Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Scrawls on the walls

Here's a remarkable bathroom at a dive I hopped into last Saturday night on Rivington Street in NYC. Peeing in this setting was truly an honor and caused me to completely ignore the rancid smells that must have entered my nostrils.

Also, a fun little comment and reply I found on Nico Muhly's blog post on the word "folks":
  • I am from the South and use the word folks many times daily. To take any issue with the word in its normal context, or to compare it to its German version, which has virtually nothing to do with its Southern American rendition, is absurd.

    Moveon’s usage is, however, slightly offensive, but from the perspective of someone who considers himself one of these folks, not someone who thinks the word itself is “horrifying.”

    Nico responds: If I had known to expect the Führer on my blog, I would have worn a clean shirt! No, I think my reaction is a gut one, there’s just something about the idea of a two-part society made of “Heroic Individuals” and “Ordinary Folks” that gets me a little anxious. That said, the Southern branch of my family is a big folks-sayer, and in that usage, it feels more like a regionalism than something designed for wickedness! Thanks for your comments.

Monday, July 14, 2008

NYC Graffiti Sightings This Weekend

I took a couple cell phone pics of excellent graffiti on Saturday. Just before a great tour of the Six Points Brewery in Red Hook, Brooklyn, I caught this consumer culture statement on Van Dyke Street. Reminds me of Banksy, one of my favorite graffiti artists, but the image of the robot/policeman/soldier/?? is a paper cut-out and pasted onto the wall, and all the Banksy tags I've seen are stenciled. I can't tell exactly what's in his hands--some kind of metal stick, maybe--or if he's robot, human, or cyborg. But I think I get the message more or less. The real Ikea is only a couple blocks away.

After the PS1 Warm Up in Long Island City, Queens, I checked out this massive collection of tags that spans the entire front of a large building on Jackson Ave.

You can see exact locations of the graffiti on Google Earth because I uploaded the pics on Panoramio and gave them locations, which load directly to Google Earth.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

From Six Points Brewery in Brooklyn

Music Critics (continued)...take a hint from Justin Davidson

In this heated conversation with myself regarding the current distress among classical music critics at their rapid loss of print jobs, I somehow didn't read Justin Davidson's remarks until now, which I have to say are completely right on. I especially like his point that a paper trying to alter its content under the old business model in order to increase readership is about as productive as spitting into an active volcano. Instead of bemoaning the current state of his branch of journalism, he proves that this is the same condition that the entire field of print media is in today, differentiates between sectors of journalism and their respective paths of access to important information, and proposes new fixes to the perceived problem. I'm highly impressed.

I also just read this "plea" that the Music Critics Association of North America sent to a number of newspapers. In their plea, which could maybe have been eloquent and poignant if written by someone like Davidson but instead is dry and hardly justifies its claim to more jobs, they make this presumptuous statement: "What happens culturally says as much about a community as what happens in sports, government and business." This is something I think about every day. And I've never come to this conclusion (in terms of government, and business, which of course is intimately linked with government) with any conviction because maybe it's not true. Davidson writes about freedom of the press, and how newspapers, while firing arts writers, are also downsizing their other departments and squandering America's First Amendment: "Why would the government bother abridging the freedom of the press, when the press is doing such an efficient job of abridging itself?" Americans can go hear concerts for themselves (and blog about it if they so choose), but journalists can't go to Afghanistan or Iraq and effectively cover the news there without the resources of a major news network.

As far as the "arts = government" question, it's probably something that many of us will grapple with our whole lives, and I'm currently not making much headway. I certainly value the arts, as I'm devoting my life to composition, but I can't come up with one solid reason why they are equally as important as our government to the general populace. What I do know is that many music critics, like the newspapers themselves, need to move on from the old business model if they truly want to help their field.

Check out blogger Marc Geelhoed's pro-Bernheimer thoughts from yesterday about the blogosphere's negative effects on music criticism. He's a smart guy and went to great lengths to justify his claims. But, in disagreement with Marc as usual, I have a few questions for him (which I write here because he doesn't allow reader comments on his blog, which are one of the most appealing features of blogs in general):

a) Don't you think many people want the opportunity to choose which critics/bloggers/fans/non-music-educated people/turkeys/etc. they read instead of having to consult the same few critics from a couple newspapers, considering today's increased desire for personal agency and self-efficacy? (See my previous post for more on agency.) And don't you think we should give readers a little credit to critique the critics themselves? Can someone who doesn't have a Master's in Musicology really not discern an idiot from a genius?

b) Marc argues that it's pretty hard to find good classical music criticism on the web, and shows a few Google, Technorati, and Google blogsearch searches. He doesn't like the results. But he does mention blogs linking to other blogs, and how if you don't come across Alex Ross's blog, you're probably not going to find other good ones. But Ross's links, and his, are limited, and most likely reflect their own ideological preferences. I know for a fact that Marc has read my blog and has not put a link to it on his site (and it's mutual, so maybe I'll reconsider). I think this is because he doesn't like my ideas, not because I'm only a Ph.D. student and not a pro music critic, or because I write about uninteresting things, or because I write poorly. And I'm never going to get a link from Alex Ross unless I become the next Nico Muhly first. So those who complain about access should up the ante and provide better access themselves. Readers find a blogger they like and then check out his or her links. It's just like Myspace, when you find a band you like and then check out their "Top Friends." I've discovered hundreds of interesting musicians that way.

