Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In 2008 I...

It seems like a lot of blogs I follow have agreed with Merlin Mann's dictate of quality over quantity, more spawling manifestos and less memeing. Of course I lack the quality so the quantity has fallen off as well, but I can follow my own memes.

  • I got me a master's degree! How about that!
  • I became a musicologist in earnest, no more hiding the Dark Arts
  • This led me to move to Iowa, to regain Midwest street cred (this is something that exists)
  • This was also moving with Angela, which is certainly the best thing on this list
  • Participated in a bonafide natural disaster. Turns out that I end up obsessing over, a website few other people know exists.
  • Too many funerals. Of course, this implies the concept of "not enough" or "just the right amount" of funerals.
  • Not only have I declared my trade, but actually attempted to peddle it at the big show.
Didn't I say in 2006 that this would be a banner year? I suppose so, but I've also learned not to much such predictions again.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

AMS Happened A Couple Of Weeks Ago

I wasn't originally planning on doing a post-op of my maiden AMS experience, consider I thought that the general populace would find it boring as shit. However, an entire meme has passed me by with nary a tag and thus I realize that I should chop-chop on the posty-posty. Henceforth, what I learned on my "vacation" to Nashville.

1) I went to way more papers than other people.

Perhaps it was just novice enthusiasm but except for Saturday, which I took off to play a recital in Murfreesboro, I hit the morning and afternoon sessions everyday. So that's at least eight papers a day, which seems to at least double most people's actual attendance and multiply by infinity other people's preferred attendance (zero). However, I suppose all I could do would be going to papers since...

2) My schmoozing skillz are far, far from l33t

The receptions are the real reasons everyone goes to AMS. That and drinking will all your musicologist friends from days of yore. (The latter of which I did with my mentor from Boston and a Berlioz scholar who will go unnamed. Needless to say a microbrewery may not have been the best choice.) At first blush it seemed like the entourage I was a part of had no real ties to any of the schools that were receiving, thus all we could do was futz and be awkward until we shimmied over to the free food.

It turns out that something like half of the Iowa faculty has some connection to Florida State, and I actually ran into both of my undergraduate theory professors at the Eastman reception. This, I realize for future conferences, is more than enough to be able to proudly stride towards the free food. But all these other music bloggers that were clearly at the conference, didn't meet a one of them. But it turns out that I wouldn't have recognized Phil Ford anyway.

3) I am apparently more precocious than my forebears, by a considerable factor

Other musicologists writing about the event talk about finally asking a question after three years, where I think I waited three panels. Granted, I didn't go throwing down against Taruskin as concerns the Ballet Russes but I also didn't perceive a climate of fear. However this point led me to realize...

4) There is no expectation to be able to answer said questions.

Maybe I asked dumb questions, or was tacitly ignored because I'm not a bigshot, but those questions I did asked were barely addressed in even the most tangential sense of the term. However, with further observations those without my greenhorn status were getting very similar results. The batting average would have trouble staying on a double-A roster, shall we say.

That said, I didn't witness any throwdowns or utter evisceration. Perhaps I am actually misunderstanding the culture of the conference. Are questions not actually questions as much as suggestions for future improvement?

5) Even going to a lot of papers, it was scarcely a dry conference.

The papers went to alone discussed erections, The Shining (with footage of the naked chick), a band whose name I can barely speak (link NSFW, for serious), and the f-bomb. Nice.

All in all my first trip to the Lollapalooza of Musicology was good times. Now I'm wondering how this compares to some of the subgroup gatherings.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sit Out A Couple Plays

I really should just write this apology post and link to it everytime since it's always the same reasons, but it's such a classic of the medium.

Earlier I posted about one of the trifold reasons that academic blogs, especially grad student ones, tend to fold. Around October or Novembertide all the academe on these Intertubes seem to slow down a touch, and the midterm crunch certainly isn't uninvolved in this phenomenon. In the ensuing calm before the finals storm however, blogs written by grad students don't seem to spring back the way those written by faculty do. At least in my experience, and I can't imagine I'm totally alone, the flurry of coursework inevitably leads to a crisis of faith.

Blogs tend to spring up when there are more ideas than opportunities for output, i.e. summer and winter breaks. (This blog, for instance, started in summer '06 despite me having parked the domain a whole year earlier!) Actual academic work provides an valve for/demands all that brainsteam. But we're inhabitants of the modern age, right? Not at all, in the halls of ivory towers across the land old media is totally going to waste new media everytime.

