Tuesday, December 31, 2002
You Talkin' to Me?

A fine examination of quotations (in the modern world, these have become epigrams -- quick one-liners, easily remembered and repeated). "Reworked and repeated, these lines become a form of shorthand, a way of marking out the territory we occupy in a limitless sea of culture. They become a method by which we include -- and exclude -- the people around us. As material as the things and situations they refer to, they become part of how we understand the world."

Lines from songs are becoming like literary quotations:

"Many of us probably know more lines from songs than from any other medium, yet they are the hardest to excerpt. Taken out of context, without the flavour of the singer's voice and the song's rhythms, words that resonate can seem meaningless and banal. But you can still hear the essence of rock 'n' roll whispering in this line, chosen by Herald music critic Bernard Zuel, from Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run: "I want to know if love is wild, girl I want to know if love is real."

"And there are songwriters whom fans regard as poets as much as musicians. Zuel also listed these lines from The Smiths: "And if a ten-ton truck kills the both of us, to die by your side, the pleasure and the privilege is mine." He also likes Elvis Costello's opener: "I don't wanna kiss you, I don't wanna touch you, I don't wanna see you, 'cause I don't miss you that much."

"It was only a matter of time, of course, before someone mentioned Bob Dylan. Writer Mark Mordue went for: "The only thing I knew how to do was to keep on keepin' on like a bird that flew, tangled up in blue."

"Poetry of another kind was favoured by Herald theatre critic Stephen Dunne, and writer Mandy Sayer. Dunne chose this from Laurie Anderson's Language is a Virus: "Paradise is exactly like where you are right now - only much, much better", and Sayer a dollop of wisdom from an old blues song: "The older you get, the more you know what to do with your time."

"But if the test of a truly great quotation is that it appears and reappears in many guises and contexts, then Henry David Thoreau's "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" must be included. Herald music critic Bruce Elder pointed out that it surfaces again on Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon as: "Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way."

"Still, when pushed, Elder says the greatest pop lyric ever written is the start of Little Richard's Tutti Frutti, 'A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop a-lop-bam-boom'." you talkin' to me?

Sunday, December 29, 2002
"For me, music has become a really valuable tool. What we're learning to do is read, but in the broadest possible sense." borders were meant to be crossed

Saturday, December 28, 2002
"I used to give my class at Juilliard, when I taught criticism there, an exercise. I'd play something strange and unfamiliar. Tell them to write about it. "Oh, we can't do that.' So they'd do it. I'd give them 10 minutes. Then I'd say, "That was the second movement of Sibelius' Fourth Symphony.' They'd go, "Oh.'

"I'd play it again, and they'd write something else.

"Then the third time I'd tell them the history of the piece, when it was written, how it was written, what people have thought of it over the years, and they'd write a third piece. The weird thing was, always the first pieces were the best, because there they were out there and they had no clichés to founder on. They were just swinging through the air and grabbing at what they could. The moment they found out it was Sibelius, they started getting these phrases like "the austere northern master' or "he shakes his fist at the gloomy sky,' that sort of crap." Tim Page on loosening it up (but these writings can be combined.)

This says it all, doing art is jolly
"Calvocoressi (1923) enucleates three considerations which determine what a critic writes:

1. Predispositions (what the critic likes, biases, temperament, knowledge, experience);
2. Direct data (the music, its themes, harmonic and rhythmic character, its style);
3. Indirect data (correlated sources, disclosures by the composer, information derived from other sources, annotations, discussions, other compositions by the same composer or other composers of the same school).

Even though the critic doesn't have use of the stave or clef, it's possible to pay attention to direct data and write about the music, sharing with the reading audience what the music sounded like or how it made you feel when hearing it.
the south african music teacher
Friday, December 27, 2002
Not a writing about music post but a disclaimer.

Technical difficulties beyond my control, understanding, or any of my doing are apparently still in process. The archives have been saved, but your comments are temporarily lost in space.

Sorry to also report that means the comments arena has been temporarily disabled through no fault of any posters. If you're really interested in saying something here, or commenting on something, email me at flaska@popmatters.com

If you like playing with blog templates to get them to do simple things (comment, count, link), things that might be mind-numbingly easy for you, or you think you know of a friendly blog template, and want to help me with this silly thing, email me, too. Or just say hi.

Thursday, December 26, 2002
Links to articles today are courtesy of PopPolitics.

Criticism also accomplishes something by allowing people to think about the cultural side of music.

A few new articles on pop, protest and the power of music
Wednesday, December 25, 2002
"Criticism had accomplished most by causing people to think about the intellectual side of music, by acting as an interpreter between the composer and the listener, by widening the understanding of the multitude, and cultivating good taste by pointing out the beauties, fine workmanship, and subtleties of masterpieces." read any music criticism like that lately?
Tuesday, December 24, 2002
"Pop music has become so safe, so predictable and so carefully planned, it's easy to imagine major-label scientists, lured away from England and Japan and placed in teams deep within secret, underground pop music laboratories. They're down there, trying to derive the formula that will yield, time and time again, the perfect pop song.

