Monday, September 29, 2008


So we've all heard of the Cato Institute, the thinktank dedicated to the promotion of fiscal libertarianism. But we don't hear very much about Cato, the pseudonymous 18th-c. epistolizers the Institute ganked its name from. Well let's read a little bit more about them in this article from Dissent, which dares to suggest that such Founding Fathers as Thomas Jefferson were—like Cato, from whom the founders derived many of their ideas, were far more populist than modern libertarians and conservatives would like you to think. Here Lew Daly quotes Cato on the free market:
A free people are kept so, by no other means than an equal distribution of property; every man, who has a share of property, having a proportionable share of power; and the first seeds of anarchy (which, for the most part, ends in tyranny) are produced from hence, that some are ungovernably rich, and many more are miserably poor; that is, some are masters of all means of oppression, and others want all the means of self-defence.
Oh WHOOPS, that doesn't sound like contemporary fiscal libertarianism at all! That sounds like... well it sounds like somebody modern "conservatives" would call a goddam commie.

Well hmmm, so JoJo read this piece and has thus been inspired to dive a bit deeper into Cato. He retrieves this pearl, on the occasion of the collapse of the "South Sea Bubble":

What progress we have lately made in England, towards such a blessed state of confusion and misery, by the credulity of the people, throwing their all upon the mercy of base-spirited, hard-hearted villains, mischievously trusted with a power to undo them, is too manifest from the woeful condition that we are in. The ruin is general, and every man has the miserable consolation to see his neighbour undone: For as to that class of ravens, whose wealth has cost the nation its all, as they are manifest enemies to God and man, no man can call them his neighbours: They are rogues of prey, they are stock-jobbers, they are a conspiracy of stock-jobbers! A name which carries along with it such a detestable and deadly image, that it exceeds all human invention to aggravate it; nor can nature, with all her variety and stores, furnish out any thing to illustrate its deformities; nay, it gains visible advantage by the worst comparisons that you can make: Your terror lessens, when you liken them to crocodiles and cannibals, who feed, for hunger, on human bodies.
Ha ha ha capitalism.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

What's Norwegian for "Quarter Turns!"?

Seeing as this blog makes occasional forays into the realm of pop and rock, and seeing as I am a big shrill gay, my readership has asked me to weigh in on the recent coming-out controversy involving a prominent figure in popular music. I have to admit, I was as surprised as anyone to learn that Gaahl—lead singer of Norwegian black-metal projects Gorgoroth and Trelldom—was gay. His aesthetic as a musician and performer is not quite in line with the notion of a "gay sensibility," whatever that might be. And his recent torture conviction, for the brutal, hours-long beating of a middle-aged party crasher—whom Gaahl ordered to collect his own blood in a yahtzee cup—suggests that, if anything, our Gaahl might be a bit too macho. Here's an interview with the Nordic menace from the 2005 film, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey. Bad. Ass. Well, news broke this past July that when Gaahl (born Kristian Eivind Espedal) decided to launch his forthcoming line of ladies' pret-à-porter, his relationship with a new business associate—Norwegian modeling agent Dan DeVero—had moved rapidly beyond the professional. And what many in the Norwegian scene had known or suspected was at last publicly confirmed. (Here's a photo of the two from the source of that article.) The reaction here? Quite simply, we at Daniel Stephen Johnson's Weblog are eager to welcome this exceptional artist and personality into the international gay community. And we can't wait to see those frocks. (via djmrswhite)

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Knew Him When

Oh hey! Belated congrats to composer Andrew Norman, who just got signed by the prestigious Schott Music publishing house. Hindemith, Ligeti, Norman. I'm happy to say that, yes, I knew him back when his obvious gifts were the envy of his fellow undergrads at the USC School of Music. Obviously I should have married him when I had the chance. (Note: I did not have the chance.) OMG Andrew call me! (via NewMusicBox)


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Congratulations MacArthurs!