As far as I know musically minded bloggers have no shining example along the lines of a Kottke who was able to parlay currency of the Interwebs into success tangible by the old standards. And if we didn't have any faith in the old standards, we probably wouldn't be so worried about doctorates. This doesn't necessarily doom the grad student blogothon, but it requires keeping one's blog in one's heart in the face of crunches and cram time. And that's hard.

P.S. to Phil Ford, now that you're posting again too: In your face!!!!1

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Wheel in The Sky Keeps On Turnin'

I'm not usually much of a linkinista guy, but this was cool so I make exceptions. In opposition to much of the aimless chatter that happens on NewMusicBox (yeah yeah, here too), composer Erik Spengler has written a comprehensive and readable primer on turntablism for his ilk.

In The Cut: A Composer's Guide To The Turntables

On one hand this seem a little late (not for Spengler, who's been doing this for years) but a cutting-edge DJs now uses the wheels of steel as mere controllers for digital media. Of course, to the perspective of turntables as instruments it merely enhances that idea. And it certainly answers the question of performance of electronic works.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Open With A Joke

Just as we all have our own El Guapo to face, we all could learn something about megalomanic perfection from Steve Jobs.
This from today's iPod/iPhone event. I don't even care what they're announcing, this is an automatic win.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Do You Hear What I Hear

School has begun and I'm starting a whole new program at a whole new school. Hence bad at the bloggy. Anyway, overheard at the UE-COGS event at The Mill:

"Musicologists don't like Miles David because he makes too many mistakes."


Saturday, August 09, 2008


NetNewMusic, a website spoken in hushed tones around new music circles, has been reborn using the Ning social network interface. I don't know exactly what I did to get an invite within the first 24 hours of its existence, probably the annoying song thing. The medium of the social networking site surprised me at first, but after some thought one can cross their eyes and think of sites like these just as web forums with really tricked out profile pages. My hope is that this particular clubhouse, unlike brothers-in-arms NewMusicBox and Sequenza21, maybe some performers and musicologists show up to break up the composer fest. Despite my apparent ascension into the new music glitterati, everyone really should check it out.

Speaking of new social technologies I'm trying to get better with Twitter. I've essentially only used it to follow the Mars Phoenix lander but remember a hubbub among academics about it some time ago. I added it to the sidebar some time ago (increasing the cussing on the blag by a factor of one hojillion) but mainly use it to emit questions into the aether. However, if anyone else is doing such this or has a better idea of what Twitter can do, look me up.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Quantum of Venue

The Complexity Wars of a couple weeks ago have morphed into a discussion about treating the audience and their reaction to a work as a single entity, in an Composer vs. Audience sort of way. Kyle Gann says that reaction is more indicative of venue that anything else, Soho links it in a Freakonomics-way to the dialectic of American and British broadcasting, and Dial M wonders whether performers can bear to acknowledge the apparent disconnection.

Mahler/Post (Post-Mahlerian?) concert etiquette has entirely negated any connection between performance and reception in a modern symphony. The audience is either following rules of courtesy or applauding themselves for listening, no matter what a bunch of shits the NY Phil audience might be. While the "special unique snowflake" crowd may bristle at generalizing people as such, it does give another angle to explain music intertwining with society. This is, I assume, something musicologists are allowed to do.

The problem is, to use mathematical terms, that venue is rarely, if ever, the dependent variable. When orchestras do tour, their repertoire is universally more established* than the home court programs and potential crowd aberrations are much less likely. One of the few examples at immediate memory is the BSO doing home-and-away shows with Steve Reich's "Four Organs". The breakdown is a simple one:

Boston: Quizzical enjoyment
New York: Riot

There must be something to learn from this, although it seems to endorse Gann's "bunch of shits" prognosis. While I was writing a paper on "Four Organs" last year, the riot was explained away by everyone with a phrase similar to "The New York following of the Boston Symphony Orchestra was particularly conservative." How can you say this without data points like the Reich riot? Perhaps it is a dark road I'm traveling, attempt to quantize the Musicks as such.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Once You Are, You Are All The Way

Personal prediction: He doesn't make it to the Patriots rematch before being traded to the Chicago White Sox and subsequently the Washington Wizards.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Zander Conducts the "7 Habits" Set

I recently found this video of Benjamin Zander, best known to me as conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, giving a talk at TED. Techniques of evangelizing classical music seem diverse, but this is the second time I've someone use phrasal analysis (in a sense). However, instead of an affable family-friendly crowd, this is a CEO/high executive crowd whose time is really fucking important to them who, granted, are spending a week at an invitation-only wonderland conference. Conservatory students are remarkably similiar in being overprotective about their time, but unlike CEOs they aren't at all interested in optimizing or streamlining or really other people at all, hence the slow choking death of "student life" at most such institutions.

