Saturday, September 25, 2021

links for the weekend on a theme--Ted Gioia points out the 3 minute song is no good for generating trance states (like it's unable to generate the "argument" of a symphonic form) and other things

I'd first heard of Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam through Ethan Iverson's blogging ...
and her work has gotten  mentioned more recently by Ted Gioia

who has a piece on whether the three-minute song format has been bad for music.

Gioia points out about 02:38 that a piece of music has to last about 10 minutes before the trance-inducing capacity of the music takes hold or, as he puts it, before the trance benefits of the music are able to take hold.

This might be why a two-year old who wants to listen to Weezer's "Island in the Sun" wants to listen to the song five times in a row before feeling like moving on to another song?  That's not hypothetical, I found that to be the case with one of my nieces years ago.  

As is known, the three-minute song was conditioned by the limits of early 20th century records.  Gioia proposes that we need to break past the 3-minute format if the trance benefits of music are going to be accessible.

Of course this reminds me that Gioia as a jazz historian has one form of case and John Borstlap, a classical music composer and writer, has another case, that classical music gives people an elevated sense of spirituality.

If there is pop music ecstasy there is classical music sublimity and whether because of a lack of capacity to generate a trance or a feeling of "elevation" the three-minute mark falls short of the ten minutes some people say are needed for a trance to be induced or for the completion of a musical "argument".

One of the shortcomings I have found in arguments presented by Borstlap and to a somewhat lesser extent the late Roger Scruton is that the sublime experiences of art-as-religion are taken as given for highbrow music and highbrow music alone.  The surmise is that the state of spiritual transcendance and the beauty of newly realized interiority happens with music that is art rather than entertainment. However, I would caution that the ecstasies of highbrow art religion are "high liturgical" but that Ted Gioia has been attentive to the euphoria of lowbrow storefront church "low liturgical".  

To put this in overtly Christian terms, Borstlap's version of art-as-better-than-religion is a Catholic or Anglican high mass while Gioia (who can certainly write about Josquin when he wants to) highlights the Pentecostal storefront church or maybe a Baptist camp meeting.  I'm Presbyterian now but I was Pentecostal once and I have found an appreciation for musically intense moments in both the highbrow and lowbrow musical styles.  Gioia clearly has, too.  Borstlap ... maybe not so much. Gioia's observations are a necessary counterpoint to highbrow art religion evangelism by pointing out that a state of euphoria or trance-based elevated awareness has been generated by music for centuries before anything we know of as classical music emerged.  

What is interesting for both perspectives, however, is that the three-minute pop song seem s to be incapable of attaining either the trance of Gioia's sublime or the argument that Borstlap implicitly appeals to in symphonic works and 19th century repertoire from Western European concert music.  

One person's sublime can be another person's lame. Recently the Seattle Times ran a piece about Nirvana's album Nevermind, which I still don't care for.  I don't think how they "changed everything" about music in Seattle is actually a positive thing.

Conversely, since Ted Gioia mentioned John Coltrane pushing the length of is songs past the ten minute mark John Coltrane performing A Love Supreme in Seattle is the topic of a recent piece at The Baffler.

I'm not quite sure why journalists keep coming back to the allegedly dying art of the institutionally vetted critical hatchet job but here's another entry.

Perhaps the death of the hatchet job review might be likened to the predicted deaths of jazz

Dream Divination in the Ministry of Mark Driscoll: A Survey of Primary Source Accounts

Mark Driscoll would probably never say he has practiced oneiromancy throughout his entire public ministry, nor would he call what he has described as prophetic dreams a pattern of dream divination, and this would be entirely because of his confessional commitments. He’s a Bible-believing, Jesus-preaching, church-planting guy so whatever methods he has relied upon in his ministry cannot be termed divination.  Yet to consult Mark Driscoll’s own statements, whatever he refuses to call it, dream divination has played a crucial role in his public ministry since even before its formal beginning. 

