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The Rambler :: blog

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Torture update 


Today's Washington Post has picked up on the story linked to below - seemingly the first Big Media outlet to do so. Again, I would urge all my readers to go here, read the post, and consider linking to it yourself and, if you are in a position to, writing to your US representative. This is important, attention needs to be drawn to it, and something has to be done to stop it.

Enough said.


Progress 


listen is a new blog by Steve Hicken, sometime contributor to Symphony X, exploring Steve's own list of 101 essential pieces of 20th-century music. In making a connection between this and my own Music Since 1960 series, Scott Spiegelberg inadvertently reminds me that I ought to add a few more entries to that. Well, I do have a half-written post on Lutoslawski's Livre pour orchestre knocking around for 1968, so that will see the light of day before too long. And I have a few more slabs of Warsaw to get out too: but for now I'm a bit too busy, so it may all have to wait until the weekend.


Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Outsourcing Torture 


This is not, and never intends to be a political blog: I know about music, I like talking about music, and political blogging without fail always turns ugly and I have no time for the inevitable mudslinging. However linking to this post is clearly a special case, and I do so in order to raise awareness. In summary:

The Republican leadership of Congress is attempting to legalize extraordinary rendition. "Extraordinary rendition" is the euphemism we use for sending terrorism suspects to countries that practice torture for interrogation. As one intelligence official described it in the Washington Post, "We don't kick the shit out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the shit out of them." ...

As it stands now, "extraordinary rendition" is a clear violation of international law--specifically, the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading and Inhuman Treatment. U.S. law is less clear. We signed and ratified the Convention Against Torture, but we ratified it with some reservations. They might create a loophole that allows us to send a prisoner to Egypt or Syria or Jordan if we get "assurances" that they will not torture a prisoner--even if these assurances are false and we know they are false.

Last month Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Congressman, introduced a bill that would clearly outlaw extraordinary rendition. But Markey only has 22 cosponsors, and now the House leadership is trying to legalize torture outsourcing--and hide it in the bill implementing the 9/11 Commission Report. ...

To other bloggers: Please consider linking to this post. This bill will pass unless people know about it, and no newspaper has reported on it. The press coverage of the CBS memos showed that blogs can break a story and have an effect--and this story is about 100 times more important than Bill Burkett's shenanigans and CBS news’ negligence.

I'm talking to Republicans, conservatives and libertarians as well as to Democrats and liberals. I know that you are more decent than this, and that you do not approve of torture. Please prove me right, and do something about it. Republicans are the majority in Congress, and they are much more likely to listen to you than to any Democrat. The press is much more likely to report on the story if liberal and conservative blogs both cover it.

Thank you.


Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Warsaw Part III 


Part I here
Part II here

c7.30-9.30 pm
Filharmonia Narodowa
5 Jasna

Rafal Augustyn: Symphony of Hymns

The afternoon concert ran on much longer than anticipated - I only had half an hour before the next one began, and allowing ten minutes to overshoot the Filharmonia and get lost, I barely made it. At the door I was asked to leave my coat and bag in the cloakroom and in the rush forgot to extract my programme book. So not only am I writing review notes for the most substantial première of my time here sans food and drink, I am also without any of the information painstakingly transcribed by the Festival organisers for people like me. Damn.

It turns out this is a big piece, by any any measure. It clocks in at 100 minutes; requires forces of more than 170, including two solo singers, electronics and solo flugelhorn; sets texts from 20 sources by 17 authors in five languages; and took its composer two decades to write. For all its scale, what is perhaps most impressive about the work however is that across these dimensions Augustyn has written a score that is contiually inventive and enjoyable. Nevertheless, it is an exhausting listen, and several members of the audience ran out of stamina before the end, by which time almost the full gamut of orchestral technique - bar outright sonorism, ironically - had been run.

The first of the three movements is the most monumental, a continuous flow and sway of colours. It ends with a simple hocketing line between the two soprano soloists, that begins out of phase and moves into unison, setting words from Thomas T. Andrews' A Greenwich Palimpsest:

Over the water the echoes glide
light on light, flashing before and behind
like ripples, time on time, in a moment
and all is gone
to the far edge of primordial time.
'Light' is the symphony's main theme, but Augustyn does not restrict the imagery or symbolism attached to this one word. In the first movement, light is life-giving, the light of nature; in the second it is firelight - amorous, apocalyptic, cleansing and destructive; in the final movement the light is "the dawn of a new day and the inner, mystical life". With such a plethora of themes it is no wonder that Augustyn's piece swelled from the work planned to take "a year or two to complete" to one that occupied him for 20. It is also little wonder that such various musical ground is covered: the Reichian phasing hockets described above were for local detail only, and hardly seemed typical. As a whole, the work has that broad sweeping feel of neo-Romanticism that one might expect from a contemporary Polish symphonist, although it features none of Górecki's direct simplicity, or Penderecki's gloomy ponderousness. It does however, as both these composers' works do themselves, continually blur the line between orchestration and form. The clearest example of this is in the very opening of the work, in which single notes are passed around the percussion in a stark Klangfärbenmelodie; here the sole interest is timbral, but the momentum that is born gradually spreads across the orchestra, until it grows into a full extended introduction into the choir's first entry. Melody and harmony are present, but not discernible as such; more important is a lilting shifting of colours that tumbles the music forward.

But it remains a monster of a work: I left feeling that for all its invention and bravery, it would have benefitted from some judicious editing, from concept to execution. It was greeted with warm applause and roars of approval - but almost all of these that I could make out came from the stage, not the stalls. Many of us, having been going non-stop for almost 5 hours by this point, were simply relieved to be out in the cold air.

After taking a breather yourself, please continue with Part IV here.


Monday, September 27, 2004

Warsaw Part II 


Part I here
c11.30 am
23 Sept 04
Krasinski Gardens

The park is heavily wooded. Warsaw is heavily wooded: as those citizens surviving at the end of the war cleared the rubble and stored their dead - in preparation for proper burial at a later, more propitious date - they also planted hundreds of thousands of trees to help accelarate their city's renewal. None of the guidebooks tell you about the trees. So many of the wide avenues have large trees down both sides. As the leaves turn to their autumn colours, the effect is magical - everywhere is beautiful.

I've sorted out my tickets and programme book for the festival. Apparently there was some misunderstanding and my hotel reservation was not made, but that is sorted now. They'd also run out of press passes, so I had to buy my tickets in the end, but for the princely sum of £28 (155 zl) I have entry to 7 concerts and an opera, so I'm not complaining. I also have a fat, 400-page concert book for just £3.50 (20 zl).

