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June 19, 2008

High On Life
Posted by Patrick at 07:58 AM *

Dear Tristero:

All that music you cite is outstanding. And I’m not personally eager to join Neal Pollack in messing around with salvia.

And yet the urge to tinker with our brain chemistry has been with us at least as long as music. Disapprove of it if you like, but it seems a shame to use great music as a tool to grind such a petty ax with. The practice of sneering at other people’s pleasures while claiming superior virtue for one’s own is no lovelier when liberals do it.

Comments on High On Life:
#1 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 08:23 AM:

I misread that as "messing with saliva".

#2 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 09:01 AM:

Tristero's excruciating 80s-government-drugs-PSA language aside, the subject-dependence of this whole thing is mostly brought home for me by my finding most of the music he chooses stultifying (I cannot stand white folk music, and most classical music sounds dead and cold to me, like some arcane ritualised dance whose prescribed movements are preserved without the feeling they purport to represent). Only Howlin' Wolf touches me at all, and that largely by its association with music I do listen to.

The diagram popularised by Sadly, No! is pertinent here. Music, of which I am a lifelong devotee, has absolutely nothing to do with drug-taking, of which I am also a long-time devotee (I'm writing this, for example, under the influence of some coffee). Music is art. Rothko has it: "it is our function as artists to make the spectator see the world our way - not his way". Music is, to use the word generically, viewed. Drugs alter the lens we use to view. That talk of one as a substitute for another is bunk becomes apparent when you consider how often they appear in conjunction, and how dramatically music is altered when viewed through various lenses (with apologies to Metaphor for the mixing).

#3 ::: JimR ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 09:31 AM:

SeanH, #2;
Hmmmmm...I See your most classical music sounds dead and cold to me, like some arcane ritualised dance whose prescribed movements are preserved without the feeling they purport to represent and raise you one Glenn Gould.

You shouldn't be so closed off, man. There's a lot of fantastic stuff to listen to under the enormous classes you just ruled out. The interesting thing about what you just said, about the artist showing the audience the world he or she sees, is that there are many layers of artist in music; composer, performer, and in reproduction the producer/sound engineer has a huge influence on the finished work. This is as true of classical and folk as it is of electronica or rap.

In addition, I find the "I can't stand white folk music" extremely suspicious. What does "white" have to do with music? Honestly?

#4 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 09:33 AM:

"Who need life? I'm high on drugs!"

Only I'm not, more's the pity, because there's a lot of music I'd like to listen to -- and play -- somewhat elevated, for a change, like the good old days.

Damn Puritans, anyway. If they want to get high on cold showers, hard work, and a sense of self-righteousness, I don't tell them they're wrong.

#5 ::: Madeley ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 09:40 AM:

I can't say I particularly enjoy listening to Classical music either, but I certainly enjoy playing it. If anything, it's more fun to play than popular music due to its complexity. Plus, I don't think that any music is dead and cold while it's still being interpreted by the live and warm.

#6 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 10:03 AM:

JimR #3: I've listened to plenty of classical music, by plenty of composers, in plenty of interpretations - Mozart to Bach to Schostakovitch to Wagner to Glass, mostly through a growing sense of cultural inferiority from my inability to access whatever it was everyone else was so rapturous about. Nearest I came was finding some mashups dj BC did of Glass compositions with hip-hop tracks. There's no need to assume that because I don't like something, I'm "closed off" to it. I've tried and tried, but I can't find anything there.

As for what whiteness has to do with it, introducing that was probably a mistake because white invisibility is such a bloody huge and amorphous topic, not to mention tangential. Sorry.

#7 ::: tristero ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 10:14 AM:

Patrick,

I don't disapprove of recreational drug use. I don't approve of it, either. I simply don't care about it. I don't think it's that important one way or the other. Taking salvia sounds as interesting, as appealing, and as profound as watching a 2 hour season opener for Battlestar Galactica. No more, no less.

But it's true, I admit; I find something genuinely funny, as in funny haha, about middle-class white guys claiming deep spiritual insight from their hobby. I like building model rockets and it's thrilling to watch them take off. But I don't get all woo woo about it.

The only problem with recreational drug use, as far as I'm concerned, is when they're abused. But aside from truly evil substances, eg cocaine, it's a lot easier to abuse tobacco or alcohol than it is most other recreational drugs. As usual, Americans find far too much meaning and intensity in their pleassures. It's a puritan thing, I think.

Really and truly, I wasn't angry at Neal. C'mon, now, do you think someone's serious when they call salvia the Walmart of psychedelics? What does that even mean??? But I was poking a little fun at his pretense. I'm not saying get high on life not dope. I'm simply nudging him in the ribs.

#8 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 10:27 AM:

Tristero: my apologies! I think time dealing with the dregs of the internet has set my irony filters far too low - I got your post completely bass-ackwards, and share your disdain for people who find something unspeakably profound in the things we enjoy about the world. I'm justly chastened, and lesson learned :)

#9 ::: tristero ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 10:34 AM:

SeanH,

I agree with you when you say you haven't found anything there in classical music. That is because music is, despite what They say, not a universal language. You need to know what the music is trying to say on its own terms, not on your terms, and that is true whether the music is hip hop, songs from children in the Ituri rainforest, or the string quartets of Shostakovich.

You may find what classical music is all about irrelevant to your experience of what music should be and that's fine, no one cares.

But the reason you "can't find anything there" is not because there is nothing there but because all of us need others to help us understand strange musics. Listening to a lot of, say, gamelan will not make the music more enjoyable if you don't like the sound. But once someone explains it to you....wow! Which brings up another point we agree on.

Concert music comes with terribly unfortunate cultural baggage. Many of the people who proselytize for this music are insufferable. Don't let them make you feel, for an instant, culturally inferior. They, not you, don't know what they're talking about. Just don't blame the music for the fact that a bunch of bozos like it.

#10 ::: tristero ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 10:41 AM:

SeanH,

I posted before I read your apology. First of all, no apologies ever necessary. Truly. If people don't use strong language, I start to worry they don't care and that is far worse in my book!

On the other hand, I hope I haven't offended you in my suggestions regarding your interest, or not, in classical music. It is very difficult to talk about these things without sending like a pompous jerk. This is music I love, obviously, but I certainly don't think the less of anyone who doesn't! My wife and daughter are not big aficionados, for instance, nor are most of my close friends.

The only reason I suggested what I did is that you seemed genuinely puzzled by what you were hearing. And again, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't be puzzled: the music is very strange sounding until you understand its language. Ditto me and hip hop!

#11 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 11:30 AM:

May I recommend to you the various TV series by the composer Howard Goodall.

No doubt they're floating around on the Tivo-in-the-Sky. He's enthusiastic. He's classically-trained. And he explains stuff by playing and singing the stuff.

Anyway, he reckons that classical music, up until the 20th Century, was essentially popular music. The rich paid for a lot of it, but it was something everyone could listen to. And then things went sour. You stopped being able to hum the tunes.

Luckily, there were people around such as Cole Porter and The Beatles, and they dragged the rather stale music of the Music Halls into what could be called the new classical music.

And people such as Bernard Herrmann were taking the ultra-elite ideas of the fifties and sixties and using them in movies. The soundtrack to Psycho was at the bleeding edge of the time's classical world, but who would care about it without the film?

As for white folk music, may I suggest The Kipper Family. I once had the pleasure of meeting them on a blacked-out Humber Ferry.

#12 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 11:35 AM:

Only a little off-topic, may I recommend Pandora.com as a place to find music that you like?

You train it by telling it if you liked what you just heard.

I tried starting at two very different places, and eventually they converged.

#13 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 11:49 AM:

(delurking)

#7: I don't disapprove of recreational drug use. I don't approve of it, either. I simply don't care about it. I don't think it's that important one way or the other. Taking salvia sounds as interesting, as appealing, and as profound as watching a 2 hour season opener for Battlestar Galactica. No more, no less.

But it's true, I admit; I find something genuinely funny, as in funny haha, about middle-class white guys claiming deep spiritual insight from their hobby. I like building model rockets and it's thrilling to watch them take off. But I don't get all woo woo about it.

Now that's what I call a high-quality paper tiger. Naked contempt wrapped in a glib coating of "just kidding!" Profundity can be found in the most anywhere - in the orchestra hall, in the cinema, on a sunny day at a lake, even on the couch watching a DVD. (such as The Passion of Joan of Arc featuring Visions of Light.)

(relurk!)

#14 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 11:56 AM:

Kip W @4:

If they want to get high on cold showers, hard work, and a sense of self-righteousness, I don't tell them they're wrong.

I think the self-righteousness is the active ingredient there.

#15 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 12:10 PM:

A.J. @14, a recent issue of VIZ had a brief "Meddlesome Ratbag" strip where she learns that a pair of newlyweds have moved into a fifth-floor apartment next door. Acting quickly, she constructs a tall and unwieldy pile of junk and places the baby's playpen on top of it and phones the couple to righteously inform them that they have no right to indulge their carnal lusts where a child might see them.

I've never managed to express it better. I see something like it when I turn into a road with nobody around for a half a block, and you can see someone trying hard to speed up enough that they can pretend I somehow inconvenienced them, and they can work up a nice froth of indignation, culminating in a little hornrgasm ("honk!").

#16 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 12:11 PM:

tristero @#7:

But it's true, I admit; I find something genuinely funny, as in funny haha, about middle-class white guys claiming deep spiritual insight from their hobby. I like building model rockets and it's thrilling to watch them take off. But I don't get all woo woo about it.

Yet you seem to get all woo woo about your listening-to-music hobby. How is that different?

#17 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 12:20 PM:

NelC #1: I misread that as "messing with saliva".

I like "Click Click Boom" by Saliva. The video, in particular, featured a moving transfiguration of a mosh pit hero.

#18 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 12:28 PM:

(delurking again)

Myself at #13: Profundity can be found in the most anywhere.

This is what a 7-week old daughter does to your language skills. The sentences "Profundity can be found in the most unusual places." and "Profundity can be found almost anywhere." were fused together as the result of a terrible teleporter accident, resulting in a hybrid that should be put out of its misery.

(Preferably with a massive orchestral tutti courtesy of Howard Shore.)

(re-relurk!)

#19 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 12:31 PM:

I want to know if white folk music is the Corries or Gjallarhorn or Stompin' Tom, myself.

Or, you know, the wide, wide country I left out of that question because I really oughtn't even consider trying to make that question comprehensive.

What, precisely, does Maddy Prior singing Puritan hymns ("Who would true valour see?") have in common with Rita McNeil singing "Men of the Deeps"? Besides compression waves?

#20 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 12:31 PM:

tristero @7: "I wasn't angry at Neal."

Patrick didn't mention anger. He said "The practice of sneering at other people’s pleasures while claiming superior virtue for one’s own is no lovelier when liberals do it."

Think, oh William Buckley rather than Jerry Falwell. Still unlovely.

#21 ::: sherrold ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 12:38 PM:

And this is as unoriginal a thought as any, but why oh why is a drug like this already banned in 6 states? Why upon hearing of a new psychedelic drug, is the default assumption danger and fear, rather than curiosity? (And I say this as someone who hasn't done dope since it started getting so strong in the early 80s, and never did anything else illegal.)

I can climb Mt Rainier and other tall mountains in my state without let or hindrance. People die on them every year; others are terribly injured. Legislators would never dream of outlawing climbing. But "recreational drugs"...

Argh. I can't even think straight about this; I go straight to annoyed and pissed off and frustrated and "Why are they like this!"

#22 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 01:04 PM:

For what it's worth, the Harry Smith anthology (Tristero's first link, which I'm assuming evoked the "white folk" comment) has lots of black performers on it.

#23 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 01:08 PM:

Mary Dell, #16: That was the impression I got as well.

Side comment: I have long recognized that it's much easier for me to accept someone not liking something I like (aka "mileage varies") than to accept someone liking something that I consider absolute garbage. However, I also recognize this as being MY flaw, not that of the people who happen to like things that I hate, and I strive to keep it under control.

#24 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 01:17 PM:

As I'm enmeshed in an ongoing struggle with my brain chemistry (depression, more-or-less managed, I'd want to check out research on how Salvia works before I played around with it. I know what I'm doing to my system with alcohol and caffeine, and I acknowledge the self-medicating aspects; I like opiates WAY WAY TOO MUCH to risk them for anything short of a broken bone; and I suspect that some of the other things I played around with twenty years ago may have exacerbated my issues, no matter how much fun they were at the time.

So I wouldn't want to try any Salvia before I understood what it was doing to my serotonin and dopamine receptors.

As for music -- even though I studied flute when I was younger and played a fair amount of Baroque music, and sang Bach cantatas in my high school chorus, I seem to lack concentration when it comes to most classical/orchestral music. I can't help thinking of it as Film Score and trying to match it in my head to romantic vistas, X-wing dogfights, or what have you. I probably like Philip Glass as much as I do because I first heard his music in Koyaanisqatsi, and so there were visuals. The orchestral pieces that were written as ballet scores appeal to me more for the same reason.

#25 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 01:26 PM:

To tie music and whiteness and drugs together: my theory is that marijuana was easy to outlaw because the perception was that it was a thing black people did, with their jazz and their dreadlocks. Scary! And because marijuana is one of the best mind-altering drugs (that is, hardly addictive at all, pretty much impossible to overdose on, not particularly causative of assholery, potentially even protective health-wise), it's the flagship for the rest. So because of racist cooties the whole armada was sunk.

You notice that far worse drugs which white people were long accustomed to, ie alcohol and nicotine, are perfectly acceptable. Morphine I think lost out because of its associations with the scary Orient.

#26 ::: tristero ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 01:27 PM:

II don't express "naked contempt" for Neal's attitude. I just think it's funny that educated middle class white guys need an excuse to get ripped out their minds every once in a while. I think it smells like Puritanism, like you have to justify what you're doing, as if the simple fact you enjoy doing it isn't reason enough.

You've never kidded a friend for getting a little too pretentious about his hobbies?

Look, whatever floats your boat. Including finding God in the things you enjoy. I simply find it amusing that someone like Neal has to justify something he enjoys as a quest for spiritual fulfilment.

Speaking of hobbies, listening to music isn't my hobby. It's part of my job (and it's also a passion which I've practiced every day, sometimes all day, for over 35 years). My hobbies include geology, rocketry, and blogging.

#27 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 01:34 PM:

Sherrold @ 21 I can climb Mt Rainier and other tall mountains in my state without let or hindrance or put a lake boat in the Nisqually when the snowpack is melting or jump over Granite Falls. Minor hallucinogens are at least free of the need for search and rescue, or corpse recovery.

And dlbowman76, "Profundity can be found in the most anywhere" is full of profound music. Grammar and syntax are only models for expressing meaning, not meaning itself.

There's no poetry, and profound error, in assuming that activities one doesn't find pleasurable are by that fact either trivial or immoral. Making a better world probably does not involve making everyone else enjoy what I enjoy (although I can't see any harm resulting from more Mozart, Willie Nelson, and great big very smelly roses).

#28 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 01:34 PM:

Tristero... Please take your comments about educated middle class white guys and shove them you-know-where.

#29 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 01:41 PM:

re.: #25 - The history of Morphine (the opiate rather than the band, although that does slide on-topic rather neatly,) and public attitudes towards widespread drug-use in the west were really more transformed by an epoch: The Great Binge. In 1879, Cocaine was marketed by Merck as a treatment for Morphine addiction. It's major competitor drug sold by Bayer? Heroin. Add to this the effect of the Great War in producing many thousands of new chronic-pain sufferers, and well...

#30 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 01:50 PM:

my theory is that marijuana was easy to outlaw

Naw. Marijuana was easy to outlaw because it's something that anyone can grow at home and get a product that's as good as any you can buy (just try that with beer, whisky, or music).

Since people can do it at home cheaply and easily, the Mafia couldn't make any money on selling it, and Congress couldn't make any money on taxing it.

Anything that Congress and the Mafia can't make money on is going to be illegal before you can blink.

#31 ::: merryarwen ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 01:50 PM:

[also delurks] I tend to see music as merely a method of tinkering with my brain-chemistry - a very effective one with few side-effects that I disapprove of (except for the constant expense of buying it or going to the concerts, but I am okay with this - on the other hand, I prooobably spend as much as my friends do on pot, so I have no legs to stand on). It's just a drug that goes in through the vibrations of the ear, rather than the digestion of the stomach.

#32 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 01:53 PM:

JESR @ 27... Well said. And how are your roses? I take that they are great, big, and very smelly.

#33 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 02:01 PM:

Serge, the roses are just beginning to open, although they are smelly indeed. The Buff Beauty that grows along the south wall spends the night breathing out apricot and rosewater sweetness, so that the act of opening the kitchen window becomes a trip in and of itself as waves of perfume roll in with the morning dew.

#34 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 02:03 PM:

#24, Rikibeth -

I seem to lack concentration when it comes to most classical/orchestral music. I can't help thinking of it as Film Score and trying to match it in my head to romantic vistas, X-wing dogfights, or what have you.

I'm not quite clear on whether this is a problem because you think you shouldn't do it, or if it is a problem because you want to and don't succeed, but I think it is a perfectly acceptable (if possibly uncommon) way to enjoy classical music, and I'm pretty sure some non-ballet classical (the 1812 Overture springs to mind) that is intended to evoke exactly this activity.

#35 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 02:05 PM:

Hm. I think maybe "evoke" isn't the word I wanted. "Inspire," or possibly "invoke" would be much more correct.

#36 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 02:13 PM:

#35 - Perhaps you'd care to revoke?

#37 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 02:20 PM:

I wish you wouldn't joke.

(Weak, I know. I need practice.)

#38 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 02:21 PM:

Tristero, since you're here, I'd like to thank you for Voices of Light. (As tristero says, music is his job as well as his passion. This is one of his works, available in a good recording. I recommend it to everyone else reading; see tristero's very clear and useful liner notes and the whole libretto (PDF).) It's been a real comfort to me this year and last, particularly around the anniversary of my father's passing. There's something about the particular mix of elements that hits that spot in me where the music resonates and says, yes, this is how it feels.

I keep taking a stab at a longer review for my LiveJournal, but so far no soap. If that changes, I'll mail you a link. :) In the meantime, thanks again.

#39 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 02:21 PM:

Like NelC, I misread that part of Patrick's post, only I misread it as "messing around with stevia."

"Oh, wow," I thought. "That must be like one heck of a sugar high."

#40 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 02:26 PM:

JESR @ 33... opening the kitchen window becomes a trip

When Sue asks me to water the top level of our big flower bed, the bottom of my pants rub against some very bushy catmint. Then I come back in and, before I know it, Agatha the cat-genius is rubbing her head against my ankles.

#41 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 02:28 PM:

Dave Bell @ 11: Anyway, he reckons that classical music, up until the 20th Century, was essentially popular music. The rich paid for a lot of it, but it was something everyone could listen to. And then things went sour. You stopped being able to hum the tunes.

I think it would be more accurate to say that classical music used to cater to listeners at all points of the complexity spectrum. People have been complaining about not being able to hum the tunes (or hear the words, or tolerate the dissonances) of the more esoteric contemporary-to-them composers since the Middle Ages, at least (who posted that French comedy video of the priest complaining about thirds? It's funny, and pretty accurate).

Often, yesteryear's impenetrable edifice is this year's popular sensation. Having recently been to sold-out, standing-O performances of Stockhausen's Hymnen and Messiaen's Turangalîla-Symphony (the latter by a community volunteer orchestra), I don't see any reason to believe that the twentieth century will be any different.

Rock and jazz (and maybe even folk, if you consider artists like John Fahey) play out the same way; both have traditionalists, experimentalists, and in-betweeners.

#42 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 02:36 PM:

NelC #1: That was my first take, too. "Wow, are they doing some kind of weird biofeedback with hormones, and then measuring the levels in saliva?"

As an aside, if you're going to be genuinely happy or excited about something, you will be easy for outsiders to ridicule. (Anyone who has read SF for awhile has probably noticed this.) The alternative is being too self-conscious to really open up, and either not fully enjoying things, or not telling anyone about it. This applies, even to middle-class white guys[1] who get all excited about their oddball hobbies and interests.

[1] Why social class or race has anything to do with this is beyond me. Is it somehow more transcendent when a poor black grad student gets stoned to avoid working on his thesis?

#43 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 02:49 PM:

dlbowman76 @ 29: Minor nitpick, I think the first wave of American opiate addicts was following the Civil War (which fits neatly with the timing of cocaine introduced as a cure), not the Great War (WWI). And what of laudanum, possibly one of the first "mother's little helpers," long before Valium?

(If this were Livejournal I'd be breaking out the icon with Paul Bettany as Stephen Maturin, captioned "got laudanum?")


R. M. Koske @ 34: I feel like I shouldn't do it, especially if I'm all dressed up in fancy clothes and sitting in Symphony Hall. It feels as though I ought to appreciate the music For Its Own Sake, because certainly the proper Bostonian matron sitting next to me can't be thinking about X-wings or hordes of Orcs, right? And of course there's the internalized voices of my music teachers scolding me for not continuing with flute lessons and thus not learning more music theory so I lack the foundation for appreciating the music's technical aspects.

I don't have that problem with the 1812 Overture. That has lifelong associations of picnic blankets, crowds, and fireworks, and therefore doesn't require Serious Technical Appreciation. The Calvin & Hobbes quote about "'Interesting percussion section.' 'I think those are cannons.' 'And they play this in crowded concert halls? And I thought classical music was boring!'" definitely applies.

#44 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 02:49 PM:

Bruce @39, me too! I didn't misread the word itself, but I got it mixed up with stevia conceptually.

#45 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 02:50 PM:

Speaking of hobbies, listening to music isn't my hobby. It's part of my job (and it's also a passion which I've practiced every day, sometimes all day, for over 35 years). My hobbies include geology, rocketry, and blogging.

So, it's cool to be passionate and woo woo about things that are part of your job, or that you do all day long, but not about hobbies?

Maybe you just need a better hobby.

#46 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 02:52 PM:

Tim @ #41: "French comedy video of the priest complaining about thirds"

Oooh! That sounds amusing, but Google doesn't seem to help me find it. Do you have a link? Thank you for any leads you can provide!

#47 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 02:59 PM:

#30 James D. Macdonald: Naw. Marijuana was easy to outlaw because it's something that anyone can grow at home and get a product that's as good as any you can buy (just try that with beer, whisky, or music).

Since people can do it at home cheaply and easily, the Mafia couldn't make any money on selling it, and Congress couldn't make any money on taxing it.

Well, that's probably an additional factor adding to the outlawing of marijuana, but I can't see it being a prime cause: there are lots of things you can do at home to avoid the economy that are legal... Like, growing tomatoes. I mean, they're a member of the nightshade family! Should dear little old ladies be risking themselves with such things?!

The campaign against pot, though, back in the day, focused on stuff that seems just totally nuts until you look at it as a standin for race fears. Like, "pot will make you violent and crazy"? What? But there's always the stereotype of the violent black guy to back that up.

On a separate thread, about classical music: my favorite modern classical is the stuff Joe Hisaishi does for Miyazaki films. I pop the soundtrack to "Howl's Moving Castle" into my car CD player at least once a month.

#48 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 03:00 PM:

Rikibeth @ 43... certainly the proper Bostonian matron sitting next to me can't be thinking about X-wings or hordes of Orcs, right?

How do you know? Maybe she IS thinking of X-wings or hordes of Orcs. L'habit ne fait pas le moine, the French saying goes. The habit does not make one a monk.

