Thursday, May 31, 2007


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Listenable Obscuriana

So when Dan was in town this weekend, I quickly tossed together a mix CD for him of recent or relatively obscure classical stuff I'd been listening to over the last several months. On second glance it's a playlist I find pretty interesting, so, forthwith: offered up as a set of odd-corner classical recommendations.

(Fifteen minutes of the CD would have been Per Nørgård's Frost Psalms, if I hadn't lent that out to Stu a few weeks ago. Not really seasonal, anyway.)

Vítĕzslav Novák, "In the Church" from Slovak Suite for Small Orchestra (1903)
Novák was Czech, a student of Dvořak; the Slovak Suite is a pretty straight-up picturesque tone poem, and the hymnal opening movement here is just gorgeous.

Peter Schickele, String Quartet No. 5, "A Year in the Country" (1998), 3rd movement ("Bugs")
Schickele's the weird genius behind P.D.Q. Bach, but he composes outside that persona too; this CD from the Audubon Quartet, with two quartets and a piano quintet, is incredibly good. Smart, lucid, charismatic, wholesome, often a bit cheesy. Case in point, naming a movement after bugs. Which is kind of cartoonishly apt, but doesn't get at how delicate and charming and well-done the movement is.

Erkki-Sven Tüür, Action-Passion-Illusion (1993), 1st movement
Already noted this one a while back. Further listening: Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements; pretty much anything by Bohuslav Martinů.

Lukas Foss, Clarinet Concerto (1988), 2nd movement
Richard Stoltzman commissioned and recorded this piece and then left it where most clarinet concertos end up, out to pasture. It's a top-shelf piece, though, snappily neoclassical with some light modernism blurring the edges. (Way better, incidentally, than anything else I've heard by Lukas Foss.) The scherzo movement comes off like a bumpkinish Stravinsky parody, fun and good-natured. The work started off as a chamber arrangement, which you can also still find on CD.

Andrzej Panufnik, Homage to Chopin (1949/66), 3rd movement
This is a short, modest andantino for flute and strings (originally a wordless vocalise), a slowly spinning-out old Polish melody, I think. Elegant stuff.

Einojuhani Rautavaara, Vespers (1971), 1st Katisma
Already remarked upon. Halleluja, halleluja, halle-lu-uu-jaaa.

Sebastian Currier, Night Time (1998), 5th movement
Already remarked upon. The last movement is a sparkling little soundscape, like a small Arvo Pärt piece with a very quick metabolic rate.

Steven Mackey, Indigenous Instruments (1989), 3rd movement
This was Mackey's breakout piece, as loopy as anything he's written since; a six-instrument chamber ensemble, the instruments tuned a bit out of relation to each other, plinking and sawing away at what Mackey calls "vernacular music from a culture that doesn't exist." It anchors this recent-ish CD from eighth blackbird; there's some good stuff in the other pieces on the disc, too, though it's a bit more hit-and-miss.

Witold Lutosławski, Paganini Variations (1941)
Lutosławski's two-piano gloss on the ever-popular theme came before his avant-garde days, so it's no further out than Prokofiev or Stravinsky, and it actually shares a lot with the more skittish, glittering parts of Rachmaninov's variations, too. I like this CD, which is mostly mainstream esoterica for four-hand piano, Kurtag and Ligeti and Berio.

Jennifer Higdon, City Scape (2002), 1st movement
What Nate said.

Gabriel Fauré, Nocturne No.13 in B minor (1921)
Late Fauré, gotta love it. Subtle, lovingly crafted late romanticism well into the twentieth century. Listen to his Second Violin Sonata, too, which is one of the best.

Felix Mendelssohn, Piano Trio No.2 in C Minor, op.66 (1845), 4th movement
I hadn't heard of this piece till this year; I don't know if it's actually obscure, but at any rate it's a fine specimen in that line of lyrical Germanic chamber music going from Schubert to Schumann to Brahms. The fourth movement has a pretty standard, stirring light-coming-out agenda, which Mendelssohn accomplishes partly by quilting swatches of the Doxology theme (I don't know what the Lutherans called the tune back in the day) into the crucial climaxes. The phrases are fractured enough that it has a surprisingly Ivesy effect, though of course it's more orderly.

Percy Grainger, Handel in the Strand (1911)
Wind bands play this & several other Grainger chestnuts all the time; this has become my favorite of the bunch. I'm getting good mileage out of this CD of orchestral arrangements. Grainger indicated that Handel in the Strand was "to be played to, or without, clog dancing," which could accurately be said of all music.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memorial Day (Observed), Observed

There we go, one of those three-day weekends where your mind just kind of goes slack, in a good way, but you have to spend Tuesday at work just slowly reeling it back in. The train of thought, untethered, floats off way away up high over the tracks: goodbye, work world, we are making local stops on this line, up, up, and up.

I think I got some work done today, though I have to admit I’m not thinking through that statement very hard.

Honegger’s 4th Symphony on the headphones this morning, and Jeanne d’Arc, along with an iced coffee and an ardent feeling that I’d rather just be out walking somewhere and spinning my mental wheels.

Lovely weather, though, 80ish and sunny as you’d want it. The university kids had a grand day for graduation this weekend. Actually, it turned out that my musicologist college friend Dan was in town to see a cousin of his graduate, so we had time to grab brunch and listened to the Harkness carillon for a little while and went for ice cream. Having like-minded people around can’t be beat.

Out-of-place selections on the carillon, in between several Bach-sounding selections, included the gothic, clangorous theme from Indiana Jones, and an ominously tolling rendition of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Just the title track, although I was hoping whatever student was at the console would play the album down. I would love to hear A Day in the Life on that thing.)

The holiday itself (observed) featured a small and satisfying picnic at East Rock Park with a handful of work friends, and not much else of note. The holiday itself (actual), which is to say tomorrow, will hopefully feature my head coming back down out of the clouds.

If you want something substantial to take away from this post in the meantime, I will say I highly recommend the movie Hot Fuzz, which is hilarious and snazzy and completely entertaining.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Candlepin Bowling is Superior to Regular Bowling for the Following Reasons

Reason #1. No one I know is particularly good at candlepin bowling. It’s extremely difficult to be any good at candlepin bowling, and this levels the playing field. If you lose, you’re not losing by 80 or 100 points like you do in bowling. If you do badly, you don’t have to think “Gee, I’m a bad bowler,” but rather “Well, that’s candlepin for you.”

Reason #2. You get three throws per frame, instead of two. This is like getting a mulligan every time, and when you zip throw #2 into the gutter, you don’t have to swear at yourself under your breath as much, because you can make up for it immediately. Technically your expectations might be able to rise with three throws per frame instead of two, but, again, I would refer you to Reason #1.

Reason #3. Candlepin bowling balls are all identical, and they don’t have finger holes. And with that, the aggravation of trying to find a satisfactory alley ball disappears entirely.

