Month: January 2008

You probably think this song is about you

The scholars of the week here at Soho the Dog HQ are psychologists Brian P. O’Connor and Jamie Dyce, of Lakehead University and Concordia University, respectively. Back when both were at Lakehead, they wanted to test a particular model of self-perception called the looking-glass self chain. Previous tests of the model had focused on the role of the opinions and perceived opinions of peers and colleagues; O’Connor and Dyce were looking to build on more recent work that had factored in the opinions of significant others. What they needed was a situation in which both sets of opinions would be in play.

Felson (1989) found that the actual and reflected appraisals of parents affected childrens’ self-appraisals of academic and athletic ability, and to a lesser degree self-appraisals of physical attractiveness and popularity. Edwards and Klockars (1981) and Schafer and Keith (1985) exmined the perceptions of marriage partners and found significant relationships among actual, reflected, and self-appraisals. One purpose of our study was to replicate these findings using a very different sample of subjects: musicians in bar bands.

As they reported in their 1993 study “Appraisals of Musical Ability in Bar Bands: Identifying the Weak Link in the Looking-Glass Self Chain” (published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology), O’Connor and Dyce surveyed 171 bar band musicians, having them rate, on a scale of 1 to 5, their own perceptions of all five steps in the looking-glass self chain:

  • Actual appraisals: what other people really think of you.
  • Feedback given: what other people tell you they think of you.
  • Feedback received: what you hear when other people tell you what they think of you.
  • Reflected appraisals: what you think other people really think of you.
  • Self-appraisal: what you think of yourself.

  • Two particular criticisms of the looking-glass self chain could then be evaluated. O’Connor and Dyce again:

    The communication-barriers hypothesis suggests that the weakest link is between actual appraisals and feedback given by significant others. People do not communicate their true perceptions to self-appraisers. In contrast, the cognitive-processes hypothesis suggests that the weak link is between feedback given by significant others and individuals’ perception of that feedback. Information is lost on the way from sender to receiver.

    Any wagers? The researchers found that musicians, in fact, say what they think—but only hear what they want to.

    Of particular interest in this study is the finding that the correlation between actual appraisals and feedback given (r =.62) and the correlation between feedback given and feedback received (r =.38) were both significant, but the actual appraisals-feedback given correlation was significantly stronger according to the formula for comparing dependent correlations recommended by Cohen and Cohen (1983, p. 56), t =3.61, p <.01, two-tailed. This indicates that the weakest link in the looking-glass self chain is between feedback given and feedback received, and not between actual appraisals and feedback given.

    Brutally blunt to others, stubbornly pleased with ourselves—sounds like most musicians.

    O’Connor and Dyce took the opportunity to have the same 171 musicians complete Inter-personal Adjective Scale-Big Five (IASR-B5) measures of personality. Their findings?

    The results suggest that [popular] musicians tend to be more arrogant, dominant, extroverted, open to experience and neurotic than university males. However, no significant differences were found among singers, guitarists, bass players and drummers.

    Just remember, if you argue with the results, you’re further undermining the weak link in the looking-glass self chain. Those scientists—always thinking two moves ahead.

    Someone to watch over me

    Today’s fun fact:

    Mrs. A. Lincoln Filene of Boston, music patron and philanthropist, and George Gershwin, American composer, are among those who have contributed towards scholarships with Arnold Schönberg, internationally famous musician and teacher, who will come here next month to teach at the Malkin Conservatory of Music in Boston. Schönberg is an exile from Germany.

    From a September 26, 1933 New York Times report. (That’s Filene as in Filene’s Basement, by the way.) Most of us Schoenberg fans know of his one-year stint at the Malkin Conservatory, before he left for California on the grounds of, depending what you read, health or disappointingly poor students (probably both). I’d even run across mention of Gershwin’s support. But his remarks were new to me.

    Gershwin’s gift to the Schönberg scholarship fund was made as soon as he was informed of the great modernist’s coming to the United States. Himself an exponent of the use of the modern, native idiom in composition, Gershwin was delighted to come to the aid of the man who has been one of the most daring musical experimenters of our time.

    “America may well consider herself fortunate,” Gershwin said yesterday, “to have so distinguished a composer and teacher choose this country for his home. It is my sincere hope that Schönberg will stay a long, long time. His teaching at Boston cannot fail to stimulate and better musical expression here.

    “Furthermore, it will once more prove to Germany our intense disapproval of its tyranny and bigotry. Germany’s loss will be this country’s musical gain.”

    Time magazine also covered Schoenberg’s arrival.