--

Ah, that programme book. When I started reading it, I immediately imagined Kyle Gann's reaction (see here and later posts; in related news, see also these others), and it wasn't favourable - neither was mine. Warsaw Autumn, you see, has been a tremendously successful exercise in promotion. It is also a proud and valuable part of the new music calendar, and has given a huge boost to the careers of many now-prominent composers. But there are all sorts of reasons why it looms larger in the consciousness than many other new music festivals. These have to do with Cold War politics, Western European feelings about the East, Polish national sensibilities, a sudden explosion of creativity at the end of the 1950s, etc etc etc. But it has to be admitted that the Festival is also run by an extremely efficient publicity machine. As I've said before, the international press were covering the event from the very start - and not the music-specialist press. The New York Times had a piece on the preparations for the event before the first one had even begun, and the London Times reviewer sent in several reports from the early years of the festival. By it's nature it was (is less so now) an event that attracted huge international interest, and it's organisers were quick to work with this. Warsaw Autumn reviews are now a more-or-less annual fixture somewhere within the journal literature these days.

Such a wealth of commentary, as well as the music itself, makes the festival an attractive subject for academic work, and at least one Ph.D. that I know of has focused entirely on the aims of the early festival years; it also looms large in my own thesis, although I'm not yet sure how large. Reviewers and academics. Professional listeners, if you will. If nothing else, the Warsaw Autumn programme book is a Godsend to them (I'll be mining the complete 47-year index of composers and works performed for some time to come). For every work, the composer is given a biography, and the work has a short programme note - usually supplied by the composer themselves, although in the unusual, more interesting cases it is by a third party writer. The biography consists, in practically every case, of exactly the sort of thing Gann despairs of: a roll call of institutions and awards received, then a selected works-list with no indication as to how that list was chosen (are these recommended further listening? The composer's favourite works? Or just an even, chronological spread?). After the first, I skipped every one. Even more sadly, the notes on the work itself were often even more bare. Here, in full, is what was supplied for Pawel Szymanski's work Compartment 2, Car 7:

Compartment 2, Car 7 was written as a commission of the Alonzo King's Lines Ballet in San Francisco. Tonight's performance is the work's Polish premiere.


If your concert promoters are prepared to print a 400-page book, space isn't at a premium, so why were so many notes like this? I don't mean to single out Szymanski for particular accusation in this respect - and I did enjoy his piece - but I've picked on him here for reasons that become clear in a few moments. In the end, two things were made abundantly clear. Firstly, that it is not just New York Uptown composers who present this sort of useless information to their audiences; and secondly that it is not useless at all. In fact, it is very useful indeed to those professional listeners I mentioned before, whom one is supposed to assume can pick up every salient detail of a piece on a first listen (rarely true - and anyway, who'd ever refuse the help?). In reviewing and academic work I'll be referring to this thing many many times over I'm sure; but in the concert hall itself, it was all too often completely useless. The temptation, then, is to imagine this - an avowed item of promotional material after all - as written for that professional audience. Even, that the profile and commentary that their subsequent writings on the festival would generate are of more value than the ears and eyes in the concert hall at that moment. I obviously can't really back up such a thesis with more than a hunch, but even if I could, Warsaw Autumn would hardly be alone in this respect. So, back to the story ...

--

Rynek Nowego MiastoWhile looking for the monument to the Warsaw Uprising, I happened onto the Rynek Nowego Miasto (New Town Market Square): completely deserted, and, with churches on two corners very beautiful. Warsaw is often a private, hushed city (less so on Saturday, as I discovered). It seems as though people have learnt to speak in whispers, and they haven't lost the habit. Last night all the restaurants had only one or two tables in use, and all were near-silent. I had to double check with one waitress that I had actually found the restaurant after all. The women in the Warsaw Autumn box office were a little more lively, and I charmed all three with my maly Polski.

Memorial to the Heroes of the Warsaw UprisingWhen you find the monument itself, you wonder how you missed it. It creeps up on you around a corner on Ulica Dluga, but then appears to dominate the side of two whole blocks, in a zig-zag. Memorial to the Heroes of the Warsaw UprisingThe two bronze sculptures are surrounded on two sides by turquoise pillars, each with mottos in Latin and Polish on them, and each topped with the PW anchor. On three of the sides of the zig-zag the pillars enclose the modern buildings of the high court: the pillars on these three sides are the same, but are topped with stylized scales of justice that echo the lines of the PW symbol. Thus, the monument itself may only occupy one small square, but it is made very clear that the law court building is its continuation. In Warsaw past oppression and heroism and present justice are one.
Memorial to the Heroes of the Warsaw Uprising

--

c 2pm
Hotel room

I came back via the gorgeous baroque Saxon Gardens (Ogród Saski) I returned to the record shop opposite the grand theatre on Ulica Moliera (I'd tried dropping in earlier in the day, but they didn't open until 11. This is a very commendable attitude to business, which I applaud!). For classical CDs and scores, this is the place. I couldn't find any scores I desperately wanted, although they did have a fine, cheap selection of PWM. I didn't leave without any CDs though, and for about £30 I got a couple of Penderecki disks (original recordings of St Luke and Utrenja, plus some odds and sods), and three assorted collections of modern Polish. Lutoslawski is very prominent on the racks here - a composer of similar international stature and musical complexity to Birtwistle, yet can you imagine any but the most specialised shop in the UK stocking a dozen different Birtwistle CDs? Yet that was the minimum standard for Lutoslawski in every record shop I visited here; even the Borders-style megastores had racks for contemporary Polish composers.

I had lunch in a cheap caff on Krakowskie Przedmiescie. The first concert of my festival starts in a couple of hours. From the ever-helpful Book (in practical terms, at least), I've worked out where PWM's offices are, and I'm going to pay them a visit to see if I can pick up any scores that I do actually want.

--

PWM was shut. I gathered from the security guard (they share a building with a bank) that they stop working at 3pm. Again, I take my hat off to Poland's new-found idle work ethic. Any chance you could use some of your new-found EU influence to spread the word this far West? Cheers.

--

4.30pm
Mazovian Centre of Culture and Art
12 Ulica Elektoralna

View from the corner of ElektoralnaFive pieces here, all by Polish composers. The oldest dates from 2000; three are world premières. There is something of a scrum for seats, 15 minutes before the scheduled start. I must remember to get to concerts like this earlier - it's already packed. This is a small hall, but they've had to put out another 40-50 seats, and still it's not enough: people are standing and sitting in the aisles, behind pillars even. The audience is evenly split, and includes all ages, from early teens up. I've only heard Polish voices so far, and I don't recognise anyone, except for one gentleman who I regularly see on the London concert circuit and who I've always assumed must be press.

The concert begins with a première - Magdalena Dlugosz's Zakopane Liryki, which is not a new work at all, but this is a new version of it for sax, rather than clarinet, and electronics.

