Monday, September 27, 2010

Come On and Join Our Convoy

With that 79-yard Brett Keisel return yesterday, the Steelers currently have four linebackers and a defensive end on the team who've run back ridiculously long turnovers in the past couple of years. Huge Guys Rumbling All the Way Across the Field for Touchdowns isn't an official stat or anything, but I suspect the Steelers lead the NFL in it. So let's pick up a couple of lead blockers and barrel down memory lane!

In chronological order:

11/30/2008. Well, OK, this one doesn't technically count, but Lawrence Timmons snatches a Matt Cassel pass in New England and runs it from the 10 to about a foot shy of the other end zone. I still want to feel generous and figure that the call could easily have gone the other way. Not quite enough gas in the tank for Timmons. I think if he ever manages to get another one of those, he takes it the whole way. (Bonus footage: watch Gary Russell punch in the touchdown, then celebrate with fellow Super Bowl champions Matthew Spaeth, Carey Davis, and Sean McHugh.)

2/1/2009. You may remember this one. As James Farrior so eloquently pronounced it, "BEST M[-----------]G RUNBACK IN SUPER BOWL HISTORY."

10/25/2009. Remember last season how the defense was constantly taking games into the 4th quarter and winning them with near-miraculous clutch plays? No? You are correct, they did not do that at all. Except that one week against the Vikings, when Lamarr Woodley and Keyaron Fox each returned a ball about 80 yards within the last 6 minutes of the game.

9/26/2010. Yeah Keisel.

That's all . . . for now. I'm kind of hoping Farrior manages to come up with one of these, and/or that Timmons gets another crack at one. Watching the front 7 squash guys every week is entertaining enough, but the big plays will really get things rocking.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Steelers 38, Buccaneers 13

Beatdown! It's nice to watch a beatdown again. The Steelers just pounded this one out of the Bucs. Tampa's got a young quarterback named Josh Freeman who a lot of people are comparing (on-field, fortunately) to Ben Roethlisberger. He had a couple of Ben-like moments, but Pittsburgh is a bad, bad defense to face down as a second-year quarterback.

--Man, Charlie Batch, also looking like Big Ben out there. (At least after his first throw, which fluttered right to a Tampa linebacker at the Steelers' 30.) All he does is throw three TD passes, including two deep quick strikes to Mike Wallace, plus he breaks out a gutsy 20+ yard run on a third down at one point, and he sneaks over a 4th-and-1 too. Looked way better than a breakable last resort: capable, in control, able to throw the ball with some zip. Just a great game for Charlie Batch. I assume this one gives him the next start against Baltimore next week, regardless of Leftwich's knee. Hopefully he can stand tall against an opponent capable of bringing a pass rush.

--The game was virtually done at halftime, 28 to 6. The reason to keep watching turned out to be Brett Keisel catching a tipped pass and rolling 80 yards into the end zone with it. For one thing, it's hilariously awesome when a 32-year-old defensive end busts out that kind of play. For another, Keisel looked like a little boy at Christmas afterwards, which is pretty great considering he also looks like a lumberjack.

--Troy got some amused camera coverage by "intercepting" an out-of-bounds Josh Freeman pass at the Steelers sideline, after he'd exited the game in the 4th quarter. Made a nifty little grab up high for it, too. The man likes intercepting things in his free time, too.

--It wasn't the most important contribution on the day, but Willie Gay looked good when he was in on the action, especially in streaking past a blocker and bringing down Freeman for a 9-yard sack. (Well played, Dick LeBeau, well played.) Ike Taylor let a Christmas ham of an interception clang off both his forearms, in other cornerback news.

--Pittsburgh Bucs do rather better than the Tampa ones today, too.

Maddie thought she'd be flying today but her trip was picked up by another flight attendant, and she's got a very appealing willingness to do the Steelers bar thing with me. I did my best to explain how football is played, but of course it mostly washes out to "guys crunching into each other," punctuated by the occasional big exciting play. She's happy when she sees me happy, which is very sweet, and hey, she got to learn early on how great Brett Keisel is. Which is a very satisfying lesson to teach, as you know, for a Steelers fan.

