Thursday, April 16, 2009


I can never decide what I want to hear when I first wake up, so--naturally--I set it to shuffle. Unfortunately, from time to time, something comes on that is too good for shuffle. These are almost upsetting events, in a way, because whatever follows will necessarily be a let-down, a mood-killer, and trite. Excuse the end-of-Being-There close-up of still water:

I wish there were a way to capture G.G.'s sense of rubato (it is there) and touch, and just have that sense of time to draw on whenever I want it--which is to say, always.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On going paperless

Maybe the prophet Isaiah is the original Luddite :

Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many

I'm back a the place that I hate most of all: a university library computer lab. My "chariot" (or rather, laptop) gave out on Easter and stopped connecting with the charger (and the charger is fine).

I just bought it in October, but I made sure to go cheap and get a 2-year service plan through Best Buy rather than getting a Mac (even though I use it as if I were a Mac person.) Now, when the chips are down, I find out that Acer's one-year warranty probably covers it too. I also picked up a nifty 250gig plug-and-play USB external hard-drive, but grew unfortunately lax with my backups the last couple weeks. And yet, I use it for everything. I decided to lug it to my classes when I realized that my car, room, basement, mother's basement, and every house where I had every lived for the last 8 years, steadily filled with JSTOR and Project Muse printouts. I'm not one to file my papers, but I do have a nifty-if-compulsively organized hard drive.

I spent five hours on Saturday diplomatically transcribing Albert Fine's Tune and Chorale. I also finished a midterm last week that I hadn't bothered to print out, written out another large sketch for an essay in another course, worked on an editorial policy for my music editing class, and--because Gil Kalish and the Walden Quartet are awesome--I downloaded a few otherwise out-of-print Ives
Folkways recordings from the Amazon Mp3 store
, and took a bunch of detailed digital notes of my archival research Friday, entered attendance for my classes in a spreadsheet... Agh!

Best Buy is sending my computer away for either replacement or a motherboard repair. Because it will probably be a replacement, I had to bite the bullet and pay 100 dollars to back up my old hard-drive once and for all, and it would have been more if I hadn't brought in my own hard-drive. But then, I realized I played this entirely all wrong. What I should have done was to buy a replacement battery at 85 bucks, run the backup myself, and--when I get the computer back--I'd have a failsafe.

Sigh. I panicked and threw away money. But the way I look at it, my computer stopped working on Easter, as I came home from church to find it dead. I made 100 bucks playing my Easter gig, and I would have gone to church anyway so, really, I broke even! And yet, here's the weirdest thing: I could not fall asleep last night. I always stick on a DVD and fall asleep to its incandescent glow and white noise. Typically, it's a disc from The Office, but when I really need to fall asleep, I'll put on the best sleep-movie ever, soft enough that I can't make out the words: The Fog of War.

Once I turn out the lights and hear Bob McNamara droning on over a Phillip Glass score, I'm out--but this major part of my routine is gone! One other reason I stayed up, I think, is that my techno-fail caused me to crack open some good books once again. I re-read some oldie-but-goody Taruskin.


During the drive to Best Buy, I put on a calming disc of Scriabin and Griffes and told myself, "I am patient. I am patient." And yes, I was patient. But I still don't like wasting money, especially since I just splurged on a USB Turntable that came right after my fail.

Since I'm going un-paperless for at least a week, I thought I'd share an anecdote about the silliness of PC culture (no, the other "PC") in a university setting. About six years ago, I participated in a university committee, and, while I take seriously my non-disclosure agreement (there were about a half dozen lawyers on the committee), there was one delicious irony that I remember from the early on in our proceedings. As per custom at a liberal arts institution, someone brought up the idea of "going paperless." And yet, to keep everything offsite, we were meeting... in a paper company. Now, I'm all for going green, but I thought it through and realized that 1) that's funny and 2) the company's CEO, a very congenial fellow to whom I ought to drop a line, had endowed the money for my particular named scholarship. When I thought through the chain of philanthropy, I realized that his success behooved me.

I must have paper companies on my brain because I'm cut off from my regular flow of The Office. Grrr!

