Flaskaland
Friday, January 31, 2003
 
Just for fun, Larry Nelson explains Adorno's Sociology of Music
 
 
Writing about music for the sake of clarity
 
 
"Strikingly, among the top six lurks a pretty good definition of journalism:

1. People need information.
2. More importantly, people need the right information at
the right time ...
5. Shaping information to be relevant and timely requires
specialized human work ...
6. This work is both a science and an art."

This is my idea of dancing about achitecture (actually, an article on understanding information architecture

Courtesy of Jeff Beckham's Radio Weblog

 
 
Today's think piece:

Rev Gus Wagster informs us that
music critic takes on AT&T over "freedom of expression"

Music critic Kembrew McLeod explains his stance on Copyrighting Freedom of Expression™

 
Tuesday, January 28, 2003
 
"After all, the public does have its own music, its ubiquitous music: music to eat by, to read by, to dance by, and to be impressed by. Why refuse to recognize the possibility that contemporary music has reached a stage long since attained by other forms of activity?"

Babbit vs John Cage might have the sound of philosophy
 
Monday, January 27, 2003
 
"Perhaps most music writing deludes itself about the function it fulfills in the music industry and the culture at large. A rock magazine's power, and by extension that of its writers, is based on being able to pick up on and then accelerate the momentum of hype. Most rock writers are motivated by a real love of music, and see themselves as legitimate critics of an important art form and cultural force. But the role of criticism in popular music is entirely different from the role of criticism in forms of high-brow culture like literature, or fine art. Part of this difference is caused by the sexiness of pop music, the cult of personality that surrounds musicians, and the aura of cool and desire that plays off them. Writing about music inevitably seeks to approach and explain the charisma that surrounds musicians."

Sebastian Ischer on "Rock n Roll Inc.", march magazine, looking at buzz
 
 
Pronto, check out TOT (Ooby Dooby) who's rounded up online versions of the Da Capo Best ... 2002. Surely a major vein in the motherload that a young scholar can mine for many years to come, TOT calls his online version:

The Poor Man's Da Capo Best American Music Writing 2002

UPDATE: Cached link as of 02/03/03
 
Sunday, January 26, 2003
 
"banalize difference": a sweet lullaby for world music
 
 
Without some older articles on music, could any of us have seen Afghanistan like this today?
 
 
The next to the last word today on writing about music, if you're writing the music paper:


 
 
Here are some tips on writing about music.

And once again a reminder of the basics when thinking and writing about music
 
Saturday, January 25, 2003
 
Mursi Saad El-Din comments on some of the reasons for the decline of Western art (and culture) and the results of same.

Al-Ahram Weekly Online
19 - 25 July 2001
Issue No.543
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Plain talk

By Mursi Saad El-Din

I quite often find myself harking back to subjects previously dealt with in this column. But after ten years this is, I think, forgivable for it is inevitable that one will sometimes repeat oneself. This time, however, I have intentionally chosen an old subject in a deliberate reversal of the saying "pouring old wine in a new bottle."

The subject is the state of writing nowadays, the distortion of language under the pretext of so called postmodernism and deconstruction. What makes me bring up this subject once more is an article by Jonathan Yardley recently published in the Herald Tribune under the title "Literary fiction has lost the plot."

Yardley discusses what another writer, Bryan Griffin, two decades ago referred to as "the language of pretension in gratuitously smutty, scatological books by writers passing themselves off as the literary elite." Yardley then quotes B R Myers's article "A reader's manifesto," which appears in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Myers is obviously an admirer of old-fashioned prose. He finds "precious little to admire in the self- conscious, writerly prose now in favour among the literati."

I find myself in complete agreement with Mr Myers, especially when he criticises a contemporary writer in favour among reviewers and literary prize-givers for a "weakness for facetious displays of erudition" and another who "thinks it more important to sound literary than to make sense." Myers believes the dominant themes of contemporary American literary fiction are essentially self-regard and self- promotion. He mourns the days when "the novel wasn't just a 300-page caption for the photograph on the inside jacket." Gone are the days when "intellectual content [could] be reconciled with a vigorous, fast-moving plot." These days there is a tendency to value "self- consciously writerly prose" while "plot, narrative and character are scorned."