    He has upset conservative concertgoers more than any other modern composer. Philadelphia and New York have not forgotten the harrowing chromatics in Die Glückliche Hand, which Leopold Stokowski gave three years ago. The much talked-of Wozzeck, which the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company put on, is a Schönberg stepchild. His pupil Alban Berg wrote it.

    Three weeks ago Arnold Schönberg landed in the U. S., surprised everyone by being a shy, mild little man not a bit fierce or radical in his comments on music or German politics….

    Critics took the stand that in his effort to develop something new Schönberg had lost his real inspiration and become a hard-headed mathematician…. But no one has denied his genius as a teacher. In Europe where he had the facilities he took his pupils into his home to live, helped them study Bach and Beethoven, then let them write the kind of music which came naturally to them. His U. S. pupils will have to go through the same fundamental training. The one thing he will not encourage is imitation Schönberg.

    It’s interesting that at this point, Gershwin had not actually met Schoenberg;* most likely Gershwin’s enthusiasm stemmed from his 1928 meeting with Alban Berg in Vienna. Also note Schoenberg’s high reputation in the press—even in Time, which doesn’t think much of the music—contrasting with the prophet-in-the-wilderness perception of Schoenberg’s arrival on these shores (a perception cultivated not a little by Schoenberg himself). Gershwin’s comments, assuming they reflect his thinking (the quote does sound a bit like a press release), show him on the cutting edge for 1933, both culturally and politically; this is, after all, only a few months after the Reichstag fire, and still prior Hindenburg’s death.

    The Malkin Conservatory seems like a great topic for study, incidentally—it was only in existence for a decade, yet attracted such students and faculty as Schoenberg, Roger Sessions, Ernst Krenek, Nicolas Slonimsky, Conlon Nancarrow, Harold Shapero, and Arthur Fiedler. Imagine those convocations.

    *Update (1/15): Or had he? A murky minor mystery of history—see comments.

    You Don’t Know Me

    Today’s top story is this very odd one out of the Czech Republic, via Norway. Czech composer Barbara Skrlova was arrested in Norway after impersonating a 13-year-old boy named “Adam.” As it turns out, Skrlova has been wanted in her home country as a witness in a child-abuse case.

    Norwegian police detained Skrlova on January 5 in the northern town of Tromso thinking that they had finally located a 13-year-old runaway Czech boy named Adam, whom they believed was being abused.

    At the time, police had no inclination that they had ended an eight-month-long manhunt for a 33-year-old crown witness in a bizarre and intricate child-abuse case in a distant Central European country.

    Skrlova, who was escorted to the Czech Republic and placed in custody earlier this week, had pretended to be Adam for four months. She even went to school in the Norwegian capital Oslo under her new identity.

    Skrlova had apparently previously impersonated a teenage girl named “Anna,” who had been adopted by a woman named Klara Mauerova. Back in the spring, that deception was unmasked when Mauerova and her sister were arrested under bizarre circumstances for child-abuse; authorities suspect the sisters, and possibly Skrlova, are members of a breakaway faction of the Grail Movement, dedicated to the individualist teachings of Oskar Ernst Bernhardt, a.k.a. Abd-ru-shin, a German mystic who died in 1941. (A representative of the Grail Movement in the Czech Republic stated that the movement had cut ties with the sisters “after they added to the Grail Message with their own imaginings and fantasies”.) At this point, no one is quite sure whether Skrlova was one of the abusers or one of the abused. The case is being called “one of the strangest in Czech criminal history”.

    In other, lighter news, it appears that Bollywood has found its own Jay Greenberg.

    A ninth standard student from Kerala is all set to achieve a rare distinction by becoming the music composer for a feature film at the age of 13 years.

    “I am very happy to get a chance to compose songs in the Malayalam movie ‘Plavilla Police’,” a jubilant Ramatheerathan told PTI after the ‘pooja’ for recording of songs at a studio here.

    This is probably actually a bigger deal than Greenberg—Bollywood music composers are celebrities in their own right, rivaling the films’ stars in both billing and tabloid attention.

    For his part, a film musical has inspired Norman Lebrecht to linguistic invention:

    Sweeney Todd the musical is, of course, famously indestructible. I have seen it raise the roof at the Royal Opera House and in half-rehearsed college productions, with full choreography and in John Doyle’s compact version for nine singing instrumentalists. Sweeney never fails. Getting it onto screen, though, was fraught with ibstgacles.