#49 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 03:05 PM:

If I hear any part of Holst's Planets, I think of John Glenn. If I hear Stravinsky's Rites of Spring, I think of dinosaurs.

#50 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 03:06 PM:

Tristero #9: I don't think I agree. I would say that music is indeed a universal language. With several hundred dialects.

I love some classical music, while some leaves me cold. I love prog rock, but reggae, soul, modern jazz and the various outgrowths of disco mean nothing to me. And I like folk, but haven't met any blues that really grabbed me yet. I know these other forms use the same "words," the same sound-groups and rules of grammar, as the ones I like. It's not that I can't understand them. It's just that they don't quite sound right to me.

Hmm. Not sure if that made any sense. Oh well.

#51 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 03:07 PM:

I just want to plug that Harry Smith anthology again, for those who missed it. This anthology's original release in the '60s was one of the major triggers of the folk revival. Listen to it and you will realize that traditional American folk music is deeper, broader and profoundly weirder than many people realize. (Nearly half the Holy Modal Rounders' material comes out of this set.)

Oh, and Harry Smith, the eccentric "old-time" music fanatic who put it together, was an Aleister Crowley follower and way into drugs, apparently including a wide range of psychedelics. I'm not sure how to tie that back to the theme of this post, but it sure feels like there is a connection.

Music certainly can alter your brain chemistry, or at least your cognitive state; I've posted here in the past about how intensive exposure to art has changed mine as profoundly as psychedelic drugs.

But it's definitely not the same... More later.

#52 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 03:10 PM:

Eric @ 46: Sorry, I can't find it either. Perhaps the person who originally linked to it (Abi?) will refresh our memory.

Serge @ 49: I think I can guess what you think of when you hear "Ride of the Valkyries."

#53 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 03:10 PM:

ISTR several past discussions with music snobs who'd been decrying the facile lyrics and repetitive melodies of Broadway musicals and modern pop music, to which I responded "Sondheim, and classical operas in their original historical context". But my personal familiarity w/ classical music is mostly through secondary exposure-- like Rikibeth, echoes/quotations in film scores[*], but also various re-contexted spoofs such as Looney Tunes, Tom Lehrer, Monty Python, and PDQ Bach-- though OTOH this is true for a lot of other music as well; just yesterday while reading ML, I had the shared experience of "Hey, waitaminnit-- you mean 'The Ballad of Irving' has an *original*?"

[*: which can be fun to listen to in their own right, as well as provide pointers to common sources such as Holst (the rest of "The Planets" beyond Mars[**]), Orff (the rest of "Carmina Burana" beyond "O Fortuna"), and Verdi's and Mozart's respective Requiems.]

[**: I was strangely entertained to read that Hans Zimmer had been sued for plagiarism over his score for Gladiator, after he openly cited "Mars" as an influence without realizing that "The Planets" was still under copyright.]

#54 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 03:11 PM:

merryarwen @ 31, yes, exactly.

Under ordinary circumstances, I just keep my nearly-full 30g iPod on "shuffle" as I go through my day, but I've got specific artists/albums/playlists that I use for their mood-altering effects. If you walk in on me and I've got R.E.M.'s "Reckoning" playing, I'm probably trying to compensate for a nasty shock.

The most interesting thing about this is that I've been able to make it work for others. I have one friend who lives on the other side of the country, but when she puts up a Livejournal post describing her state of mind, I can read it, mentally listen to her voice, sit with it a minute, and then write back "Put on the soundtrack for The Harder They Come" or "This calls for Elvis Costello" or what have you, and usually, it works.

It even works if she doesn't already know the music. I introduced her to "Famous Last Words" this way and it did exactly what I'd hoped.

#55 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 03:11 PM:

He was being silly.

Insert obligatory remarks about Humorless Liberals (TM)...

#56 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 03:15 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 51: Nearly half the Holy Modal Rounders' material comes out of this set.

Although they were fond of substituting their own lyrics for the traditional ones...

That said, I was surprised to find out that such oddities as "Don't you marry a railroad man/For a railroad man will kill you if he can/And drink of your blood like wine" come straight from the originals.

#57 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 03:21 PM:

Tim Walters @ 56, now I have to wonder if "railroad man" was a 19th-century adaptation of what maybe started out as "highwayman."

And does anyone know if there's research backing up my guess that the American ballad "Streets of Laredo" derives from the older "Pills of White Mercury?"

And, damn, I now really want that collection, and money's going to be tight over the summer. :(

#58 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 03:22 PM:

Tim Walters @ 52... I can guess what you think of when you hear "Ride of the Valkyries."

And, for a long time, whenever I'd hear Copland's The Red Pony, I'd think of George Pal's Time Machine.

#59 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 03:30 PM:

#42, albatross -

As an aside, if you're going to be genuinely happy or excited about something, you will be easy for outsiders to ridicule. (Anyone who has read SF for awhile has probably noticed this.) The alternative is being too self-conscious to really open up, and either not fully enjoying things, or not telling anyone about it. This applies, even to middle-class white guys[1] who get all excited about their oddball hobbies and interests.

I'm poking at trying to unlearn the habit of suppressing/hiding my joys (dorky and otherwise.) It's quite frustrating to know that I'm impeding my own happiness that way without having a clear path out of the habit.

#43, Rikibeth -

*nods* I can totally sympathize with that feeling. I think you should do it anyway. *grins*

I keep finding myself bored in the last third of live concerts. I seem to just hit my capacity for paying attention and wish I was anywhere else. (This has happened at classical concerts, an evening of middle eastern music and dance, and a performance of the Lord of the Rings Symphony*.) I find myself staring at the audience or performers and noting their clothes and habits and almost tuning out the music. I'm hoping the return of my mental acuity from going gluten-free will cure it.

*The LOTR symphony suffered, I'm sure, from my unfamiliarity with the films. My attention span wasn't up to them at the time they came out and I haven't seen them yet. It was extra frustrating because the concert was conducted by the composer. And I was bored. Argh!

#60 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 03:42 PM:

Tim Walters: Well of course! What could be more traditional and authentic than changing the words and music around every which way?

Rikibeth: If "Pills of White Mercury" is about a rake dying of syphilis, then I believe I've read about that song connection to "Streets of Laredo". (Perhaps that would also put the former in the line of possible ancestry for "St. Louis Infirmary Blues", one of my favorite songs.)

#61 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 03:51 PM:

R. M. Koske @59, yes, me too, and yes, last third of a classical concert! Although I don't feel QUITE as bad about looking at the audience and their clothing because 18th-century operagoers in their boxes did just the same.

It doesn't happen with rock concerts (no matter how long) because the music is broken up into 3-to-5-minute songs, with LYRICS. (I will not muddy the discussion by bringing up the Grateful Dead's "drums->space" interludes or similar offerings from other jam bands, because that never involved sitting still and only listening; at a minimum, there was trancelike dancing involved, and you can well imagine what other enhancements.)

And it doesn't happen with otherwise-silent films like Koyaanisqatsi because there are visuals, and an implied narrative.

I wonder if it has something to do with the way I process information -- I am and always have been the sort of person who can't remember a spoken instruction for long enough to complete the task, but give me something written down and it's as good as done.

#62 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 04:06 PM:

Feeling in a dreadful fashion?
Why not try St. Matthew's Passion.

Breaking out in dreadful hives?
You're in need of Charles Ives.

Stuck in several bad positions?
You need Music for 18 Musicians.

Are your insides feeling gnawed?
Have a little Scheherazade.

Had an accident with the mascara?
Quickly! Put on some Rautavaara!

Left the door-key in the lock?
The only recourse is a little Bartók.

#63 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 04:07 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 60, yes, that's the "Pills of White Mercury" I was thinking of. These guys learned their version from the Old Blind Dogs, same as I did. And I first learned "Streets of Laredo" in the recorder instruction book I had when I was seven years old, which is still upstairs in my music bag, I think, but the cover is worn off and I can't remember what it was called so I can't link to it on Amazon. It had a sepia photo of all the sizes of recorder on the cover, and was full of folk song snippets, most of which I would never have heard outside recorder class.

#64 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 04:12 PM:

dlbowman76 @ 62, now I want Edward Gorey illustrations to go with that!

#65 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 04:17 PM:

Isn't it always the way that right after one posts one's (filthy) prosody, it occurs to one that "Ligeti" rhymes perfectly with "Spaghetti".

And if you dig Edward Gorey, check out Tom Gauld.

#66 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 04:30 PM:

Madeline F #47: In the case of marijuana, it was also the fact that it was used by, gasp, Mexicans that made it easy to outlaw. Cocaine was more directly associated with blacks, and opiates with Asians.

#67 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 04:54 PM:

Meth, on the other hand, is mostly associated with underclass whites. And my impression was that cocaine was a mostly white/rich people drug, till the invention of crack.

I think these were all backfilled justifications, right? First you decide you want to ban pot or meth or whatever, then you find reasons.

#68 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 05:24 PM:

#67 albatross: My suggestion is that first they decided they wanted to protect society from the shocking degradation it was heading for... Which "shocking degradation" was kids listening to jazz and using chemicals other than the fruit of the barley. The problem they were looking to solve was "brown people getting more visible", and the solution was, "let's try blocking off some stuff that THEY do that we don't (right? right?)".

If meth, or extacy, or another white-associated drug had existed back when the drug war started, they might have been given a pass... But probably only if they were used by the rich guys who made the laws, since classism is a factor, too. Now that the drug war is endemic, anything new is going to get plowed into it.

#69 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 05:33 PM:

Rikibeth @ 57: now I have to wonder if "railroad man" was a 19th-century adaptation of what maybe started out as "highwayman."

Maybe... but are there songs accusing highwaymen of uxoricide and cannibalism?

Serge @ 58: My guess was this.

Clifton Royston @ 60: What could be more traditional and authentic than changing the words and music around every which way?

Depends on who you ask. A lot of Folks (as in John Fahey's "I can't be a Folk, I'm from the suburbs") were and are surprisingly uptight; a song-collector trick to get a recalcitrant singer to start up with his repertoire was to sing a version of a well-known ballad from one state over, at which point the collectee would be likely to say "Dang it, where'd you get that nonsense? That's not the way it goes. Here, let me sing it the right way for you."

A guitarist of my acquaintance was once told bluntly "if you can't play old-time, don't play," for having the temerity to throw in a short bass fill.

dlbowman76 @ 65: Isn't it always the way that right after one posts one's (filthy) prosody, it occurs to one that "Ligeti" rhymes perfectly with "Spaghetti".

If it makes you feel any better, it doesn't, quite; the stress is on the first syllable, so after he leaves the concert hall, you can say that he did so "Ligeti-split."

Or not.

#70 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 05:37 PM:

By coincidence, Soho The Dog has a great post today about the Classical Audience Problem. Warning: contains snark.

#71 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 05:40 PM:

Tim Walters @ 69... Heheheh. I thought that might have been what you meant. Either that, or that episode of Lost in Space where Dr.Smith pyscho-analyzes the god Thor and declares that all his problems stem from childhood unhappiness even though he was never a child.

#72 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 05:48 PM:

#69 - I must remember to look into that remedial Hungarian course...

...or better still, pop over to BBC3 and listen to the superb Paul Lewis play Ligeti's Musica Ricercata!

#73 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 06:22 PM:

tristero 7: Taking salvia sounds as interesting, as appealing, and as profound as watching a 2 hour season opener for Battlestar Galactica. No more, no less.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether them is, in fact, fightin' woids, I assure you the profundity of a two-hour season opener of BSG is far, far greater than the transitory and fundamentally illusory "profundity" of taking salvia, and I do so with complete confidence though I have never taken part in salvia at all, so there. Unless you mean the old BSG, in which case I suspect (though can't be sure) that you are insulting salvia. If you don't know the difference, I will make a note to laugh in your face should we ever meet.

I find something genuinely funny, as in funny haha, about middle-class white guys claiming deep spiritual insight from their hobby.

I do not know your race and don't care, but since you don't know me, I will tell you that I am a middle-class (by heritage, though not by present income) white guy, and I find this statement offensive. Regardless of your race, it is racist to assume that what middle-class white guys do cannot be spiritually profound, and to dismiss as a "hobby" what may be the whole center of someone's spiritual life.

You phrased it generically, but even if you were specifically talking about salvia, there are many spiritual paths (not mine) that involve taking mind-altering substances to gain insight. Try saying "I find it funny that a bunch of poor Huichol Indians claim deep spiritual insight from their hobby [of taking peyote]," and see how that feels.

___, 10: Ditto me and hip-hop!

Someone played some hip-hop for me one time. I liked the music OK, but I could hardly hear it because some guy kept shouting the whole time.

dlbowman76 13, 18: Well, with posts like these, I hope your re-lurk fails permanently! "Open the lurk bay doors HAL." "I'm sorry, Dave, I can't do that. You'll have to keep commenting."

tristero 26: Speaking of hobbies, listening to music isn't my hobby. It's part of my job (and it's also a passion which I've practiced every day, sometimes all day, for over 35 years).

So the fact that you get paid for it makes it more spiritual? That seems backwards to me, but then I come from a tradition where we keep spiritual things out of the money economy because doing them for a living influences your decisions about doing them at all. In any case, I don't see why your job is more spiritual than someone else's hobby.

Moreover, just because you're lucky enough to get paid for doing something that's your actual Work doesn't mean you're better than those of us who toil at just-a-jobs for money to pay for the opportunity to do ours! No doubt you would consider all the things I do that fulfill me the most "hobbies" and dismiss any spiritual value they might have, including my daily devotions to Ganesha.

Boy, do I ever not like being sneered at for being less fortunate in life than someone else.

Serge 28: |: hear :|

dlbowman76 29: Yep, and in fact Heroin has that name because it's "hero" (rescuer from the hell of morphine addiction) and "-in" (chemical sounding name), IIRC.

Jim 30: Yes, but the REASON it was outlawed was propaganda led by the timber industry. The drug effects were just the excuse; they wanted to outlaw hemp. You can make paper from hemp, you see. This effort was led by William Randolph Hearst, who was the kind of person who makes me wish I believed in Hell.

Bruce 38: WAIT WAIT WAIT. Are you saying tristero == RICHARD EINHORN?!?!!? Whoa, talk about cognitive dissonance...half of my brain is still going "grr!" from the above annoyances, and the other is in a paroxysm of fanboyness.

I wonder how that will settle out. Probably it will be OK; Orff was a far worse person than tristero, and I enjoy his music greatly.

#74 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 06:39 PM:

#73
Xopher, you didn't already know that?
My faith in your omniscience is shattered! [/lol]

#75 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 06:49 PM:

No, I didn't. *blush* I never really noted tristero as a specific person until today.

Go ahead and laugh at me. But wait 'til it's YOUR turn!

#76 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 06:54 PM:

'sokay, PJ. I didn't know it, and now that I know it, I don't know what it is I know, so whad'ya know.

Hm. My hobbies, the ones I call hobbies instead of time-killers, are things I do because when I do them right they give me the kind of deep satisfaction that sure feels like some kind of spiritual thing. Or I wouldn't be doing them.

And apart from that, everything else I had to say has been taken care of by other folks here. Carry on, everybody, you're doing an excellent job.

#77 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 07:12 PM:

Regarding hemp prohibition, the racial overtones were and are quite real, but there were also commercial interests involved, especially after WW2.

IIRC, the big newspaper chains of the time had already bought their own lumber companies to supply their own paper, which effectively put them in competition with any new source -- like hemp fiber. Likewise for the clothing manufacturers and their own fiber sources -- hemp makes extremely durable clothing, to the point where people might actually have realized that buying "the new fashions" every year (as prompted by TV and magazines) was a major and unnecessary money sink. And then there were the growing oil interests, threatened by hempseed oil.

Attacking hemp-as-drug let these corporate interests suppress hemp production in general. Of course, they also started calling it by its Mexican slang-name, to disassociate the "demon weed" from that "miracle fiber" that had been so valuable during WW2....

The classic discussion of this is a volume titled The Emperor Wears No Clothes, by Jack Herer. I have a 1995 edition (via the late, lamented, Loompanics), but google google... hey, the dude's got a website, with the book's text online. Also available for purchase there (even signed) or on Amazon. Multiple electronic versions online at Electric Emperor, to suit your connection speed or other issues. (Apparently the fast-connection version has Shockwave video.)

#78 ::: Carl ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 07:39 PM:

Hmph. How does one measure out 1/4 gram of Perotin? And what about bands like the "Sons of Champlin" or "Cold Blood" or "Tower of Power" (or even some Stan Kenton or Louis Armstrong) where the boundary lines between the music and the chemicals that enhanced/inspired it are blurry in one way or another.

Even when playing with those bands (and yes, I have played with some of those) I tend not to imbibe anything more potent than the occasional Heineken, but I'm not going to say no to others who want/need something more to get them in the zone, unless it messes up my focus.

Simplicity really does not seem to work well when it comes to dealing with sapient species, does it?

#79 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 08:01 PM:

I'm another who ends up tuning out at real-life classical music concerts. I do know that I am music-impaired in some odd way: I have a hard time identifying songs on the radio until I actually hear their lyrics (or it gets to a part that I know so well that I can mentally "hear" the lyrics that go with the music). So I don't fret too much when I do end up sitting through a concert and spend half the time observing how groups of violinists drop in and out, or waiting for the percussionist to pick up a new set of instruments (Mahler's 9th Symphony, which I saw last month, was rather amusing on that front - 3 percussionists and at least 9 or 10 different instruments). I figure it's all part of the action - and at least live concerts are much more entertaining on that front than just listening to recorded music that doesn't have lyrics!

#80 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 08:07 PM:

Madeline F #68: Alcohol prohibition was associated with the use of booze by working class whites, and one of the arguments for it was that it would promote working class family life. The middle class feminists who supported the temperance movement and prohibition believed that they were protecting working class white women.

#81 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 10:04 PM:

oliviacw @ 79, I think that's how a lot of people recognize songs. I know it took me a fair amount of training my ear to be able to associate names with Irish jigs-and-reels (actually the hornpipes and polkas came first because they were easier for me to play).

OTOH, I have a weird faculty for recognizing instrumental similarities. I drive my roommate crazy with "Hey! The opening riff for MCR's "Teenagers" sounds just like the one for "Rose Tint My World" from Rocky Horror!" and similar observations and she can't hear it.

Now that I think about it, people have probably been watching classical concerts the way that you do for a long time. It'd explain the Toy Symphony -- which, when I went to look it up to see if it was Handel or Haydn, Wikipedia tells me may actually have been written by Leopold Mozart. But I was taught the usual attribution, Haydn.

#82 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 10:25 PM:

David #77:

I once saw a talk from him, at the University of Missouri. It was, and I do not say this lightly, the largest and smelliest load of BS I recall receiving during all my college days. Batsh-t conspiracy theory linked to physically impossible scientific claims linked to incompetently done technobabble. (I especially liked the bit about how tobacco in US cigarettes was "the most radioactive substance known to man.")

Maybe his book is clear, well-written, and accurate. I certainly had no interest in buying it, once I'd listened to the author for an hour or so. (FWIW, I was and am a supporter of legalizing pot, among other things.)

#83 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 11:09 PM:

Tim @41 & 52, Eric @46, Yup, saw & liked it. Comes from way back at Open thread 110, #204 <g>, linking to a YouTube clip called Kaamelott - The perfect fifth, part of a 'Kaamelott' series. I did LOL (quietly (LQ?)) at 'diabolus!', remembering being told of it in my childhood music class.

#84 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 11:18 PM:

James, #30: In addition to that, marijuana also fell foul of William Randolph Hearst's anti-hemp campaign, as covered by David @77. Never mind that the hemp used for paper and textile manufacturing is not the same as the marijuana plant -- it all fell under the same ban. Imagine if somebody had claimed to be growing Mary Jane as a cover for bootlegging the other kind!

Rikibeth, #43: That was one of the criticisms launched by purists against Fantasia at the time of its original release -- that by putting visual images with the music, Disney would make it forever impossible for anyone who had seen Fantasia to appreciate the works in it as they SHOULD be appreciated.

They were both right and wrong. I don't see Fantasia images in my head when I'm listening to the Toccata and Fugue, because they were so abstract. But Rite of Spring or the Pastoral Symphony? Hell, yeah; the animated stories have indeed become connected with the music. And y'know what? There's nothing wrong with that. The purists, in this particular instance, are all wet; I actually get more enjoyment out of listening to those works with the Fantasia visuals running in my brain. (Corollary: I do have to skip the Elgar sequence in Fantasia 2000, because that's NOT a set of images I want associated with that piece. No big deal; I have others, more personal to me.)

Besides, how do you know the Proper Bostonian Matron sitting next to you isn't doing the exact same thing? People are full of surprises. :-)

Eric, #46: Here you go.

Bellatrys, #55: Does that count as the "Oh, c'mon, where's your sense of HUMOR?" bingo square?

I notice he got taken to task in the comments on his own post as well as here. If a whole bunch of people say you look like a duck...

Serge, #58: Certain parts of "Jupiter" from The Planets will always remind me of Conan.

Xopher, #73: Who's Richard Einhorn? Is this a New York Culture thing?

Rikibeth, #81: I hear those similarities too! Did you ever notice that CCR's "Up Around the Bend" and "Who'll Stop the Rain?" have basically the same opening riff, just with different instrumentation and emphasis?

And my partner is continually bemused by the fact that I know a lot of contradance standard tunes by name -- to him, they all sound alike. But y'know, after dancing for 20 years, I bloody well ought to recognize the most common tunes!

#85 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 11:19 PM:

#73 - Vielen dank! Actually, I should say that on the topic of addictive drugs, our hosts have a lot to answer for. That's right, I am an addict. I thought I had things under control. My vision was clear. I could focus on today. My shelves had stopped creaking with the alarming squeak of wood that knows when its had enough. And then, and then...it was a little thing. The smallest of emails. "Would I be interested in free e-books?" I shuddered. No, no, a thousand times no! But the devil in my right ear whispered, "the shelves wont mind a few hundred kilobytes or so...go on...you've earned it." A few days later, in my inbox arrives Spin...

Now here I am, a gibbering wreck. My wife looks at me in despair as I mutter "Half a Crown...I can't wait twelve weeks for Half a Crown!" I used to have control. I used to have a firm grip on today. Now my vision is clearer than ever, and the past and future stretch out infinitely.

And now...I simply can't get as worked up as I'm told I should be about whether Michelle Obama wears sleeveless dresses.

#86 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 11:26 PM:

Eric@46, re:"French comedy video of the priest complaining about thirds":
Oooh! That sounds amusing, but Google doesn't seem to help me find it. Do you have a link? Thank you for any leads you can provide!

The show is called Kaamelott, and you can see the referenced clip here. Plenty more clips on YouTube, although you do want to either understand French or cherry-pick the ones with English subtitles.

#87 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2008, 11:55 PM:

Rikibeth, #24, yes, I already use Celexa, Phenobarbitol, and codeine; I'm not trying something like salvia.

As to music, my mind tends to drift unless I'm part of the performance. I don't like classical music at all unless I'm part of the group. It's the overlapping working togetherness of music that I like, and listening doesn't really give that. (Yes, that does mean I sing along with the CDs I play.)

