Monday, August 25, 2008
In order to show how pitch range is used to bring Martine's inner life to life, I decided to plot the words vertically in a way that literally shows the intervals at play. Thus, the karaoke becomes a sort of visual listening guide (a pet topic of mine), which is just as well since it's harder to sing than the average karaoke subject. The effect is intentionally unpredictable and a little frightening - which seems to be Gounod's conception of Martine!
Also note that the audio and video for Karaoke #3 have been improved.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Since they were in diapers, karaoke machines have been annoying people at parties..So, laugh if you will, but my karaoke publicity machine for The Doctor in Spite of Himself is speaking to the kids out there (or, possibly, horrifying them). Anyway, Karaoke #3 has been posted, even though it wasn't really ready to go. I found that executing my animation idea was a much bigger pain than expected, and the little letters going by are still pretty hard to read. Well, you can always hit pause to catch any words you can't catch. [UPDATE: audio and video have been improved. See the originally posted version here.]
Read more about it here.
Oh, and you really should check out that list.
Monday, August 18, 2008
I don't know if Galenson's right or not, since I've admitted that art's not really my thing, but I'm intrigued by the implications of this theory for the classical music canon. I've been meaning to post for awhile about the unofficial "Music History Anthology" canon, an odd assemblage which (like Galenson's list) has a tendency to emphasize a few composers who are especially known for one or two works. For example, my completely unscientifically gathered experience suggests that "Dido's Lament" from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas is perhaps the most inevitable work to show up in history and theory anthologies, partly because of that easy-to-illustrate ground bass structure. (I mentioned this here.) It's ironic that it often stands in as THE Baroque opera aria, since D&A is an unconventional little mini-opera, and Purcell isn't otherwise known as an opera composer. Anyway, it's not that the generally underrated Purcell is really a one-hit wonder, but in canonical terms, he is.
Galenson's #1 is Picasso's Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, which is interesting because one could argue that the #1 musical icon is Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps; neither Picasso nor Stravinsky would by any means be considered a one-hit wonder, and they probably stand as the most acclaimed artist and composer of the 20th century, so there's a nice symmetry there. Along with The Rite and Dido's Lament, I'd guess that Schubert's Erlkönig, Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune and Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique are the other virtually unavoidable works for the music student. Certainly none of those composers are one-hit wonders either, although Berlioz probably comes closest in the public's estimation. I don't think the big three of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart can be pinned down to one inevitable work; the Eroica may come the closest. I'd say the same for Palestrina, Vivaldi, Handel, Haydn, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Verdi, Wagner, Brahms, Mahler, Ives, Bartok, and everyone else I've forgotten.
Other one-hit wonders that come immediately to mind are Monteverdi's Orfeo, maybe Josquin's Ave Maria, Smetana's The Moldau, and Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire, although Schoenberg doesn't usually get the one-hit treatment - it's usually Pierrot plus one. A case could also be made for Rossini's Una voce poco fa, Mendelssohn's Overture to a Midsummer Night's Dream and Copland's Appalachian Spring. By the way, I don't feel overexposed to any of these works; they're all canon-worthy (yeah, yeah, my conception of canon-worthy is significantly defined by these works). The one work I've run across more than I'd like would be Schütz 's Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich? I'd rather hear my daughters' Disney Princess CD 12 times in a row before sitting through Saul, Saul again.
There's much more to say about this, and obviously my list has been biased by the textbooks/anthologies I've used the most, but Galenson is certainly right that we can learn something from this kind of quantitive analysis, even if my analysis is much more the result of intuition than research. Who does research in August? For now, you can draw your own conclusions, or suggest canon staples I've left off the list.
