Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Popular Risk

It is sort of crushing when an artist you like makes something embarrassingly bad. This leads me to an opening question: is John Adams' I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky a parody? I refuse to believe it's from the pen of the man who wrote Phrygian Gates and Harmonielehre. It sounds like Andrew Lloyd Webber, but gayer. Gayer! Than this!
I know the piece is 15 years old-but I remember 1995. Memo to composers of today and tomorrow: Playing with popular music in your work is a risk. It will blow up in your face and show how shockingly out of touch you are. Don't do it. Not that it can't be done. Just probably not by you.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bill Clinton as Martin Heidegger

Friday, March 21, 2008

Berg's Demonic Taste

Your demonic taste for civilization and illusion would find ample sustenance here, for nowhere is civilization more glassy than in Italy, and intense, though in a different, more positive sense than with us, for the whole of life, lived as it were to the point of destruction, resists constant stabilization and mirrors its own transience in illusion.

-Theodor Adorno (letter to Alban Berg, 12 September 1925)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Does it make me a Nazi?

Of course not, but I still am eager to defend the Adagio of Bruckner's 7th as one of the most beautiful pieces of 19th century music I have ever heard. Yes, they played this on German radio following the death of Hitler. He didn't deserve it of course (I have always been very vocal about my dislike of Hitler-guy was a complete douchebag!). Hitler's funeral music should have something totally shitty, like this.

But, wow, this Bruckner fellow could write some amazing music for being such a village idiot. I have never read a biography of the man (are there any good books on Bruckner?) but that has to be overstated. So he was a devout Catholic and he wore crunchy pants. The mind that produces these symphonies and masses is far from being naive or simple. They are deep, deep works. And not just because of their length or cathedral-organ sound. And I'm not one of those guys who immediately associates everything Germanic with "depth". Fuck those guys!
Even early things like the Adagio of the Second Symphony are wonderful. Listen to the Adagio from the Second Symphony for me right now. Here's the score. You have no excuse. It is very deep music. So deep it'll put ya ass to sleep (quoth Ice Cube, though I believe he was referring to poignant Andante of Mahler's Sixth).

I have been enjoying this amazing set of Bruckner's symphonies conducted by Eugen Jochum. Here he is conducting the Adagio of the Seventh. Deep music.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Saint Patrick's Day

*(Photo is of me and fellow John Adams fan Jenna. She loves two things: post-minimalism and my inexplicably waxy pectorals).

Sorry for the distance I've kept between us. I like to think it has given us a little space, a chance to breathe. I think we can agree that following my last return to this alcove, things moved a little too quickly. Now following the 239th absence, I don't want to make the same mistake. The things that were said, the genitals that were purposely brushed, etc.

It's okay. I understand.

The snow is melting and the blood begins to simmer once more. I have been busy with midterms and planning my summer classes. Also, the same constant reading and listening (not so much viewing).

I had a nice listening experience last night, in fact. Driving through downtown Minneapolis to a friend's house, I passed by a blue-raspberry-colored lake, ice splitting into smoking islands as a lemon sun lowered itself gently into the cold water like an old man into an ice bath. The sky was dusky and cherry-red and the whole scene reminded me of a natural world animated by Popsicle-spirits. For a night, at least, I worshiped as a Blue Bunny Shinto sect of one.

The music was John Adams' The Dharma at Big Sur, a concerto for electric violin and orchestra. The work is sort of a tribute to the West Coast and two of its post-war innovators Lou Harrison and Terry Riley. The influence is clear in the gamelan-like ensemble and the quasi-Eastern electric violin quarter-tone swoops and turns. The electric-violin is a cool sounding instrument in Adams' hands (as opposed to Robby Steinhardt's-sorry Rob! See you at Mystic Lake Casino). It has a crazy good range, the harmonics sound clearly, and, thanks to the virtuoso Tracy Silverman's playing, Eastern microtones are rich and gritty. Perhaps it's the recording (and although I read reviews of the work's Walt Disney hall premiere that made similar complaints) there is a caveat: the violin aurally dominates the orchestra. The brass, keyboards, harps and large battery of percussion (including a whole-Buddhist shrine of gongs) seem to play in another room, far away. It adds to the atmosphere, but one feels that they are missing out. Though the electric violin is the main voice, spinning a seemingly endless and improvisatory melody of often great beauty, it's obvious even on a mediocre car stereo that Adams has written much for the rest of the orchestra to do. In other words, the composer has missed out too. Perhaps future performances (and recordings) will bring out some of the riches of his zen tapestry.

I've been reading a lot too. Lots of things for school, of course, but also Strindberg's diary of alchemic insanity, Inferno. Homeboy went insane. Also, Jacobsen's Niels Lyhne, Shchedrin's gloomy and vicious Golovlyov Family and Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther. A depressing list. I read some happy things too, I think. I can't remember. I kept myself afloat by eating strawberry yogurt, listening to Bill Evans, Milton Nascimento, Ravel's Piano Trio and endlessly watching this:

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Animal Minds

Those who know me can attest to the fact that I greatly prefer animals to humans. And it is not any old idle "I love cute things!". My devotion to our fellow creatures is of a nobler, philosophical bent, and thus, better.*
On the really real, I am simply fascinated by them, how they act, communicate and, yes, think. There is a simplistic but entertaining cover story in the newest National Geographic on animal cognition called "Inside Animal Minds". It spends a few pages detailing the fascinating though controversial research of animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg on Alex the African Grey Parrot. Pepperberg studied Alex for 30 years. He had a vocabulary of over 100 words, was able to count, could differentiate between meaning and syntax
and, according to Pepperberg (no quack), understood the concept of zero.
And, this:

According to Dr. Pepperberg, the final time she saw Alex was on Thursday September 6. They went through their goodnight routine in which she told him it was time to go in the cage. She recalls that Alex said "You be good. I love you." She responded, "I love you, too." He said "You'll be in tomorrow," and she responded, "Yes, I'll be in tomorrow."

Watch him in action here:

And here:

*Joke. Animals are adorable too. If you are wondering why I chose a Border Collie for the photo here, the cover of the NG issue is a photo of a German Border Collie who has been proven to learn vocabulary at a rate that rivals young children.

UPDATE: After watching the videos, I've come to the conclusion that Alex is pretty damn impressive, and Irene Pepperberg is pretty damn sexayyy.