Went and Saw the Blood on the Streets

I’m writing up this concert with a bit more distance between it and me than the first couple that I reported on. Not for any particular reason, other than not really having the time to do it (or, more accurately, since these posts don’t really take all that long to write, I haven’t had the confluence of time and desire necessary to make these concert write-ups happen). But this turned out to be one of only two more concerts that I made it to, of the Musikfest Berlin this year. The concert being Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker playing Luciano Berio’s Coro, and Stravinsky’s Pulcinella.

This one happened on the Friday after the Monday concert of Stanze. Stanze, as already reported, was immediately one of those peak concert-going experiences that one might accumulate in one’s life. I was about equally excited for Coro and Stanze before the Stanze concert, but having experience it, I can admit that I was slightly less excited about Coro, if only because it’s a much older piece (shouting all the way back to 1976), and I don’t think as sublimely crafted as Stanze. Which isn’t to say that I wasn’t still mega-stoked for Coro. I definitely was.

I already, before these concerts, held Berio in very high esteem. Ever since Jack first came home from Swarthmore while I was in my senior year of high school and played for me the Sinfonia (though, oddly, here in Berlin, I without much thought at all skipped the performance of Sinfonia (which I think is the third time now that I’ve skipped seeing a performance of it (once in Boston, once in New York, as well)—I don’t really know why…), and then, once I went to music school and spent valuable time poring through the music library’s collection of recordings of Berio’s music, his ideas have had a strong influence on my own aesthetic. But other than his Folk Songs, I hadn’t heard any of his music performed live until now. Which, as any of you that have encountered any of his music, live or recorded, well know, makes a huge difference.

On my PC, I still have, somehow saved through two subsequent machines and three or four hard drives, the original .mp3 file that my freshman-in-college self ripped of Berio’s Coro from CMU’s library CD recording of it, at some awfully low compression rate. But even through that digital information-lost mess, it was still a piece that mattered to me. And hearing one of the world’s finest orchestras perform it, of course, I was not disappointed.

Unlike György Ligeti (another composer, originally introduced to me by Jack (and/or Stanley Kubrick’s films), whose music carried a rather profound affect on my own musical development), I haven’t actually studied Berio’s music much at all. I’ve read through the score of Sinfonia a couple times here and there, and gathered some general information about the man and his methods, but I really don’t know very much. But I’m curious as to the extent of influence that Stockhausen had on Berio, because of the way Coro (and Stanze too, for that matter) works spatially. (In general, though, in Europe, one is reminded that Stockhausen existed—he looms way larger here than in the States (where, for instance, in my music schooling, my 20th Century music teacher said, of Stockhausen (this was the spring after September 11th, 2001), “He said xyz about the World Trade Center, so we’ll be skipping him.” (this in the same class that started with two weeks of Wagner)).)

There are 40 singers and 44 instruments, intermingled on the stage. So, where, for instance, with Webern, you can track rows and lines from instrument to instrument, but you’re mostly just hearing the color change of the sound, and noticing it spatially only insofar as you can place the sound back to the instrument that made it, sitting in its expected place, with Coro, those kind of movements from one place on the stage to another are planned and prepared, so that even motions within a single color still have a spatio-sculptural aspect unavailable to traditionally seated orchestras.

So that’s one of the main ways that Coro works to such effectiveness. I’d also mention, after Stanze, that Coro is a deadly serious (at least to me) piece of music. Maybe there’s some humor in there, but it was mostly lost on me if it was. Not only because the piece is built around the slowing growing fragment of Neruda, building to “come and see the blood on the streets.”

But I’m burning out on technical or aesthetic things here already, and not really interested in doing much more descriptive writing. So mostly: Coro is awesome. Go hear it live sometime, if you can. After hearing several concerts of Berio’s music, I’m renewedly sad at how conservative most of the world’s orchestras are with their programming. Props to the Berliner Phil for nailing this one. I think they really had to work at it. My seat was to the left side of the stage, so I had a clear view of Rattle the whole time. I think the piece really pushed him. He looked like he felt lucky to have made it through at the end of the piece. And the orchestra too, at completion, reacted in a way that I’ve never seen them do before, as if they all kind of collectively wiped the sweat from their brows.

