Thursday, May 24, 2007

Heaven Underwater

I know two Pauls, and they both compose. Neither of them had works on the composition concert I recently attended, but that's because one of the Pauls, Paul Karner, had his senior recital/lecture in the near future. I made it back up to Lawrence for it, realizing that even though I'd been in the guitar studio with him and worked with him at WLFM for years I hadn't heard any of his compositions. I had heard his emo band however!

Paul's lecture was on the concept of venue and performance, revolving around the curious case of the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee. The Pabst has been in continuous operation since 1895 and maintained the original decor but now specializes mainly in this "rock and roll" you may have heard about. The first six rows of seats are removable to allow for a proper pit and as you can imagine the Blue Ribbon flows like wine there. It's a fantastic case study of a number of different bands performing in a venue with the poise of a classical concert hall, despite very little concert music appearing there.* Those in Boston might notice this to be the inverse of BMOP, where the same ensemble can be found in staggering disparate venues.

Paul compared his experiences at the Pabst seeing Cursive, darlings of ANABlog, and Devendra Banhart. Neither, he said, seemed particularly comfortable at the Pabst. Cursive seemed to be filling too large a space, whereas Banhart and his orchestra, having just come off of an affirming stint at the Lincoln Center, seemed cramped and condescending to the Midwest audience. Alas, his lecture touched on too many points to summarize here. Hopefully, as I start to mull lecture ideas for next year I'll be able to take his ideas and run with them.

The whole proceedings took place not at Lawrence's recital hall but in one of the art building's studios, making the entire recital an exercise in venue. The atmosphere did seem much more relaxed, but the players were also dressed down so the controls were thrown off. (I'm also not sure whether an audience of musicians would succumb to the suffocating aspects of the concert hall.) The three composed pieces preceeding the lecture revealed a complicated and intriguing compositional voice. Paul is definitely a man with one foot in his indie rock roots and one in the bracingly avant-garde comp studio at Lawrence. All of the works used long lyrical melodies either complimented or contradicted by repeated molecular phrases or pointillistic bursts of extended technique.

After his lecture, Paul played two acoustic folk songs he'd written. (Hey, fuck you! He composed them and it's his composition recital!) I must say that I felt a pang of jealousy that he got away with it, seeing as I was in a rock band at the time of both of my recitals and my grad school auditions. Here I think the idea of venue came back into play, this ending may have seemed forced in Harper Hall. But in that art studio, it was the most logical extension of a portrait of a composer.

* This may be slightly skewed by the fact that we are entering the summer months, but the only vaguely "classical" show on the calendar is a performance of the Nutcracker by the Moscow Ballet, which I feel were just in Boston. This sentence also makes me realize the inherent stupidity of the term "concert music", but it's still better than "classical".

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Boston Without A Lens III

In addition to the Populist comparison I've posted the balance of the two rolls I shot over the past semester, including a couple candidates for my Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day shot. Some highlights:

Music History 2 Pit Again
My Listening Section

After mentioning both the pit class I lectured to and the smaller listening section I teach every week, here's some illustration of them.

Lights on Commonwealth

This will likely be my submission for WPPD, I took it just after midnight, since the Citgo sign was off already. I took a couple shots of it that night but probably won't get the roll developed in time.

View to a Frozen Lake

I also added some shots from Wisconsin in the wintertime. The extremely short exposures seem to have a different feel than my normal urban and interior shots.

As per usual, the rest are on my Flickr stream. As may seem obvious, the Wisconsin shots aren't in the Boston set. I'll get around to making another one.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Populism Redefined

Musical Perceptions is doing their Top 51 Classical Music Blogs semi-annually, and for the second time I fall short of cut. They're using Technorati authority as their criteria, which some may say is a self-propagating blogger-circle-jerk sort of thing. (But that's loser talk.)

So it only took me five months to get through two rolls of film in both of my Populists. Yes! A second iteration! My dad's instructions lead to the new version, which adds a tripod mount and simplifies the clicker mechanism. My Populist has a slightly smaller pinhole, leading to faster exposure times at the expense of sharpness. Here are a couple shots of the MFA's lobby to compare.

MFA Lobby (Populist Mk II)

Old Populist. 3.5 minute exposure.

MFA Lobby (Populist DX)

New Populist. 1.5 minute exposure. I was originally going to also do a 3.5 minute exposure with the Populist DX but I guess that one was a whiteout.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Scarcity of Material

Last week was the first time I've been to a concert at Lawrence since my time in Boston (I somehow avoided it while home for Christmas) and suitably to my new music wonkiness I got the chance to revisit my friends in the composition studio. All and all a pretty gnarly concert, my friends Graham and Wilmer produced two fantastic solo works for piano and percussion respectively, in addition to the best passacaglia written the past three months.