UPDATE: As if on cue, right after finishing this post, I finally used up my $10.00 University of Iowa printing quota for the semester. But typically, it's gone in the first month, so... Progress? And yet, a handy green-gadget tells me I've printed out, in sum, 1,500 pages at the University of Iowa.

Wait... I'm now printing out five copies of a 22-page brass quintet score. Whoops. And that's not counting my $25 Zephyr copy card. Harrumph. Someone buy me a kindle!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

John Hollenbeck/Theo Bleckmann/Meredith Monk ("Listening Diary")

This will amount to a meme, but I had the great pleasure of seeing composer/drummer/percussionist/wunderkind John Hollenbeck and vocal wizard Theo Bleckmann, who is one of those true artists who can be an instrument, a "voice," a percussionist, a symphony all by himself. I don't know of a male analogue to what Bleckmann does, but if you listen to his singing in Hollenbeck's large ensemble, the closest parallel is Norma Winstone's often wordless work with beloved British trumpeter/composer/bandleader Kenny Wheeler (click the Wheeler link for a vintage video! And you can see a more recent Winstone video here.) In his range and range of expression--from singing a song, beautifully, to croaking or utilizing phonetic percussion, Bleckmann recalls nothing less than Berio's one-time wife (and long-time muse), chanteuse Cathy Berberian:

Here's a video of Hollenbeck and Bleckmann together:

Of course, it would not be to everyone's tastes, and one five-minute segment can't come close to expressing their range, which often creates a kind of looped, fed-back polyphony over a strange vamp that wouldn't have been entirely out of place centuries ago (if it weren't for all the amplification). In fact, while I picked up the Hollenbeck/Bleckmann album Static Still at their gig last week, I've been chewing over Meredith Monk's 2008 Impermanence album, that Bleckmann and Hollenbeck both perform on. A song cycle of sorts, Impermanance presents, in exceedingly warm and frail fashion,

a celebratory and moving meditation on life. Each section of the work, announced cabaret-style by a spoken title (Last Song; Liminal; Seeds; Particular Dance; Disequilibrium Song, Mieke’s Melody #5), provides a non-narrative look at the different facets of impermanence and the joy and wonder of being. Accompanied by voice, piano, clarinet, breath, bicycle tire and other inventive instrumentation, the many scenes -- a montage of video portraits of extreme close-ups of diverse faces; a playful dance of energy unbound; voices rising from the dark singing a song of beginning and opening; an elegant dance of small gestures, performers balancing on chairs, seemingly floating in space -- create a collage of emotion, image, and sound that gently transport us on a journey that is haunting and mysterious, but at its core, essentially human.

I highly recommend the long, haunting, slowly developing "Liminal," that seems to be a collection of modally sung statements about people who are gone, the strange kinds of things that you remember in a person's absence, including my favorite line, one of those lines that rattles around in your brain for weeks: "She wears the same color ribbon as her dog." Lest you're afraid, there's nothing particularly "weird" about that song. It's just great music with a laudable reason for being. I was inspired, lately, by reading an interview with Monk from the early 90s where she discusses the importance of healing to her music.

Also worth checking out (my copy's on order!)--

Bleckmann's Winter and Winter album of Ives songs with avant-garde vocal ensemble kneebody, that was just released.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Packratterdom: David Tudor, Ives

UPDATE: The folks at the Getty Archive are wonderful, generous, cordial, and helpful! I'm awash in really pertinent research materials thanks to them that came through late last week.

Music historians lament the disposable nature of "print culture" (or rather, manuscript culture) that caused so many early music manuscripts to have their contents scraped off and reused, or to be used to line the horse stables or whatever. Indeed, I'm taking a music editing course now and we indulge in some healthy hypothetical exercises of stematic filiation--that is, trying to relate extant manuscripts to one another. My project, piano works by Albert Fine for the legendary Cage cohort, Darmstadt house pianist, and electronic musician David Tudor, are just direct transcriptions of a polished copy. (And, in the case of one of the works, just a facsimile with editorial comments, since Fine means for the spacing of the music on the page to have bearing on the rhythmic performance of the work.)