Myers seems to be, like myself, an admirer of popular story tellers like Christopher Isherwood and Somerset Maugham who "ranked among the finest novelists of their time, and were considered no less literary in their own way than Virginia Woolf and James Joyce." This was also true in the United States, where writers such as Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, Theodore Dreiser and John O'Hara simultaneously enjoyed both critical acclaim and commercial success.

I still remember how much I enjoyed reading Somerset Maugham's books. Liza of Lambeth, Of Human Bondage, Cakes and Ales, and A Man of Honour are among my favourites. And his wonderful autobiographical sketch, The Summing Up, was my bible and guide to writing. And of course there were Christopher Isherwood's novels set in Berlin in the 1930s: Mr Norris Changes Trains, Goodbye to Berlin which inspired the play I Am a Camera and the musical Cabaret, both of which were made into films. All these were best-sellers in the old days.

At the end of the article Jonathan Yardley comes up with some thoughts that I believe are worth mentioning here. Yardley believes that the rise of television and the disappearance of what he calls the "big middlebrow magazines, like the Saturday Evening Post and Collier's" have much to do with the state of contemporary literary fiction. He also blames creative writing schools which "encourage the self-absorbed, mannered fiction" so despised by Myers.

In fact, as Yardley also adds, modernism itself is much to blame as well, for it "values the obscure and the difficult." In the hands of a few masters, Yardley goes on to argue, this has produced masterworks. Mostly, though, it has produced third-rate imitations, acclaimed by critics out of fear of not marching in lockstep with the "illuminati."

I would add that the same applies to contemporary art, where the critics, afraid of being out of step with the times, praise these new, vulgarised forms of art. It would seem that what drives the crowd is still the herd instinct.


© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved
 
 
"Before writing anything you should ask yourself, 'Has anyone else written about the same subject?' If the answer is in the affirmative, then ask, 'Can I deal with the subject in a better or different way?'" Wise words from my London lecturer on creative writing, which came to mind when I began to write in remembrance of our departed colleague David Blake, the subject of a page of obituaries last week."

Mursi Saad El-Din then outlines how a music critic's attitude and spirit of generosity can be important to a city's culture.




 
 
A fine example of examining the emotional attachment made to music, one of the most emotional of all media (January 23, 10:03 pm post courtesy of James Russell's weblog Hot Buttered Death):

"You don't often see lengthy posts in the blogosphere about Karlheinz Stockhausen, but by God here's one.

"A very pertinent question might be: given his love of Stravinsky and Milhaud co-existing with his adoration of Webern and Bartok, and given his apprenticeship as a danceband and nightclub pianist in post-war Cologne, why does he continue to have such a problem with rhythm or repetition? A latent fear, perhaps, of the inhuman treadmill of the concentration camps? He was orphaned during WWII, but never came near the camps...

"Maybe not, but he was in the thick of the war, or at least the aftermath of it. There's a description in Michael Kurtz's biography of Stockhausen of how 16-year-old Karlheinz got drafted into working as a stretcher-bearer at a military hospital and had to tend to German soldiers who'd been hit by Allied phosphorus bombs, and how the victims were so disfigured he'd struggle to find a mouth to put a straw into so they could drink. Stockhausen said they would have up to five hundred bodies to dispose of in a single day. He didn't have to get close to the camps to see the horror of the war. In this regard, I remember reading a book (unfortunately I can't remember which one) about Stockhausen back at university in which he was interviewed, and the bit that lingers in my mind was where he said something about how he thought anything with a repetitive 2/4 or 4/4 beat could be considered as having a "martial" character, and that included the biggest majority of popular music. That rather startled me, which is why I remember the comment (if not the source) as I do so long after reading it in passing. I can't remember if he said why he'd come to that opinion, though... maybe his wartime experience explains it, and explains the fear of repetition and rhythm our blogger, Marcello Carlin, seems to discern. Or maybe it doesn't and I'm talking out my arse. That wouldn't be surprising or new. Anyway, it's an interesting looking blog, with the main page at the moment also encompassing "the feminisation of noise" (a subject featuring appearances by Yma Sumac, My Bloody Valentine, Cathy Berberian and Sarah Michelle Gellar), Jimmy Scott, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Charles Ives, Michel Houellebecq and the early Human League (i.e. the pre-Dare version of the band with Ian Marsh and Martyn Ware). The latter are especially interesting as for some reason when I was at Coogee Leagues club this afternoon I suddenly found myself unable to dislodge a number of the later version of the band's songs from my mind... "

