Saturday, October 30, 2004

Josh Rushing

For those who saw Control Room, go check out this interview that the Marine captain Josh Rushing did on Fresh Air. He was a military press contact for Al-Jazeera and one of the most interesting people in the movie. The interview has lots of interesting tidbits, including how Fox News sets up interviews (like we didn't know).

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Music Criticism and Politics

I'd been reading sounds & fury occasionally, as the author had some interesting things to say about music criticism, and he seems like quite the hardcore Wagnerian. But, then he posted his "contribution" to the debate on this year's presidential election; yuck. Now I can't read his writings on other topics without cringing. I sort of wish he had kept his politics to himself.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Naïve and Sentimental

I'm yet again rethinking my opinion on words in music after listening to my new Billy Budd recording, where the diction is for some reason much clearer than it was live (maybe the hall?). But I won't ramble about it any more for now. I just got back from SF Symphony, where they performed John Adams's Naïve and Sentimental Music. It was the first piece by Adams that I've heard, and I was very impressed. The coolest part was the percussion score, which called for just about every percussion instrument I could think of and more. There were almglocken, which I hadn't seen before and can't seem to find any information on now; I guess they're basically pitched cowbells, but they almost sounded like woodblocks. The vibraphone and crotales were both bowed in the second movement, and I finally heard what it's supposed to sound like (really weird overtones), as opposed to how it sounded when I tried it. And of course there was the standard mix of cymbals, gongs, and loud drums to round things out; good stuff. Also, Adams was in attendance, and he came out and gave a 5 minute introduction to the work, with a few excerpts from the first movement played by the orchestra. It helped me a lot in figuring out what was going on with the piece. The second half of the concert was Beethoven's Violin Concerto played by Midori, which honestly was a bit of a letdown after the Adams (the orchestra was about half the size). It would have been better to program the Beethoven first, but I guess the worry is that people would leave before hearing the modern piece.

It's crunch time for research, so if you expect to hear from me but don't for the next couple of weeks, you know why.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Sunday NY Times Arts Goodness

Real quick, there were two particularly interesting articles in the Arts section of last Sunday's Times. The first discusses a sexual harrassment suit against writers of "Friends" for making crude jokes during writing sessions. I must say I'm familiar with the phenomenon of trying to out-do someone's gross-out, although I'd never, ever participate in such a contest :). I'm kind of curious to see if these comedy writers are better at it than other people. The other article is on the use of beta blockers by musicians to control stage fright. There's no mention of whether singers use these things; I've always found nerves to affect me more in singing auditions than on other instruments. My take is that the use of beta blockers is no big deal; they don't seem to be harmful healthwise, and I figure that if their use was really decreasing the quality of the music, you'd see it in audition and competition results (with the non-users winning more often).

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Song Language Reconsidered

Thinking more about my last post, I'm realizing that the words to a song or their language really make very little difference to me in terms of how much I like the music. I can "appreciate" clever lyrics and good fits with the music, but I don't think those things alone would ever make me like a song. But, I think the "sounds" of the words matter. A standard vocal exercise when learning a song is to practice singing only the vowels, to emphasize the sounds and sensations you should be focusing on after the consonants are added. I'm guessing that for most music, hearing only the vowels sung, which would preserve most of the "sounds" of the words while obscuring what they actually are, would be basically the same for me as hearing the full words.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Language of Songs

I was listening to Die schöne Müllerin for the first time in forever last night, and I got to wondering about how much more I would enjoy it if I actually understood German. For English songs like Aimee Mann's, listening carefully to the words adds another layer of enjoyment for me. On the other hand, there are great English songs where paying close attention to the words really doesn't do much extra for me; Radiohead fits more in this category. That's not to say that Radiohead lyrics are necessarily worse, but they just don't add much to my personal experience of the music. And then, there are the songs in languages I don't know, whose words obviously have little to no effect on my experience (I can sometimes recognize a word here and there). I can't imagine that I would like a German song less if the words turned out to be uninteresting, since whatever it was that I liked about the song before would still be there. But, if I could notice that the words really matched the melody or accompaniment well at some points in a song, I'd probably enjoy anticipating those moments in future listenings. I guess it all breaks down to how I appreciate music in general, which is some mixture of gut reactions and geekiness for detail. I better save digging into that for a future entry, though, since I'd probably spend the rest of the evening on it otherwise.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Billy and Gillian