Reason #4. Something regional is inherently more interesting than something found everywhere. Although I do wish you could find candlepin bowling in Connecticut.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Went to a delightful chamber music concert last night. The Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, playing music by Britten, Bach, and some other contemporary guy, and also Barshai's arrangement of Shostakovich's 8th string quartet for string orchestra. Very well programmed concert actually, and in that regard more fulfilling than the two Philharmonie concerts I've been to (especially Petrouschka & Mahler 1 strikes me as an arbitrary pairing).

The two Britten pieces one the program were his Prelude & Fugue for 18 Strings, to open the concert, and the Lachrymae, reflections on a them of Dowland, for solo Viola and string orchestra. Both quite delightful pieces to hear live, only 3 meters from the stage (with studentenkarte that costed nur 10 euro. Especially the fugue is super fun to watch, with the subject / countersubjects dancing around the orchestra (and the opening of the fugue is great as it unfolds across the orchestra from right to left). The Prelude though, has this tenseness about it that balances well with the glee of the Fugue.

I'd never heard the Lachrymae before, but this was a very cool piece. Much darker than the fugue, obviously, but resonates very fully on both an emotional and intellectual level. Britten maintains this dark, often stressful dissonance through the course of the piece, often breaking down into a more tonal melancholy. You don't actually hear the Dowland theme, open and bare, though, until the very end of the piece. For me, it was almost a retrospective noticing: it wasn't until the last handful of notes that I realized I was suddenly just hearing that theme being played in the solo viola, and after the piece ends, I couldn't help but immediately think back through what I had jsut heard, placing that theme back into the various "reflections."

The Bach viola concerto was well-played, and in the correct key to go along with the rest of the concert, but for me, sadly, so much of Bach's musicfor string orchestra is just so reminiscient of drive-time classical that its hard to hear without vibrations of most-hated auto-commuting. There was also a throw-away modernist piece on the frist half, by a guy named Frank Michael Beyer, who was present in the concert hall. Intersting textures, I suppose, but dense in that kind of way... to trail off a bit, I feel like the piece fit into the concert well, but in general, my reaction is that I think its good that modernist music gets played, since it reminds us that a lot of people wrote that kind of music. It's like all the other Baroque music that isn't Bach and isn't quite as good, but provides a lot of useful context.

As for the Shostakovich, I'm always a bit torn by this arrangement of the quartet. This is the third or fourth time that I've heard the string orchestra version played in concert, and I always end up feeling a bit manipulated by it. There's obviously something very powerful in the piece, and hearing, especially, for example, the 2nd movement, played by a larger group can be almost overwhelming. Although, this time, the entire concert up to that point had me in such a good mood that I just rocked out with it, rather than concerning myself with any stated or unstated emotional context/reaction. Or also, in one of the later movements, where a solo violin holds out its tenuous high note, and a whole group of strings behind it hits their chords, rather than just three other instruments, there's this notion to me of it being a wee bit much.

The string players of the Radio symphony, though, in this concert, played phenomenally. Wonderful sense of ensemble. The chamber musical hall is just as acoustically marvelous as the philharmonic hall. And they really just dug in to their instruments. Across all the concerts I've heard thus far here in Berlin, the string-sound just blows me away. It just sounds more locked in than orchestras in the states. Its got me in a pretty-much full-blown classicay-music-nerd phase... I'm skipping De La Soul w/ Prince Paul tonight in order to save more euros for future classical concerts. Oh well.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Office Life, Colonel's Special Edition

From: [office manager]
Sent: Thursday, May 24, 2007 3:42 PM
To: [entire office]
Subject: chicken

There is some extra crispy chicken in the oven in the basement kitchen.


From: [office manager]
Sent: Thursday, May 24, 2007, 3:55 PM
To: [entire office]
Subject: RE: chicken

No, there is not chicken to eat in the basement kitchen. Someone put some chicken in the oven and forgot about it. It’s been in there a long time.


Considering there's often extra food left over from board meetings and such, you can understand the confusion.

You know, I've been working in manuscript editorial for close to a year now, and this is the first missing hyphen I've seen that actually affected the meaning of something.

On the other hand, this is not the first time that someone in the office has left food in the oven all day, which makes me wonder whether we should really have access to kitchen appliances, Ivy League intellectual credentials or no.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Other Things in Boston

Other pieces of the Boston weekend puzzle, which fit together so nicely. Primarily for my own future reference, since I fear forgetting things that I don't write down now.

Near constant rain, for one thing. I buy an umbrella at 7 pm at Harvard Square on Friday and leave it in a restaurant near Harvard Square at 7 pm on Saturday. (New personal record for umbrella loss!) Party at college friend Blair's apt. Friday evening; met up with college friend Olga there, walked back to her dorm to crash for the night.

Saturday morning alone at the aquarium, where there is a fascinating exhibit of jellyfish and of course a whole huge lot of young kids, whose presence makes me feel surprisingly out of place. The Saint-Gaudens in Boston Common is being gawked at by tourists in a duck tour car. The old grave markers in the Granary Cemetery are quietly absorbing: remote but not really so far in the past. Cheating into five minutes of a tour group teaches me that Sam Adams in fact married into his brewing business and drove it into the ground.

Candlepin bowling after Nate's arrival, in Somerville with college friend Rory; we are neck and neck and don't do very well (as expected) but we all improve by ten points in game #2. Dinner with college friend Al. BMOP concert; Blair comes on a whim and a rush ticket; afterwards drinks (Corona, margarita, Corona) at a Mexican place with Blair and her boyfriend and their roommate, who's a Pittsburgher.

Blair & Patrick drive Nate & me to the Motel 6 all the way the hell down in Braintree at about 2 AM. We were going to take the T, earlier, till the drinking thing came up. I mailed them a "Thanks for driving my twin brother and me all the way out to Braintree the other night" card this morning, Tuesday.

("Braintree" has got to be one of my favorite place names anywhere. The other terminus of the Red Line, "Alewife," is also pretty good.)

Long Sunday brunch with Nate's friend Lisa. Nate & I have a quick beer near Fenway before he leaves for the airport and I hit the park for a two-hour rain delay. (Pictured, via camera phone. A coworker had emailed around the office Friday that she had, suddenly, two extra tickets for Sunday. I bought these on principle & couldn't quite give away the extra one.) After the rain delay, late afternoon sunlight and a swath of a radiantly Norman Rockwell-looking baseball evening that rather redeems the whole lead-in to it. The whole crowd has stuck it out; Jason Varitek hits a first-inning, bases-loaded triple; I leave at the seventh-inning stretch for dinner with Al again, back up in Cambridge, and then the 9:45 train home.

Night from a railroad car window
Is a great, dark, soft thing
Broken across with slashes of light.

Or, in this case, images of harbors and their associated industry floating by in the dark, and a long, inane cell-phone conversation emanating from the woman in the seat in front of me.

