Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Christmas Funk-icle

We've been on winter hiatus for several weeks now (I personally haven't done a lick of work since I got my Kindle), but we wanted to leave you with some holiday cheer. Following are three different versions of Funkadelic's "Dr. Funkenstein." Happy Holidays from Brian, John, and Tyler! We'll see you in January.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Homer and Kerman

I recently finished reading Homer’s Illiaid, one of the oldest works of literature. It’s long, and it’s at times amazingly bloody (perhaps casting doubt on the stereotype that the Romans were the violent ones), but it’s well worth reading. Part of this thrill comes from the experience of reading a masterwork of Western culture, and part because it is nice to be able to say that I’ve read it.

I had a translation by Richard Lattimore, which included over 50 introductory pages that made the reading experience far richer than it otherwise would have been. One of Lattimore’s points was that, in order to fully understand the Illiad, one must remember that the work originated as rhymed poetry meant to be consumed aurally. If a reader keeps that in mind, and even can romanticize the situation and put themselves in the mindset of listening to this long epic recited by a professional storyteller over the course of many nights, one gets a very different understanding of the dramatic function of the text. The text does not *really* function as written prose, no matter how capable the translation. In the same way that someone who reads a play must account for the change in dramatic function from stage to page, the reader of the Iliiad will struggle if they do not take into account the original function of the poem.

This manner of reading dovetailed nicely with ideas in Kerman’s Opera as Drama. Kerman’s main point is just that: that opera is inherently a dramatic art form; however, the drama comes from the musical content, and not from any combination of text, scenery, or stage action. Some of the implications of this are obvious, but  some warrant follow-up, given some current operatic practices. I have seen several operas that were, for various reasons (mostly logistical), presented in semi-staged or concert versions. If Kerman’s idea holds water (and I believe it does), these versions should be just as dramatic as fully staged versions, if not more so, as the audience can focus exclusively on the music (which bears most of the dramatic markers) without being distracted by on-stage shenanigans. A corollary to this would be that listening to an opera with a score is a more authentically musical experience, and hence, full of more drama than watching an opera. This obviously is not Kerman’s point; he’s not in any way advocating for concert versions to replace staged versions or anything of that sort, but the implications are latent in his idea. I personally don’t believe that the music of an opera functions effectively as an isolated concert piece; however, I’ve seen several productions like this, and I’ve found it helpful to study operas without viewing them. The main thing I try to remember is the dramatic context of the notes that I’m staring at, and the fact that these musical ideas are meant to be staged. Mentally returning the work to its theatrical context usually serves to ground me, and aid in a more nuanced understanding of the music.

To me, one of the values of Kerman’s idea comes in its potential for teaching and understanding opera. By getting students (or myself) to first look at the text, and to begin to understand latent dramatic potential, one can begin to think about the work in a manner akin to a composer of opera. Obviously the composition process is much more involved than this, but getting someone to think along these lines can not only be a rich intellectual and creative exercise, it can help make opera begin to come alive. It is this life that the characters in an opera or in the Illiad need, and which can only be provided by the reader.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Very MOMA Halloween

From all of us here at Musicological Musings to all of you there, checking your RSS feeds and NOT dressing up as Snooki, we'd love to wish you a very modern art Halloween. Like Phish's legendary Halloween shows, we have a tradition [1] of surprising and delighting our long-time fans. For your viewing enjoyment, we have created aura-rich Picasso and Mondrian pumpkins, presented here in both still and moving [2] representations. What would Benjamin say?

[1]– Last year, we were unable to bring you this post due to severe rottage.
[2]– Despite giving my DSL connection all day, the video still hasn't uploaded. I'll try again when I get to school.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Coal Miner Songs

The following is a commentary on my most recent research project, entitled "Oppression, Violence, and Unity: A Survey of Coal Miner Protest Songs." I wish I could post the entire paper, though I know very few would be interesting in reading it in this context. If you are, however, so included to give it a look, let me know and I will be happy to send you a copy.

