Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Alex Ross on Radiohead

I know I already linked to Alex Ross's site, but I had to also link to this cool article on Radiohead, as he manages to work in a great Beavis and Butt-head reference:
Radiohead have stopped playing "Creep," more or less, but it still hits home when it comes on the radio. When Beavis of "Beavis and Butt-head" heard the noisy part, he said, "Rock!" But why, he wondered, didn't the song rock from beginning to end? "If they didn't have, like, a part of the song that sucked, then, it's like, the other part wouldn't be as cool," Butt-head explained.

Uhuhuhuh, yeah. That show ruled. And who knew Butt-head was hyphenated?

Monday, September 27, 2004

Peace Corps Blogging

My bro has started a blog, writing from his thatched hut in El Salvador. He has to bike 45 miles each way to post an entry, and the bike doesn't even have wheels, so he just ends up carrying it and walking. Okay, it's not quite so bad, but he's still roughing it down there and doing some awesome work. And, though I'm biased, I think you'll agree that he has some interesting things to say. So check out the blog and send him some love (lemme know if you want his email).

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Classical vs. The Rest

I've been meaning to write about this column by Tom Strini on the marginalization of classical music for a while, since this part rubbed me the wrong way:
The guys in the swing bands of the 1930s through the 1950s had training and discipline in common with their classical counterparts. They could cross genres in a natural way and casual listeners could perceive their kinship and follow them. Pop and classical music were built on essentially the same kinds of harmonies, melodies and rhythms and performed on the same instruments. In such an environment, symphony pops concerts made musical sense and could draw an audience.

That is no longer the case. Rock, with its harmonic simplicity, non-orchestral instruments and emphasis on attitude as a main marketable commodity, stretched the relationship thin. More recently, synthesized sound and sampling have replaced traditional musicianship in most arenas of popular music.

Britney Spears -- 'Oops, I Did It Again' Modern teen pop is more about sexual display than about music, although it's not inconceivable that Britney Spears will wash up on the 2030–31 symphony pops circuit. (How will Britney's navel look then?)

Rap, the dominant pop style of the day, has no use for traditional musical skill and no harmony or melody to speak of. Its rhymes-with-bitch crudity offends the civilized sensibility of classical music. Unlike many former pop and folk stars, no washed-up rapper will ever find second life on the pops circuit.

Some generalizations are excusable in a column like this one, but here Strini just seems like too much of a snob to really give these other musical styles a chance. For me, rock and rap music complement classical stuff in my listening, and while classical would be my favorite if I had to choose, there's plenty of other great music that I'd hate to be without. I know lots of other people, including classical musicians, who feel the same way. Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, is one of them. He wrote a fantastic article a while back on his personal relationship to different genres of music, and how he sees other styles of music evolving in the same way that classical music did. The opening paragraph in his writeup from this week's magazine shows that Mozart, for one, would not have been offended by rap's "rhymes-with-bitch crudity":

The breathtaking profanity of Mozart’s letters—“Whoever doesn’t believe me may lick me, world without end,” and so on—has led one British researcher to conclude recently that the composer had Tourette’s syndrome. What’s interesting about this theory, which has become the goofball classical-music news item of the season, is that anyone would actually need a far-fetched medical explanation for the fact that a young male with healthy appetites swore a lot and liked to talk about sex. Mozart, like Shakespeare, moved with equal ease through the most refined and most raucous circles of his world. Only if classical music is confined to the fleshless end of the spectrum does Mozart’s exaltation of the body become a psychological anomaly crying out for interpretation.

Anyway, Strini does have some good points in his column, and it's totally fine if he dislikes most non-classical music. But I think that when he dismissively generalizes about the musical qualities of genres that he doesn't seem to understand, he exhibits an attitude of almost wanting to keep classical music exclusive and marginalized.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Rhapsody

UC Berkeley now has a deal with the RealRhapsody online music service so that students can subscribe for only 2 dollars a month. At that price, I had to give it a try, and it's incredibly cool. They have tons of music, and you can stream any of it instantly (on a broadband connection, anyway). It's like Napster was at its peak, only better and not free. I'd probably just buy a CD instead of spending 79 cents a track for less than CD quality, and the service is Windows-only. But still, the streaming service is easily worth the discounted price.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

O'Reilly Yet Again

Transcripts of O'Reilly interviews with Jon Stewart and Terry Gross (I wrote about O'Reilly's appearance on Fresh Air before). Jon Stewart is funny as usual, and Gross and O'Reilly basically talk past each other.

Health Insurance

Interesting post over at Crooked Timber on markets and health insurance; yet another writeup that makes me wish I understood economics better. Maybe I'll do a Teaching Company course on it when I have more time.

Monday, September 20, 2004

The Freedom Tower

I just watched some of this fascinating Frontline documentary on the design of the Freedom Tower; who knew what drama would unfold when two architects tried to design one building? Unfortunately, you can't watch online yet, but the chronology gives some idea of what went down. Try to catch it if it gets aired again.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Best Drama

Finally, The Sopranos wins best drama. And Imperioli totally deserved best supporting actor. Only around a year and a half (I'm guessing) until Season 6...

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Ebert's New Site

Roger Ebert has a new site now, which will eventually have all of his reviews available, along with some (all?) of his Answer Man columns and other essays; cool stuff.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Beethoven Sonatas

All the Beethoven sonatas online, with notes. Rock on BBC Radio 3.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Second Harp

Here's an interesting article on the contracts of musicians in top symphonies, their perks, etc. Check this out:
Management promises that its proposals would never harm the orchestra's artistic level.

"We want to preserve the jewel of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Orchestra," said Mr. Albertini, a public relations executive hired to present the orchestra's case. The players have their own outside public-relations man.