Zander's humor and good nature make me wish I had seen the Boston Phil more often, having only seen them once when Sharon Isbin rolled through to play the Concierto de Aranjuez. Coincidentally or not, this was two weeks before Pepe Romero played the same piece with the BSO. While I made several jokes about the battle for the rights of "Boston's second best orchestra", the Boston Phil and BMOP seem more and more like two sides of the same coin: more nimble and adventurous than the elephant across the street can be. If one can call a Mahler cycle over four years nimble.

P.S.: On a Boston-related note, Go Revs!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Working Through the Suck

This video of Ira Glass (of This American Life fame) has been making the rounds on the productivity blagoglobe but it struck home in that it encapsulates why I started writing this blog, why I stopped writing for several months, and a larger malaise that seems to affect the "academic blog" community.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

But Bass Is Eternal

Since I now live in a household where at any moment the Van Halen Debate can quickly escalate to blows, it is comforting to have something everyone can agree on like Michael Anthony. Upon watching Live Without A Net I realized that the affable bassist's influence may extend past the pedal-point on "Running With The Devil."

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Believe In Your Summer '08

The summer reading list is a tradition as old as the printed word and the acknowledgment of seasons. Having been a careless and fancy free performer for the past several summers said reading list usually consists of cleanup on a series of esoteric topics and angular science fiction/steampunk novels. But now I am a musicologist, and thus this has become Serious Business. The goal is not just to pass the looming entrance exams, but to the pass them with the grace and brutality of the ninja. Therein, the following schedule has been developed.

Eric Salzman - Twentieth Century Music: An Introduction
Carl Dahlhaus - Nineteenth Century Music
Charles Rosen - The Classical Style
Claude Palisca - Baroque Music
Allan Atlas - Renaissance Music
Jeremy Yudkin - Music in Medieval Europe

For bonus points:

Douglass Seaton - Ideas and Style in the Western Musical Tradition
Actually finish the goddamn Alex Ross

This will be accompanied by marching through all 173 selections in the Norton and doing at least nominal score study for each one. We will surely perish. Any thoughts?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Off-Topic Flood Evacuation Anecdote #2

Found in a bathroom stall in Madison, Wisconsin.

While a number of potential explanations abound, I'm thinking one sticks out.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Clapp Your Hands Say Yeah

I got to go to Voxman for the first time since we were evactuated as part of a take-all-comers cleanup crew and furthermore was assigned to Clapp Recital Hall. This was my first time getting to see the space, as I had missed it during my interview tour, and seeing it in this light was akin to walking in to Santa's Cottage only to come across an elf choking him. I can say that it is destroyed it a sense somewhere between potential riot damage to "at least it wasn't a fire".

The first seven rows were clearly submerged with the next four rows showing a mark on the upholstery or wooden endcaps. All of the carpeting was being removed and the entire day was spent scraping off fetid blue foam. The stage floor was already removed when we got there, and the shell (easily seen in this picture) had a clear water mark up about a foot and a half.

This is the only picture that turned out, as I was only armed with cellphone and the only lighting available was a single halogen bulb (which frequently went down). My fragile hands were unable to do the work two days in a row but despite the devastation the work is progressing very quickly.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Off-Topic Flood Evacuation Anecdote #1

During our wanderings we visited some of our friends and in a stunning display of adulthood we decided to take in "a show" at the local reservation casino. The closest I've ever come to a casino before this was a connection in the Las Vegas airport which is packed to the gills with slot machine. That time I left up to the tune of forty dollars, on the nickel slots no less. The nickel slots were not as kind to me this time, taking my whole dollar. Angela on the other hand, turned a 165% profit on her dollar.

The casino experts in our party lamented that the slots were a sucker play, but in honesty everything in a casino is a sucker play. Betting limits and tweaks to prevent 50-50 chances keep any Martingale shenanigans and unlike the Vegas casinos in the movies there is no steady supply of liquid courage. (There is however, and I am serious, an open soda fountain.) If one takes this somewhat pessimistic view of the entire casino being a system, then this is a system that can be gamed.

The eventual show was bad, real bad. The house began sparse but not deserted and none of the acts seemed to know how to deal with it. Even the headliner, who had already done one show, seemed entirely bereft of prepared material and depended solely on banter with a drunk retired trucker after striking out by mocking a blind man's glasses. The thinned out crowd worked greatly in our benefit come time for the door prizes.

