Sunday, December 14, 2008

The People Divided Will Never Be Downloaded

It's been a while since I blogged about the bizarre price structures at, mainly since I cancelled my subscription long ago- but they reeled me back in with 75 free downloads, and I'm giving them an extra month or so, just to be nice. So it is that I've just discovered the greatest bargain there yet: all 62:38 of Frederic Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated on one track! Given that the basic subscription rate (30 downloads at $11.99/month) comes out to 40 cents per track, this is quite a deal (unless you hate the piece; but really, there's something for everyone in there).

Curiously, in what must be a mistake, I see that Amazon offers the same album (which includes one other 10-minute piece) for a $7.99 download, but will let you download The People on one track for 89 cents, while the other, much shorter piece is only downloadable as part of the entire album. So, if you choose to buy the "album" from Amazon, you're basically paying $7.10 for the 10-minutes of Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues. Oh, you brave new digital world.

But here's the really ridiculous thing about the eMusic pricing. They have another album with the Rzewski in which each of the 36 variations gets its own track. The final tally when you download the piece this way: $15.20. Hmmm. In that version, you can't even get the whole piece with one month's worth of downloads. I guess in the most ridiculous scenario, you could download the first 30 tracks and then wait until the next month to get the rest, kind of like one of those serialized novels.

I've already spilled too many words about eMusic elsewhere (here and here), but here's my updated list of particularly long tracks for the budget-minded downloader. At this point, I've downloaded more than 50 hours of music for something like $50 to $60. Of course, it's all just bunches of bytes on my hard drive which isn't nearly as satisfying as that boxed set of Beethoven symphonies on 7 LPs that was my first big music purchase some time back in the dark ages.

So, do I listen to all that downloaded music? Well, I've been trying my darnedest to give the recent 100th birthday boys, Messiaen and Carter, their due, but that's a process-in-progress. (I do love some of the more obvious Messiaen pieces; as for Carter, I'm not there yet, but one of my few rules in life is that, if a composer is still composing at 100, I'll give him a try. 2016 could be quite a test of this rule.)

For this morning's commute, I started out with the Rzewksi (a milestone work I'll admit to not knowing well), but although I was enjoying it, it's a bit intense for busy traffic. During a rather quiet stretch, I had the volume up and it happened that one of those violent piano lid slams happened as I was merging into another lane. For a second there, I thought I'd merged into a Chilean freedom-fighter, but I managed to stay on the road...and switched the Rzewski off shortly thereafter. I'm not quite ready to die for that cause.

In other commuting news, I've more or less given up sports radio again, so I'm trying to tolerate NPR. Really, I am. Driving home from a Saturday afternoon gig in Maine, I even tried listening to A Prairie Home Companion, though I generally find Garrison Keillor to be about 10% as funny as he finds himself. I figured that by only chortling once every 5-6 minutes, I wouldn't be in too much danger of hurtling into my highway neighbors.

It was a Town Hall celebrity special PHC with Renee Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, and Edgar Meyer on hand, and it was keeping me awake, if not particularly entertained. Then, Ms. Fleming began singing the Holst version of In the Bleak Midwinter, and I thought, "well this should be nice." However, I noticed the lyrics had taken a quick turn from Christina Rossetti's after a line or two. I wasn't paying that much attention, but something about Chicago...a family moving to Washington, D.C...suddenly the PHC crowd is cheering...and I suddenly catch on.

You know, I don't want to get into politics again here on the blog, and I'd like to reaffirm that I hope for nothing but the best for and from Obama, but c'mon. Has it really come to this? The only good news is that Fleming sounded hideous singing it - I think she was really trying to sell the "message," but she's one of those singers who sounds better when she's not trying to be too expressive. The voice was spreading all over the place; in fact, it sounded like about six different voices at various times.

Maybe I just imagined the whole thing, having been swept into dreamland by the News from Lake Wobegon. But then how did I get home?

UPDATE: I wasn't dreaming. The PHC episode is now available online. You can hear about the coming of the savior starting at about 110:30 of the episode below (also archived here.) I've even transcribed the lyrics for you here. You can decide for yourself how fitting it is to compare the journey to the Beltway with the journey to Bethlehem.

UPDATE2: More commentary here.

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