Monday, March 31, 2008


We just got a box of swag from the Berkshire Record Outlet! Bach, Mozart, and more Bach—is it just me, or do they know what we like?—with a very nice and apologetic note. Three cheers! The note is dated March 27, so they might have sent all of this before I even started bitching about it on here. Whatever the case, I think I'm going to go ahead and put through an order for that DVD I've had my eye on... Er, as soon as I'm done with the day's moving duties.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008


See latest update here! I think the coup de grâce in this whole ongoing Berkshire Record Outlet fiasco has to be that yesterday, a day after JoJo had already complained that they had charged him almost $2500 for a $50 order, but before they refunded his money, they went ahead and charged him the $50 anyway, thereby incurring another overdraft fee with his bank. Brilliant. At least we finally got a refund on the overcharge today, plus the bank fees, so we can buy food and moving supplies and the like. But no apologies, and certainly no attempt to make up to us the colossal inconvenience. Oh, and the order hasn't shipped either. UPDATE to the UPDATE: Bank of America just charged JoJo another overdraft fee. He called to get it removed, and they told him to call back again tomorrow. (The order still hasn't shipped.) UPDATE to the UPDATE to the UPDATE: Called and got the new fee removed this morning. I think that makes four phone calls we've made to resolve their error. UPDATE to the oh you get the idea: It has been pointed out I should have referred to the latest fee on JoJo's account as the coup de grâce or "death-blow," and not as I referred to in my haste and irritation, as a coup de gras or, best as I can figure it, "fat-blow." It was not a fat-blow. Neither was it really a death-blow, I guess, but the cliché fit. Anyway the order has still not shipped. Also, still no apology. ETC: The shipment came! Hooray! "I didn't get a delivery notice," says JoJo. Hmph!


Live Broadcasts for Dead Audiences

This Met Tristan backstage (and onstage!) drama has me so excited. I wonder if somebody is out there working out some kind of chart or graph of every configuration of Debbie Voigt and Ben Heppner and Gary Lehman and John Mac Master and Robert Dean Smith and Richard Dean Anderson (pictured) that has been onstage in the course of this run. I think Peter Gelb wanted to make history with this show, putting Voigt and Heppner onstage together—and he has made history, albeit not the sort he intended. Boos! Vomit! Head trauma! Oh, yeah, and apparently some frickin' excellent singing, some of it from relative unknowns. I'm awfully jealous of everybody who's caught one of these performances—reading Maury's report on Heppner actually made my heart beat a little faster. (And not just because I made a meme!!!) Which means I'm jealous of JoJo, who made it to the Met HD broadcast of the Voigt/Smith Tristan (Voigt/Smith? Have I got that right? I lost my scorecard). These new theatrical opera broadcasts are a dazzling experience. I was a bit skeptical until I actually saw Hänsel at the Mall of the Victor Valley in Victorville, CA with my mom on New Year's Day. All the musical goosebump-moments came off, the production was visually splendid, the acting was gripping and true (except for the Witch—sorry, Langridge), and my mom finally knows who Christine Schäfer is. I've had less intimate and exhilarating moments in the actual house—and unlike watching the broadcasts on a little TV set in an empty living room, there was an audience there with me, old folks and parents with children, granted not a BIG audience (this was Victorville, CA), but when the curtain came down I heard a half-dozen pairs of tiny hands applauding, little kids who had come to see their first opera and loved it. They loved it! I saw them smiling and laughing afterwards, after that grim conceptual opera production! My other HD broadcast adventure was the new Peter Grimes, which I saw in nearby Branford, CT. This time, the auditorium was PACKED. "You're the only people here under fifty!" one audience member said to our party, and it was dismayingly close to the truth. Again, it was a phenomenal experience: the camerawork was great, as it was in Hänsel—and as I am told it was NOT in Tristan—which may have actually been the best way to experience the gratingly monotonous set design and choral blocking of this new production. But that's a relatively minor complaint, since the singing, acting, and playing all knocked me out. I was literally in tears by the first Sea Interlude. I finally understand what everybody's going on about when they go on about Peter Grimes. I only wished that I'd seen more people my own age there. God knows I love all these damned indie rock, R&B, electro, whatever albums that the kids are listening to these days. So how come they're all so resistant to any music written more than ten years before they were born? What will it take to get their asses in these seats? I don't know, but I'm thinking Gelb is on the right track. Look how this HD thing is catching on—after hearing me & Mom rave about Hänsel, after seeing the broadcast repeated on TV, this morning my dad went to hear La Traviata rebroadcast from La Scala. He went to see it here, at the new movie theater in Apple Valley, CA. Okay, it's not actually on that map, since like I said it's a pretty new theater, but you get the idea: it's in the middle of fucking nowhere. Note the trailer park directly southeast. This is how you get people's attention, is by sending important productions—a beautiful Hänsel, a world-class Grimes, a historic Tristan, directly to communities who might otherwise lack the resources or even the inclination to seek out this kind of event on their own. (Oddly, the La Scala broadcasts cannot be seen anywhere in Connecticut.) On the wrong track? San Francisco Opera. When I griped to a Friscan friend of mine about Pamela Rosenberg's departure, he pointed out that she fulfilled only one half of a world-class opera company's dual mission: to serve and expand the global opera audience (check) and to serve the existing, local audience of opera lovers and supporters (uh oh). So, fair enough. But David Gockley is making the opposite mistake. In place of Rosenberg's pioneering new-music repertoire (Adams, Ligeti, Messiaen) and adventurous new productions, he's giving listeners an uninterrupted diet of more of the usual. And having gotten his prestige commission (Glass's Appomattox) out of the way, the only new opera he's offering out of San Francisco is the American Tonal Melodrama (Heggie, Wallace) that's always served up to mollify local subscribers—even as his expensive new HD editing suite makes the opera's global mission that much more important. Most heinously, the HD broadcast of Appomattox? Dropped. Now the only twentieth-century opera on the schedule is La Rondine. And that doesn't count.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In Which I Rant like a Cranky Old Person