UPDATE: By the way, I do realize that Galenson is mainly talking about 20th century art, so my extension of this idea back through music history is obviously something of a departure from what he's doing. Part of his point is that "only in the 20th century did art enter the marketplace and become a commodity." A more controversial point, perhaps, is his assertion that "breaking the rules became the most valued attribute. The greatest rewards went to conceptual innovators who frequently changed styles and invented genres. For the first time the idea behind the work of art became more important than the physical object itself." Back when I taught a general arts lecture course, I used to talk a lot about this same phenomenon, which I referred to as "capitalist values invading the art world," the great irony being that the typical artworld ideology is hardly capitalist in the political sense. It's nice to see this idea fleshed out by an actual economist.
P.S. And while we're on sports, can I just mention that, impressive as Michael Phelps' eight gold medals are, they do not make him one of the greatest athletes of all time. First of all, it's true that no athlete has ever won eight gold medals in a single Olympics. However, is there any sport other than swimming in which there is even a long-shot opportunity to go for eight medals? The only one I can think of is men's gymnastics, with the team competition, the all-around, and the six individual events, but that seems less plausible than a fast swimmer being sufficiently dominant to win a bunch of different events. And what percentage of potentially great athletes would ever consider devoting their life to swimming? It's still pretty much a sport of privilege (who wouldn't want to spend all day at the pool?), whatever Phelps' background, and there are likely many athletes who could swim faster if they devoted their lives to it. His accomplishments are remarkable, but still achieved within a pretty tightly circumscribed field of endeavor. But, of course, the only thing better than a good story is an exaggerated version of that story. In fact, come to think of it, let's say that baseball you see pictured above was actually snagged out of the air, one-handed, as I reached up above the grasp of several lesser fans. And, of course, let's remember that I was sitting in the seats above the Green Monster, so this was a homerun ball, hit by David Ortiz on an 0-2 count with two outs and the bases loaded, down 3-0 in the bottom of the 12th of Game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees. Or maybe I bought it at the souvenir stand. After all, it wouldn't look any different. (Actually, a World Series ball would probably be marked as such, and might have a GPS-embedded chip within, but this is PS is long enough.)
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Geoff Edgers writes about concerns that the University of Iowa might consider selling a $150 million Jackson Pollock painting to help cover flood damage costs. It doesn't look like something that's likely to happen, but it was news to me that such an act (identified by the frightening term "deaccessioning"!!) would be considered so controversial.
Here's where I should pause to admit that I'm not really a visual art guy. I mean, I have nothing against painting/sculptures/drawings, etc., but they simply don't communicate to me on a level anything like the way music does. When Terry Teachout, whose wide-ranging arts blog I really enjoy, "strongly suggest"s to his readers that they get themselves to a particular exhibit, I find myself unmoved, literally and figuratively. I even have the low-class thought that I'd be just as happy to view the images online. (Hey, I've got a nice, big, flat color monitor. Paintings look great there. And before you tell me all about texture and space and light, let me suggest that if I walked back into the Renaissance and said, "Hey painters, look at this incredibly flat, wonderfully glowing picture I just 'painted,'" I bet they'd be pretty impressed. And then I'd tell them, "Oh, and I just sent it to my friend on the other side of this flat world, and now he's looking at it, except it's even bigger because he's got a 26"-inch monitor - er, canvas.")
OK, I think I've embarrassed myself sufficiently there. So, anyway, I certainly understand that a museum shouldn't sell its holdings thoughtlessly, especially if selling an object violates a donor agreement. I don't really even have an opinion on the Iowa matter, but it just amuses me that artworld values get so caught up in supply-and-demand market values. Whatever one thinks of Pollock's work, I can't imagine a non-market value sense in which this painting would be considered so much more "valuable" than, say, a good painting by a well-trained artist or a mass-produced reproduction of the very same Pollock. (It is a big painting, so it's not like the reproduction would be a $15 poster, but I'm guessing it would come in well under $150,000,000. )
I suppose that art people would say it's not a market issue, it's a historical one - this painting is a unique historical object that thus has special meaning. Of course, that's also a market-based argument, since the "uniqueness" is basically a supply-demand value. It's just a little ways down the continuum from someone paying millions of dollars for a baseball that happened to be hit for a milestone home run. In simplest terms, a lot of people would like to own this specific painting, and there's just one of them. Doesn't that account for an enormous percentage of its monetary value?