You’ve Got to Admit It’s a Great House

Foremost among a satisfying collection of Boston activities this weekend was the long-anticipated first U.S. performance of Steve Mackey’s Dreamhouse, put on by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project up at Harvard. The performance was fantastic.

It’s not likely to be performed often; I wonder if ever again, though thankfully BMOP is producing a recording. Dreamhouse, by all rights, should persist as some kind of cult classic. It’s a huge production: five vocalists, including a lead part that Rinde Eckert and only Rinde Eckert is equipped to sing; electric guitar quartet; large orchestra.

Mackey’s program note for the piece provides the thematic background; you can find it on his website along with the libretto. The text's unfocused array of scenes and musings is matched by the energetic sprawl of the work, 45 minutes in total, which lands on and flits away from themes and developments usually without staying on any one thing for more than a couple of minutes at a time. The big exception to this is the tune that spins out for the last several minutes of the piece, an immediately catchy, drifting melody setting the words “I’ll build you a dreamhouse, where you can live, where you’ll be safe”—the central spirit of the piece, a melody at once an advertising jingle and a sad call to an impossible belief. It repeats over and over in variations for the vocalists and bigger swaths of the orchestra, growing from a dreamy whisper to a full-throated anthem to a rougher, bombastic conclusion.

Beforehand it’s a kitchen-sink grab bag of riffs, outbursts, lopsided grooves, and shaded pools of harmony, with the vocalists bopping along and the orchestra throwing big rough-edged splashes of color around, often underlined by the guitars’ rocky crunch. Mackey started composing as a 21-year-old kid who’d been playing electric guitar and then fell in love with Stravinsky, and Dreamhouse reflects that pretty perfectly.

It’s quirky, flawed, and ingenious, and it worked extremely well in concert. The one real problem was the inability to make out the singers’ lyrics whenever the music got at all loud, which is pretty often. I’m not sure whether this would improve in different spaces. (Otherwise the acoustics were fine, and the sound design in the other half of the concert seemed very impressive.) I think you just get five miked singers and four electric guitars onstage with a huge orchestra, and something’s going to get lost in the mix.

Eckert, who also wrote the text, has this resonant falsetto register with a cartoonish warble to it. He’s well over six feet tall and has a bald, bulb-like head, so it’s a striking image when he’s onstage. Oddly he looked very reined in, not vocally but physically; just standing there, despite a couple of mini-dramatic movements.

BMOP itself sounds incredibly good, and very tight, especially for an orchestra that only gives several concerts a year. Their conductor, Gil Rose, must have a handle on things too, considering how difficult this program was. If mainstream orchestras threw themselves into even a little bit of new music this vibrant and extroverted it’s hard to think at least a few people wouldn’t start to notice.

(House frame image courtesy the Internet.)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Twin Stuff

I noticed on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website today (while checking in on the Pirates' godawful weekend roundup) this story about school districts in Pittsburgh deciding whether or not to separate twins in the classroom. This actually isn't very interesting, and I can't even really tell why this story was even written, but it's obviously relevant, as far as that goes.

Looking back at unpleasant experiences in elementary and middle school, I think "sharing classroom with twin brother" has a hard time cracking the top 8500 or so. Nate and I were usually split up, though.

On a related note, I met someone a couple of weeks ago who said she also has a twin brother, named Nate, who went to Carnegie Mellon, majored in computer science, and graduated not far off in '01. I don't suppose you knew this guy, Nate?

Spider-Man 3: Long, Dumb

Back from Boston, back to work. I'm still pretty tired, partially since I took a late night train yesterday, partially since I just watched Spider-Man 3 with some coworkers. It is long and dumb. Not particularly dumb, but just regular dumb is dumb enough. I'd say some snarky things about it, but that would be like saying snarky things about Taco Bell. Why bother: the point is to not eat at Taco Bell.

The one thing I do like about the Spider-Man movies is their portrayal of the New York City subway system, which gets less and less plausible every time. I think it was the second movie that featured a long uptown elevated line that just stopped in the middle of nowhere. In 3 there's a scene of a cavernous underground sewer with narrow, wooden-looking subway trestles criss-crossing each other over a deep pit.

The movie's something like two and a half hours long.

Oiseaux Relativement Exotiques

Dulles bird sighting of note, Monday edition: On the outbound Dulles Toll Road, feeding on one of the many animal carcasses that the relevant local authority sees fit to let decompose on the shoulder -- could it be an American Black Vulture? Either that or my first thought, i.e. "that is one big, bald crow."

Dance of the Seven Hundred Craning Tourist Necks

So I went to see the Berliner Staatsoper last night. Richard Strauss' Salome. It was a really good performance. I think I inherited a biological fear of bad tenors from our mother, but the dude singing Herod was actually quite good. The brass in the pit, as per usual, took the R. Strauss at the top of the page as an invitation to blow the shit out of their instruments, which is, of course, wonderful to hear, all those horns and trombones on the edge of proper intonation, playing so loud its hard to keep from distorting. Wunderbar!

My stated dislikes, in the musical world, include Romantic-era Opera and Richard Strauss (with the caveats of Tod und Verklarung, the last 4 Lieder, and Metamorphosen), so the fact that I didn't fall asleep during this concert attest to its goodness (and maybe also its shortness?). One of my great claims to fame is sleeping through all but about 30 minutes of The Flying Dutchman once (Wagner, not Strauss, I know, but bear with me...) which included sleeping through an intermission (so so proud of that), so really, not sleeping is a big complement. Or maybe I'm just all growed up now.

Before yesterday, my last opera was Pittsburgh's 2004 production of Dead Man Walking, so I think Berliner Staatoper's Salome is a bit of an upgrade for my last opera to have seen.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Further Airport Notes

* Usually when I book a round-trip itinerary through La Guardia I expect to actually touch down there at some point during the trip. The U.S. Airways shuttle today was just a mess: cancellations, delays up and down the Boston - New York - Washington corridor. Vague mentions of weather systems and mechanical problems; rumors from passengers of crews calling in sick. A harried woman behind the ticketing counter having trouble updating my flights, because either the "new computer system" has glitches or (to use a slightly precious tech industry formulation) PEBKAC. Since I got rebooked both yesterday and today onto nonstop flights, though, my net additional travel time for the weekend was approximately zero. Not that I can say that my modified, roundabout return trip (Logan -> National Airport -> Super Shuttle -> Dulles Economy Parking) was preferable to burning a couple of hours in a La Guardia terminal, reading Le Ton Beau de Marot and drinking overpriced beer.

* When I tried to show my plastic toiletries baggie to the TSA guy at the security check this afternoon I realized I left it at the Motel 6 in Braintree. Total estimated replacement cost: perhaps 6 or 7 dollars. Total estimated loss of sentimental value: minimal, though I'd been using that same broken comb since something like the seventh grade.