My first impression is that this is a little like Stockhausen's Spiral if it had been commissioned by ECM. Not in itself a bad thing necessarily, but here it doesn't quite come off I feel. In her programme notes (some of the more effective ones) Dlugosz talks of unifying the two layers of music - the live instrument and the computer sound layers. However, the soundtrack is composed from clarinet sound sources, with the piece's original incarnation in mind, and here the aural discrepancy between saxophone and clarinet meant that more often than not the sax was isolated. The most effective part for me was at the very end when the saxophonist simply vocalised, and then whispered - here the source sounds matched those on the soundtrack more closely, but otherwise it seemed pretty shapeless, and I was puzzled as to why the new version had been written in the first place.

Pawel Lukaszewski's String Quartet no.2 of 2000 was the earliest work on the programme, and the most recognisable slice of Polakiana. Like Górecki's Harpsichord concerto, it is written in a homophonic, not-against-note style. Of the three short movements, the outer two were rhythmical, folk-ish, melodies, the middle a string of rotating chords that brought to mind Messiaen in the way tight dissonance would open out into bright neo-tonality. The whole was written with consciously limited means, and it had the immediacy and solidity one associates with recent Polish music.

Pawel Mykietyn's Ladnienie (Becoming Fine) was another new work - brand new this time - written for baritone, microtonally tuned harpsichord, and string quartet, and setting a poem by Marcin Swietlicki. The baritone, Jerzy Artysz, who was in the mind of the composer when writing the piece, performed superbly well. The part was extremely isolated - often completely solo - and featured a lot of slow-motion articulation of the poem's Polish text. This brought out, and played upon the sibilant sonorities and harmonic nasality of the language, but also inspired sniggers in many of the student audience around me. In fact, most of the audience was pretty uncomfortable with this piece. Many of the instrumental sections were in a pointillist style, and the musicians weren't completely confident with their music, so these weren't entirely successful. The more sustained passages, particularly making use of the microtonal harpsichord, were more effective, and the bitter irony of the poem ("A fine place. / The sun is smitten. / Glistening ashes / fall onto the earth. / The night is glistening. / Yours is a fine place . / Beasts rule here. / Beasts rule here.") was brought out. However, despite Artysz's best efforts, for the most part the piece sounded bare, rather than desolate.

First up after the interval was Szymanski's aforementioned Compartment 2, Car 7, which was the first piece so far to really give the players license to play to their fullest - until now, they'd all looked a little uncertain and withdrawn. The piece began with strident hurdy-gurdy-like drones and shifting harmonies; these were interspersed with angular flourishes, and a descending arpeggio on bowed vibraphone. About a third of the way into the piece the mood abruptly shifted to a kind of subdued minimalism, the interlocking strings and vibraphone forming the accompaniment to an imaginary Baroque aria. With such an open-ended and episodic structure - and with a title that called to mind all the trains of Agatha Christie and Steve Reich - one felt urgently that there was a programme behind all this that we were not being let in on. So, point to point, the work was well written, attractive, interesting. However, it appeared to make little sense structurally - the sections were presumably interrelated, but the weight of the piece was all in the final minimalist arpeggiation that made up at least 2/3rds of its length, so by the end the opening drones and rhythmic vigour seemed ill-fitted. Without any assistance from the composer, this is all I can conclude from hearing it.

The final piece on the programme was by the youngest composer on the bill. Wojciech Ziemowit Zych is 27, and the same age as me, so I was already prepared to receive his new work, Kaspar Hauser's Friends generously. Granted, it is a little rough around the edges, and will almost certainly never become a repertoire piece, but it was probably the most completely accomplished piece on the programme. In six short, aphoristic movements, each with a cryptic dedication to a different individual, it immediately recalled Kurtág. It occupied a tougher sound world than much Kurtág, but again like his music was never short on ideas or wit, including at one point a passage of distorted perfect cadences. Curiously, the shy, shaven-headed Zych even had a look of Kurtág about him. He has a teaching post in Kraków (at his age, bah!), and the piece was a commission from German radio; I expect to hear more of this chap in the future.

--

I think that's about enough for the time being. For those that want, Part III is here.


London Interim 


If anyone's forming a post-punk band and needs a name, that title's a creative commons freebie if you want it ;-)

So I was away for a few days, and everybody's been talking about music and music writing. The fire seems mostly to have gone out of the debate now, so I won't contribute much new here (although an upcoming Warsaw post will have some pertinent remarks - stay tuned), simply point interested readers to the various points: ionarts links to most of the relevant posts, and Jessica Duchen, Fredösphere, uTopianTurtleTop et al have more to add. For the record, my view on the matter is buried in the comments at Musical Perceptions, where Scott has been the most patient of all in keeping up with proceedings.


Sunday, September 26, 2004

Warsaw Part I 


OK, I've found myself an internet cafe on Marszalkowska and since I've got a couple of hours before my flight and since this is the, er, 21st century baby, I'm blogging from Poland. Yeah.

I have a lot of notes here from Warsaw and the Festival, and I have every intention of writing them all up. If ever a city compels you to write, it's this one, so what follows is a warts-and-all travel diary, in several parts. I make no apologies for self-indulgence - this is a blog after all! Just be thankful that thus far I've spared you pictures of my cat.

[for the sake of an easy life, I'm leaving out Polish accents for the time being. I might go back and put them in at a later date]

--------

22 Sept 04
Room 262, Hotel Europejski
Krakowskie Przedmiescie

My first act in Poland is to find a way to break one of my 50 zloty notes so that I can buy a bus ticket from the airport into town. There's a small bookshop at Okecie airport, and I figure that a Polish edition of the first Lemony Snicket novel is as good a way to get some change as any other. It should help with the Polish too.

As it turns out, I forget to buy my ticket in advance, and the bus driver seems set on ignoring me. In fact, he closes the doors and pulls away, so I decide to chance a freebie. I take the bus all the way to the end of Krakowskie Przedmiescie and head into the old town, hoping to find the Warsaw Autumn offices on Rynek Starego Miasto open. On Plac Zambowy, outside the Royal Palace, a fusion band is playing on a small stage; banners and chalk on the pavement indicate that this is in aid of European no-car day - a fact I was completely unaware of on leaving London.

The Warsaw Autumn offices are at no.27, but I can only find nos.26 and 28, and no helpful plaques. I was prewarned that I might have to make my way through a restaurant to find the offices: in any case, most of the square looks shut for the night. I decide to find my hotel, and sort out passes and tickets tomorrow morning.

The Europejski proves tricky to find, and I almost accidentally stumble across it, even though it takes up an entire block. After waiting an age in the black-and-white marbled reception area I am served, and it turns out my name is not in their books, but they find me a room anyway. The room is compact, the corridors vast. Although the hotel is mid-19th century, its layout eerily echoes the priorities of Warsaw's Soviet town planners.