#88 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 12:00 AM:

Argh. This is a conversation going fun places, and I want to respond to a bunch of stuff, but I need to be up for work tomorrow and I've already been up too late on Making Light once this week. /But/, a few quick observations before I crash:

- I vaguely thought it was here, but I could be wrong, where someone said something like, "I have lots of argumentative friends, and at some point I got tired of defending things I liked, and defending myself for liking those things." I think that applies here. It's good not too get so wrapped up in our superiority that we diminish someone else's simple enjoyment, whatever they're enjoying and whoever they are. (I have lots of argumentative friends. Figuring out how to divert conversations, and trying not to drag down others' pleasures, is something I'm working on.)
- This, I think, is one of the reasons classical music has a bad rep -- the "It's Good For You" crowd have gotten ahold of it, as have the high-culture snobs. Screw that. Culture is supposed to be FUN, dammit!
- Classical music, performed well, can be wonderful. A concert hall is not necessarily the best place to enjoy it, though -- I too find that, in a concert hall, my attention tends to wander. First, I think that's okay -- I don't know as single-minded attention is really necessary for appreciation. Sometimes when I can dip in and out of a piece while I'm working and discover it, often over years, I enjoy it more.
- Jazz and pop and classical all use notes and rhythms, but they use them very differently -- I'm not sure I'd call them even different dialects of the same language. The "grammar" -- the structure -- of a jazz or pop song is significantly different from that of a jazz song, both in how individual phrases are put together and in how the whole piece is put together. I'm not hugely educated on this, but I've played a bit of all of those, and they require surprisingly divergent skillsets both to perform and to appreciate. I'm still not there with, say hip-hop, but I'd like to find some stuff that speaks to me. (Some of the new stuff by the Ting Tings, a British band ("Shut Up and Let Me Go," "That's Not My Name"), feels influenced by hip-hop to me, and I like it. Maybe it'll be my gateway drug. :-)
- White folk music -- when I'm in the right mood and it's performed the right way (which may just be me on a harmonica in my room), "Shanendoah" can make me cry. Some of that's situational and associational, but there's power in the music itself too. (I don't think you were saying there wasn't any; I grew up with it, and I've got a soft spot in my heart for it.)
- It's hard to make music as exceedingly good as some of the pro stuff, but it's actually fairly easy to make stuff that's okay and have fun, and I'm sad that that's fallen out of fashion. (Ditto homebrew beer.) You don't have to participate in the creation of music to appreciate it by any means (and too many people have probably been turned off by being forced to take lessons), but creating music is fun and gives you a different kind of appreciation.

Anyhow, I should crash now.

Life's short -- have fun, wherever you find it. :-)

#89 ::: Goliard ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 12:41 AM:

Carl @78: "Hmph. How does one measure out 1/4 gram of Perotin?"

Don't let the neums fool you: it's mensural music. Figure out how many breves to the gram and work it from there.

#90 ::: hedgeprog ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 01:24 AM:

re: #61, Rikibeth

It doesn't happen with rock concerts (no matter how long) because the music is broken up into 3-to-5-minute songs, with LYRICS.

What counts as "a song" and "a rock concert" for these purposes? Magenta's Ballard of Samuel Layne and Metamorphosis are both about 20 minutes long and part of their gig at Cardiff recently. Similarly Panic Room's Endgame (10 minutes) and The Dreaming [1] (20 minutes). Is it the substructure that counts, so that the songs are just part of the pieces?

"A dewdrop exalts me like the music of the sun" Hedgehog.

[1] No Sandman connection as far as I can see.

#91 ::: Hector Owen ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 04:46 AM:

Rikibeth #57: Yes, there is research backing up your guess about "Streets of Laredo," and a wonderful collection to go with the research: The Unfortunate Rake. "Saint James Infirmary" is a member of this ballad family also.

#92 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 05:09 AM:

Kevin Riggle @ 88, agreed about the amateur music-making, and the fun to be had thereby. Irish seissiuns are especially good that way, as there are a lot of tunes that are not that technically difficult, and acceptable pennywhistles can be had for ten bucks, and are pretty easy to learn, especially if you've ever played ANY woodwind, but even if you haven't. Oh, and usually? FREE BEER.

hedgeprog @ 90, point. The concerts I go to these days tend to be the sort of bands you find on Warped Tour, which makes for shorter songs. The ones with longer pieces tend to be gothy electronica, so I'm not sitting still bored, I'm dancing. I'm not as involved with prog-rock, and the only two concerts I've been to that could fall in that genre are the Moody Blues (1987) and Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe (1990). Both experiences, while not awful, contributed to my overall wariness of nostalgia tours. (And yet I'm going to see the Cure tonight. But they have a new album coming out! And, and, I've been a fan since 1985 and I've never seen them, so.)

I'd almost be inclined to think of prog-rock as "orchestral compositions played on amplified/electronic instruments, sometimes with lyrics," rather than "rock concert." It may be the division between "music for sitting still and enjoying" and "music for DANCING."

#93 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 05:33 AM:

Hector Owen @ 91, thank you! (YAY I'M NOT CRAZY! Or, maybe crazy, but not MISTAKEN.)

And Lee @ 84, yes, I've noticed that with the CCR songs. I love CCR, but to my ear they fall into that tricky grey area between "have a distinctive sound of their own" and "all their songs sound the same." This is a tricky distinction that I am forever arguing with my housemate. I have decided that, for her, TEMPO changes are what make or break that distinction, because she really can't seem to hear some of the other things I do. (And no, she isn't tone-deaf. She's a better singer than I am!)

#94 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 08:23 AM:

Corollary: I do have to skip the Elgar sequence in Fantasia 2000, because that's NOT a set of images I want associated with that piece.

I rather liked it, myself, but I can see your point. Meanwhile I loved the flying whales and the entire Firebird sequence (no, no pagan imagery at all, why do you ask?).

Alas, 2000 is currently "in the vault", preventing me from giving Disney my money for a piece of intellectual property I'd really like to own. See how well preventing piracy works?

#95 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 09:03 AM:

#73, Xopher -

|: hear :|

That stopped me cold for about thirty seconds, but I figured it out and now I think it is terribly clever.

#81, Rikibeth -

Ooh, that talent for spotting similarities makes me wish you danced ballroom.* I've got a few pop songs that I'd swear were tango, but my dance teacher couldn't hear it. I couldn't (and can't) tell if he was being rigid or if I'm imagining things.

And to everyone who said I'm not alone with attention-drift at concerts, thank you! I feel much better about the whole thing.

*Hm. Maybe that makes it a question for Susan?

#96 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 09:47 AM:

Lee @ 84... Certain parts of "Jupiter" from The Planets will always remind me of Conan.

Hopefully the one with Grace Jones, and not the one where James Earl Jones wears that stupid wig.

#97 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 09:47 AM:

Lee @ 84... Certain parts of "Jupiter" from The Planets will always remind me of Conan.

Hopefully the one with Grace Jones, and not the one where James Earl Jones wears that stupid wig.

#98 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 10:31 AM:

R. M. Koske @ 95 -- I've got a few pop songs that I'd swear were tango...

Which ones? Since I started ballroom dancing, I can't seem to hear a song without also registering what dance rhythm it is. Or trying to, anyway.

#99 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 11:07 AM:

Debbie, I did/do that too! Learning foxtrot was a really interesting exercise in listening to music for me because it was the first time I realized that even when music was in a four-beat measure, it could have an eight-beat "pulse."

I never played the first two songs I wondered about for my teacher, because I was embarrassed about being an N'Sync fan. (Given the content of our discussion, I'm pretending real hard that I'm not embarrassed now.) They're from Celebrity* - "Just don't tell me that" and "Tell me, Tell me, Baby".** They sound to me like Argentine tango. It's especially obvious in the first one.

The other sounds like international tango, and it is "Creepin Up on You" by Darren Hayes on his album Spin. That one I'm nearly certain about because he counts off a rhythm at the beginning of the song that is absolutely the international tango's basic progressive step. "Slow, slow, quick-quick slow." But my teacher said it wasn't tango. I dunno.

There's another song on that Hayes album that sounds like it ought to be something ballroom, but I can't figure it out. "Strange Relationship" sounds like I should recognize the rhythm, but I don't.

*I'd also love it if anyone can tell me what I'm hearing in N'Sync's "Pop" from that album that makes me want to bellydance to it.

**Song titles like these amuse me. Do you want to be told, or not?

#100 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 11:22 AM:

R. M. 95: Thank you! That was in fact EXACTLY the reaction (both parts) I was hoping for hardly daring to dream of!

___ 99: Sounds like tango snobbery on the part of your teacher, rather than something wrong with the rhythm (I don't actually know those songs, but if a beginner can tango to them, an expert can tango to them...but then an expert can waltz in 4/4).

We wants to know! We does!

#101 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 11:37 AM:

#100, Xopher -

I don't know that a beginner can tango to the N'Sync songs. With argentine tango, my experience has been that it does indeed absolutely take two to tango - I was following, and therefore not in control of what was happening at all. I also just plain didn't get very far in my lessons.

I strongly suspect that tango is considered very sexy in part because Argentine tango is the most obviously dom/sub ballroom there is.* The follower doesn't move, not even to shift weight, without direction from the leader.

Combine that with my minimal lessons, and my efforts to tango alone are literally off-balance and unbelievably limited. I can imagine someone dancing tango to those songs, but I'm not positive it can actually be done, and I definitely can't do it.

*I think it all has an element of it, but it's most obvious with Argentine tango.

#102 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 11:46 AM:

R. M. Koske @ 95, that is DEFINITELY a question for Susan, as she has people waltzing to Metallica sometimes.

All I know about tango is that they used "Roxanne" for one in Moulin Rouge.

#103 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 11:50 AM:

#102, Rikibeth -

I'd forgotten about Roxanne! I like that one. It is the same flavor of tango (Argentine) that I'm suspecting the N'Sync stuff to be. My ballroom teacher would use Roxanne, so I'm not positive his problem was narrowmindedness. He'd also use "Lady Marmalade" from that movie for cha cha. Which was fun, but also damn exhausting.

#104 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 12:03 PM:

Xopher @ 73... Serge 28: |: hear :|

Would you care to explain it to me? I'm probably an idiot if I have to ask, but, hey, that has never stopped me from asking questions.

#105 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 12:09 PM:

#104, Serge -

No, not an idiot at all, any more than needing to ask about [*] would make you one. It's a bit of an ingroup joke.

The two symbols "|:" and ":|" are musical symbols for "repeat." You repeat the stuff between them.

#106 ::: Joe J ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 12:20 PM:

Hi.

I'm going to delurk a minute in order to repond to the whole hip hop appreciation issue.

It took me years to really "get" hip hop. Even now I'd say I'm just a casual fan, but I do appreciate the style more than before. I'd like to offer a few suggestions for getting into the style.

First, I'd recommend starting with a group that mixes genres such as Outkast or The Beastie Boys. A little bit of familiar soul, jazz and rock can really help ease the transition into a new genre.

Next, you can stretch out to the deeper lyricists such as Mos Def, Common and Saul Williams. At their best, their work verges on poetry.

If you are looking for pure artistry in the style, then I have to point you to the greatest hip hop artist that I've yet found, the late J Dilla (AKA Jay Dee).

J Dilla on Wikipedia

He's been described as "your favorite producer's favorite producer," on account of his influence and the respect he has from other artists. I'm still working through his various projects with other acts, and so I can't really talk about his career in full. But, his solo work is mind blowing.

Check out "Nothing Like This" from his RUFF DRAFT EP. (I'm sorry if that link doesn't work. I'm at work right now, and I can't access youtube here to check it.) I'd say that song is hip hop's answer to "Tomorrow Never Knows."

I hope these suggestions provide the curious with some places to start. I'm sure that there are others around who can offer better suggestions as well.

Thanks. (Time to relurk)

#107 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 12:24 PM:

Something I discovered independently as a teen, but which turns out to be a well-known trick: try playing solitaire or doing a jigsaw puzzle while listening to recorded music. It keeps your visual center from getting restless without distracting your attention, and as a result you actually listen more carefully.

At least, it often works for me...

#108 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 12:24 PM:

R.M.Koske @ 105... Ah hah!

#109 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 12:24 PM:

It was quite a few years back that I realised 'Don't cry for me, Argentina' had a dance rhythm to it. But I've never figured out which one. Possibly tango. Any suggestions?

#110 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 12:39 PM:

Joe: Thanks for the suggestion! I've been kind of wondering for a while how to get more into hip-hop and rap. I know there's some I like, but don't know how to classify it well enough to find more of it.

#111 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 01:10 PM:

Mez -- you could tango to it. Or cha-cha. This opinion is based on beginner's lessons in both.

#112 ::: Jason B ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 01:16 PM:

Another hip hop act that works as a good starter is Atmosphere, from Minneapolis.

They avoid the cliches better than most.

#113 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 01:17 PM:

Wow, if the Beastie Boys are a starting point...I don't think I'm ever going to like hip-hop. Maybe they're punk-hop or something, but I've never found them anything other than annoying. Like fingernails-on-a-blackboard, jackhammer-at-6AM-when-you-have-a-headache annoying. "You Have to Fight for Your Right To Party" sounds like a half-drunk high-school football team celebrating winning the state championship—a thing all sane people avoid seeing, hearing, or being an innocent bystander to.

Also, they were interviewed on NPR one time; they were rude and foul-mouthed in the interview, and they trashed the NPR offices on the way out. Bunch of assholes who never got over their 15-year-old anger.

That said, however, I've heard hip-hop I like much more—or at any rate dislike much less. Even Eminem (whom I hate for reasons separate from his art) is better than the Beastie Boys.

#114 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 01:26 PM:

For a long time I was convinced that I was made of fail as regards Tango. A friend of mine would bring me to dances she assured me were good for beginners, and I would shuffle clumsily when prodded by my partners, and partners would keep telling me "No, it's my fault; I'm not leading correctly if you find yourself unable to follow."

But no one actually taught me how to follow! I think maybe they are convinced that it comes naturally to everyone. I'm convinced I have to be taught.

I mean, I found myself asking questions like, "When you step forward, does that mean I step backwards on my right foot or my left foot? And in what direction? Or am I just supposed to sway? Or dip? What does this pressure mean as opposed to that?" I swear, I need a Tango Decoder Ring or something. I simply didn't seem to speak the language. And it didn't help that these questions got refused as irrelevant. "Just follow, that's all."

It leaves one feeling very subhuman, when one is told that one shouldn't need to be taught. If the claim is that it should just come naturally, what does that say about the person to whom it doesn't? Talk about feeling deficient! It probably made the leaders feel deficient, too, since they'd been taught that if the partner can't follow it's their fault.

I think maybe there's a base rhythm I have to internalize before I'll respond correctly to a Tango lead. A set of steps and possible elaborations, maybe. I'm sure this is the case for all dances, but every other dance I've attempted to learn, I actually got *taught* it - there was a basic series of steps as a template upon which the leader imposed variations. Tango, I got taught very little. I got taught that it's the leader's game to win or lose, and that if the leader tells you "Thank you for the dance" that's code for "I don't want to dance with you anymore." I got told "thank you for the dance" several times.

Argh. Maybe someday when I get over my complete humiliation about it, I'll try again. In another city.

#115 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 01:28 PM:

If the AP and everyone else managed to force us to stop quoting it on blog posts, that would force everyone to circumlocute around the things they were talking about instead of mentioning them, and all blog posts would start looking like tristero's "high on life" post.

#116 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 01:31 PM:

Lee 84: Richard Einhorn is a composer. A modern composer, who does wonderful things. Some audio samples.

#117 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 01:32 PM:

#114:

I am kind of like that with all dances, so if I had to lead you, I couldn't. That's why I don't like the "man should always lead" rule.

#118 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 01:34 PM:

Oh, and, yeah, I also mistook the OP for referencing stevia, as opposed to salvia. This did not ring any nonsensical bells for me, because I have friends who have told me quite earnestly that the FDA has "banned" stevia due to pressure from Nutrasweet in a political move analogous to the hemp::duPont incident*. So I didn't blink when I thought I was reading about people getting illicitly high on the stuff.

*I do not doubt there is a grain of truth there, perhaps involving commercial restrictions and labeling and whatnot. But "banned"? The bag of stevia currently in my kitchen was sold to me by a lovely Pikes Place Market tea shop to sweeten the infusions made from the baby chrysanthemum buds they also sold me; I didn't exactly buy it from illegal back-alley stevia dealers.

#119 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 01:39 PM:

Xopher @ 113: Don't judge the Beastie Boys by that one song. Rick Rubin worked it over quite a bit and the Boys weren't entirely happy with the results, which I believe were released without their approval. (I don't think they minded the royalties, though.) Get a copy of Paul's Boutique or maybe skip through their anthology The Sounds of Science to do them justice.

(I might trash NPR's offices if I had the chance, but that's another story.)

#120 ::: Carl ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 01:40 PM:

Goliard #89 - Alas, Breves have been outlawed here by the Department of Homeland Security, as there is too much potential for them to mutate into "Allah Breves.*" So we use whole notes, double-whole, etc.

*And no, I'm really not certain if we ever want P.D.Q.Bach's "Mass in the Allah Mode" to be found, but his other works are very useful when getting people used to listening to classical music. It can be amazing, when dealing with such accomplished plagiarists as PDQ, to notice how much classical music you recognize.

#121 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 01:47 PM:

I rather liked PDQ Bach's score for Silent Running.

#122 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 01:49 PM:

#106, Joe J -

Ooh, thank you for the pointers.

#107, Tim Walters -

I'll have to try that.

#109, Mez -

I can't call the song clearly enough to mind to help. I'm at work where my youtube access is nonexistent, and the one Amazon clip of Madonna's version is of the slow, almost rhythmless introduction*, so I can't offer an opinion right now, sorry.

*This always makes me crazy when they do it. Why can't they sample a *representative* bit of the song?

#123 ::: Carl ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 01:55 PM:

Serge #121 - About the only part of the film that was carefully considered was the score. But Schickele and PDQ are rather different personalities in the same body.

#124 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 01:57 PM:

#117 - I certainly agree with you that prescribed gender roles in dance can be obnoxious, and that women leading and men following shouldn't be frowned upon, but that's a separate issue for me. I'd hope that leading could also be taught, rather than simply assumed to come naturally to the male. I think that dance is a language that we aren't all born speaking but surely we are all potentially capable of learning.

I hadn't thought about it 'til now, but the idea that leading and following should come naturally to us is probably linked to societal gender expectations, isn't it? Being a woman, I'm just naturally supposed to follow an accomplished tango dancing male. Being a man, the proof of his tango abilities is that his leading signals go straight to my lizard brain and cause the right movement without my having to learn anything at the head level. And then there's tango culture, which appears to be intensely gender-coded.

All of which leads to realize that those men I couldn't follow at those dances may well have seen (or had been taught to see) my failure as a direct insult to their manliness. If so, no wonder they didn't want anything to do with me after the first couple of songs.

Is it possible to learn to tango, and enjoy it, without buying into (or pretending to buy into) its social/cultural implications?


#106 - Unfortunately, my disappreciation for hip hop goes a bit deeper than not knowing where to get started. Most of the genre is simply cacophony to my ears. Like Xopher, I dislike being shouted at by my radio. Certain kinds of reggae, the ones where the singer babbles this constant stream of polemic in what sounds like Falabala (cf. Snow Crash) with the odd recognizable word mixed in, hit the same major dislike button for me. (I think I've mentioned in this company before how these sorts of shouty, babbly musics monopolize my ability to process language, making me unable to read or write while listening to them.) And after that we get to the high-pitched squealy noises that hurt my ears and sometimes sound intended to approximate a woman's screams, and the very strong bass that makes my earbones vibrate painfully, and the very rhythms that cause my hackles to rise. It's just not my genre. I'm OK with that.

Not that I don't appreciate the pointers. If I ever decide I want to find hip-hop I do like, I'll try following your advice (minus the Beastie Boys, those intrepid pioneers in the art of sneering impudently while shouting agressively).

#125 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 02:06 PM:

#114, Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little -

I think you and your partners were both right.

Following tango isn't, in my opinion, something you do naturally. I think a good leader could take a minimally taught follower and get her* there, but all following does take some teaching and coaching, and tango following more than most. It is subtle, for damnsure.

If you know how to follow and the leader does a good job, you won't wonder which foot, you'll only have one choice because you're standing on the other one. If you're on the left foot and the leader wants you to step back with that foot, he'll first indicate to you that you should shift feet, if he has any idea what he's doing.

One useful rule of thumb for ballroom in general and tango in particular - never stand on both feet at once. Pick one. Then if you're struggling, your partner will be better able to tell where you are and work with you.

I think maybe there's a base rhythm I have to internalize before I'll respond correctly to a Tango lead. A set of steps and possible elaborations, maybe. I'm sure this is the case for all dances, but every other dance I've attempted to learn, I actually got *taught* it - there was a basic series of steps as a template upon which the leader imposed variations. Tango, I got taught very little. I got taught that it's the leader's game to win or lose, and that if the leader tells you "Thank you for the dance" that's code for "I don't want to dance with you anymore." I got told "thank you for the dance" several times.

This is why I say Argentine* tango is a dom/sub game. There really isn't a base rhythm that they stick to. Everyone does their own thing to the music. They indicate (or should) which foot you'll stand on, when you'll move, how long you'll take to get there, and when (or if) you put the other foot down when you get there.

Learning at a dance instead of in classes is something I wasn't willing to do. Don't be too humiliated - what you were asked to do was *hard*, and I think Argentine tango is tough to learn even in classes. Part of the reason I had so few classes was feeling humiliated at the end of a class myself. I need to get back on that, because when it goes well, it is lovely.


And Erik - leading needs to be taught, too. It is an interesting skill that I found to be much related to aikido. I wouldn't in a million years teach someone the steps and then expect him to be able to lead them. So don't count yourself out yet.

*Male lead/female follow is the assumption, but I don't buy that it is the only way.

**International tango isn't like that. It has the base rhythm and pattern that you're more comfortable with.

#126 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 02:08 PM:

R.M. Koske @99 -- I definitely agree: tango for the N'Sync songs! And the bass and percussion on "Pop" would fit bellydancing. My first impulse was cha cha for "Creeping Up On You", though. And "Strange Relationship" -- foxtrot, maybe?

And if it makes you feel better, I'll out myself as an unabashed fan of Westlife ;)

#127 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 02:11 PM:

Carl @ 123... the only part of the film that was carefully considered was the score

True, but it's one of those movies that I like quite a bit in spite of the many flaws in its premises. If nothing else, it has robots Huey, Dewey and Louie, who cheat when they play poker.

#128 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 02:22 PM:

Nicole @ 124: A lot of what you describe is specific to certain genres of rap, not hip-hop in general. Most "gangsta" rap leaves me cold, though for some reason I really like Cypress Hill, which is about as gangster and misogynistic as it gets.

If you've never listened to it, try Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill for a very different R&B perspective on hip-hop.

#129 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 02:24 PM:

John 119: (I might trash NPR's offices if I had the chance, but that's another story.)

Would you tear down holiday decorations put up by the staff (among other things)? And would you do so after being invited for, and giving, an interview? And if you would, what barn were you raised in, and why should I take musical recommendations from you? :-)

More seriously, I think I need some other entry into hip-hop. I'm irretrievably prejudiced against the Beastie Boys, who seem more like the kind of thuglings who beat me up in high school than anything else.

#130 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 02:26 PM:

#126, Debbie -

Hooray! I'm not insane! (Okay, I'm not insane for thinking they sound like tango. Other indicators may not be resolved yet.)

I'll be in the kitchen tonight with my cd player, trying those dances on those songs. I have to admit that cha cha never occurred to me, "Creeping Up on You" has got such a strong tango vibe in my head. (And I keep imagining an odd tango choreography that is designed to look 100% nonconsensual, down to wondering if you can lead with a grip around the follower's wrists.)

