Thursday, November 6, 2014

Le ton beau de Shostakovich, Hofstadter, etc.

Just a bit of follow-up to recent activity here, with links aplenty.

In response to yesterday's post about "hearing four symphonies at once," the wittily wonderful Will White, conductor/composer/etc, tweeted about this epic mashup of ALL FIFTEEN Shostakovich symphonies. I'd heard of John Oswald's legendary experiments in audio re-arranging, including his layering of 24 Also Sprach Zarathustra recordings atop each other, but this Shostakovich pile-up (not by Oswald) is both zonkers and surprisingly listenably Shostakovich-y; his music often has openly spaced textures and enough spiky orchestrations that various elements come through with surprising clarity, even with so much clashing. (He also likes clashing!) The assemblers of this "performance" stretched and compressed the various movements to make them fit together, so there's yet another layer of distortion at work. I made it through the entire first movement, and though it certainly has a generally cacophonous effect, one does experience something of the intensifying progression of a symphonic structure. Sort of.

While we're on the topic of Shostakovich, I'd just like to note that when a Facebook friend posted a picture of a birthday bon-bon presented to her cryptically by DSCH (Shosty's own signature cryptogram), I deduced that Shostakovich would probably order a Double Shot Caramel Hazelnut latte for his daily Starbucks fix. A Double Shot Coffee Hot would perhaps suit his personality better, but I don't think that represents proper ordering protocol.

Finally, having cited Radiolab yesterday, I need to mention that one of the most recent episodes features my hero, Douglas Hofstadter, talking about Le Ton beau de Marot*, which is only my favorite book in the history of books. Alas, it was only a brief segment introducing a show devoted to translation, but it did offer a chance to hear the author himself reading a series of translations of the little Clément Marot poem that inspired Hostadter's enormous book. And this reminds me that, of all the dozens of Marot translations arrayed throughout the book, I'm not convinced that any are as good as my own humble effort, which I've featured here before and will point you to again.

* Le Ton beau de Marot is subtitled "In Praise of the Music of Language." That subtitle is what first attracted me to the book. I thought of it last week when I was puzzled by Terry Teachout's expression of disdain for the semicolon. (Teachout has written more about this here.) I, of course, am an inveterate user/abuser of semicolons, em-dashes, commas, parentheses, etcetera, etc. My basic defense would be that such tools make it possible to modulate written prose in a way that helps the reader follow the musical elements of a verbal composition - the rises and falls, hesitations, summations, etc. Though I resist more every year the notion that music is a language (for reasons I won't go into here), I have no hesitation in thinking of language as a kind of music, which is why the subtitle of Hofstadter's opus was and is so appealing to me. This inspired me to create my own little aphorism, which is perhaps more insightful than true:

Music is not a kind of language;
Language is a kind of music.



Sandi said...

I read a pan of semicolons recently, too -- and it was written by a different person (someone over at WordPress). There is a push to over-simplify sentences within the blog world; perhaps this is because some readers and writers don't realize that punctuation works like a system of street signs. I agree with you that punctuation can function as a kind of musical notation for sentences: nice analogy! Now, off to click on some of your links. . . . By the way, I enjoyed your ending epigram.


In fairness to Teachout (who is a highly decorated journalist and biographer), he's particularly against semicolons in journalist contexts where I suppose clarity and efficiency are highly valued. I know that finding one's way through some of my sentences can be fraught with peril. But I just don't think I could ever do the simple, declarative, "this is what it is" kind of writing because I don't believe in that kind of thinking. Teachout (whose primary job is drama critic) has no problem saying, "the show was X, Y, and Z" and here's why." He's great at it, people (like me) enjoy reading it, it's illuminating. Yet I still look wistfully at all the missed forest paths in the kinds of articles he writes... (I should've put ellipses in my list of compositional devices...)