But John Koen, a cellist and the chairman of the players' committee, says that reducing full-time positions - even though the same number of musicians would always be onstage through the use of substitutes - could undermine the orchestra's fabled artistic tradition.

For example, he said, one position singled out is the full-time second harpist. The "Philadelphia sound" is partly based on decades of playing large French symphonic works, which often require two harps. Eliminating that job would run counter to the tradition, he said.

I'd like to see how many musicians on stage could tell the difference in the orchestra's sound between using a full-time second harpist and a substitute (in those relatively rare cases where two harps are needed), let alone audience members. I know the union is just trying to keep as many benefits and positions as possible, but this claim is so ridiculous that it's just funny.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Distractions

I worked a bunch this weekend, and I thought about writing about it, and then realized that I'd be happier not reflecting on that and possibly coming to some unwelcome conclusions about my project and/or research abilities. So, here are some other random thoughts instead.

I saw the Woody Allen film September. It's a somber and bleak film with beautiful cinematography and some great writing and acting. The scene mentioned in this essay (from a previous Woody Allen post) was striking:
In September, prior to the opening of the story, Lane (Mia Farrow) once attempted suicide because of a deep depression. In the course of the film, we see her again depressed and again contemplating suicide. Her friend, Stephanie (Dianne Wiest), tries to help her:
Stephanie: Now give me those pills. Tomorrow will come and you'll find some distractions. You'll get rid of this place, you'll move back to the city, you'll work, you'll fall in love, and maybe it'll work out, and maybe it won't, but you'll find a million petty things to keep you going, and distractions to keep you from focusing on -

Lane: On the truth.

Again, the point is clear: we need distractions, we need illusions and self-deception, in order to help us avoid the terrible truths of our lives.

I'd been having some vaguely similar thoughts lately (though not nearly so fatalistic), and seeing them laid out pretty explicitly in this film was a bit disturbing.

On a cheerier note, I got some more cool music recently. Björk's new CD Medulla is way weirder than her previous stuff, at least to my ear. And those who instinctively recoil when they hear Björk's voice should stay miles away from this CD. I didn't find any of the music completely nonsensical, and I have a feeling that a bunch of the songs will really grow on me after a few listens. I also just got Nico's Chelsea Girl, which I first heard in Keunwoo's car this summer. Nico has such a bewitching voice, and the intimate, folksy style of the songs on this CD fit it perfectly; good stuff.

Finally, I was at DNA Lounge for a while last night, and I realized that it had been so long since I'd been to a club that I'd actually forgotten what it was like to feel a beat. I've been using headphones too much lately, and I need to get out to a place with good, loud music again soon.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

More KenJen

I'm watching Ken Jennings destroy his opponents on Jeopardy. We thought he might have lost his touch after yesterday's tense game; not quite. For one clue today, the answer (question, whatever) was The Cheesecake Factory, and a contestant answered The Cheesecake Company. Alex hesitated for a few moments (perhaps checking with the judges) before saying no, giving away that the answer was close. Is it unfair when Alex gives the remaining contestants this extra information? Is there any way to avoid it? I wonder if the outcome of a game was ever seriously affected by something like this.

Vodka: Vapor, not Liquid

Two interesting booze-related articles on Slate in the last couple of days, a review of different vodkas and a feature on inhalable alcohol. I've never been a vodka fan, but maybe I've just never had the good stuff or it wasn't properly chilled. The inhalable alcohol is a little scary, but also intriguing; it's like when Barney gets his beer prize injected directly into his veins after winning the film festival on The Simpsons, but without the injection. I wonder if you could rig up a humidifier to just have alcohol in the air at a party and get everyone drunk on the cheap. I guess it's possible that some people might not want to drink, or might want to stop at some point and still stay at the party. Allright, I've clearly run out of stuff to say.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Andante RSS Feeds

In an escape from doing real work this weekend, I wrote some code to generate RSS feeds for Andante Magazine, which has lots of good articles on classical music. Check them out, and let me know if they don't work for you.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Reminders of India

My parents called me last night from India, where they will be staying for a few weeks, and I spoke to one of my uncles for the first time in years. He greeted me in his Yoda-like English by asking, "From where are you speaking?" This quirk had completely slipped my mind, and hearing that question made me both miss him and realize how out of touch I've been since I last visited. Then I finally watched the wonderful Apur Sansar, a great end to the Apu trilogy. It had lots of familiar details of day-to-day life in India that also jogged my memories of previous visits. Hopefully I'll be able to make time next summer for a trip to see what else I've forgotten.

Roshambo

It looks like Rock, Paper, Scissors is really catching on. This article is interesting, but it doesn't really match the humor of the real RPS home page. Check out The Myth of Dynamite Exposed.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Frances Conroy

Six Feet Under has been pretty worthless this season. Either the writers just gave up, or what they're trying to do is way over my head. But, Frances Conroy has really been fantastic as Ruth. I love the character, mostly because Conroy just makes her so believable and real. Her skill is more noticeable now that the drama of the show is non-existent. I see now that she absolutely deserved the Emmy that she won for this role.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Zell Miller

I spent a good chunk of the afternoon reading about this crazy Zell Miller speech at the RNC last night and his bizarre appearances afterward. I finally found this Slate article that gives some background on the situation. According to David, some Georgians think that Miller has literally lost it; sounds about right to me.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

ATLiens

I just got a lot of music from AJ, and it's really, really good. I'm loving these older OutKast albums; the song ATLiens has the best chorus (or hook?):
Now throw your hands in the ai-yerr
And wave 'em like you just don't cay-yerr
And if you like fish and grits and all the pimp shit
Everybody let me hear ya say O-Yea-yerr
I guess you need to hear Andre do it to get the full effect :). So go listen to it.

Update: Here it is.