* Dulles bird sighting of note, Sunday edition: Pelican, gliding rather majestically at sunset over the airport access road.

* Dulles bird sighting of note, Saturday edition: Sparrow or finch, flying low and perplexedly through Concourse D.

* Various travel ridiculousnesses were so very worth it for the sprawling, sometimes messy glory of "Dreamhouse". More detailed commentary along those lines once the slight air- and carsickness subside.

Longhand Pseudo-Blogging, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Unintended Layover

[Originally written on 5/19/2007 at 11:08 AM. Transcription below. It is surprisingly difficult to buy a pad of paper in an airport terminal. -- ed.]


It isn't really a layover per se because I'm still in my home city: My "Dreamhouse" itinerary had me flying from IAD to LGA and thence (after a late morning wait in New York) on to BOS, but United 846 was cancelled shortly after its scheduled departure since the pilot didn't show. Couldn't reach him at home, couldn't reach him on his cell. I hope the captain is OK; an unusual circumstance.

After an hour or so of waiting online, I was rebooked on a later flight direct to Boston from Dulles, so (knock on wood) my total delay won't last any longer than a couple of hours. And I am ultimately happy with the airline's customer service process, which limited the period of complete confusion about what would happen to around twenty minutes or so.

While stuck near the front of the customer service queue in Concourse C (two of three agents were occupied for a long time with knotty international itineraries; if this were an Internet server protocol, I grumbled to myself, us easy requests would be processed first) I overheard a useful and soothing bit of perspective from the person in front of me: a military-looking man probably in his mid-thirties, lean face and a close haircut, talking to a young son with a similar close haircut who was fussing a bit at his feet. "Do you know something funny? Every single person in this line probably wants to do exactly what you're doing, throw themselves on the floor and go, 'It's so unfair!' But we have to stand here like, 'It's okay, I can mostly handle this.' It's not so different being an adult except you have to act like you don't care. It's strange." Said in a calming, humorous, fatherly tone of voice. It is strange.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Cartoon Trainride to a Wistful West

Hallo Leute!

I went to see another Berliner Philharmoniker concert last night, this time Claudio Abbado conducting a reconstructed Bach Violin Konzert, Weill's Violin Concerto, and Brahms' 3rd Symphony. Seats were Stehplatz, about as high and as far right as you can go in the concert hall. The acoustics, still, continue to astound; obviously the orcehstra sounds a bit more distant from way up there (as opposed to the directly-behind-the-orchestra podiumplaty seat I had for the Jansons/Mahler 1 concert. Did I ever mention, incidentally, how broad Jansons' tempos were for Petroushka? Thats a piece that defies stoicism, but he did his best (but also did manage to bring out a lot of the more theatrical aspects through those slow-ass tempos).

Anyway, it was supertoll to see Abbado conduct. He moved through the Brahms in a rather incredible way. I'd never heard Weill's Violin Concerto before, but it was a pretty cool piece, especially its first and second movements (the third lost me for most of it until its Coda, where it becomes a bit more obvious frantic rush into nonsense). The first movement especially, utilizes a rythmic groove that sounds something like an off kilter train, and then theres some scenery, provided by the solo violin, often in a very different mode than the wind orchestra behind it.

Incidentally, I think maybe the best thing about the Berliner Phil is its Woodwind section (including the horns) - especially its quintet of Principal players. They were locked in, soundwise, during the Brahms, as well as Iäve ever heard a Woodwind section sound.

On Thursday, I went to a free concert at a church of Messain's L'Ascencsion (spelling...), it being Christi fahrt in Himmel day and all. It turned out to actually be a whole church service with the Messain interspersed through it, so that was a drag. The sermon was like 45 minutes long. I caught some of it, but not much, reminded me of being little and going to church with our Grandparents. Well played though, and interesting music (perhaps made more interesting by the boredome between movements).

And also on Thursday, I went and saw David Lynch's new movie Inland Empire (in English with German subtitles). It's kind of a mess, but generally interesting. It's like he decided that Mulholland Dr. was too easy. Its in digital video, as opposed to film.

And finally, I've officially upgraded my personal appraisal of my German knowledge from "nur ein Bisschen" to "nicht genug."

Friday, May 18, 2007

City Symphony

Dreamhouse this weekend. I turn in early tonight to fly to Boston early tomorrow. To whet my concert-going appetite, though, I went to the Kennedy Center this evening to watch Leonard Slatkin conduct the National Symphony.

The main draw for me was Jennifer Higdon's "City Scape", a three-movement tone painting of metropolitan life composed five or so years ago. Jack highly recommended this to me a little while ago; I hadn't previously heard Higdon's music but I enjoyed this piece -- angular and energetic, a charismatic medium-weight piece, illustrative and earnestly and not too deep. The first movement, "SkyLine", struck me as an extended overture in a fractured, post-Copland style, inevitably reminiscent (given the program) of brushed steel and plate glass. The second movement, "river sings a song to trees", opened and closed in a still, Japanese-garden kind of mode, with hushed strings and exotic percussion (what was the instrument responsible for that eerie, wavering metallic tone?) but in between it opens up into a forceful, painterly flow of sound -- like Gustav Holst's Hammersmith by way of Ferdé Grofé, but with cooler and deeper currents and the sonorities turned way up. The third movement, "Peachtree Street", evoked general urban bustle and ended the piece in charismatic fashion, full of forward motion and exposed sectional playing, including a couple spots of good old-fashioned counterpoint in the strings.

Higdon's style here reminds me of mid-twentieth century tonal American music, wide and broad; the way the trombones and tubas carry so many of the low-pitched lines makes it very reminiscent of wind band music for me too. Slatkin did a nice job of balancing the various textures throughout the work, though some too-long stretches of it came off at a room-temperature, mezzo-mezzo sort of loudness. The National Symphony's playing was rhythmically precise if a little stiff, so that the whole seemed to almost hang together but not quite, sort of like the various parts of a city...

The back half of the concert consisted of Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto performed by the 24-year-old Chinese pianist Lang Lang, who got something of a rock star's reception, or anyway its genteel concert-hall equivalent. The concerto's an obvious go-to piece for any skillful player who wants to look dazzling in the most flattering light possible, and Lang Lang gave it a brisk and virtuosic read. I was oddly distrustful of the explosion of applause he got at the end -- the reaction is just so obvious, and I feel somehow like the soloist is being coy with us, since for the whole forty minutes he never really emotes. (That's by Tchaikovsky's design; the emotional breadth of the work ranges from "mildly wistful" on up to, well, basically this.) That being said, Lang Lang did sound fantastic -- all clear, sharp lines and limpid quiets in the first movement, warmer and remarkably fluid running figures in the second and third movements, the requisite acrobatics in the final minutes performed with wit and a balletic lightness of touch. He quickly acceded to playing an encore, a quiet, tuneful, vaguely Asiatic little piece -- could have been an arranged Chinese folk song, could have been early Debussy -- in a remarkably liquid tone somewhere between harp and music box.