I've been getting to know Tudor--a gadfly and virtuoso who is just begging to be biographed--through Cage's reminiscences of him on the surprisingly entertaining Folkways release Indeterminacy, where Cage reads 90 one-minute stories to Tudor's accompianment--vaguely speaking. Tudor has archives at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, which you can search here. Particularly interesting, there are Tudor's own scores as well as his realizations of aleatoric works. While I haven't seen these (but would like to), it's interesting to remember that he in a way was the musical midwife for many of these indeterminate works: it was Tudor, who was in many cases charged with setting a set of shapes by Cage or Feldman, for instance, to tones.

Interestingly enough, Tudors archives include these minor works by Fine that I'm editing (see Box 185, 1965):

Anyone in California want to help me out and visit the Getty archive?

Seriously, though--being a packrat is good if you're famous, but who saves papers? I mean, I do, but I don't expect to be famous, and I really should unload quite a bit, but eh.

I've been thinking on packratterdom quite a bit lately for several reasons. First of all, I stand to get a fat tax refund... but my room is in serious disrepair, and I need to clean it to make sure I have all my W2s and such. Second, I've been collecting more scraps of secondary material on Bill Russell, and now (for a very cheap price) have all three published books of his (er, one is about him).

Third, I've been doing a personal research project--not really research project, just an "education" project--in Ives. If I call myself an "Americanist" I really should know Ives backwards and forwards. I just finished Gayle Sherwood Magee's Charles Ives Reconsidered, a recent, graceful, trim narrative that nonetheless fits in a number of delightful digressions that seem digressive at the time but end up emerging as major themes. My favorite is her multi-page contextualization of neurasthenia, arguing that it was almost like an upper-middle class badge of honor and weaving it slyly through the rest of the text. I've also been reading Burkholder's useful collection Charles Ives and His World, and--though it's ostensibly "out of date"--I picked up Frank Rossiter's "Charles Ives and His America" for ten bucks at a used book store. It makes a good teammate to Magee's, since her footnotes tactfully and clearly address recent researches. I'd also be remiss to miss Burkholder's All Made of Tunes, but I've got a long reading life ahead of me, hopefully.

How does this connect to packratterdom? Well, Elliot Carter fired only the first shot in a controversial examination of Ives' dissonation of his works, later spelled out by Maynard Solomon in an epochal JAMS article. Since he didn't actively have an audience--and Magee successfully demonstrates that, Emily Dickonson comparisons aside, he never stopped lobbying for performances or readings of his works save for a handful of driftless bachelor years at the turn of the century--is it possible that Ives was writing, and revising, for posterity, that he imagined his works to be of considerable quality and interest to future listeners and scholars? The notes for his conceptual Universe Symphony seem to suggest that he meant his papers to be seen. Do composers leave a trail of breadcrumbs to an imagined past? Magee demonstrates that in the example Carter shares--of Ives' most enduring orchestral work, Three Places in New England (heard here in the controversial 1930 rescoring)--there are not significant changes in harmony or additions of dissonance; rather, Ives collected existing dissonances in a single piano part, adding a strident foreground level.

I don't mean to open up any cans of worms, just to raise some thoughts from my recent readings. One more question on being a packrat: we have so many fine letters from composers of the past. Do you think, someday, composers will endow their email password to an academic institution in a sort of escrow, or zip files full of finale macros?

A note on Ives recordings: some long-out-of-print recordings from Smithsonian Folkways are now available as Mp3 downloads! This is not new, I suppose, but I've really been enjoying a few. I picked up Paul Zukofsky's and Gil Kalish's reading of the first two violin sonatas for a bargain price on iTunes (not so rare, given the relative brevity of the works), and--having heard about a much-vaunted 1951 reading of the Ives second string quartet by the U of Illinois's Walden Quartet, I moved over to amazon Mp3 to save a couple of bucks. Another relative bargain on iTunes? The four Ives Symphonies and two orchestral sets for 11.98, even if they may not be the most top-shelf readings given your own tastes. Still, those three downloads have proven helpful when reading along with discussions of Ives, in addition to a more recent disc: Pierre-Laurent Aimard's shimmering reading of the Concord Sonata and songs with Susan Graham. It's a lengthy and substantial set. The highlight? The song Ann Street, if only to hear the Frenchman gregariously announce, "Broadway!" in his inimitable accent as per the score's instructions. At 79 minutes, you get a fine product indeed.