The basic idea behind this paper is that coal miners were treated pretty terrible throughout (and well before) the labor movement. It was not uncommon for a miner's already meager wages to be lowered without just cause or due notice, if not withheld completely. Worse, still, was the practice of compensating miners, not in legal tender, but in company scrip that was only valid at over-priced company owned and operated stores. Miners were even forced to rent company housing, resulting in the constant threat of eviction.

Recognizing this as an unfair way to be treated, the miners unionized and subsequently went on strike. In response, companies often responded with physical threats--many gained the support of the state militias and some even hired gangsters from Chicago to serve as mercenaries. Faced with violence, the miners typically answered with "eye for an eye" tactics.

Throughout all of this, miners were composing songs in order to create a historical record of the atrocities they suffered, to commemorate those who lost their lives in the battle, and to rally support for the unions. During the course of my research, I discovered that, as time went on, the miner songs became less traditional (that is, broadside-esque) and more aggressive. The four I examine are: "The Avondale Mine Disaster" from 1869 in Pennsylvania; "Coal Creek Troubles" from 1891 in Tennessee; "The Ludlow Massacre" by Woody Guthrie, but about a 1914 strike in Colorado; and Aunt Molly Jackson's "I Am A Union Woman" from 1931 in Kentucky. They all are wonderful examples of our nation's rich body of occupational protest songs.

For your enjoyment, here is Woody Guthrie singing "Ludlow Massacre." (I was unable to find a YouTube version without the pictures going on)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Babi Yar Remembrance Day

Lying to the young is wrong.
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.
Telling them
            that God’s in his heaven
and all’s well with the world
                             is wrong.
They know what you mean.
                        They are people too.
Tell them the difficulties
                          can’t be counted,
and let them see
                not only
                        what will be
but see
       with clarity
                   these present times.

Say obstacles exist they must encounter,
sorrow comes,
             hardship happens.
The hell with it.
                 Who never knew
the price of happiness
                      will not be happy.
Forgive no error
                you recognize,
it will repeat itself,
                      a hundredfold
and afterward
             our pupils
will not forgive in us
                      what we forgave. 

"Lies" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, 1952; Translated by Robin Milner-Gulland and Peter Levi (revised)

~ ~ ~

September 29 marks the first day of the Nazi massacre of Jews at Babi Yar. While these original killings lasted three days, and were followed by two years of essentially non-stop murders, 10/29 is set aside as a day of remembrance. Take a moment to listen to the incredibly powerful first movement of Shostakovich's 13th Symphony:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

New Music Feature– Nat Evans & "Sunrise, September 18"

This post begins the long-awaited New Music Feature that I’ve been ranting about for a year now. This past weekend, I was able to experience a composition by a composer named Nat Evans called “Sunrise, September 18.” Nat wrote the piece for a specific site in Seattle, but agreed to let those interested listen to the piece elsewhere. The music was coordinated with the sunrise; those in attendance began listening 9 minutes before sunrise, and the piece concluded about 16 minutes after that. The composer himself was gracious enough to comment on the piece, and I’d like to share his thoughts with you:

"I'm a part of a Zen group, and in Soto Zen, we sit facing a wall. Each week on Sunday evening the light has changed since the previous week, and over the course of 40 minutes the glow of the wall changes as well as the sun sets. Over the years I became interested in how we interact with these cycles as a result of sitting each week. There is also the tradition in Indian Classical music that certain pieces are to be played at specific times of the day and even specific times of the year. Thinking about music in this way combined with my own personal experiences in Zen is where this piece originated, and I decided after mulling it over in my mind for a while that I should just make it happen.

The work was originally conceived as being site specific to Kite Hill here in Seattle - it's right on the water and faces east towards the Cascade Mountains...but the concept of 'place' soon became irrelevant in my thinking process - I wanted this work to be as much about the music as it is about sitting in one place long enough to start  to realize all of the different myriad things that are happening at any given moment both in our surroundings and in our minds. The concept of coming together to take part in something larger than ourselves is a stronger theme, I suppose, but out of that the importance of place comes into play as we make the decision as to where we'll take take part. The concept of place extends through the title as well. The title describes the time of day and when it's happening, and through that natural 'event' it creates a sense of partaking in something, a reason to gather. Ultimately though, one of the experiences that led to this idea was staring at a wall every week, and most places are more interesting to look at than that, so it really could take place anywhere! And...I suppose that's why it is...people will be listing in many different places and contexts that are important and significant to them.”

