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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Redefining "NSFW"

Hardcore gay porn director Joe Gage has blogged about Gustavo Dudamel on his hardcore gay porn blog. If you click on the link I'm about to give you, it will show you—after a clip of some hardcore amateur porn—a few pictures, a link to the L.A. Times coverage of Dudamel, and a short video of Gustavo Dudamel. I give you this link not because the Dudamel content is especially interesting, and certainly not because I think you should click on this link at work, around children, or really anywhere in public (NO TO ALL OF THOSE THINGS), but rather because, if you are not offended by hardcore porn, you may find the juxtaposition amusing. That is all.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SAD UPDATE

Alex Ross points out that this pic of Igor Stravinsky is NOT as rad as it appears to be—it may be a photo of Igor Stravinsky taken by the Boston PD, but it's not actually a mugshot, just a snapshot they took for his visa renewal. Stravinsky wasn't actually arrested; he got off with a warning.

In happier news, this picture of Stravinsky's penis is still totally real.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Cross Purposes

At first I wondered whether I disliked Matt Marks's new New Amsterdam Records record The Little Death: Vol. 1 because some of its most prominent features scored direct hits on my NOT MY THING button: conventional pop/musical theater vocals? NOT MY THING. Proggily rapid changes in musical texture? NOT MY THING. Put it together, and the record has this vibe of The Glee Kids Sing Fiery Furnaces, which = NOT MY THING squared.

But. Repeated listenings convinced me that the problem wasn't (entirely) me; it was the record. It's not just a song cycle, it's a concept album/rock opera—a form that's capable of some very exciting things, but which (like all opera) requires a delicate balance between forward narrative movement of a traditional drama and the lyrical suspension of time that we get in a pop song (or operatic setpiece). Actually, Marks's ability to create a convincing pop-music moment is pretty solid—the "Penetration Overture" is satisfying, Avalanches-style sample-driven chillout—but it's constantly being undermined by a half-baked dramatic sense.

Most obviously, the libretto is a problem. The story is pretty straightforward: boy meets girl; girl prefers Jesus; boy does something they'll all regret. They're even named "Boy" and "Girl," as if suggesting that these characters are archetypes, and their story, in some sense, fabulous or universal—but instead the characters seem flat and uninvolving, and the story sketched-in.

Pull in for a close-up, and the picture doesn't get much better; line-for-line, there's not much going on here. Here are the lyrics for the song "I Don't Have Any Fun," pasted in their entirety:

BOY: I don’t have any fun on my own
I don’t have any fun on my own
If you want to have fun fall in love with me
If you want to have fun fall in love with me

GIRL: I don’t want
I don’t want
I don’t want you (repeat)

BOY: I don’t have any fun on my own
I don’t have any fun on my own
If you want to have fun fall in love with me
If you want to have fun fall in love with me (repeat)

GIRL: I’m afraid
I’m afraid, Boy
I’m afraid I’d laugh in your face
I’m afraid, Boy
I’m afraid I’d laugh in your face, Boy
I’d laugh in your face, Boy

BOY: You’re like God
You’re like God
You’re like God to me
You’re like God
You’re like God to me (repeat)
What we learn from this song is that Boy doesn't have any fun on his own, but Girl doesn't want him—she's afraid she'd laugh in his face!—even though Girl is like God to Boy.

(Repeat.)

Now, repetition is great! Repetition is practically what makes music music! Repetition is even more necessary in a critique of Christian kitsch, as anyone who has ever heard a [shudder] "praise song" will attest. But this seems like repetition for lack of something to say. Why is she like God to him? How did he go from just wanting to have fun to literally idolizing her? There's no transition, no connection, and it makes it impossible for us to sympathize with Boy or with his change of heart. It's a problem within the more formally ambitious songs, and from song to song (and here I'm torn between wanting to cite more of my least favorite moments and feeling like I'm harping on it already, and I don't want to harp on it).

Perhaps inevitably, the structural failures of the libretto are reflected in the music. Marks incorporates a cover of the Gaithers classic "He Touched Me" on the album, seemingly because of the opportunities for innuendo at the expense of a naïve and corny tune. So why is "He Touched Me," with its embarrassing lyrics and wobbly old melody, the album's most compelling moment of songcraft? Marks and costar Mellissa Hughes are highly competent pop/show singers; if only his own compositions had gone deeper than aping the bombast of Christian pop, and dug into what it is about this stuff that can make it so touching in spite of itself, he might have created a far more satisfying piece of work. But the album never finds a happy compromise between narrative and lyrical, or between its two ironical poses of happy-face pop and breast-beating histrionics.

But don't take MY word for it! Stream this thang over at the New Amsterdam site (it's just two songs now, but I imagine that after tomorrow's release they'll let you hear the whole thing before you buy), and if you like it you can purchase your very own copy and then argue about this with me in the comment section.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lives of the Great Composers: Igor Stravinsky Poses for His Mugshot

Here's the picture from when they busted Igor Stravinsky for his arrangement of the Star-Spangled Banner! (UPDATE: No it isn't. Click here for more info.) I guess his harmonization could be considered "irreverent"? But, C'MON. Hardly offensive:

Igor Stravinsky (arr.) - The Star-Spangled Banner

And in fact, listening to it again since I put this post up, it's not even that irreverent. That trumpet dissonance on "that our flag was still there" is, for instance, a little startling, but it serves the text—in any other arrangement, that line would swerve up to a G or down to an E to fit in with the C major chord, but instead it is STILL on that F when we get to the word STILL. Word painting! And the dominant seventh chord on "land of the free" is a surprise too, but cmon—it, and the other changes are just lovely. This recording is Stravinsky's own, available in that giant Sony boxset of Stravinsky conducting Stravinsky, which obviously all of you should buy. Buy it now. Are you buying it? Okay good.

Photo from Washington Musica Viva, via Boing Boing.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Well Can a MIDI File Do... THIS??

Really, any actual lover of music should take one look at a bathroom wallpapered in piano rolls and just die inside, but still it looks pretty cool. Maybe I'll do our loo up with a Xenakis theme? Photo by Cory Doctorow.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Another NYC Concert Heads-Up

Just saw that the Canticum Novum Singers and the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York are doing a concert of "Sacred Music in the Soviet Era," including the Concerto for Choir by Alfred Schnittke (plus some Pärt, some more Schnittke, some Murov, and WORLD PREMIERES by Golovanov and Reeves), this Saturday and Sunday.

Do you know the Choir Concerto? If so, then you know it is one of the greatest pieces of music from the last century. If not, then DUDE. Get there. Details here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Everyone Must Go Hear EVERY THING MUST GO

I already "tweeted" this on the "Twitter" but just in case you don't use the "Twitter," TONIGHT at (Le) Poisson Rouge you can go hear music off of Martin Bresnick's new CD, Every Thing Must Go, out today. Performers include our friend Wei-Yi Yang, and of course Prof. Bresnick's people Lisa Moore, plus Ashley Bathgate (cello), Abigail Nims (voice), and the Preludio Saxophone Quartet (duh). Buy tickets here, now.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

FREE COREY

To help promote his forthcoming New Amsterdam double-disc Someone Will Take Care of Me, Corey Dargel's new song cycle with Cornelius Dufallo (mentioned here) is available for FREE DOWNLOAD at NewAm's website. Go there NOW NOW NOW and download it; it's a bite-sized work of art that will get lodged in your brain for the next year. FOR FANS OF: Arthur Russell, Owen Pallett.