Rattle did his greatest work with controlling the dynamics of the piece. I think there’s a temptation, when listening to a recording of Coro, to crank the volume and sort of rock out with it. But the Philharmoniker brought an incredible precision to the swoop and range of their dynamics, which of course has a huge impact on the color of the piece as well, particularly fun to hear in a hall as crystal clear as the Philharmonie. There are some big-some gigantic-sounds in that piece, but it was never blown out, never too loud, often stirringly just-quiet-enough.

The second half of the concert was Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. The only thing of note was that one of the dudes singing one of the parts was the same guy I saw sing as the Mime in the first Act of Wagner’s Siegfried, when Rattle and BPO did it back in 2008. He’s a good singer. Stravinsky’s Pulcinella is a waste of time. Put up against Berio’s incredible grasp of strange-making across musical contexts, Stravinsky’s orchestrationing is bared open as the vapid, flat, non-thing that it was.

It’s the same dilemma as always, though, since it’s easy to imagine most of the people in the concert hall (almost full, since it was Rattle and the BPO, but still not sold out) preferring the Stravinsky. And most of these people are old and rich or tourists (I find myself a bit saddened, rather disappointed, at the small number of excitable young people like myself at these concerts—I’d have hoped that in Berlin there would be more overly-excitably 20th/21st Century art music nerds), so who am I to tell them what they should get out of what piece? (Though of course, these questions only come after that fact, ‘cause there’s no Charlie Brown-ing (“Actually, all is not well. What am I doing here, at one o’clock in the morning?”) during the music itself. We each take our own path through the world, I suppose.

I’ll leave it with one of the pieces of text from Coro (translated into English from the Zuni), ‘cause it just about says it (not knowing what):

When we came to this world

through the poor place

where the body of water

dried for our passing.

Bring shower

and great rains

all come

all ascend

all come in

all sit down

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Happy Shostakovich Day 2K10

Happy Shostakovich Day; the composer would have been 104 today had he contrived to live that long.

Over at the Shostakovich-specific blog I've recycled my favorite Shostakovich-birthday quote (really, I think it's the only one) and of course that effort's been the locus of all my Shostakovich-related thoughts for the past month.

Friday, September 24, 2010

We Like Roy! We Like Roy!

Somewhere on a VHS tape, there's footage of Nate, Jack, and I, as young children, standing in the backyard of our first house in Pittsburgh, wherein we're pretending to be Transformers. Or, rather, Nate and Jack are pretending to be Transformers, and I'm trying to be like Nate and Jack. Or at least, that's how I remember it--remember the video, I don't actually remember the video-captured day itself.

Which I mention, not out of nostalgia, but because I went to the blog today, and there was a post from Nate about Autumn. And there was a post from Jack from Autumn. So...

it's Autumn here too! Hope your Equinoxes were wonderful.

I've been thinking, maybe to match the two major holidays of the year (Warm Solstice and Cold Solstice) maybe we also introduce Days of Maximum Ambivalence for the Equinoxes? Where, you know, folks just kind of sit or lie around, not really doing too much of one thing or another. I mean, do something if they want to, or, I guess, if it really needs doing, but otherwise, you know, whatever. I guess it can be a holiday, if you want. Balance some eggs, or whatever.

Though this may take some planning, 'cause apparently Autumn came a day later in Europe than it did in the States (arbitrariness alert! (or is it out of some ground?)).

It actually was a very beautiful day in Berlin yesterday. As usual, nothing particularly blog-worthy went down. Actually, pretty mightily ambivalent, come to think of it...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Haiku for Autumn

Leaves fall -- But guess what,
That symbolizes your life.
I composed that philosophical, seasonably appropriate gem last night at the Portland Japanese Garden's Moonviewing event, after a bilingual haiku reading, a brief introduction to the subtleties of the form (always note the season), and an invitation to the guests to write poems of their own. I didn't write mine on a little card and hand it in, though, since Kyle and I spent our time not actually viewing the moon (lovely, luminescent through partial cloudiness) watching the koto player or the quietly hypnotic tea ceremony demonstration in the tea house, or taking the rare chance to walk around the garden's grounds after dark, especially late when most of the other visitors had left. It's a really lovely garden; I find I have a thing for thoughtfully created spaces. (See also, in a possibly odd association, the City Museum in St. Louis.)