The "before" picture...

In Louisville, a surprising number of us woke up early to share the experience. We went to the Fossil Beds at the Falls of the Ohio State Park; while being in the largest exposed fossil bed in the world was neat, we were below the visible horizon, so I fear we lost some of the organic nature of the music’s coordination with the sunrise. That being said, it was still a very pleasant experience. Sitting by the river, watching the sky get progressively lighter, and enjoying the music made for an invigorating way to start the day.

I’d like to talk about the “music itself” briefly, with two caveats. First, the piece is designed to be part of something larger; like the music in an opera, one can only discuss the notes in relation to that total experience. Second, I only heard the composition one time. The piece begins and ends with nature sounds. While I think that these sounds might have been manipulated electronically, they are still rather “pure,” and it is easy to distinguish them as what they are. At times, they made a compelling counterpoint to the “real-time” nature sounds going on around us, blending aural experiences and shading the line between music and sound. I believe the piece was in 4 large sections, consisting more or less of fairly static textures of sustained notes, with some micro tonality and some electronic manipulation of the sounds. For me, the piece functioned in the space between full attention and subliminal hearing. The sustained textures created at times a wash of sound that was ever present, but that did not distract me from the larger experience. As such, I feel the music perfectly suited its dramatic function: it accompanied without overpowering, and it enhanced without trying to outdo. It was a sensitive handling of a tricky dramatic subject. It seemed perfectly appropriate to have that music accompany that sunrise, and my strongest impression two days later is of the totality of the moment: music, sunrise, and nature.

The "After" Picture

The composer stipulated that each individual must be listening to the piece in headphones. I am sure that there are a number of reasons, both logistical (noise ordinances, getting electricity for speakers) and musical (more accurate hearing of the electronic manipulation of the musical space) for this requirement, but it was the only aspect of the piece that I thought was odd. It managed to create a personal and insular experience in the midst of a large-group. That could very well have been the point, but I wonder what the experience would have been like if we had all be hearing from communal speakers. I hesitate to say that it would have been improved; I simply wonder if the "moment" created by the piece would have extended through the entire group, or if the experience was best internalized in a semi-personal way.

Overall, it was a unique experience that I was very glad to have shared! For those interested, here’s a link to Nat’s website:

Friday, September 10, 2010


Flip on your radio and search the stations. What do you hear? I’m willing to bet that, regardless of where you are in this great country, you have just encountered a slew of hideously overproduced pop and/or rap songs, a big dose of rock form the last thirty years, a handful of “country” (the parenthesis are to indicate that, unless you are very lucky, no radio station near you is playing Hank Williams Sr., Waylon Jennings, or George Jones), and one classical station that has a very dedicated following of about 50 or so people (most of which are music professors). Now, venture on over to iTunes and look at the current top selling artists. You see Katy Perry (a Christian-pop star turned bisexual), Enrique Iglesias (who despite his awful music, will always be my hero), and some dude who is, apparently, from Florida (and is also a popular rapper). Considering our country's current trends of musical consumption, I am left to wonder if truly artful music will ever be in the limelight. Although this was initially a rhetorical question that I have recently been asking myself, I just received my answer.

America’s Got Talent, is a popular television show that spends the summer searching for the hottest new act to headline in Vegas and to take home the million-dollar prize. There are magicians, Geek shows, dancers, comedians, and many, many musical acts. As you can imagine, the majority of the musical acts are terrible. And, since three non-musical people serve as judges, it is a wonder that any musician of worth ever makes it through. (Just to clarify for anyone who is too proud to admit they might actually get a kick out of this, the judges pick acts to advance in the early rounds and then their criticism is meant to guide the audience in their voting, which determines admission to the last few rounds. And although I doubt that anyone reading this blog would leave a rude comment correcting me, I will go ahead and acknowledge that Sharon Osborne was Ozzy’s manager and is largely responsible for him having a solo career, although the only times he has ever been tolerable is when Sabbath or Randy Rhodes was there to serve as a distraction).

