AC Douglas of “Sounds & Fury” is on a roll with three painfully elitist postings all in one day.  It’s been too long since I last debunked him, so let’s take a gander at all three.

1. “The iPod Sensibility Enters The Concert Hall”

Cal Performances, an arts presenter in Berleley, CA, is installing and state-of-the-art amplification system in Zellerbach Hall, which is designed to compensate for the hall’s shortcomings and enable “a uniformly excellent acoustic environment for its wide range of recitals, chamber music, symphonic music, opera, theater, dance, world music and the rest.”  ACD calls this “another victory for pop culture” and “repulsive.”  First, I don’t see what this has to do with “the iPod Sensibility” aside from the fact that both use electricity.  Second, pop culture has nothing to do with it – they’re not talking about replacing classical repertoire with Justin Timberlake.  They’re not even using it to generate a “pop” sound, but rather to make a wider variety of ensembles sound natural in one space to compensate for the fact that concert halls are emphatically one-size-fits-some.  If you’re a sticker for Historically Informed Performance (HIP), the electroacoustic reinforcement isn’t for you – but neither are modern instruments (including steel strings on your violins), or modern concert halls.  Chamber music is called that for a reason, so if you play, say, a Mozart string quartet in, say, Disney Hall, you’re already miles away from historical accuracy, and the amount of reverberation might make the music sound significantly worse than it would in a salon.  Furthermore, the study of concert hall acoustics only got seriously underway in the 20th Century, so modern halls sound better than most of their pre-modern counterparts.  Why is making halls sound better with electronics any different from making them sound better with architecture?  If your goal is HIP, then do what you have to do.  If your goal is to make music sound as good as possible in the space available, electronic reinforcement is a very useful tool.

2.  “Déjà vu All Over Again”

ACD wonders why Alex Ross’s witty mock-analysis of the feline minimalism video reminds him of “any number of “˜rock critics’ (absurd concept!) waxing eloquent in technically detailed, highfalutin “˜elitist’ language over the latest piece of same-as-the-gazillion-pieces-before-it rock crap with the same earnestness as if it were some recently discovered piece by Bach or Mozart or Beethoven or any other of the pantheon of immortals.”  Sigh.  The reason, Mr. D., is that you believe these analyses are only appropriate for “serious” (i.e. classical) music.  Sophisticated analysis sounds silly when applied to things that lack sophistication, and you perceive rock music as similarly insignificant to the katzemusik.  I don’t mind ignorance about rock music, or dislike of rock music for superficial reasons.  Heck, I dislike both Country music and Debussy for superficial reasons (La Pickup Truck Engloutie).  I mind the presumption that ignorance yields valid analyses.  If it all sounds the same to you, that should be your first clue that you aren’t qualified to pass meaningful judgment on it.  Furthermore, I have yet to hear a persuasive argument that classical music is inherently superior to popular music.  I hereby renew the challenge.

3.  “Gee, What A Surprise II”

The study by British scientists Adrian North and David Hargreaves of the correlation between musical taste and other biographical attributes has been mentioned by many people, and ACD now chimes in with a quote noting the correlation between classical music fandom and higher level of education, higher income, and higher consumption of current affairs magazines.  His only comment is “duh,” and it’s true that these results are pretty unsurprising.  Based on his usual attitudes, however, I suspect he means something like “classical music, due to its inherent superiority, appeals more to people who are smart because they’re smart enough to appreciate it, and smart people generally get more education, earn more money, and read current events magazines.”  Maybe I’m wrong about ACD, and sincere apologies if that is the case, but even if I am wrong this analysis deserves debunking as a public service.  Reports of this sort demand great care in the  attribution of causality.  What’s really happening is that taste is very malleable, and is largely determined by socialization.  A major component of our musical taste is our associations of musical style with social groups, so we should be unsurprised to find musical taste correlating with social and economic groupings.  Classical music’s alignment is a product of cultural history, not of the intelligence levels of the current members of the group.

On the other hand, he’s completely right in this analysis of Harry Potter, he has a beautiful prose style, and he obviously like Wagner, so Sounds & Fury isn’t a complete waste of bandwidth.

75 Responses to “. . . Signifying Nothing”
  1. andrea says:

    oh, and just because a message is coherent, doesn’t mean that it’s a good message.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Evan, a literature professor would have a field day searching for hidden meanings in your response. :) By analogy, concert music is

    1) “cavernous” – that is, similar to a cave: dark, primitive, underground, spooky, easy to get lost in, possibly full of bears

    2) “old” – needs no explanation, I think

    3) “cathedral” – sacred, and in a very specific high church way that’s associated with ceremony, ritual, and affluence

    4) “French – from Europe

    And on top of all that, it’s something we visit as tourists, not something that is actually a part of our day to day lives. Of course, most of those are pretty accurate descriptions of classical music as it exists in the modern world, with the possible exception of the bears.