The David Crowley book I was reading on my way here highlighted the importance of building projects to Warsaw's identity; Warsaw cranesthe swarm of cranes around the Palace of Culture and Science reinforced this; and the construction trade magazine left in my hotel room further emphasised the point: "When will there be more cranes in Warsaw?" laments its editor, Magda Szczecinska-Konstantynowicz, "A city with cranes projecting onto the skyline seems to be a dynamic place that is prosperous, enjoying growth, and with the chance of a better future ... a few more cranes would give us a visual confirmation that the real estate market has finally woken up, along with the economy."

--

Yet for all the rebuilding, Warsaw remains attached to its ruins. Last month was the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, and I have seen three new memorials already. One is temporary, and is outside St John's Cathedral in the old town. It was a pile of rubble with Polish flags, and rising above were banners with faces of those who had died in the fighting. On the Plac Powstancow Warszawy, next to the Warsaw Hotel building are two more permanent memorials. Plac Powstancow Warszawy memorialOne is a wedge shape, with a huge iron PW anchor motif on the front (PW stands for 'Warsaw Fighting', and the anchor mongram is the symbol of the Polish Home Army). Behind is a sort of counterweight of bricks and rubble, marking the dates 1944-2004. On the adjacent side of the square is a large marble and stone memorial with two eternal flames, an altar to those who died. The largest of these flames comes from a bowl shaped to look like a circle of bricks, supported by rifles standing on their ends. On both monuments people have left candles and flowers. One rose had miniature homemade barbed wire wrapped around it.

Plac Powstancow Warszawy memorial
I came across this square by accident, taking a random path from the Nowy Swiat restaurant where I had dinner. The restaurant had a Chopin soundtrack, and I was struck by how well I knew some of it - every now and then a prelude that my Dad used to practise would tear at me. I was surprised by this connection I suddenly had with the city, so to come upon these monuments almost immediately afterwards was heartbreaking.

--

[continue with Part II here]


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Windows techno 


It's slightly old hat now, but it's related to the below posts, and I just discovered it, so here is Windows Noise, a track (with accompanying Flash visuals) composed entirely using SNDREC32.EXE in Windows. It starts a bit slow (the opening chimes have me instinctively reaching for my e-mail expecting a slew of spam to be flooding in), but impressive nonetheless.


3 Notes and Runnin 


There are now more than 40 mini-tracks on the 3 Notes and Runnin site (the full set may be found here). Some are really good, some are less successful, but the sheer diversity gets across the point that Downhill Battle are trying to make. I listened to all of them this morning, and I'll be keeping an eye on developments over there: there may well be a larger post on this next week when I get back from Poland and have a little more time, but for now favourites include 'Majesty Roundoff Saga' by scragz, 'Get a Life' by Dirk Jorji and the 'Crimson and Clover' cover version (double intertextual whammy!) by Jordan DeMaio.


Monday, September 20, 2004

But what's the steering wheel for? 


Prediction from the past. Mind you, the way my Dell dicks me around these days, I'd be tempted to try one of these out. At least it's got dials to tell you when it's about to crash.



Most irritating, but oh-so-predictably-British radio call-in this morning? Well, in the wake of this heartwarming triumph, Radio 5 saw fit to discuss what can be done to reinvigorate British sport. Now, putting aside the fact that a Scot has just spent the weekend making Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson et al look like amateurs, have Radio 5 never heard of Rugby Union, or our cricket team who have gone a record 7 Tests unbeaten, or Kelly Holmes, or Bradley Wiggins, or Ben Ainsley, or Matthew Pinsent? Obviously they're not footballers, but they still count, right?


Friday, September 17, 2004

For my American readers 


I received the following e-mail today, which will be of interest to my American readers - I attach it below for their benefit. Sadly, as a non-American there's little I can do about this.

FROM: NATIONAL HUMANITIES ALLIANCE

RE: HELP NEEDED TO RESTORE FUNDING FOR THE NATIONAL HISTORICAL
PUBLICATIONS AND RECORDS COMMISSION

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee marked up the FY 2005
Transportation/Treasury spending bill yesterday with a level of $3
million for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission
(NHPRC). This represents a $7 million cut over the current fiscal
year's budget. The Senate action follows the President's recommendation
of $3 million, as well as that of the House Appropriations Committee
(which also supported the President's request for severely reduced
funding).

The full Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to mark up next
Tuesday. Calls are needed immediately to Senate Appropriators to raise
the funding level for NHPRC before the bill moves to a House/Senate
conference.


BACKGROUND

Created alongside the National Archives in 1934, the NHPRC is
responsible for state, regional and national projects concerning the
archiving, preservation and creation of documentary materials related to
American heritage. This includes the publication of the papers of
nationally significant individuals and institutions, the preservation of
historical records of enduring value and the creation of projects to
address archival issues nationally and statewide, such as the complex
problem of electronic historical records. Publication projects made
possible by NHPRC support include the papers of Benjamin Franklin,
Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gen. George C.
Marshall and Frederick Douglass.

In FY 2004, Congress fully funded the Commission for the first time in
its history, appropriating $10 million and disregarding the
administration's recommended funding level of $5 million. No
administration has ever recommended full funding for NHPRC.

The livelihood and programmatic integrity of the NHPRC are threatened by
the funding cuts, as well as the Commission's recognized ability to
leverage nonfederal dollars to support the nation's documentary
heritage.


WHAT YOU CAN DO

Any individuals or organizations who wish to express their views on this
issue are urged to CALL the offices of Senate Appropriations Committee
members immediately (see attached list of committee members, staff
contacts and phone numbers). Talking points are provided below.

Please pass this information along to your colleagues and urge them to
act!


TALKING POINTS

1. If the President's recommendation of $3 Million is adopted, the very
existence of state and regional activities in planning and implementing
archival programs, already seriously hampered by funding cutbacks in the
states, is imperiled. Without adequate funding, research on the pressing
problem of electronic records will be curtailed, jeopardizing the
preservation of important historical documentation - the raw materials
for historians of the future.

2. The Commission has an excellent record of accomplishment and is seen
as a model federal grants program. For example, following the
disastrous events resulting from the terrorist attack of 9/11, it was
due to a NHPRC grant that New York City archivists and curators had a
disaster preparedness plan in place and were able to cope with and
minimize the detrimental impacts of the World Trade Center collapse on
collections in lower Manhattan.

3. The nation has a duty to document and preserve its history. NHPRC
makes grants each year to institutions across the country to preserve
historical records, publish historical papers and make historical
materials more accessible. The Commission has an outstanding record of
making grants to edit and publish historical documents, to develop
archival programa, to promote the preservation and use of historical
records, to promote regional activities relating to American's
documentary heritage. While the National Archives concentrates on
federal records, the NHPRC helps archivists, documentary editors and
historians by making available non-Federal records of exceptional
historical significance. Books by scholarly and popular authors like
David McCullough's John Adams would not have been possible without the
type of documentary editions that emerge from the NHPRCs work.