So, the museum "code of conduct" apparently says "don't go out and deaccession just to save/make money," but the artistic objection there is hardly just one of "artistic value comes first." To the contrary, it's very much a market-driven way of thinking because the perceived artistic value is so closely tied to market value. Which I suppose is obvious to art people, but I find it amusing because the high-mindedness maybe isn't so high-minded. At the end of the day, I think I'd be just as happy to cash in on the Pollock and diversify with . . . well, that's the problem with me addressing this topic. I wouldn't spend it on paintings at all - or flood damage. I'd probably buy a baseball team. (Whoops, it looks like even the Rays would cost me more than a Pollock, and their stock is certainly rising.)
Let's just move on to more inane musings about value. I'm keeping up with the Olympics and seeing all the Michael Phelps mania, and I know what's he doing is amazing, but there's this annoying part of me that keeps saying, "so he's a split second faster than those other really fast guys? So what?" And yet his fame will be far out of proportion to those small victory margins - the guys who are really fast will mostly remain anonymous; the guy who's just a little bit faster will become superfamous. Why? Supply and demand. He becomes unique by being just that little bit better that puts his accomplishments in very short supply. Which means he can sell Wheaties. Otherwise, he's really not much different than the other guys.
I'll admit my other basic problem with so many of these Olympic speed sports (swimming, running, etc.) is that they're kind of like having a piano competition that consists only of scale-playing. Fast scales are interesting on a certain level, but I'd rather see a pianist put those skills to more complex musical use, just as I'd rather see athletes put their skills to use in a game like baseball or football. And, speaking of music, the classical music world gets caught up in market values all the time, whether it's paying exponentially more to see a name-brand performer or pretending that every little country dance that Mozart wrote is special because it can be attached to a composer whose name is unique. Of course, then that means the market gets oversaturated with Mozart and . . . but that's a topic for another day.
POSTSCRIPT: So, I wrote all of the above, and then I saw Michael Phelps win the 100m butterfly in absolutely astonishing, miraculous fashion. So, I take it all back. I'm now going to devote my life to owning a Jackson Pollock - even if it's just a drip.
POSTSCRIPT 2: No, I'm not a Marxist or anything like that. I'm pretty much fine with market-based economies, but I'm intrigued by how easily those economies end up shaping our value systems. I realize that's probably a stupidly circular argument because value is basically a market concept, but the point is that people like to pretend that there's such a thing as objective aesthetic value - I'm skeptical. AND, as I pointed out here, it's easy to take for granted spectacularly wonderful things that are readily available. Let me close with this spectacularly stupid question, that actually makes a pretty decent point: "Is a $100 bottle of wine really better than a perfectly carbonated glass of coca-cola?" Or, to send you off to a great Malcolm Gladwell article, "is a gourmet ketchup really better than Heinz?"
Monday, August 11, 2008
As I mentioned over at the Doctor in Spite of Himself blog, this tune features "Anvil Chorus"-like hammering (chopping) sounds in the orchestra, but I'd take these woodcutters over Verdi's gypsies any day. (For the record, Verdi: 1853, Gounod, 1858.) Obviously, I had a little too much fun with the "follow the bouncing axe" idea. I'd envisioned something much simpler, but somehow this axe started letting out its inner Fred Astaire - actually, it reminds me more of the psycho brooms in Disney's Sorcerer's Apprentice.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
I like to talk about being creative within constraints - well, in building this webpage, the basic constraint is that my web-publishing skills are still stranded in 1999, which is kind of like saying I'm driving to work in a goat-cart. However, I'll always have affection for the good 'ol days of simple HTML, and it's fun to see what can be accomplished just by using tables, moving images, and the like. As you'll see from the busy-ness of the new site, I've got a weakness for the underrated animated gif; I spent more time than I should have building a little scrolling image that races through the nonsense Latin that Sganarelle spouts off in the big diagnosis scene.