    In all seriousness, I do see your point, and I can understand wanting that kind of authenticity. But unless your performers are singing, or playing found percussion instruments, they’re using manmade technology to create the sound. And unless they actually are performing in a cave, they’re doing it in a space that’s intended to result in a better experience for the audience (even if it’s just by keeping the rain off, or muffling the sound of passing traffic). I guess I still don’t quite see what seperates audio technology that does use electricity from the type that doesn’t. How do you feel about pipe organs? The pipes are to your left and right, behind you, everywhere. I know from first hand that if you’re too close to a particular bank of stops, your experience of the music will be severly distorted by it. So how is that different from a concert where there are loudspeakers to your left and right, behind you, everywhere? I know that the pipes are part of the instrument, but I suggest that the loudspeakers are part of the instrument, too, in their way.

    Or are you just arguing that things should be what they seem – that there’s nothing wrong with amplification as such, but using amplification to try to arrive at some approximation of a “perfect” non-amplified sound is self-defeating?

  3. Jordan says:

    That last anonymous is me. Apologies.

  4. Seth Gordon says:

    People pay attention because he’s got striking ideas, and a striking way of presenting them.

    To you. I find neither his ideas nor his presentation particularly striking. In fact, the opposite – I find them both a bit played out. I suppose he comes off as original to anyone who’s… never read anything particularly original. He plays at being a witty & biting satirist, but there’s no satire there – only sarcasm. This is nothing new. Come one, it’s Ann Coulter’s shtick – only his cojones aren’t as big, and she’s actually funny sometimes. And before her it was someone else’s routine. And someone else’s before that.

    Beyond the highly developed ability to piss off he obviously has integrity and a coherent message which informs all his posts.

    Believe me, as someone who’s been doing it for years, it takes no ability to piss people off. In the right situation, I could put a roomful of people into a murderous rage just by declaring that kittens are cute and loveable.

    He’s vital because he is the blogger everyone loves to hate.

    Hahahahahaha. He wishes.

    Well, like Graham said… and I had my doubts, but I’m beginning to think maybe he’s right. Maybe “Walter Ramsey” isn’t just an acolyte overestimating the influence of his hero, but yet another psuedonym. Maybe I’m dating myself a bit here – but wasn’t “Walter Ramsey” the name of the evil boss in Patterns? As I recall, his character kind of fit the same Coulter / Douglas mold… though it’s been awhile since I’ve seen it. Maybe “Walter” is the Twilight Zone to ACD’s Götterdämmerung.

  5. Walter Ramsey says:

    “To you. I find neither his ideas nor his presentation particularly striking. In fact, the opposite – I find them both a bit played out. I suppose he comes off as original to anyone who’s… never read anything particularly original. He plays at being a witty & biting satirist, but there’s no satire there – only sarcasm. This is nothing new. Come one, it’s Ann Coulter’s shtick – only his cojones aren’t as big, and she’s actually funny sometimes. And before her it was someone else’s routine. And someone else’s before that.

    Believe me, as someone who’s been doing it for years, it takes no ability to piss people off. In the right situation, I could put a roomful of people into a murderous rage just by declaring that kittens are cute and loveable.”

    Somehow I don’t believe you. You implied in the earlier paragraph that I think ACD is original because I’m one of those who “never read anything particularly original.” (does that include this forum?) Somehow I am just not pissed! But even as much as I like reading ACD blog I get irritated by many things, and used to even respond. If you can think of some other blogger who has inspired so many various arts blogs to come to the defensive and interact with each other, by all means direct me to their site.

    “Hahahahahaha. He wishes.

    Well, like Graham said… and I had my doubts, but I’m beginning to think maybe he’s right. Maybe “Walter Ramsey” isn’t just an acolyte overestimating the influence of his hero, but yet another psuedonym. Maybe I’m dating myself a bit here – but wasn’t “Walter Ramsey” the name of the evil boss in Patterns? As I recall, his character kind of fit the same Coulter / Douglas mold… though it’s been awhile since I’ve seen it. Maybe “Walter” is the Twilight Zone to ACD’s Götterdämmerung. ”

    There could really be no better indication of ACD’s power to disturb than the overblown vocabulary that comes into play anytime discussing him: I am an “acolyte,” and he is my “hero;” someone else said I clearly “love him.” I think everything I wrote was well within the bounds of rationality, after all who doesn’t defend a writer or something else that they like?

