Saturday, October 24, 2015

Playlist

Live

October 20, 2015
Jonathan Biss
UW World Series - President's Piano Series - Meany Hall, Seattle

Sonata in C minor, K. 457 - Mozart
Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, Op. 19 - Schönberg
Sonata in F Major, K.533/494 - Mozart
Kreisleriana, Op. 16 - Schumann
Waldszenen: Abschied (encore) - Schumann

It would have been nice if he had played the Schönberg twice, there is so much there and it goes by so quickly. But also it exists within such a radically different projected social image than Mozart that it takes a while for the ear to adjust itself. It's like the scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen's character finds himself unexpectedly, and with growing horror, closeted with Christopher Walken confessing to self-destructive fantasies.

My feelings about the evening were mostly positive (lovely singing tone, delicate shadings of phrases, etc.) my major gripe being that the fast tempi were, to my ear, simply too fast for the music's internal articulation to come through. This was most apparent in the Schumann, who perhaps doesn't do himself any favors with his sehr rasch and noch schneller. However, there is potent contrapuntal detail in the quick figurations that simply doesn't make it to the back of Meany when played too fast. A quibble I suppose, but it seems a shame that only the pianist himself is close enough to pick up on all those marvelous twists and turns.

Recorded

October 22, 2015
Sonata for Viola and Piano - Ivan Sokolov - Karen Bentley Pollick, Ivan Sokolov

As though a long lost sonata by Franck had been discovered, though eventually it nods toward the modernism of Debussy.
Warren Burt

the shape of the voice I: Milton Babbitt - Warren Burt [from Milton Babbitt, a composer's memorial]

We turn pages of textured modulations

I am not sure
the sound having stopped

and having sat after
for some time

when
I should

or should want
to regard this

as being

(ever)

finished

On a personal note, I had the good fortune to meet Warren Burt many years ago when he visited Bard College in the early '80s. I remember him passing out the (single page) score of a piece that could be played even post-apocolyptically - not certain there would be instruments left or any technology with which to construct them, it is scored for rocks (banged together). An experimental stalwart and a fascinating thinker.

In Session at the Tintinabulary

October 19, 2015
Gradus 277 151019 - Neal Kosály-Meyer

I started thinking about the musical metaphor of the vertical, the up-down-ness of pitch, and how embedded this concept is in our language, how "high and low on the pitch spectrum" could be mistaken for a qualitative primitive, irreducible. But I was noticing in my hearing of these assorted E-naturals and C-sharps that I was also hearing vestiges of a different, tonally-functional vertical sorting. Any E seemed, somehow, to be higher than any C-sharp, and both tended down toward an implied A-natural root. In other words, in tonal perception, the root of a chord is always at the bottom of some metaphoric, but palpable, pile of notes, regardless of its particular actual spot along the spectrum.

Exchange

Last week's post included my comments on listening to a recording of John Cage's Atlas Eclipticalis. Neal Kosály-Meyer responded by email, and I offer here our exchange, I will give Neal the last word, but do plan on responding soon - so further installments are likely:
Me and Neal near the start of our disagreement about Cage

K: 
Atlas Eclipticalis - Cage - The Wesleyan Symphony Orchestra,with The Hartt Contemporary Players and The Arditti Quartet, Melvin Strauss

30 minutes of the most lovely of nearly-overs, of almost-dones, of penultimatisms, spent in contemplation of my constitutional inability to hear sounds as themselves, empty of meaning. To hear a sound as itself I would need to not be aware that it was made by a human being, or that it was laden with social freight. Such a position seems deeply misanthropic, murderous. Would music be best for Cage if none were there to hear it?

N: 
Would music be best for Cage if none were there to hear it?
            No, since for Cage hearing is the essential or even supreme musical act.   So more like, that music would be best which involved only listening.   He always said his favorite piece was the silent piece.

Such a position seems deeply misanthropic, murderous.
            “This project will seem fearsome to many, but on examination it gives no cause for alarm.   Hearing sounds which are just sounds immediately sets the theorizing mind to theorizing, and the emotions of human beings are continually aroused by encounters with nature. Does not a mountain unintentionally evoke in us a sense of wonder?  otters along a stream a sense of mirth?  night in the woods a sense of fear?  Do not rain falling and mists rising up suggest the love binding heaven and earth?  Is not decaying flesh loathsome?  Does not the death of someone we love bring sorrow?  And is there a greater hero than the least plant that grows?  What is more angry than the flash of lightning and the sound of thunder?  These responses to nature are mine and will not necessarily correspond with another’s. Emotion takes place in the person who has it.  And sounds, when allowed to be themselves, do not require that those who hear them do so unfeelingly.  The opposite is what is meant by response ability.”  JC Experimental Music, 1957

To hear a sound as itself I would need to not be aware that it was made by a human being, or that it was laden with social freight.

            If we hold listening to be the highest and subtlest musical act, “hearing a sound as itself” is an ideal, a koan, a counsel to let go of ideas and feelings about that sound and return to listening, then again and again letting go of the ideas and feelings that come to return again to listening and that sound itself whose heart we will never exactly reach, though in the course of the quest to reach it we may at some point find our ears to be now in excellent condition.

spent in contemplation of my constitutional inability to hear sounds as themselves, empty of meaning.
            See above—as in meditation no one’s heart or mind will shut up, ever.   Letting go of thought and feeling to return to stillness, darkness, silence, the deeper mystery, always being pulled back by thought feeling cough sneeze itch ache fatigue anxiety, all that is not the still dark silent deep we seek—that’s how this works.  And there is no empty, of anything.

30 minutes of the most lovely of nearly-overs, of almost-dones, of penultimatisms,
            Sounds like my idea of a good time.

