Thoughts and finds 2

January 7, 2020 at 7:00 pm (By Amba) (, )

It’s actually funny to read grave and somber reports of world leaders “tweeting” threats at each other.

power tries to blind us to our power.” But, without being too starry-eyed, there are other models for human civilization than “the rule of men, the rule of profit, and the soul-crushing rule of religion (true idolatry),” models we don’t know enough about. So says a man whose young sweetheart was abducted and murdered decades ago, and who went on to study and write about Minoan civilization.

You may be tired of my flogging Claire Berlinski, and I wouldn’t blame you—she’s an odd taste even for me—but trust me, or don’t, there are good things in this post.

  1. Her first instincts are hawkish and she started out exulting on Twitter about Soleimani’s death, the first thing Trump had done that she agreed with. But she’s drastically toned that down as the shadow of possible consequences has lengthened over her. This post does a great job of enumerating all the salient factors that NOBODY KNOWS.
  2. She asked readers to free-associate the first five words that come to mind about the decade just past. And she publishes lots of the results. Try it yourself, if you like, before you read them. Mine were: Robots in all Christmas windows (That was when I knew in my gut that we’ve gone down the wrong road.)

Not interested in recaps (of more than five words), not interested in predictions. We have seen and we will see.

There is a book called Patriotic Gore. (I remembered only the title, so had to look it up. It’s by Edmund Wilson and is a study of the literature of the Civil War. Wilson served in the ambulance corps in France in WWI and ever after was as antiwar as it gets: opposing U.S. entry into WWII, calling postwar America “the United States of Hiroshima,” and refusing to pay his taxes.)

Probably because of that book title, the word “patriotic” itself has always been gory to me. It is red and black, like fresh and clotted blood. It has an aorta of vowels in its heart spelling “riot.”

I had no air conditioner my first summer in New York, 1968. I’d sit on the fire escape to cool off, and the Puerto Rican granddads in their sleeveless undershirts sat out on the sidewalk below, on folding chairs. 12th Street between A and B, before the East Village drowned in drugs. It was just a family neighborhood, but I dreamt of corpses laid out in rows on the sidewalk at night, their blood, darker than the dark, running down to the street. (Vietnam.) This song is the sound of that summer to me: sweaty flesh and the undirected yearning of new adulthood.

Morning rituals: Feed and clean up after the cats; sit down with breakfast; look at the weather app, look at the newsletters. Is it going to snow today? Is the world going to end today? Things it’s useful to know as you plan your day.

(Reading the news feels to me like a survival instinct—a useless vestige of the prompt to scan for predators before you came out of your cave. That instinct was aimed at local threats you could actually do something to prevent or avoid. Robbed of any immediate, actionable object, vigilance becomes chronic anxiety and scanning the news becomes an addiction. Rolf Dobelli thinks we should quit.)

Another beautiful song. Maybe this one is the sound of now. I don’t know, but I’m playing it over and over.

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Oldie(s) for New Year’s morning

January 1, 2020 at 8:28 am (By Amba) ()

I was also going to post Bob Dylan’s “New Morning” (the song), from the eponymous New Morning (1970), an atypical Dylan album and possibly my favorite. It has some really strange songs in it. It hit me at the right time.

I have never seen music locked up this tight. Every song from that album is blocked on YouTube, and owning the song for $1.29, it is upload-proof.

Naturally this got my back up. Oh, come on, Bob, you little capitalist. Not to be deterred, I made a lo-fi, tinny copy with occasional nose-blowing bursts of static in it. Even that won’t upload.

If you remember the song, I guess you could play it in your head.

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Strange thought

December 31, 2019 at 11:39 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Every work of literature springs from the same impulse as a baby’s cry.

[UPDATE] Or, differently put: writing is just fancy crying.

Or laughing.

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Song found by accident

December 31, 2019 at 11:37 pm (By Amba) ()

and liked.

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The Love Suicides at Sonezaki

October 24, 2019 at 10:32 am (By Amba) (, , )

bunraku

I wrote briefly to a friend that I had seen this performance, and he responded:

I had heard or read the word bunraku  before but didn’t know what it was.  I searched You Tube and was delighted with what I found.   The marionettes are quite magical but the sound is beyond magic.  Listening to classical Japanese music is like walking among the redwoods in the early evening mist.  There is room in the air for everything that might come along.  In a way, the music is not created sound.  It’s more like the result of applying a filter to the sound of nature so that certain frequencies, among the sounds that comprise the world, have been selected out at that moment.  I’m not aware of any other musical tradition that evokes so convincingly the natural world without sounding forced or merely imitative.

