Archives for September, 2011

Zaniness


09.29.11

On Stockhausen’s Helikopter Quartett, Colin Holter writes:

But consider, for a moment, the music that might be made if every composer had the resources to (for example) complement the players in a string quartet with four helicopters. They don’t necessarily even have to be helicopters: Autogyros, hydrofoils, hovercrafts — these are all reasonable possibilities. I kid, of course; really it’s about funding and institutional tolerance for zaniness — if both were unlimited, who can say where contemporary music would be five years from now?

Zaniness?

I don’t believe that any composer’s true limitations are due to of a lack of funding for helicopters. Maybe, just maybe there’s a bit of space between Dr. Pogo-Stick Quartet and Mr. Stockhausen. You could start to close that gap by trying more of that “zaniness”.

Ratios: Comparing the X-Factor with The Sing-Off


09.26.11

4 hours of X-Factor yields approx. 8 minutes of legit musical enjoyment for myself and my wife. Whereas 2 hours of The Sing-Off yields 1 hour and 55 minutes. Given one man and his wife’s purely qualitative assessment, I can conclude that America literally watches 3 hours and 52 minutes of horrific singing wrapped in a Pepsi ad.

America loves the X-Factor, which seems to be actively trying to lobotomize its 12.5 million viewers through vocal techniques, while only 5.3 million people decided to tune into a show where the judges talk about things like tempo, blend, tuning, and balance. You know, music stuff.

It’s not just the judges that make The Sing-Off great; the singing on The Sing-Off is superb.1 The audience needn’t wade through an endless series of hacks and jokers set in place to lower the audience’s standards so that the next marginally sane person to take the stage deserves some consideration. Nope, none of that. The Sing-Off judges booted a 5-man group that was extremely polished but failed to connect with the audience. Although this might be like comparing which of the Jersey Shore guys is the least moronic, The Sing-Off is the smartest music show on national TV.

These competition shows always get me fired up. Mostly because I see them as a shortcut for people who don’t want to sacrifice and put in the hard work that is necessary to achieve the musical success that they believe they want. But I still watch them because I enjoy listening to new talent and seeing it grow (or not grow) throughout the arc of the show. It’s a family event in our house. I have to wonder about the people who lack as quick of a trigger-finger on the fast-forward button as I have.2 Most of what we watched this week was a metaphoric dumpster-fire and I fear that it lowers the public’s standards of taste and talent to a dangerously low level.


  1. Compare that to X-Factor where Cowell and Reid provide the only redeeming qualities of the show for the excruciating 3:52. 

  2. If you lack a DVR you are in for a world of hurt. 

Hilary Hahn Interviews a Fish


09.23.11

This is both delightfully awkward and cunningly sarcastic. I love it.

(h/t Alex Ross)

The Infernal Comedy


09.23.11

Well, color me jealous. The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer starring my favorite actor, John Malkovich, will be performed at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI on October 1. If I was within less than a day’s drive I would definitely be at this performance.

Here’s a bit of the press release:

As part of a theatrical opera of sorts, Malkovich, a 40-piece chamber orchestra, and two sopranos tell the real-life story of Jack Unterweger, a convicted murderer and acclaimed prison poet. Pardoned by the Austrian president Kurt Waldheim in 1990 at the behest of the Viennese literati, Unterweger’s public “rehabilitation” was anything but — within two years, he had been arrested and convicted for the brutal murder of 11 prostitutes in three countries. This gripping performance features arias and music by Gluck, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Boccherini, and Haydn as the counterpoint to Malkovich’s chilling monologue, which shifts between reality and delusion.

See? Awesome.

The University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, which is affiliated with the University of Michigan has presented some of my most memorable concerts ever. I saw a stunning performance by Murray Perahia, Pierre Boulez conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Bluebeard’s Castle, and Brad Mehldau’s trio. (I would have seen even more, but I was on a student’s budget at the time.)

This is a fantastic chance to see something special. Mezzanine and Balcony seats are as affordable as $10. I know that I have a lot of friends still in the greater central Michigan area. Please go to this and then come on my podcast to talk about it.