One of the compositions by an freshman struck me as well, a piece for tape, string quartet, and percussion entitled Winners & Losers. It was divided into two movements, both named for the snippets of speech the tape part used. Both of these sounded as though they came from some sports-related motivational film, likely reaped from a public domain archive like AV Geeks. It was really an enjoyable work, but I noticed it for being exceptionally candid with its influences.

The first movement for tape and string quartet lended itself to unavoidable comparisons to Different Trains. The speech pattern, "The Changes In Your Life Will Be Dramatic and Permanent", remains largely intact with the quartet following it. The second movement subjected the tape part to much more brutality, and added three percussionists doubling the chopped-up speech. (Or was the tape doubling the percussion? Eh.) If that doesn't scream Jacob ter Veldhuis I don't know what does.

The concept of copying as a way of assimilating certainly isn't new, think of those Vivaldi concertos in Bach's hand, but is interesting in this case. The difference between undergraduate and graduate study as an instrumentalist in my mind is best explained as going from parroting your instructor to synthesizing various sources of instructions into your style. This seems like not as obvious path to take with composition. There seems to be much more of a emphasis on being an artiste rather than incubating and developing a craft, especially in an environment such as Lawrence where the lack of a graduate division gives freshmen less time until the spotlight is on them.

However, since the composer was a freshman and I am officially Olde by their standards I likely won't be able to talk to him and see if it was unconscious homage or conscious bravery.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Uh oh, politics.

Two weeks ago, Barack Obama suggested making video of the presidential debates free and releasing it under a Creative Commons license. Suffice it to say that transparency and audience participation have not been hallmarks of the recent political climate.

Meanwhile, Alberto Gonzalez unveiled a plan to make everything illegal including "attempted" copyright infringement, "intended" copyright crimes, and involve penalties like million dollar fines and life imprisonment.

In a totally unrelated manuever, I've finally gotten around to releasing all these neural firings under a Creative Commons license. This isn't to say that I have any illusions of being anything but unimaginable orders of magnitude smaller than the more cosmic movements of the first two paragraphs, but I can only control my own actions. Whether I will ever be able to discard my likely antiquated concept of the music biz enough to license my tunes similarly is entirely another matter, but as far as these words go: what's the point of shooting them into the Intarweb if you they can't, you know, web.

The CEO of Sun Microsystems, a company undergoing a renaissance due to their embracing of open philosophy, said in a blog post that I certainly hope echoes for some time

We decided to innovate, not litigate.


I have little knowledge of elementary school music program experience other than my own, but I can speak with relative confidence that until recently computers were not involved. In fact it was only through divine providence that were ever blessed with so much as instruments. (These would inevitably be three-octave Casio keyboards with only a 50% operation rate)

With some curiosity I approached an article on C|NET about the growing field of music-making applications for the childrens. The article focuses on Sibelius's latest addition to their Groovy line, aimed at nine to eleven-years-old with a hip-hop beat. (Don't tell Samuel Adler.) One of the things that jumps out to me is that all the programs mentioned are made by companies whose bread and butter is notation programs. (MakeMusic, the main competition to the Sibelius's Groovy line, is made by Finale)

At first blush I'd assume that music production methods (i.e. GarageBand, Live) would be a more obvious way to a kid's heart. However looking back at the aforementioned misspent youth revealed an obsession with translating the written language of music into low-attention-span-ese. Those funny solfege hand positions were just part of the tradition that goes through shapenotes all the way back to Guido of Arezzo, and these programs are just an extension of that. Where this (theoretically) gets cool is by accentuating writing and much as reading. Has anyone actually had any hands on with this sort of stuff?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Geographic Coincidence

Life as any sort of "academic" above the undeclared level is inherently a transient sort of existence. This is an overly poetic way of explaining away my poor blogging as a result of the fact that I am back in Wisconsin. But where to go for your Boston concert related needs? Assuming that Lockhart doesn't continue to stir his audiences in a furor that attracts the national press, I have a couple suggestions.

fullermusic: She doesn't post very often and I have no idea who she is, but it was the first Boston concert music blog I started reading. History is good for something.

Soho The Dog: In the beginning my blog just parroted Darcy James Argue, but he's shifting away from blogging to do his career. So now I just parrot Matt Guerreri. However, I think that most of the concert music blogs in the world are doing the same thing.

visionsong: I came across this blog via Ethan Iversen of the Bad Plus (P.S. Buy their new album. Hawt.) so its focus is more on the city's jazz scene, which is awexome. I really miss playing jazz but can't imagine that being next to the world's largest concentration of guitarists is going to help me break into the scene.

My blogging will continue (and hopefully pick up) over the course of the summer, but may be a bit more abstract. Likely focusing on things I discern from the æther instead of my own witness.