It's going to be a great year for new music. Alex Ross, best-selling writer, classical critic and all-around advocate of pretty new sounds (yes MAYBE YOU'VE HEARD OF HIM) has received a $500,000 MacArthur "Genius Grant" Fellowship. Also on the list: Leila Josefowicz! When I was a wee little Suzuki violinist and she was a wee little Suzuki violinist, she was like a fantasy version of myself. She studied with Idel Low? I knew Idel Low! I watched her onstage, playing the Mendelssohn concerto, and thought, she's just a year than me... maybe if I practice a LOT in the next twelve months... Yeah, no. Didn't happen. But as she outgrew the Child Prodigy pinafore, she grew into the tight pants and body glitter of the New Music Champion, in which guise she knocked my socks off with an intimate New York performance of the Adams concerto some years ago. She marked the ferocious accents of the last movement with pelvic thrusts (she did!), and suddenly a piece which I had known through Kremer's sweet, wry, neoclassical interpretation revealed itself to be something totally different and–y'know what–better. She tore it up. When I heard that she had devoted herself to learning and performing the complete Adams violin music, I was delighted. Hey, between the MacArthur prize and this shortlist, it's been a pretty good couple weeks for her! And finally I'll leave you with a clip of freshly minted MacArthur fellow Walter Kitundu, instrument maker-in-residence with the Kronos Quartet and bird photographer. (Note that this ties in nicely with our earlier discussion of classical turntablism.) Read more about Kitundu at the SFGate and/or at the SFist, or just watch the clip below and be delighted.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Let's Objectify!

This is weird and creepy and offers to push classical music yet further down that grody path to the tits & ass & dollars obsessions of popular culture but still: I am perversely glad to see the women of classical music getting even this much attention. Go ahead, click that link. It's a hundred percent Safe For Work. You're just reading it for the articles, HAR HAR. What's crazy is that whoever compiled this list for Playboy dot com made it a list of classical musicians that are actually quite good! Like, Hilary Hahn is a very pretty young woman and all, but let's face it, she's not the boring-pretty you usually see drooled over in men's magazines. (Gay men's magazines, wipe that smirk off your face, I'm looking at you too, those dudes are seriously BORING.) No, she's obviously on this list because she is blonde and young, but just as obviously because she does play Schoenberg and Bach (and Stravinsky and Spohr). The inclusion of Danielle de Niese, a great opera star for television, is possibly symptomatic of something bad. I watched her Giulio Cesare and while she did turn in a thrillingly watchable performance in a very difficult role to act, I am not sure that it was a thrillingly listenable performance. While (to pick another name from this list) Anna Netrebko sings some roles inappropriately, and sings others a bit boringly, at least she always sings notes. I've been skeptical of the opera queens' laments re: the changing shape of divas (Covent Garden didn't want Debbie Voigt? COVENT GARDEN'S LOSS) but de Niese's variety of opera-celebritydom does give me pause. Still, the creepiest talk here is about Anne-Sophie Mutter:
WHO SHE IS: MILF violinist with rock-solid technique and a body to match Mutter made the transition from hot Austrian prodigy to hot Austrian star violinist with ease. Early in her career she could be counted on to try out edgy new works; later she married Academy Award-winning composer André Previn and premiered his Hollywood-lite Violin Concerto. They’re divorced now, so maybe we can expect more daring things from her again.
Creepy, because it sounds like something I would hiss to my bitchy new-music friends without thinking about whether or not it's actually true, but with that word "MILF" (weird pun on "Mutter"?) also thrown in there for extra creepiness points. First of all, should I point out that she recorded the Dutilleux concerto while she was still married to Previn? (Although I do wonder whatever happened to that Boulez piece she was supposed to premiere. There was supposed to be an Anthemes III but I don't think it ever happened. Anybody?) It drives me crazy when people put together a whole narrative of an artist's career based on a single blip. Like when Harold Bloom used the words "precipitous decline" to refer to a single novel of Thomas Pynchon (guess he didn't like Vineland) even though it was bookended by two masterpieces. Only so much worse, because Harold Bloom didn't say "MILF."

