Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 roundup

To cap off the year:

The book I read which influenced me most was probably The Rest is Noise, by Alex Ross (although I use the word "influenced" reservedly), which I read at the same time as How Music Works by David Byrne.

Byrne, in his first chapter, talks about how spaces call music into being as much as music is created, and then finds a space to be played in.
I had a slow-dawning insight about creation. That insight is that the context largely determines what is written, painted, sculpted, sung, or performed. That doesn't sound like much of an insight, but it's actually the opposite of conventional wisdom, which maintains that creation emerges out of some interior emotion...
The goes on to talk about how the percussive poly-rhythms in african music would turn to mush if played in a reverberant cathedral, while the overtone heavy organ with its long flowing lines and slow decay would wither in the anechoic veldt.

So with this in mind, what to make of the atonal cacophony that Ross, very earnestly, and very appealingly tries to sell in Noise? Ross is blind to the cultural context that created the politics which Berg, Schoenberg. Webern et al capitalized upon, but it's all there for readers in the know. Regardless, I was interested to learn that Sonic Youth, and the entire shoe-gaze scene, came from Glenn Branca and the avant garde music movement of the early 70s. I'm very glad I've heard Messiaen's Quartour pour la fin du temps, and Scott Bradley's atonal work in Tom & Jerry (seriously, try and listening to anything by say, Boulez and not picture a cartoon mouse hitting a cartoon cat with a mallet. It is impossible.)

The big insight, from Byrne, is that this music is unlistenable because it was never meant to be listened to, it was just meant to be looked at in score form, discussed in academic settings, and written about in scholarly papers. Modern academia called forth modern music and its native habitat is text on a page, not sonic vibrations in the air. Good this Ross is an engaging writer.

Regardless, without all that I'm not sure I would have been able to find and appreciate Arvo Part, starting going out to hear live music again(!), and listened to the Cage and Reich pieces you should listen to once.

Podcast wise, Serial was a standout, and of course NPR's All Songs Considered. Q2 Music's "Meet the Composer" is also very enjoyable, but it helps to come with a lot of context, and Song Exploder is so much better than it really needs to be.

Have a great Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 08, 2014

A T. Rex named Sue

One of the highlights of last summer was seeing Sue at the Field Museum in Chicago. She is magnificent, and if you're in town you should stop by. You may even want to make a trip just to see the largest T. Rex ever found (and while you are there, checkout the whole collection. It's amazing).

Yesterday I spoke to a fellow rider up at Alice's and it turns out he's friends with Pete Larson, who found Sue. He had quite a story, as I was aware of (but have not seen) the movie, Dinosaur 13, about the dig and subsequent legal action. And then there's this Slate article.

What's remarkable about the Slate article is it's intemperate, hectoring tone. Slate isn't a news site, and so has no "moral" obligation for truth or an unbiased perspective, but the clumsiness in a diatribe calls out for some serious editing. Or maybe a writer with a little more style or humor.

Ironically, the first comment seems to be from this guy:
This story is a crock.  I worked for the Department of the Interior and was the lead Departmental Attorney working on this matter.  We even had to go to war against the then U.S. Attorney who wanted to give the fossil to the Smithsonian.  We were able to prove under the Antiquities Act and other law, that once the fossil became a permanent part of the land, since the land was held in restricted status, the sale of the item had to be approved by the BIA as required by Federal law.  Believe me, nobody involved, including DOI had clean hands in this case.  Hendrickson and crew knew that fossil was worth more than they originally paid Williams.  Williams was a slickster from way back.  The Tribe overstepped their reach by trying to pass an ex post facto law to take the fossil.  And the U.S. Attorney was grandstanding and trying to enhance his career until we had the Assistant Attorney General put him in his place.  In the end the fossil is probably where it should be, Hendrickson probably should have received some sort of finder's fee and the law is now clear on the issue.  Just another day in the world of Federal Indian Law.  
I don't know if he is who he claims, but what he says jives with what my motorcycle buddy told me. Williams, by the way, I believe passed away shortly after getting paid.

Internet anonymity is currently under some fire, but it pays to remember the old saying, if you want a man to tell the truth, give him a mask.

Go to Chicago and marvel at this amazing object.