That prompted me to write more about it:

What a marvelous description of Japanese music. That is certainly true of Zen music, shakuhachi and the very spare string accompaniment (shamisen?). But the music that went with this melodrama, which was really a kind of opera (“the sung narrative particular to bunraku,” says the program)—the text was part sung and part recited, really acted—was in large part more social and courtly (in the sense of an aristocratic court) than natural. It doesn’t say when it was written, but the Tokugawa shogunate apparently BANNED it in 1721 because it was provoking copycat love suicides (like Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther) and wasn’t performed again for more than 200 years! A very ritualized, courtly kind of Buddhism, with pilgrimages and prayers and chants of “Namu Amida butsu,” in search of liberation, plays a part in the story. It’s about a prostitute (age 19) and her client (24) who really love each other and face insurmountable practical and social obstacles that drive them to despair.
Despite my long acquaintance with Japanese culture, the surface of the music was very alien, agitated and atonal (Webern’s got nothing on these guys). So it took me a while to penetrate the surface and begin to comprehend that this was a human comedy as well as a tragedy. A lot of the falsetto and hysteria in the (all-male) voices was probably as satirical as it sounded: behold the pathetic obsessions of these touchingly frail humans. (The helpless passions enacted by the colorful puppets contrast starkly with the enigmatic dispassion of their black-swathed manipulators.) Subtitles were projected above the stage, and quite a lot of the goings-on were about business and money. The author, Chikamatsu Monzaemon, is called the Japanese Shakespeare, and this story was quite a lot like Romeo and Juliet, another tale about very young people, which is foolish, flowery, and even funny for much of its length, until the tragic ending. In this tale, right up to the last minute the young people are coming up with all sorts of natural reasons (e.g. breaking their families’ hearts) for not going through with it. But then they do, in a gruesome, graphic, determined way. And in a forest, away from all the noise of society—and at that point the music becomes exactly as you describe it.

 

 

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If you love someone, set them free

August 24, 2019 at 10:13 pm (By Amba) (, , )

Heavy fare for a summer Saturday night . . . but hey, freelancers don’t know from weekends or vacations.

This is Kierkegaard on free will. It’s actually very advanced Christian theology. I’m neither qualified nor motivated to debate its provenance, its truth, or its craziness. I just find it beautiful and thought-provoking.

“. . . goodness is to give oneself away completely, but in such a way that by omnipotently taking oneself back one makes the recipient independent. All finite power makes [a being] dependent . . .

“It is incomprehensible that omnipotence is not only able to create the most impressive of all things—the whole visible world—but is able to create the most fragile of all things—a being independent of that very omnipotence. Omnipotence, which can handle the world so toughly and with such a heavy hand, can also make itself so light that what it has brought into existence receives independence, Only a wretched and mundane dialectic of power holds that it is greater and greater in proportion to its ability to compel and to make dependent. No. Socrates had a sounder understanding; he knew that the art of power lies precisely in making another free. But in the relationship between man and man this can never be done . . . only omnipotence can truly succeed in this.”

~ Søren Kierkegaard

It’s just this to the nth power.

 

 

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Random Observations #2

April 19, 2013 at 8:21 am (Icepick) (, , , , , )

  • The news media has been falling on its face this week. The coverage of The Boston Massacre II has been wretched. That said, other observations mentioned below are contingent on the information I’m getting as of 8:00 AM Friday, April 19th, 2013.
  • Today is 20th anniversary of the Branch Davidian massacre/fiasco, and the 18th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing. (That latter event took place at 9:02 AM CDT. I’ll be happier when we roll around to Noon today without much incident.)
  • How perverse that the explosion in Texas was near Waco.
  • This is all like a faint echo of 2001. An unexpected bombing followed by deadly mail. Here in Florida we’ve even had the first shark attack of the Spring, over in New Smyrna Beach. All that’s needed are comeback hits for Afroman and Andrew W. K.
  • And how typical of the times that the things that might make for fun re-runs are the things that don’t happen. (Yes, I liked “Because I Got High” and “Party Hard” – both stupid fun-time songs, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.)
  • And yes, I mean a faint echo. BM II, while awful, is obviously dwarfed by the scale of 9/11/2001. And fortunately no one has been killed by any of the ricin letters, which makes this less deadly than the anthrax letters. Still, fun times these aren’t.
  • The two guys in Boston are/were better terrorists than thieves. Holding up a convenience store? Really? Convenience stores are designed with the idea that they’re going to be held up repeatedly, so you can’t get much money out of robbing one. If that was part of their efforts to get away they clearly didn’t know much beyond how to make a bomb.
  • One of the guys is named Joker? Really? Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19. Sound out that first name, or listen to the media members.
  • Post script: This morning I got the scrambled eggs absolutely perfect. Naturally, this is the morning my not-quite-three-year-old daughter decides to NOT eat her eggs. You don’t eat them, little girl, and I will!

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The Universal History of Everything (musical)

February 23, 2013 at 4:19 am (By Tim) (, )

I’ve been resurrecting old blog posts, finding old media, checking old links, and generally getting ready to start a new music appreciation blog for the Choir School. But what turns up on Facebook, linked by an old acquaintance who’s the Music Program Director of our local public schools?