"They almost succeeded with Michael Jackson. But Jackson's hair caught on fire during a Pepsi commercial in 1984. After that, he got all weird on them, and the formula was lost. Then came Mariah Carey and her shocking, inexplicable string of No. 1 hits. But somebody input the set of numbers that proved the exception to the rule right around the time Glitter came out, setting back the bigs' research another decade or so.

"Sometime while major-label scientists were working their mojo on Mariah, Stephen Jones, aka Baby Bird, found the elusive formula under his bed. Equipped only with a four-track tape recorder, a drum machine, guitar, bass and cheap synths, Jones recorded some 400 instrumentals and songs between 1989 and 1994, largely to stave off boredom."

Babybird (an example of how a record review can make the reader want to hear unfamiliar music)
Monday, December 23, 2002
"Just what do I seek when I hear something? I am seeking, when I listen, to grow richer and greater in content. But I shall receive nothing if I join in by merely sitting back and relaxing. I shall only receive it by fetching it myself, going further in terms of content, beyond passive enjoyment." (Bloch 1918: 84-86) music considered

"Despite the obvious efforts of scholars in those areas to empower the listener in the musical process of communication, certain assumptions still lurk behind mentions of reception, because they have existed in musicological discourse from Plato's times. For example, by and large, we unconsciously presume that listening to music is a passive phenomenon over which the listener barely has any control. When confronted with the question, 'What kind of control can you, as radio listeners and recording consumers, exert over the music you listen to?' my Art of Listening students would answer, 'None. It just happens. You have to let it happen because of freedom of expression.' Is really experiencing music just letting it happen?
Saturday, December 21, 2002
"Some guilty pleasures aren't your fault. Without sounding overly lefty-paranoid, the corporate mass media does everything it can to plant some songs deep in your skull, where your devoid-of-taste subconscious is powerless against catchiness in any form. This is why you'll hum along with Nelly's "Air Force Ones," no matter how silly you think it is for grown men to sing about shoe shopping. Even if you're repulsed by the song, some part of your subconscious (Freud called it the "death drive") can get your brain pumping "The Macarena" like your own personal shitty jukebox. (Speaking of corporate evil and "The Macarena," Michelina's using that damn song in its ads may rank as one of the most cynical campaigns of all time, because no one on earth likes the fucking "Macarena" -- the tune is analogous to those ear slugs in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).

"Guilty pleasures can also come from your early childhood, back when your puddinglike brain wasn't developed enough to know that you were listening to crap ("Mama, play 'Knock Three Times' again"). It's a mystery of the human condition why so many of our adult preferences were formed at the age when we liked to eat paste (although it does help explain Creed)."

Where guilty pleasures might be first imprinted, or why you're happy for a plastic sack at the record store.

Friday, December 20, 2002

"It's not the critic who counts. It's not the man who points out where the grown man stumbles, or how the doer of deeds could have done them better; the credit belongs to the man who actually is in the arena, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement, but who, if he fails, fails, while doing so greatly, so that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

--Theodore Roosevelt

"While these words are, in a way, very much true, they could also easily be misinterpreted in a way that would re-inforce long standing prejudices against critics. It is very much unlikely that ol’ Roosevelt was talking about art criticism when he said (wrote?) this, but nevertheless he seems to express many people’s feelings on the subject of critics -- that they are essentially cowards.

"And this is where so many people (including many critics!) err so tragically! For it is not, never has been and never will be, the job of a critic to merely point out what the faults of a record (or book, or movie -- however, in this article I’ll continue talking about music, since that is what I know best) are and whetever it’s good or bad. In fact, “judging” a record is an exercise in pointlessness, as quality is a very subjective thing....in the end, everyone has to decide for themselves whetever they like a record or not."

Read about what another part of a critic's job is in The Art Of Criticism
"The purpose of this dissertation is to demonstrate the music's critic's potential as an intellectual historian. Criticism is valuable because of its historical specificity; it has the capacity to help illuminate an age's intellectual, social, cultural, and political landscape. As serious journallists, critics follow the rapid and extraordinary pace of musical culture. Writing for a mass media audience, they provide a comprehensive portrait of music that attempts to place cultural events in the context of the social and intellectual tenor of contemporary society. Sensitive to their audience, critics have the capacity to set and direct the musical agenda. They explain new composers and their music to a diversified reading audience.... The analysis tracks the transformation of the critic throughout the 1960s from a professional, authoritative, journalistic personality to an interpretive one whose personal insights and responses to music's aesthetic impact could be scrupulously scrutinized by listeners who sampled from potentially every domain of genre and taste that contemporary music offered." Making Order out of Chaos: Music Criticism in U.S. Newspapers in the 1960s

In response to AG's comment just below, flaskaland is open to all writers to share (if they chose) their experiences with, um, fans and musicians unhappy with reviews or public comments. I'm encouraging this discussion in the interests of promoting a real understanding and who knows -- maybe we'll eventually come to some larger understanding of what this phenomenon is really about.

