Saturday, August 31, 2019

On ignorance

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."  Isaac Asimov 
An article in the NY Times  made me think of this.

How the Art world has co-opted the musical arts and the consequences thereof. 
You see in the visual arts "Training" is just another style.  In the music world skills such as performing or composing take a lifetime to learn.  In the visual arts said skills are just another style. That is to say at least in the art world "my ignorance is equal."  In previous posts  I pointed out how this "ignorance" is trumpeted as an "advance" and how that overlooks the fact that rigorous training in art is required, just not in music. As hypocritical as that is, we have to face the fact that museums are offering more and more concerts as they have become presenters and producers. The irony here is that traditional performance organizations have been disparaged as "Museums".   Yet in all cases institutions  present their own version of orthodoxies and stay in their lanes.  

I am not sure how this will all play out. I am happy to see more work by artists of color and different genders. Yet because performance is everything today my question is about the effect of artistically narrow *opportunities.  Who gets performed and why?  Does art create the artist or does the artist create the art?

Artistically narrow opportunities: refers to the following:
When Institutions offer commissions the semi-famous rather than trained musicians.
For one example of many; when the MN Opera commissioned "Doubt" the composer said ( I paraphrase)  How upsetting it must  be  for "real composers" that he got this opportunity" -overlooking that the opportunity was never available to a "real" composer. 
 On the museum end  it seems to be coolest thing at the moment or  any musical event that does not feature the music.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Marnie--I made 20 minutes

So the offset arpeggios create some interesting textures and as much as I found the intersection of motor rhythm and minimalism of interest--I hear Dumbarton Oaks a lot--the music fades to back or underscores its all story.  No songs, text forced into the musical line, unintelligible text in the faster sections--and mostly in the slow sections too but you can hear some but then you also hear the unfortunate accents on 2nd syllables; Moth-ER, Mar-NIE, etc.  Text repetition helps some.
Its beautifully done of course this is the MET-- but for the content of the music. The scenes have shape but the music neither helps nor delineates it. Since you can't understand the words its up to the underscoring to create some clarity. It does, but nothing in the music feels necessary or motivated. It meanders.

In the opera transatlantic the composer put the motor rhythms into everything including the vocal lines --this failed spectacularly and you would think that composers would learn the lesson. On the other hand the disconnect between the accompaniment and the vocal lines persists here.
And why a countertenor?

I also stand by my former comments.

Friday, February 8, 2019

fictional non fiction and cultural appropriation

The problem with; TV, Movies, and books is that they are all fictional non fiction--in some way based on fact.  That means that all these stories and plots are stuck in the grove of of creating simple and obvious understanding, That is, the need to be commercial.  So there is no moving on.  There is no obscurity only slice of life.  Cultural appropriation occurs as an attempt to mix things up without bending any rules of patterns of  necessity.  Everyone is stuck on the island.  The conventions of these entertainments, and I have to include fashion as well, build on their own private histories rather than the understanding of the world at  large.  This gives folks the cover to pretend that  they can describe other cultures that they have no knowledge.  Presenting without authenticity is the root of this, That is why it is common and will continue...

other odd thoughts

Tried to watch Avenging Angel.  That  lasted 5 minutes. See  --the film ends  when it is discovered that the main characters are on actually in a stage performance and as characters they can't leave the stage.  The film starts as if they are in the real world.  The opera starts on the stage completely ruining the effect.  Just like composing an opera about a singer who refuses sing yet sings constantly this creates a complete dramatic misfire.  Not to mention the screaming and yelling {sing high sing loud} rendering the text irrelevant. The music did not help
This work seems to be inline with those recent works that hark back to the one of the worst traditions of opera; praising the powers that be/were. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

I failed you Nico

Today I could not go to the Met simulcast of Nico Muhly's new opera.
After listening again to his Two Boys  the technical issues were to much for me--I knew I would walk out of the performance of Marnie. 

The vocal lines in Two Boys neither lead or follow and exist only as as heterophonic space to declame the text.  The story falls flat.

Two Boys has some first rate instrumental music but that too is a problem. I kept thinking the vocal parts should switch with the instrumental parts or at least be part of that instrumental texture.

It's not just because underscoring is an instrumental technique and opera is a lyric one,  but because his vocal models; that is Glass and Adams, have never had the same success telling traditional opera stories as with their Tableau.  A static tableau is not just different from a traditional operatic setting of, for example, a commercial mystery novel, but the audience expectation of the results is also different.   The expectation is grand opera. Also Glass and Adams are successful because of what they are not (serialists)-not because of what they are. Hating serial music is not enough anymore.

 I also wanted to go because of the reviews I read which I feel do a disservice to the composer-- faint praise and faint damnation as well. Even the usually reliable New Yorker found time to talk about many things other than Nico's music.

When you start at the top what inducement would their be to improve your technique? Obviously only those folks who can provide performances have opinions that matter.
I will catch this on the MET on line when It gets there.


Friday, September 1, 2017

Stuff in the time of fluff.

It started with small things—rejection of the “great composer” who then became the straw "bogie" man of innumerable blog posts and musical articles and interviews. The constant drum beat to connect with audiences. The redefinition of progressive rock as classical music, the worship of Frank Zappa over Varese.