 
Friday, January 24, 2003
 
Everyone has preferences when reading music critics. The following two well-reasoned articles essentially say "write about the music, and try to write well" while developing their own guidelines and philosophies:

carnatic music

vietnamese classical music
 
Saturday, January 18, 2003
 
Punk prophet. Keep this prognostication handy for when the next new wave materializes. Bite my subculture.
 
 
Ever wonder how this course turned out in the end? students studying music critics
 
 
Two articles on stereotyped music critics (the ones who grind baloney, natch):

Being a rock critic is all about knowing how to fake it.

So you wanna be an indie rock expert
 
 
In writing about music, many critics aspire for one thing: illumination of some kind. What if you happen to shine the spotlight on something that grows best under a dark, moist rock?

Beware the feedback effect
 
 
The important part to remember: "A critic must unambiguously establish his own criteria for assessment so that a regular reader becomes acquainted with his aesthetic ideology and reads his reviews in their context. This means that some, at least, of the reviews that a critic writes must move beyond specific concerts into a discussion of the principles of music performance involved in them. And it also means that no reviewer is thought to have said the last word on any performance. His assessment of it is valid within the framework of his critical criteria only." Bombay (like everywhere else) deals with critics
 
 
A brief cogent look at music criticism gone awry:

Teeing off on solipsistic alternative weekly music critics
 
Thursday, January 16, 2003
 
Today's favorite piece of music writing as a worthy example: combat rock

[Addendum to original post: despite the misspelling of Paul Simonon's name, as caught by a sharper editorial eye than mine]
 
Tuesday, January 14, 2003
 
Another very telling part when writing about music can be the editorial decision to not just concentrate on the happy/good parts. That decision should also be expanded to include looking at our collective past. There's always a lot of dirt to be dished, which inevitably will make some people uncomfortable, but some forms of examination make the ways we look at music and the world of make-believe that "music" creates just seem more honest. Writers can do this by listening for the notes that are played between the keys, or by giving the mic to the people whose voices are far removed but essential background for the chorus.

a benefit record ten tears after

For instance, a savvy writer or an astute cultural scholar could have at the time of release made much of this benefit record, but probably none now ever will because the record is an ancient hit, and this article is uncomfortable to read.

Rather than sanitizing and making palatable by continuing to give attention to one side of the story (with the social pre-requisites of achievement and humanitarianism on one side and/or ongoing identification with "outlaw" sub-cultures on the other), such facets are necessary when examining the full range of culture.

Being achievement-oriented figures, who give a lot of lip service to celebrating human potential (and so re-validating themselves in the process), many celebrities lately appear able only to understand and respect (and want to help) all the wrong people.
 
Saturday, January 11, 2003
 
Greil Marcus is asked to comment on Elvis once again, in which he brings up the big topics:

1) cultural and political relevance (and by extension critical relevance)
2) morbidity rates of a generation's music and of generational cohorts

I have my own memories of listening to Elvis Presley. I remember seeing black kids dancing to "All Shook Up" and feeling surprised ("a-bless-a-my-soul-a-what's-a-wrong-a-with-a-me?")

As far removed as I was from fame or fortune, several of my young friends actually went on to meet Elvis during his hey-days, which was described then as being exactly the same sort of experience as meeting a famous star now. One was a Southern girl, friendly and genuinely nice but from a family so poor they wore ten-cent go-aheads for shoes whenever possible. She lurked for days by the gates in Belair or Beverly Hills where Elvis was staying when making a movie and I believe she was waved to as he drove past. Another girl had family members with entertainment connections, so she got an autograph, and lifetime mementos -- a photograph of her as a child with Elvis on a movie-set, and a teddy bear besides. Another was a teenaged girl transported to Germany with the idea of meeting Elvis there by her own fire-and-brimstone radio preacher dad (she had her photo taken with Elvis, too). None of these events instilled either confidence in my "peer group" or in the world at large and to my most honest recollection did not cause me to suffer any appreciable pang of envy.