Atlas Eclipticalis - Cage - The Wesleyan Symphony Orchestra,with The Hartt Contemporary Players and The Arditti Quartet, Melvin Strauss


I expect we'll continue to have this particular discussion on into the future.   Thanks as always for the stimulus to thought about what it is exactly that I am and we are doing.

K:
yeah yeah, chapter and verse, amen.

The problem is that I don't have a way to understand the notion of "the sounds as themselves" that has any particular meaning. If he means "sounds as an emanation of nature", well that's a completely different thing to my mind, but the media complex of concert music trappings he chose to work in pretty much overwhelms any hope of that. And any sound made by a human person, or even any sound I experience has having been made (conceived, designed, produced, reproduced, or banged out in situ) by a human person, becomes an utterance, a token of social exchange, more or less transparent, more or less charged, ineluctably connecting us together, actively communicating us.  For me, it is the hearing of sounds "as utterance" that sets the theorizing mind to theorizing, the empathic heart to understanding. If emptying the sound of it's utterance-hood is the ideal, then that would necessarily sever then connection between utteror and utteree, literally dehumanizing the token of exchange, leading back to murder.

Don't get me wrong here, I enjoyed the recording immensely, but as an utterance, as many things more than sounds "as themselves".

see you Monday!

N:
yeah yeah, chapter and verse, amen.

               I still pray for you, brother.
The problem is that I don't have a way to understand the notion of "the sounds as themselves" that has any particular meaning.
           Except that it seems that you DO have a notion that has a quite particular meaning:   that of being amputated or severed from that which you don't wish it to be amputated or severed from, or of being the instrument or victim of murder.

If he means "sounds as an emanation of nature", well that's a completely different thing to my mind,

             It feels more direct to me to think of the sound AS nature, or as just being itself, rather than being an emanation, messenger or intermediary.   As when Beckett said that Finnegans Wake is not about a thing, it is the thing.

but the media complex of concert music trappings he chose to work in pretty much overwhelms any hope of that.

             Using the trappings of concert music certainly thickens the plot, especially back in the day when musicians and conductors would ignorantly or intentionally sabotage pieces like Atlas.   Nowadays recordings like this one or the SEM Ensemble's seem to me to offer a different and refreshing thing that a set-in-its-ways beast like a symphony orchestra can do.   Hearing orchestras do repertoire like this well actually gives me hope for music and I guess for humanity.

And any sound made by a human person, or even any sound I experience has having been made (conceived, designed, produced, reproduced, or banged out in situ) by a human person, becomes an utterance, a token of social exchange, more or less transparent, more or less charged, ineluctably connecting us together, actively communicating us.

                Hearing Cage played well always feels me to me intensely human and intensely uttersome, generally requiring significant engagement, attention to fine detail, a respect for the composer and what he has made.   I guess I find it more exciting when what is being uttered is a sound formed and contemplated in as much detailed glory and mystery as is possible to form and contemplate, and often mysterious as utterance, just as often serendipitously connecting to the rest of the piece in a theatre or a phrase or an arc that can be as extraordinarily compelling as if it had been the result an intended design, and often the more enjoyable because I know there was no such intention.

For me, it is the hearing of sounds "as utterance" that sets the theorizing mind to theorizing, the empathic heart to understanding.

           As indicated, I don't think sounds cannot utter if we're actually listening to them.   There is perhaps an implicit metaphysic in Cage that utterance, consciousness, feeling, thought are not exclusively human qualities or attributes, but are generally present in all things.   At least that's the way I like to imagine the universe, not privileging thought feeling and design as being things that only humans do, but as being inherent properties of all manifestations of matter and energy.   Can't be proved or demonstrated one way or the other, obviously.   Imagining it that way, for me, makes the universe more fun, friendly and less lonely, I guess.   Cage's music played well usually makes it feel more likely to me that this is in fact the way things are.

If emptying the sound of it's utterance-hood is the ideal, then that would necessarily sever then connection between utteror and utteree, literally dehumanizing the token of exchange, leading back to murder.
              I would argue that privileging thought, feeling, design etc as exclusively human, and narrowly defining "utterance" to conform with that is the more amputating and murderous act, and the sort of thing that defines what Freud called the General Neurosis, that which makes us, as Nietzsche would have it, the "Sick Animal."    I don't need all music to be like Cage's, but I definitely need Cage's music among those I hear and contemplate--for me it opens kinds of doors and windows OUT of the sickness that hardly anybody else's does.

I'd add that all of this very much validates and confirms the work I've taken on with Gradus.    Among lots of things, that project is very much about taking that Cagean sound-in-itself notion and carrying it into a way of playing which is not dependent on the strictly composed ways that JC employed.    Your continued enthusiasm for Gradus means even more to me given the frustrations you still have with Cage, since it  feels like I'm managing to transmit what's most important to me about him in a way that you can receive without as much ambivalence as you experience with Cage's own compositions.   Must be doin my job.

P.S.   Felt I needed to add that my final response (to your bit beginning "If emptying the sound of its utterance-hood . . .")  was not meant to be as harsh or contrarian as it may read.   That came out because it hit me that the imagery of amputation and murder were reminding me of something on point, which was Norman Brown's close reading of Freud, Life Against Death, especially the sections in which he traces the early developmental crises and their culmination in the Oedipal phase.  Brown emphasizes that these are not simply "normal" developmental phases however universal, but tragic and traumatic experiences that each of us has gone through, and that the final result, the mature human ego, is in fact something which is profoundly amputated or castrated from that which it would be better not to have been amputated or castrated from.    Freud's heartbreaking insight is that we are as a species burdened with an awful and constitutional illness out of which it is difficult to see the way out.   Brown sees more hope than Freud, partly through a re-thinking of psychoanalysis at a social level rather than just individual, but also in ways that artists might envision different, healthier ways of being human.

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