Anyway, mostly I'm just jealous that Playboy dot com has stolen my thunder, because now nobody will care when I rate the hotties of the new-music scene. Even so, let me throw the question out to my commenters: whom do YOU nominate as the sexiest composers, performers, etc in new music? (And speaking of the Mac, any guesses as to the identity of his mysterious double-reed-playing crush, as alluded to in this post? Hautbois or Faggott?) Just to get the ball rolling, let me show you all this picture of composer Matthias Pintscher. You're quite welcome. (Link via the one the only Molly Sheridan)

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Saturday, September 20, 2008


Via David Rees's miraculous new blog at Bookmark it now because David Rees is the greatest thing to happen to comedy since ever.

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Maurico Kagel Died the Other Day

I can't pretend to know much about the music of Mauricio Kagel, but at least one performance of his music was very important to me. JoJo and I went to see the Carnegie premiere of Kgael's crazy oratorio Abduction at the Concert Hall not too long after we met—god, eight years ago?—and for all its hokey moments, it was a thrill. Metadrama in the concert-hall! (Simulated) explosions! You can read Paul Griffiths on the piece here. Kagel studied English and American literature under no less an authority than Jorge Luis Borges, and his music might be heard as an attempt to do for music what Borges did for words. True, the words themselves in Entführung im Konzertsaal left something to be desired—maybe it worked better in German?—but conceptually and musically, it was a buzz. The other piece on the program was a kick in the pants as well: Mitternachtsstük(sic), a suitably bizarre choral setting of excerpts from Robert Schumann's unrealized sketches for a truly demented gothic-horror opera libretto. In his program notes, Kagel quoted admiringly from other mysterious fragments from Schumann's diaries, including one motto—opera without words—that has lingered in my imagination ever since. I mean, I guess it also happens to be the name of a few of those opera-for-dummies series of easily digested classical CDs, but what I mean is that it rings true for me in the way that only a myth rings true—like Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk or Bazin's mythe du cinema total—as an unrealizable principle towards which to aspire. I think Kagel aspired to it, in a sense, and came as close to realizing it as I've ever heard, with his metadramas and antidramas, whole histories and narratives built into the music itself, and "the music itself" expanded into realms undreamed of. (The photo above is a still from his film Ludwig Van, just out on DVD; the soundtrack to this scene is the piano music of Beethoven played off the surface of the objects in this room as the camera pans across them.) His influence will be felt for decades—and so will, every bit as much, his absence.


Friday, September 19, 2008


Presenting Mann Gegen Mann, a Finnish stylophone ensemble named after, I'm guessing, a Rammstein song about the joys of gay sex. Is it just me or does this kind of sound like Ratatat? Anyway here's their MySpace. (Thanks to loyal reader Grrg for the tip!)

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Moment of Silence

Kyle Gann's ongoing John Cage project has resulted in the best "desperately seeking disc"-type post I've ever seen:
One thing I could sure use before finishing this book on 4'33" is an obscure recording on the Korm Plastics label called 45'18" (Forty-five Minutes, Eighteen Seconds). It's a CD of nine versions of 4'33" by Thurston Moore, Keith Rowe, the Deep Listening Band, Voice Crack, and others. It doesn't seem to be available anywhere at the moment. Is there someone out there who could dupe me a copy, with program info? I'd gladly pay a reasonable price for a CDR. (I mean, I am paying basically for silence, but it's really important silence.)
Please, people, if you have that disc, or know someone who does, help a brother out. And Jesus, don't make him pay for it! Who does that??

(Photo of Jim Altieri, also from Gann's blog.) UPDATE: Found, before this post even left my queue. Hooray!

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HEY YOUNG COMPOSERS You Oughta Do This Thing!

I just got an email from the New York Youth Symphony regarding this program they're putting on for young composers and musicians, meaning 22 and under. There is an application fee ($70, looks like), and a materials fee if you get in ($100 plus a refundable $100 deposit), but no tuition! Everybody gets a scholarship.
The program consists of 11 seminars held throughout the season at ASCAP (see 08-09 syllabus below). We discuss compositional structure, form, harmony, rhythm, and the many issues involved in putting musical ideas down on paper. At each session, a guest speaker illuminates aspects of composition and instrumentation, and discusses their experience as it relates to the creative process. At the end of the year, members of the Youth Symphony perform music by the program participants on a final concert at Symphony Space. Students receive one-on-one tutorials at BMI to help them develop and realize their compositions. This year we will be continuing Orchestrations +, a collaborative workshop with the American Composers Orchestra/EarShot whereby students arrange, and compose new works for an orchestra that combines ACO and NYYS musicians. In addition, we are excited to be collaborating with the New York string quartet, ETHEL, for a readings and feedback workshop.
You're excited already! The press release lists guest composers such as Kernis, Muhly, and Reich, plus performers like Jason Treuting of So Percussion. So click here for more info, then here to download your application. (And click here if you want to email somebody with questions.)

