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