Month: March 2009

Unlikely music critic of the day



Reply from THE MAYOR is I’m AT THE GAP BAND, ISLEY BROS. CONCERT. JUST WORN OUT FROM HANGING. (06/08 12:49AM EDT) to What are you doing?




Reply from Christine Beatty is I am laying here watching Antoine Fisher. Just chillin. (06/07 11:58PM CDT) to WHAT Are YOUUUU DOING? MAYOR KILPATRICK


Reply from THE MAYOR is That’s HOW I WAS PICTURING U. DAMN NEAR NECKADE, JUST CHILLIN! (06/08 01:01AM EDT) to I am laying here watching Antoine Fisher. Just chi


Reply from Christine Beatty is LOL. I actually have on my Ralph Lauren pajamas and I’m chillin! (06/08 12:07AM CDT) to That’s HOW I WAS PICTURING U. DAMN NEAR NECKADE, J


Reply from THE MAYOR is That’s CLOSE ENOUGH. (06/08 01:19AM EDT) to LOL. I actually have on my Ralph Lauren pajamas an


Reply from Christine Beatty is LOL. I just had a little mini dream about you. (06/08 12:33AM CDT) to That’s CLOSE ENOUGH.


Reply from THE MAYOR Is LOL! I’m HAVING MAJOR DREAMS. THE ISLEYS Are KILLING THEM. (06/08 01:35AM EDT) to LOL. I just had a little mini dream about you.


Reply from Christine Beatty is The Isley’s are killing what? (06/08 12:37AM CDT) to LOL! I’m HAVING MAJOR DREAMS. THE ISLEYS Are KILLI


Reply from THE MAYOR is THEY ARE STILL PERFORMING! AND JAMMING: HELLO, CHOOSEY LOVER, ATLANTIS, ETC. ( 06/08 01:42AM EDT) to The Isley’s are killing what?


Reply from Christine Beatty is Ohhh. Those are the jams! You still think of me when you hear love songs? (06/08 12:44AM CDT) to THEY ARE STILL PERFORMING! AND JAMMING: HELLO, CHO


Reply from THE MAYOR is HELL YEAH! LIVIN FOR THE LOVE OF YOU! (06/08 01:47AM EDT) to Ohhh. Those are the jams! You still think of me wh

Some of the approximately 6,000 text messages released this week by order of Wayne Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny, part of the scandal that drove both Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (“THE MAYOR”) and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty, from office. Kilpatrick was in Denver in June 2003, attending the 71st Annual Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors; the concert was at Red Rocks.

The Isley Brothers’ 2003 tour was in support of their R. Kelly-produced Body Kiss album, but former Mayor Kilpatrick shows a discerning taste for the classics: “Hello, It’s Me,” a Todd Rundgren cover, comes from the Brothers’ funk-heavy 1974 album Live It Up, “Voyage to Atlantis” comes from 1977’s platinum-selling Go For Your Guns, and “Choosey Lover,” from Between the Sheets, was a late-night-radio slow-jam hit in 1983. But the best comes last: “For the Love of You Pts. 1 & 2” was one of the two biggest hit singles from 1975’s epoch-making The Heat Is On, the other being “Fight the Power”.

Take Care of This House

A serendipitous footnote to yesterday’s ramble on places, real and virtual, is this story, which you probably have seen: Leonard Bernstein’s composition studio is being shipped to Indiana.

Leonard Bernstein’s children have donated the carefully preserved contents of his main composing studio to Indiana University, which has promised to recreate the space.

The items run from the deeply meaningful to the banal. They include Bernstein’s stand-up composing table; a conducting stool that may have been used by Brahms, given as a gift by the Vienna Philharmonic; an electric pencil sharpener; a telephone; an ashtray and disposable lighters; 39 Grammy-nomination plaques; and a piece of the Berlin Wall.

The first time I ever went wandering around the main branch of the Boston Public Library, I turned a corner and found Walter Piston’s studio, similarly transplanted from his home in Belmont, Massachusetts, after his death. Another Massachusetts example: in 2001, Julia Child’s kitchen was moved, lock, stock, and barrel, from her house in Cambridge to the Smithsonian Institution.

Does this sort of thing happen in Europe? Not the preservation of an artist’s studio—you can still visit Mahler’s composing shed, for instance—but dismantling it and reassembling it somewhere completely different? I find it a very American thing to do, both in terms of American vices—prioritization of convenience, fetishization of stuff—and virtues: mobility, reinvention, history that accrues to people and not places. I started thinking about Bernstein’s musicals and operas, all of which concern very specific places, from his early hit On the Town to his late flop 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It struck me that trucking his studio across the country would be a return to form for Bernstein, for whom the protean transience of New York was a better muse than the weighty history of the White House.