At any rate, it's the first day of fall, a chilly and sporadically drizzly one in Portland, just like the summer this year. Our building even had a fire drill this afternoon so we desk jockeys could get outside and really experience the day firsthand. But it's a good one, all in all, and Kyle and I are planning some quick car-camping in a farther-east, probably sunnier section of Oregon. No call for contemplating, in 5/7/5 syllables, the soft rolling of the mortality odometer.


I mention without connection to much else that I've been greatly enjoying the blog written by one Dr. Jeff Masters, at the weather website Weather Underground, probably the most informative website I know of that's named after a violent leftist organization. Because it's hurricane season, there are daily updates on the storms, developing storms, dissipating storms, etc. that up till now I've been generally ignorant of. Also, satellite photos of hurricanes (pictured there, left to right, are Karl, Igor, and Julia, sometime last week) are pretty great, and I even enjoy reading descriptions of meteorological conditions when they largely go over my head. And when one of these storms eventually plows into the east coast, hey, early warning.

Current weather conditions in New Haven: 68 degrees, partly cloudy.

Literal weather underground: clammy, dark.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Steelers 19, Titans 11

Man, it is nice to have the Steelers' defense back. Nothing like watching them utterly demolish a high-performing offense. So much for Vince Young coming of age, I guess. And here's your line on Chris Johnson, of the dozen consecutive 100-yard rushing games: 34 yards rushing, 19 yards receiving, 1 fumble lost. (He did break out a would-be 70-yard touchdown run, negated by a holding penalty.) Boom! Implosion.

So, uh, not sure what to make of the quarterback crisis. How did it get so that Batch is the only one who's not injured, again?

Anyway, if they can win in Tennessee, they can win in Tampa next week. Maybe Leftwich is back by then. I hope so.

Stu and I were going to watch the game at the Steelers bar in Fairfield, Skybox Cafe. But apparently it closed over the summer and was replaced with a jujitsu studio. D'oh. So we ended up being the only two Steeler fans at a more generic sports bar down the street from ex-Skybox.

Some enjoyable notes:
--When Mewelde Moore lined up to take the opening kickoff, I thought, Man, how conservative do they think they can play this game? So the sneaky handoff to Antonio Brown fooled me as much as it fooled the Titans. (I want to know which other NFL players have scored 89-yard touchdowns the first time they step on the field for a game, incidentally.)
--Troy with the endzone interception. Of course. Also great to see McFadden snagging an errant throw, and Woodley coming up with a pick too. Seriously, Titans, 7 turnovers?
--Lawrence Timmons continues to mug people at will. He's the one who forced that Johnson fumble, just lowering his shoulders into the guy. He stopped a couple other plays cold the same way. Fun to watch.
--Vince Young's last snap resulted in him being thrown to the ground for a sack by Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith, and James Harrison, all at the same time. That ought to give him something to think about for the next while.
--The last 4 minutes maybe got a little too interesting, even if it was going to be a huge long shot for Kerry Collins to engineer anything out of a 19–3 deficit. Fine, fine. The D can keep doing its thing; meanwhile we all can try to forget all the fourth quarters of yesteryear and just enjoy the ride again.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Not for Some of Us Entirely Unexpected

Perhaps, as Nate suggests, it is best to just abide by one’s meta-commentary when one feels distracted by it, as, as often in the case, it won’t always be there; that is, there are experiences to be had that defy metastasis. And so, my next visit to the Philharmonie, for last Monday’s performance of Luciano Berio’s Stanze (and some other stuff too, but I was there for Stanze), by the London Philharmonic Orchestra (under the baton of young Vladimir Jurowski), though begun under a similar cloud of meta-wonder, found this concern obviated by the piece in question, which simply let me know that it was okay, once again, to just be present with music as it happens.

I don’t think my expectations could have been much higher for Stanze (which, as you might be aware, was Berio’s last piece that he wrote shortly before his death in 2003. It sets five poems—by Paul Celan, Alfred Brendel, and a couple other dudes—across four movements, for baritone, three male choirs, and orchestra)—I was actually prepared to cry during the performance, if it came to that. (So here I can at least partially apologize for my Adams-bashing, since, like, I understand what it’s like to really care about music, whether it’s populist fluff or anything else.) I think it can really be a problem, in art music, to care too much, because it really can lead to massive let downs (since, especially, a lot of the music that I like most is really hard to play, so performances can potentially fail to meet imaginary standards on a fairly regular basis)—and maybe I mention this too because I’m about to be obnoxiously positive about the concert, and it’s important to note that I wasn’t just self-fulfilling an awesomeness-prophecy, since I’ve been letdown by plenty of concerts.