4. The public benefits that come from the preservation and
dissemination of documents significant to an understanding of the United
States were most eloquently stated by J. Franklin Jameson, founder of
the National Archives and the NHPRC in a November 30, 1927 memorandum:
"The publication of documentary historical materials is a regular
function of all civilized governments, and it is not likely to be
omitted by an government in which there is any appreciation of how much
historical study does and can do for the promotion of national
patriotism."

5. Documentary editions are used not only by scholars, students and
teachers at every
educational level, but also by documentary film makers and museum
curators. The Internet has literally opened up a new world for the
dissemination of the products of NHPRC funded projects but that
dissemination and truly democratic access to reliable historical sources
will come at a substantial cost.

SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE MEMBERS

*Asterisk means that the Senator is on the Transportation, Treasury, and
General Government Subcommittee*

[Republicans]

*Richard C. Shelby - AL - Chair of Subcommittee
Tel: 202-224-7236, Staff Contact: Lula Edwards

Ted Stevens - AK, Chair of Full Appropriations Committee
Tel: 202- 224-3004, Staff Contact: Lisa Sutherland

Thad Cochran - MS
Tel: 202-224-5054, Staff Contact: Clayton Heil

*Arlen Specter - PA
Tel: 202-224-4254, Staff Contact: Mark Carmel

Pete V. Domenici - NM
Tel: 202- 224-6621, Staff Contact: Carol McGuire

*Christopher S. Bond - MO
Tel: 202-224-5721, Staff Contact: Trevor Blocon

Mitch McConnell - KY
Tel: 202-224-2541, Staff Contact: Brit Brooks (Female)

Conrad Burns - MT
Tel: 202-224-2644, Staff Contact: Jarrod Thompson

Judd Gregg - NH
Tel: 202-224-3324, Staff Contact: Erin Rath

*Robert Bennett - UT
Tel: 202-224-5444, Staff Contact: Shawn Parkin

*Ben Nighthorse Campbell - CO
Tel: 202-224-5852, Staff Contact: Brian Feintech

Larry E. Craig - ID
Tel: 202-224-2752, Staff Contact: Daemon Tobias

*Kay Bailey Hutchison - TX
Tel: 202-224-5922, Staff Contact: Jamie Notman (Male)

*Mike DeWine - OH
Tel: 202-224-2315, Staff Contact: Becky Wagner

*Sam Brownback - KS
Tel: 202-224-6521, Staff Contact: Steve Donches


[Democrats]

*Robert C. Byrd - WV - Ranking Member
Tel: 202-224-3954, Staff Contact: Paul Gay

Daniel K. Inouye - HI
Tel: 202-224-3934, Staff Contact: Christen Alston Eads

Ernest F. Hollings - SC
Tel: 202-224-6121, Staff Contact: Julian Norment

Patrick J. Leahy - VT
Tel: 202-224-4242, Staff Contact: Chanda Betourney

Tom Harkin - IA
Tel: 202-224-3254, Staff Contact: Richard Bender

*Barbara A. Mikulski - MD
Tel: 202-224-4654, Staff Contact: Anthony Lawrence

*Harry Reid - NV
Tel: 202-224-3542, Staff Contact: Greg Jaczko

*Herbert H. Kohl - WI
Tel: 202-224-5653, Staff Contact: Molly Harris

*Patty Murray - WA
Tel: 202-224-2621, Staff Contact: Dale Learn

*Byron L. Dorgan - ND
Tel: 202-224-2551, Staff Contact: Nicole Croach, Dafna Peled

Dianne Feinstein - CA
Tel: 202-224-3841, Staff Contact: Chris Thompson

*Richard J. Durbin - IL
Tel: 202-224-2152, Staff Contact: Pat Souders

Tim Johnson [the senator, not me obviously!] - SD
Tel: 202-224-5842, Staff Contact: Matt Thornblad

Mary Landrieu - LA
Tel: 202-224-5824, Staff Contact: Kate Eltrich



Right, I've just downloaded Firefox onto my Work laptop, and I see the problem with this 'ere site - it's the same as in Opera - the headers and top blog post are crashing into one another. I'll see if I can fix this before too long.


Thursday, September 16, 2004

More on Sampling 


I said I was going to come up with some more thoughts on sampling in the wake of that recent court ruling, and here they come. Yesterday, on the train into Oxford, I took the opportunity to catch up on some of the articles and documents sitting on my harddrive (all titled 'Read This' or similar) that I've downloaded from various journal sites and so on. One of them was by Ben Earle, called 'Taste, Power, and Trying to Understand Op.36: British Attempts to Popularize Schoenberg', and was published in Music and Letters, lxxxiv (2003), pp.608-643. This is a really excellent article that I need to read again, and that I think I will refer to many times yet since it touches on several of my academic and musical concerns - namely the avant garde, its reception, the role of institutions like the BBC in creating reception conditions, how we listen, what criticism should look like and do, etc etc. Like I say, a really thorough piece. Anyway, in the midst of all this is a quotation from Raymond Geuss that particularly struck me. Referring to Adorno's championing of Schoenberg, he writes, "[t]o appreciate the critical force of Schönberg one has to know the musical tradition and its place in wider social history and hear his music as part of that history .. In some sense the history of western music is already in our ears, in their accumulated habits and expectations of hearing. If this wasn't the case, not only would we fail to see Schönberg's music as critical, we would fail to be able to make sense of it at all." The italics are mine, and they point to the phrase that most appeals to me in general application.

It seems to me that after - or possible even alongside - literature, music is the artistic medium in which such a statement could most strongly be made, and is so central to its understanding. Even putting aside the more abstract theoretical perspective of Barthes, most literature is quotation. Literature is highly contextual, highly referential, and some appreciation of this is crucial to its interpretation (by which I don't mean its 'correct' interpretation - I doubt there is such a thing - but simply the act of interpretation made by the reader when reading). What reception theory would call 'prejudice' is essential to any reading of a work, since the work operates with and against those expectations a reader brings to it, expectations formed from their own experience of other works, similar or dissimilar. So, having read Jane Austen, we approach Charlotte Brontë with a particular 'horizon of expectations' as Hans Robert Jauss would put it. Having read Austen, Brontë and George Eliot, we bring a set of more complex expectations to Woolf: and great deal of the power of Mrs Dalloway, or To the Lighthouse is in how the work interacts with that horizon of expectation. Mrs Dalloway and Mrs Ramsay gain so much of their strength and impact when one relates them to the female characters of the 19th century, whose lineage they inherit. They gain a whole different impact when one reads them alongside Buffy or Nikita.

OK, I'm losing the thread here a little bit. But to reference another favourite author, how many of the jokes in PG Wodehouse depend on literary and linguistic convention (as this article from the Guardian archives observes)? The whole set-up depends on having the whole history of western literature in one's ears - what sense is there in the line "The butler was looking nervous, like Macbeth interviewing Lady Macbeth after one of her visits to the spare room" if you've never heard of The Scottish Play?