ESTE (This): La introducción perfecta (en español—pero, si usted no entiende español, ¿qué entiende usted?)

I realize this isn’t the “universal history of music,” but only one view of European-derived music. But that’s fine. It’s from my culture, and very likely the culture of most people who read this. I’m not at all ashamed it doesn’t include Chinese, Persian, or Indian music, not to mention all the other great kinds of music people have dreamt up in every corner of the globe since humans first showed up.

No, I’m not ashamed one little bit.

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As Time Goes By the Syntonic Comma

February 17, 2013 at 1:30 am (By Tim) (, , )

Intended as bon-bons, I’m afraid my relentlessly didactic musical nougats have not been as popular as I hoped. But unwilling to abandon a niche taste for classical music, I thought I might tempt you with a belated Valentine’s Day sweet:  Chiara Massini, my favorite harpsichordist, in a little video montage, accompanied by her playing “As Time Goes By” on a slightly out-of-tune harpsichord.

In my world, a kiss is still just a kiss. But afterwards, I’ll tell you how the harpsichord is tuned. It sounds like Valotti temperament, one of several common unequal tunings used in the late 17th and 18th centuries, gone off a little bit like Sam’s piano. It’s similar to Bach’s well-tempered system, but maybe a tad smoother. If you listen carefully, you can hear how some chords and maybe a note or two sound a little more out-of-tune than others. Ah, romance!

Even the best harpsichord goes out-of-tune after an hour or two of playing. They need constant tuning. It’s the nature of the beast. If you want something lightly-built and resonant to respond to the plucking of strings, instead of them being smacked around, as on a piano, the light and resonant will not stay in tune as well as the heavy and iron-framed.

So, the first thing you need to do if you want to learn to play the harpsichord is to learn to tune it. You will be doing that every day. Antique temperaments, in addition to the piquancy they lend to old music, are actually a lot easier to tune than piano-style equal temperament. This allows Ms. Massini to smile at us from the keyboard after less than 20 minutes of twanging strings, instead of the hour it would take the usual suspects to tune equal temperament. But there are no kisses to be found anywhere on an equally-tuned keyboard. There aren’t any smacks in the face, either, but, as everyone knows, those tend to go with kisses—except, of course, on the piano, which manages to combine smacking around with a firm rule against smooching in the Tuning Department. It’s also time to abandon this metaphor for growing inconsistent, stale, and excessively kinky.

And, frankly, I’d rather spend the 40 minutes flirting with Ms. Massini while she played, sad as I might otherwise be we never had Paris.

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Is it Slippy, Drippy or Nippy?

February 13, 2013 at 3:57 pm (By Tim) (, , )

When my eyes haven’t been tearing from this miserable flu, I’ve been reading Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. The title of this post is from the contemporary English parody names for the current months of the French Revolutionary Calendar. I’m not sure which one we’re in right now, but, everything considered, they’ll do. Burke mostly wrote his Reflections in 1790, two years before Year I and all the fun with new months.

Burke has a reputation as a fine writer, especially among those who haven’t read him. Those who do frequently discover everything has the color of a well-considered, adamant speech in Parilament, intent on elegantly demolishing opponents in lengthy detail. No wonder Johnson considered him the most formidable man he knew. But looking at his page, I’d rather hear the speech. The 18th century needn’t have been that long-winded. Addison, for instance, knew how to end a sentence, as well as to make a withering argument the most polite, humane thing you’re ever read.

In any case, considering England during the Regency, and having the musical bent I do, I couldn’t help but remember Samuel Wesley (1766-1837), the “English Mozart.” Samuel Wesley was John Wesley’s nephew, and the son of the Anglican clergyman and hymn-writer Charles Wesley. There were so many clergymen among the remarkable Wesleys, it is not easy to sort them out. The main thing, I suppose, is that John Wesley (1703-1791) was the most remarkable of the bunch, founding Methodism and living the long life he did.

Young Samuel showed great musical talent, composing prodigiously from age 15 until 21, when he got a knock on the head from which he never quite recovered. He did, however, write a small number of very good pieces after that, the Symphony in Bb Major (1802) among them.

Wesley converted to Roman Catholicism in 1784, rather like Bach’s youngest son, Johann Christian (aka “John” after his move to England). Unlike Bach’s son, who was far too trendy for Dad’s old, wiggy stuff, Wesley was a proponent of the music of J.S. Bach. Among other efforts, he introduced the young Mendelssohn to it.

Bach’s influence is obvious in the fugal texture of this beautiful and sober 1st movement from the Symphony in Bb. So are other influences from the “Classical” world of Haydn and Mozart, plus a great deal of originality. It is one of the minor tragedies in the history of music that Samuel Wesley found his faculties impaired at such a young age, and we never got what we should from such a talent.

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