But with the opening chord of Stanze—it starts with the Celan (“Tenebrae”) movement—as my entire body coursed up and down with sensation (a lot of tingling, warmth; you know, the kind of thing that I generally just label as an aspect of the visceral experience of live music) it was clear that it wasn’t going to be a meta-span of time. (The concert started with Webern’s Passacaglia (Op.1), which was well-played. Jurowski really worked it to bring out the melodramatic aspects of it. And, of course, it’s fun to already be hearing in Webern’s first piece, prototypes for the kinds of lines that he eventually drew through orchestras (and other ensembles) in his more developed works. Webern = Motherfucker. Stated.) In fact, I find myself crediting the piece—Stanze—itself with defying meta-ness. Something in its structure, its spatial presence, and its movement.

Because it’s a piece of music that absolutely invites the listener into itself. So there I am, listening to this music being performed, feeling myself invited into the world it’s creating, and entering into that world, essentially involuntarily (I didn’t tell my brain to decide to start feeling (for lack of a better word) tingles)—and never in my concert-going life have I sat through a piece of music during which I was so consistently physically animated by what I was hearing (certain pieces (say, the horn line in the 3rd Movement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, or the last couple of minutes of the 1st movement of Brahms’s 4th Symphony) give me chills just about every time I hear them, but it’s always transient experience, lasting but a couple of notes or measures (and also, incidentally, this is probably what kept me as a classical musician and not more of a punk, since I don’t think I have had any analogous experiences with amplified music, or at least not such intense ones (born nerd, I guess))); one expects such jolts or tingles or goosebumps to fade again, but for almost the entire piece I felt like I was listening to the music with my entire body, not just my ears/inner ear/mind—and by the fourth movement (the Brendel movement), enjoying some of Stanze’s most humorous moments to this extent where I flashed into the awareness of how with the piece I was.

To bring something external into one’s interior in such a way—to feel like you are moving into something which is actually moving into you—eliminates the kind of hierarchy of piece-performance-audience that preconditions meta-experience in the first place. Because you can’t place one aspect above the other anymore. The piece itself is an exterior thing, but in hearing it I reconstructed I in my mind, so then, feeling invited to enter into this apparently external place, I am actually moving further into my interior, which isn’t really mine anymore, because it’s become the sound-world of the piece.

What I’m not entirely sure of is whether this kind of architectural musical presence is different from other varieties of feeling “sucked in” to a given piece (whether in live performance or recording). Jack and I (and my friend Dan was there too (and a bunch of other people)), a couple years ago now, saw a performance at Carnegie Hall’s chamber hall, of Boulez conducting some genius European kids playing his Le Marteau sans Maitre and Sur Incises. Marteau, of course, was awesome, but the performance of Sur Incises was absolutely exhilarating. I think it’s maybe 45 minutes long, but I couldn’t have told you if it was 8 minutes, 20 minutes, or three hours (or, I guess I knew it wasn’t three hours…), because it was just compelling in this way that absolutely sucked me in. I think with Stanze, the piece sucks you in but then says “Hey there, friend, take a look around!” And then you look around, and there’s something there to understand. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it’s definitely understandable.

I could have left at half-time, given the kind of once-in-a-lifetime quality (and it does seem likely enough that I’ll never see it performed again) of the Stanze performance (it was heartily applauded by the 60%-full hall, and Jurowski, in his last trip out for applause, held the score up above his head, which it definitely deserved. When I have this kind of concert experience, after it’s done, there is this kind of question as to whether or not anyone else just had the same experience (or something similar (and of course, it’s not that important a question, but one asks oneself regardless)), so seeing this kind of recognition from a lot of people—and importantly, the conductor himself was itself a real heart-warming thing.