The opening work on the program was George Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody No. 2, not his best Romanian Rhapsody but an intermittently engaging postcard of a piece. The orchestra opened with some collective energy but it seemed to dissipate after a couple of minutes, particularly during some unconvincing exposed woodwind duets. (The principal oboist in particular sounded weak and pitchy to me, not for the first time.) At about the ten-minute mark the piece seems to be building towards a rollicking, folk-flavored outburst that should barrel along for two or three more minutes, but Enescu apparently thinks better of it at the last minute and lets the rhapsody dribble off into silence instead. Somewhat perplexing. Fun fact from the program notes: The NSO made the premiere recording of the piece for RCA, I presume sometime in the 1930s.

This concert seemed to have a lot of groups of children attending it. I was sitting behind a good-sized group of (I think) young Chinese-American families, including three six- or seven-year-old boys who sat side by side by side a couple of rows in front of me. Some whispers and general restlessness, which I find myself increasingly able to deal with some patience (though my understanding of the music takes on a curious undertone of ill will towards children). The adults nearby did put the kibosh on the arm-waving that they parroted Slatkin with. After the second movement of the Higdon they discovered they could provoke a smattering of unsure, between-movements applause throughout the hall by clapping just once or twice; they repeated the trick after the second movement of the Tchaikovsky. In the hall at intermission, I overheard a late arrival to their group, a short and very articulate girl (probably nine or ten) tell an older friend, "I missed the first half, but I'll hear the Tchaikovsky, which is what I came for," and caught myself sighing inwardly: No regret that you missed the Higdon piece? So young, and already such conservative tastes...

I am totally on

And a little backstory...

This scene was the only one that was succesfully shot by my friend Nick Marino, for the B&W, silent film based on the screenplay for the epic time travel adventure (in color, with sound) Time Log, co-written by myself and Nick. The scene is the one where the main character takes his first trip into the past, in order to beat up Stephen Foster. For a complete script, or a text-only outline for a three part comic book series, or a shorter, fully framed and dialogued one-issue comic book version (outline) of the story (complete with rough-sketched blocking for several pages, please inquire within and I can provide you with them. Good reading, indeed!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Delayed Greetings from the Land of Port

Portland, Oregon, originally uploaded by nateborr.

Oregon pictures are gradually making their way to the flickr page.

Passive Wrath

This might be a wee bit spolierish, but, felt like typing something...

So I just watched Aguirre: The Wrath of God yesterday here in Berlin, on a tiny TV in the Institut's mediothek. No english subtitles this time. I was able to gather much of the dialogue, but not nearly all of it, which made for a very interesting read of the film this time around. I was reminded very quickly of Sam Fuller's The Big Red One. In The Big Red One (which is perhaps most notable, unfortunately, for its casting of both Mark Hamill and Robert Carradine in non´ridiculous roles) the characters that continue to survive battles through World War II become empowered by their non-deaths. A crucial aspect of the film is how there is a kind of deification that occurs in certain-death type situations for the people that don't day. It's something that I haven't seen captured in any other WWII films.

With Herzog's journey-into-death film, a similar thing occurs - the members that survive the longest gain a sort of mythic status. And, of course, Aguirre himself find that he has in fact, as the Leader of the Living, become a god. He utters somethign to the extent of "we shall endure" towards the end - it is this endurance is the foundation for his deification.

What makes Aguirre especially interesting to me is that I read it as implicating the West's relationship with madness. Especially as a German film. Heidegger wrote that madness can be seen as a means of escape from ideology (using the example, primarily, of Friedrich Höldrelin (and incidentally, man, its fucking great having a keyboard (other typos aside) that has the umlaut vowels so handy)), but Herzog shows that madness does not lead to any sort of better place. When Aguirre is the only one left alive on the raft, with a veritable fuckload of monkeys, I think one can interpret that infestation (and that infestation is set up brilliantly earlier in the film with a shot of a mouse carrying its young away from a nest) of a lesser ape as demonstration that madness is path leading downwards, not upwards.

Incidentally, the best Kinksi glare out there, for me, is actually in Herzog's Woyzeck, right at the end.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Notes on a Nautically-Themed Pittsburgh Weekend

This past weekend I drove up to the family homestead in Pittsburgh, mainly to see the Pittsburgh Opera's production of Billy Budd, which was well worth the 250 mile drive.

The show's original Billy Budd, Nathan Gunn, cancelled midweek due to laryngitis, but replacement baritone David Adam Moore fit seamlessly into the production. His nicely shaded vocal work brought the right mix of regret, anger, naivety, and acceptance to Billy's solo ruminations in the next to last scene, as he waits in irons for his execution at morning. (Prior to that point in the opera Billy functions mainly as a symbol of innocence and masculine beauty, more seen than heard.) Tenor Robin Leggate also impressed me in the front-and-center role of Captain Vere -- forcefully sung, strongly and plainly characterized, aptly depicting a self-described "man of action" experiencing a philosophical crisis.

Most of all, I thought the Opera's orchestra and chorus gave an impressively muscular performance. Britten's scores are more complex and dramatically critical than anything else I can think of them playing in recent memory but they were more than proficient -- more so than I expected of them before. The climactic hanging scene sounded especially striking, as the near-mutinous sailors' anger builds to a head of inchoate choral outbursts before the officers force it back down into a more muted unrest.

The Francesca Zambello production is spare and effective: The stage is dominated by an elevated, decklike platform that juts out over the orchestra pit, and a mast/ cross that casts a long shadow over the planking. (The obvious Christ imagery there isn't any more overbearing than in the libretto.) The opera is framed with reminiscences from a much older Captain Vere and as the production nears the end the elderly man begins to drift into the shipboard scenes, adding a subtle element of dream and memory to the atmosphere.

I don't know if it's a matter of budget or filling seats or what, but the Opera is planning to withdraw from this kind of ambitious programming next season, a return to their form of a few years ago; I really wish they would keep dedicating some resources to this kind of non-standard fare.

Perhaps also due to illness, the Sadler's Wells Hippy-Shake Kickline Revue did not make its planned appearance.

For good measure, I took yesterday off from work in order to stick around Pittsburgh long enough on Sunday to see a Pirates game with Dad and Mike. The Pirates commentary on this blog has subsided as the team's early performance has been typically miserable -- but the Bucs managed a blowout against Atlanta, running up 13 runs on a steady stream of small ball (that's 6 more runs than their previous one-game high this season). Not long on drama but it's fun to watch the starting lineup actually, you know, hit. They put up 5 runs against the Marlins' bullpen last night but so far tonight it sounds like it's back to Mendoza line-skirting biz as usual; maybe they should keep swinging those pink Race-for-the-Cure bats they were given for Mother's Day.

Bud Bowl II

[email received from Pete, Monday, 9:30 AM Eastern time. copied herein with his permission.]