Speaking of Elvis movies and movie-sets is my last remark on this topic. Not until much later did I encounter someone whose true life story resembled the plot outline of an early Elvis Presley movie: A husband missing in action during a war and presumed dead (actually a prisoner of war) eventually returned home only to discover his wife after years had finally remarried. While I thought that was sad as I watched the movie as a kid, the story seemed set far in the distant remove of time (the movie was placed in the Civil War), and not at all like anything that could ever happen in real life. And for the people this happened to, how would they feel to hear "that's just like the plot to an Elvis Presley movie", which is exactly and unbelievably what a person later remarked to me, or I would never have made that connection myself.

Elvis' early stuff (as collected on For LP Fans Only) is what I happened to have heard the most of early on, and I would always haul out that record when people started bashing Elvis or snickering about him and if they liked music at all, they would come around. Elvis didn't come up in conversation often by the late '60s, as people were engrossed with other concerns. Someone just gave me the new Elvis compilation (30 #1 hits -- none of them from the For LP Fans Only era) and these songs sound high-pitched, tinny, and thin by comparison. The dubbed-up bonus track "A Little Less Conversation" is just silly. Did he always sound like this?

This is a good example of why Greil Marcus should get paid a lot for what he does. With a lifetime of experience, I'll never be able to squeeze out but a few tiny mis-matched paragraphs on Elvis.
 
Monday, January 06, 2003
 
"American music magazines suck.

"Rolls off the tongue, don't it? These days it's rolling off everyone's. Saunter down the length of a magazine rack and scowl at the teen-pop hoochie starlets, the drooling trend-pigism ("The Strokes! The Hives! The White Stripes!"), the outrageously vapid rock-star puff pieces, the gutless corporate-blow-job CD reviews. No innovation. No passion. No balls. No brains. No heart.

"No shit. Is this obvious? Is this fair?

Rob Harvilla pulled back and let go with an accurate whack with Puff Pieces.
 
Saturday, January 04, 2003
 

Courtesy of the Arts & Letter Daily:

"This was the language of criticism of modern painting, modern poetry, modern music. Of course! How glibly I had talked of modern jazz, without realizing the force of the adjective: this was modern jazz, and Parker was a modern jazz player just as Picasso was a modern painter and [Ezra] Pound a modern poet. . . . I went back to my books: 'After Parker, you had to be something of a musician to follow the best jazz of the day.' Of course! After Picasso! After Pound! There could hardly have been a conciser summary of what I don’t believe about art." philip larkin and all that jazz
 
 
This link is to a fascinating article. After reading it, go ahead, write about music.
 
 
"Women, I believe, would make very good dramatic and musical critics if they would study music and drama scientifically and less as aesthetic delights. Long suffering editors assert that gush and crudity are now the elements of most feminine efforts in this direction." women's words about music
 
Friday, January 03, 2003
 
Gods of music rumble about those who rage against critics
 
 
Just for fun, a link on Adorno
 
 
This was a compliment, so bears repeating.

Flaskaland is 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 the "u" in "i n v a l u a b l e".
 
Thursday, January 02, 2003
 
"Popular music, in particular, is highly effective in insinuating itself into the listener almost imperceptibly; no intellectual processing of its content is required because it makes no claim to inform. Instead, moods are created by subliminal effect.

"The characteristic form by which music activates the imagination is by short evocations of out-of-context images, or a diffuse feeling of boundlessness, both of which need not be integrated into any meaningful context. Listeners to popular music need not "earn'' their aesthetic experience through participation. Contrary to prior visual forms of cultural expression, including the movies, there is no longer a need for continuity in the flow of images; contrary to what happens with a novel, no mental translation is required because the sensual effect of music creates associations that are shaped not by narrative but by mood." "americanization"

 
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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