It's funny, but even though I'm a bit embarrassed about liking N'Sync, I'm simultaneously dismayed by the fact that I haven't kept up with the latest crop of poppy little bands. I'll check out that video when I get home. *grins*

#131 ::: Tim Hall ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 03:01 PM:

Hedgeprog #90 - I think a lot of prog-rock (especially bands like Magenta) have more in common with some classical music that a lot of more mainstream rock and pop.

I find much of it requires a familiarity with the music on record in order to properly appreciate it live.

BTW, you considering going to The Reasoning in Cardiff in October? I'm weighing up the options of that one vs. their gig at The Borderline in London the following night.

#132 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 03:03 PM:

R.M. Koske: If you haven't already heard it, you should track down "Title of the Song" by DaVinci's Notebook. I'm pretty sure there's a version on YouTube.

You'll die laughing.

#133 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 03:18 PM:

R. M. Koske -- I keep imagining an odd tango choreography that is designed to look 100% nonconsensual, down to wondering if you can lead with a grip around the follower's wrists.

We learned a couple of Cuban Salsa moves that involve the leader holding the partner's hand in such a way that her wrist can't move (his thumb deep in the palm of her hand, his fingers clasping the back of her hand). Goes a bit beyond the usual 'facilitative' leading.

FYI -- the Back Street Boys are together again!

#134 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 03:32 PM:

#132, Carrie S. -

I'll look for it, thanks!

#135 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 04:01 PM:

This may be a tad esoteric, but I figure this may be the thread where I'm most likely to pick up some nuggets of knowledge: does anyone know anything of the far eastern musical genre Trot? I heard some in a taxi in Seoul last year, a track that was like Techno crossed with Foxtrot, with a beat of sampled Oohs and Ahs, and oriental flourishes. I wanted to follow it up, but jet-lag and the language barrier proved insurmountable at the time, so all I have is the name of the genre, and no idea where to point my curiosity.

#136 ::: merryarwen ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 04:01 PM:

#130, R. M. Koske:

(And I keep imagining an odd tango choreography that is designed to look 100% nonconsensual, down to wondering if you can lead with a grip around the follower's wrists.)

Have you seen Mr and Mrs Smith? There are parts of their dance-sequence that certainly qualify (although it's as much a fight as anything else.)

#137 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 04:11 PM:

#135 - NelC -

Ooh, interesting. I hope someone knows about it.

#136, merryarwen -

No, I haven't seen that. *adds it to the list*

#138 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 05:02 PM:

Apart from the techno, it sounds like something to do with this, though if it really has anything to do with enka you're welcome to it.

[ducks offline to avoid being dogpiled by previously unsuspected conclave of ML enka enthusiasts]

#139 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 05:23 PM:

Serge @127: [..] it's one of those movies that I like quite a bit in spite of the many flaws in its premises. If nothing else, it has robots Huey, Dewey and Louie, who cheat when they play poker.

Silent Running. Directed by Doug Trumbull, who had done a lot of the effects work on 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I had a higher regard for him, before I read an interview with him in a film magazine, describing the making of Silent Running. He thought 2001 had too much of an 'art director' look to it; Silent Running was going to be his film. Originally, the title was meant to refer to how a submarine would attempt to escape detection (quiet the engines, have the crew avoid making noise). He had planned a scene where his astronaut/hero would be painting the spacecraft black to avoid detection (how this would have prevented it from radiating heat... maybe this is why it was never shot).

I had the impression that he looked at film as a vehicle for appreciating his special effects. He was brought in to work on the effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That film featured long, loving shots of the models, and long, tedious shots of Vyger special effects (and actors with their mouths open to show how stunned they were at the Vyger special effects). To be fair, I understand he had been brought in to work on that movie at the 11th hour after another shop had made a botch of the effects.

Another movie he directed, Brainstorm, was originally designed to highlight a projection technology he was promoting. The movie was about recording experiences; in the film, the 'recorded experiences' were going to be played at 48 frames per second (as opposed to the standard 24 frames per second). His feeling was that audiences had gotten used to the look of standard film; people were subliminally aware of the 24 frame per second flicker. By projecting the film at twice the standard rate, the flicker was harder to perceive, and the film would be given that much more immediacy. However, it was impossible to convince the theater owners to install the special projectors to show the 'recorded experience' sequences; the movie was released as a conventional film. Fortunately, the story stood up well on its own.

Since then, he had gone on to work on 'ride films' (such as Back To The Future: The Ride), which seems like a perfect match.

#140 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 05:31 PM:

Xopher: See my cross-post, right above your last post!

#141 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 05:36 PM:

Rob Rusick @ 139... Fortunately, the story stood up well on its own.

Ah, yes, Brainstorm... Flawed, and not just because of Natalie Wood's death while it was still being filmed, but still a decent movie. My favorite scene is when Walken gives his estranged wife a recording of his memories of what things like were between them before they became estranged.

#142 ::: sherrold ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 06:01 PM:

Carrie S. @ #132

Title of the Song always reminds me of another meta song, the theme song to the original Gary Shandling show on Showtime. ("This is the theme to Gary's show, the opening theme to Gary's show, Gary called me up and asked if I would write his theme song...it's almost 1/2 way finished, how to you like it so far, this is the theme to Gary Shandling's show.")

I should warn; it's a killer earworm if you know the tune.

#143 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 06:15 PM:

sherrold: Why yes, yes I do. But not all the words.

*wanders off in search of the ultimate earworm cure, Wizard of Speed and Time*

#144 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 06:17 PM:

(I swear I posted something along these lines already, but it doesn't appear to have, well, appeared, so here I go again. Last time I wrote it, it was shorter and more sensible. Sorry.)

Xopher, I do like quite a bit of the Beastie Boys' work (and also can't abide much of it), but I don't think they're a very good introduction to hip hop, especially if you're not already inclined to be sympathetic to its more abrasive aspects. There's also the matter of their being less an actual hip hop group than a fairly ho-hum white punk group that took up sampling and rapping later, but that's tangential.

I don't pretend to be anywhere near an expert on hip hop. In fact, until very recently I felt about the same about it as you do, and only maybe six months ago did something click in my brain, so I've only been exploring since then.

I find in general that my favorite hip hop comes from the end of the eighties and the very beginning of the nineties--that was the time when, it seems, the form reached the right balance between experimentalism and craftmanship. Before then, hip hop artists were noticeably struggling to create something unlike anything anyone had done before, and after that many settled into a kind of bland professionalism (not to mention the way mainstream appropriation has damaged the message).

Currently my favorite three hip hop albums are Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet, Eric B. and Rakim's Paid in Full, and the Afrika Bambaataa compilation Planet Rock. Any of those three seem like a good starting point, but particularly Paid in Full, because, without losing any of the passion, it's slower and less frenetic than the other two, which makes it easier to puzzle out what you need to puzzle out. Oh, and I don't remember your ever mentioning an interest in Kraftwerk, but if you are at all interested in them, check out Planet Rock, because Afrika Bambaataa samples the crap out of them in very interesting ways.

As more recent music goes, I really don't know much except for what makes the radio, and that I like more in terms of being pop hits (for which I have a great deal of affection) than in terms of being good hip hop. The exceptions would be more idiosyncratic types like Outkast and Missy Elliott, although both of them have yet to record an album I can enjoy all the way through.

#145 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 06:20 PM:

One of my colleagues keeps forwarding me links to Dutch hip hop. I am entirely without the tools to appreciate this.

However, the lyrics being what they are, I find that my English vocabulary is surprisingly transferrable.

#146 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 06:23 PM:

My rap recommendation: The Coup. Me and Jesus The Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night is an amazing (and explicitly anti-misogynistic) piece of writing, and the music is based on older funk and lacks the abrasive quality of, say, Public Enemy (who I also like very much).

#147 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 07:44 PM:

Xopher@129: I'm irretrievably prejudiced against the Beastie Boys

Aw. Have you tried their "The Mix Up" album, released June 2007?

It isn't hip-hop, but it is beastie boys. A jazz-funk sort of beastie boys.

Instrumental, no less. Seriously, no vocals, no rapping.

My favorite is Suco de tangerina. The video isn't much, but some times I put the music on while I'm working the cubicle, and it's the grease to help slide through the day.

#148 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 09:10 PM:

albatross @#82:

I once saw a talk from him, at the University of Missouri. It was, and I do not say this lightly, the largest and smelliest load of BS I recall receiving during all my college days.

Yikes! I never heard him speak myself. I recall the book as being graphically cluttered, and not terribly well written, but that was typical of the "alternative" stuff I was reading back in college. (My '95 edition was an upgrade to the '85 edition I got in college.) Perhaps I should reread it with more adult critical facilities.... What year was the talk you heard?

(FWIW, I was and am a supporter of legalizing pot, among other things.)

Well, there's more than enough different reasons for that ... my late grandmother was openly against the Drug War, specifically because she'd been around for Prohibition!

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @#114:

It leaves one feeling very subhuman, when one is told that one shouldn't need to be taught. ... It probably made the leaders feel deficient, too, since they'd been taught that if the partner can't follow it's their fault.

Now that's half the story of my life, but in a very different context! Growing up on the autistic spectrum... and not knowing what was wrong, because the low-end diagnoses weren't generally known until well after my school years. Even "core" autism was barely understood when I was in high school, let alone earlier. (I'd also read Son-Rise. which turned out to be seriously misleading.)

#149 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 09:31 PM:

The problem with books like The Emperor Has No Clothes is that they have an amazing mishmash of truth and insanity and not enough bibliographic information to help you distinguish between the two.

Xopher @ 119: I have a long-running grudge against NPR, but I probably wouldn't in fact trash their offices, which as I said is another story and has nothing to do with the Beastie Boys anyway.

#150 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2008, 10:36 PM:

abi: Those old Frisian cognates, eh?

#151 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 12:03 AM:

Re dance forms to pop music: The song "Celebration" (not Three Dog Night's "Celebrate", but the one with the chorus "Celebrate good times, come on!") is excellent for korobushka. The phrasing doesn't match perfectly, but the tempo is dead-on. A whole bunch of SCAers in mundane garb doing this at a wedding reception gets some interesting reactions!

Xopher, #113: What's the issue with Eminem? I have sometimes greatly admired his facility with language (his lyrics are amazingly complex), but I know virtually nothing about him beyond that.

Nicole, #114: Yeah, that's kind of how I felt when various people kept telling me that they couldn't possibly teach me how to do the hambo because the footwork is so complicated... despite the fact that when I watch people doing it, it doesn't look all that difficult. But since I was more interested in contra and English than international anyhow, I finally just quit asking.

Xopher, #116: Thanks! Those were interesting, for varying values of the term. Are the examples from The Fourth Manner of Loving and The Silence characteristic of the rest of those works?

Erik, #117: If I'm waltzing with someone and he can't/doesn't provide a decent lead, I tend to take over... because somebody has to! OTOH, even though I am only mediocre as a waltz dancer, a good strong lead from a skilled partner can make me appear to be a lot better than that. (It's a lot like sex in that regard.)

Serge, #141: Just out of curiosity, do his memories of "what things were like before they were estranged" bear any similarity at all to her memories of the same period?

abi, #145: Oh, SNAP!

Several people, naming no names: Please stop telling Xopher that if he only tried the right Beastie Boys music, he'd like it. It reminds me far too much of all the people who have insisted that if I just tried THEIR favorite variety of booze or coffee, I'd understand.

#152 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 12:09 AM:

Lee @ 151... The issue of the subjectivity of memories never comes up, nor does she say this isn't how it happens. The important thing is that they fall in love with each other all over again.

#153 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 12:18 AM:

Lee @ 151: I suspect Xopher's objections to Eminem have to do with Eminem's anti-gay language. I have problems with that, too. On the other hand, "Mosh" was a moving and righteous video. Supposedly both the original and the revised version are here. I couldn't get them to play. You may have better luck than I did.

I don't know whether Xopher would like the Beastie Boys if he only listened to the right records. Probably he wouldn't, especially since he's got an unfavorable image of them in his head. I do know judging them only by "Fight For Your Right To Party" isn't giving them a fair shake. It's like judging Randy Newman only by "Short People" or Warren Zevon only by "Werewolves of London".

#154 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 01:08 AM:

Lee 151: John has it right, but I would have put it not so much as "Eminem's anti-gay language" as "because Eminem is a homophobic shithead." That said, I've read some of his lyrics and been very impressed with them as poetry, without hearing him perform them. It's not enough to make me a fan, though.

John 153: Hmm. "Short People" is biting satire, and "Werewolves of London" is deliciously silly, but neither is its respective artist's best work. I think I see what you mean. I have to admit that the fact that the Beastie Boys have an instrumental album was a shocking revelation to me, and quite incompatible with my image of them.

I will have to think about it.

#155 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 01:58 AM:

Rob Rusick:

He was brought in to work on the effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That film featured long, loving shots of the models, and long, tedious shots of Vyger special effects (and actors with their mouths open to show how stunned they were at the Vyger special effects). To be fair, I understand he had been brought in to work on that movie at the 11th hour after another shop had made a botch of the effects.

Correct: Paramount had hired the studio that did a popular 7-UP commercial (the one with the woman with butterfly wings--probably online somewhere) who had spent over 8 million dollars to produce under 15 minutes of B&W test footage. Ever read Trumbull's contract with Paramount? It has one of the most interesting clauses I'd ever run into--basically "I will turn in usable footage that matches what you've storyboarded by Dec. 7th. If you give me until Jan 7th. it will be much better, and Feb 7th. will be even better than that."

Another movie he directed, Brainstorm, was originally designed to highlight a projection technology he was promoting. The movie was about recording experiences; in the film, the 'recorded experiences' were going to be played at 48 frames per second (as opposed to the standard 24 frames per second). His feeling was that audiences had gotten used to the look of standard film; people were subliminally aware of the 24 frame per second flicker. By projecting the film at twice the standard rate, the flicker was harder to perceive, and the film would be given that much more immediacy. However, it was impossible to convince the theater owners to install the special projectors to show the 'recorded experience' sequences; the movie was released as a conventional film. Fortunately, the story stood up well on its own.

Partly correct: Showscan runs at 60fps--when he was doing test work for 2001 (I believe it was on the spacewalk footage, but it's been years since I read up on the process and things have blurred for me) he accidentally ran a sequence at 60fps and the uniform reaction in the booth was shock that he'd gotten a 3D effect with a conventional camera. He did dream up Brainstorm to use the process, but the studio he'd been working with didn't want to install the only projector on the market that would run 60fps for an extended period without breaking for just one film and he ended up taking the story idea with him to MGM--as I remember it he had to do a sizable payout to get it from his previous studio. Even then MGM wouldn't go for it. (Compare and contrast with the UA chain which installed a highly sophisticated 3D system in a number of their theaters [including Seattle] and ended up offering a couple of million dollars as a bounty to get someone, ANYONE to shoot a feature using it.)

There were several Showscan shorts shot (the one at Expo 86, the one on magic tricks starring Christopher Lee) and it looked like he'd finally get them in widespread distribution when he signed a deal with a major restaurant chain to add a Showscan theater to each of their restaurants--but the chain was Chuck E. Cheese and the deal was about two months before they imploded.

Of all the reviews I read about the process the one that stuck with me was the one in Cinefantastique that said makeup technology was going to have to improve greatly if the process was going to catch on--you could apparently see every pore on Christopher Lee's face.

#156 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 03:23 AM:

Clifton @150:
Those old Frisian cognates, eh?

Just loan-words.

#157 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 07:20 AM:

Bruce E. Durocher II @155: Thanks for the correction and additional information. I was going by a recollection of an interview of Trumbull by Charlie Rose on the CBS news show Nightwatch; possibly on the occasion of the release of Brainstorm, which would have been in 1983. Nightwatch only ran until 1992, so it couldn't have been later than that. 'Twice as fast as the conventional frame rate' is obviously something I only thought I remembered.

#158 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 07:52 AM:

Abi @ 156... Just loan-words.

If they are a loan, when will I get them back?
When That Hot Place frieses over?

#159 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 07:53 AM:

#151, Lee -

...various people kept telling me that they couldn't possibly teach me how to do the hambo because the footwork is so complicated... despite the fact that when I watch people doing it, it doesn't look all that difficult.

I think you should take that as a commentary on their teaching skills, not your learning skills, no matter how they meant it. Of *course* you could be taught. They just didn't think it was possible because they couldn't have done it. Depending on when and where you asked to be taught, there's also a smidgen of "correct venue for teaching" possibly involved. Lots of stuff I could teach given an hour, an empty room, and control of a music source are things I couldn't teach during a dance-in-progress without excessively disrupting my and others' fun. Still, if they'd meant either of those, they should have said so. Bah.

#160 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 08:15 AM:

Rob Rusick:

No problem. If I remember correctly the "3D like effect" would first show at less than 60fps so your remembered 48fps might be the minimum. A friend whho used to be an industrial filmmaker told me about a guy he knew who'd dreamed up and patented "Super72" which meant you shot at 72fps and only printed every third frame for conventional release...

#161 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 10:13 AM:

Another possible gateway to hip-hop: Gym Class Heroes. I'm another one of those people who Doesn't Like Hip-Hop (and the Beastie Boys are an anti-gateway, for me; can't stand ANYTHING I've heard of theirs), and I like Gym Class Heroes, although it took me a while before my ears quit shutting down because "it sounds like hip-hop."

It's maybe worth pointing out that they're on the Fueled By Ramen label, which is mostly pop-leaning emo bands, and what got me to slow down and listen was a song called "Taxi Driver," which starts out "Took cutie for a ride in my death cab" and goes on to reference a couple of dozen other indie/emo bands in the lyrics, like one of those "find the song titles" picture puzzles. They're also not heavy on the bass thud or the shrieky feedback noises.

Apart from them -- well, I liked OutKast's "Hey Ya." That was bouncy and fun.

There may be other things that'd get past my bias, but mostly I say it's spinach and I say the hell with it.

#162 ::: Joe J ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 11:49 AM:

Xopher.

I'm sorry I mentioned The Beastie Boys (especially now that I think about their past misogyny and homophobia). They were exactly the immature A-holes you describe. They've since grown up a hell of a lot (and openly apologized for their homophobia). I would definitely avoid their earlier work.

I mentioned them because I feel that their later work really transcends hip hop and could be a good starting point to look at the style.

***

I keep trying to write more from this point on, but I don't think I have much more of use to say. Honestly, I'm really intimidated by the high quality of the discourse here. It's why I lurk. I know I'm out of my league.

I'll just finish up by saying that there's something of value in hip hop. I like a wide variety of music, and for the longest time I desperately avoided hip hop. It didn't make sense to me. Somewhere along the way, something clicked in my head, and I started to understand it. I started to value the art of phrasing and flow in rapping. I began to understand the sublime power of a beat and a sample repeated endlessly.

I suppose I feel just a little more complete musically with hip hop in my life. That's it.

Thank you.

#163 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 12:49 PM:

A great Angolan hip-hop video appeared in my inbox this morning.

#164 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 02:04 PM:

Joe, stick around! We're all intimidated by each other, and doing our best to keep up. That's what keeps this place interesting.

#165 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 03:50 PM:

R. M. Koske @ 125: One useful rule of thumb for ballroom in general and tango in particular - never stand on both feet at once. Pick one. Then if you're struggling, your partner will be better able to tell where you are and work with you.

Now that's advice I can work with. Thank you for that, and for your perspective on the whole matter of Argentine Tango. It looks so beautiful, done right, that I'd like to learn it. Perhaps one day I will.

Clifton Royston @ 128: Thank you for the suggestion, but really, I'm at peace with not liking hip-hop. And there is more to my dislike of the genre than the specific things I describe. The entire spectrum containts irritants for me.

It is OK that I dislike hip-hop, right? I'm not morally obliged to try to find some I like? Right? [/tongue partially in cheek, the other part sticking out at you good-naturedly]

As for the Beastie Boys, I've never gotten over the cold slap across the face of finally deciphering the lyrics to "Paul Revere":

"...for what I did to his daughter:
I did it like this,
I did it like that,
I did it with a whiffle ball bat, so..."

Granted, that was in the '80s. But from what I've heard of their recent stuff, they remain an aesthetic abhomination, if not a thematic one, to me. It's that perpetual sneer, y'know? Can't stand their vocalizing. (Please, do not respond by telling me, "Oh, then maybe you'll like this song by them, because they don't vocalize that way..." Really. It's OK that I don't like the Beastie Boys. I don't require conversion.)

Oddly, "Fight For Your Right To Party" remains one of the few songs by them I like. Angie Aparo has a really fun remake of "Fight For Your Right." On piano. It's on his album Weapons of Mass Construction aka "The One With The Sun" according to Windows Media Player. The album kicks off with a piano rendition of Alice In Chains's "Man In The Box". I love this stuff.

Re: Eminem - wasn't he fairly pissed off at Tori Amos's remake of "Bonnie & Clyde"? I never know quite how she does it, but her version somehow invokes the dead woman's point of view* rather than Eminem's viewpoint character (the man who kills her and takes their young daughter along to dispose of the body).

*I mean, I got that sense before reading Neil Gaiman's companion vignette in the tourbook, which made the woman's viewpoint explicit.

#166 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 04:06 PM:

Rereading Joe's latest comment, I feel compelled to add: Not liking a certain genre doesn't mean that I can't concede there are things of value in it. My not liking hip-hop doesn't invalidate the value Joe finds in it, any more than the hordes of people who dislike Barry Manilow invalidates the beauty I find in many of Manilow's ballads.

Which I think leads back to the original post, and Tristero's later clarifications. Tristero said that one had to laugh at middle-class white people finding "profundity" in their drug experiences or whatever. Which is otherwise known as the "get a life"/"you need to get out more" lame: there's only so much pleasure you should find in something someone else finds trivial before you're guilty of "needing to get a life." Personally, I think that meme is no less than a soul-killing cancer. If I cry listening to a certain tune someone else finds trite, does their finding it trite mean that I "need to get a life" for being emotionally affected by it? And what possible good can it do for an onlooker like Tristero to shame me for the deep spiritual bliss I may find in a particular experience? Reducing the sum total of innocent joy in the world by replacing some of it with embarrassment is nothing, absolutely nothing, to be proud of.

So, no - when I say I dislike hip-hop, I'm not doing Tristero's trick of ridiculing those who find that such music completes their lives. I promise. But I must insist that my own life is not deficient for its absence. And I will generously admit [hey what's that in my cheek it's my tongue again] that people who dislike Barry Manilow are similarly not deficient.

De gustibus yadda yadda.

#167 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 05:09 PM:

I join Nicole in saying that I don't think my not liking something means it's no good.

I also went looking on the web and found the Beastie Boys' apology for their earlier homophobia. Well, OK then. Seriously. (AFAIK they didn't apologize for their NPRophobia, but they were pretty much apologizing for being punk-ass dipshits, so I'll take that as inclusive.)

I also found this, which runs down a list of hip-hop albums and tags the homophobia in each of them. Artists listed here include Eminem, Brand Nubian, Professor Griff, Ice Cube, N.W.A., Dr. Dre, 2 Live Crew, 50 Cent, Easy E, Busta Rhymes, Public Enemy, Snoop Dogg, and a bunch of others I've never heard of. OTOH this list author includes the Beastie Boys based on their first album, so who knows what the others have done and said?

#168 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 05:15 PM:

Xopher @ 167... I don't think my not liking something means it's no good

Some time ago, I had just finished reading some novel and my wife asked if it was good. My response was that, well, I liked it. Others may not, and that's their right. It is also my right to like something. I mean, how many of us went thru high-school having others make fun of our love of SF and comics?

#169 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 08:04 PM:

#165, Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

Now that's advice I can work with.