Last night, the final four acts of the 2010 season were announced: Michael Grimm (whose voice sounds like whatever the lovechild of velour and sandpaper would sound like, and I truly mean this in the best possible way); Jackie Evancho (a wunderkind opera singer, who, despite some breathing issues sounds like an angel); Prince Poppycock (a phenomenal operatic tenor that looks like Mozart, that is, if you were to see Mozart when you had a head full of PCP); and a very cool black-light performance group that goes by the name of Defying Gravity. Yes, despite our nation’s insistence on routinely consuming the worst music possible, we have voted three extremely talented musicians (two of which are classical music) through to the final round. All of this comes on the heels of the 2009 and 2008 seasons, which were also dominated by classical musicians (Barbara Padilla, an opera singer, came in second in 2009 and Neal E. Boyd, yet another opera singer, winning the year before).

What does this say about the way we as Americans consume music? If anything, I think it tells us that despite our pervasive, lowbrow interests, we still treasure the art of music. If this is the case, however optimistic it may seem, then it appears there is still hope. If the masses choose to preserve these sorts of acts over guys with trendy hair cuts that play three chords on a guitar and try to sing like John Mayer, magicians that make trains disappear, adorable dancing children, and dudes who stick foreign objects into their skull, then maybe we are approaching an era when the value of culture will be restored. Or maybe not, what do I know? (I will leave it to John to burst my bubble by delving into the Ardornian philosophy of the devaluation of art through mass production).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Greetings and Introduction

Greetings to my fellow music aficionados and fellow bloggers. You are now reading this because I have graciously been given the opportunity to periodically share my personal musicological musings with all of you. But before we proceed onto any esoteric or convoluted postulations that I hold, I think a brief introduction is in order. My name is Tyler Fritts and I am originally from eastern Kentucky. In 2007 I earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in General Music from Berea College. In 2010 I completed my Master’s of Music in Music History and Literature from the University of Louisville. My thesis identifies techniques utilized by Luciano Berio for the amalgamation of western art music with various and diverse vernacular musics in Folk Songs (1964). Once uncovered, these techniques aid in understanding the symbiotic interrelationship, as well as the significance of this interrelationship, that is created by the juxtaposition of music and culture.

Currently, I am pursuing a PhD in Musicology/Southern Regional Studies from the University of Memphis. The program at the UofM is an interesting one as it provides a healthy helping of standard historically based musicological rigor while simultaneously emphasizing ethnomusicological principles and practicum. As the name suggests, students of the program concentrate on a popular or vernacular music (and its accompanying culture) prominently associated with the southern United States. I, for example, plan to focus my research efforts on exploring the role of politics in the traditional music of Appalachia. Other students of the program choose to delve more deeply into areas such as the Delta blues, the Memphis recording industry, and the musical evolution of Hank Williams, just to name a few.

Apart from my highfalutin academic pursuits, I have gained practical ethnomusicological experience through my work as a traditional music archivist and as a field researcher. Concerning performance, I have been involved with an African and Latin percussion ensemble, a Balinese gamelan ensemble, and an Irish traditional group. It is my because of my ethno interests (not because of my staggering intellect and uncompromisingly good looks, as I may wish to think) that I have been invited into the Musicological Musings family.

I look forward to offering another perspective on music and the culture that surrounds it. Future posts will include, but will not be limited to, the experience of field research and archival work, reactions to ethnomusicological sources, and the role of music in today’s America.



Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jacques Attali and "Noise"

In the interest of being consistent with my blogging, I'll not post for a month, and then post twice in three days. I've been reading Attali's "Noise," and wanted to stew over a few things. [1]

I've studied with a professor who has thought extensively about music according to the ideas of Rene Girard, so I've had a chance to come to terms with perhaps the most disturbing thought in the first two chapters of Attali's book, that music is a simulacrum for ritual murder. That train of thought is another blog post altogether, since agree or disagree, it forces you to consider the nastier aspects of music that most of us don't like to confront.

The thought I want to deal with today comes from the section "Music and Money." Attali states that in either the sense of classical economics or Marxist economics, "the composer of the score is unproductive."[2] Attali explains that someone is productive if their labor "contributes to the accumulation of capital, which creates surplus-value," and that someone is unproductive if their labor "if only of interest to the purchaser for the use-value of its product." A composer is unproductive because not only do they not produce capital, but there is no exchange of use-value. Ignoring the fact that Attali believes that some composers are unsalaried workers since they work on commission (something that obviously not every composer does), there seems a basic economic contradiction in this model when applied to classical musics. A composer is unproductive, since they don't generate wealth; however, for someone to generate wealth "as the employee of someone in the entertainment business," there is almost always a score. So, for wealth to be produced, there needs to be a composition, but the creation of that composition is fundamentally unproductive.

I understand that Attali believes that composers "create wealth in the capitalist mode of production while remaining outside of it," but what about other modes of production?. It was a heavy idea to chew over at 8 in the morning. How does this contradiction change how we think about composers or the act of composing? Should it? Feel free to comment.

Monday, August 23, 2010

First Day of School

To nearly everyone who reads this, today (or last week) marks the start of another academic year, and the start of my first year on the *other* side of the desks. Although I am partially envious of my friends who have gone on to their PhD programs, I have a few friends who are also teaching for the first time this semester. I'm hoping that we can trade ideas (and horror stories) (and funny stories), and that I can learn enough about the terminal degree process that there aren't a lot of surprises when I get there. If anyone wants to contribute a post about their activities this semester, either teaching or learning, drop one of us a line. The next post will probably be from Tyler, the newest regular contributor to our blog. Until then, I hope everyone has a good first day! I'll leave you with a great cover of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Completion of "A Career"

As some of you may know, I recently completed my thesis on Dmitri Shostakovich's Thirteenth Symphony. I quote from Laurel Fay's Shostakovich: A Life:

"In his score, Shostakovich dated the completion of the movements... The final movement of the symphony, "A Career," was dated 20 July 1962, a date that... Shostakovich would commemorate for the rest of his life." (pg. 229)

In honor of the man and his music, and in the spirit of continuing the celebration, posted below is the Yevtushenko poem Shostakovich set. I plan on listening to the movement and spending a moment or two reflecting on the text. As Shostakovich said, "Every morning, instead of morning prayers, I reread–well, recite from memory–two poems by Yevtushenko, "Boots" and "A Career." "Boots" is conscience. "A Career" is morality. One should not be deprived of conscience. To lose conscience is to lose everything. And conscience needs to be instilled from earliest childhood." (pg. 229)


The clergy maintained that Galileo
Was a wicked and senseless man.
(Galileo was senseless.)
But, as time demonstrated,
He who is senseless is much wiser.

A fellow scientist of Galileo's age
Was no less wise than Galileo.
He knew that the earth revolved.
But - he had a family.

And he, stepping into a carriage with his wife,
Having accomplished his betrayal,
Considered himself advancing his career,
Whereas he undermined it,

For his assertion of our planet
Galileo faced the risk alone
And became truly great.

Now this
To my mind, this is a true careerist!

Thus - salute to the career!
When the career is similar
To Shakespeare and Pasteur,
Newton and Tolstoy,
And Tolstoy.
Why was mud flung at them?
Talent is talent, brand them as one may.

Those who cursed them are forgotten.
But the accursed are remembered well,
All those who yearned for the stratosphere,
The doctors who perished fighting cholera,
They were pursuing a career!

I take as an example their careers.