See latest update here! You know what's our favorite place to buy classical CDs online? Berkshire Record Outlet Dot Com! All told, we have probably bought more CDs there in the past decade or so than we have anyplace other than the record store I actually work at. Just the other day I was telling total strangers to shop there, on my friend's blog. So imagine our surprise! When instead of being charged the price of our latest CD purchase, maybe $40, we were charged the order number of our latest CD purchase, more like $2400. Huh! Unfortunately, JoJo did not have $2.5K sitting in his bank account at that moment, and so he found himself four digits in the red. Like I said, I work retail, so I can totally see this kind of mistake being made. You fix it, everybody has a good laugh, you move on. But the best part is, this has still not been fixed, a day later. Today JoJo called to inquire again what the deal was and the answer was something like, "call our credit card processing company and get them to threeway-call your bank with you." Huh? You charged me 6,000% on this order, I'm now in the hole to the tune of a thousand dollars, my bank is now charging me overdraft fees on your mistake, and you want me to call your credit card processing company to get it fixed? Except, of course, their credit card processing company's offices were already closed by this time. Now out of cash, JoJo has less than no money, I'm basically broke until my paycheck clears, and here we're about to move to a new place this weekend. What's going on? I better get some serious free shit out of this.

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Monday, March 24, 2008


Thanks to my friend Brian and his digital camera, here's a picture of the giant, swelling pile of Free Books in our stairwell. Seriously, stop by and take some (click to enlarge):And here's a picture of why we're moving, in a nutshell. This was also snapped in our stairwell:You can see that this is a picture of ivy actually growing through the wall of our building. You can see that this is not a small amount of ivy. What's more, you can see that our building's Caliban-like super actually spotted the ivy growing through the wall while he was repainting the stairwell and proceeded to paint over it in the same hideous institutional green as the rest of the hallway. I thought I got lazy at my day job? But we're taking apathy to new heights here, people.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Domo Arigato, Franco Battiato

