011.

I can understand why younger white evangelicals would want to break away from this brand of American Evangelicalism [John Piper]. While I can appreciate many of the theological nuances expressed by this zealous group of white 20 and 30 somethings, they have their own set of problems. Before we get too excited about this coming shift in influence over American religious life, we must acknowledge that the practice of hegemony and domination will still continue through these “emerging leaders”. Overall, I have been pleased with the theological shifts being expressed, because they express desire for racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in the Church… wanting the Church to be ONE church, which we were called to be.  However, it did not take very long for me to realize that the proclamations and the practices of this group were not lining up. Everything that is done is done to cater to white middle class suburbia. They cater to the priviliged despite affirming Jesus’ call to serve the least of these. As far as hegemony goes, Black and Latino pastors and theologians still continue to be uninvited to the infamous “table” Even these newly formed tables under banners of emergent or missional are starting off on the wrong foot, being almost completely homogeneous. Of course these Evangelical 3.0’s have learned from their predecessors that you must at least grab a token black for your entourage or program (however the 2.0’s actually did a better job at pulling in tokens), often this GED effort of token representation is not even being done at many of their gatherings and events. Unfortunately the white control and supremacy over religious life in America is not going anywhere if left on track.

There's also another piece discussing Strang from a former Relevant staffer.

Now I have complained in the past about how in connection to Native American histories and communities it can seem that the power brokers in American conservative and progressive circles, and here I'm going to be more specific and say more or less white liberals and conservatives in op-ed sections, have a history in the last twenty some years of finding ways to scapegoat each other for what is ultimately a shared legacy or racist ideas and policies.  It's more politically and economically lucrative for white liberals and progressives to agitate their base by saying the racism is all on the conservative side, while conservatives have a cottage industry of punditry invoking Margaret Sanger and saying the liberals and the progressives are the real racists.  How about we consider the possibility that the racism of white progressives, white liberals, white conservatives and white reactionaries will be different across the political spectrum as a reflection of the economic, social and political aims of those groups of people?  Drew G. I. Hart's comment about how evangelicalism 2.0 was better at pulling in token black and latino voices than evangelicalism 3.0 sprung to mind reading about the Strang family and Relevant for what I hope are obvious reasons, that the lip service paid to people of color participating in Christian media publications compared to what Christians who aren't white get to do can be a reminder of why, for instance, black Baptists began to develop their own publishing industry in the early 20th century (I'm reading Mark Burford's academic monograph on Mahalia Jackson published by Oxford University Press, so it doesn't just so happen that that reading has providentially converged with the reading that's inspired this blog post).

It can make sense that when you feel like you'll never get a seat at the proverbial table you set up a new table.  I was reading earlier this year about how the American composer Arthur Farwell set up a publishing company in order to publish the kinds of American musical works he did not think fit in with the Germanophile tendencies of music publication in the United States in his time and place. 

I have to admit I've hardly ever read Relevant in my life because, well, it's never seemed relevant to me.  I admit I'm sort of a semi-stick-in-the-mud Presbyterian who is reluctant to be too involved in local church life not so much because I don't like going to church but because ... well ... peruse all of the Mars Hill blogging and you might get a clearer sense of why my church life might be a bit cautious. 

It seems as though the role the Strangs play in Christian media is the story here and that there's a story behind the story ... although what that is isn't something Wenatchee The Hatchet has the time, energy or resources to really dig into. 

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Greek chorus characters in genre film, or why MJ in the new Spider-man franchise isn't actually a character most of the time

I have nothing against Zendaya Coleman as the new MJ.  I sort of like an entirely new character that's more of an April Ludgate figure than the Mary Jane Watson of the comics.  As Emma Stone so memorably put it, Mary Jane Watson is a skank.  Anyone who has read the old school Spiderman comics can see how and why Emma Stone could have arrived at that conclusion. 

But the thing is, as my brother and I watched the newer Spider-man films recently, my brother pointed out that MJ isn't a character, she's more a set of writerly tics and commentaries about various things in which she, like Yoda, gets to be the smartest person in the room at any given moment and for that moment.  Such characters often appear across genre tales.  I mentioned that this makes the new MJ a Greek chorus rather than a character actually active in the story. 

The tricky part is that this is still "an" MJ character in a Spiderman cinematic franchise so she's supposed to be a love interest even though there's nothing explaining why this Peter Parker would ever be interested in this MJ (who, for those who don't recall, spends a good chunk of time giving insults to people).  This is even more mysterious than why Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker would be mooning over Kirsten Dunst's MaryJane in the Raimi films.  Personally I got why that Parker would like that MJ.  She may have dated other people but she was always nice to him at a personal level and the childhood crush part seemed easy to believe and for my time and money the two leads sold me on the idea that these two people liked each other, even loved each other, but were not entirely convinced that they should be a couple.  I don't get that sense from Holland and Coleman and it's got nothing to do with either actor.  Holland sold me as both Parker and as Spider-man.  Coleman has nothing to do except offer post-Joss Whedon style quips.  She seems like she'll have more to do in the forthcoming Dune adaptation from Denis Villanueva. 