I believe in their sacred belief.
Their belief is my courage.
I pursue my career
By not pursuing it!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The State of the Blog

Given recent internet happenings, like the discontinuation of Dial M and recent posts on amusicology regarding the musicological blogosphere, discussing the past, present, and future of musicology blogs is now high fashion. Never wanting to be left out of a trend, I'll add my two cents worth.

Thus far, the blog has been a disappointment. High hopes about starting conversations have been thus far unfulfilled, and our reader count is negligible (to the point of the tragi-comic). After spending much time thinking about what can still be hoped for in this project, and a serious reality check as I taught my first university level class (what free time?), it is time to come to a decision about the future of MusicologicalMusings. I can't speak to my partner, but I intend to keep blogging, with two big caveats. It will now be (even more) back burner, at least until public interest or conversation spikes. And, I am now planning on focusing almost exclusively on new music. 

I have a lot of music from a lot of good friends that I believe people should hear, and I've been gathering scores and music for a few months now. As time permits and I assimilate their ideas, I will be sharing them here, along with whatever music I can cajole them into posting. My ideas about contemporary music have changed throughout my graduate work, a side-effect of attending the school that gives out the Grawemeyer Award. Moreover, I want to do something that I consider important, and that pushes the borders of what musicology is. Given that I'm using a relatively new medium for my ideas, I feel that my ideas should reflect that medium. I want to push myself and you all past the slightly comfortable boundaries we all establish, and move into the frontier of aesthetic judgements and artistic decisions. Absorbing and writing about contemporary music seems the best way to achieve this. I'm hoping that you'll all join me, as I'm positive there is much to be learned about our musical thought in the process. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Boy Scouts

Apologies for the long hiatus, but in between a publication, conferences, and finishing my thesis, I was sorely pressed for time. Activity on the blog will not subside over summer (I've got all school year for that), but will consist of my long-anticipated ongoing feature on contemporary music. Before that begins, I'd like to take this opportunity to talk on a more personal subject. As some of you might know, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America.

Whatever my personal disagreements with some of their policies, as an Eagle Scout, I was able to participate in numerous activities that I otherwise would not have been able to, and have experiences that have shaped me for the rest of my life. Outside of the character development, which is obviously important, the leadership opportunities were invaluable. Having to take charge, get things done, meet deadlines, and deal with conflict at an early age were all things that I believed helped me, but more than that, I think that the type of organization that can give young people the chance to be in those positions deserves to be around at least another 100 years. Too often, people shy away from giving youth real opportunities to lead, to be out front, and to make mistakes. However, such opportunities are crucial to developing people who can be leaders later in life.

On that note, it takes a certain kind of crazy to trust a 15 year old with anything, and I'd like to thank all of those who took that chance. The best way I know to repay them is to return the favor, which brings me to the point of this post. As part of acknowledging my debt to both my leaders and the organization, I'm filling out an application to be a merit badge counselor. For those unfamiliar with merit badges, the BSA has a great site here that explains the program, what a counselor is, etc. There are a wide variety of merit badges, and although I am only qualified for one (nuclear science music), many of you might be able to help out in additional ways.

If I have boys, I'll certainly encourage them to do scouts. Until then, this is a great way for me to start paying back a group that gave me so much, and a fantastic chance for people who have never been involved in scouting to help an organization that certainly deserves it!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sound Installations from Composers at U of L

Last week, I spent an hour and a half hanging different colored airplanes from the ceiling between the two wings of the music school. It provided an opportunity to think about the sound scape that I was helping install, about the nature of art in space in particular, and about the art consumption habits of music school students. I'm not going to discuss the installations themselves, I'll leave that for the composers, James Young and Leah Sproul Pulatie, to post comments and explain (and also link to any photos or videos they have). 

The first thought I had was how nice it was to be helping create something. I am not in any way trying to take credit for any of the ideas or more than a small pittance of the work involved. I simply mean that, despite the fact that I spend most of my day studying music, but very little time making any of my own. It was nice to feel how a composer must feel, as they bring something genuinely new into the world. Despite all logistical and reception problems, regardless of whether or not anyone in the world likes the work, creation is still important. Both installations took inordinate amounts of work, and both will be up around a month, and then will probably never be seen again. The courage to do that work for such a (seemingly, in this late capitalist consumer culture) little material reward is remarkable. I'd do well to remember this, and the small taste of how it feels, as I go on to teach and critique.