It's true that the site (at least as it now stands, before I completely change everything tomorrow) is starting to look like an ant colony, but I'm hoping that suggests something of the frenetic energy of the music and plot - the kind of energy found in this "big tune" from The Doctor in Spite of Himself.
Friday, August 8, 2008
The latter explores a bit how I came to create my own "practical performing edition" of Gounod's The Doctor in Spite of Himself. By the way, I find myself enjoying the fact that my score is not one of those pretentious "critical editions" - it's a silly comic opera, for crying out loud, certainly not "critical" in the grand scheme of things. I know that critical editions have their place, but my goal was to create something practical and flexible that made sense for a college-level production. Of course, I'm sure some would be critical of that goal...
Thursday, August 7, 2008
The Doctor in Spite of Himself (the blog)
There's lots more content to be added, but I thought that by starting the publicity, maybe I'd force myself to get that content added. More to come...
Monday, August 4, 2008
The reason this question interests me is that I hadn't noticed what made the coincidence take shape until after the fact. It just so happens that my family's been listening regularly to a CD featuring my daughter's violin teacher, and it just so happens that one of the works is a "Fantasy on Porgy and Bess," but the truth is I hadn't paid much attention to that piece. So, here is the chronology as I experienced it: 1) I hear the news that Manny Ramirez has been traded. 2) I experience a strange and difficult-to-explain sense of sadness (see previous post) knowing that Manny's gone now. 3) My brain makes the "my man's gone now"/"Manny's gone now" connection and soon I'm reshaping lyrics, googling images of Manny and Big Papi, etc.
(By the way, I am proud of my decision to map the "Old Man Sorrow" content from the aria onto "David Ortiz (Big Papi)," Manny's fellow Dominican slugger. These guys have formed the most potent 3-4 combo in the game for years and it's a big loss for Ortiz not to have Ramirez protecting him. After I had already posted the video, I saw Ortiz being interviewed on TV, and he was almost in tears answering questions about Manny's departure. OK, it's not quite Serena having her husband killed in a gambling fight, but the sense of loss was real. I now wish I had cast the whole rewriting of the lyrics from Big Papi's point of view, but I think that ship has sailed.)
Only the next day when we had the "Porgy and Bess Fantasia" playing again did I realize that its first major section features the violin wailing out "My Man's Gone Now." So, although I've known the tune for years, it's highly likely that the Manny connection happened only because I'd recently been hearing it - it was probably a featured selection in my sub-conscious playlist. The point is that creativity (remember, we're pretending that this was a creative act) almost surely depends on this kind of fortuitous coincidence all the time. The brain has a stupendous amount of data floating around, so it has to help when this kind of coincidence puts two promising ideas together. (Remember, we're pretending that this was a promising idea!)
This reminds me of something I wrote about before in one of my favorite posts: "I don't make any great claims when it comes to creative abilities, but I'm always struck by how often the crucial creative moment comes when the mind makes an unexpected or previously unnoticed connection between two somethings. It's kind of like an accident you've been designed to make." I love this idea that all of one's experiences conspire to put the creative mind in the position to make the right connections - or, in the case of "My Manny's Gone Now," maybe it's the wrong connections.
By the way, one reason my mind has been thinking about creativity in this way is that the experience of making Wordles had already fired up an interest in random connections. (Thus, we find a connection between two different sets of posts which each have to do with connections!) The Wordle engine is a very cool little app that is quite creatively programmed to be both creative and somewhat random- but the quality of the results still depends to some degree on the inputted text and on the inputter's ability to make good decisions about font, color, spacing, etc. Although there's really no limit to what sort of text can be used, it's become clear that some of the most effective ones are the ones that lend themselves to interesting coincidental connections.
So it is that my favorite result happened by inputting the complete text of Samuel Beckett's Endgame. Because this play uses language in such a minimalist way and focuses on the simplest acts (such as walking to a window) by avoiding having much of anything actually happen, a semi-random Wordle can do an effective job of summarizing the feel of the play. I don't mean that just in a "this play's so stupid, it means the same thing if the words are scrambled" way; it's just that the experience of a Beckett play is a bit like experiencing a Wordle: one is compelled to make unexpected connections between seemingly random and banal coincidences.