But I stuck around. What the hell does one program with a piece like Stanze (and props to Dan Bassin for already having this conversation with me via internet chatting)? Besides the Webern up front, the 2nd half of the concert featured Prokofiev’s 3rd Symphony, and some forgettable little arrangement of some piano thing of his for orchestra. I was of a mood to more or less ignore the Prokofiev, even though I think his 3rd Symphony—having worked for the American Symphony Orchestra librarianing their Prokofiev summer—actually deserves some attention (unlike pretty much everything else he ever wrote (especially his 1st “Carl’s Boring” and 5th “Carl’s Boring Jr.” Symphonies)). I feel like it’s one of those pieces too that’s trendy right now (having heard it performed twice in 3 years makes it trendy), the way some pieces get trendy (like that mid-‘00s span where just about every orchestra on the planet performed Rachmaninoff’s fucking-hideously-terrible Symphonic Dances for utterly unknown reasons (I think it was some kind of Bilderberg conspiracy (kill all humans! with Rachmaninoff!))).

Wanting to ignore a piece like Prok 3 is easier said than done, because it really is a piece that demands some attention. It contains a bit of blustery hoop-la, for sure, but really also holds a lot of extremely interesting music. So, in the same way that Stanze lived up to all of it’s hype, the 3rd Symphony refused to be ignored. Though, of course, it lacks any of the subtlety of the Berio (and maybe you have to hear Berio live to really understand how subtle it is). In fact, after what I’ve just stated, the next adjective up to the plate for the Prokofiev is: loud. It was incredibly loud. In fact, I think it was one of the single loudest performances I’ve ever heard. I don’t know if this is because it was a slightly empty hall and an orchestra just going for it, or something more in my own head, where anything would have sounded balls-out loud to me. But I don’t have that much else to say about the Symphony, other than, if you don’t know it, go ahead and give it a listen or two; it’s worthwhile. (And Jurowski didn’t bother to hold up the Prokofiev score.) Incidentally, Jurowksi’s take on Webern’s Passacaglia made a lot of sense once the Prokofiev came around. But Stanze was a separate concert within that concert.

Bassin suggested Mahler’s 9th Symphony as a potential program mate for Stanze (or the Adagio from the 10th). I think that’s a good idea. Though, as a concert, it’d be… emotional.

I was recently talking to my friend Jen, who is a poet in New York (we’ve had this year’s-long ongoing conversation about poetry, which for the past year or so now has been focused especially on lyric poetry, and lyricism in general (what we would call either “lyric consciousness” or “lyric awareness”)), and Wallace Stevens’s poem “The Snowman” came up. And so, since it’s easily findable on the internet, I read it again, and got the same tingling sensation (how “tingling” became the word for this, I don’t know, but I guess I’m using it…) that I get every time I read it, which I mentioned to Jen, and she immediately commiserated about having the same reaction to the poem in the same consistent way. Which we both just took as an indication that we can’t help but be poets in the world; many people, presumably, read that poem and say “Damn, that’s some good shit!”, but to feel so compelled by a few sentences, to the point of being driven to try and make your own, I guess maybe that’s rarer? And maybe some people stay party-line on it, recognize that Stevens was a good poet, but ignore him for being too philosophical and intellectual. And everyone else is just bored.

But with that poem, he absolutely gets it, and nails it. That poem, to me, is inarguable (same way as Oppen’s “Psalm” or Plath’s “Balloons”). Same thing with Stanze. I have nothing at all negative to say. I just thank Berio for making such a gift before he died. And maybe Berio’s music isn’t for everyone, maybe the sound-fields can be off-putting for some listeners. Maybe he was too smart. But, shit, there’s absolutely nothing intellectual about experiencing that kind of performance. And I could (already have) blab and blab (blabbed and blabbed) about it, but I think I can just leave it at that (at all of this)…

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Steelers 15, Falcons 9

Yeah, when the Steelers' defense brings its A game, it's going to be worth watching. Even if the offense can only score 9 points in regulation.

You go into the 4th quarter with the score tied; you think, Well, here's where you find out whether the D is still going to crumble late in the game. Probably not, right, since Troy is back? But there's still that nagging doubt. Then Troy makes one of his unbelievable interceptions, and you figure OK, there's your answer. The man has the presence of mind to keep his feet in-bounds at the sideline like he's a wide receiver. And his new Head & Shoulders commercial is pretty funny, too.