Thus literature - and likewise music. The best bits of Haydn are when he squeezes the quirky and awkward into the expected conventions; the best bits of Beethoven when he pushes those conventions to breaking point. The best of Schoenberg is hearing him grapple with establishing wholly new conventions while trying to quash the hydra of old ones. So with Stockhausen, Adams, Reich, Cage, Ligeti, Timbaland, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and any one else you care to name. Music works because it sets up expectations, from which you get tension, movement, development, release, and all those other components that help create something people can relate to and enjoy. And the only way that you can set up any sense of expectation is if you have a store of reference points. Quotations, allusions, analogies. That horizon of expectations has to come from somewhere.

So, quoting material (or, to put it another way, using the same thing again) is essential. Someone had to write the first perfect cadence, certainly, but it only achieved any significance as the principal musical punctuation mark because other people also used it. If they hadn't, music would have lost an important structural device that has helped composers and listeners to find that tension and release I'm talking about.

Of course, everybody understands this, in literature as well as music. Where would we be without 'To be or not to be'? Reusing material is not just a way of making a statement, but in music, where there is no universal vocabulary to refer to every time one sits down to write, it is the only way of making a statement. A musical gesture that no one has heard before (and how hard would that be to write?) would still have a powerful identity simply because of its rarity - it would stick out like a sore thumb, and even a sore thumb means something. What is so intriguing about sampling, for me, is that the reuse has become so much more detailed. For centuries western art music has been constructed around a high degree of precision in terms of rhythms, pitches and so on - and it quite easy to copy these to a high degree of precision, just by copying the notation. Before sampling however precise timbre was a) unnotatable, and b) uncopyable. Now at least the latter of these no longer applies. (With instructions citing source material and process methods, the former is conveyable within the studio, although not really in live performance, so it's not notation in the same way. And anyhow, even with the instructions, you still need the source sound itself.) It is interesting that it is at this point that lawyers have got worried. Because for the centuries before sampling, precise timbre was probably the least of a composer's worries; even if he could have, or even cared, I don't think it would ever have occurred to Beethoven to claim rights over the sound of an orchestra playing his Fifth Symphony. Maybe that opening riff, its notation expressed on paper, but not the timbre. Now, what record company lawyers are most interested in - and what has become, by this measure, the most valuable, important part of a musical recording - is the sound. Listening to the Funkadelic snippet that NWA have got themselves into trouble over (it's available on the Downhill Battle site, along with the NWA clip that features it), it's more noise than anything. There are some regular attacks and a rough collection of pitches, certainly, but any notation of this clip would be nonsense. It's just a sound, completely unnotatable, pure audio. Since the recording studio, this is how music is - sound and timbre have taken over from harmony and melody as the defining parameters of music (why would anyone buy a remastered record if they didn’t think sound was more important than melodies or harmonies?). And since this is how music is, sound - in whatever means it is transferable - must be admitted to the historical lexicon in order for music to continue to mean anything at all. If not, when we listen to the Schoenberg of the 2020s, we won't have the history of music in our ears - only those bits of it the lawyers don't care about.


3 Notes and Runnin 


Downhill Battle have, imaginatively, picked up the gauntlet thrown down in that NWA/Funkadelic sampling case by putting up the offending sample themselves, and opening

a forum for sample-based musicians and artists to share their own 30 second songs which have been created using only the sample in question. By doing so, we hope to showcase the potential and diversity of sample based music and sound art, and to call into question the relationship between a sample and its use.
Good stuff. Here are the rules:

1. Your song must be thirty seconds in length.

2. Your song must use only the designated two seconds of the intro to Funkadelic's "Get off Your Ass and Jam" as source material. You can slice it, layer it, loop it, stretch it, filter it, smack it up, flip it, and rub it down, but you can't bring any other sounds into the mix.

3. All Entries should be encoded as mp3s and emailed, along with artist name, email or URL, and a brief description /statement to mike@burncopy.com. All entries that adhere to the format of the call will be posted to the website.

Participants are encouraged to process the sound in creative, unconventional and excessive manners, stretching the relationship between the finished result and the source material.
Looking forward to the results. I was planing on posting more on sampling today anyway, following up what I was saying earlier in the week, but this has given me a couple of more things to think about, so I'll sit on it for a couple of hours yet.


Flashmob - the Opera 


I've just come across this article posted over at Andante a couple of weeks ago. Apparently the BBC are planning on flashmobbing a selection of operatic arias and choruses, including singers, chorus, and a 65-piece orchestra at an unnamed London train station some time soon. Gimmick? Probably, but it's pretty damn funny. I hope they choose Paddington, on a Wednesday evening, then I might just catch it.


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Sort it out! 


w00t!

From Times Online (for those who aren't or can't register):

The competition watchdog is being urged to investigate Apple's iTunes service over claims that it is over-charging UK music fans by up to 20 per cent.

The Consumers' Association (CA) said that while iTunes charges UK based customers 79p to download one track, customers in France or Germany have to pay only 99 euro cents - the equivalent of 67p. The US iTunes site charges users 99 US cents (55p) per song.


And calling your customers suckers and claiming that as an excuse doesn't help:

Apple has denied the charge, saying that UK fans are used to paying higher prices for music and its pricing structure was in line with other British online stores.


Now, don't get me wrong - I have nothing against Apple, and I'm an iMac, iTunes, iPod user myself (well, I'm married to an iPod user, which counts I guess) - and I have nothing against pay-for downloads. But I've said right from the start that the only way to make this work is to price fairly and sensibly. Consumers know what they're paying for, and what everyone else is paying for it. I still think 67 pence (the equivalent of the EU price) is too much: Real's 27 pence equivalent is a much better reflection of how much MP3s cost to make, distribute, store and market - the UK-based Wippit is still running its summer sale, in which all MP3s are just 29p - again, a fair price. C'mon Apple, we're not stupid.


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Blogs on Resonance 


Check Resonance FM, 8.30 on Monday 20 September 2004 - includes music blog documentary featuring this lot.

.where to hear it
{
London only: 104.4FM;
Everywhere: www.resonancefm.com
}



Speaking of good Polish music from behind the Iron Curtain, here's Oliver Wang with a sweet Polish break.


Warsaw Autumn 


One of Europe's biggest and oldest festivals of new music starts this Friday - the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music. The first was as long ago as 1956, just 3 years after Stalin's death, and it has been an annual event since 1958. As the first new music festival in Eastern Europe it became a beacon for both Communist bloc composers interested in the avant garde and Western critics with a taste for suppressed exotica. In its early years Warsaw was an immensely important festival, although this was possibly more to do with its newsworthiness than for its perceived musical importance. The London Times for example covered the festivals in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1962 - the New York Times covered 1956, 1959, 1961 and 1962. Yet the British quarterly The Musical Times didn't feature a report until 1966, the year that Penderecki's St Luke Passion, a work that had caught the imagination around Europe, was performed there; even this was only a 200-word notice.

