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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Things I Thought I Knew (But Actually Didn’t)

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The Morning News is a very good online magazine type thing that I sometimes read, and one of their contributing writers is named Andrew Womack. He has written several lists of Top Ten Albums, and since I am trying very hard to avoid working on an end-of-the-quarter project, several hours of my day were wasted going through his lists and “obtaining” a good chunk of the albums he likes.

Are the quotes necessary there? Do you know what I mean? I didn’t do anything illegal, because that would be illegal. I just obtained the albums.

One of the albums he likes is Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians,” which is one of the albums I obtained. (You like how I linked to Amazon, so you too can obtain the album? Legally. Just trying to keep you honest.)

Now, I hadn’t particularly been looking for any Steve Reich. I knew who he was. He was a minimalist. We had learned about them in that history of music class I took back in the day. The teacher was like, “John Cage, man, he came out and just sat down at the piano, and he didn’t play a goddamn thing! For, like, two minutes!

I thought, “I could have done that.” Another guy in the class said “I could have done that” out loud, so he got credit for the joke.

We listened to some Ligeti, which I thought was very pretty, and we listened to Varèse’s Poème électronique, which I thought was not pretty at all, and we listened to George Crumb’s Black Angels, which I thought was awesome, and we listened to Steve Reich’s Tehillim, which I thought was… flat. We did all this in one class, so none of us thought too hard about it.

So that quarter of a class was what I knew about minimalism for a long time. Then, I saw The Exorcist, and my opinion of minimalism did not improve.

Looking through Womack’s lists of post-punk prog-rock bands I had never heard of, Steve Reich was a name I at least recognized. But I knew I didn’t like him, so I was thinking I would skip over that one, even though he was pretty high on the list.

Then I thought, you know, I kind of like that album that Eno and David Byrne did, and I really like Eno’s “Another Green World,” and people call that ambient, which is kind of like minimalism, and if I don’t track down a copy of this album I have to go back to making notes about theta rhythms in the hippocampus, and I don’t know what either of those things are, so I better track this album down.

It was a short time later that I discovered that I don’t know a damn thing. About theta rhythms or about music. “Music for 18 Musicians” surrounds you.



And now that I’ve written about this subject as though I were informed, I am going to go read the Wikipedia article about it.

[UPDATE] Dude, we totally listened to Come Out by Reich in that class I took too. That was some crazy shit. We also listened to that piece where two pianists play the same repeated phrase very slightly out of phase, so over the course of 10 or 20 minutes they make a complete cycle. Math dork heaven.


Written by Daniel Grady

March 4, 2007 at 04:00

Posted in Music

Random Notes

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I was about to sit down and write a post about Nintendo’s recently announced Revolution controller, but I didn’t really have anything original or insightful to say. I think it’s an incredible idea, I really hope they make it work, and I have no doubt that if I end up buying any of the new generation of consoles, I’ll be buying a Revolution first. Because Nintendo, you see, makes interesting games. I will grant you that they don’t make many, and they don’t make them fast. But, examining the Gamecube and Xbox from a position that’s pretty close to the end of their product cycles, let me observe that the Xbox still has not one single game which is proprietary to that system that I have any interest in playing, where the Gamecube has a sizable library. You will not find Pikmin on the Xbox, and despite being backed by a behemoth like Sony the PSP is not the most popular handheld in the world; the DS is. If you want to read an extremely interesting and lucid commentary on Nintendo’s role in the gaming industry, you should check out this article.

On a completely unrelated note, and because I don’t have anything more interesting to talk about, here are a couple of things I’ve run across recently that are cool:

Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs is the newest album from Andrew Bird, violin virtuoso formerly (nominally) of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The new album is a long way from the hot jazz-style stuff of his first couple of solo albums. It is kind of folksy, very chill, and extremely good.

Sin City in movie form is out on DVD. Sin City is a series of comic books by Frank Miller that was recently adapted into a movie. It is certainly very violent, though like so many films its detractors don’t seem to notice that the vast majority of the violence occurs offscreen. However, it is extremely graphic in its implications, and if you don’t like violent movies you won’t like this one. But, if you have ever read and enjoyed noir, or seen and enjoyed film noir, then Sin City is highly recommended. It is noir to the maxx.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is my lord and savior.