    Fraught with WAIT A MINUTE I DON’T THINK THOSE LETTERS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE ALL NEXT TO EACH OTHER THAT WAY. I like it! It’s like visual onomatopoeia—you’re reading along, and then your eyes stumble over ibstgacles like, well, an insurmountable ibstgacle. Update (1/11): alas, they’ve fixed it online. Good thing I took a screenshot:

    Finally, fellow church music director Frank Pesci points out this MSN story in which the seventh-fastest growing salary in America is revealed to be that paid to “music directors and composers”. (We’re tied with agricultural inspectors! We’re at least as important to the economy as detecting whether that turnip is really organic or not!) And I see by the average that some of you bourgeois pigs out there are making 50 grand a year at this. No kidding! Next time I’m out with other composers, they’re buying—and I’m ordering good beer.

    A quoi ça sert l’amour?

    The president of France apparently has a thing for the progeny of composers. If you recall, back in October, President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that he had divorced his second wife, Cécilia Ciganer-Albéniz, a great-granddaughter of the Spanish composer-pianist Isaac Albéniz. Now, a mere three months later, rumors are swirling that Sarkozy is about to marry his new girlfriend, the model-turned-singer Carla Bruni.

    Bruni is the stepdaughter of the late Italian composer Alberto Bruni Tedeschi (1915-1996), who divided his time, Ives-like, between composing and running CEAT (Cavi Electrici Affini Torino), the tire and cable company founded by his father. (Bruni Tedeschi sold CEAT to the Italian tire giant Pirelli in the 1970s, but the brand lives on via its Indian subsidiary, founded in 1958.) From 1959 to 1971, he was also sovritendente of the Teatro Regio di Torino (where the current music director is the increasingly in-demand Gianandrea Noseda). Bruni Tedeschi’s music is mostly in a romantic-modernist style reminiscent of Dallapiccola; there’s a plethora of recordings and videos on his posthumous website. Still, his leading passion seems to have been collecting—art, furniture, houses, all manner of stuff.

    Carla Bruni got her start as a model for Guess jeans back in the 80s, and, as every single news article about her never fails to mention, has at one time or another dated Eric Clapton, Donald Trump, Kevin Costner, and, most infamously, Mick Jagger, driving Jagger’s wife Jerry Hall to distraction for the better part of a decade. Until recently, she was married to the philosopher Raphaël Enthoven, who she began an affair with while she was still in a relationship with Enthoven’s father; the younger Enthoven’s wife at the time, Justine Lévy (daughter of the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy), later wrote a thinly-diguised roman-á-clef about the whole scandal. Did you follow that? Then again, Sarkozy met his second wife when, as mayor of Neuilly, he officiated at her wedding to somebody else. They sound like they were made for each other.

    But even the normally tolerant French find the quick turnaround a little unseemly—the latest polls show that Sarkozy’s approval rating has dropped nearly 20 points since the summer, and 7 points in the last month alone. It should be noted that Sarkozy’s disinclination to keep his private life private—the couple took a well-publicized Christmas trip to Egypt—is in stark contrast with his predecessors, who have traditionally been discreet with their amorous activities while in office. The problem is not the affair, in other words, but that, in flaunting it, Sarkozy is coming off as a bit gauche—a danger for someone whose predilection for the luxuries offered by his wealthy friends and supporters have already earned him the derisive title of le Président Bling-Bling.

    But this is a music blog, after all, so let’s get to the real question: can Carla Bruni sing? Well, she has better pitch than Rex Harrison, at least. Personally, I don’t go in for ultra-wispy breathiness (except from Blossom Dearie in one of her sly moods), but more than a few Europeans do, based on the success of her 2004 debut single, “Quelqu’un m’a dit.” She gets this sincere compliment: she’s the polar opposite of American Idol.

    In the corners of my mind

    The weekend’s non-required reading was Daniel Goldmark’s Tunes for ‘Toons: Music and the Hollywood Cartoon. Goldmark does some breakdown of compositional practice in the Golden Age of Hollywood animation, but the focus is mostly on cultural studies: what the way that music was used in cartoons tells us about how various types of music were viewed and referenced at the time. It’s a fun, fun book, although you get the feeling that Goldmark has simplified his analysis somewhat in order not to scare off a non-specialist audience. You’re a college professor—go ahead and write that tome! Still, a welcome addition to a library category that remains scandalously small.