Glad to help. I'd hate to see you give up on it because of an extremely unfavorable circumstance for your first few tries.

#168, Serge -

Yes! It makes it hard for me to recommend anything, actually, because just because I liked it doesn't mean that anyone else will. I mean, I enjoyed The Postman and original series Doctor Who*. My tastes are not at all mainstream and may not translate at all.

Which is frustrating, because I'm reading a book that I'm really enjoying and I'm unable to trust that anyone else would like it, but I want to tell everyone about it.

Ah, what the heck. I'll put a review on the open thread. Because it is a good book! Really!

*Yes, I know this is an argument in favor of my taste here, but in high school/college/anywhere people aren't SF fans? Not so much.

#170 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 09:18 PM:

I have a soft spot in my brain for a line out of one of Coolio's rap songs: "I hear Earl coming, I think I'm in trouble". heh.

#171 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 11:47 PM:

I like hip-hop music -- it started here in DC -- but like rap, I don't like the words.

#172 ::: joel hanes ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 01:14 AM:

DEACON E.L. MOUSE : Ha ha ha! It sounds like you're way out there, Pastor! Over.

PASTOR ROD FLASH : I'm high all right -[squelch]- but not on false drugs. I'm high on the real thing: powerful gasoline, a clean windshield, and a shoeshine. Over.

#173 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 02:41 AM:

Sorry if my hip hop recommendations came across wrong--I was under the impression that Xopher and others were asking for advice on how to go about figuring out the genre, and since my brain only recently made the switch from "don't get hip hop" to "really fracking love hip hop", I thought I could help.

Lee #151: Please stop telling Xopher that if he only tried the right Beastie Boys music, he'd like it. It reminds me far too much of all the people who have insisted that if I just tried THEIR favorite variety of booze or coffee, I'd understand.

I know what you mean, and that kind of thing can be incredibly obnoxious, but at the same time, that kind of suggestion can occasionally be very helpful. I thought Greg's recommendation of The Mix-Up was very sensible, as I can see a large number of people who would despise the majority of the Beastie Boys' output really liking that album. Recently I mentioned to a friend of mine that I had never understood the appeal of Devo because I hate "Whip It" so much, and he forced me to listen to their first album...which it turns out I love to pieces. Matters of taste can be so unpredictable that I hate to limit either my own explorations or my suggestions to others.

#174 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 09:29 AM:

I'm feeling a bit contrary and feel like arguing that there is a direction in which classical music (and some of its relatives, like progressive rock) is "higher", in that as a rule one has to go further into the music theory text to describe what's going on in it. Besides the often hateful lyrics and my "I don't care to be shouted at" reaction, the truth is that rap and hip-hop just bore me; they don't have enough musical substance to get my temporal lobes to react. Which isn't to say that I think everything needs to be so substantial.

I found out, BTW, that I wasn't going to be a coffee drinker when I was given a cup of Kona at a coffee shop, and it tasted to me like coffee (insert baleful bassoon cadence here). I can make myself drink the stuff for medicinal purposes, but I am now immune to "if you'll just try this one" entreaties.

#175 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 10:36 AM:

R.M.Koske @ 169... It makes it hard for me to recommend anything, actually, because just because I liked it doesn't mean that anyone else will.

True, but where's he harm in telling us about it? True, some people here questioned my sanity when I said I liked the movie Wing Commander and it is a blow to my self-esteem from which I still have to recover. Heheheh... By he way, I liked The Postman and also Waterworld.

(Hey, over there! Don't think I didn't hear that rude sound.)

#176 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 11:03 AM:

#175, Serge -

I knew that even if you didn't like The Postman you'd be supportive of me liking it. *grins*

Waterworld is one I'm fairly neutral about. I saw all but the last half-hour or so of it (VCR malfunction) and didn't care enough to seek out the ending, which is a sure sign of a movie not being terribly good. At the same time, I did enjoy what I watched and don't feel my time was wasted watching it.

I think I mostly worry about the harm in telling about something I enjoy in terms of feeling responsible for other peoples' time.* I don't like the idea of a clunker taking up someone's valuable reading time on my say-so.

*Yes, I realize how crazy that sounds. I'm working on the egotism but progress is slow.

#177 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 11:08 AM:

R. M. Koske @ 175: Not crazy at all. When I reviewed music, I used to fret over that, as well as over whether I'd cause people to spend their pennies unwisely. I still fret over it.

And yes, it's a form of egotism, but I don't know that it's an unhealthy form.

#178 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 11:10 AM:

Serge, is it just me, or is Wing Commander actually a gutsy attempt at a sci-fi remake of Only Angels Have Wings?

#179 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 11:19 AM:

For the Record:

1. It's been too hot here for me to settle down and read all these comments.

2. I think Salvia ("sage") is great in turkey dressing, or for ritual censing -- but that's almost certainly not the species being discussed here.

3. I grew a bunch of Salvia divinorum about 30 years ago, in the Arboretum greenhouse -- Carlos Jativa had brought some back from a plant-exploration trip to South America -- and made three trials of chewing the leaves. One time, I think I got Results, similar to drinking about a half-pint of commercial American beer (which tastes much better). Not my cuppa.

4. Anyone who strongly likes any music but Baroque, Bluegrass, Dixieland, some specific Folk, and Plains Indian War Dance (Powwow) Singing obviously has Weird Tastes, but as long as they don't play it too loud (and I'm now, effectively, deaf) that's okay.

#180 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 01:08 PM:

C. Wingate #174: I don't ever tell people that like different music than I do that they "just don't get it", but based on what you just said about the difference in complexity between "classical" music (which means what, exactly?) and hip hop, I'm gonna say you just don't get it.

It's a very different theory of music, but it's no less complex, and certainly not "lower". I don't care what kind of music you enjoy and what kinds you don't, but when you try to say that the kind you like has more, in your words, "musical substance" than the kinds you don't, in general you're going to be objectively wrong.

#181 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 01:27 PM:

R.M.Koske @ 176... I'm working on the egotism but progress is slow

"Scotty, I need that egotism now!"

I liked Waterworld, but I'd have liked it even more without the stupid villains. There were some scenes that I felt were beautiful, like when the young woman, who's been looking for land, is taken deep underwater by the Mariner and that's when she realizes what Humanity has done. Sure, they do find land at the end of the story, but, as the expanded version of the film showed, all it does is provide false hope.

#182 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 01:32 PM:

Tlönista @ 178... Heheheh. I saw it more as a homage to all those WW2 stories. Heck, the fighter ships look like truncated Spitfires, which is about as blatant as can be. Not only that, but the people are dressed as if they were in the British Navy of that era. Thus does Wing Commander precede Galactica and Firefly in looking at the Past for its vision of the Future.

#183 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 01:48 PM:

ethan 173: I have an uncanny ability to select an artists worst/least accessible work as my first selection. I didn't read any Russ for years, because the first thing I picked up of hers was And Chaos Died, which is tough going. It was only when I read "The Mystery of the Young Gentleman" that I realized what I'd been missing. The first Dick I read (as opposed to the many dicks I've read) was The Zap Gun, which is either trash, or which I, at 12 or 13, was not sophisticated enough to understand the deeper point of; I eventually read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which is emphatically NOT trash, but which put Dick on my Really Should Read Someday list: while I recognized its quality, reading it did not give me pleasure.

See why I don't think that if I don't like something it's no good? I'm aware that my taste is not perfect. I'm capable of judging the quality of some things that I don't enjoy at all. If I didn't have humility about this, it would be Mark Twain's classic "Wagner's music is better than it sounds" experience! (I actually like Wagner until people start singing...his vocal lines give me no pleasure at all, but his chromatic instrumental pieces can be transcendant.) I believe that Dick is good, really good: people I trust have told me so, no one says otherwise, and my adult experience of his work supports that conclusion.

But it's just not the sort of think I like.

Immature people have trouble with this concept. I remember when I was in my college Men's Glee Club (actually a men's chorus of not inconsiderable sophistication; we did the In Taberna section of Carmina Burana at one point) and I commented to a fellow member of the ensemble that I didn't care for the gospel pieces we were doing just then. "There's nothing wrong with this music!" he blustered.

"I didn't say there was anything wrong with it," I replied. "I just said that I don't like it." This was a complete koan to him. I don't think anyone in his experience had distinguished between personal preference and judgement of quality before. I continually run into this problem: not that people can't make the distinction, but that they don't believe that I can!

I am now prepared to admit that I was being stupid about the Beastie Boys. I know that I have the curse mentioned in my first paragraph, but still used "Fight for Your Right" as representative; additionally, I assumed they could not possibly have grown or changed or learned since their earliest work, which is just. plain. stupid. I also know that I once felt the same way about country that I do now about hip-hop; I heard a couple of really wonderful Dolly Parton songs, and no longer dismiss the entire genre.

I still doubt that I will wind up liking much in the way of hip-hop. That doesn't mean I think it's no good. But melody and harmony appear to be largely absent (I know there are exceptions, where there is a chorus, but it doesn't appear to be a frequent occurrence IN MY VERY LIMITED EXPERIENCE); I also don't like to listen to people shouting, because it's strongly associated with people hitting each other in my deep-mind—early childhood experience counts for a lot here (and I know that not all hip-hop is shouted too); and the focus is on the lyrics, which typically I can't make out at all. That last is more obviously about me than the others, but no more so in reality.

Listen to hip-hop in Japanese, unless you understand that language, and you'll see why my enjoyment of it is limited. I don't speak any of the dialects most hip-hop is in, and my hearing is sufficiently compromised at this point that even if it were done in exactly the Chicago/Michigan/New York/semi-pedantic/linguistically voracious mishmosh idiolect that I speak, I would still have trouble. And IMVLE there isn't enough of interest ASIDE from the lyrics to really grab me.

Once again, this is about me. This why I haven't enjoyed hip-hop up to now. It is NOT a list of "what sucks about hip-hop." I may or may not get around to trying the many recommendations made in this thread, but I probably will.

OK, now about what sucks about hip-hop. :-) Nearly all the hip-hop artists I've ever heard of have been tagged as misogynistic, homophobic, or both. This is partly because that's how I hear about them, but I need to avoid those artists, if only because I don't want to give them money. (In the same fashion, I'd never have heard of Buju Banton if he hadn't become famous for making songs about killing faggots. But I did know that most of Jamaican society is lethally homophobic, and I heard that from people who grew up there. I have the impression that the urban African-American community is quite homophobic too, though not quite in the everyone-rises-up-to-hack-them-to-death-with-machetes way Jamaicans are.) I'm going to listen to Eminem no matter how "good" he is (and I've read some of his lyrics, and they were excellent: this is an ethical issue for me).

C. 174: I think I see what you're getting at. I agree with some of what you're trying to say, but you could say it in terms less likely to trigger hostile reactions in fans of the genre. For example, no one can deny that classical music is more complex than pop music; saying it's "higher," you're on much shakier ground.

ethan 180: Hmm. You're trying to prove me wrong in my comment to C, which I wrote before refreshing and seeing your comment here. But in fact classical music IS more complex; the rhythms, harmonies, and instrumentation are all much more varied than in any stream of popular music since Big Band Jazz became a specialized interest (and even Big Band Jazz is more limited in scope, in several dimensions, than classical). You can't write the chords in The Rite of Spring in guitar tablature!

In addition to the sheer variety of sounds used in classical music, it's much more formal than any other kind; I don't mean people dress up and sit quietly to listen to it, but that there are forms that are followed, and they're often quite complex. I know a fair amount of music theory, but I can't write in sonata form (not to mention that I think it's the root of the the Third Reich music laws, but never mind). It absolutely requires changing keys in particular ways, and imposes structure on how themes are developed, and in which keys, and how you get back where you started.

A few pop songs change keys, but it's relatively rare. I've never heard a single one that developed a theme (as opposed to simply repeating a melody) in the sense that that term is used in classical music.

This is structural complexity we're talking about. It's not more complex in sentiment or politics. It certainly isn't greater in worth, whatever that might mean. But it really is more complex in structure.

#184 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 01:53 PM:

I meant, of course, that I'm NOT going to listen to Eminem no matter how "good" he is. Sigh. I read that over before posting it, I really did.

#185 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 02:47 PM:

Xopher -- one (very, very) minor quibble. If you use the term 'pop', I understand e.g. "Billboard's Top 20". Comparing that type of piece with sonatas on the axis of complexity and/or song length is... a stretch. I've just been listening to Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks." Plenty of complexity and development. Not true of mainstream pop, I'll give you that.

This discussion (in general, not you particularly, Xopher) gave me a flashback to debates I had with my grandfather. He just could NOT see any merit whatsoever in rock music. They're always repeating phrases, he'd complain. Oooh baby, ooh baby ad infinitum. It didn't go over with him well when I pointed out all the repetitions of Alleluia or Amen in church music. Still, it was at his house that I had a constant background of Yma Sumac, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Pete Fountain, etc. etc., so I have a lot to thank him for.

I love people's recommendations here for everything. Music, recipes, books, bring it on. I don't feel obligated to like everything, or justify my choices, and don't see why anyone else should, either. But it's interesting hearing why people do like something.

#186 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 03:49 PM:

Xopher: wait, what? What was that about sonata form and Third Reich music laws? I've studied a LOT of Holocaust history, but that didn't come up in my classes, and it's something that would have stuck with me, more so than the restrictions on the visual arts that I DID learn about. And when I was an intermediate flute student, I pretty much LIVED in baroque sonatas, but I wasn't studying composition, so my teacher didn't tie in the theory I was learning to the rules of sonata form, I just played them.

So I am confused. And intrigued. And vaguely horrified. Can you explain?

#187 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 03:52 PM:

R.M.Koske @ 176... I don't like the idea of a clunker taking up someone's valuable reading time on my say-so.

If I recommend an author and it turns out not to be the other person's cup of joe, it's not like he/she has to read the story to the bitter end. I used to finish books no matter what, but I was young, and I still had an unlimited future ahead of me.

#188 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 03:55 PM:

Xopher (183): See why I don't think that if I don't like something it's no good? I'm aware that my taste is not perfect. I'm capable of judging the quality of some things that I don't enjoy at all. ... I believe that Dick is good, really good: people I trust have told me so, no one says otherwise, and my adult experience of his work supports that conclusion.

But it's just not the sort of thing I like.

Thank you for articulating this so well. I like a fair amount of stuff* that is, objectively, not very good. I dislike a huge amount of stuff that is, objectively, very good indeed. I don't expect other people to agree with me. Even in the case of friends whose taste tracks fairly well with my own, we don't all like exactly the same things in equal measure.

I always like hearing others' recommendations, though, even if it doesn't sound like something I will like.

My ideal reviewer was the former music reviewer for the late, lamented Wilson Library Bulletin. He liked a much wider range of music than I do, but, no matter what his opinion of artist or album, I could always tell from his descriptions whether or not *I* would like it. That's a very rare skill.

*music, books, movies, art, etc.

#189 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 03:56 PM:

Speaking of 'different' musical tastes, this apparently was on Turner Classic Movies a couple of nights ago.

Roller Boogie (1979)... When her favorite roller disco is threatened with closing, a girl organizes the skaters to save it. Starring Linda Blair.

The horror! The horror!

#190 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 08:19 PM:

Rikibeth 186: I was semi-joking about that. In sonata form, if the base key is major, you modulate into another major key; if the base key is minor, you modulate into a major key. I don't know why this is; it seems stupid to me, but then I write relentlessly minor stuff, usually with spooky accidentals, so sonata form wouldn't work for me even if I were capable of writing in it, which I'm not.

I was tying that to the Third Reich music law of avoiding "Jewishly gloomy" music. I'm sure they would find all of my music, even the rare bits that are in major, too Jewish.*

Usually I just say "Sonata form is fascistic!" and don't explain. And I really DO think that sonata form is the way it is because of prejudice against minor keys as too gloomy—but I wouldn't seriously tie it directly to anti-Semitism, much less specifically to the Third Reich music laws, without a LOT more historical knowledge than I presently possess.

*Or perhaps too Welsh.

#191 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 08:57 PM:

Xopher #183, the first, long bit: Except, of course, for your specific examples, I agree completely. I just always like to keep in mind that one never knows when something might suddenly click. As I said before, I never liked hip hop until a few months ago, when suddenly I just did. Similarly, even though I consider myself a bit of a soul aficionado, I never could get into James Brown until late last year, when a friend of mine told me to really listen to his vocal performance on "It's a Man's Man's Man's World", and now since then it's all James Brown, all the time. The right recommendation from the right person at the right time just made it all make sense to me in a way it never had before.

As for your response to my #180, well, I may have come on a bit strong originally, because C. did phrase his #174 in an awfully hostile-making way. But I still mostly stand by it. If you listen to, say, "I Know You Got Soul" by Eric B. and Rakim and look into what all those sounds are--among other things, there are samples from at least ten other songs, and probably more--and how they've been arranged, well, you might be surprised. And that's before we get into Rakim's amazing rapping, with his completely insane rhyme structures, his extended metaphors looping around smaller ones...and hell, even the timing of his breaths betrays an amazingly complex structure to his flow.

And besides, I'm not even sure what the statement "classical music is more complex" means. Which is more complex, Bach's second Brandenburg Concerto, or Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians? How does Shostakovich's eighth string quartet compare? What is classical music? Where does it start, where does it end? What kind of complexity are we talking about? Would you consider a Baroque fugue more or less complex than a Romantic symphony? I can see arguments either way. What if your methodology is more complex? To oversimplify the process of writing a fugue, you basically come up with a simple melody and then put it through a series of pre-defined manipulations. To make some hip hop songs, you program, you take music made by other people and mess with it, you add live instrumentation, you create sounds out of nothing via electronics, you mix it all together (and in those five words I'm glossing over the most important and most involved part), and then you start working on your potentially massively complicated lyrics.

I haven't even mentioned the obvious fact that every artistic form has its geniuses, its craftspeople, and its hacks, and everything in between. Compare Mozart to Soulja Boy and Mozart's gonna come out ahead. Compare Salieri to Big Boi, and I'll take Big Boi, thank you very much.

Maybe if the terms are defined better--say, the best works of classical music of the years 1750 to 1850 are more complex that contemporary hip hop in terms of traditional music theory and formal structure, then yes, we're saying something true, but we're also saying something ridiculous. And we've gotten back to meaninglessly denigrating music we don't enjoy simply because we don't enjoy it.

#192 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 09:37 PM:

ethan - fair enough. But I would just like to state that "more complex" is not the same thing as "better." I absolutely don't think so.

So there.

#193 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 09:58 PM:

Xopher, thank you for explaining. I spent a little time Googling to see if there had been laws that got *that* specific about compositional structure!

And I suspect I'd like your minor-key-with-spooky-accidentals work, because those sounds have always appealed to me. I first learned about the diablo in musica in that recorder class when I was seven, and I could NOT understand why it was prohibited -- I thought it sounded terrific.

#194 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 10:06 PM:

Beethoven was a rock star; Bach went down to the coffee house to jam with the guys.

I can't get into some music - I don't know which style it is - because about the only time I hear it, it's being played at a volume that makes windows vibrate at a hundred yards. (This is really wonderful when you're maybe ten feet from the speakers.)

#195 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 11:02 PM:

ethan, #180, there is just one theory of music. It's the names of the notes, the timing, the volume, and how all that works together. Both classical and hip-hop have music theory. Even other scales (usually from other cultures) are part of music theory. As to complexity, C. Wingate is right that most classical music is more complex than most popular music. That doesn't mean either is better than the other.

#196 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2008, 11:07 PM:

Marilee #195: OK, I used the term wrong--what am I looking for? Traditional rules of composition? Regardless, my point stands, and I still say that the statement most classical music is more complex than most popular music, regardless of whether it's intended as a statement of value, is simultaneously meaningless and objectively false.

#197 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 12:05 AM:

ethan, at the risk of opening a logical can of worms, it's impossible for a meaningless statement to be either true OR false. I don't think it's even false, let alone meaningless.

But speaking of letting things alone, I don't think further discussion of this is likely to be productive. Classical music takes more data to represent digitally (that is, one minute of classical is going to be more actual stored bytes than one minute of most popular music). That's the kind of complexity I'm talking about. It's really not particularly debatable. If you insist that it is, you will waste a lot of time debating it.

That time is time we could spend discussing much more interesting things, like who YOUR favorite hip-hop artists are. I'm pretty sure your list won't include the really horrific misogynist homophobe baby-eating vampires bad guys, so it's of some interest to me.

#198 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 12:13 AM:

Oh, that kind of complexity. That makes sense. I was thinking along the lines of compositional complexity, which is I think what C. Wingate was talking about (and it was him I was responding to more than you, Xopher).

As for meaningless and false, I know that doesn't logically make sense, but I think it pretty well conveys how I feel about C. Wingate's #174.

#199 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 12:51 AM:

Xopher, I don't know much about music, but I know what I like...*grin*...

How would you classify Sondheim? I love his work, and much of it (I'm thinking particularly of "Pacific Overtures" and "Sunday in the Park with George") strike me as near-classical in formality, but I don't have the musical knowledge to assess that.

I used to think of Metallica as being completely musically worthless until my eldest son turned me on to S&M, the album they did with the San Francisco Symphony. I was taken aback by "Enter Sandman," parts of which reminded me of Bernard Herrmann film scores.

#200 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 01:08 AM:

I love Sondheim! I haven't tried formal analysis of his music, but he sure can weave some parts in and out of each other: think of the Now/Soon/Later trio from A Little Night Music.

#201 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 01:38 AM:

re 191: Ethan, when you start talking about "Rakim's amazing rapping, with his completely insane rhyme structures, his extended metaphors looping around smaller ones", I'm going to say that you're talking about poetry, not music. Likewise, when one can talk about rhythm without pitch or harmonic structure, one has abandoned one of the dimensions of music.

Along with that, you ask what I think you believe to be rhetorical questions, but which do in fact of definite answers. For example, a typical romantic symphony is musically more complex than a typical baroque fugue. Polyphony is found in romantic music as well as baroque, but the kind of harmonic development found all over romantic music is largely absent in baroque music. (For that matter, one finds fugues in romantic music too.)

While I'm being controversialist here, I'm going to assert that melody is higher than rhythm. Your oversimplification of of the fugue-writing process is most egregiously oversimplified in the first step: writing the "simple melody". Simple melodies are more the province of the classical period than the baroque period, to begin with, but more to the point, your formula is like a recipe for rabbit stew that begins, "first catch a rabbit." But to move on from there, actually turning a melody into a fugue is more than just executing "pre-defined manipulations." I've written fugues; my first publicly performed piece was an eight part double fugue. The form gives you a bit of road map, and dictates what some of the transforms must involve; but it doesn't give you any of those transformations other than the rule that the first several modulations of the melody must follow a specific pattern. The business of writing the non-thematic parts is hardly automatic. It seems to me that you seriously underestimate what's involved in music writing. Writing worthwhile harmony is non-trivial; writing decent melody is quite a bit harder; writing non-trite symphonic development is really quite difficult.

I'm not disagreeing with "if it sounds good, it is good" in this, though I have to say that hip-hop and rap do not register to my ears as music per se. But if I'm supposed to admire technique, I'm going to lavish praise in proportion to difficulty. Composing is in general harder than performing and definitely harder than arranging.

#202 ::: Strata Chalup ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 01:53 AM:

The thread has long gone shiny, but I did want to say that it was science fiction that led me to classical music. Digging thru my aunt's college reading books as a little'un, I read Stranger in a Strange Land, and afterwards wanted to hear the Mars theme from "Nine Planets Symphony". When I got to a big enough place to have a listening library, lo, I sought it out and found I liked it (and much else) very much.