All trades considered, we left up by almost sixty dollars. You just have to know when to not walk away.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sit on the Levee and Moan

About two weeks ago I realized I had only come up long enough to say I was in Iowa City. As you've heard, there has been a lot happening to Iowa City in the last two weeks. I'm fine personally, being lucky enough to live near University Heights, which is called that for a reason.

The music program however is in a much different spot. The north campus, which houses all the music and arts buildings, was entirely flooded. (A picture at its worst.) The river crested about a week ago and sometime today the reservoir should go back under the spillway. However cleanup estimates are mounting with the worst saying the building won't be accessible until January.

The flood found its own way to mess with us. We were employed in Voxman's music library for three days before it was evacuated. At this point we were shunted over to the main library's own frantic preparations. The decision to put the special collections in the lowest part of the basement no longer seemed like the wisest idea. This again lasted three days until that building was evacuated.

A river flood is entirely unlike any other sort of severe weather. It is not a single act of natural violence but more akin to being pressed to death. While the hill made us safe from the flood waters themselves, as bridges were closed and the city's resources became taxed life in Iowa City became increasingly difficult. So much for buckling down and weathering it out, we split. A thanks to our parents and everyone else who helped or housed us during our quasi-nomadry. After leaving a furiously busy but insular scene for an ivory tower where we could be more participatory, it will be interesting to see how the community responds to said tower being washed over.

Any inquiries about helping said music program clean up should be directed here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Errrwa for Errrrbody

I'm blogging at you from new coordinates in Iowa City, Iowa, where I'll (hopefully) be attending the fine University there for musicology. I've truly succumbed to the Dark Arts now. I've got a lot of 'splaining to do about change in scenery and blogging in general, but also a lot of unpacking.

As much fun as twenty hours of driving down interstates was there was only one Twilight Zone moment. On a particularly desolate windswept stretch of I-80 in Indiana I spotted a white bus with a yellow stripe on the horizon. I was fairly confident was I seeing things, but sure enough there was a goddamn MBTA bus presumably headed to the city that I had just left. Perhaps it knew I had betrayed them?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

You Can Rock

A couple days ago I found myself in the women's dressing room backstage at Berklee's Commencement Concert. A compatriot of mine was playing (oboe!) in the shenanigans and promised lights, smoke machines, and Ornette Coleman. Two of these three were satisfied.

As my time in Boston comes to a close I think back on how Berklee has confused the living hell out of me. The concert I attended was not the graduation itself but essentially a rock show honoring their honorary doctoral recipients: Steve Winwood, Howard Shore, Rosa Passos, and Philip Bailey (the guy who sings real high for Earth, Wind, and Fire.) Other than ringers from the Conservatory (most of the windwoods, a horn, and the entire viola section) the performers were all from Berklee, many graduating seniors. It was throughly enjoyable with a couple exciting moments on both ends of the quality spectrum, but it all seemed too precious.

Despite having played in a rock band for n years, this was the first time I'd been backstage at a freakin' arena with its backline and its confusion. I don't know of they are required to give solo recitals, but I imagine that's practice for the bar circuit and this is the dry run for Making It to the Big Show. From a seat where I could see the wings it was often times an effective show, while it occasionally lapsed into feeling like a high school talent show except with an audience of 5,000.

I'm not going to explicitly say that there was a noticeable difference in orchestra between Berklee and Conservatory players. I will say that the Berklee students were oft found quoting their discarded motto "There's Nothing Conservatory About It." Whatever, I get that their forging a new tradition and intentionally spurning anything to separate themselves. (Have you seen their crest? It that fucking Helvetica!!!) However, there still is the awkwardness of the academizing of something that really rejects it. The honorees for the most part had nominal roles in the concert, either performing or conducting one piece. Steve Winwood however was not expected to arrive and a Berklee senior was tapped to sing instead. He did end up leaping on stage and she was decidedly unable to roll with it.

I don't mean to be dismissive of Berklee. Its the only place you can go if you want to rock and actually treat it as a craft and unlike every conservatory in the world it acknowledges the music industry, something shadowy, amorphous, and altogether evil, and attempts to codify and dissect it in some manner. I'm just confused by the place, and I still listen to metal.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Subjective Greatness

Through the usual channels of circumstance I scored tickets to last weekend's Celebrity Series gig at Jordan Hall, being told only that it was a Gershwin something or other. I can't exactly say I'm a musical theater man, but despite not having had the chance to crack Alex Ross's book I'm familiar with its opening vignette. Turns out the thing was a lecture-recital by Rob Kapilow, a jack-of-all-trades who has clearly found the meth stash in the PBS Kids hosts' lounge.