One great thing about making friends from other continents (¡Hola, David!) is discovering just how provincial the United States can be. Half the time, a household name in Europe gets zero recognition on these shores, and vice versa. Case in point, Italian crooner Franco Battiato, who if you've heard of him at all you probably know from the cover of "Ruby Tuesday" off the Children of Men soundtrack. But his crossover career has taken an exceedingly strange path, from prog rock to new-wave synthpop via the classical avant-garde. The nearest point of comparison I can think of in Anglophone rock would have to be Brian Eno, with his Roxy Music/Devo/U2/Music for Airports career, if only Brian Eno had also been the lead singer and songwriter of all those bands in rapid succession, while simultaneously aspiring to a relatively mainstream concert-music career. According to Wikipedia, which never lies, Battiato's L'Egitto prima delle sabbie actually won some kind of Stockhausen prize for piano composition, for reasons that will probably be clear as soon as you listen below. I couldn't find a thirty-second soundbite online, but when I finally got ahold of the piece, I discovered that thirty seconds would hardly do the piece justice—it's a rich and subtle work, and it demands the same kind of deep, deep listening as a Stockhausen piece. It also takes up one whole side of the record, so it'll take forever for the sound file to buffer in this widget, but patient listeners, as usual, will be richly rewarded: (Note that it's easy as heck for a clever surfer to download this file rather than deal with the widget, but I'm begging you not to, just because the cost of importing the album via Amazon or your local indie shop is shockingly low, and anyway the second piece on the record is basically every bit as good as this one and completely different.) But this doesn't give you a hint of Battiato's (if you love cultural stereotypes) very Italian gift for melody. It's a gift and a curse, I guess, based on my YouTubing of his pop and classical material—in his most web-disseminated work, anyway, he's the middlebrowest artist I've ever seen, seldom slipping below a certain level of craft and seldom rising above a certain set of musical conventions. Just in case you thought I was kidding when I talked about posting clips from the Eurovision Song Contest, here's "I Treni di Tozeur" by the 1984 Italian delegation, Franco Battiato and Alice, demonstrating a very different side of Battiato's compositional career: They came in fifth. If the music seems corny or superficial to you, dude, you haven't watched enough Eurovision Song Contests. Most of the contestants don't, say, quote Die Zauberflöte. (Battiato's oeuvre is studded with classical in-jokes; he also has a techno song called "Bist du bei mir," and a cover of "Beim schlafengehen" from the Four Last Songs.) Here's the band that beat them out for first, Sweden's Herreys, singing "Diggi-loo diggi-ley": Heh.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Go Here Now, Buy This Thing

Meaning here. Meaning this thing. I just saw an ad for, an Australian classical retail site, in the back of Gramophone magazine, and their catalog boasts some very hot releases on Universal's Australian Eloquence budget series—notably the never-on-CD Final Alice, David Del Tredici's magnum opus (maybe—so few of his large-scale works are available, it's hard to say for sure) and the Peter Pears/Osian Ellis Britten's folk songs with harp, also (astonishingly!) making its debut on CD. Note that these prices, even with shipping to the US, are pretty reasonable. (Full disclosure: my brother studied with David Del Tredici, who said some very nice things about my writing. Also, now that I think of it, I think Final Alice did technically come out on CD in Japan for a short while. That doesn't count.)

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Friday, March 14, 2008

How About Another YouTube Dump!

Tonight and tomorrow Zankel Hall will host the musical stylings of Toshi Ichiyanagi. Fun fact: Ichiyanagi's ex-wife, conceptual artist Yoko Ono, is now a Beatle's widow. Other fun fact: Ichiyanagi's music is pretty rad. Here's Hirano Gen performing Ichiyanagi'sPiano Media (1972): ...and the same pianist performing Ichiyanagi's Time Sequence (1978): Mr. Gen is an enthusiast of physical culture! Actually, this clip will probably give you a better idea of what this weekend's programs will be like, featuring contemporary music performed on traditional Asian instruments: And now, for an encore, I'm going to post Hirano Gen's rendition of Horowitz's Stars & Stripes Forever arrangement, because I can: Dubya, tee, eff. Okay, that's all. I hope you have enjoyed this YouTube dump. Please stay tuned for more music video without context, as I start posting clips from old Eurovision Song Contests for no apparent reason.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Evryali (Shall Be Exalted?)

