Monday, June 30, 2014

About Time

About time.
Opening time.
The beginning of time.
Where does time come from?
Where has the time gone?
A long time.
A short time.
No time.
Zero time.
Time and a half.
In the meantime.
A sense of time.
Telling time.
The test of time.
Time will tell.
Set the time.
At the tone, the time will be.
Time zones.
Time's arrow.
High time.
A fine time.
The use of time.
Time and money.
Time is money.
Being and time.
Being on time.
Enough time.
Quality time.
Spending time.
Me time.
We time.
Father Time.
Taking time.
Tea time.
Stolen time.
Lost time.
Waste time.
Find time.
Make up time.
Time is of the essence.
All the time in the world.
Trying times.
The Texture of Time.
A rough time.
The best of times, the worst of times.
The test of time.
Doing time.
Serving time.
Treading time.
Nap time.
Reading time.
Playing for time.
Time and motion.
Old time.
Recent times.
Half time.
Time and Tide.
Time for good behavior.
Time served.
Time travel.
Time creeps along.
Time flows.
Time flies.
The time ahead.
The time until.
Call time.
Time off.
Time out.
Time in.
Time running out.
Time on our hands.
Time to run.
Filling time.
Treading time.
Good timing.
Bad timing.
Timing is everything.
Time on our side.
Closing time.

Friday, June 20, 2014

There's always a first time...

From today's Irish Times:   Lucier will perform I Am Sitting in a Room in Dundalk Gaol on Friday. It will be the first time he has performed the work in a prison... (source)

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Lesson in Film Music from Morton Feldman

Morton Feldman, in one of those true stories that has become the stuff of legend and notoriety, composed music for the film Something Wild (1961) that was rejected by the director Jack Garfein and replaced by a new score commissioned from Aaron Copland. Feldman's score was said to have been rejected because of the use of a very gentle celesta in the (very disturbing) rape scene which is central to the film's plot.  Chris Villar's Morton Feldman pages (the most important source for Feldmaniana online) now has a video of the scene in question with the Copland score as used in the released and, for comparison, a mock-up, with the Feldman score in its place.  (See this page, and scroll down to Something Wild.) The result is a real lesson for anyone interested in the potential of background music to affect the entire experience.  Copland's music is rather innocuous, though oddly off-balanced as scoring given the registral limitations of the sound recording technique then available and it is —probably intentionally — most effective when it cuts out altogether, letting the silence with only intermittent environmental sounds on-screen take over.  The Feldman, on the other hand, continues throughout and has an overpowering psychological effect; personally, I found this version almost impossible to watch because of this unrelenting, if gentle, continuity.  It really holds the viewers focus on the victim, with whom the music is associated. (The mock-up eliminates the background noises and Foley work and, although it's not possible to know if they would have been included had Feldman's music been used, their absence makes the Feldman a much more vivid component of the drama, while doing nothing in the way of Mickey Mouse accompaniment of the imagery or motion.) Strongly recommended.

Documenting Amacher

Here is a short documentary video portrait by Elisabeth Schimana and Lena Tikhonova of the late composer Maryanne Amacher.  Over the end credits, there is a moment in which two of her assistants admit that they don't quite understand her work, a feeling I share.  I always had the sense of something substantial going on — and sometimes even dangerous, whether bathing petri dishes with cultures labeled as "musicians of the future" in incredibly amplified sounds or exploring the possibilities of a "post-cochlear" mode of listening (possibinvolving direct transmission to the brain) —; her appeals to hard science were both studied and off-kilter enough to evoke musical liveliness, her environmental-acoustic consciousness was admirable, and her demand for quality in performance was real evidence of her seriousness (if often frustrating to those trying to help her present her work.)  But that doesn't mean that I came anywhere close to understanding Amacher's music.  I was, alternately, deeply impressed and intensely disappointed by it, too often wanting it to be even more radical than it was. In Krems, Austria, in a wonderful space of an old monastery church, I watched and listened to her work over a week's time she demanded and received the best equipment available, including the largest transportable mixing board available in all Austria, spent an extreme amount of time (including time generously given over to her by Jim Tenney and La Monte Young (!)) making sure every channel, cable, amp and loudspeaker was in perfect condition and then gave a performance which was basically playback from a stereo cassette tape and  a couple of long tones added from a keyboard of some sort.  It was loud, her physical presence at that huge mixer was theatrically compelling, but the sounds were just dull, nothing like much of what had been heard during the week before. But then again, maybe all of that fascinating week before was part of the piece, part of a performance, both theatrical and musical, but also the intense discussions in the church and late nights out in the restaurant, over soy milk and vodka, in which the contents that fell between the public entrance and exit time at the end of the week were just a detail, a musical project much larger than the concert which concluded it.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