#203 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 02:32 AM:

C. Wingate #201: Your definition of music is so very different from mine that I'm having trouble figuring out how to go about discussing it with you. But you have said a few things I'd like to respond to. Before I start, I want to make it clear that if I'm coming across as cranky or upset here, I don't mean to--I was a bit upset at you after you posted your #174, but that has passed. I'm not trying to fight, but I am very interested in this conversation.

I'm going to say that you're talking about poetry, not music

Considering that the poetry is part of the music, I don't understand the value of the distinction.

when one can talk about rhythm without pitch or harmonic structure, one has abandoned one of the dimensions of music.

Similarly, a drawing in black pencil on white paper has abandoned color, which is one of the dimensions of visual art. So what?

I'm going to assert that melody is higher than rhythm

Why? Also, what do you mean by "higher"?

And yes, I know that my catch-a-rabbit fugue recipe (nice analogy there, by the way) was far more than oversimplified. I was intending it to work as a mirror image of your drastic oversimplification of hip hop as "hateful lyrics" and shouting without "musical substance".

It seems to me that you seriously underestimate what's involved in music writing.

Likewise, for the forms that you're underestimating. Although, as an aside, I would like to clarify again that I don't actually think writing fugues is easy, and also that fugues are one of my favorite musical forms.

if I'm supposed to admire technique, I'm going to lavish praise in proportion to difficulty

I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to admire technique. Sure, you can feel perfectly free to, but supposed to is saying a lot. I personally admire results first (do I like the way this sounds?), ideas second (was something interesting going on in their brains when they made this?), and technique somewhere lower down than that. That's how I relate to music. I don't think it's how I'm supposed to listen to music, and I don't think that it's a higher way to relate to it. It's just how I do it, and it's also what I keep in mind as I make my own music.

#204 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 04:49 AM:

Xopher @ 197: Classical music takes more data to represent digitally (that is, one minute of classical is going to be more actual stored bytes than one minute of most popular music). That's the kind of complexity I'm talking about. It's really not particularly debatable.

Not only is this debatable, it's exactly backward. A classical composition can be compressed into a few marks on paper, but a pop music recording can't, because pop musicians compose primarily with timbre, for which no notational system has been devised.

Only a relatively serious classical music fan has a strong preference for one particular recording of a piece, but even the most casual pop music fan wants to hear the Beatles, not somebody reading the Beatles' charts. (Or if the latter, it's precisely to hear the differences.)

Is an algal mat less complex than a snowflake? It just depends on how you look at it.

#205 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 04:58 AM:

Marilee @ 195: ethan, #180, there is just one theory of music. It's the names of the notes, the timing, the volume, and how all that works together.

The only music theory with any pretensions of universality is psychoacoustics. The things you list are entirely dependent on culture (and sub-culture, and sub-sub-culture), and what's normally called "music theory" (functional harmony, etc.) applies only to Western art music and its near relatives.

#206 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 06:22 AM:

NelC @1: I misread that as "messing with saliva".

Whereas my first thought was that we might be in for some interesting recipes. Wrong species of salvia, it turns out. Oh well.

Xopher @100: but then an expert can waltz in 4/4

I once tricked some friends into attempting to waltz to the Stranglers' Golden Brown. Fun to watch, that was. 1,2,3,1,2,3,1,2,3,1,2,3,4... :)

R. M. Koske @101: I strongly suspect that tango is considered very sexy in part because Argentine tango is the most obviously dom/sub ballroom there is.*

Your comment reminded me of this. :)

Rob Rusik @139: Another movie he directed, Brainstorm, was originally designed to highlight a projection technology he was promoting. The movie was about recording experiences [...]

I had entirely forgotten that film. Thanks for reminding me of its existence... now I must find a copy to watch it again.

#207 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 06:40 AM:

Tim Walters @ 204... even the most casual pop music fan wants to hear the Beatles, not somebody reading the Beatles' charts

If you go to YouTubbe and type in Shatner "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", you get some very... ah... interesting hits.

#208 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 08:34 AM:

re 205: Tim, I think you're using "universality" here in a sense that seems to me to be rather biased. I'm not ready to give up on music theory so easily, because when I look at western music by itself, I see a radical transformation happening right at the end of the medieval period. Medieval music, like premodern musics from around the world, fits into music theory, but it fits into a corner that wasn't much used in modern music for several centuries. That's a common but not universal pattern in non-western music.

And while I'm at it, saying that a classical piece can be compressed into sheet music is pretty misleading. One could just as well say that a rap could be compressed into a single staff line with lyrics, or maybe just the lyrics themselves, without notation. I mean, if talking about what's needed to recognize it as the "same" is our standard, almost any music can be reduced to something very small; you can reduce a certain Beethoven symphony to "dit dit dit dah", when it comes to that. Or I can go in a different direction: yes, a symphony performance can be reduced further than a rap, but that's because the playback device-- an orchestra-- is enormously more complicated and more powerful as a means of expression. And irreducibility as a test also runs into the problem that noise is the most irreducible form.

As far as the Beatles are concerned, isn't the preference for the Beatles version of a Beatles song very much a function of them being both very strong performers and very strong music writers? And doesn't their music remain itself when performed by others? I mean, when you hear "Eleanor Rigby" in the elevator, it's a degraded performance (deliberately so), but if you think you can do better you can buy the sheet music and make an attempt yourself. And if you can talk the copyright holder into it, you can arrange it differently or apply other techniques to it, and who knows? Maybe it will turn out in the end to surpass the original. Bob Dylan is definitely a very great songwriter, but most people would prefer the Byrds cover of "Mr. Tambourine Man" (and dislike the Shatner version). As a musician, I'm not limited in approaching the Beatles to simply playing their recordings or comparing (negatively) others' performances to the original, and it seems to me that Paul McCartney for one is too strong a musician to feel so limited either.

#209 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 08:46 AM:

saying that a classical piece can be compressed into sheet music is pretty misleading

Some parts of it can be compressed that way. The performance itself, which includes the performers, not.

(Sometimes, I read music just to read it. Isn't that what it's for?)

#210 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 09:18 AM:

#208, C. Wingate-

As far as the Beatles are concerned, isn't the preference for the Beatles version of a Beatles song very much a function of them being both very strong performers and very strong music writers? And doesn't their music remain itself when performed by others? I mean, when you hear "Eleanor Rigby" in the elevator, it's a degraded performance (deliberately so), but if you think you can do better you can buy the sheet music and make an attempt yourself.

I am not as familiar with the Beatles and Beatles covers as I ought to be, but my father claims that the Beatles wrote really fabulous music and got only part of what was there out of it. He felt that a Beatles cover could and often did reveal more beauty in the music than the original.

He felt that Simon and Garfunkel were the opposite, that they took simple tunes and wrung them dry, so covers were invariably disappointing.

I don't know what covers he was listening to (I suspect a few of the Beatles covers were orchestral, but I'm not sure.)

I tend to think music and covers/remakes are like the Doctor* - unless something spectacular comes along, your favorite is always the one you encounter first.

*Or should that be "The" Doctor?

#211 ::: Tim Hall ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 09:55 AM:

Pat Greene #199

Have you ever heard Apocalyptica's first album - it's instrumental versions of Metallica songs (including Enter Sandman) played on four cellos. It's completely note-for-note; but all the riffs, basslines, solos and vocal melodies are played on cello.

If you're familiar with the originals, they're instantly recognisable. But they still sound like avant-garde classical pieces.

#212 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 10:03 AM:

R.M. Koske (#210): There are some really good Beatles covers (the Aimee Mann/Michael Penn "Two Of Us", for example) and some really bad ones (not just Shatner's, either).

I've said that the true proof that Bob Dylan and Tom Waits are genius songwriters is that even their voices can't ruin their songs. There are some really great covers of both out there; two of my favorites are Edie Brickell's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and Everything But The Girl's "Downtown Train".

#213 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 10:21 AM:

Tim Walters @ 204

Is an algal mat less complex than a snowflake? It just depends on how you look at it.

Yes, it is, and no, it doesn't depend, if you're talking about algorhythmic complexity, which seems, from context, what previous posters have meant. Describing a snowflake takes a much shorter computer program than describing an algal mat, especially if you think about the changes they are capable of over time. The structural complexity of a snowflake is fractal, about the same amount and resulting from the same kind of structure at each scale, whereas an algal mat has different kinds of structure at various scales and so requires a longer program to describe it. This is an objective measure, although one we usually can't make in precise numeric terms.

Just to throw a brick into this discussion, there is some evidence that classical music is actually not very algorythmically complex, or least not as much as everyone expected. I don't have a link just now, but will hunt one up later. If you want to start looking before that, look for Hofstadter and classical music.

#214 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 10:35 AM:

Christopher Davis @ 212.. There are some really good Beatles covers

What did you think of Across The Universe? Overall, I liked their renditions of the songs (although I much preferred what The Lathe of Heaven did with A Little Help from my Friends).

#215 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 10:36 AM:

Tim Walters @ 204:

Only a relatively serious classical music fan has a strong preference for one particular recording of a piece,

And it seems to me that they all DO have those preferences, which is something that's stopped me from buying recordings of classical music -- I feel like I don't know which one to buy, and if I get a poor performance, I won't appreciate the music to its full extent, and also if someone who Really Knows Classical Music sees my inferior CD, they'll laugh at me.

For covers, though... yes, it's ALL about hearing the differences. I think I have eight different versions of "Tainted Love" in my iTunes, and that's without rescuing the Gloria Jones original and an Alkaline Trio version I adore off the hard drive of a G3 I haven't stuck in a cradle yet.

#216 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 10:53 AM:

A lot of heavy metal is more compositionally complex than a non-fan might think. My best friend is a novice bass player, and chose songs to learn based on what she liked listening to -- and had to put the metal bands aside, because they were so much more involved than the other genres, and she wasn't up to it yet.

#217 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 11:00 AM:

Rikibeth,

My advice to people who wanted to get into classical music was to buy the cheap stuff - it was generally good enough to get the idea, didn't break the budget, easy to let go if you didn't like the music, and cheap enough that if you loved the piece, you could seek a "better" recording without guilt.

(I was a classical music snob as a child. I got over it.)

Another possibility is to find a classical music station. When you hear something you like, write down the piece, composer, and performer. That way when you buy, you'll know you like at least one part of what's on the CD.

If you want, I can probably come up with some labels that are considered a good value for the money.

#218 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 11:05 AM:

Nancy C. Mittens: thanks!

Would it make sense to stick with one particular orchestra?

#219 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 11:31 AM:

Tim, #204: A classical composition can be compressed into a few marks on paper, but a pop music recording can't, because pop musicians compose primarily with timbre, for which no notational system has been devised.

I disagree. Much pop music can indeed be compressed into sheet music without serious loss, because there are vast swaths of pop which are all about the melody and lyrics; "timbre" doesn't even start to enter into it until you get fairly deep into prog-rock territory.

Only a relatively serious classical music fan has a strong preference for one particular recording of a piece, but even the most casual pop music fan wants to hear the Beatles, not somebody reading the Beatles' charts. (Or if the latter, it's precisely to hear the differences.)

I disagree with this also. I don't think anyone would call me a "serious classical fan", but I have definite preferences (or, sometimes, anti-preferences) about how certain pieces should be interpreted. OTOH, there are also some pop pieces for which I have a very strong preference for someone else's cover over the original, at least one of which is a Beatles song. (Not even going to get into Elvis Costello...)

R.M. Koske, #210: I tend to think music and covers/remakes are like the Doctor* - unless something spectacular comes along, your favorite is always the one you encounter first.

By and large, I'd agree. Corollary: sometimes this also means that if you encounter the cover version first, you may consider the original to be inferior when you run across it later.

Rikibeth, #215: There's a way around that. Listen to your local classical station, and when you hear a piece you like, make a note of the title, composer, and performer information (which the station will usually announce). Then you have a shopping guide which is directed by your own tastes, not somebody else's. (And anyone who would smirk at you for not having the "right" recording isn't worth the time it takes you to tell them to get stuffed.)

#220 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 11:34 AM:

when I lived in Slovakia, I listened to the BBC a lot. They had a radio show called "Best on Record." It would take a classical piece, discuss how different conductors had interpreted it, play illustrative snippets, and finally make a recommendation. I bought a lot based on that show, and learned a lot more.


Unfortunately, when I moved back to the US, I couldn't get the BBC. I've tried searching their websites and podcasts, and either the show is long gone, or they don't rebroadcast it. I've often thought there should have been a CD set, or a companion book, or something, because it really was a wonderful show.

#221 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 11:41 AM:

Rikibeth, #218: Not so much "one orchestra" as "one conductor". The conductor is like the director of a movie -- each one will tend to have a consistent style, no matter who they're working with.

One very specific piece of advice: stay away from Boston Pops recordings with Arthur Fiedler. Fiedler was very popular in his own right, and he stayed on as conductor for quite a while after he really should have retired, and the orchestra got sloppy as a result. It's much safer to go for John Williams releases if you want the Pops.

#222 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 11:46 AM:

Rikibeth @ 218: Yes, it does. For example, I like the Brandenburg Concertos, but I highly prefer the versions played by Walter/Wendy Carlos.

Another thing to keep in mind when listening to the radio: if you hear something you like, note the time -- you can almost always find the radio station's playlist online, and look for what was playing at that time. I've heard some lovely music on my daily commute, and found out what they were by reviewing the website.

#223 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 12:04 PM:

I forget who it was who said "Intelligence is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting tomatos in a fruit salad."

Rap (the MCing part of hip-hop) is technically poetry IMO, but culturally it is music. The performers are treated as musicians, even when they can't sing a NOTE; the primary form of their art is recorded (as opposed to published in slim volumes no one reads); their performances are concerts.

Now, I don't know enough about hip-hop to know what else goes on around the MC. I've never sought it out, so when I hear it it's generally invasive (some jackass playing it loudly on a car stereo or something...that's obnoxious no matter what kind of music is being played, and I'd really like to play Penderecki's "Threnody" at those guys sometime), so my concern is to protect my ears and get away, not to listen analytically. But I seriously doubt that anything about the rest of a hip-hop performance makes it less musical.

C., remember that "that's not really music" is the classic comment of the music snob, whatever genre they're being snobbish about, of music they don't understand. Even if you have more justification for that point of view, and aren't being snobbish at all, it's a communication pitfall to avoid, unless you're spoiling for a fight (which I don't think you are).

#224 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 12:24 PM:

Sadly, my local NPR station ditched their classical programming, and there IS no classical radio station where I am, or not that I can find. Streaming radio is a possibility at home but work might be a different story -- I was laid off Friday from a job where I had no net access at work and no radio reception in my work area, and while I don't know about radio reception at any new jobs, bakers aren't normally given net access.

#225 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 12:24 PM:

C. Wingate #208: yes, a symphony performance can be reduced further than a rap, but that's because the playback device-- an orchestra-- is enormously more complicated and more powerful as a means of expression.

Well, if we're going to go into that, I'd say the literally limitless possibilities of the recording studio are enormously more complicated and powerful as a means of expression than the limited variations possible with a symphony orchestra. Sure, you can arrange the instruments in a whole bunch of ways, but can you have them play backwards, throw on a gated delay, loop it with echo, put it over a programmed beat, and then play it against a sample from another piece of music? Can you take a drum beat and make it sound like a trumpet, or vice versa? Can you start with a single tap on a triangle and end up approximating a whole choir?

Xopher #223: The performers are treated as musicians, even when they can't sing a NOTE

Brian Eno used to (and may still) like to refer to himself as a "non-musician". When he started playing with Roxy Music, not only did he not play any instruments, he was not interested in learning how to play any. He just stood in a corner and fiddled with knobs, really. But anyone who's listened to any song they did with him in the band, and then any song they did after he left, can tell that he was doing amazing work regardless. You don't need to be able to sing or play an instrument to make music. All you need is ideas, and I think that's incredible and beautiful.

#226 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 12:29 PM:

C. Wingate @ 208: Tim, I think you're using "universality" here in a sense that seems to me to be rather biased.

I'm not quite sure what you're getting at with this paragraph. Could you give me an example of something you would consider a music theory universal?

And while I'm at it, saying that a classical piece can be compressed into sheet music is pretty misleading.

How so? What part of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is not captured in the score? Of course, every orchestra's interpretation will be slightly different, but those differences are, by definition, not part of the piece.

One could just as well say that a rap could be compressed into a single staff line with lyrics, or maybe just the lyrics themselves, without notation.

Only if you assume what you're trying to prove, which is that the timbral aspects of the recording are inessential.

I mean, if talking about what's needed to recognize it as the "same" is our standard,

My whole point is that it's not. People don't buy records because they can recognize what the songs are supposed to be.

A pop record takes months, sometimes years, to produce. Either pop musicians and producers are hopelessly inefficient and foolish, and have been for decades, or there's a lot of complexity that needs to be managed. Option B is a lot more plausible, as anyone who's tried to produce a commercially viable record can attest.

the playback device-- an orchestra-- is enormously more complicated and more powerful as a means of expression.

Than a recording studio? That's a very questionable assertion.

And irreducibility as a test also runs into the problem that noise is the most irreducible form.

Or the least, if you decide that describing it with a simple frequency spectrum is good enough for your purposes. My problem with irreducibility as a test is that depends completely on prejudging which features are of interest.

As far as the Beatles are concerned, isn't the preference for the Beatles version of a Beatles song very much a function of them being both very strong performers and very strong music writers?

I shouldn't have picked them as an example, because they're really a transitional case, and cover both extremes, from something like "Yesterday," which can be well represented by a score, to "Revolution #9," which can't.

R.M. Koske @ 210 mentions Simon & Garfunkel; "Celia" is an example of a song where everything that's good about it is in the recording rather than the songwriting. It's the sound of the "drums" (actually found objects such as suitcases IIRC), including the studio processing thereof, that make it work; hand the lead sheet to someone and it's just a piece of cheese (unless they put comparable work into producing it).

Bruce Cohen @ 213: Yes, it is, and no, it doesn't depend, if you're talking about algorhythmic complexity, which seems, from context, what previous posters have meant.

Sure it does. If you don't care about anything but how it looks, then the mat can be just a few pixels of green, and requires a lot less complexity. If you want to simulate either one exactly, then you have to replicate a zillion quantum states in either case, so they're effectively equal. If you want to make a minimum recognizable model of their behavior, then of course you're right--and my point is that pop music is arguably more like the algal mat in this regard.

#227 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 12:36 PM:

Lee @ 221, thanks for that bit of advice about Arthur Fiedler. I remember his tenure as conductor from my childhood, and might have picked up those recordings out of nostalgia and name recognition -- although I'd be as likely to pick up John Williams for the geeky name recognition, in that case.

#228 ::: tobias ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 12:42 PM:

Juli Thompson@220
That sounds a lot like a BBC Radio 3 show called "Building a Library". That's now part of the "CD Review" show and you should be able to listen to that from the BBC website.

#229 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 12:47 PM:

Tim Walters @ 226, I've got a ska version of "Cecelia," by a group called Critical Mass, and I think it works as a fun little ska song. Is that what you mean by "putting comparable work into producing it?"

Also, only semi-related, my almost-13-year-old daughter has just discovered GarageBand, and is upstairs with my MacBook and her electric guitar, writing and recording original songs.

About Quidditch.

I am foolishly happy about this.

#230 ::: Joe J ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 01:03 PM:

I've been watching the conversation comfortably from the sidelines, as Ethan has been making all the points I would like to make better than I could make them. But, I do want to add one thing.

Concerning melody and rap, I would say that the great innovation of rap as a musical form is the idea that you can have lyrical content in which rhythm takes the place of melody. Time is essential. Rapping is about timing the right words perfectly to a beat. For that reason, you cannot read a rap from a book like poetry and experience it properly. It exists only with the 4th dimension included. It is the play of pauses and changes in tempo that gives it its impact. In fact, I would argue that the delivery of the lines is even more important to rap than the words used.

I suppose that it was the moment that I realized all of this about rap that I started to really appreciate it for the art form that it is.

#231 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 01:12 PM:

Lee @ 219: I disagree. Much pop music can indeed be compressed into sheet music without serious loss, because there are vast swaths of pop which are all about the melody and lyrics; "timbre" doesn't even start to enter into it until you get fairly deep into prog-rock territory.

I think you're confusing "concern with timbre" and "creating weird sounds." While the latter is more common in pop than you're making out (see Pet Sounds, Dark Side, etc.), the more important point is that a great deal more effort is spent on timbre on those "all about the melody and lyrics" tracks than you probably think. I read an article a while back about people recognizing hit singles from, literally, one note.

And of course, this discussion started with hip-hop, which has taken the concern with timbre to an even greater extreme.

Rikibeth @ 229: Tim Walters @ 226, I've got a ska version of "Cecelia," by a group called Critical Mass, and I think it works as a fun little ska song. Is that what you mean by "putting comparable work into producing it?"

Either that, or you just like the songwriting better than I do. Actually, on reflection, it's the lyrics that bug me; the melody is strong.

Lots more by all to respond to, but I'm at work now...

#232 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 01:19 PM:

Bouncing off Xopher (various, but particularly @183), Debbie @185, and Ethan@190: "Pop" and "classical" are strange terms to place in opposition--even though we recognize them (mostly) on hearing, they point less at structure or complexity or rule-sets than at demographics. Sonata-allegro form (which I recall evolving in the latter half of the 18th century) got ossified or well-defined (depending on how one feels about such matters) sort of in the same way that perspective did in the visual arts: it became a part of the standard training regimen for practioners who wanted to work for the most affluent and powerful segments of the market. Meanwhile, artists without access to or the means for that kind of formal training operated in the "folk" or "popular" or "primitive" mode. On the gripping hand, the best Tin Pan Alley composers (other than Irving Berlin) were generally pretty well-trained and worked in well-defined forms (eventually optimized for recording on 10- and 12-inch 78 records but extendable for live dance sets). A big part of getting a handle on the Great American Songbook is understanding the basics and common variations on the 32-bar song.

For my, um, money, both socio-economomic-aesthetic complexes have produced exquisitely moving music, because at its most primal, art isn't just about complexity. I suspect we privilege complex art because it seems to command greater resources to conceive, produce, and appreciate. (BTW, this might help explain the high value placed on technique.) But the old snake brain doesn't do its accounts that way, and it's the snake brain that likes to boogie.

#233 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 01:23 PM:

The Walter Carlos (well, he/she was Walter at the time, right?) version of the 3rd Brandenberg is an interesting case. The 3rd is a bit of a musical experiment to begin with, and then the second movement is so open-ended that you could (in some sense of the word) legitimately play the "Maple Leaf Rag" at that point; and finally you have the two inevitable baroque issues of instrumentation and tempo to get past. The Carlos version is a tad slower than typical, and the synth sounds emphasize the rhythmic construction a bit more than strings (and especially more than baroque strings). But then, some years ago, I heard modern strings version taken at a really fast tempo: the announcer came on afterwards and said, "I've just looked it up, and that was the fastest Brandenberg 3rd in our library- by a minute." The furious tempo completely transformed the work; it wasn't something I would want to listen to very often, but it exposed a different side than the Carlos version did.

As a rule, for the core 19th century repertoire any conductor/group that you've heard of is likely to give a serviceable rendition, and the go-to guys for certain composers (e.g. van Karajan for Beethoven) are well-known if you want a definitive performance. In the 1900s you do need to look for specialists, to a degree. American stuff is the most difficult, because the swing involved in a lot of it doesn't come easily to some orchestras, even some in the US. The romanticism of the English stuff also needs a little care in choosing, but in general any English orchestra will do a good job. As a rule the post-commie Eastern European orchestras do a pretty good all-around job; you may not get the absolute best version, but at least you won't get something flat-footed like Christopher Hogwood doing "West Side Story".