If you look closely at the Endgame Wordle, you'll find the following little themes pop out: "feel nothing," "never gets," "can time leave," "God halts," "dead face," "story going," "Narrative brief," etc. None of these word groupings were intended (unless the Wordle engine is cleverer than I though), and, to add a layer of aesthetic intrigue, it's the very fact that they happened accidentally that makes them interesting. The point is, most of those little mini-phrases could be considered themes of the play, and they turn out to be available to us just by throwing the most-used words around.
I've found this doesn't work as well with more traditionally literate texts. I inputted the entire text of A Room With a View, which is one of my favorite novels, and then spent some time trying to make something of those words. Here's the best result I came up with, but it's not nearly as telling as the Endgame one, because Forster's prose is so beautifully chiseled that we seem to lose everything when the words are just words. It's true that I chose to leave the characters names in here, but without them, I found the results even less compelling. At least this gives a nice visualization of all the characters spinning around Lucy Honeychurch's life, and yes, I did keep hitting the "re-layout" key until I got a fairly satisfying little solar system of names.
There are many internet memes that take advantage of the "power of random." There's the one where you pick a book, turn to page 123 and write down the fifth sentence, or whatever. There's the somewhat more interesting ones where random images and texts are combined to produce record cover art and the like. In all cases, the point is that our minds do their best to make sense of just about anything if we're cued to believe a connection is there. Random input can quickly be reinterpreted as intentional and meaningful. After all, what's more random than a baseball fan expressing his grief at losing a favorite player by reworking an opera aria?
By the way, there are many effective Wordles that are less about coincidental connections than they are about showing underlying structural words (which, I suppose, is the basic point of Wordle.) I continue to find Barack Obama's rhetoric to be more tiresome than inspiring, but I'll admit that his "Yes We Can" speech makes a fine Wordle (this one's not my work). A few other Wordle creations of mine that take advantage of important recurring themes: The Cat in the Hat, Madeline, The Complete Suzuki Violin Repertoire.
P.S. By the way, I've used the phrase "By the way" to begin three paragraphs in this post. Good thing there's no Phrasle app to expose me.
Friday, August 1, 2008
But, whatever. The fact is, I still like Manny. He's one of my favorite players, I've got a #24 Red Sox jersey, and I wish he hadn't been traded. The whole athlete (or movie star or great musician, etc.) as hero thing is so overrated; I certainly don't look to these famous types for role modeling. Most athletes (most people!) are probably pretty selfish; Manny's just more transparent and immature about his selfishness. It's not that I'm defending him, but I really enjoyed having him on the team. You never knew what might happen, but he sure made things interesting.
The fact is, there are also many great musicians (composers, too) who are probably not very admirable as people, but I'm not sure how much difference it makes in how I think about them as musicians. I still love many Kathleen Battle recordings, however ridiculous her attitude/actions. It's a wonderful, unique voice, and that's what I'm interested in when I'm listening to her. Ramirez is a wonderful, unique talent and though it's true that fans like their team's players to be, you know, team players, I would've been happy to have him keep playing, occasionally taking games off, ambling to first, losing interest, then hitting monster blasts, etc. You wouldn't want many players like that, but there just aren't many players (or people) like him anyway, so I never really worried that his presence would turn his teammates into malcontents.
ANYWAY, for some reason the following took shape in my mind on the commute home today. This will probably confound sports fans, classical music fans, MMmusing fans, and pretty much everybody else. At least I hope so. It's definitely one of the odder things I've created (right up there with this), but I wasted too much time on it not to post it. It's my little tribute to the Man Ram, and if the whole thing is a bit half-baked, well that's just Michael being Manny.
(I'm just sad I didn't have a recording of Kathleen Battle doing the singing.)