A Night at the Opera

...Falstaff, which I like more and more and not just because I'm well into my own falstaffian age and figure. Verdi just does astonishing things with continuity (particularly of harmony and orchestration (if you want to explore how weird and wonderful Verdi's harmonic practice is here, let me recommend Ernő Lendvai's deep and eccentric Verdi and Wagner (Bartok and the 19th Century), Volume 1, which is almost entirely about Falstaff (I don't know if there was ever a Volume 2, btw, but Volume 1 has a prominent place on my short shelf of harmony books restoring the so-called half diminished seventh to its proper role in harmonic practice, from Bach and Mozart, through Wagner and Verdi, and onward) and, as for orchestration, let me point two things out: the use of the guitar and natural horn and the use of Nanetta's soprano as a component in an essentially instrumental texture), almost nothing is ever rhythmically where you'd expect it, and the way Verdi moves by misdirection through all of the comic turns, from the sentimental to the droll and from  to farce is just dazzling.  But not easy at all to stage! The farce of the first prank on Falstaff — stuffing him in a trunk while everyone else is playing hide and seek and then dunking the trunk in the moat — needs to be staged with the antic lightness and precision of the Marx Brothers  (the female quartet in the 1st act requires a similar virtuosity) and there are some extraordinary transitions which require extreme sensitivity, most particularly after Fenton's aria, the only real aria in the opera, the last line of which is completed by Nanetta, an echo of their first appearance, but drolly does not go into either a second duet or the soprano aria that might so sentimentally and conventionally follow, for this is comedy and comedy has to move on rather than get stuck in convention.   It's a very difficult piece to play/sing, but it was conducted with exactly the right balance of precision and spontaneity, no score on the stand, by Carlo Franci, soon to be 87 years old, long the house Verdi specialist here at the Frankfurt Opera.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

One of these things is not like the other

Joshua Kosman quotes Richard Taruskin, in an outtake that didn't make his portrait of the musicologist:

"Think of all the composers who, during the Cold War, wrote serial music who otherwise wouldn't have. Sometimes they say so — in fact, it became a cliché for a while. 'I felt such a pressure to write serial music and I never even liked the stuff!' And on the other side, think of someone like Khrennikov. They know they have to write music that is tuneful and accessible and conveys the right message. These are social pressures, and we are more inclined now to recognize them as such."

Well, yeah, composers don't write their music in complete social isolation (at least those who want their music played and heard by others), and there can be local pressures to work in some directions and not in others.  But the composition and performance of music using serial or 12-tone or some other new or experimental technique happened, historically — and continues to happen —, in aspirational or affinitive communities, the result of personal choices, not state dictates. Moreover, there is scarcely evidence that these musics were anything other than highly localized in their impact, let alone hegemonous.

(Take a long breath and let's self-citate Renewable Music Anno 2007, now: "Tragic but true: when the smoke had cleared, the new music wars had been won not by towners up or down or coasters east or left, but by a rear guard of trained symphonic band composers from big state universities in the middle of the country. The surviving rebels were exiled, retrained, or forced into dayjobs in data processing and direct telephone sales.")

And while these communities had — and have — their pecking orders and points and rituals of prestige* and dismay, some drawn from well-reasoned and deeply felt aesthetics, others plain silly, there were always options to go elsewhere, either to other communities with alternative preferences and practices or to use the best properties of the liberal market to make an end run around existing alliances and enterprises and venture production on your own terms, and not necessarily to compete in zero-sum terms, but simply to open up niches within which one might work productively and publicly. I'm not naive here: this option was not easy, was rarely successful when tried, thus so much more remarkable when it worked but this option was simply not possible in a functioning Khrenikovian system and the comparison is odious.

* One footnote about the issue of prestige.  Something that gets fundamentally misunderstood within the mainstream is the fact that it is the complex and experimental music which fills up the scholarly and critical apparatus which surrounds historical music-making.  (And yes, an article in PNM or JMT or JCM or Leonardo had a certain cache in part of musical academe, while Source and Sounding carried their own cache elsewhere (And no, those caches seldom found intersection.).)  But this always was — from the Ars Nova on — and still is the case, because this is the music that engages music history in a novel, thoughtful, and lively way. This is the music-making that offers something to think and talk and write about.  Quietism, in music as in literature is largely absent (quiet, silent) from historical and critical accounts, because whatever real and immediate pleasures it may offer, however accomplished it may be in its recombinatorial play with the familiar,  it adds nothing new to the larger conversation.