By its very nature, the festival stood as a symbol of hope, and the sense of hopes fulfilled and dashed permeates many reviews of the festival. What is especially interesting in the early years of the festival is that the festival is encouraging two different sorts of hope, closely enmeshed with one another. The first is that it marked a symbolic end to Stalin's stranglehold over the arts. From as early as the 1958 festival, composers featured were experimenting with the avant-garde techniques they had come into contact with from the West - serialism, aleatory and the like - as well as developing new approaches that made sound itself a principle element of the music. (Over time this came to be known as 'sonoristic' music by the British press, although not until the mid-1980s, or 'Klangflächenmusik' by the Germans, who came up with a term 20 years before the Brits. Penderecki's Threnody is a prime example of the style.) From this point of view, the festival was a good thing - no longer were composers restricted to writing in the social realist style imposed upon them by their governments, but were free to write whatever and however they wished. For many composers, the most seductive thing about the serialist techniques of the West was that they created a purely abstract music, music that meant nothing and had no relationship to anything concrete at all - the polar opposite of socrealizm.

The other hope engendered in Western critics by the festival ran somewhat contrary to this however. For more than a decade, contemporary music had apprarently been chasing its tail as the avant garde around Boulez, Stockhausen and Cage had become more and more rarified, and seemingly further and further away from conventional musical values. In the high impact immediacy of the new works being heard in Poland many critics believed a way out of the avant garde's mathematical abstraction had been found - a path that led to music both modern and emotive. Over time however this appeared not to be the case - all too easily, critics felt that sonorism was as much a dead-end as total serialism. And anyway, by the late 1960s modern music's geographical focus had shifted once more, to the USA and minimalism.

Critical attention was focused on Warsaw Autumn because of these two hopes - intermeshed because, I believe, many thought that modern music's saviour would be an outsider, just as Bartók had been. Contemporary music had reached an impasse, but because of the slow thaw in the Soviet states, it was hoped the avant garde might grow there anew, and the way out of the impasse be lit from the East. When the world moved on and these hopes either didn't transpire or were no longer relevant, Warsaw lost some of its urgency on the musical scene. It is still an important event, but sadly no more so than any other festival, and it has been some years since it truly arrested the world's critical attention.

I however will be at my first Warsaw Autumn this year, and I'm dead excited. It's also my first time in Poland, so a good chance to try out a bit of the old język Polskie outside of the classroom. I'm not going for the full ten days - save that for next year I think - but I will still be there to see Michael van der Aa's new chamber opera One, Nono's La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura: Madrigale per più 'Caminantes' con Gidon Kremer, and in the final concert all four Lutosławski symphonies together. This is quite a rare event as Lutosławski wasn't much of a fan of his Second Symphony, so it doesn't get performed all that often. There will also be a whole bunch of new Polish music: in spite of all that might have changed, Warsaw Autumn has never given up its commitment to young Polish composers. In the gaps I will be exploring the city with a copy of David Crowley's book and a bottle of żywiec, and gathering up as much music as I can lay my hands on. Expect muchos reportage when I get back.


Monday, September 13, 2004

Rebirth 


Just noticed that

a) Woebot is back up and running (almost never read Woebotnik, must confess), and

b) Worlds of Possibility will soon be too.

These are both very good things.


Friday, September 10, 2004

Music crit and musicology 


This is a really interesting thread going on over at ILM, on pop music and 'formalist' criticism. Something I've ranted about here in the past, although I rarely have the time or energy to post to ILM and then follow them up. So I'm going to break a hundred rules of netieuette and post here instead. Tim Finney (who consistently mixes the right amounts of musicology and passion on his blog, and never gets enough attention round here) makes some excellent points:
I think one of the traps of placing the emphasis on classical training is that it encourages the writer to place to much emphasis on the structures of creation (ie. hypothetically the most rigorous and comprehensive review would essentially allow the reader to recreate the piece of music down to the last note, nuance and peculiarity) as opposed to the structures of reception

is probably the most sensible thing I've read on this subject in ages. m0stly clean also observes that there are different levels of formalist criticism:

Unsatisfatory Crit As It Is Now: This song rocks because the singer is a junky, and the guitars have lots of reverb.

Longwinded Showoffy Crit: This song rocks because of the G#min9 guitar arpeggio played over the VI-ii-VII-ii-Tonic progression.

New More Informed Crit: This song rocks because the chords behind the guitar line make it sound like the tonal center is shifting which is spacy and cool.

To me the top one is what I find absolutely infuriating, the second (and I am a musicologist!) is ghastly dull, and the third is what we're after. I don't think anyone who really thinks about music (and, after all, when we're talking about extensive review pieces, that's the readership) is going to have a problem with ideas of key, or tonal centre (and it's pretty easy to explain in context anyway), or rhythm, or bars, or descriptions of structure. It just seems logical to me - and this goes for all music criticism - that anyone taking the time to read a full review of something is going to want an interesting take on it; some sort of explanation of how it might do what it does, why it is different from anything else you might have heard, its relationship to other music. As Dominique says on thread "why should anyone restrict themselves about what they're willing to consider about music?"


Thursday, September 09, 2004

... more 


Milady has returned home and directed me to the actual Barthes quotation to which she was referring. After a few glasses of wine this is quite poetic:

We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single "theological" meaning (the "message" of the Author-God) but a multidimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centers of culture.


Barthes, R.: 'The Death of the Author', in Image Music Text (London, 1977), p.146, emphasis mine.


Writing = Quotation 


Milady, who is Wise in these matters, comments below to inform me that it's Barthes who wrote about all writing being quotation. To wit:
The intertextual in which every text is held, it itself being the text-between of another text, is not to be confused with some origin of the text: to try to find the 'sources', the 'influences' of a work, is to fall into the myth of filiation; the citations which go to make up a text are anonymous, untraceable, and yet already read: they are quotations without inverted commas.

Which come to think of it is not quite what I was talking about below - but I stand by what I said there. Sounds are nothing without context; with context they become music, just as context turns words, phrases and sentences into Eliot. And by sounds, I mean not just isolated clicks and beeps: I mean the complete envelope of a Funkadelic riff, a Miles Davis epigram, the opening of Tristan, the ending of Pärt's St John Passion, 10 bars of Mozart, half a second of Ligeti. All of these - isolated, sampled, transcribed, decontextualised, constitute musical material for someone to work with. Collecting sounds, rhythms, chords, intervals, melodic gestures, and then organising them into some new and beautiful - this is called making music, and trying to enforce copyright over its atomistic components is very inadvisable.

Incidentally, Alex Ross is kind enough to link to this post, and has some more observations to make.


Why is sampling a problem? 