Marc does not mention the primary way I've found good blogs: comprehensive, focused blog reader sites like the New Music reblog or Blognoggle. These are way better than a Google search because real people manage the posts; Jeff Harrington and Joseph Drew sift through many, many blogs and post the entries to the reblog. It's a great way to find out what's going on.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Let it happen, dude.

71-year-old Martin Bernheimer is up in arms at the diminishing number of music criticism posts in American print news. The bloggers (AC Douglas, Lisa Hirsch, etc.) are equally appalled at his statements that "anyone can blog" and "anyone can impersonate an expert." But aren't they missing the point?

Firstly, Bernheimer fails to correlate his addressed topic with trends that have been happening for decades in our country: arts programs disappearing in public schools, symphonies on their last legs...it's late capitalism, man! It only matters if it makes money! Nothing's gonna change by making self-justifying claims for educated arts criticism. "Essentially, our civilisation is tilting towards anti-authoritarian contests." Yes, Martin--that's right. And there's nothing you can do about it. And it's liberating. People don't want to be told what to think any more. They're turned off by elitism (yes, I meant to use that word). They want a (usually fictional) sense of agency in a world that's moving way too fast for them to comprehend.

In their responses, in which they argue for their own education and cultural authority, the bloggers are doing nothing different than Bernheimer: attempting to perpetuate the sinking role of the critic. Just because music blogs are hot now doesn't mean they won't suffer the same fate as print news some time quite soon. Hirsch does add some relevant insight about the differences between many bloggers and self-proclaimed print music experts:
I cannot say that any of them are in any way "impersonating" experts; the non-pros are perfectly clear about the fact that they're not professionals. I'd really like it if Mr. Bernheimer could point out some people who are impersonating classical music experts or taking jobs away from professional critics. And I hope he'll keep in mind the fact that the blogosphere is more like a salon than like a newspaper: a bunch of people sitting around exchanging opinions with themselves and their readers.
Douglas, however, in an eloquent example of true elitism, writes that the "rise of the rabid equalitarianism and populism that today so malignantly infects our American cultural life" shows up everywhere, "most perniciously in the high arts, a domain in which classical music arguably occupies the highest station."

We all need to just accept that our opinions are no more important than anyone else's.
People still might want to read them, because we take the time to document, and to provide links to other articles of interest.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Our politics suck but our tunes are good: Part 1

On Independence Day, which I normally celebrate only by drinking a few extra beers, I'm going to try something new: being thankful for many of the great things about this nation. Fortunately, my real passion is one of those things, so I'm going to write about a few excellent, excellent musicians from this country whose music I've beheld in the last few years. I've also enjoying another of those things, our swimming dynasty--the US Olympic Trials have been covered quite well online by NBC. But on to the music:

Steve Lehman
Wowzers. This guy can play (alto sax). He's also a doctoral student in composition at Columbia. I remember visiting their comp program for a seminar, and he had brought in a recording of Ornette Coleman's orchestral works. Really different stuff. Lehman incorporates microtones into his exceptionally quick and dissonant lines, and his compositions' metric structures are often nearly impossible to figure out--he's an example of extreme complexity working very well. The media is eating him up, too, because he's bringing all kinds of new stuff into the jazz world. Check his myspace or lastfm for full tracks.

A couple weeks ago I heard him with Dual Identity, a group co-led by fellow alto player Rudresh Mahanthappa, at The Stone. The other cats were Damion Reid on drums, Matt Brewer on bass, and Liberty Ellman on guitar. The group was incredibly tight and the tunes were dark and groovy. I could have used a little more dynamic variation--they tended to go full force much of the time--but that was about my only real criticism. Mahanthappa and Lehman are both phenomenal saxophonists, but they both have such different sounds and improv styles, so they're a good pair. They'd often play close intervals very low on the instrument, which was a really neat sound and something I hadn't heard much of before. The group is recording their first album next year, so we'll have to wait around for that.

Check out Fieldwork, his group with Tyshawn Sorey and Vijay Iyer. His quintet releases are quite good as well, and apparently he'll be doing some gigs with what I think is a new octet this fall.

I'll do these reviews in separate installments, so next time I'll continue with this (for me, unusual) patriotic music appreciation.