Johnson's Rambler (no relation) hosts this awesome clearinghouse of YouTubed contemporary music, which, okay, you've probably seen already. I'd have to say that one composer who benefits most greatly from the A/V treatment is Iannis Xenakis, whose music is actually designed to be heard as a set of points and curves. My father the schoolteacher might say that I am a visual learner, so it does give me a greater appreciation of Xenakis's stuff to get a virtual tour of, say, his sketches for Metastasis (best viewed full screen): or the "score" for Mycenae Alpha (ditto—also, be warned, it is loud and nasty): but my favorite online Xenakimation, again thanks to the Rambler, is the side-scrollin' Evryali graph that John Mark Harris has whipped up to accompany his performance of the (literally unperformable) piece, so you can watch it roll by like player-piano music. Has anybody performed Xenakis on Disklavier? (Defeats the purpose, I know, but still interesting.) Conversely, has anybody come up with MIDIfied visual maps like this for the music of Conlon Nancarrow? Would be fascinating to see...

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Monday, March 10, 2008

The Cult of the Composer

Oh my lord. So much for writing every day. We're moving out of our apartment! This will come as a great relief to everyone who has visited us in our present building, which is, er, a rotting little slum. Between the sudden, relative lack of hot water and the weird diesel smell coming up from the furnace(!!!) it finally seemed impossible to live here, and our friend David (pronounced dah-BEED) had to give notice on Mar 1st as to whether he was keeping his overpriced one-bedroom and so we're all moving in together! Me and JoJo and David and TygerTyger, finally moving into an apartment big enough for the four of us. JoJo is especially sweating the move, trying to figure out what books to pack and which to give away. I wish I hadn't left my camera in Vermont just so I could show you the giveaway stack, which actually runs up the stairway in a dramatic, fire code-defying fashion. You're all welcome to drop by and take something. If you do, feel free to slip a donation for moving costs under our door. (Update: Photo here!) Anyway, the things I would have blogged were I not busy alternating between apartment-hunting and the fetal position have been picked up by better bloggers than I: Jeremy Denk sticks it to somebody named Harold Fromm, who put this sloppy piece in the Hudson Review. The notion that we can get at the real Bach by desiccating Bach performance strikes me as... a bit misguided. Fromm's right to celebrate the notion that Bach, as opposed to, say, Beethoven or Mozart, is miraculously free from the sort of mythmaking that mucks up listeners' interpretations of a body of work. The picture we get of Bach from his paper trail, mostly business correspondence, gives a pretty realistic portrait of the artist as a serious workman—somebody with a job to do—which is, let's just say, NOT how we tend to imagine our Beethovens and Mahlers. Unfortunately, Fromm points out by example the converse hazard of interpreting a composer's music biographically, which is the perception that Bach was some kind of musical accountant. No. Bach's music is sentimental, at times even maudlin, and the notion that it should be performed bloodlessly is thrilling not because it is an 18th-century idea but because, as Richard Taruskin points out in "The Modern Sound of Early Music" (the Times headline is not his), it is a very 20th-century one. How odd that an article called "J.S. Bach in the 21st Century" should take its cues from a performance style invented in the age of Stravinsky and debunked in the Clinton administration! Fromm's article is not only useless, it is not even fashionable. Look and! An editor at ArtForum asked me to link to this thing they ran on Stockhausen at their website, but Alex Ross beat me to it. I've resisted commenting on Stockhausen's death mostly out of ignorance—like most new-music lovers, I'm simply unaware of most of his output, and I simply can't contribute more thoughtfully than so many commentators have already done. So I was excited to see Robin Maconie's piece, which presents in some ways a terrifically clear-sighted perspective on Stockhausen's work. Like: "Of the intricately interlaced mathematical rhythms of his early works, his pianist friend Aloys Kontarsky said, 'Oh, that’s just his way of notating rubato.'" How nice to read an article on Stockhausen that actually brings us closer to understanding his music! But then we get a little further and, hm, it seems that Maconie has, as they say, drunk the Kool-Aid. On his controversial 9/11 comments:
In a scathing and factually exhaustive account of what actually transpired at the fateful press conference, Stockhausen’s companion, American clarinetist Suzanne Stephens, defends him as a bewildered old man drawn into a media trap and cynically abandoned by the festival administration and its political backers, who had already been made uneasy by press accusations that Hamburg had provided a safe haven for some of the terrorists.

