One more question: is this stuff really classical music? I think so. The huge variety of music of all eras that we call classical (and here I'm certainly including classic pop, folk, blues and jazz) seems to share two key traits. The first is a respect for tradition. Beyond being a wickedly keen variation on the conventions of the formal concert, 4'33" fills a crucial slot in history. Music began as an imitation of natural sounds and human voices but then became increasingly stylized. Cage brilliantly brings the process full circle, bridging the cultural distance that has developed between conventional performance and the sounds of nature where it all began.
The second hallmark is staying power. I've heard Mozart's dozen mature piano concertos dozens of times each over dozens of years, but right now I can recall only a few of their melodies. I heard the Cage piece just once (and three decades ago), but I remember it so vividly.
Guttman goes on to highlight Lucier's I Am Sitting in a Room and Reich's It's Gonna Rain as other successful examples of contemporary music. And yes, I can get tired of a work through too much repetition but unlike say a film or a book, I think music, due its brevity and abstraction, holds up well to thorough replay.
I've been playing with the pandora beta this week. It's one of those "if you like x, we'll play you y" streaming radio services. Of course, there is nothing remotely classical i.e. no Philip Glass let alone Couperin or Cowell. But the interesting twist is that instead of using social recommendations, it's based on exhaustive musical analysis of tracks. I've started three "stations" -- one based on Boards of Canada, one on Interpol and one on Mission of Burma. Each station plays tracks of the artist and related to the artist. I then tweak the station by indicating if I like it or not. For example, Angel's Sen by Sevendust is currently playing on my Boards of Canada station. I can then ask why this is playing:
Based on what you've told us so far, we're playing this track because it features basic rock song structures, mild rhythmic syncopation, a subtle use of vocal harmony, and a clear focus on recording studio production.
I happen to really dislike the current song. While those factors may in fact be present, how did my Boards of Canada station end up requiring "a subtle use of vocal harmony?" Still, it's a fun exercise.
Car Radio by Spoon on my Mission of Burma station "features electronic rock instrumentation, punk influences, mild rhythmic syncopation, a subtle use of vocal harmony, and major key tonality." Ok, I never realized my preference for syncopation but given all those jazz years, it makes sense.
On Interpol (coming to San Jose in September!) radio,
Well, I can't quote it because it is not working right now (unfortunately, I think it's a flash application and my PC has problems with graphically intense programs. Buying that HP "Carly Fiorina Celebrity Edition" PC two years ago was a mistake). Still, the key Interpol attribute I remember was minor key tonality and in general, I like my pop music minor. What I really want is a control panel where I can explicitly choose major/minor, production studio/unprocessed acoustic, etc. I realize the average music consumer won't be able to handle that level of specificity and so for now, I'm stuck with thumbs up/thumbs down mode. Final note: If someone can come up with the set of relevant attributes, I volunteer to listen to thousands of classical tracks so we can leverage their "genomes".
Update: The new Google Desktop was consuming memory. A reboot and Pandora is working fine as is that new Black Sabbath channel I just created. Here's hoping it's just a phase I'm going through...
Update #2: No, Pandora stalled again just as it was about to play Iron Man. Though, if I click on fast forward, it takes me to a Wishbone Ash track Lady Whiskey that I have to say sounds very Black Sabbath-ish. Carter was president the last time I heard Wishbone Ash:
...it features hard rock roots, mild rhythmic syncopation, minor key tonality, repetitive melodic phrasing, and extensive vamping.
Wikipedia has one of those graphical timelines for composers, in this case of the 20th century. I see Paul Lansky listed. I first heard his music at a CCRMA concert at Stanford's Frost Ampitheatre. It was the same night as the premiere of the opera The Voyage by Philip Glass. Back in the day, local commercial radio actually broadcast live opera so I brought headphones and a radio and listened to the opera during gaps in the concert. The only music I remember from the concert was an electronic tape piece by Paul Lansky, Table's Clear, I think. The work started from a recording of his family playing/banging kitchen items; the end result charms. Amazon samples. MP3 excerpts on Table's Clearhere. Lansky describes the piece:
The piece had its origin one evening after dinner in October, 1990, when my two sons, Jonah and Caleb (ages 14 and 9 at the time) took our kitchen apart, recording the sounds of everything they could find which would make noise (including themselves). I ran the tape machine and Hannah ran for cover. I then transferred all the sounds to my computer, spent a few months working, and came up with this piece.
Wikipedia has a surprisingly good entry on Paul Lansky, including the fact that Radiohead's Idioteque uses a Lansky work as a source.
Anthony Tommasini reviews an American Composers Orchestra concert, including the piece Glimmer by Jason Freeman:
In this experimental concert series, conducted by the music director Steven Sloane, the American Composers Orchestra is trying to use technology and improvisation to reinvent the orchestra and break down barriers between composer and listener. If nothing else, Mr. Freeman's "Glimmer" certainly does the latter.
The audience was given glimmer sticks and instructed to turn them on and off and wave them. Somehow, video images of this were then transmitted to the orchestra to guide their playing. Tommasini goes on to say it doesn't take much to make New Yorkers happy and during a piece by Carlos Carillo, he wanted to use his glimmer stick to skip past a slow movement.