The second thought I had was about these works, in their spaces. Both installations were designed for a specific space. Both are spaces that I see nearly every day, and never think of. What I've found matters to me the most regarding these installations is the fact that now, I notice and think of these spaces. It's not merely that there is art happening in them. It is my awareness being broadened, forced to (re-) incorporate marginalized areas that I had before not thought of, areas which will forever be changed (even after the sculptures are taken down) in my mind because of the presence of these installations. I've found that this thinking is more marked with Jame's installation, because of the nature of the space. It is a transitional space, a way of getting from one arrival to another. If anything, it is normally seen as a nuisance, as a space that needs to be traversed before "more" can happen. Now, I am conscious of every step I take, and even find myself lingering in this transitory space, a space I would have no other reason to remain in, to take in more of the installation. I also find myself thinking more about similar spaces I see everyday and pay no mind to.

My third thought involves how students in music school, who will be in one sense of the word professional artists, received the installation of the sculpture. I understand how it could be annoying to have the walkway closed off, as it forces someone to take time out of their day in order to detour, and I don't honestly know how I would have felt about it if I had been in a bad mood (or not known the composer). I heard a LOT of complaining, which, inconvenience aside, is almost inexcusable. It would seem that, as future professional artists, each student here would be trying to consume as much as possible, if for no other reason than because they are curious. As I learned as I talk, write, and teach about music that I love, and as I ask others for music they love, they are a terrifyingly small number of practicing musicians who are actively listening, and that alarms me very much.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Music and Vision

Let us explore a hypothetical:

Assume that you are seeing a live performance of the classic Miles Davis album “Kind of Blue” performed by the original musicians,* exactly how it sounds on the album. You experience this performance in two locations (completely identical performances both times), Blue Note Jazz Club in Greenwich Village and Rose Hall at the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex. To try and create as close to ceteris paribus conditions as possible, let us also assume that any of the ideological, acoustical, and historical material associated with both localities are neutralized, leaving just the music and the visuals. I think you know where I am going with this, the experience of the music would be different. The visual experiences of these localities would work symbiotically with the music in a parallel (identical?) way to music and film.

I understand that the last assertion is a little contentious. The visuals in film are projected two-dimensional images, framed within a set of conventions that allows the music to, at the same time, exist both separate (in that it is does not have to be part of the diegesis) and simultaneous with the image. This allows the music to create a metaphorical relationship with the image; a dialectic between image and music that act on each other creating a synthesis. This is what Michel Chion terms audio-vision, very succinctly summarized by Phil Ford in his review of Michael Long’s book as being, “compounds of sounds, pictures, and words—virtual collections of audiovisual memes assembled in spectators’ minds. The items within these collections are of ever-shifting and indeterminate kind and number; their individual meanings depend on their relations to one another, and those mutual relationships are in constant flux.”

Though a concert hall is typically a static visual (real life experiences of a concert can be visually more dynamic than some film, for example arena rock), the relationship remains the same, or at least similar. Our primary focus in the hypothetical is the music; the imagery is peripheral in our mind. However, in most films the image is in the fore with the music as “background.” This is a very important point that I do not want to just dismiss. In film, even if the image is a static black screen, the music is always perceived as commenting on the image, otherwise it would just be a recording.** In a concert the imagery is affecting our perception of the music.*** Despite this inversion and inequality of roles, there is still a dialectic relationship in which music and visuals interact, changing our perception of both.