Pretty easy to believe, yeah. But then—

One can go a step further and interpret the entire affair as a fatwa deliberately engineered by the festival authorities, with the connivance of disaffected members of the press corps, to counter the massive loss it was already clear the festival was bound to incur in the wake of the Twin Towers attack, by removing at a stroke its single most expensive component—a four-day program of Stockhausen’s works....

"Fatwa"? Well, that's pushing it a little. The word is obviously chosen to evoke the way Iran tried to censored Salman Rushdie, and I'm sorry but canceling some premieres and promising to murder someone are not the same thing. Of course, Maconie isn't saying this is his own point of view, he's just throwin' it out there as something "one" might choose to believe... and then:

At Stockhausen’s level of awareness, however—a level of divination on which things that happened to him were construed not trivially or personally but as a convergence of “cosmic” forces for which the artist is simply a lightning rod—what mattered was not who was to blame or their individual motivations, but the absolute reality of 9/11 and the artist’s moral duty to account for it. Stephens was missing the point. The event had to happen because it did happen. That the composer was misconstrued is par for the course.

Er—"a level of divination"? I'm going to go ahead and suggest to each and every one of us that we back away from the implication that our favorite composer has mystical and/or supernatural powers. I mean, I'm being a bitch here, and I am grateful for Maconie's article, but there really is some crazy stuff built into his rhetoric. Much more plausible is Morton Subotnick's interpretation:

Egocentric people are usually distasteful, yet I didn’t find that with him. He got so much flack for calling 9/11 the greatest work of art ever. But I don’t think there was any malice in that. He was so involved with his own persona and with his own self. It was an innocent comment—very unfortunate, but innocent. Thank goodness we don’t all feel that way about things. But having a few such people in the world doesn’t hurt.

There we go. I hope that we can all agree that Stockhausen's ego was a great thing—who but a monster of ego would have attempted to build his enormous body of work!—fraught with disastrous potential. For instance, every vocal work of Stockhausen's that I have heard sets a text by the composer, always a gamble, and in his case invariably a losing one. His poetry is atrocious.

Which leaves Björk's response... not much for me to say here, actually. I think she gets it spot-on. Most electronic artists, when they talk about Stockhausen's influence, are being pretty superficial—like a playwright saying he was influenced by Shakespeare because he writes his plays in English. Like, it's true, but not very interesting. Björk's obituary, but also her music, reveal a real depth of familiarity with Stockhausen's body of work. Beyond his electronic innovations (cribbed by so many pop artists) and his arcane compositional processes (aped by the avant-garde), she's actually been listening to his music, its alien textures and strange, gnarled melodies. Listen to Medúlla or the Drawing Restraint 9 score again after hearing Stimmung or Tierkreis... it might illuminate a facet of Stockhausen's (or Björk's) oeuvre that you hadn't noticed before.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Journals

It was all too easy to make fun of the New York Review of Books' shark-jumpin' articles on email and blogs, so here's Nicholson Baker with a genuinely, amiably insightful look at the Wikipedia phenomenon and its politics. It makes me weirdly happy to imagine Nicholson Baker editing him up some Wiki. Wiki warrior Kyle Gann should definitely read this article, if only for Baker's account of his attempts to save an article on post-Beat Richard Denner:
I tried to make the article less deletable by incorporating a quote from an interview in the Berkeley Daily Planet— Denner told the reporter that in the Sixties he'd tried to be a street poet, "using magic markers to write on napkins at Cafe Med for espressos, on girls' arms and feet."

I sense that it would make Gann happy, too.

Julian Bell's brattily iconoclastic take on Lucian Freud, in a previous NYRB, is mightily entertaining as well, and as long as we're talking about my favorite artists, Joan Rivers is hanging out with Robert Rauschenberg. Can I please have bloody marys with Joan Rivers and Robert Rauschenberg one of these days? Okay, thanks, bye.

More tomorrow.

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