The baroque stuff is where you really have to be picky, because you have to find which camp you like. To pick a familiar piece: the version of the Pachelbel Canon that most everyone has heard is extremely "inauthentic"; it uses modern strings, and the pizzicato accompaniment at the beginning is purely a construction of Paillard's arrangement. Nonetheless it is (if you don't care about authenticity) one of the best versions. On the other end of the scale, I personally find most original instrument recordings rather dull, particularly with Handel. Brass and woodwind instruments in particular made huge technological leaps forward after that period, and given the baroque era's general artistic sentiment of "more is more", a conductor doing Messiah (composed by a man who, it must be remembered, though of himself especially as an operatic composer) is faced with the choice of living within the technical limits of the era or taking advantage of modern capabilities, complicated further by the need to decide which version(s) to use. (There are for example three entirely unlike versions of "But Who May Abide".) My personal impulse is to Go For Baroque, so I prefer the distinctly lower class maestro recordings (e.g. Bernstein and Dorati) because I think they feel the opera in the work more deeply and therefore aren't afraid of the emotionalism in the music. Also, the Dorati recording is just cool: crank it up and feel your living room suddenly explode into a tenth-mile-long cathedral at the second phrase of "And the Glory of the Lord". The original instrument guys can be snobbish (that's why Trevor Pinnock, who did the best Boyce recordings, gave up on the baroque for a while), but you can sneer back at them for being dull if you feel like it. On the other hand, if the maestros are too over the top (think Stokowski and Fantasia), you can go for the authenticity crowd. Both sides are really guessing anyway, both because there aren't any real original instruments and because tempo and dynamics weren't written down much (if at all) in the era.

#234 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 01:38 PM:

C. 233: Wendy Carlos carries around a little stamp, and if you give her something with her old name on it to sign, she'll stamp it first: "Music by Wendy Carlos." From other things she's said I surmise that she feels she was always Wendy inside, and that the Walter label is, and always has been, mistaken.

At any rate, she prefers to have her music referred to as being Wendy Carlos' music, even the music that was created before she transitioned. A different artist might look back and identify different musical styles for the pretransition and postransition eras, or even disown all previous works, as Carl Orff did when he decided that pleasing the Nazis was more important than honoring his past when Carmina Burana was premiered. But Carlos has made her own preference clear.

Speaking only for myself, I'm inclined to honor her preference.

#235 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 02:19 PM:

WRT choosing classical recordings: another option to consider is to skip them entirely and start going to concerts and recitals instead. Classical music is much better live.

And it needn't be expensive: the best version of Pictures at an Exhibition* I ever heard was a free student recital. She made a couple of mistakes, but she also damn near broke my heart during the "speaking to the dead" section.

*Original solo piano flavor.

#236 ::: Joe McMahon ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 02:22 PM:

Ginger@222: Agreed on the Carlos Brandenburgs; they're some of my favorite renditions - but I liked the "whee, fun noises" cadenza on the original Switched-On Bach recording *far* better than the gutless "see it's really baroque" one on the Brandenburgs album.

And the Monteverdi pieces on "The Well-Tempered Synthesizer" are possibly the most amazing electronic covers ever - evocations of huge, huge spaces combined with intimate statements of the themes. Carlos never did anything better - except possibly "Beauty in the Beast", but that's ear-stretching alternate tuning fun, not "lookit how amazing this stuff from 1610 is".

Wandering off into asides, that piece was essentially a job application; Monteverdi has written mostly popular music up to the time of its composition, and wanted to prove he could do the sacred stuff just as well (though he used some of his pop themes in the Vespers). He got the post in Venice 3 years later.

#237 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 02:31 PM:

#229, Rikibeth -

I've gotten the impression that Harry Potter and some of the new musical tools that are becoming available has led a lot of kids to writing original music. It is very definitely cool.

#234, Xopher

Wendy Carlos carries around a little stamp, and if you give her something with her old name on it to sign, she'll stamp it first: "Music by Wendy Carlos."

This is also quite cool. I have no idea why, but I like it a lot.

#238 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 02:34 PM:

Joe J #230: the great innovation of rap as a musical form is the idea that you can have lyrical content in which rhythm takes the place of melody.

Ah! Yes! That's one of the things I was circling around without knowing quite how to put it. Thanks for phrasing it so clearly.

Tim Walters, various, and Russell Letson #232: I got nothing to add except "yes, exactly!"

Xopher #234: I think if I ever encountered Wendy Carlos and her stamp, I would swoon. She's one of my heroes. And from Rhode Island!

#239 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 02:36 PM:

Xopher @223: (some jackass playing it loudly on a car stereo or something...that's obnoxious no matter what kind of music is being played, and I'd really like to play Penderecki's "Threnody" at those guys sometime)

You remind me here of a weekend night during my college days when, weary of the constant assault on our senses worked by the party across the street, my housemate and I plugged Enya's Shepherd Moons album into the stereo, turned the woofers way up, and directed the speakers at the neighborhood offenders.

When the police finally arrived to shut down the party, they suggested we shut down too.


Joe J @230: It is the play of pauses and changes in tempo that gives it its impact. In fact, I would argue that the delivery of the lines is even more important to rap than the words used.

Oh, absolutely and without a doubt. That particular dimension of rap, precise rhythmic delivery of words with intricate rhyme scheme, is something I can appreciate. Some music that I do like does this to a certain extent--not nearly the extent that some rap takes it to, of course, but the element is there. My problem is I can't sufficiently divorce myself from the words to appreciate the art if the words are deeply offensive to me, or if the manifestation of the art jams my verbal circuits so I can't think, read, or write while it's in my hearing.

I've only recently realized that maybe I'm a little glitchy in my inability to tune out sufficiently dominant verbal input. Or if not glitchy, then at least not squarely under the bell in the curve. Besides having to leave the coffee shop if they put this kind of stuff on (since staring at the laptop screen while mentally fighting off the invading rhythmic screed is not productive), there have been other indications.

[begin longish, possibly boring anecdote]

So, my husband and I are driving home, right, and Tommy Tutone's "Jenny (867-5309)" comes on the radio. I comment that this song's story is quite obviously an example of an unreliable narrator. I mean, would any woman really appreciate a telephone call of that nature, even if the narrator worked up the courage to call her? The real story isn't about how he wants to call but he's scared; it's that he's so unsocialized as to think that misogynistic/slut-shaming bathroom grafitti constitutes a valid dating vector.

At this point, I realize my husband is giving me that you're from outer space, aren't you? look. "Does that make sense? No?" He says it's not that it doesn't make sense; it's that he's not familiar enough with the story to know. Why would I think he would be? I'm stunned: "But you've heard the song plenty of times before!" "Well, yeah, but I didn't know what the words were. I mean, it's not that good of a song. Aren't you thinking a little too hard about this?"

So it's my turn to look at him like he's a space alien. "You mean you can hear a song and still not be aware of the lyrics?"

Apparently, the inability to hear lyrics without having those that are immediately understandable impinge upon the consciousness is not universal. It's astounding to me that I had to recite the lyrics of a song that just came on the radio before my husband understood what I was referring to; it's astounding to him that hearing the song, for me, meant automatically being aware of the lyrical content.

Who's weird? Who's not? Who knows? At least I'm learning not to take the alleged human-universality of my own thought processes and automatic procedures for granted.

#240 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 02:39 PM:

re 230: I couldn't disagree more. One can make an argument based on some chanting types that melody can do without rhythm. I think it's a very weak argument, as it seems to me that the tendency is for chant to fall into (a very simple) rhythm anyway. But melody without pitch is just rhythm.

And to go back to the color/pitch analogy: musicians have as a rule associated color with timbre, and line with melody. Therefore monochromatic music is understood as being like the piano reduction of a symphony. If we're using illustration as the analogy, then taking away pitch is like taking away one of the dimensions of the paper.

#241 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 02:42 PM:

Nicole #239: Apparently, the inability to hear lyrics without having those that are immediately understandable impinge upon the consciousness is not universal.

I'm frequently surprised to learn the lyrics of songs I've known for years. I tend to think of the voice as another element of the texture of a song, rather than a tool to convey meaning. This isn't absolute, by any means, and there are definitely lyrics I think are brilliant or lyrics that I love to sing along with and know every word, but in general, lyrics are among the least important elements of a song to me.

#242 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 02:48 PM:

If we're using illustration as the analogy, then taking away pitch is like taking away one of the dimensions of the paper.

Isn't it more like color-field painting, based on the rest of your analogy?

#243 ::: Carl ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 03:08 PM:

As far as written music being the music...

Among jazz musicians, the written parts for a piece are called "the chart" because (as it was explained to me by one of the jazz greats many years ago) the written notes (and appended dynamics, accents, ties and other expressions) are just a map that leads you to the music, if you're lucky.

As one who teaches jazz to high-school age kids, I can guarantee that getting all of the notes right doesn't necessarily lead to the music inside, and conversely, not getting all of the notes 'right' doesn't necessarily mean the music won't arrive. The two ideas are congruent, but not identical.

I don't know about any of you, but for me there are similar applications to written prose and occasionally to poetry.

#244 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 03:13 PM:

Tim Walters @ 235, I worry that I wouldn't expand my listening repertoire past the warhorse pieces if I did that. A local classical station would be really good for that. And I can't put live performances on my iPod, either.

R. M. Koske @ 237, I strongly suspect that Harry Potter songs are going to be a gateway for her. She's got the strong interest in music already, just not a lot of life experience for writing the lyrics, and the Potterverse gives her subject material.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @ 239: I had a housemate who used Diamanda Galas' "Plague Mass" as stereo-war ammunition. THAT was interesting.

And, lyrics, sometimes they'll grab me right away, and sometimes I won't process them at ALL. Usually I need to sit down with the song playing and a lyrics sheet to really get the sense of them. But again, I need written instructions for just about anything, because I can't retain verbal ones. You probably have better auditory information processing than I do.

#245 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 03:20 PM:

#239, Nicole -

I tend to have to listen specifically and concentrate to make song lyrics turn into comprehensible words. I think that has led me to not pay attention to them even when they are clear.

This led to a short panic once, when I realized a particular song by a new-to-me artist was all about bondage and domination. I'd been listening to various music by this artist for about two months and had just made my father a mix-CD including a song by that artist. I had a moment of pure terror that I'd given him a copy of the B&D song. I hadn't, but it took a bit of thinking to be sure.

#246 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 03:40 PM:

re 242: I did think of Rothko at one stage, but if timbre is color, it seems to me that the analogy goes in a different direction. Far more damning, however, is that color field art is really boring.

#247 ::: Jason B ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 03:47 PM:

This is going back a little in the thread, but:

My favorite cover of a Beatles song ever is "Eleanor Rigby" played by Realm, a thrash-metal band from Milwaukee. It appears on their 1989 album Endless War.

I don't like it because it's faithful to the original (it's not), or because it's a virtuosic display of a different kind of musicianship (it is), but because their treatment of the song is completely absurd.

Here it is, for your listening . . . er . . . pleasure.

#248 ::: Joe J ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 03:51 PM:

Thanks, ethan. It was your excellent writing that inspired me to post again.

re: C. Wingate @ #240

If I understand your argument correctly, then that would mean that--to you--a percussionist is not a musician. They make music solely with rhythm, and therefore there is no melody to the sounds they produce. If music can't exist without melody, then those sounds are not music. Of course, I disagree, and I don't think I'm alone in that opinion.

Think of rappers as verbal percussionists. Instead of drums and cymbals, they use vowels and consonants to beat out rhythms. The words they use are just collected beat sounds. Those words' primary importance is to create the correct rhythmic sounds. This is why meaning is secondary in rap lyrics. The words must sound right, they must fit the right beat in order for the rap to work, regardless of what they mean. The best rappers are the ones who can take their words to the next level and give them coherent meaning as well.

Also, who said that pitch doesn't matter to rap? There may not be melody to rap, but pitch is an important part of the delivery. To use the percussion analogy again, percussion instruments all have a pitch as does speech. If rap is just a form of speech, then rappers are using pitch when they perform. In fact, talented rappers will carefully raise and lower the pitch of the words they are using for emphasis. It won't usually be to any melody, and it might not even be on key. But, it is the same sort of pitch control you hear in everyday speech. Consider that few people speak in monotone. This fact is most noticeable when you hear a person speaking in monotone. It sounds wrong. There's no emphasis to the words. The same is true for rap. It may not be noticeable at first, but if you listen to a talented rapper, you will hear a variety of interesting changes to the pitch of the words he or she is using.

I hope this helps to explain the artistry of rap a little better. Thank you for your response.

#249 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 03:52 PM:

Jason B @247:
Well, if you're going to be like that, then I get to mention what the Toy Dolls did to Blue Suede Shoes.

#250 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 04:00 PM:

I'm a lyrics person; my husband isn't. It always surprises me when he doesn't know what a song is "about". Even so, I can recognize that lyrics aren't poetry (and vice versa); writing them down and reading them generally makes them look stupid, while singing beautiful poetry can be utterly ungainly.

What's written down isn't necessarily the music, either. I once heard a completely straight version of Brubeck's "Take 5" and it broke my brain a little bit.

It's also possible for what's performed to not be the music, either. Take Daniel Johnston - his songs are covered constantly, but it can be challenging to sit down and listen to an actual Daniel Johnston tape. My theory is that musicians like him so much because they can hear the music in his head - his renditions of it are imperfect transmissions, and the filling in of the missing data is what makes it interesting to them. (I seem to recall learning that in some (types? periods?) of classical music, the bass lines weren't written out - you got the chords, and it was the performer's job to figure out what actual notes to play and when. Somehow this is related, I think.)

There's also an element of having the right "ears" to hear certain types of music. The Shaggs are generally considered to be the worst band ever, yet if you listen to the whole CD a few times, it starts making sense - your brain hears the music in it. Maybe the music they meant to make, maybe not, I'm not sure, but it is a very strange feeling, whatever it is. My husband listens to bands that drone for an hour straight; I'd rather put an icepick in my ear, but I understand that he's hearing something in it that I'm not. (Although Daniel Higgs did give me the concept of the music that's killed by recording it, so I guess I can't totally dismiss him. You'd still have to pay me in gold bars, at least, to get me to go to another of his shows.) We have a friend who listens to avant garde noise bands, and claims that he can tell the difference between "good" noise and "just" noise. I believe him, despite all evidence to the contrary. (It all sounds like people just banging on crap to me, and the shows seem to be people just banging on crap, but what do I know? I listen to bluegrass, which he claims is all twangytwangytwing.) Brains overlay order onto things, and they're better at it if they've already got patterns they recognize, but they can do it to just about anything, with enough effort.

#251 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 04:01 PM:

ethan @ 241: I tend to think of the voice as another element of the texture of a song, rather than a tool to convey meaning.

You ARE my long-lost twin! Now, which one of us is the evil one?

#252 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 04:02 PM:

Joe, #230: Rhythm taking the place of melody isn't entirely new. What rap did was to take that concept from "experimental" to "routine", which is notable in itself.

C. Wingate, #233: ISTR hearing somewhere that there has been a sea-change in the performance style of a lot of Baroque music within the last 10-15 years. Apparently someone did some research which indicated that the standard in-period tempo for a lot of those pieces was considerably brisker than modern orchestras had been playing them, and we're now starting to hear recordings being released at the new, faster tempi.

This has its good points and its bad points. I remember a high-school classmate who could play some Chopin pieces, but he didn't play them as fast as a professional concert pianist would. And I've never found a professional recording of the B-flat Minor Scherzo that I liked as well as the way my friend played it; much of the melodic intricacy blurs out at concert speed... sort of like trying to read text that's scrolling too fast for your eyes.

Nicole, #239: You're not alone about verbal-circuit interference. My hypothesis is that it's related to my general difficulty with multi-tasking. Relevant anecdotal data:
1) Reading appears to be privileged over speech -- my partner knows that if he wants to tell me something while I'm at the computer, he needs to wait until I turn around and look at him!
2) When I was programming, Muzak (even instrumental) would severely interfere with my ability to debug code, because it kept distracting me, whether positively or negatively.
3) I can carry on a telephone conversation while playing Solitaire or Bejeweled, but not while playing Text Twist; the latter also uses the verbal circuits, and the reading-over-speech thing comes into play.

And yeah, I can't imagine hearing a song with comprehensible lyrics and not paying attention to them. OTOH, if the lyrics aren't really comprehensible (frex, music in a language I don't understand), then it just becomes "voice as instrument".

Various: Stereo-war stories always remind me of one I heard from an online friend about his college days. He had arguably the best stereo in the dorm, but didn't usually care to show it off. But one day he got really tired of dueling "Dark Side of the Moon" (off-synch) from opposite ends of the hall... so he turned his Very Good Speakers to face the concrete outer wall, cranked up the volume, and cued up the opening section of Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" on pipe organ. In his own words: "When it was over, there was silence. For about a week."

#253 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 04:13 PM:

My favorite stereo-war story is also from college. The girls in one room were fond of playing heavy metal very, very loudly. Requests to turn it down were only honored for about 10 minutes. Until the day their next-door neighbors put on some Wagner and cranked it (Ride of the Valkyries, I think, but it's been a while). After that, the metal was played at a much more reasonable volume.

#254 ::: Jason B ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 04:17 PM:

abi@249: I really like that treatment of the song. Plus, the beginning part reminds me of the characters Alexei Sayle played on The Young Ones.

Fun stuff.

#255 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 04:19 PM:

Like Nicole, I'm in a mixed marriage; the Hub never listens to the lyrics, and I can't love a song if I don't love the lyrics.

This caused some awkwardness at work the other day, when a colleague recommended a musician who should be right up my street. One of my styles of music (generally known in my set as the "moaning woman" style), good voice, strong melodic line.

Appallingly trite lyrics. I can't listen to a whole song.

Now looking for some of her foreign-language stuff, preferably in a language I do not speak.

#256 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 04:24 PM:

Not quite stereo wars, but related cousinwise: Decades ago, a good friend, recently walked-out-on by his long-time girlfriend, would sit in our living room and wax melancholy-mad late, late into the night. The only way to send him on his way was to put on any fairly modern classical music--Bartok was effective, but Schoenberg was a dose of sonic salts. We considered leaving, say, "Verklärte Nacht" on permanent repeat play on the old Dual as a preventitive measure, but we didn't have a disposable copy.

#257 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 04:33 PM:

Cat Meadors @ 250: experimental noise bands = people banging on crap? There's a band I LOVE that's primarily people banging on crap: Street Drum Corps. Trash cans, paint buckets, pots and pans, and motorcycle parts, sometimes with electric grinder applied. Also sometimes with the addition of theremin, or in the new stuff even some guitar and keyboards, but the core of it is Banging On Crap.

And it's AWESOME banging-on-crap. I've seen them three times and wished each time were longer.


#258 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 04:45 PM:

Back in 1996, San Francisco had a big PDA for columnist Herb Caen. Among the many entertainers were Huey Lewis and the News, who did their A Capella thing. That was neat.

#259 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 04:54 PM:

Ginger @251 [Ethan]... You ARE my long-lost twin! Now, which one of us is the evil one?

The one who was brought up as the monarch of course! The one who's been kept in an unescapable prison in an iron mask is the good one.

Victor von Doom is an exception to this rule.

#226 Cecilia as cheese makes me think of the Suggs (from Madness) version.

My first exposure to Eleanor Rigby was the Aretha Franklin version, so I've always had the irrational feeling that Paul isn't trying hard enough singing it.

#260 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 05:05 PM:

C. Wingate @ 246: Far more damning, however, is that color field art is really boring.

Since timbre-centric music isn't boring at all, I think the only thing damned is the analogy.

Cat Meadors @ 250: banging on crap

The record that broke through my teenage prog/classical/folk conservatism was Fred Frith & Henry Kaiser's With Friends Like These..., one of the most virtuosic banging-on-crap albums ever made.

#261 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 05:12 PM:

Neil Willcox @ 259... Victor von Doom is an exception to this rule

What about Leonardo di Caprio?

#262 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 05:47 PM:

I'm definitely not going to get into the ontology of composers, other than to remark that the thing about not being able to step into the same stream twice applies in spades to the composing process. The mere fact of having come up with a snatch of melody is self-changing, and can actually interfere with recalling it.

I'll also say I like Carlos's original 3rd Brandenberg cadenza better, though.

I've tended to spend much of my choral time in repertoire where hearing the details of the lyrics isn't important. Follow the words in Spem in Alium? You must be kidding! Also, too many years of Moody Blues and Led Zeppelin (not to mention America) tends to cure one of really wanting to understand the song.

#263 ::: Carl ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 06:11 PM:

#250 Cat - not writing out bass parts is pretty much standard protocol in jazz, and lots of folk music. Just throw the chord changes at a good bass player and they'll know what to do.

But giving changes to a jazz bass player in a classical setting (especially when marked as "figured bass") can have unusual results. Sometimes good, sometimes not.

#264 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 06:27 PM:

re 248: I overstated a little there, and I also think that your logic there doesn't quite follow. But for me, music that consists only of untuned percussion is not interesting enough to listen to at any length, no matter how complex it is. The Gene Krupa solo in the Benny Goodman song is for me a palate cleanser or an extended bit of punctuation.

re 250: In baroque music the continuo part often wasn't written out entirely. However the harmonic structure was there in the part; it was encoded in numbers below the notes (figured bass). A sufficiently adept keyboardist can work out what the numbers ought to be and do without them.

re 256: I often threaten the kids with the beginning of Janacek's "Glagolitic Mass". If I'm really serious I go for the Shostakovich.

re 260: If we're talking rap as "timbre-centric", my feeling is that if they were really serious about timbre, they would quit talking over the music!

To drop a another wrench into this: one of the things I have to suffer with at my parents is that my youngest plays Sesame Street: Let's Play Music over and over. Well, the problem is that the music consists almost entirely of the cast singing, a bunch of session musicians whom you never see, and the cast of Stomp banging on things. The excuse-for-a-plot revolves around a tuba (actually a euphonium) that has gone AWOL, but when it actually appears, it isn't played; it is just something else to bang on. Nobody, it appears, (and certainly none of the children) can play an instrument, except percussion. And to a degree, that's not too surprising: strings, woodwinds, and brass take a lot of practice. There's a certain degree of entertainment in watching the Stomp cast in action, but after a while it's just so much crashing and clanging and bopping. Likewise, when I hear rap I very quickly find myself wishing that (a) they would find a less trivial text, and (b) that they would learn to carry a tune.

#265 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 06:45 PM:

Rikibeth @ #216
A lot of heavy metal is more compositionally complex than a non-fan might think.

IIRC, one of my daughter's sophomore classes in music theory had them practice by playing Opeth and having them write it down in music notation while they listened to it.

...

Also, put me down in the "can't not hear what's being said in the lyrics" group.

In college, while Steely Dan's 'The Royal Scam' was playing, my roommate said something to the effect of, "I wonder what that's all about?" I said, "It's about the immigrant experience in America, of course, especially the Puerto Rican immigrant experience." He looked at me dumbfounded and said, "How could you possibly tell that from the lyrics?" while I was confusedly reacting to him, "How could you possibly not know that from the lyrics? It just is."

...

P.S. to Tim, it's With Enemies Like These..., which title I always have the same problem reversing. (And share your fancy for it.)

#266 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 06:57 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 265: P.S. to Tim, it's With Enemies Like These...