Núñez, Prieto, and Weilerstein Awarded MacArthur Grants


09.20.11

Congratulations to all of them. Special congratulations for Mr. Núñez, with whom I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with years ago.

Your Sounds


09.20.11

Frank J. Oteri wrote a great line on New Music Box:

[A] musical composition — any musical composition or any musical performance, for that matter — is a process of isolating specific sonic events from the total possibility of what is audible. It asks listeners to treat certain sounds, your sounds, in a different way than everything else that is going on in the auditory spectrum — to listen more attentively to those specific sounds at the expense of all other sounds.

The Art of the Rip


09.19.11

Much more information than you require about the complicated art of ripping CDs. But, if you’re a lossless dork (like me), this is interesting stuff.

Free Bob Seger EP


09.18.11

iTunes Link

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band are available for free download on iTunes. Maybe (probably) it’s because of my father and his wonderful Detroit-Rock collection; but, I can’t recommend this enough.

Plus, hey, free music.

70 Years of Protection


09.14.11

The Council of the EU wrote today [PDF link]:

The Council today adopted by qualified majority a directive extending the term of protection of the rights of performers and phonogram producers on music recordings within the EU from 50 to 70 years.

This decision comes just in time to exited the majority of The Beatles records’ protection for another 20 years.

The council justified its decision:

Performers generally start their careers young and the current term of protection of 50 years often does not protect their performances for their entire lifetime. Therefore, some performers face an income gap at the end of their lifetimes. They are also often not able to rely on their rights to prevent or restrict objectionable uses of their performances that may occur during their lifetimes.

Horrible. Shamefully horrible.

Liner notes


09.13.11

From 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die (or whatever…1):

When somebody downloads an album from most places on the Internet, what they get is a file containing fairly decent digital representation of the music and a tiny image of the front cover. For those who come to music to expand their horizons, it’s essentially a dead-end. More than that, the absence of information sends a signal: The folks who were involved in the creation of this work are relatively meaningless, just a shade more important to the end-user than the factory worker who bolted the player together. We’re basically training this generation to think of musicians and recording and mastering engineers as interchangeable parts, anonymous and easily replaced.

Um… Wikipedia? Google search? Libraries?

The kids today look up stuff by doodling their information phones. The Internet is a much safer place to keep the information rather than a physical artifact that you need to find anyway.

Furthermore, outside of a few megalomaniacs, if a producer wanted his or her name to be well-known outside of the industry he or she would have learned to sing.2


  1. Zing! 

  2. I kid! 

B is for bass player


09.13.11

Some brilliant reader of The Atlantic sent this in:

As they stare at the singer who has abandoned the melody in favor of melismatically emoting, or the guitar player who has put his foot on the monitor and thrown his hair back to squintily wee a mishmash of pentatonic drivel, people don’t understand that I’m making their backsides wiggle and bringing us all together in funky communion.

Read an Excerpt from ‘Pearl Jam Twenty’


09.10.11

If it has the words for Yellow Ledbetter in it, then I need that book.

What did Maurice Sendack listen to while he drew his new book?


09.9.11

From Avi Steinberg’s conversation in The Paris Review:

I began to listen to Schubert’s chamber music and I began to realize that this was another dear friend. I could sniff under his music, what was underground. I could sense, like a dog, or like a pig, what was going on. And I fell deeply in love with Schubert’s sonatas and quartets and piano pieces. Schubert is one of the most honest artists I know.

To be clear, he listened to late Verdi operas while drawing the book. But I like the way he speaks about Schubert better.

Listen to this: A Five-Octave Array Mbria


09.7.11

It sounds like a vibraphone but without all of the annoying thwacking.

Also, ten notes at a time.

(h/t @KevinWilt)

Koyaanisqatsi LIVE


09.6.11

This season the New York Philharmonic will perform Philip Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi live. The performances, which Glass will oversee, will feature the well-known film footage projected on a screen while the orchestra performs the score live. Concert dates are November 2 and 3 at 7:30 PM. If you are in NYC, you can’t miss this.

(h/t kottke)

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