What caused this sad state of affairs? The collapse of the classical music market. The overwhelming financial success of popular music/media Juggernaut. The new rich, the interneters, who are uninterested in the arts.

This reminds me of the phrase “we had to destroy the village to save it.”

So what is my problem?

If you remove the “great composer” what is left? Only the successful ones. You also remove any conscious art may have. Or that there might be some other criteria for judging a work other than a high profile performance itself. You remove the concept that artistic talent needs skill, not just experience. Skill creates the kind of musical complications that are judged to be no longer marketable or user friendly. We no longer wish to confront the prejudices of the listener we want to exploit them. We have given up trying to educate the audience—that’s not true rather funds for musical education have been eliminated and we now have to pick up the pieces.

That returns us to this concept: “popular” success is the same as artistic success. That has always been the status quo.

The collapse of the classical music market.

A casual look at the classical music top albums on billboard is instructive—not much classical music there. Included is a number of film scores and the focus on "crossover" and the circus aspects of our craft. In any event the number of classical sales is tiny. Of course classical music activity has no real relation to the billboard numbers (or classical radio), but the bottom line is this; the only way that classical music can compete with the popular media is to match its marketing budget. We have to stop thinking that this is impossible. Then again, why do we need to mimic popular music when its success is based merely on its huge marketing budget.

Fire Sale

At these prices the institutions of new music are up for grabs. For example; “New Music” has been partially hijacked by wealthy museums. They present a very white establishment view of the “recent” musical arts, and they have a mixed record when it comes to cultural sensitivity
(at least with the Native American Community). Sonic prejudice has no place. 

Museums are not the only ones hijacking new music. There is a well funded effort to replace "new instrumental music" with multimedia experiences where the music is the least important part. Whatever it is the music comes last. New music theater is another topic.

Where is the Money?

Internet Billionaires have shown little interest in the arts and if they do its to create tributes to popular music. The Internet has also lead to an over focus on presenters (the net) over artists. We reward composer/entrepreneurs not for their art but for their function as presenters and producers. They are the grownups. Still nobody knows who these people are because other than careerism, and their influence with some of their peers, they have no connection to the general public. 

That leaves the older arts funders.

I have been told by an important commissioning officer that “art for art’s sake is dead.“ I was told by a Chamber Music America staffer some time ago that they will support commissions of "anything as long as its not serial or atonal." On the other hand the fact that a grant opportunity represents social work does not mean the artist is invested in the topic other than fulfilling the task. Don’t get me started on cultural appropriation.

Ok so we are a day late and a few billion dollars short. That is no reason to throw the intellectual wing of classical music under the bus.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

random thoughts


As to saving musical arts in the USA we need two things; funding and grassroots support.
Funding; Unfortunately the Internet and computer folks don't give much or anything to the arts.
Orchestras and opera companies strive to connect with the audience through the latest sound fashion, or through artists in residence, etc, and other newsworthy events, when the focus should be on training and supporting music teachers in the K-12 schools.  Look no music teachers, no future audience. NCLB has done great damage here and unless those tech companies start ponying up, well that is our world right now.


It has occurred to me that the most important opera that has influenced all American opera is Verdi's Falstaff. There are several reasons for this the view that a composers work is cumulative advancement that is that the last work represents the best practice.  Every older work is then outdated and unworthy of study.  The lack of song in recent opera is noticeable and its sometimes replacement by a fourth stream music pop song/classical combo has yet to reap dividends. 

Besides the question of style all American operas seem set text exactly the same way--event underscore event-underscore etc. That is only one idea is dramatized at a time.
This ignores the musical advances of the 19 century and earlier where contradictory musical ideas and emotions can occur simultaneously not to mention the theatrical advances up to the 1960's.

Friday, August 14, 2015

of populism; musical and political.

Many folks in the arts who espouse left leaning politics seem to be on the run.  Our most successful artists are paid for directly or indirectly by the one percent and further the call is out for artists to be entrepreneurs!!!!! That is to start a viable business and not expect hand outs from the state etc.  (This stems indirectly from the change in grant making where grants are no longer given directly to artists but to the producers of art). On the other hand we know that collages and universities support some artists. 
Naturally to have a viable business as an artist  you are required to be commercial.

These days that means creating friendly, tonal, populist music. 

Anyway what was my point?

Its that folks who present themselves as politically progressive, personally toe a different line in their artistic work and dealings.   

for example:

anti-intellectual art?  check
inoffensive art? check
art works that praise our leaders and famous folks?  check
art celebrating diversity with narrow stereotypes?  check
protest art with a narrow focus that almost everyone agrees with? 
art that features incomprehensibility so it can be described as almost anything? check
Friendly art? Check
Using terms such as: avant-garde, cutting edge, innovative, taking a risk, revolutionary etc. to describe safe conservative art or imitation Americana from 50 years ago. check
artists who do as they are told or collaborate with who they are assigned? check

These days many claim that the artist is more important than their art.  It follows then that its not about the best and the brightest, its about the most winning personality.  Then its not about sustaining artistic success, its about how you "spin" your failures.

and that folks is politics.