My favorite kind of football game is the kind laced with goofy, unforeseeable turns of events. I think watching Mendenhall suddenly bust out a 50-yard TD run in overtime, after four quarters of thoroughly pokey offense, counts as that. Sure, Troy's interception should have won the game, if Jeff Reed doesn't uncharacteristically miss a 40-yard field goal. But then Reed also managed to kick off deep enough to force a touchback, so, hey, anything can happen.

I was in New York this morning and Stu was in town working, so we caught up at a Steelers bar at Avenue A and 11th Street called Angels and Kings, which was OK enough despite a fairly small crowd and a limited snack menu.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Meta Comment

This is my comment on Pete's post about meta-experience, which has grown too big to actually fit sensibly into a comment.

* * * * *

So, to de-Peterize the questions here a little bit, I read them as:
  1. Does the experience of listening to Boulez, at least for me [Pete], become too much about the experience of knowing I'm listening to Boulez?
  2. Do people who listen to less complicated music than Boulez listen in a more focused way, without thinking in a second-level way about the fact that they are listening?

For #1, I think the short answer is you shouldn't worry about it. Conscious experience of our own mental states -- thinking about what we're thinking about -- is a natural operation for the human brain (these are the loops that Douglas Hofstadter is so enamored of) and therefore I don't think doing so puts any distance between a listener and some supposedly lower-level, more real experience of a musical performance, or of any other experience. My guess is that you're bogging down more in a third-order concern, the worry that your thinking about what you're listening to is compromising your ability to listen. In that case, as yoga instructors tell you when they want you to "quiet your thinking mind", I think if you have an intrusive thought about your listening experience you should briefly acknowledge the thought and try to allow it to pass.

#2's got some unhelpful assumptions baked into it. I'll basically skip over the hating on John Adams' music, other than to suggest that you loosen your aesthetic death grip and just feel free to dislike his work, without justifying your dislike (or, worse, building it up as some grandiose cultural imperative) by claiming a supposed moral failure or cynicism on his part. I also think it's incorrect to think of Boulez's music as more complicated -- I've generally found in it some striking, genuinely new-to-me soundscapes but not much discernible momentum or structure, such that it may as well last for five minutes as forty-five. Claiming any twelve-tone or serial technique as an organizing structure has never struck me as valid, since it's buried well below the observable surface of the music -- insisting that such work has a deep, faux-mathematical structure just comes off as a bullying appeal to academic authority. Kyle Gann, who's actually professionally qualified on such matters and shows his work to boot, posted a good meditation along related lines earlier this summer on what twelve-tone music is good for -- he likes much serial music and likes analyzing it, but still makes the point, as I read it, that serial technique doesn't really bear on the ultimate experience of the music ("What I can't see is why this method of generating pitches has any significant advantage over Cage's chance processes, which Boulez so vehemently rejected"). For my own part, given that Boulez comes off as something of a sonic wash, music like John Adams or Mahler's 7th or anything else in the traditional, diatonic vein is actually more complicated, since it actually cultivates and develops its momentum and direction into a sort of abstract narrative.

That being said, one of the things I like about such "narrative" music, when it's good and I'm into it, is that it channels my awareness of myself (or at least part of it) along its own path; I think at its best that's a cathartic experience, and one that feels very revelatory in the moment because you're being pulled into a mental space that you wouldn't have pushed yourself into on your own. Maybe that kind of (almost literally) losing yourself in the music helps keep your mind away from the meta-experience. But I can think of times that I've been utterly transported by a musical performance -- Jenny Lin closing a show with Shostakovich's 24th opus-87 prelude and fugue is the most recent example -- and still thought about what I thought about it, or what I would say about it later.

To take an older example that's possibly more attractive to non-classical fans: A few years ago I went with some subset of the immediate family (Dad and Jack, at least) and our high school friend Nick to a beer garden in Astoria, Queens that was having a festival (beer festival? wine festival?), featuring a Bohemian brass band. For the most part they played traditional, central-European village band fare, but at some point they launched into a Beatles medley. It was completely charming! But besides the basic musical pleasure (and I can get way, way into stuff like Beatles music being played by a central European brass band) a lot of the joy of the moment came from an acknowledgment along the lines of, "It's so great that I'm here listening to an oom-pah band play Octopus's Garden." That and the beer buzz and the pig roast and the fact that Nick, in his usual serious way, was interviewed by a good-looking young (I think) Czech woman taping some kind of video story on the event. But really, I think your own extramusical thoughts just blend in with the rest of the context of the show.