    Earlier you said you didn’t know why people bothered to pay attention to his blog. Well you have definitely spilled the most words on the subject, so it is clear you “love” to “hate” ACD!

    Walter Ramsey

  6. andrea says:

    i haven’t read acd in at least two years; it only took a few posts for me to understand that his world view is severely limited and disempowering. you can call that ‘influential,’ or ‘the power to disturb.’ you could say that about rev. fred phelps, too. doesn’t mean it deserves my attention.

  7. Graham Rieper says:

    So now the “power to disturb” is a state to which one should aspire? Must be that iPod sensibility that I hear is ruining everything.

  8. Walter Ramsey says:

    Here we go with the irrational and zealous vocabulary: “So now the “power to disturb” is a state to which one should aspire?”

    When did I ever suggest such a thing? I just said that was one of his powers. Clearly you are tempted to model yourself after the ACD example, and why deny this? In all of us there is a bit of the conservative, and you’ve got to let that out somehow.

    Maria Callas: “My voice disturbs the people.”

    “i haven’t read acd in at least two years; it only took a few posts for me to understand that his world view is severely limited and disempowering. you can call that ‘influential,’ or ‘the power to disturb.’ you could say that about rev. fred phelps, too. doesn’t mean it deserves my attention.”

    I obviously don’t want to “educate” people on what they should pay attention to, it is such a personal matter. I just want to defend something that I like from attacks I deem unfair. Who can’t relate to that?

    But then at the same time I am at fault, for I am not one of these who says, I do what I do and i don’t care at all what others think. When I enjoy something, my urge is to share it, and not discount those around me. This is perhaps a weakness, but one which I gladly confess to!

    Walter Ramsey

  9. Graham Rieper says:

    “Here we go with the irrational and zealous vocabulary…”

    Pop a couple Valium, and settle down, son. You’re overwrought. And sounding more like AC every minute.

  10. Seth Gordon says:

    And sounding more like AC every minute.

    Maybe “Walter” is the Ed Norton to Brad Pitt’s “ACD” – perhaps they’re barreling down a road toward some kind of denouement à la Fight Club.

    I’m just sayin’, Zellerbach should hire extra security. Just in case.

  11. andrea says:

    walter, we’re just saying your defense falls flat. kyle gann is a rather polemic writer, too. at his best, he’s witty, informative, inspired. when he’s under par, he comes off as whiny – to me, anyway. acd always comes off as an evangelical minister, proclaiming the apocalypse is nigh and those of us who aren’t duly worshipping at the same altar he worships at, well, we’re all going to hell. what is witty, informative, and inspired about that world view? not much. i can’t speak for the rest of S21, but for me, i need a better reason than that to pay attention to acd. you haven’t given me one.

  12. unnamed source says:

    Andrea asks this amusing question: “why is it that when mozart, beethoven, brahms, and mahler assimilate the folk music they grew up with it’s genius, but when we do it (yes, rock/pop is our folk music), it’s lousy?” Um, yes, good question – why is it so lousy (compared to those guys)?

  13. unnamed source 2 says:

    well, for one thing it isn’t comparable. for another, it isn’t lousy.

  14. Walter Ramsey says:

    But I think the point is she was comparing. She was saying, if they did it, why don’t composers today. I can only think of a few pieces that I know that “assimilated” rock or pop, but it rather seems to me that when the older composers did it, they transformed it into a different style altogether, but today, if composers “assimilate” rock or pop it is rarely assimilation at all, but just composing in that style. If Mahler used a folk tune for his symphonies, it is not composed in a folk style, it has everywhere the imprint of Mahler, and also of more formalized methods.
    Just a thought!

    Walter Ramsey

  15. Graham Rieper says:

    That depends on who’s doing the assimilating. When Steve Reich or Michael Gordon assimilate elements of jazz and rock they still sound unmistakably like Reich and Gordon. The source of the influence has been entirely transformed.

  16. andrea says:

    how is it not comparable, us2? and of course, i don’t think it’s lousy, but acd seems to find it offensive. mr. ramsey, there’s a LOT of classical music out there that assimilates rock and pop. lots of people are doing this. and surely, some of it works, some of it doesn’t. my point is that it was okay for debussy to write cakewalks and it was okay for schubert to be folksy (Heidenröslein, anyone?) and it was okay for a zillion renaissance composers to use l’homme armé, but somehow for many critiquing the classical establishment, the incorporation of today’s music is ‘pandering’ or ‘ipod culture’ or somehow a sin, a line that shouldn’t be crossed. why?

    and ‘unnamed source’ is a sucky pseudonym. at least ‘graham rieper’ elicits a half-assed chuckle…

  17. us2 says:

    i was responding more to us1 than you. I said not comparable, first because the situation of writing in 2006, as opposed to, say, 1820 or 1896 is so different–the game, the culture, the whole picture is different–and second, because it seems the comparison was between today’s composers in general, a wide ranging group who seem very real and mortal, and Mahler and Beethoven, two individuals who seem rather distant and god-like. They had plenty of contemporaries who incorporated folk and popular tunes badly.