I believe we should further explore this relationship vis-à-vis daily life in the 21st century. From birth, individuals are inundated with audiovisual material from films, television, and increasingly the internet. In addition, ipod culture has made it possible for individuals to quite literally provide a soundtrack to their everyday life. Whereas in the early 20th century, framing devices, such as film title music, were needed to “provide the accommodative imaginary space in which a view-auditor recalculates the relationship between ‘real’ sensory input and the interior envisioning required for successful reception of a filmic environment” (Long 34), in the 21st century, viewers no longer need these framing devices to bridge that gap; blurring the line between the real and the imagined. This blurring is furthered by video games and other virtual environments where the individual takes on the persona of a character on screen, becoming fully engrossed into an imaginary diegesis.

Obviously, this is nothing more than some preliminary thoughts, and it may be either totally unoriginal or (for lack of a better word) bogus, however, I think there may be an under-explored intersection between music and vision here that could lead to profound insights into how we understand both.

* I could use an example with musicians that are still alive but it doesn’t really matter, besides I love imagining this possibility.

** This point is brought up by either Gorbmann or Chion, I can’t remember at the moment, but the important point to acknowledge is that it is not a completely equal relationship.

*** Music dramas may complicate this understanding.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Graduate Orals

Hello fellow U-of-Lers,

during one of my numerous talks with Dr. Christensen this semester, we discussed the oral exam we have to take before we can graduate. I know that they posted an announcement about "practice" sessions Friday (and if someone has those and could comment to remind us all, that would be great), but here is what I've found out...

My impression was that the purpose of grad orals (at UofL, I'm not speaking categorically, although it would be interesting to know someone else's experience) is to fill in holes and get us ready for teaching/ the next step. Following are some sample questions, and I hope you'll forgive any unclear passages, as I was writing these on a post-it as fast as I could:

-what are you going to do next year (future plans), and how did you prepare for that/ what project/course gave you the start for that?

-what's the most impt thing you've learned and how could you apply it to the future?

-discuss thesis (or culminating graduate project) in a very brief way

-what course/event has lead to critical juncture in my thinking?

[These next are more specific for me and my thesis work, but could give some direction for the rest of you as to what to expect:]
development of symphonies, text and music in symphonic form

form, history of genre, where it took place in history, composer, cultural mileau in which it took place, contemporary composers/works

I don't know how valuable this will be to anyone, but this next nugget will be. Since I've been a student for so long, I have quite an ingrained "test anxiety" reflex. I got the clear impression that I was not something to be worried about or dread. Basically, as long as you are clear, concise, and reasonably intelligent, you should do find. And after two years of graduate work, it's nice to hear that!

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Year, New Ideas

I hope that this finds you in good health and warm weather! (I'll take one or the other). Since it's both a new year and a new decade, this seems like an auspicious time to let you know about some of my plans for the blog:

–a cross-blog interaction. The details are still being worked out, so I'll refrain from mentioning topic, participants, etc just now. I do hope that you will all get involved, as one of the perpetual goals of this blog is to encourage conversation, especially among people who otherwise would be unable to share ideas. 

–a long-term study of analysis and value judgement (those hardcore musicologists among you will recognize the name of Dahlhaus's monograph). I want to investigate what makes people think music is good or not. Notice that I did not say "what makes music good," as I am enough of a realist to understand the difficulty of that question, and it honestly interests me less than why people believe the music is good. I hope to involve several of my composer friends; as composers have a different technical understanding, and a different way of listening (as they have to be able to identify passages that "work" or not, and determine why), I hope that they will shed some light on this topic. 

–a long-term survey of people's musical perceptions. Several of you will be receiving facebook requests to answer some questions for me, both about your listening habits in general, and as applied to a couple short pieces/songs (and if you're not on facebook, please drop me a line if you'd like to participate!). This line of inquiry is part of my perpetual fascination with what people are hearing and what meanings they are constructing from the music, but it also has practical pedagogical applications. As I begin to prepare for teaching this summer and fall, I believe that understanding how a "typical" listener perceives and processes music will be invaluable.

As you can see, I am hoping to start more interaction and conversation, and am hoping to pose some general (although by no means simple!) questions: how do we listen? How do we assign value?  How do we decide what we like to listen to? How do we convey these ideas? 

Looking forward to this year with you!