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  Every older work is then outdated and unworthy of study.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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Authenticity and Cultural Appropriation

Art is limitless as are the approaches, so when do we know if we have crossed the line into cultural appropriation? Where is the point when a subject for one artist becomes the cultural appropriation of another? If you are asking these questions it means that you are interested in telling the story of another culture as many have done before you. Even avoiding stereotypes can be difficult.
  1. Who's history are you reading?
  2. What are your sources?
  3. What is so compelling about this story that you need to risk telling it?
  4. What is your fresh perspective?
  5. What are you planning to return to that community in exchange for telling their story?
I'm not saying “stick to your own kind.” Outsiders, Genet's The Blacks for example, can have much insight to offer. Genet never denies his whiteness, in fact he make a ritual of his white privilege.
The litmus test for Cultural Appropriation is simply this; is the art part of the solution or part of the problem? Of course it is we who must decide which is which. Or not. That makes it, finally, a political issue. Politics does not generally favor the weak. Differences of opinion will continue (even on such mainstream works as Porgy and Bess).

Issues can range from the sincere and misguided to that of exploitation, from simply advancing the meme of the moment to sheer commercialism. Or in the case of academia, conservation to careerism. I suppose the worst are works that are intended to have no point of view at all (yet they do in spite of themselves). It's easy to point out:
  1. Those who create arrangements of others music and who present them as their own original compositions. Stealing.
  2. Those who record and notate sacred ritual music and then present it out of context to the general public. The built in assumption is that the "other culture" would never be part of the general public. Class and racism.
  3. Those who wear other's cultural regalia in pop culture, advertising, real life, and media. Impersonation, stereotypes, myths, and falsehoods.
Examples of cultural appropriation are not limited to culture, race, class,education, gender, age, or politics (to name a few). This can create a tension with the American tendency to reinvent oneself.

I wrote the blog post below and I think it points the way in this direction.

about Klinghoffer

This so reminds me the Paul de Man episode; the supporters support, the haters hate. Besides the music there is, at least for me, one problem with this work.

"This is a straw man."

No actually its Mr. Klinghoffer a real person and a victim. To my knowledge the authors chose not to get the permission of the Klinghoffer family to use his name. That falls under the category of cultural appropriation. This is a mistake especially as other characters in the opera are fictionalized. I suppose what the Klinghoffer family experience is not much different from what Native Americans have been experiencing for some time. Mr. Klinghoffer is executed in a depiction he did not chose to illustrate someone else's reading of these tragic events.

Why use his name at all?

Anyway, this is not an isolated case. Cultural appropriation is the dirty little secret of the entertainment industry. Many award wining films, plays, books and their respective actors etc. take part.

Running roughshod over the oppressed to tell their story is simply wrong.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The triumph of the editorial

A while back there was some debate if art for arts sake was dead.  It is certainly down for the count as much recent music has become a place holder, or a backdrop for something else.  Style* is not an issue, works can be consonant or dissonant as long as they are incomprehensible and associated with the current cause of the day.  Oddly, in an area of artistic discernment the more we judge musical "books" (titles),  and composers by their covers.  Before today composers were noted for their individuality, and if they belonged to certain schools or styles that were musical.  Now composers represent concepts that are extra musical.

Joining music and politics leads us down the road of grant generated art where social work can be celebrated without the artist doing any social work.   Granting organizations and the curators for the 1 percent  can be enablers for these concepts.  Its a new subset of the call to patriotism. Being a "cause" composer is the acceptance that the music is secondary to the cause.  But, music being secondary to the composer themselves is already well known.  Lets say it plainly; composers and their editorial are more important than their music.   If a composers message is ecology then listening to the music must purify water.  Everything taken at face value and listeners and critics alike abandon critical thinking.  There is no interest in abstract music except that it can be pined to an editorial.  The only possible  upside here is the long neglected discovery and nurturing of Indigenous artists unless they too are asked to represent stereotypes. 

The reality that composers could work the system is well founded, especially as critics have no interest in those who are not constantly performed.  The composer as lonely hero or heroine genius  is dead but what replaces that idea?  Everyone is an artist?  The artist is integrated into society?  Artist as yuppie?  The artist purified in the crucible of the people? Unfortunately, the jettison of composer individuality or genius does not remove careerism or the need for constant activity to prove success. 
We must not close our eyes to the dirty business of success. 

 Don't believe the hype.

 *anything as long as its not serial

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Random thoughts about music on the net

We have always privileged presenters over artists in music.  (Hence the push for new musicians to be entrepreneurs). Right now the net has grown into one of the largest repositories of music.  
On the net Music is content and someone is going to make money from that content.
Period.  If its not the artists getting paid then its going to be the web providers (the presenters).
Those who think that music on the net is free are kidding themselves because the whole apparatus of the net and its inherent costs, subscriptions, and fees are required before you can download or listen to anything.

The all encompassing scale of content that these providers present is the end result of the destruction of the relationship with the artist.  Its the presenters profits that are based on this destruction.  Its just the same as when the profits of scale destroy businesses that feature relationships, i.e. mom and pop stores.  Relationships are expensive to maintain as they require time and husbandry, and dare I say it, you have to care about the artist.  

Not much profit in that. 
Applying scale to music is the Wallmarting of art.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What happened to progressive American Music?

I think two things killed the progressive spirit of American music.

  1. The Arnold Schoenberg Institute leaving America.
  2. Pierre Boulez replacing Leonard Bernstein at the NY Philharmonic.

The first one is direct -not here no influence. The Second one is indirect.  

In the American mind Bernstein can not be replaced.


That it would be by Boulez was a strategic blunder for progressive music because this led to musical-political tensions that still remain.  It did not matter how great Boulez was as a composer, or as a conductor, Boulez didn't actually replace Bernstein as a composer.  In the game he trumped an American Icon, and as imaginary as that is, it is also how the game played out.  

Oddly, Boulez was not that interested in American Serial Music preferring to perform the European composers, or the leading American composers of other styles.