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
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?
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.
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.
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Only just started into Shadle's new book this last week so it may take a bit before I write about it
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.