    Goldmark, inevitably, spends a chapter analyzing the Chuck Jones-directed Bugs Bunny Wagner parody “What’s Opera, Doc?”. If you’re one of the four people who have never seen the cartoon, you can watch it here. (For my money, “Rabbit of Seville” is funnier. But I digress.) “What’s Opera, Doc?” has become such a staple that it’s taken on a life of it’s own, beyond parody—as I was reading, I realized that uses of “Ride of the Valkyries” in TV or advertising over the past couple decades or so are probably referring just as much to the cartoon as to the original opera. In other words, it’s taking advantage not of our collective knowledge of Die Walküre, but of our collective knowledge of Elmer Fudd singing “Kill the wabbit.”

    That’s a fairly odd state of affairs, even given the way popular culture appropriates anything it can get its hands on. You can compare another warhorse, the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9. The “Ode” has made its way through pop culture, probably most famously in the Bruce Willis Die Hard franchise. (A grungy guitar version turns up in the trailer to last year’s Live Free or Die Hard.) Yet the piece remains stubbornly fixed in its Ninth-Symphony context.

    Over Christmas (hence, you may have missed it), the Slovenian philosopher/iconoclast Slavoj Žižek made a surprise visit to the New York Times, ruminating on the European Union’s adoption of the “Ode to Joy” as their anthem, in light of his own idiosyncratic hearing of the original. Jonathan at “Dial ‘M'” didn’t think much of the article—me, I rather enjoyed it. But regardless of whether you buy Žižek’s argument or not, the point is, his intellectual strategy was dead-on. The EU chose the Beethoven for their anthem precisely because they wanted to appropriate the perceived qualities of the original: a paean to freedom and brotherhood. Žižek, looking to poke mischievous holes in the EU’s self-image, knew that muddling the original context of the “Ode” would be the best way to undermine the EU’s use of it. Goldmark, on the other hand, barely mentions the original context of the Wagner selections in “What’s Opera, Doc?”—he correctly points out that the cartoon instead follows a generic operatic narrative for which Wagner’s music serves merely as a signal. The music has become so shorn of its original context that even someone who has no knowledge of the Ring responds to it in a semiotically particular way. (Here’s another way to think about it: if the late Karlheinz Stockhausen had created Hymnen, his electronic national-anthem kaleidoscope, in the past five years rather than the late 60s, he would have been faced with the decision whether to include the EU anthem or not: a recognizable bit of the “Ode to Joy” would almost certainly be heard as a comment on Beethoven’s Ninth rather than the EU, or nationalism in general.)

    Why is this? I don’t know. It could be that more people have experienced the Beethoven in its original context—performances of the Ninth are certainly more common, and readily accessible, than performances of the Ring. It could be that more people have actually sung the Beethoven, probably in the form of Henry Van Dyke’s hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”—perhaps that’s fixed the “Ode” as a specifically musical experience instead of a more generically “cultural” one. It could be a sign of the success that propagandists had in associating Wagner with the Nazis in World War II—and, in turn, disassociating it from the actual operas. (Goldmark points out that much of the imagery of “What’s Opera, Doc?” is foreshadowed in a WWII-era anti-Nazi Bugs Bunny short, “Herr Meets Hare”—although the music in that one was, curiously, Strauss waltzes.) It could be the more stylized (read: more easily parodied) aspects of opera vs. concert music. Or it could, after all, just be one of those quirks of history—I actually gravitate towards this one, since the idea of a piece of music having a biography as wayward and rich as a person appeals to me.

    Of course, I haven’t yet mentioned the most famous post-Bugs use of Wagner, the helicopter assault in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (the “Ride” begins around the 3:20 mark).

    This is an absolutely fascinating use of the music because the movie gets to have it both ways. No doubt Coppola and his screenwriter, John Milius, were fully aware of the plot of Die Walküre, the ingenious portrayal of the helicopter gunships as modernized, mechanized Valkyries—the music both romanticizes combat and wryly points out the absurdity of ancient notions of chivalry in a war where the killing is almost industrialized. But Coppola also gets the benefit of the general, vague familiarity with the piece, giving the scene an almost banal overtone that works in counterpoint with the intense violence.

    The most intriguing detail of the use of the music is that it’s diagetic, that is, it actually exists within the movie. We hear the “Ride” because the soldiers are hearing it: Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall) explains its presence, gives the “psyops” order, and we see the reel-to-reel tape begin to play. It’s a way to massage the surrealism of the soundtrack, and I think it’s very subtly aided by the shared 20th-century music-appreciation-via-cartoon that “What’s Opera, Doc?” epitomizes. The film’s creators may have familiarized themselves with the mythology of the Ring, but the surfing Army lifer Col. Kilgore? He probably learned it from Bugs Bunny.