So, the big music story doing the rounds this morning is that a Cincinnati federal appeals court has ruled that all uncredited samples, no matter how small, are an infringement of copyright. So if you like a Stevie Wonder snare sound, and drop that 1/2 second sample into your mix, you've got to credit it, and you've got to pay. Previously, the law was understood that only samples of a sufficient length, that were recognisably from a previous source, needed credit.

There's much more detail on the story at All Hip Hop, Yahoo and MTV, among other places. All the brouhaha is naturally that such a ruling will stifle creativity - which it might well do (although, as at least one person has pointed out, only if you listen to the law). As anyone should who has any interest whatsoever in artistic creativity, I'm all for samples, quotations, homages, remixes, mash-ups, allusions, whatever. My Masters thesis was on György Kurtág, a Hungarian composer who has built one of the most impressive outputs in modern composition almost entirely from quotation. One note in a piece of Kurtág might allude to two or three historical works; a pair of notes makes deliberate reference to a dozen more. Now, while it is not technically the same to write, with pen and ink, the same notes as another composer as it is to digitally sample someone else's sound, I recognise no ontological difference. It's the same with writing. I don't remember who said it (but I’ll credit them as soon as I do - promise!), but the line goes that all writing is quotation. No one has a problem with this, and yet why should it not apply to music - a realm in which, one imagines, there are actually fewer possible combinations of notes and sounds and rhythms and so a greater overall dependency on quotation and reinvention.

Now I'm not advocating plagiarism, of course. If you actually steal, in substantial part, someone else's ideas, then you are in the wrong and should be punished for that. If you try to pass off 'Superstition' as your own, then a smack is what you will get. But some things - always the good things - simply pass into the vocabulary of creative work. A new sound, a new groove, a new chord: all these things are the vocabulary of music. You can't copyright new words. Take Hamlet. Were Shakespeare's works still under copyright we'd all be in trouble - barely a day can go by when some allusion or reference to Hamlet does not appear in published, widely distributed form. Shakespeare's success - the sort of success that most artists dream about - is to have defined for all time a section of the language - and that goes for music as well. If we had to pay every time we suggested that something might be rotten in the state of Denmark, we would all be much poorer for it. Mind you, if Shakespeare had had to pay every time he borrowed an idea or turn of phrase from someone else, we'd be at an even greater loss. (Although Kit Marlowe might have had a better time of it ...). What is it about music - a realm supposedly less specific, less identifiable than language - that makes quotation such an issue? I don't believe that it is entirely down to record company greed - book publishers can be greedy buggers as well. Is there something in music, something we don't yet acknowledge, that makes sonic sampling feel instinctively more criminal that verbal quotation?

(Hat tips to Jay Smooth and Dennis Romero for the original links.)


Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Princip 


If you've been reading the British music 'press' recently, the only surprise in the news that Franz Ferdinand have won the Mercury Prize is that there was actually anyone else competing. FF are such media darlings - particularly where the Grandad is concerned - that one would have been hard pushed to find a Mercury story that didn't headline with them. Still, good luck to 'em I guess.


Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Postclassical Radio 


Kyle Gann continues to spread the postclassic/totalist/downtown gospel with his own radio station on Live365. It's not radio in the conventional sense - Live 365 loops big playlists and gives them a web channel to play through, so there are no dodgy links or irrelevant traffic reports - but it is good. (For more of the similar, also check out Iridian Radio, another Live 365 brroadcast.)


Firefox 


Andrew, of Bedsit Bomber, has alerted me to the fact that the Rambler looks a bit odd in Firefox. As it does in Opera 6 (through OS9), I've just noticed. In Opera the title and header of the first post are crashing into the title banner of the blog. Is that roughly what's happening in Mozilla too? Looks to me like it may be something to do with Blogger's new toolbar mucking up the top margins again. Does that sound right to you Firefoxers?

P.S. - I would have commented directly, Andrew, but sadly I can't get Blogger comments to work in IE5 or Opera 6 for Mac... Typical!


Friday, September 03, 2004

iTunes Affiliate Program 


This is interesting. Two things occur to me straight away. Firstly, Amazon's affiliate program seems successful (well, a lot of people are signed up - no idea if it's really that profitable though), largely because of the fact that almost any book, CD or film you might mention in a blog post is available somewhere on Amazon: they simply have a giant catalogue that can match people's diverse reading and listening habits. iTunes, currently, doesn't. In my and milady's experience, it's sort of useful for catching up on back catalogue items - like HMV Christmas sales are - but nine times out of ten what you actually want isn't listed, and you end up leaving, or spending your money on something way down your wanted list (again, like HMV Christmas sales). And we all know the hopelessness of finding anything new or interesting on iTunes - their apparent policy of making enemies can't help either.

The second thing that occurs to me is that this looks in part like a bid to encourage legit MP3 blogs. Link to an iTunes song, write a bit about it - ask your readers to pay 79 pence/99 cents - make a bit of money. Hmm. That seems to run far too contrary to the MP3 blog ethos in every way possible to really work. And again, you quickly run up against the wall of a limited catalogue, with major-interests-only. Who would read an MP3 blog that looked like this?


Thursday, September 02, 2004


Best first-birthday-post evah: Happy birthday The Architectural Dance Society.


Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Vespers last night 


Hard to disagree with Matthew Rye's summary in the Telegraph. A very fine concert indeed, and Rye is right: the stage management was the thing. Obviously the music itself was spectacular, and the soloists matched it. But what most intrigued me (and what people were talking about at the end) was inevitably the use of space. Actually, with the music, there isn't all that much to talk about - in casual terms anyway - since it's essentially one chord, one scale and a handful of cadences kaleidoscoping round each other. But from such limited materials, Monteverdi constructs an always different, always the same effect. Like a chaotic system anything is possible, but within tight boundaries. The musical language defines a clear space; the detail is all inside.

The staging of the work brought this musical aspect out into 3-dimensional space. Although the Vespers calls for a large number of smaller ensembles and soloists in addition to a central chorus and instrumental group, the soloists were all drawn here from the central body. As each solo number approached, they would step - with a liturgical air - from the main stage and walk to one of a number of music stands at the edges of the stage in further into the auditorium. Lights pinpointed them for their solo number, then they would return - again slowly - to the stage as the next number began. The ensemble was thus continually fragmenting and congealing, defining the boundaries of the performance space as it did so. And always the music was directed inward, like light reflecting inside a crystal. As with the music, all the movement and detail went towards defining a clear territory. For the final magnificat there were around a dozen groups and subgroups in play as the musicians reconfigured themselves over and over. A unity of musical and dramatic space - supported in the musical technique - that 200 years of static orchestral tableaux would almost obliterate.

As this is the first time I've seen the Vespers done live (other than in John Eliot Gardener's video from San Marco, which is edited anyway), I have no idea if this continual movement and stage direction is par for the course. Maybe it is; but it seems there are still things Monteverdi can teach us about the fundaments of music.


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