Where’er you walk

Richard Florida has an article in The Atlantic this month speculating on the relationship between place and recession-pain level. It’s basically a disaster-movie extension of his “creative class” brand.

Economic crises tend to reinforce and accelerate the underlying, long-term trends within an economy. Our economy is in the midst of a fundamental long-term transformation—similar to that of the late 19th century, when people streamed off farms and into new and rising industrial cities. In this case, the economy is shifting away from manufacturing and toward idea-driven creative industries—and that, too, favors America’s talent-rich, fast-metabolizing places.

What will this geography look like? It will likely be sparser in the Midwest and also, ultimately, in those parts of the Southeast that are dependent on manufacturing. Its suburbs will be thinner and its houses, perhaps, smaller. Some of its southwestern cities will grow less quickly. Its great mega-regions will rise farther upward and extend farther outward. It will feature a lower rate of homeownership, and a more mobile population of renters. In short, it will be a more concentrated geography, one that allows more people to mix more freely and interact more efficiently in a discrete number of dense, innovative mega-regions and creative cities.

Florida advocates using the economic crisis as an opportunity to reshape society to privilege such creative industries.

It’s interesting that the idea of a critical mass of creative people in a particular place still holds for classical music, at least. Historically, that’s par for the course—culture has been a big-city phenomenon going back to the Renaissance. But, given the hype of the game-changing nature of the Internet, you might expect to see a bit more evidence for a decentralized cultural ecology. Take the case of new music: will the Web eventually supplant geographical centers of activity with geographically scattered by digitally aggregated ones? Or will Florida’s dense, creative cities consolidate their historical lead?

What makes this hard to predict is that much of it depends on the nature of the artistic activity in question. David Galenson, who made a splash last year with his economic investigation of why different artists bloom early or late, used his conceptual/experimental framework to look at the dissemination of artistic style in an NBER working paper called “The Globalization of Advanced Art in the Twentieth Century.” Galenson reasoned that 20th-century styles spread comparatively rapidly because they were more conceptual (based on a pre-determined method or aesthetic stance) than experimental (based on trial-and-error):

The dominance of conceptual forms of art during most of the twentieth century was largely responsible not only for the increased speed with which innovations were made, but also for the greater speed with which they diffused geographically. Collage was an early example of a major innovation that was so highly conceptual, and so versatile in its uses, that artists could adapt it to their own purposes simply after hearing descriptions of it, without even seeing actual examples. The innovations of such movements as Dada and Pop put greater emphasis on ideas relative to execution than virtually any earlier artistic movements, and this allowed many of their new practices to spread almost spontaneously. Throughout much of the century, the great importance of written manifestos was symptomatic of the centrality of conceptual innovation, and these manifestos contributed to the rapid spread of the conceptual practices of the movements that produced them.

Galenson is writing about the visual arts, but the spread of the serialist and minimalist conceptual frameworks fits the pattern. However:

The dominance of artistic centers was reduced by the progress of globalization. During the twentieth century it became possible, for the first time in the modern era, for artists to make important contributions to the artistic mainstream without working in the art world’s central place…. Yet predictions like those that some art scholars and critics made in the late 1960s, that place would no longer matter for artistic innovation, appear to have been wrong. As in the past, it remains true today that artists who have already created novel styles or methods can work nearly anywhere they please, but also as in the past, it is unlikely that any contemporary artist can develop, or at the very least begin to develop, significant innovations anywhere other than in one of the central locations of the art world. The mainstream of western art still runs through central places.

For new music, even more so, now that the serialism/minimalism paradigms have become but two elements in an experimental eclecticism.

Back to the Internet—will the connectedness of the Web ever become sufficient to replace the geographic connectedness of artistic centers? Web-based social networking, for all its buzz, is as yet a diverting gimmick, with nowhere near the flexibility, nuance, and signal-to-noise ratio of an actual geographic artistic community. One assumes that, given Moore’s Law, the capacity for that robustness will eventually be achieved. But will there still be a market for it?

Florida again:

[W]e need to encourage growth in the regions and cities that are best positioned to compete in the coming decades: the great mega-regions that already power the economy, and the smaller, talent-attracting innovation centers inside them—places like Silicon Valley, Boulder, Austin, and the North Carolina Research Triangle.

Of course, what we could also do is encourage research and development in making talent-attracting innovation centers in the virtual world that would rival those in the physical world—online social networking as rich and productive as real-world social networking. What it would mean is deciding, as a society, if geographical diversity is a worthwhile goal. Cities and states watching their manufacturing base dry up might not be able to retool themselves into a New York or a Silicon Valley, but would it be a worthwhile investment to develop the technological capacity to compete with those places virtually?