Dream divination shows up in biblical literature and across the ancient near east and has been the subject of a monograph I’ve started into, co-edited by Esther Hamori. That dreams were regarded as potentially divine communication did not mean that dreams were automatically regarded as such, not even when the dream included statements made by gods. It was not unheard of for even a king to have a dream and resort to some other form of technical divination to confirm whether or not the god that appeared in the dream had really spoken or was actually the god that claimed to have a message within the dream.  We’ll eventually see that Mark Driscoll, too, could act a bit like an ancient Mesopotamian king in having dreams he regarded as having supernatural origin but that he wanted to test against a firmer, canonical text or method of dream verification. 

In the past critics of Mark Driscoll from the Team Pyro wing have fixated on what they regarded as Mark Driscoll’s pornographic divination.  If salacious and scandalous content alone were sufficient to prove a message couldn’t have come from Yahweh the Team Pyro sorts have to contend with Ezekiel 23.  Now I think we should be concerned that when Driscoll said “I see things” he kept seeing sexual acts and domestic violence—his gift of discernment was not so great a gift that he saw that using Result Source to rig a No. 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list for Real Marriage was a disastrously bad idea.  But I contend that if we are going to attempt to assess whether Mark Driscoll’s claims about “I see things” may be credible we should back up the proverbial truck and look at his accounts of what can be called dream divination and that he’d prefer to call prophetic dreams.

So let’s start at the start of Mars Hill Church.

Pablo Moreno plays Bryan Lester's Jazz Fugue IV for guitar

This is a three-voiced fugue written for the guitar and whether it's really jazz or not I suspect could be a matter for debate. I don't think of it as jazz in the traditional sense because it's clearly a fully-scored contrapuntal work for guitar.  There's a subject and it gets an answer and then the subject emerges in the third voice. There are no countersubjects.  

Whether I'd dig all five of the jazz fugues remains to be heard (and maybe seen) but I find that there have been attempts across the last century to achieve a synthesis of classical musical forms and processes with the musical vocabulary of jazz, blues, ragtime and associated African diaspora styles that developed in the United States.  I'm aware that there are partisans for and purists in various camps but that kind of purism has not only not interested me I regard it as essentially adversarial to any successful synthesis across the often scholastically constructed, mediated and defended boundaries that practicing musicians and composers have been earnestly if not often successfully been trying to cross for generations.

For my ears this fugue is solid.  I enjoy Kapustin's preludes and fugues more but being a guitarist I am more than usually aware how challenging it is to write really polyphonic music on the six-stringed guitar.  The absence of countersubjects is not a knock on a fun subject which Lester develops nicely throughout. 

One of the points I keep coming back to is that when we assess music like this we should not really be deciding whether it is "for the ages" as if the test was whether or not the musical results were instantly worthy of being added to a canon such as the jazz canon (it's not John Coltrane's A Love Supreme!) or the classical music canon (it's not Beethoven's Hammerklavier!)  If Coltrane and Beethoven had taken that approach they wouldn't have written anything so we can be thankful they didn't take that approach as I enjoy music by both Coltrane and Beethoven even if I think their respective fans hype them a bit much sometimes. :)

From the end of ars perfecta to Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier didn't happen overnight, obviously.  We didn't just get from C. P. E. Bach straight to Haydn and then Mozart and Beethoven.  There were figures like Vanhal and Ditters and Wagenseil and Clementi and also Reicha and Hummel and Kozeluch and Dussek and Dusek (not the same guy) along the way.  The trouble we can run into with the curated history of Western music is that scores of contemporaries to the Big Dogs get ignored.  If I restricted myself to the canonized composers guitarists respect I'd be sticking with Sor and Giuliani and ignore Diabelli.  Diabelli may have been a mercenary hack composer but his F major solo guitar sonata is still a very solid sonata.  

Wenzel Matiegka is a "who?" composer even for many guitarists but studying his sonatas has helped me observe that the sonata form, as 19th century music theory and pedagogy came to call it, was anything but standardized even by the early 1820s and that there's a great deal of benefit to the time-consuming but ultimately rewarding process of steeping yourself in the actual music and not just taking as given the word of theorists who may steer you to the big names of the textbooks (I love Beethoven's Op. 111 but I also enjoy Clementi's later piano sonatas).  