I'm inviting the music critics I know who have found themselves in similar circumstances to enter the discussion, as well as anyone who knows some interesting history.

In the meantime, here's a published article simply called you don't own me
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
"There is a general point here, which is that the skill and ability involved in writing sentences is generally underrated, and assumed to be a much more universal capacity than it really is. A composer or a painter will need to undergo a good deal of rigorous training before they can exercise their art form; a writer only needs to practise, and polish what, to a certain degree, he can already do. Most people know that they couldn't write even a very bad song, or paint a picture, and understand their limits in that regard. On the other hand, everybody can talk, or write prose after some fashion, so it is not quite clear to them that they don't actually have the ability to do it to a professional standard. That ability is quite a rare one.

"I'm not suggesting that writing ought to be a closed shop, or carried out only by someone from an approved list, but people ought to understand that intelligence alone does not qualify anyone to write well or vividly. Nor does creativity in one field necessarily imply creative ability in another." philip hensher

It's only fair, then, that if people write about music, they should learn something about that language Debbie Ridpath Ohi: Songwriting Music Theory 101


A number of comments were posted here on the old commenting system which pointed to a group of pointy-haided no-neck monstahs who were threatening and apparently making plans to kill a guy who wrote a negative review of their musical hero. One of whom went so far as to contact the writer in question and admit with some semblance of pride to being a practicing Nazi. Having overdosed on their hater-aid, the jungen group in question eventually choked on their own foamy foulness and rancid racist spew and like the Pharoah's Army, they got drownded. And amen to that!

Saturday, December 14, 2002
A communique from Prague has brightened the world. A reader here says he was inspired to start his own blog Nárazník, the brainchild of Adam Javùrek who writes about (mostly czech) music journalism.

"Nárazník" means means something like "buffer" / "bumper" / "fender" or "impact absorber"
(An example of useage might be Grace Jones: "Pull up to my bumper, baby".)

Some heady links there, like this keeper on music theory.
Friday, December 13, 2002
On the question of tone or language when writing about music:


or passion? (Luke's Epistle, 12 Dec 2002
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
This is a day made remarkable by honest mutual admiration. RockCritics praises PopMatters.

Flaskaland is similarly honored by peer recognition -- which only has come about because of all the great writers who are writing about music, so thanks to all of your efforts, there is always a "u" in "i n v a l u a b l e".
Monday, December 09, 2002
Adorno makes some very interesting observations:

Adorno On Pop Music and online
Saturday, December 07, 2002
"My ideal critic would transform the intimate conversation that is the artistic experience - the conversation between the 'reader' and the painting, text, film, whatever - into a stimulating roundtable discussion at which audience, text and critic all have a place."

In this review of Avant Rock, music critics are reminded to also talk about the music as it relates to their ideas.
"My agenda is to not only create art of which I'll be proud, but to use it to help share what it is about music that's made it the cornerstone of my person. And the best way I know how to do that is to compare it to issues in other realms of life - from film and healthcare to sports and cuisine; in essence, to re-integrate music into the fabric of America, not leave it in a corner for the wealthy or overtly intellectual to inhale its bouquet like privileged connoisseurs." Adam Baer

"In other words, criticism is music writing that moves beyond private aesthetics to wrestle with why public music matters so much in the first place."
"That said, we shouldn't be too quick to slam anyone for writing a negative review, because the crucial critical element that makes music journalism worthwhile is in too short a supply to let reviewers fall into a habit of pussyfooting around meaningful dialogue."

The Rights and Responsibilities of the Music Critic

"My fear is that music journalists will be asked to participate more and more in the show-biz side of things, to play up the splash and dazzle of grandiose happenings, to offer reviews that are not so much commentaries as consumer reports on star performers, to turn their longer writings into black-and-white versions of ''Entertainment Tonight'' featurettes. But my hope is that coverage of that sort will be left to the media for which it is appropriate, that publishers will capitalize on the fact that newspapers - simply because they are durable - can traffic not just in images but in ideas."

Where is music criticism headed? (James Wierzbicki prognosticates at Julliard, 1990)
"But there's something to be said for the social constraint that makes me pretend to be interested in someone's ideas while conversing with him, or pretend to be fair-minded while reviewing him, since this constraint does force me to take better stock of his ideas and to think through my response to those ideas, and in the process come up with better ideas myself and so learn something from him." Get Back, JoJo
Friday, December 06, 2002
The utterly remarkable Rock N Theory (or why is an abstract on pop music culture shaped like a record?
Sunday, December 01, 2002
Quite happy to find this site:
Tentative Reviews by The Christopher Currie
AS/ISF/MassCom 118: America in the 80s FINAL IS NOW ONLINE
Compiling the best online articles about music so there will be more of both in the future. In periods of drought, the reader will be innundated by my own blogs on the matters.

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