  18. Walter Ramsey says:

    “somehow for many critiquing the classical establishment, the incorporation of today’s music is ‘pandering’ or ‘ipod culture’ or somehow a sin, a line that shouldn’t be crossed. why?”

    I can’t quite parse your grammar here, whether you mean, those critiquing the classical establishment find the incorporation pandering, or that pandering etc are adjectives applied to those critiquing the establishment. I think you mean the latter, and if so, by singling those incorporating these elements as critiquers, you may have hit the nail on the head as to why they are themselves criticized (pandering, ipod culture), but at the same time we don’t bother when the older Masters do it, and that is because, the older Masters were not attempting to critique any establishment and therefore were not perceived as cynical, or were not the victims of cynicism, or at least this kind of cynicism. It only makes sense if someone is critiquing an establishment, that the basis of their critique will be challenged. And who wouldn’t have sympathy or understanding for this?

    And to those who see such figures as Mahler and Beethoven distant and godly, godly I can accept, but read any good biography and look deeply into their photographs and letters, and they will be as real to you as your next-door neighbor!

    Walter Ramsey

  19. us2 says:

    distant in the sense of time and situation. of course they are near to us as musical communicators…
    sorry if you want to argue about every single thing, but this is getting oh so tiresome…

  20. andrea says:

    but the point isn’t about who’s doing it well or badly. the point is that now, even though we have a rich amount of folk/pop/rock to inspire us, we’re supposed to avoid it. why? i don’t think the rather distant and god-like dead ones would have made that suggestion to their contemporaries.

  21. Graham Rieper says:

    Who said they did or ever would make that suggestion? And who said you should avoid any influence or inspiration that comes to you? At all times a composer should go for whatever it is they want and love.
    I think the point that was being made was that it’s a different world and there are different things in the world today to inspire one. These days it won’t likely be a Tyrolean folk tune. And the surrounding presence of jazz, rock, et al is not the same as folk music was two centuries ago. They are not merely vernacular forms, but dynamic scenes, full of artists of substance and ambition. A century or two ago, classical music was the only game in town for the “serious” composer. Now it isn’t.

  22. suckynymist says:

    The point about rock/pop isn’t about avoiding the influence of anything. The point is that, compared to the Great Dead Ones, rock/pop influenced composers are writing pretty lousy music (which is not to say it is especially lousy within the general context of classical music being written these days, because, looking at it that way, it’s not particularly worse than anything else). But there isn’t a single composer now who is doing music based on their rock/pop “roots” who is even remotely comparable in the quality of what they are doing to what Bartok did with his folk material, for example.

    Some classical composers who are rock/pop influenced might as well just go ahead and BE rock/pop musicians, because that’s what they really want, except it’s like they’ve got some kind of pretense about their place in the scheme of things that prevents that from happening.

    Unlike ACD, I like a lot of rock/pop crap. But that doesn’t mean that adding whatever is the latest trend in the clubs to their music is going to convince me that anyone is a good composer, and yeah, doing that sort of stuff just might appear to be pandering. In fact, it might actually be pandering . Nobody in the mutual admiration society that is S21 could or would ever be guilty of such a thing, of course.

  23. us2 says:

    if you would like these “observations” to be discernable from open-mouthed drooling, you’re going to have to provide examples.
    otherwise, this thread is so dead.

  24. andrea says:

    “Nobody in the mutual admiration society that is S21 could or would ever be guilty of such a thing, of course.”

    my favorite is how people who make comments like this never provide a link to their own music, lest they risk entry into the mutual admiration society or accusations of being one of those who’d rather be a rock/pop musician…

  25. Seth Gordon says:

    compared to the Great Dead Ones, rock/pop influenced composers are writing pretty lousy music

    …to you.

    there isn’t a single composer now who is doing music based on their rock/pop “roots” who is even remotely comparable in the quality of what they are doing to what Bartok did with his folk material,

    …in your opinion.

    But of course, we don’t know anything about your anonymous ass. So what your opinion is worth… ? You could be an asylum inmate who thinks he’s Bartok for all we know.

    So, uh… to paraphrase someone: Who cares if you listen?

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