One more thought: the Internet has been a boon for artists and the arts. But remember, it was developed by the military, out of their R&D budget. So imagine: what would, say, the NEA look like if it was more like DARPA—if it had both the wherewithal and the goal of not just supporting artistic projects, but developing artistic infrastructure? Not just bringing the arts outside of artistic centers, but funding research that could make artistic centers accessible regardless of location? Small-town-to-big-city dreams might not have the same romance. But think what you’d save on gas.

Auction chant

The Longwood Symphony in Boston, made up mostly of doctors (a lot of doctors in Boston), and one of the more adventurous community orchestras around (hey, they’re doing Antheil’s McConkey’s Ferry in May), is known for raising money for various medical causes, but later this month, they’re having an auction to raise money for themselves. Benefit auctions are nothing new, but get a bunch of doctors together, and they’ll slip in some wacky items for bid. Personalized blood analysis? An MRI of your brain while you’re listening to the piece of your choice? Sure, why not?

The objet de résistance is a violin autographed by (so far) 33 Nobel laureates. (Including new Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, who, I learn from a Longwood press release, played trombone in high school.) I’m looking under the cushions for change, but if that’s too nerdy for you, there’s also the opportunity to bid on a chance to play some chamber music with Yo-Yo Ma. (Beta blockers not included.)

Was (Not Was)

My lovely wife had a psychic reading over the weekend, which revealed this interesting factoid: according to the psychic, yours truly was, in a former life, a composer in a German court around the turn of the 18th century—not a particularly famous one, but apparently, someone who was held in some esteem by his colleagues.

After a bit of hunting around, I’ve narrowed it to four suspects:

Ernst Christian Hesse (1676-1762)

Composer and viol virtuoso (who, on a Parisian sojourn, managed to simultaneously study the instrument with Forqueray and Marais, who hated each other), attached to the court at Giessen and, later, Darmstadt. He scored one of the all-time great musician day jobs, as well: secretary of war for the Darmstadt court. His second wife was a singer, and the resultant general singer cattiness prompted his resignation as Kapelldirektor. Travelled much; knew everybody. Cause-and-effect, from his Grove entry: “In 1726 he was promoted to the war council; besides this, he devoted himself to his lucrative wine business and to his property. Later he withdrew still further from musical life, suffering acutely from gout.”

Reinhard Keiser (1674-1739)

Employed at the Brunswick court until he took over the Hamburg Opera in 1703; in his day, one of the most highly regarded composers of opera. (His Croesus has seen recent revival.) Handel admired his music enough to steal it wholesale (friction resulting from the two composers’ competing settings of Almira forced Handel to leave for Italy and, ultimately, England). Frequently beset by financial and administrative misfortune; ended up taking on a church gig as well (Kantor of the Hamburg cathedral). World-class indolence, from his Grove entry: “Following the final collapse of his administration in 1707, Keiser appears to have absented himself from the opera house for more than a year, passing much of his time visiting the estates of noble friends.”

Johann Christoph Pez (1664-1716)

Choir-school brat made good, he became choirmaster of the Peterskirche in Munich, but musical old-fogyness on the part of his superiors led him to the Munich court; later Kapellmeister for the Württemburg court in Stuttgart. Spent time in Rome picking up the Italian style; his choral writing is compact and, according to Grove, “largely homophonic” (which may explain my Brian Wilson fixation). Out-of-the-frying-pan career move, from his Grove entry: “In 1701 the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession caused him to return to Munich, where, however, music was almost non-existent.”

Agostino Steffani (1654-1728)

Venetian-born composer and organist at the Munich and, later, Hanover courts. In his mid-30s he embarked on a second career as a diplomat, first on behalf of the Hanoverian court, then for the Elector Palatine, Johann Wilhelm of Düsseldorf. Made general president of the Palatine government and a curator of Heidelberg University. Oh, and he managed to get himself appointed a bishop, too—first the titular Bishop of Spiga, then Apostolic Vicar of northern Germany. Composed a few works during his diplomatic career, published (for propriety’s sake) under the name of his copyist; late in life, in financial difficulty, he was elected president of the Academy of Vocal Arts (later the Academy of Ancient Music), for which he wrote a handful of works in return, including a superb Stabat Mater setting. They’ll-get-you-coming-and-going, from his Grove entry: “Apart from [his appointment as Abbot of] Löpsingen, he had three sources of income—a stipend from the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide in Rome, the abbacy of San Stefano in Carrara, near Padua, and a provostship in the Rhenish town of Seltz. The stipend was small, his agent in Padua was a swindler, and most of the revenue from Seltz was seized by French Jesuits at Strasbourg.”

So there’s our past-life police lineup, as it were. Let’s throw it open to the mob!