Subject: hi jack, ur dumb

so i looked at th blog, that post about beer. and trid to post a response post, but it was too incohrrent and angry.

i still wantd to recogniye that your ndorsement of that othr dudes post about bud saddens me. i thought you had highr standards for pros than that.

maybe somtim in august or july, if i have tim, ill scribbl somthing off about why bud is bad for th blog, but until thn. it is a wast of my time.

th misspllings hr whn I raraad this mail, make me look drunk or somthing, but its rally just th kyboard im using. th " " isnt working vry consitently. its the mid afternoon. im not drunk.

drink what you want, but dont indict my usag of my internet time her ein Berlin on th blog.


* * * * * * *

Anyway, I think we should all just relax and settle down a bit. Hey, maybe some flute jazz would help us out:

I should make it clear that I don't actually drink Budweiser.

Friday, May 11, 2007

At Lagerheads

I don't know if Pete has any time to read things online, seeing that he doesn't have much time to write things online, but I still want to pass along this seemingly well-informed defense of Budweiser. (Defense in the sense of standing up for the ability to think it tastes okay.) I'm still not going to drink the stuff, but, duly noted as food for thought.

This is easily the best paragraph I've read all week:
Budweiser does not taste like piss. Normal urine has a pH of 4.6 to 8.0. Budweiser, like most lagers, has a pH of around 4.0. Therefore, Budweiser is definitely more acidic than piss. It’s also just the ticket if you happen to be drinking beer for breakfast, as the fresh taste of the rice content goes particularly well with most cereals (it is not coincidental that nobody has yet marketed Barley Krispies).
A step past this, a historian named Maureen Ogle apparently wrote a book last year on the history of American beer brewing, and it sounds like it constitutes a full-on throwdown against the cherished beliefs of anti-corporate-brewery beer snobs.

Pete, it sounds like reading this book might put you in a huff! By which I mean, speak now or forever get it for your birthday this year.

Vocalizing with Mariss Jansons

So I went to my first Berliner Philharmoniker concert last night. Ganz fucking toll! Oh shit, there's no more time for me here in computer lab!

Well, they're really really good!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Herzlichen Gluckwunch nach Deutschland

Hallo Leute!

Iäm here on a computer in Germany that goes incredibly slow, so I have no tolerance to try and type mz schwein-Deutsch mit dieser Keyboard und Machine just jetztz. My spelling sind schlect und my Grammer is worse and mz Akcent ist worust than that.

Hopefully, if nothing else, ten, this post is comical. Look! Ich bin nach Deutschland.

There is only one other American in mz course, so that is good. Die Leute kommen aus Poland und Coasta Rica and South Korea and Bulgaria and Great Britain and Mexico and Egypt. A GOOD MIX: I HAVE HIT THE CAPSLOCK KEY SOMEHOW BUT DONT KNOW WHERE IT IS ON THIS KEYBOARD: FORGIVE ME FOR SHOUTING VIELLEICHT SOLL ICH JETZT AUSGEHEN:


again, i apologiye for the rampant mspellings of everything here, german and English alike.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Travel Times

Jackson Heights, Queens, is about as far away from New Haven in terms of travel time as Philadelphia is from Astoria. I am completely willing to throw six hours of train time at getting to and from Jackson Heights, apparently, for the sake of about six hours of social time there. Whereas going to Philly felt like a huge chore from Astoria, and I barely did so, even though I had (and have) a nontrivial number of college friends there I don't see very often.

Some kind of irrational framing? . . . I think I might just be psychologically dependent on the idea of being able to get into the NYC area at will, even if it's not particularly convenient.

What I wanted to do (Sunday, that is) was to spend the whole day in Queens, most likely hitting up the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, which I somehow have never gotten around to seeing. Instead I somehow caught a cold on Saturday, which conspired with some softball-practice-induced muscle soreness to keep me from getting out of bed till about 11:30. So I had a half-day instead.

In Jackson Heights, my college friend & once-roommate Rae (now in grad school in LA, and engaged) was in town and having a get-together with some of her NYC friends. I hadn't seen her since something like 2004. We all made paper "quilt" patterns out of art-store paper the apartment host had accumulated over the years: an unselfconscious arts & crafts pleasantry. Good olives on hand, and strawberries. And quiche! Not a bad time.

I generally like spending time on the roof of an outer-borough apartment building.

My '07-'08 apartment search is apparently over, if all ties itself up as expected, since the guy with that two-bedroom is willing to take the walkthrough room himself. This really brings my satisficing game to the next level, since it's the only apartment I looked at. Hopefully all will be well! I may be ahead of the curve for once.

The cold seems to have basically gone away already.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Chamber Music for Fun and Prizes

The town of Westport is one of the moneyed centers gravity in southwestern Connecticut, so I don't have much business in going there except for their neighborhood chamber music series, which feels like you suspect other town chamber music series would feel except that they're absolutely loaded to the gills with cash. Back in February they had the Kronos Quartet in, for example; last weekend they had the slightly more modest guests Trio Solisti (violin/cello/piano) and the composer Paul Moravec. This is still a good catch.

After a brilliantly satisfying Mendelssohn piano trio and one of those magnificent, interchangeable Astor Piazzolla arrangements, the trio added a clarinetist and played Moravec's "Tempest Fantasy," which won the Pulitzer Prize back in 2004. It is in fact a very good piece, mercurial but direct and appealingly airy. Moravec keeps a busy canvas going, with a multitude of lyrical lines and figures appearing and disappearing and bumping into each other at high speed. Harmonically it's pretty consonant but abstract, with the emotional touch kept very light. Think of a Sergei Prokofiev-style neoclassical piece, shattered into a zillion mirror-like pieces and then reconfigured into a mosaic.

There's a recording of it out, though I suspect it would lose a lot of personality offstage. (David Krakauer was not the clarinetist at last weekend's performance, by the way. I haven't heard him, but I hear he's amazing.) You wonder often about the survival prospects of new chamber music--where do you ever hear this stuff?--but hopefully this one will stick around.

Moravec himself is an appealing presence, thoughtful and down-to-earth--bonus points for wearing tennis shoes to the concert, in my book. Hopefully some more of his music will be floating around the region; I'd love to hear more.

More prizewinning chamber music listening: Sebastian Currier's "Static" (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano) from '03. It won the Grawemeyer Award this year and very shortly after came out on CD (hooray cultural funding) with some slightly earlier works. This is texturally very vibrant stuff; in particular, "Night Time" for violin and harp sounds like it has an impossibly rich range of sounds and colors. Stylistically it's modernist in the newer, less confrontational fashion; still, all the touchstones in the music are color, harmonic shading, gesture. Recommended if this is the sort of thing you like to sit down and pay attention to for a little while.