My immediate reaction was to fold my arms like a hipster, but Kapilow does hit on that age-old question of how to sell concert music to the masses. And this guy was doing it. His tricks are probably familiar to anyone who has heard his "What Makes It Great" programs (unlike me, who I realize appear to live in a complicated network of Afghani caves) but he had an audience doing phrasal analysis and apparently enjoying it. And this was a very polarized audience, I would assume that we were of the few audience members between the ages of 10 and 60.

I maintained my arms akimbo stance until a point where Kapilow pointed out a riff in "They Can't Take That Away From Me" that Gershwin knicked from Beethoven, a classical theme that Gershwin slaps some altered chord tones on. Not only did this jam home how much Gershwin was getting the chocolate in the peanut butter but I noticed that this was Kapilow's one foray into musiclogical esoterica that he seemed always on the verge of spinning off into. His ethusiasm and depth of knowledge were clearly sufficent to roll with the big boys, but he kept it restrained if you can use that word to describe him. It was remisicent of fiery instrumental playing at its best. A train that seems bound to come off the tracks, but never. Actually. Does it.

Watching the success that Kapilow connected with the crowd made me consider that the line between accessibility and jargon is not where I think it is. (i.e. the path to appreciation is significantly different than that of most theory/history cirricula) Whereas he went into phrase structure with detail, other topics were dealt with thusly:

Q: What kind of chord is that?
A: An awexome one.

My only question is that I saw him work this show with Gershwin songs, works that no one would percieve as "inaccessible". The thorniest work his website offers is "Death and the Maiden", so Xenakis and Andriessen will have to wait for their champions. Nonetheless he's coming back in April to pimp out the Waldstein sonata, so I might have to check out how he treats a work that's a little less immediately digestible.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Prick Up Your Ears

A number of you might be familiar with social-listening site, as you can see on the right sidebar I've been exhibiting my bizarre listening habits for quite some time now. However for the most part it has lagged behind quasi-competitor Pandora in most of the circles I roll in. Both provide essentially the same service, offering new music based on music you already enjoy. While should have the edge being based on an aggregate of taste as opposed to a series of ever-mutating algorithms, Pandora is in essence a borg radio station whereas peddled in metadata.

As of a couple days ago there was a change in this delicate balance. As it turns out is owned by a megaconglomerate that also includes CBS, and with this massive clout has bullied the major labels and a cadre of independent ones into offering free full-track streaming of damn close to every track on the site. Of course there are a number of byzantine catches, and the announcement has rumblings of a subscription service which would make it essentially a hipper version of the Naxos Music Library. However, the whole thing is built on a relatively sane business plan of actually paying the artists themselves per play.

There been some other discussion about whether this whole enterprise is built on the idea of streaming music being fleeting, when clearly tools* exist that make this not the case. The couple tracks I've listened to haven't bowled me over with their fidelity, granted all I've listened to so far is an album I already own and Reich's You Are variations. Blech. However as far as the musicology in me goes haven't sound documents of that much music, especially since it includes the last fifty years of this "popular" music I've heard so much about.

What does it matter to us concert music folk? The organization is a bit hit-or-miss, since it depends on the teeming masses that provide with its playlists to have accurately tagged their music. Thus it was at times nigh-impossible for me to find anything pre-1950 due to the artist/composer conundrum. However among the labels that signed on are ECM, Nonesuch, and Cantaloupe. So the entire discographies of Bang on a Can, Steve Reich, and the Kronos Quartet are available. And that's kind of a thing.

* Even to the point where techies are concerned that our current less-than-hip Supreme Court may revisit the Betamax decision at the behest of aforementioned conglomerate. I doubt the financial effect of such theivery will be much, since the average person who is too cheap to buy music is also too cheap to shell about $40 for a program like Audio Hijack Pro.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Eat 'em up Ought-Eight

Not sure how many other people bit on Dial M's particular meme, but I figured it was a way to ease back into posting.


What's difficult to see is on the bottom is the score to a new piece by my friend and conspirator Paul Feyertag, the first product of my constant sabre-rattling for new pieces from my composer friends and something I hope to blag about more in the future. (Confidential to P.F.: If you had a web presence, I would link to you here.)

Also the picture was taken with my fancy new digitas camera. Fret not, I'll go back to taking pictures with a cardboard box sooner or later.