Tag Archives: music

Losing the New

Alex Ross, music critic for the New York Times, stated today that the orchestra of Minnesota is in trouble. Though I have never had the privilege of attending a concert  of Minneapolis’s famed orchestra, but their reputation has made it to NYC where I grew up. As a sign of the times, even Minneapolis isn’t spared the decent from creativity. Without the means to create, we will certainly lose the ability to create.


The Guernica of our time

I have a few albums that I have collected and organized into a playlist I just labeled thoughts. It consists of the type of music that really cannot be just in the background, but rather consumes the entirety of my being and prevents me from participating in any sense required activity other than giving it my full auditory attention. Today in shuffling my entire playlist as I furiously completed cover letters for jobs I had researched (the life of the unemployed teacher) my itunes stumbled on a track from an album I had almost forgotten was given to me near two years ago. Trinity Requiem by Robert Moran,  was commissioned by and performed in Trinity Church to honor the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. That was how this piece was introduced to me and added to my collection of thought music I listen to when contemplating what 9/11 means and how it should be remembered. As a New Yorker I have no shortage of opinions on the day and its aftermath. But one opinion has stayed with me for as long as I can remember, the idea that no artist captured that which needed to be captured from that event as Picasso had with Guernica. Guernica represented the devastation and tragedy that was to become modern warfare. I remember first seeing Guernica not too long after 9/11, in the Spring of 2002, and asking myself where is the Guernica of our time? What I didn’t realize then and now only realized too late to appreciate it live was that it didn’t come visually but rather from an auditory source.

Moran’s Requiem captures the emotion, the sadfullness hope of New Yorkers building a world after that fateful day. This piece is our Guernica and like Guernica is not to be listened to one day out of the year, but rather should be enjoyed and appreciated more regularly with the same heart that produced the hopeful sorrow it captures.

I will never forget that day, but can now listen and be inspired as to how we can positively prevent that day from ever happening again.

Happy Birthday M. Debussy

Though I am not one to follow the birthdays of the artists I admire, I am however touched by what Google did to celebrate Debussy’s. The animation uses Clair de lune or Moonlight, one of his more popular pieces today. In honor of his birthday however I’d like to draw my readers’ attention to a different one of his works, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, or Prelude to the afternoon of a faun.  This piece was met with great disdain by the public when first performed. When combined with a ballet by Nijinsky it was met with great controversy. Needless to say it was canned the following day by the critics. I only point this out to continue my theme of defending the new. We cherish and celebrate Debussy today but we forget that listening to Debussy as we do was not his intent. His music wasn’t to be preserved, he wrote it to challenge and push the limits. Were he alive today I believe and hope he’d be continuing to challenge our musical understanding, not preserving the one from 100 years ago. 


The future of Cover Art

I want to start simply by saying I’m not sure where I stand on this or if there really is something to stand on. But for the past few years my friends and I have been wondering about the future of cover art in the music industry. Ever since the first album was “officially” released through programs like iTunes the question of the necessity of such a design came about. However if time is any indicator, it hasn’t phased it one bit.

But now comes the more interesting question. With the recent announcement from Amazon that the Kindle is outselling its hardcover equivalents, are the days of cover designs numbered? Not so unrelated is the example set by Project Gutenberg. The digitization of countless classic novels now considered to be in the public domain has rendered them coverless. Should you choose to download (for free… legally) a classic such as say… Washington Square by Henry James, you will find (at least in the case of the iBooks App for iProducts) there is no cover design. This is simply because it has been digitized as part of this project and is not being published by a publishing house, thus has no commissioned cover art.

Perhaps discussing classics is almost meaningless because despite how they are digitized, the hardcover equivalents continue to display cover art. But what happens when there are no more hardcovers? Will that happen?

Or put it more simply, why aren’t we digitizing the original cover art for these texts in the public domain? Perhaps that art is lost, or perhaps it predates cover art (my own understanding of the medium is limited, especially its historical evolution).

Ultimately it comes down to this: Will the art of cover design have a home in the digital evolution of music and literature? We already know that it can exist, but just because something can be there doesn’t necessarily mean it will be there. In the tangible form it was convenient because the cover was necessary. But in the digital world there is no cover.

So I leave the blogosphere with this question: What do you think is the fate of cover art?


The Art of Talent: Evgeny Kissin

In the world of artistic discussions performance has been considered an experiential artistic work because with every performance of a piece the piece changes and takes on new character. I have always loved that about staged art, no matter how many times you see it, each time is unique. So the questions of artistic value for a performance become divided based on whether you are trying to analyze the creation of the original idea or that of the current interpretation. The problem with revisiting the classical works is that the original idea is not necessarily preserved to the creator’s specifications, then again Barthes that might not be a problem.Thinking a little bit about the intensely complicated issues that were only briefly described above I have had the enjoyment of listening to Evgeny Kissin at Carnegie Hall. He is no composer and therefore is not a creator of musical compositions and yet has been credited as one of the most talented artist playing piano today. This is an interesting form of art if you really look at it, yes it is easy to define him as an artist but the way he is “creating” art is not necessarily in the tangible world. The pieces he performed are credited to others, to the composers who first wrote them. It can be compared to how a copy artist might practice his trade by painting the work of a great master. However that comparison fails to recognize the performance aspects of staged art. Though the copy artist will add his own take to the painting, the ultimate goal is to make it look like the original. A better example would be that of Picasso who recreated Velázquez’s Las Meninas in his own style. Kissin isn’t appreciated because he sounds like everyone thinks the piece should but rather because of his phenomenal talent to do what ever he wants with the piano. His hands can be anywhere, his timing is flawless and his style is unique.

He is an athlete of the art world and just as the art of athletic performance can be valued in its own way; his ability has the artistic potential in his movement, in his sound, and in his style.