Some quick thoughts on concerts from last week. Billy Budd was great, even though I had really never heard it before and it's not an easy listen. I really liked the Wagnerian structure of the acts, with long orchestral interludes between scenes. And the lead singers were once again amazing; SF Opera has been on a roll this season. It felt like a work that would grow on me with more listenings, and I've got a recording on the way. I also saw Gillian Welch at the Fillmore with AJ; he already wrote a bit about it. I'll just add that she did a wonderful cover of Radiohead's "Black Star." You wouldn't think at first that the song would be suited to a laid-back, folksy interpretation, but it worked surprisingly well. It was my first time at the Fillmore, and it's a really cool venue.

If you're looking for a large chunk of interesting reading, this series of articles from the Boston Globe gives details on how the House of Representatives is being run these days. I've only gotten through the first article, and it's stuff that I've heard or read before in bits and pieces, but seeing those pieces put together was still eye-opening.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Bush Earpiece Rumor

I just saw on NewsDog the rumor that Bush was wearing a wire during the last debate. It does look pretty suspicious to me, although there's no incontrovertible evidence. Nevertheless, in the spirit of blogging, I'm linking to help spread the rumor and plant doubts in as many minds as possible :).

More Feed Hacks

I fixed some bugs in my Andante RSS feeds, and added a feed for classical music articles in the Chronicle. I also changed the links for the feeds; they're now here. Sorry for the change to anyone who was using them.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

A Couple of Music Links

Here's a blog that lists 101 great works of 20th-century music, and will eventually discuss more of the pieces in detail. And here's a great review of a new book on Glenn Gould.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Concert Thoughts / Plans

Some thoughts on concerts I attended this month:
  • Cosi Fan Tutte: This was a great production, and I feel like I appreciate the opera more now that I've seen it live. All the singers were stellar, and the two male leads especially did a great job with the humor in the roles.
  • The Pixies: A fun show, and my first time at Greek Theatre. I wasn't super familiar with the band's music (certainly not enough to sing along with all the other fans), and I can't say I was blown away by the songs, but a few tunes were pretty catchy. It made me wish I spent more time on the drumset way back when.
  • La Traviata: Wow. It's hard to beat seeing a wonderful opera with three amazing singers in the lead roles. Rolando Villazon was especially impressive. This was probably the best performance I've seen yet at SF Opera.
  • Mahler 9: I had high expectations for this one, and they were pretty much met (just a bit of first-performance sloppiness). How lucky am I to be in San Francisco while the orchestra is recording all the Mahler symphonies? Anyway, not quite as good as this past summer's Mahler 2, but still really good.

Concerts for October, if all goes well: Billy Budd, Tosca, Gillian Welch, Midori plays Beethoven, and Rach 2 (maybe). Oh, and not quite a concert, but I'm seeing Stella! It should be a good month if I'm not too overwhelmed with research.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Missile Defense

The debate is getting covered pretty exhaustively all over the place, so I'll just point to this New Yorker column on the missile defense system that Bush made a point of bringing up last night:
Between 1999 and December, 2002, a prototype anti-missile interceptor did succeed five times out of eight in hitting a dummy warhead in space. However, it was given information that the North Koreans would be unlikely to provide, such as the time and place of the launch and the missile’s trajectory. Moreover, the tests were purely preliminary. They did not show whether the system would work at night, or in bad weather, or against multiple warheads, or against a warhead of relatively crude design that would tumble instead of spin. At the time, the Pentagon’s chief of testing estimated that it would be a decade or more before the system would be ready for operational tests, and, like many other weapons experts, he questioned whether the system would ever be able to distinguish between warheads and decoys as simple as Mylar balloons.
Owing largely to the costs of development and deployment, the missile-defense budget has doubled in the past four years. The appropriation for next year is more than ten billion dollars—about the same as the Army’s entire R. & D. budget, twice the budget of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection in the Department of Homeland Security, and nearly twice the department’s allocation for the Coast Guard.

Spending so much money on this totally unproven system shows as well as anything the relationship between some of Bush's policies and reality.