Archive for November, 2006

21st century ethnomusicologists, as reflected in Music and Technoculture, a series of essays edited by Lysloff and Gay (2003, Wesleyan University Press), are applying their analysis of music as culture beyond the study of so-called ‘native’ cultures to new cultures developing here and now in the western world. I like this book for its questioning of exoticism. Third-world cultures have evolved as they are affected by technology and modernism; there is a complex interactivity between the new and the old, even down to the way the music is recorded on location by ethnomusicologists themselves, who are looking for an authenticity that may be completely out of date, and therefore altered.

These very same recordings find their way into pop songs, from Brian Jones gathering soundtracks in Morocco for inspiration, to the height of new age music, with the case of Enigma’s use of Taiwanese vocal polyphonies. The Enigma CD sold seven million copies worldwide. The license for the recording of the polyphonies was obtained from the Chinese Folk Arts Foundation, but the Taiwanese singers never got paid beyond the initial small fee they received for the performance. Somehow, and completely legally, an ethno-error was perpetrated.

Another article presents the case of muzak used in commercial spaces, frighteningly pointing out that by numbers alone, this is what the majority of people worldwide actually listen to.

An essay devotes itself to Madonna and Björk, emphasizing any creative input they may have had in the production of their tunes; my only objection is, these commercial superstars chosen to represent women in music act as a foil to only further hide the work of serious women composers and skew the perception of women’s role in musical evolution.

Most interestingly, an article comes up with a new term, Mod culture – not the sixties Mods, but the module-oriented culture of shared music on the internet, a new form of culture in which songs are digitally synthesized, exchanged and recreated by multiple authors, with a striking revelation: the very notion of single authorship and ownership of a piece of music is possibly on its way out. ‘Composers’ in a traditional sense, as all-powerful controllers of musical content, are already an endangered species, while “we are moving from a modernist culture of calculation to a postmodernist culture of simulation” (Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen, 1997). The rational simplicity of modernism with its predictable geometry is replaced by the complex, interactive, decentralized, iterative postmodernism with its fractal geometry of chaos, which means that creatively we may have to decentralize the composing process, which is not so unfamiliar, as some of our forefathers have experimented with chance elements and collective participation in their compositions, but in time this may become the mainstream as opposed to the avant-garde.

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It’s been a while since I attended to my blog – not that it would seem to make any difference to anyone, but who knows… as I have experienced one of the worst cases of writer’s block (blog…?), running with the wolves for a while.

I considered various subjects – I have searched women musicologists and found that they are still quite a minority especially in classical music. In looking for women in music, I found more articles about Madonna and PJ Harvey than contemporary music women. I discovered that there are actually many well-known women composers from the 17th, 18th and 19th century whose 200-or so works have been somehow ‘lost’- probably because they were not considered important enough to preserve.

I came across the concept of ‘sexy music’: classical, seductive passages of semi-chromatic melodies such as the famous Carmen aria “l’amour est un oiseau rebelle qui n’a jamais connu de loi”… What is sexy music? Rap music another kind of sexy music that works on a more physical level; the mystery remains why a lot of women, regardless of race, like rap despite its blatant mysoginy with the excuse “I just like the music, I tune out the lyrics”. Another book from 1979, written by a French feminist, described the opera repertoire from a woman’s viewpoint, highlighting the fact that the feminine roles are either the hopeless victim of society or the rebellious madwoman whose fate is inevitably destruction.

I went out once to hear the fabulous Marilyn Nonken deliver inside-of-the-piano harplike textures designed by Dinu Ghezzo, along with multiphonic clarinet. I opened a classical music publication and was saddened to note once again the conventionality of the photographs displayed in it, as if classical music were some kind of re-enaction of a previous, less-democratic era and in danger of becoming another eccentric niche market.

I thought about writing about gay composers, male and female, and how the subject is still somewhat taboo. Don’t miss the upcoming annual Benson Aids Series presented by Downtown Music Productions. There will be two venues, the first on World Aids Day, Friday December 1, from 6-7 pm, at The Gay And Lesbian Center (13St/7th Avenue) and the second concert on Sunday December 3 at St Mark’s Church, 3PM (10th St/Second Ave). The works presented are by Robert Savage (1951-1993), Robert Chesley (1943-1990), Chris Deblasio (1959-1993), Kevin Oldham (1960-1993), and Lee Gannon (1960-1996). Among the participating musicians and singers are countertenor Marshall Coid, cellist David Eggar and flutist Andrew Bolotowsky. The long-awaited CD Sudden Sunsets of highlights of the series over the past ten years will be available at the events.

It’s not until I went to visit the Ray Johnson exhibition (now on display at the Feigen Gallery in Chelsea, 535 West 20th St) that I was rescued from my mental block. The exhibition is remarkable in the way it presents a very consistent set of pieces. So far, I had discovered Ray’s work peacemeal, as mail art postcards kept by friends, wrapped postal packages later framed, his portrait of Elvis at Bill Wilson’s house, postcards Ray scribbled over and send to someone else. For the first time, I was able to comprehend his visual style, not just his intellectual style. I was struck by the detail work, the scribbles, the 3-dimensional composition, and by the physicality of the pieces – the printed reproductions I had seen did not convey the actual flavor of the art. According to some, the bunny theme is Ray’s visual trademark (that’s what the documentary on his work is titled, How to Draw a Bunny). The so-called ‘bunny’ is a threefold set of semi-penile doodles and to me, they are not at all suggestive of a rabbit form. He boldly applied the bunny treatment to the Mona Lisa, doodling right over her face, but even so, his Mona Lisa ended up more visually appealing than Marcel Duchamp’s Daliesque moustache addition. There were some interesting superimpositions of the profiles of elderly May Wilson and Andy Warhol, and and as an artist friend noticed, you can’t really tell who’s who… that may have been the whole point made by Ray-the-trickster. However, from this show,I got the impression that Ray Johnson was not just a trickster: he seems as much of a craftsman as a conceptualist, and I enjoyed the unusual collage techniques, and the gorgeous muted color schemes with splashes of unexpected brights. Anyhow, that’s what got me to write again. Quite accidentally and coincidentally, the New York Studio Gallery had scheduled a screening of my mini-op Orfreo (a poetic extrapolation on the mysterious disappearance of Ray Johnson) and this took place last night in Chelsea. When the music scene closes, there is still art.

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