(That was sarcasm. If you are an actual, honest-to-God creationist or intelligent-designist, don’t tell me, because we can’t be friends anymore.)

I have no idea how many people have already heard of Mitch Hedberg, but the man is amazingly funny. You should definitely download yourself a copy of one of his standups from that thar inter-net.

Written by Daniel Grady

September 5, 2005 at 09:43

Posted in Movies, Music

Merit-based economies and Schoenberg

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A few days ago I mentioned reading Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and said it was good and fun and all, but not outstanding. Well, it’s been turning over in my mind, and the more I think about it the more appealing I find his whole idea of a merit-based economy. I’ve got no idea if this is something that other people have written about previously or what, but Doctorow sets his story in a society that no longer uses money; science has advanced to the point where all the necessities of life are essentially free for the taking. A person’s ‘worth,’ in this society, is determined by the amount of respect others have for them. Read about it here.

What got me thinking about this was Arnold Schoenberg, whom we’ve been studying in my music history class. Schoenberg was the first composer to develop any kind of coherent system for writing atonal music. Now, the phrase ‘systemetized atonal music’ is kind of misleading, because it makes it sound like such music would have an audible, coherent structure, which isn’t the case. Schoenberg spent some time before he developed his system, called serialism, writing atonal music without any particular blueprint. His suite Pierrot Lunaire is probably the most famous example of this. His efforts to devise a system for writing atonal music that didn’t rely on an external text for structure ultimately led to his creation of serialism.

Serialism, or the twelve-tone system, was a method that allowed Schoeberg to compose pieces that were completely atonal, yet still afforded the composer a framework in which to organize a work. Serialistic compositions are masterpieces of mathematical precision, rife with clever juxtapositions and inversion of lines, and absolutely unintelligible when listened to. In order to understand a twelve-tone piece on even the most basic level, you have to sit down with the score and analyze it. In fact, there’s really not much of a point in listening to the piece in the first place, because it’s not going to help you understand what’s going on, and you certainly won’t enjoy it.

Schoenberg’s earlier atonal pieces frequently sound like a group of instruments playing more or less random notes in no particular rhythm. His later serialistic pieces, which are possessed of an incredibly stringent, erudite structure, also sound like a group of instruments playing random notes in no particular rhythm. Interestingly, you can play one piece from each period of Schoenberg’s career to a trained musician or composer, and nine times out of ten they won’t be able to tell if the piece is serialistic or not.

The point is that Schoeberg created a system by which all the humanity could be removed from the process of writing ‘music;’ but the end result was not really art, rather, it was nothing more than intellectual masturbation. Schoenberg claimed his music was a natural extension of the development of music, and so wrote his first serialistic piece, a piano suite, based on traditional classical forms. What to him was a way of fitting his work in with the great masterpieces of the past to me seems like an attempt to legitimize something that can barely be called music.

But, what thinking about Doctorow’s book got me to realize is that, although my opinion about Schoenberg is shared by a shockingly large number of people, it’s not the whole story. Clearly not everyone feels this way, since we still at least study Schoenberg, and the crucial factor for the man himself would have been if enough people considered his work meritorious for him to continue doing it. It doesn’t matter so much that I happen to think his music is crap; there are people who find it richly rewarding, and on the basis of their opinion his work has some merit. So, moral of the story is that Daniel learned to be more open-minded.

It strikes me as kind of funny that even today, artists and scientists, the people who move society forward, are following something like this merit based system; few of them are well-paid, but they continue to do their work because they’re inspired to do so and because of the respect it earns them among their peers. Maybe one day the rest of us will catch up.

I think I lost my point halfway through the rant about Schoenberg. Sorry. Only one more final, thank god.

Written by Daniel Grady

May 7, 2005 at 01:37

Posted in Books, Music, Rants


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Beck‘s released a new album titled ‘Guero‘ which is quite excellent. Very similar in style to Odelay, with a bit more emphasis on electronics and hip-hop influece. Or so it sounds to me, but I know not so much about these things.

Written by Daniel Grady

April 15, 2005 at 02:07

Posted in Music