So that's my usual argument on behalf of the idea that we should refrain from assessing contemporary experiments at jazz/classical fusion on the basis of whether the results ought to be venerated as "this changed everything" material.  That is to take up the stance of the priests of art-religion.  What's more helpful is that among musicians, composers and people interested in writing music now, we ask, "Does this seem like a promising direction?" If it's not a promising direction for you then you can say so and I or someone else might disagree and that's fine.  If it is a promising direction for you then you can explore it.  George Rochberg was on point to say that Arnold Schoenberg was stymied by an obsession with legacy. There's such a thing as being so obsessed with having and leaving a legacy you don't realize that the legacy you think you have attained is more ephemeral or maybe even disastrous or mixed-at-best than you have assumed it would be.  There's a lesson in there about some other not-musical topic but I'll let longtime readers connect the dots on that. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

as Warren Throckmorton has put it, it's been Earth, Wind & Fire Day ...

so of course ... 

there have been plenty of cloudy days here in Seattle because, you know ... it's Seattle ... but with a little help from the band it's like they're not the only thing here. 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Analysis of Matiegka’s Six Sonates Progressives Op. 31, Sonata No. 2 in A minor--now supplemented with in-score analysis

At first I thought of simply adding the in-score analysis to the earlier post but since I'm already taking this series at such a leisurely pace I'm posting this older material again and adding the new in-score analysis as a bonus:

The Anxieties of Empires and decolonizing musicology, how Anglo-American musicology is having a debate about the primacy of German music, sort of

If the British Empire and it's spin-off the United States of America had not more or less continuously exerted world-defining influence and power across the entire planet we might not be seeing the back and forth debates we've been seeing about whether or not Anglo-American musicology needs to be "decolonized" by way of giving less emphasis to the would-be German empire we helped defeat in two wars inside the last century.

For reasons I admit I have not discerned, Norman Lebrecht has posted as an “exclusive” that J. P. E. Harper-Scott has decided to withdraw from academia in response to “woke” musicology.   A dutiful addition of a composer who “can’t be decolonized” was added that mentioned that Franz Liszt could not be decolonized.  

But how can the announcement have been an “exclusive” when it was sitting at Harper-Scott’s website for the whole world to read?

I would put the problem in this (Kantian) way: I wrongly supposed that universities would be critical places, but they are becoming increasingly dogmatic. Consider the following statement, which fairly well articulates an increasingly common view in musicology.


Nineteenth-century musical works were the product of an imperial society. The classical musical canon must be decolonised.


The statement, and the attitude that goes with it, are dogmatic by virtue of form, not content. It does not matter that the statement in the first sentence is one that I can assent to. It becomes dogmatic by virtue of the second sentence, which admits of no doubt, no criticism, no challenge.  …

So Harper-Scott has announced he has left academia.  This move seems indicative, writing as someone outside academia, like a small part of a set of conflicts between British leftists and American progressives in Anglo-American musicology.  Harper-Scott is hardly a political reactionary but Americans might get the idea that he is. The tricky thing about attempting to parse debates and battles through a left/right binary is that there’s no shortage of radical musicians in terms of politics who were traditionalist in their musical styles (Hans Eisler, for instance, or a raft of Soviet composers).  Ian Pace has been arguing for both leftist politics and against what he regards as the “deskilling” of musicology, as well as having a discussion about the hegemonic influence of Anglo-American popular musics.  Harper-Scott has, so far, not struck me as being nearly as specific as Pace.  That sort of thing was on my mind when I wrote “hegemony may be in the eye of the complainer “ years ago. British musicologists being concerned about the hegemonic influence of American popular music can sincerely think that in terms of market presence Anglo-American pop has ruled the world and that Anglo-American pop could and has included blues and jazz.