I'm glad to see a lesser-known composer take the Grawemeyer again; it's a large amount of cash, so on a purely functional level you'd like to see it going to an up-and-comer as opposed to, say, Pierre Boulez, which it did several years back. (Or even Gyorgy Kurtag, last year; he's great but he's old, and he already seems to be composing what he wants to.) On the other hand, the presence of the established top-of-their-game types makes the list of past Grawemeyer winners read as a pretty striking list of modern accomplishments. A good portion of that list is available on CD; what I've heard from it has been well worth hearing.

Welcome to the Monkey Raft

Last night a university film series was screening Werner Herzog's 1972 Aguirre: Der Zorn Gottes, which is immediately spellbinding. I hadn't heard of it before (or actually been at all familiar with Herzog's films, besides the excellent Grizzly Man), and I'm not surprised to learn how much acclaim it's picked up.

The storyline (which Herzog fabricated almost entirely, though it's presented as a historical event) concerns a party of Spanish conquistadors, split off from Pizarro's expedition in 1561, rafting down a jungle river into a slow death from starvation and Indian attacks; Klaus Kinski is Aguirre, the lurching, increasingly power-mad instigator of their doomed conquest. The camera work is fantastic and documentary-standoffish; the tone of the film, similarly, is usually remote and morbidly bemused, with a healthy dose of satire on the trappings of royalty. A couple of bizarrely jokey dissonant touches near the end help to underline the party's final hallucinatory descent.

Looking at German-speaking conquistadors is kind of striking.

Crucially, the film is a trim 1 hour and 40 minutes long; it is miraculous that something with this kind of drifting dramatic rhythm doesn't feel overlong. The music and soundtrack are spot-on, too. Pretty instantaneously unforgettable.

The production anecdotes in Wikipedia (hopefully accurate) are pretty fascinating, and I'd recommend them as a teaser for the film too. If you don't want to spoil an element of the final scene, stop reading after the paragraph about Herzog threatening Kinski with committing a murder-suicide.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Things to Do in Finland When You're Probably Pretty Drunk

Finnish wife-carrying contest.

Hmmmm . . . wife . . . carrying contest . . . in Finland, you say . . . yep, I'm in! Sweet! Oh no wait, we're in Narragansett the weekend of July 7. Darn.

Woulda rocked that one.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Kicking, Hitting

The Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette pithily summarizes his opinion of rookie punter Daniel Sepulveda, whom the Steelers selected after trading up in the 4th round of the NFL Draft: "He punts like Ray Guy, tackles like Jack Lambert, heals like Rod Woodson. If you're going to throw away two draft picks for a punter, make it a good one."

From my highly uninformed, armchair-Moneyball type perspective I think Bouchette's ambivalence is warranted. As he pointed out in his Internet chat this week, Sepulveda's 46.5-yard average is only about three and a half yards longer than the NFL average. I imagine there are some other nonnegligible punting abilities to take into account, but I'd be interested in what the economic value of an elite punter versus an average one is in terms of winning football games. When Steelers' director of football operations Kevin Colbert gushes that Sepulveda is a "big, strong, physical guy" it sounds like he's inflating the value of those qualities in this particular type of niche player based on a general and somewhat romanticized idea of how football players should play.

My point in bringing this up, though, is that the highlight video from Baylor that the article links to is completely great. A top-notch punter might only be a nice-to-have, but a punter laying out the guy returning his punt like that? That's an awesome-to-have.

Daily Dairy Desideratum

On the other side of the parking lot adjacent to the office there's a cute little gelato & sorbet place, which is coming in handy now that the weather has decided to get nice. The puzzle pieces that fit this one are having a couple or three like-minded coworkers also interested in sneaking out for a quarter hour around 3 pm, and having an office-side patio that warms up blissfully in the sun. Let's never go inside again.

Steve Reich was on campus a couple of weeks ago for a barely-publicized event involving a fellowship awarded by one of the university's residential colleges; he did a shortish Q&A after a fine performance of his Sextet given by the university's impressive Percussion Group. (I hadn't heard the Sextet before this, and it's a great piece, with a boppy piano part and a beautiful section where the melody is carried by bowed mallet instruments; formally it's the kind of active, scene-shifting multi-movement suite more familiar in his recent works.) I was glad to have not missed this. I was not glad to have missed an apparently similar event on Monday night where John Adams gave a talk after a student performance of Shaker Loops, which was also almost completely unpublicized to the university community. What gives?

Tuesday afternoon my coworkers & I are walking out of the gelato shop, and who's coming in the door but Adams and Ingram Marshall (another fascinating composer, who teaches here). No eye contact or anything, just that quick kind of jolting thought of "Oh! hey, he's famous." My coworker Alex, who's into minimalism and was even more disappointed to miss a brush with Shaker Loops than I was, snuck back to at least get a good look at him; if we'd been two minutes later, he noted, we'd know what kind of gelato he liked.

I'm looking for a new apartment share starting in July; I'm at least ahead of the curve this year, knowing that I'll actually be working here. I took a first look at one tonight, with a guy who seemed really nice but whose landlord-to-be (this guy moves into the place in June) forgot to show up and let us into the apartment. During the course of chatting we realized that his cousin works at the company I left last February, and that she started working there last March, and that she is in fact the person doing my old job. Funny! I met her once at an ex-coworker's barbecue last summer.

The place itself probably won't work out since the open room is a walkthrough, though the price and location are good enough I'd consider trying to get a temporary wall in there if the layout geometry accommodates it. Still: not likely to be satisficient. Onwards and upwards . . .

Cricket Schism

Two interesting articles about criticism: the New York Times reports on the fading landscape of newspaper book reviews; and the Orange County Register's excellent classical critic Tim Mangan mulls over friendliness and objectivity.

I'm not heavily invested in there being professional book reviews since I don't read them (yes, I'm a bad book geek); but I guess the question would come down to "Do you want people being paid to devote themselves full-time to thinking about what makes good books," and my knee-jerk answer to that is "Yes." At the same time, I don't think we'd lose any vital cultural function, like the ability to identify books worth reading; in fact I think there we're better equipped with a wide field full of small critics, each chirping away indepedently. But of course there are widely divergent views on this.

I don't have any particular thing to say about the Tim Mangan post, besides that I think it's interesting and nicely written.