Glimmer is not a protest against current orchestral performance conventions. It is not a vision for the symphony hall of the future. It is not a marketing gimmick to draw younger audiences to classical music. It is merely an experiment in reshuffling the roles of composer, performer, and listener a little bit, so that they can have something more to do with each other, so that they can all be a part of the same moment. We are sitting in a room — together — so why not?
The orchestra also performed Dan Trueman's Traps Relaxed and Eve Beglarian's FlamingO.
I disparaged traditional orchestras in last night's post but this concert sounds fun.
I see via a referrer that aworks is at the top for the search "new classical music wanted." While I recognize newness is not necessarily the premiere aesthetic organizing principle, and I expect innovation in music to take a breather for awhile, I am enjoying it while I can.
We were in Oklahoma for the holidays but alas, I had to make an unplanned trip to Indiana, putting me behind on blogging, among other things. Can I finish the aworks Top 10 Tracks of 2004 in 2004? Fifteen hours left...
At a play count of 32, Double Music, a percussion piece by John Cage and Lou Harrison, is a lively but not raucous work. I don't know if tuned percussion can in fact play a true melody but for percussion, this music is melodic. Does Lou Harrison's participation somehow soften the sometimes abrasive tendencies of John Cage? My prior post indicates they composed their parts independently.
I can't find it but a year ago, someone wrote an online essay on how recorded pop music of the last fifty years has been a great achievement in timbre. Listen to five seconds of a pop hit and it is likely recognizable. While Double Music is esoteric, it has some development as well, again within the constraints of percussion music. Regardless, it is clearly an achievement in timbre as well.
Google has been sending Styx fans to aworks this week looking for I Am the Walrus. While I knew I had mentioned Styx covering Aaron Copland's Fanfare for a Common Man, I just figured out the Beatles connection:
[Styx is] getting more and more airplay from radio stations who are falling love with our live recording of The Beatles' "I Am The Walrus" which we are now sending to another 1000 stations.
The composer Terry Riley is the namesake for the Who's Baba O'Riley ("It's only teenage wasteland."). Originally, Pete Townshend played an ARP synthesizer (or Lowrey organ) on the song. It was later covered by Pearl Jam and the Grateful Dead. Live MP3 here. Riley interviewed on his compositions and rock music:
In the '60s, the work that I was doing was more parallel to the work that was going on in rock. There was the similarities and the kinetic energy that both musics had.
If you are looking for harder, more intense Terry Riley music, The Walrus in Memorium, as a piano piece, is probably not it. You might try Shri Camel or Poppy Nogood with keyboards and electronic effects.
• Magical Mystery Tour Amazon sales rank: #455 and popular (#12) at UC Berkeley (no surprise) along with The Byrds, Hail to the Thief, Justin Timberlake, Cecilia Bartola, the Emerson Quartet's Art of the Fugue, the New Pornographers et al .
• Who's Next Amazon sales rank: #1,013
• Gloria Cheng: Piano Music Of John Adams And Terry Riley Amazon sales rank: #47,003
• Shri Camel Amazon sales rank: #67,843
• Poppy Nogood Amazon sales rank: #147,869
• Cheng CD discounted at Berkshire Record Outlet: $2.99
• Prior aworks post mentioning Gloria Cheng.
• Disclosure: An earlier Emerson, Lake & Palmer reference drew zero traffic my way although my linking to a page by the director of the Eminem Mosh video resulted in some blogdex traffic.
Mark Applebaum's Pre-Composition consists of Mark and his inner voices as they discuss, debate, criticize and sing parts of a new electronic piece he is writing. The cast includes stupid idea guy, diplomatic guy, intellectual guy, technical guy, "Mr. Spiritual" and others; he/they engage in creative dialogue while working through the composition.
"Well, I'm sure if Mozart were alive today, he woud know how many samples his piece of music was, that's all I'm saying."
"That's one of the dumbest things I've ever heard."
"I'm sure you are both right."
"I'm sure you are both idiots."
"What kind of bandwidth would the hamster have?"
"I think we should all join hands."
"Build a dry-ice to MIDI conversion but one with, you know, solenoids."
"Just because it's an overused gesture, I don't think that necessarily makes it a cliche."
"Or a theremin with a flanger."
This is an extremely funny piece that effectively illuminates the composer's creative process, albeit in a facetious way. The real Mark Applebaum does admit to a "council of elders" advising him on his composing. The composer comments:
The sounds are simply unprocessed vocal sounds, moving from meta-musical narration to absolute musical expression.
Mark Applebaum is an assistant professor at Stanford. Apparently, Applebaum just performed two piano works by Tom Johnson at Stanford Memorial Church. Composer website.
Disclaimer 1: The piece is on his CD Intellectual Property™. I couldn't find a stream or MP3 of the piece but it's for sale at Downtown Music Gallery.
Disclaimer 2: I was the guy on Caltrain today broadly smirking as he listened to his iPod.
Disclaimer 3: Laura and my father-in-law are both Stanford grads, despite Palo Alto CD shopping being inferior to that in Berkeley, Westwood, West Lafayette, Bloomington, Ann Arbor, Norman, Austin, Princeton, Cambridge MA, etc. On the other hand, I was enticed last year to attend Stanford's homecoming reunion because the composer gave a lecture "Musical Schizophrenia: Art vs. Pop."
Disclaimer 4: I just got the joke that he trademarked the phrase "intellectual property."