Now do it quick! Deadline is October 1.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Yes We Can Play an Instrument Without Touching It

Via BoingBoing. Buttons available here.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Live from the Uncanny Valley

(Thanks to loyal reader Brett for this one.) There are a bunch of YouTube videos of the Vocaloid software singing Bach arias and chorales, but this duet from BWV 78 works much better than, say, the opening chorus of the St. Matthew Passion. The "choral" effect blunts the creepiness of Hatsune Miku's weird diction by making it sound sort of endearingly cheesy, a la Wendy Carlos's "Ode to Joy"—whereas these twins' goopy melismas are just real enough to be super disturbing. According to Wikipedia:
The series is intended for professional musicians as well as light computer music users. The programmed vocals are designed to sound like an idol singer from the future. According to Crypton, because professional singers refused to provide singing data, in fear that the software might create their singing voice's clones, Crypton changed their focus from imitating certain singers to creating characteristic vocals.
Understandable. (An idol singer! From the future! Awesome.) But this means that the technology is not here quite yet which would allow me to generate a synthetic battalion of Elisabeths Schwarzkopf...? Hey, let's work on that, Yamaha, shall we?

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Monday, September 15, 2008

People Who Do Not Like Wagner

(1) John Eliot Gardiner said the following to the Gramophone:
"I really loathe Wagner—everything he stands for—and I don't even like his music very much." Pressed on why, and why he won't perform it: "It's like you have a palate that you've developed over the years to distinguish between the best Burgundy and Côtes-du-Rhône—then you're suddenly given this appalling Spätlese that's actually got a fair dose of paraffin in it as well, and sheep drench—I think your palate would be ruined. That's my fear."

(2) Arthur Szyk, Jewish caricaturist of the fascist era, drew this deafeningly furious picture of Wagner as proto-Nazi (click to enlarge, slightly), and it makes Gardiner sound like Herbert von Karajan. Read more about Szyk in this Times review.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Technics Techniques

After I put up a post on the subject, Judd Greenstein pointed me to this excellent collection of hip-hop analyses from floodwatchmusic dot com. An embarrassing omission, because I'd already read the dang thing, since Judd had linked to it on his own blog, which I visit on a regular basis, and in fact I'm certain this was all in the back of my mind when I did my little song-n-dance. I have no idea why I forgot to mention or link to it in my own post. And then! NewMusicBox ran this delightful piece by... er... "renegade doctor of music from Harvard University, Erik Spangler (a.k.a. DJ Dubble8)," which not only gives a brief history of turntablism AND a primer on scratch technique AND some tips on how to compose music for DJ, it accidentally illustrates the weird tensions between the angle (academic-style music theory & composition) and the subject matter (hip-hop, the most disreputable of all vernacular musics) with little nuggets like,
To prevent other DJs from copying (or "biting") their personal sound, labels on records would often be covered up to disguise the sample sources. In order to win battles, one had to be original.
Oh, did one!

It might be worth pointing out, too, that by the time mainstream theorists and composers catch up to a trend or technology in popular music, it's probably already gone out of style. Analog DJing, as Spangler notes, is on the wane. In fact by now, the use of actual record scratching in a piece of music is going to be an exercise in nostalgia as much as anything else—not that such an exercise couldn't be richly rewarding, I'm just sayin'.

Okay, enough of this talking out of my butt. At this point I think the only way I could prove myself more out of touch with popular music is if I were to upload a picture of myself kissing a photo of Barry Manilow. Which, hell, while I'm at it:

And there we go.

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