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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

Here is another in a steadily lengthening series of attempts to understand how the Internet is changing the nature of culture in society: The Book That Explains Our Cultural Stagnation.

“There was a virtuous cycle for Cage: His originality, mystery and influence provided him artist status; this encouraged serious institutions to explore his work; the frequent engagement with his work imbued Cage with cachet among the public, who then received a status boost for taking his work seriously,” writes Marx. For Marx, this isn’t a matter of pretension. Cachet, he writes, “opens minds to radical propositions of what art can be and how we should perceive it.”

The internet, Marx writes in his book’s closing section, changes this dynamic. With so much content out there, the chance that others will recognize the meaning of any obscure cultural signal declines. Challenging art loses its prestige. Besides, in the age of the internet, taste tells you less about a person. You don’t need to make your way into any social world to develop a familiarity with Cage — or, for that matter, with underground hip-hop, weird performance art, or rare sneakers.

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Salzburg isn't the only major European music festival and The Guardian has a piece on this year's iteration of the Lucerne Festival: Lucerne festival 2022 review – strength through diversity.

 The Lucerne festival – which already has an exemplary sustainability programme – was back to full strength, welcoming the world’s top ensembles and soloists to its many-layered season. Its important contemporary strand featured the British composer Thomas Adès, with the premiere of his festival commission, Air, for violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. (Further performances for those of us who missed it are scheduled next year for the US, but none as yet for the UK.)

The year’s overriding theme was diversity, symbolised by multicoloured chess pieces in the publicity material: bitonal knights, a zebra-striped bishop. A bold move was to invite Chineke!, the British majority black and minority ethnic orchestra, thus giving this seven-year-old newcomer a platform alongside the world’s most venerable: the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra among others. Chi-chi Nwanoku, Chineke!’s founder, gave the keynote speech. Chineke! will close the festival today, with the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason as soloist.

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Here is a discussion of a growing issue in the arts: AI and Art. The article makes a long and fairly involved argument so you should read the whole thing. I'm not going to critique the whole thing here, but I will take up one paragraph:

Before 1986, all musicians who learned to play musical instruments did so by trying to copy (as exactly as possible) the way their music teachers played. That’s right — they listened to a note and did everything in their power to copy it exactly. Intonation, quality, volume, attack, decay, sustain and release — every aspect of every note played was to be copied as exactly as possible. If you could put some notes together in a sequence, you could play a song. If not, you went out for a sports team.

This doesn't ring true for me. Yes, of course one copies, emulates, as one learns to play an instrument, but that is far from the simple act described. For example, one may copy one's music teacher, but listening to the students of a particular teacher will quickly reveal that every student does so in a different way and some don't seem to be copying their teacher at all. Students make choices, both technical and aesthetic, and they do so from a wide variety of influences. At the heart of it are the individual strengths and taste of the student, which develop over time into a unique musical personality--at least one hopes! This is an important brick in the foundation of the argument and it leads to this conclusion:

From copying my music teacher to copying the great composers to mashing-up great recorded content to learning to ask AI to create – it’s all the same process. We are copying what already exists and trying our best to do it so others will consider it art – not craft. Today, the lines between original and blatantly copied or computer assisted or computer generated works are so blurry, the concept of an original work may need some adjusting.

Well, yes, copying is copying, but this seems to completely deny the existence of anything we might call "creativity." Weren't thought leaders in education recently claiming that all young people were inherently creative? The argument here seems to be that since there is no such thing as creativity, it is all just copying, then AI is up to the job. Talk about moving the goalposts. We have to watch out for arguments that instead of explaining something, just explain it away.

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I love exploring those niches in the music world that are lesser known, like the best bow-rehairer in the world who is found hidden away in Paris, if I recall correctly--I did that item a long time ago. Today let's look at the obscure world of the opera prompter: The hidden world of an opera prompter.

The prompter is invisible to the audience, and he may be only one person among the roughly 250-strong cast and crew, but he plays a major role in keeping everything from flying off the rails.

Inside his box, it's bare bones. There's a wooden stand to hold a musical score, monitors to view the conductor, a fan to deal with the heat, a phone to call stage management in case the audio or video feed goes out, and a small electronic keyboard, conveniently Velcroed to the side of the box, to help the prompter give pitches — though Piatt said this is rarely needed, as most people who do this job have perfect pitch.

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There is a real shortage of interesting items this week, so let's move right into some envois. First up, a very early piece by Claude Debussy in which he sabotages Wagner's harmonic methods by eliminating cadences and leading tones:


When they were both young and struggling, Debussy and Erik Satie both lived in Montmartre and were friends. Satie's Gymnopedies were an influence on Debussy. We always hear the original piano versions which have become quite popular. Here are Debussy's orchestrations of the1st and 3rd:

And for something completely different, here is PJ Harvey from a while back. That is some serious drumming:




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