All that to say, learn to stop worrying and love your awareness of your own listener reactions, but if you do find them overly distracting, again, acknowledge the thought, let it pass.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Reflections' Emittance Widely

I'm going to run into difficulties before even starting this post, but, a couple days ago--maybe more like a week ago (time flies (and, speaking of flying time, this post was itself now started almost a week ago, putting this other conversation at more like two weeks ago now))--I was talking to a friend of mine about existing on the meta level, or, more precisely, about the tendency for philosophical-type-people to always be flitting up and down between levels of discourse and experience; but more accurately, I was talking to her about a conversation she had had with someone else about the topic, which already makes the thing that much more meta, but, of course, at the same time, it still was an actual conversation with actual, and valuable, information and experience being illuminated. And this conversation was still on my mind yesterday (yesterday a week ago) evening, as I at the last minute decided to run out to the Philharmonie to catch the third day of the Musikfest Berlin.

Though few people outside the family read this blog (so far as I can tell, anyway...), I used a line on my family back in May about the Musikfest (which features this year the music of Luciano Berio and Pierre Boulez) that is worth repeating--which I found out about in the same breath as finding out that I has earned the scholarship that was bringing me here in the first place: "I don't believe in signs from God, but I do believe in gifts from the Universe." Which is mostly to say, it's taken a fair amount of restraint for me to only have gone to a small sampling of these concerts. Because most of this stuff, given my particular brand of apocalyptic thinking, will only rarely be performed ever again for the rest of my life.

And, thus (following from the first two paragraphs), I was a bit stuck, listening to this concert, up on the meta-level. Certainly the music itself is thoroughly enjoyable for me (I don't think all Boulez is created equal, but in general I like the way it sounds, if only a few of his pieces reach truly transcendent heights in my inner ear (Marteu and Sur Incises being the two greatest hits). And part of me, realizing that I was going to blog this concert, was also feeling a bit stand-offish, and younger brotherly, and then on top of that a bit regretful for what I already then knew I was about to write now (and am now already amending since I can't actually do it (did I know that then?)): it is stunning to me that apparently smart people with relatively good taste ( brothers, say...) aren't bored to tears by John Adams. Even Boulez's juvenilia presents a more fascinating sonic world than that of pretty much any other contemporary American composer outside of Elliot Carter (and, in fact, I came out of this concert with an even greater appreciation for Carter...).

So, yeah, Le Visage nuptial is an interesting piece. I think it sat well on the second half of the concert, after the Berg Chamber Concerto, and Aimard's rip-shit run-down of the second movement of Boulez's 1st Piano Sonata (a piece I used to just go and listen to on LP every so often at the music library back when I was a music student, just to, like, remind myself that there are things which are interesting in the musical world while learning, I dunno... Mahler 7 excerpts). I can tell I'm enjoying concerts when my metal/punk vocabulary comes out to describe classical music. But yeah, Berg's Chamber Concerto is bad-ass. And it was really thrilling to finally get to see Aimard live in concert. Shit'll fuck you up for real.

But, I would say that it was really only during the Piano Sonata that I was really sucked into the concert. Again, I had a lot of this meta-garbage running through my consciousness (which scientists are currently guessing is like, 80% language), which probably has to do with it being the only piece that I knew particularly well (as much as I like the Berg, I don't know that I've listened to it at all between this and the last time I saw it in concert back in 2004 or 5), but that of course can be interesting in its own right. I guess.

The other aspect of note from this concert was that it was in the Philharmonie's main hall, rather than the chamber hall, and I really think it would have worked in the Chamber context. Not only because of all the empty seats in the house, but that it was all relatively small music in a big open space. Though it was actually kind of fun to here the piano ringing about during the Sonata.

But it's a question I'm still stuck asking myself: As someone who so readily admits to liking this kind of music, if I'm spending much of my listening time mostly thinking about the fact that I am listening to it, what kind of listening experience is that really?

Because, presumably, people that like, say, John Adams, just sit there and listen to that crap and really, like, like it, right? What do you think, brothers? When you listen to the shitty music that you like, are you listening to it in a more focused way than perhaps my mind-wandering enjoyment of more complicated (and, objectively, way way fucking better) music?