So is this a different way to look at the arts? Can we judge an artist for his talent in the field? Can this form of art be considered a revival of the talent driven art of the salons? And what about the Dadaist who will consider this nothing more than a copy? Beyond any question or answer that can be conceived the reality in my opinion is that the creativity needed here is more hidden and harder to define than with an artist in the traditional sense, and yes in this sense I am including the Dadas in the category of traditional since they were creating. It’s a creativity that is in the way a piece is interpreted, in essence perhaps the best comparison is to a translator. In literature a translator is creating her own interpretation of the work of art and is therefore cultivating a new art work in the simple fact that the words change. Since it is not a one to one relationship between two languages, it is far from that as Saussure defined for us in the beginning of the 20th century. And in finding the best way to make that interpretation, a new work of art is born, and the translator becomes an artist. The same is happening here. In Kissin’s interpretation of how the notes on paper and the markings associated with them should be converted into sounds we hear. That conversion is creation and Kissin, the artist.



From inside Carnegie Hall

Reporting live from within Carnegie Hall.
Just heard Jean-Yves Thibaudet play piano for Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra by George Gershwin.
This is a real memorable experience.
What amazing talent and expression.
Overture to The School for Scandal, Op. 5 by Samuel Barber was amazing as well.
Awaiting Igor Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps.
Great night to go to Carnegie Hall

Huysmans out.

Liz Phair: Modernism and Modern Feminism

A while ago I wrote that the aim of shocking one’s audience is necessarily conservative. The example I used is South Park – the show is amusing and occasionally clever, but I’m really surprised that more people haven’t commented on its reactionary tendencies, which I find rather obvious. While they play the ‘messages’ at the end of episodes for irony, at least in the use of corny music, most of the episodes do make statements fairly unambiguously, and more often than not those statements are socially conservative. Exhibiting transgression as shocking, disgusting or laughable reinforces the idea that there’s something wrong with it; this is why Umberto Eco made the claim that all comedy is conservative. Perhaps South Park’s left-leaning fans just don’t want to ruin the show by teasing out its politics; I really can’t reconcile it with my beliefs, which are, in the end, really not that extreme.

I don’t reject art because I disagree with it, but I do find it interesting to think of how its political identity relates to that of its audience. Another example of intentionally-shocking art that I’ve been thinking about lately (because it’s been back in the media, naturally) is one of the great rock albums, Liz Phair’s ‘Exile in Guyville.’ The album may not be particularly shocking today (this is one of the reasons why Chris Dahlen’s review in Pitchfork Media claims that the album now sounds dated), but in its time it was fairly notorious for the highly explicit presentation of Phairs’s (Phair the character’s, if not Phair the actual person’s) sex life. The album has often been called feminist, and feminism often shows through in Phair’s independence and sexual aggression, which places her in a traditionally masculine role. But the absence of a traditional relationship is conspicuous, and the need for one comes to the surface in ‘Fuck and Run:’

Whatever happened to a boyfriend
The kind of guy who tries to win you over
Whatever happened to a boyfriend
The kind of guy who make loves ’cause he’s in it
I want a boyfriend
I want all that stupid old shit, like letters and sodas.

There’s nothing necessarily reactionary about the need for stability, even if takes the form of “letters and sodas,” and it’s fairly clear that the relationship Phair wants is an egalitarian one, but the album presents the alternative to jukebox-and-milkshake heterosexuality as bleak and loveless, and makes some pretty clear attempts to shock people with the details of it. This takes a bit of the irony out of these lines. There is a real longing for the courtship rituals of the (idealized) past in them.

But I don’t think this longing is reactionary. I would compare it with the sentiment of the Modernist poets, and in particular T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. If the main idea of Modernism was that poetry can only be successful if it has a strong sense of the ‘now’ – T.S. Eliot once claimed that the most important thing for a young poet to study is the internal combustion engine – the Modernists had very little affection for the time they lived in. The Modernists’ fixation on classical antiquity is in part explained by their belief that an understanding of the present must be grounded in an understanding of the past, but the genuine longing for a return to Byzantium was not peculiar to Yeats. What redeems the Modernists from being nothing more than curmudgeons is that they knew full well that the present was not the past, and that the time in which they lived really was that bad. Their longing for tradition came from a serious feeling of uprootedness that affected people across Europe and the U.S. in the first three decades of the twentieth century, and the sense of ‘tradition’ that they longed for never entailed stasis.

Phair’s work is, in much the same way, directed towards the present rather than the past – the record’s immersion in the indie rock culture of the early nineties is the other reason Dahlen calls it dated – and even though her longing for “all that stupid old shit” really is genuine, it does retain the bitterer part of its irony: she knows that it’s not coming back. The pathos in this situation could be interpreted as reactionary, except that Phair seems to be aware of the falsehood of the idealized past she craves; the real cause of her predicament is her inability to reconcile the actual nature of her life with the lingering remains of the tradition from which it has violently broken off which still reside in her consciousness. Classical feminism may not work this way – most of Katherine Mansfield’s protagonists, for instance, find themselves acting out social roles that they don’t genuinely feel engaged with, while Phair finds herself disengaged from social roles that she still has internalized. But that doesn’t mean Phair is not a feminist. Like Mansfield’s characters, she is after a way to resolve her life with the way she really feels, and a return to the strictures of the past is not the way to do that.

(Also, in response to the allmusic.com piece I linked to, which says of the album’s supposed parallel with the Rolling Stones’ ‘Exile on Main Street,’ “Just try to match the albums up: is the ‘blow-job queen’ fantasy of ‘Flower’ really the answer to the painful elegy ‘Let It Loose’?” Of course it is, and the fact that ‘Flower’ takes the place of a spiritual is one of the album’s most cutting jabs.)