Besides sounding vaguely like the word "criticism," the phrase "cricket schism" applies to an actual course of events in the Australian sports scene in the late 1970s. If you are more interested in this than I am, read away.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Two Bits on Recording

Since I don't know how to block-quote gracefully in comments, I'll break out my response to Pete's Carlos Kleiber post here, first by reproducing a chunk of one Michael Kennedy's liner note to EMI's CD reissue of a Ludwig/ Wunderlich/ Klemperer/ (New) Philharmonia Orchestra studio recording of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, because that album is very particularly a product of studio engineering:

Those who condemn recording as an artificial process compared with live performance, a "thing of shreds and patches" assembled from various "takes" on tape, could cite Otto Klemperer's last recording of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde ("The Song of the Earth") as a prime example of all their objections... The first sessions were between 19 and 22 February 1964 in Kingsway Hall, London, with Christa Ludwig, followed by more in Studio No.1, Abbey Road, on 7 and 8 November with Fritz Wunderlich. Those November sessions were the last appearance of the original Philharmonia Orchestra before its founder, Walter Legge, attempted to disband it in (more or less) a fit of pique. The players themselves then reconstituted the orchestra as the New Philharmonia and it was under this title that it recorded with Christa Ludwig again to complete the recording of Das Lied von der Erde in Studio No.1 from 6 to 9 July 1966. From start to finish, therefore, the recording sessions spanned 29 months! Wunderlich and Ludwig, who had sung the work in public with Klemperer in London on 13 April 1961, did not meet during the sessions and Wunderlich died in September 1966. Yet the recording is a classic and, by some miracle, Klemperer imposed a sense of unity on it. Few tenors have sung the first movement with such heroic lyricism as Wunderlich (aided undoubtedly by the microphone)...

(Maybe our resident manuscript editor knows how to make this clear in type, but I don't so I'll just say it: The first ellipsis above is Kennedy's and the one at the end is mine.)

The traditionally understood tradeoff between studio and concert recordings is precision vs. a semi-intangible focus and energy; I'd be interested in how that would hold up in a blind taste test. I'd also be interested in whether the proportion of studio vs. "live" classical albums has shifted towards the latter as sound engineering techniques have advanced and it has become (I presume) easier to record and mix them with a high level of sophistication.

(For instance, Mariss Jansons' recording of Shostakovich's eighth with the Pittsburgh Symphony from a few years back (apparently it's already out of EMI's catalog as a standalone) was assembled from "takes" from various rehearsals and a weekend's worth of performances, with nary an extraneous sound to be heard. In fact it is paired, peculiarly and rather lazily, with a longish excerpt of Jansons rehearsing the third movement with the PSO. Incidentally, in that clip he makes reference to playing Shostakovich's seventh symphony soon, which he never did with that orchestra; it was planned for the next season but pulled due to budgetary constraints on the number of orchestral players. What they swapped in, though, was the tremendous Shostakovich's tenth that we discussed to some extent here, one of Jansons' most memorable PSO performances for me.)

In terms of the wider cultural impact of listening to recorded music versus live performances: I think the biggest practical issue, and probably the biggest theoretical one if you formulate it right, is that listeners accustomed to records tend to treat "the music" as something of a concrete product in itself, as opposed to something that emerges from a performance and all the attendant glitches in playing, audience noises, acoustical problems, and other such real-life features that tend to get buffed out of the experience of commercially engineered recordings. A by-product of that is a fetishization of the technical quality of a concert and (though I may be reaching a bit on this point) a loss of appreciation of music as a performative act, a product of something that people do rather than as a stream of sound that enters your ears somehow. Thus, a less rich sense of communication with the players, and through them with the composer.

I'm basing a lot of that on comparing how I listened to concerts at first (about a decade ago, now) to how I listen to them now, which may mean that some of it is just a feature of musical maturity. I expect much of it is common, though. It took me a while before I wasn't annoyed if a violin soloist stopped between the first and second movements of a concerto to retune their instrument, or bothered by the reasonable levels of audience noise that attentive listeners can't help but make. (I still have trouble getting past hearing aids being tuned, children twisting balloon animals, or boys rubbing girls' pantyhosed legs. That last one, if you're sitting near a young and not terribly musical couple out on the town, almost invariably starts about eight minutes into the first movement; I know the student union gave you a discount on the tickets, kids, but can you take it someplace where the only person who'll be bothered is the person in the bunk bed above yours?) Listening to a bunch of fuzzy, ill-balanced archival Soviet recordings helped me work past a lot of that; in a way I started to listen past any album's recording quality, even if it was better than what 1960s-era Russian technology had to offer.

As for "truth-value", though I'm not clear on precisely what that means, I'm not sure I buy that a recording puts a fundamentally new layer between the symbolic structures in the composer's or performer's head and the symbolic structures in yours. Except for the mostly practical issues above, I think listening to music is subjective enough that "truth" isn't going to be a meaningful property of a performance, at least as I'm inclined to define it. You could make the claim that our culture's reliance on recorded music comes at the expense of experiencing live performances, but at least for large-scale classical music virtually every choice would be between hearing a piece on record or not at all. I guess you could further say that that very availability of music fundamentally cheapens our experience of it -- there's probably an economic basis for that claim, given some of the incidental points still fresh in my mind from Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice -- but for anyone who's ever torn through one artist's discography or another I think that argument would have to ring a little bit false.

The Nature of the Dialogue

Maybe I need to focus a bit a restate a little bit:

It has been my personal experience, as a listener-to of classical music, that for certain pieces of music of which recordings have been made that are well known to me I have found concert-going experiences (that is, being in the audience for a live performance of the recorded musics) greatly diminished due to the inability of my brain to not unfavorably compare the live performance with the established greatness of the recording in question. Specifically, for instance, I have never heard a Beethoven 7 to the level of satisfaction brought by the aforementioned Carlos Kleiber w/ Vienna recording. Same goes for Berlioz' Symphony Fantastique and the Tilson Thomas w/ San Francisco recording.

It may be something that I can unlearn, and maybe I'm over-generalizing, but I tend to see it as a problem with the contemporary experience of classical music as a whole. I can't, as a pragmatist, really see anything wrong with studio magic, and indeed do enjoy my fair share of studio recordings of classical works, but at the same time, have had enough of those quasi-mystical concert-going experiences that I do value the live performance over the recording. I'm not really sure that its a position that I can in any way defend beyond just saying that its aesthetic, and my aesthetic likes live music.

That argument from the point of aesthetics doesn't really do it for me though ("Does the fact that I'm trying to do it for you do it for you?"). Somethings missing, hence the attempted greater reading of the problem of recordings as a whole. I think we all agree that this music is vital, but seems in danger of ever-further devitalization. I tend to think that classical music is its own worst enemy. And the recording industry is part of that self-destructiveness, simply because it does change the nature of the dialogue between the concert-goer and the concert.

Two Jokes from Matt Groening-Produced TV Shows that I Think Douglas Hofstadter Would Like

Two jokes from Matt Groening-produced TV shows that I think Douglas Hofstadter would like, just because I've watched both episodes recently and they came to mind this evening.

From The Simpsons:
Krusty the Clown (promoting an SUV): I'm tellin' ya, the Canyonero is the Cadillac of automobiles!

From Futurama:
Bender (a robot): I need a calculator.
Fry (a human): You are a calculator.
Bender: I mean a good calculator.

If I owned copies of Goedel, Escher, Bach or Metamagical Themas I would try to point to some material discussing, respectively, "X is the Y of class-of-Y" analogy-making and the implications of designing a machine that could solve mathematical problems with human-like flexibility.