Yes, in Far From Home MJ gets to do something, make a discovery or two or three, but the homage to John Hughes style teen comedies was too thorough-going.  The script foists a rival on the narrative that isn't necessary and that takes time away from Parker and MJ getting any time together.  The "will they" or "won't they" is a foregone conclusion but that the relationship won't go anywhere seems a foregone conclusion.  MJ is a high school student fixated on Peter Parker much like Parker was fixated on Liz Toomes.  Since these are kids who don't know what they want from life or how the world works they can be forgiven for acting their age but these are characters freighted with half a century of obligatory comics continuity, much like Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy could only die.

The trouble is that as action films the scripting is so tight and strict there isn't necessarily the space to let actors make things up as they go along.  The screwball elements of the Iron Man franchise seem largely to have been the result of letting actors like Downey Jr., Paltrow and Bridges wing it for large stretches of time and going with whatever worked best as they played off of each other.  To point out the obvious, none of these people have been neophyte actors for a generation.  Paltrow was Emma Woodhouse on screen ... twenty-five some years ago.  Now personally my favorite Emma Woodhouse in terms of casting is easily Kate Beckinsale but this wasn't supposed to be a post where I sound off on my personal preferences for casting in Jane Austen adaptations.  Here my point is to highlight that as fun as the new Spiderman films can often be (casting Donnie Dark as Mysterio was a great move) the films are a good example of how much post-Joss Whedon genre film scripting seems beset with quips that have been thought through more carefully than the characters who have to say them for comedic effect and how stories are full of moments that are not just "unearned" but are fraught with axioms that tend to fly in the face of the basic mechanics of plotting ... though that might be more an issue with the folks who have worked on the Lego movies ... which would be its own separate topic.

Since I've never much liked MJ in the comics I can't feel offended that Zendaya Coleman plays an MJ who isn't a white red-haired woman with a crush on Peter Parker who is nonetheless unwilling to commit to him for years at a time because of her unique personal hang-ups and background and is willing to string along Harry Osborne until such time as she can date Peter and who is somehow not given the Regina George treatment by Gwen Stacy for MJ's brazen attempts to steal her boyfriend away from her before her very eyes.  I'm not writing any of this as someone who hasn't read all of the classic Lee-Ditko run on Spiderman.  Some people think Peter and Mary Jane is the "one true pairing" and I have never been on that team.  Gerry Conway found it easier to kill of women characters than to do anything interesting with them but other writers had no apparent difficulty with Gwen.  The issue where Flash comes back from having joined the Army, insults Parker, and gets dressed down by Gwen who tells him she'd been hoping the Army would have made him into an actual grown-up who would stop insulting her boyfriend is easy to remember.  Gwen has only "had" to die because fans of Spiderman have taken as given what was a publicity stunt.  There were considerations of killing off MJ or Aunt May at the time and Conway decided to kill Gwen because he never liked the character, noted that Gwen was based on Stan Lee's wife and, my own opinion, Gerry Conway was just terrible at writing women characters. 

As Steven Grant once put it, the fans have had a delusional notion that Peter Parker's problem was he had trouble with girls despite the fact that for half a century all of his closest relationships have been with women, and not just MJ and Gwen.  There's ... Aunt May.  There's ... Betty Brant, his first girlfriend.  Parker has gotten along with women fine, Grant pointed out, his real problems have been that he's broke all the time and to that I would add his problem was often that the would-be father figures in his life tended to go crazy and become super-villains.  That part, actually, is what the Tom Holland era films nail perfectly, that Parker finds himself fighting men who in other contexts could have been mentors and who even like Parker at a purely personal level but who feel obliged to kill Spider-man in their super-villainous line of work because they can't abide his interference.  Thing is ... for the flak people tend to send at the Raimi movies in the last two decades that was something the Raimi films pulled off pretty well, particularly with both the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus.

Holland may have a stronger performance as Parker and the wall-crawler ... but the new films maybe lean on that at the expense of other stuff that earlier cinematic versions of the character took more care about. 

But I admit if Sony brought back Michael Keaton as the Vulture and convinced Alfred Molina to come back as Doc Ock and Beck is "We never found the body" and Mysterio comes back, I admit I'd probably see that movie as a matinee.