That's the CD reissue of the LPs originally titled With Friends Like These and Who Needs Enemies?. See the Henry Kaiser discography for details.

#267 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 06:59 PM:

And I should mention my favorite review of it: "If you play this album too loud, your neighbors will come over, not to complain, but to find out what's wrong."

#268 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 07:16 PM:

C. 264: But for me, music that consists only of untuned percussion is not interesting enough to listen to at any length, no matter how complex it is.

Ah, then you'll never know the ecstasy of an all-night drum circle. That's OK, they get kinda crowded anyway. But to give you a hint of how the brain reacts when you've really given yourself to it: when men* drum, they drum for a while and they go back and forth, more and less intense, but they always end by speeding up, pounding their drums as fast as they can in a blurred flurry of hands, then stopping. Then they take a break.

By contrast, when women* drum, they go back and forth between intensity levels. They have one or more blurred flurries of hands, but after each one they pull back the intensity level without fully stopping, and the next build begins. They may take breaks to rest their hands, but at no point do they automatically stop.

And btw the men can go many, many cycles in a night.

*in general

#269 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 07:29 PM:

Serge #261 What about Leonardo di Caprio Richard Chamberlain?

Fixed it for you. And while IMdbing the various versions of The Man in the Iron Mask I found the answer in this exchange in The Swarm:

Dr. Andrews (José Ferrer) : Billions of dollars have been spent to make these nuclear plants safe. Fail-safe! The odds against anything going wrong are astronomical, Doctor!
Dr. Hubbard (Richard Chamberlain): I appreciate that, Doctor. But let me ask you. In all your fail-safe techniques, is there a provision for an attack by killer bees?

Radioactive Killer Bees? Evil twin.

#270 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 07:31 PM:

Add my vote to the "can't not hear lyrics" pile. If they're understandable, I hear them.

I also remember lyrics, which are apparently tagged by keywords in my brain. Seeing or hearing a word that features in a song immediately calls it forth as an earworm. Sometimes this is a totally subconscious process; I'll notice that I'm humming something, and sometimes I'll run across the word again and think "Oh! That's why I'm humming this song!" (For example, I recently went to San Francisco and stayed in a hotel on the Embarcadero. For the entire week, I went around humming Wilco's "Via Chicago," because it uses the word "Embarcadero" in the first verse.)

This appears to be a hereditary propensity; my mother and maternal grandmother do exactly the same thing.

There is (or was) a board game called "Encore!" which rewards this skill -- you get cards with single words on them, and have to sing a song whose lyrics include that word. People have absolutely refused to play it with me and my mother -- unless we are put on opposite teams.

It also takes an effort of will for me not to sing along to any song I know.

Verbal circuits: I can't code or write while listening to music whose lyrics I know. I can code or write while listening to instrumental music, or music whose lyrics I don't know -- and in this case I do not glom onto the lyrics.

I can't talk or read if there's music with words (or talk radio) playing at any volume; it manifests with me feeling extremely agitated and nervous as I try to carry on the conversation or read the page.

Actually, I can't do much of anything requiring serious concentration and attention with unrelated verbal signals occurring. This is because I am a verbal learner, and when I'm doing something hard, I'm thinking in words that I have to pay attention to. Even while coding, if I run into something where the logic isn't obvious and I have to think it through, I will turn off any music with words.

#271 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 08:29 PM:

R. M. Koske @ 210 on Beatles covers: I can see that both ways. Generally I prefer the originals. But for the song that McCartney is embarrassed about having written, Run for Your Life, as Ethan mentioned on his blog a while back, Nancy Sinatra's cover is the only version worth listening to. Same melody, same words except "little boy" instead of "little girl" ... totally different song.

#272 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 08:30 PM:

#268 ::: Xopher

C. 264: But for me, music that consists only of untuned percussion is not interesting enough to listen to at any length, no matter how complex it is.

Ah, then you'll never know the ecstasy of an all-night drum circle.

I have avoided such, yes. You are perceptive. :)

However, I have many, many times known the ecstasy of all day, all night orisha and rumba drumming -- nay, when it comes to initiations, a week's worth. With dancing. And even possession. (Not me, the santos seating themselves in my head, but the heads of others.)

Love, C.

#273 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 08:33 PM:

Xopher @ 197: I've used compressibility as a measure of complexity too.

I used to bemoan the portion of my brain taken up by permanent memories of tripe I liked when I was young, such as Sugar Sugar. Then a while back I forced myself to actually listen to all 4 minutes of the song. It's highly compressible and probably isn't wasting as many of my neurons as I had feared.

#274 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 08:36 PM:

Everyone: I'm not going to offer my opinions about a lot of current popular music, because I would sound exactly, and I mean EXACTLY, like some of my elders talking about the Beatles back in the day, and I know how wrong they were.

I'll just mention that I have recently begun trying country music, because I can hear the words.

#275 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 08:37 PM:

Neil Willcox @ 269... That exchange sounds like something from The Simpsons, or from Irwin Allen's mid. Oh wait. It is from Irwin Allen's mind.

#276 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 08:38 PM:

Tim: I am so pwned. Right you are.

#277 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 08:40 PM:

Defining popular versus classical music: here's my idiosyncratic attempt at stretching the terms beyond their usual meanings to fit a framework.

Popular music: by the elite (performers) for the people (audience).

Classical music: by the elite for the elite (because some training is required for deep appreciation).

Folk music: by the people for the people.

The missing quadrant of the schema is folk music of dead cultures, listend to only by ethnomusicologists.

#278 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 08:52 PM:

Alan #271: Same melody, same words except "little boy" instead of "little girl" ... totally different song.

If the chorus still says "Catch you with another man", then yeah, that's pretty different.

#279 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 08:55 PM:

My rough-and-ready definition of pop music is "music you can't get a grant for, even in theory."

Clifton: I didn't mean that as a pwnage trap; I just never bought the CD and so never reset my brain to the new title. I should get the CD, since it has new stuff on it.

#280 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 09:10 PM:

Allan Beatty @ 274, that's funny, since I've been finding myself saying "hey, that sounds like a Beatles chord progression/harmony/whatever" on a number of recent popular songs. Green Day's "Extraordinary Girl," some of the All-American Rejects, and *definitely* Panic At The Disco's new album.

But there are certainly current things that *I* find myself sounding curmudgeonly about, if I give my unedited opinion.

#281 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 09:54 PM:

tobias@228

Thank you! I poked around a bit, and it looks like you are right. They won't let me subscribe to the podcast, but I listened to the latest show and downloaded all the PDF files of previous years' recommendations. Wonderful stuff!

#282 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 10:10 PM:

Caroline, #270: Seeing or hearing a word that features in a song immediately calls it forth as an earworm. Sometimes this is a totally subconscious process; I'll notice that I'm humming something, and sometimes I'll run across the word again and think "Oh! That's why I'm humming this song!"

Seebling! Not quite so bad in my case; single words don't necessarily do it (although your example might, being an unusual word), but ghod help me if someone is using a lyrics quote in their .sig line; I'll be stuck with it for weeks. Also, randomly, any song I've been listening to in the last 4-5 days, any song that showed up in a dream recently, and sometimes just random songs for no apparent reason -- I have no idea why I was earworming "Another Saturday Night" all the way thru the Gem Show over the weekend.

You should see what happens to Encore in a room full of filkers. :-) Among other things, every so often a word will come up that provokes a unanimous howl of "NOOOO!" as we realize that we'd be sitting there for hours on that one turn. The last game I was in, somebody drew "love"... and everyone agreed that it should be discarded and another card drawn.

Rikibeth, #280: Yes, everything old is new again -- and I frequently find that when I hear something recent that I really like, it's because it resonates in some important way with the music I grew up liking. It can be the beat, or the vocal style, or the jangly guitar, or any number of other things, but something about it is probably reminiscent of things that are already in my collection.

#283 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 10:38 PM:

Tim @ 263 - hah, that's good. Once when I was on the phone with my husband, I asked him to go check on the cat, because she sounded like she was in terrible pain. Turned out he was listening to Captain Beefheart.

Rikibeth @ 257 - that ain't noise, that's drummin'. (And, actually, pretty cool, so thanks for the link.) Also, it reminds me, if anyone tries to claim that there isn't music in pure rhythm, Steve Reich's 'Drumming' should snap them right out of that.

But Tim & Rikibeth both - my point isn't that I don't believe there's music in noise bands - I don't believe people would listen to them if there wasn't - it's that I don't hear it. (Or care to, particularly. It's not a matter of "oh, if only you heard the right song/band/album, you'd UNDERSTAND" - it's more "if only you'd make the effort" and, y'know, that's not gonna happen. I won't say NEVER, because I've tried that one before and lost, but I just don't see myself working to pick up a new genre in the foreseeable future. Trust me. If the Rev. Sinister Twitch can't make me listen to this stuff, you've got no hope.)

#284 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 10:54 PM:

Tim Walter, #205, if you'd bothered to note the rest of my post, you'd see that I included other cultures. I've taught music theory.

Bruce STM, #213, I didn't mean complexity algorythmically, I meant more movement, more layers than popular music.

Rikibeth, #224, I hope you find a good new job quickly!

Tim Walters, #226, the reason pop music takes longer to record is two-fold: many pop players are not actually musicians, so can't follow a staff, and there is rarely a finished composition when they start. There's nothing wrong with that, but it does mean getting to a final piece takes a long time. I'm not saying everything has to follow the chart -- I'm fond of jazz and blues -- but it helps to have it ready and people who can read it.

And while I've been sitting here reading, I've been drumming. There's places on my keyboard that are smooth from drumming. But I'm not fond of drum circles -- that seems to be more about group mind than rhythm. I like drumming that has different rhythms.

#285 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 10:55 PM:

Cat @ 283, glad you liked the link. You should see them live if you get the chance.

And I understand about the "I'm sure it's there but I don't hear it, and it doesn't seem worth the effort to learn." And, on clicking your link -- I sympathize. I can take that genre in small doses if they make sure the beat is REALLY good for dancing, but if there's a full set of it at a festival, I head for the back bar! And yet I have friends who rave about it.

#286 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 10:57 PM:

Marilee, thank you!

#287 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 11:40 PM:

Lee @ 282: any song that showed up in a dream recently

Did I mention here that a few weeks ago, I Rickrolled myself in a dream? It was truly fantastic.

If I dream of music, and I don't often, it's usually music that my brain has created for the dream. (The other night I half-dreamed, half-hallucinated something that sounded like Prince but wasn't any Prince song I've ever heard.)

The last game I was in, somebody drew "love"... and everyone agreed that it should be discarded and another card drawn.

Oh good heavens!

Rikibeth @ 280, I hadn't thought of it, but you are entirely correct. "Extraordinary Girl" does have a very Beatles chord progression. That helps explain why I like it so much.

#288 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2008, 11:51 PM:

Big awkward gang response:

C. Wingate #246: Far more damning, however, is that color field art is really boring.

Says you. My mind's been blown by Rothko on several occasions.

again at #264: You say music consisting of untuned percussion isn't interesting to you. That's fine. When it's not fine is when you start defining it as not music. Oh, and also, I'm really not fine with this: when I hear rap I very quickly find myself wishing that...they would learn to carry a tune. I invite you to try rapping sometime. It's not just talking. Additionally, there are many rappers (Lauryn Hill springs immediately to mind) who are also amazing singers. As much as the visual art analogies don't really work (and yes, I know that I kind of introduced them), what you're saying is kind of like saying "I wish Picasso would learn to paint realistically".

Joe J #248: You continue to say things I wish I had said.

Cat #250: I seem to be halfway between you and your husband...I feel the same way about Daniel Johnston and the Shaggs as you, I can listen to drone for hours, and I can tell the difference between "good" noise and "just" noise. I certainly understand not wanting to listen to either, though.

Ginger #251: You ARE my long-lost twin! Now, which one of us is the evil one?

Why, isn't it obvious?

Allan Beatty #271: You remind me of my embarrassing lack of blorg updates recently. And yeah, that Nancy Sinatra "Run for Your Life" is absolutely killer.

#289 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 12:09 AM:

For musically-induced ecstacy, I turn to Ralph.

#290 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 12:18 AM:

Marilee @ 284: if you'd bothered to note the rest of my post, you'd see that I included other cultures. I've taught music theory.

That there is one music theory that covers all cultures and styles is exactly what I'm disputing.

the reason pop music takes longer to record is two-fold: many pop players are not actually musicians, so can't follow a staff

Are you really saying that someone who doesn't read music isn't a musician?

and there is rarely a finished composition when they start.

This depends on the genre--working bands will generally have a live arrangement together before hitting the studio, and electronic acts will do a lot of pre-production at home--but in any case a lot of time is taken by tweaking of sonic options, whether it's getting exactly the vocal mike/compressor/reverb combination; putting door slams, breaking glass, and dog barks together to make the perfect electronic snare drum sound; or putting the guitar amp in the bathroom and miking it from down the hall. Then comes editing and mixing, which is often done by a specialist and can take days, weeks, or months.

Bands on a low budget will obviously work more quickly, but unless you want a raw indie quality (often called lo-fi, although it may represent what a listener present at the scene wold hear more accurately than a fully produced record would) a lot of your studio time is going to be spent dialing in sounds.

#291 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 12:19 AM:

My mind's been blown by Rothko on several occasions.

Me too, I hasten to add lest my earlier post be read as complicit in his denigration.

#292 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 12:26 AM:

Tim #291: I had a feeling.

#293 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 12:34 AM:

I don't have a dog in this fight; I was raised on classical music and show tunes (esp. Rodgers and Hammerstein), fell into jazz in the early 60's, folk and rock in the mid-60's, played around in the interstices between them all for a few years, and then started to get interested in country and rockabilly (mostly for the instrumentals), then decided it was all music anyway. I'm not a big fan of hiphop, rap, or reggae, though I can listen to some of it that doesn't set off my bigotry detector. I'm more interested in whether I get something from the music that moves me, intrigues me, astonishes me, or makes me get up and dance.

As far s which is more complex, I haven't tried to compare the algorythmic complexity of various genres* of music, but it sounds like an interesting question. Has anyone done any searching for such research? I'll warn you that comparing different kinds of structure can be fraught with problems, as the example of the algal mat and the snowflake shows.

One quick appeal to authority on the question of the relative measure, in any sense, of different genres of music. I hung out with a lot of musicians earlier in my life; my best friend from second grade until after college and my time in the service was a musician who was into jazz (playing trombone and tenor saxophone) in his teens, then went to music school and composition and theory and conducting, and was mostly into modern classical music. Part-way through college he got turned onto rock and became a bass player. A few years after college he got interested in roots music, because his father was from West Virginia, and finally he went back to jazz and has been a professional jazz saxophonist ever since. So here's a guy who has all the theoretical knowledge and who doesn't make distinctions about "better", just what he's interested in.

* Does this word make you stop for a second and ask yourself if we're getting into pissing matches about which genre is better? Is classical music really like modern literature in that it asserts an inherent superiority to other genres of music? Would we have this discussion about genres of writing?

#294 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 12:50 AM:

The inimitable Bruce Cohen #293: So here's a guy who has all the theoretical knowledge and who doesn't make distinctions about "better", just what he's interested in.

Hear, hear.

#295 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:04 AM:

As far s which is more complex, I haven't tried to compare the algorythmic complexity of various genres* of music, but it sounds like an interesting question.

The New Complexity might be a good place to start.

Does this word make you stop for a second and ask yourself if we're getting into pissing matches about which genre is better?

I hope it's clear that I'm not so much for hip-hop as against judging it by irrelevant standards. I suppose I do have a dog in the fight in that I make a lot of timbre-centric music, albeit of a very different nature. One does get a little tired of having to establish its claim to be considered music before going on to deal with genuine aesthetic issues.

#296 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 06:16 AM:

Tim Walter @ 295

One does get a little tired of having to establish its claim to be considered music before going on to deal with genuine aesthetic issues.

My apologies; that footnote was not addressed to you alone but to the group as a whole. It's difficult for me to comment on this thread; firefox has taken a dislike to it and won't let me type in faster than about 1 character per second. I have to type ahead a sentence at a time and then wait for a minute or two to discover that my fingers got tanlged (sic) halfway through.

#297 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 06:32 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 293... I was raised on classical music and show tunes (esp. Rodgers and Hammerstein)

My parents had very little interest in music, so I basically 'educated' myself, but for some reason they liked to listen to Guy Lombardo on the radio.

#298 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:16 AM:

Serge @ 297: Rimsky-Korsakoff? Guy Lombardo?

...sorry. I put "Yellow Submarine" into my daughter's video library when she was a toddler, just so that when she played something over and over again, as was her wont, I wouldn't be driven crazy with loathing, and now I've got it etched into my brain, so if someone says EITHER of those names, I hear Max The Blue Meanie saying them together.

#299 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:28 AM:

going back and re-reading (and listening):

Xopher, I think you actually hit a lot closer to the core of this thing in 223 than perhaps we noticed at the time. It's that phrase "Rap (the MCing part of hip-hop) is technically poetry IMO, but culturally it is music." I think there's a small correction needed: sub-culturally it's music. That's something of a quibble, but I'm putting it in just to forestall sweeping statements about how every person in the US views it at once.

I've been listening to that Angolan rap while typing this, and my aural reaction to it is something like my reaction to heavy metal. At my advanced-enough age with enough exposure to too-loud music or whatever, I can't really hear the latter because it sounds too much like my tinnitus with a bass thud. It's not so much that it sounds like noise, as it is that there literally is too much noise; heavy metal to me is completely monochromatic. I know in my head its connection to stuff I was listening to in high school, but what's there is being literally jammed by the excess of overamplified high partials.

It's not as bad with this rap, but the latter has the same monochromatic loudness. And I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Tim, but if I had the words written down (since I don't understand the language) I could record it pretty easily in reasonably conventional western notation.

And then there's the snobbery-- or rather, the reverse snobbery. A crucial function of certain music in Western subcultures is to preserve subcultural identity by repelling those outside the subculture. Epatez les parents has been a core Western musical value for, I don't know, eighty or more years? And it isn't so important that the parents are actually repelled, but that the kids think their parents find it repellent. There may be something psychoacoustic in the tendency of the music of the young to be a little too uniformly loud and noisy, but for someone like me who never had much in the way of subcultural attachments, that aspect of the sound doesn't function for me. My rock concert reaction is always "it's too damn loud to hear the music!" Likewise, the cultural me "gets" Steve Reich and other minimalists, but the musical me is bored out of my skull. But that's something of the point: part of the social meaning of minimalism is to look down on people who insist on having a tune. Likewise, part of the social meaning of world music is looking down on people whose subculture is deemed too "western".

My reaction to music is always colored my my reaction as a musician myself: a marginally competent pianist, a (limited) choral composer, and a first rate singer. Music that is too dull to do is always going to rank lower for me. I do my share of banging around, but I don't do it very long, because it gets boring quickly.

#300 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:36 AM:

#264, C. Wingate

The Gene Krupa solo in the Benny Goodman song is for me a palate cleanser or an extended bit of punctuation.

I recently realized that I generally hate drum solos because they don't have a regular rhythm. The drummers tend to drop the pulse of the song and do whatever they like for a while, and I'm almost immediately bored by it. Untuned percussion works for me, but only if it has a regular rhythm. (I haven't considered STOMP as a musical group - they're a performance group. I'm not sure if I'd like them as instrumentalists without the choreography or not.)

Apparently I'm strongly influenced in my musical enjoyments by rhythms, which is why I haven't found any techno and very little "dance" music yet that I like, and has been one of the barriers to finding hip hop I like, too. All three of those genres feel like they use one eight-beat rhythm* for the whole song**. What makes this especially odd is that I can dance to an alternating pattern of masmoudi and shiftatelli for *hours* My only guess is that those two together are longer than my required minimum for a base rhythm, which is somewhere below a thirty-two beat repeat.

You'd think that would mean that I'd dislike classical, but although it isn't a genre I reach for very often, I do enjoy it.

*If it isn't a four-beat, or a two-beat.

**Or in the case of a DJ-mixed dance set, half an hour. Ugh.

#301 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:40 AM:

Rikibeth @ 298... What about Lawrence Welk? Is he one of the Blue Meanie's faves too?

#302 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:52 AM:

Drat. I meant to check my spelling/etc. on those middle eastern drum rhythms, and I forgot.

It isn't masmoudi and chiftetelli (spelled it wrong earlier) it is beledi and chiftetelli. You can hear the rhythms here, though the examples are ornamented beyond what I'm used t.

#303 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 09:57 AM:

C. Wingate @ 299, I disagree with this:

"But that's something of the point: part of the social meaning of minimalism is to look down on people who insist on having a tune. Likewise, part of the social meaning of world music is looking down on people whose subculture is deemed too "western"."

And the reason I disagree is that I spend a lot of time thinking about how music works, and why, rather than how some particular music works and why. If you spend all your time tuning your brain to hear the music in, say, a rattly air conditioner, then yes; there is music in it, and it's being supplied by your brain, which is the thing that's really making all the music in the first place. (It's like reading that way. I'm trying to write what I'm thinking, but of course what you read into these words may be very different than what I meant when writing them. Also, you have to learn to do it, and learning to read in English doesn't help you much when presented with something written in Chinese.)

To people who are trained in any one genre, the phrase "it all sounds the same anyway" seems perfectly rational to apply to other, untrained generes (and perfectly ridiculous when applied to one's own, therefore easy to reject when someone does so. Obviously they must be doing it to reject the music or its cultural values - it's so self-evident that every song in my genre is a unique little gem, nobody could possibly not hear that. And now that I think about it, it's kind of like how a certain segment of the fundamentalist population believes that those people who don't subscribe to their beliefs KNOW the fundamentalist brand of belief is correct, they just reject it because of some stubbornness or moral deficiency. The truth is so glaringly self-evident for any other explanation to work.)

I'll give you that sometimes, some people will pick up a type of music because they think it will piss off someone else. But they don't keep listening to it if that's all it does.

On a completely different topic, I had to laugh this morning when "Ride of the Valkyries" came on the radio and my husband and I started talking about opera. The first time I heard it, I held my hands over my ears and asked why those people were shouting like that. (Bringing us full-circle to the shouty rap accusation.) Talk about the music that's killed by recording it - I always thought I hated opera, until I got to see some live, and realized how utterly awsome it is, and how it just does not work at all to try to compress it onto a CD (or even worse, over the radio).

#304 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 11:12 AM:

Serge @ 301 - if he is, he isn't mentioned in the script.

R. M. Koske @ 302 - what's the name of the pattern that goes "dun teka teka teka dun teka tek," then? That's the one I think of as the classic "Night of the Living Doumbeks" or "SOME people at Pennsic would like to SLEEP, you know" rhythm.

#305 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 11:24 AM:

That's the one I think of as the classic "Night of the Living Doumbeks" or "SOME people at Pennsic would like to SLEEP, you know" rhythm.

It's said that, during the height of the Doumbekistan Invasion, a security team turned in a report at the end of their shift that read, "Low on food. Low on water. The drums. The drums!"

#306 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 11:38 AM:

#304, Rikibeth -

Even without your rendering of the rhythm, I could just about assure you that you're talking about beledi. It's the one that everyone learns first and many drum circles fixate on because everyone knows it and can keep up. Any drum circle is annoying when you're trying to sleep, but constant beledi is undanceable, IMO, so it's only entertaining for the drummers themselves.

#307 ::: David Hodson ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 11:55 AM:

Bruce @ 293:
As far s which is more complex, I haven't tried to compare the algorythmic complexity of various genres* of music

As you know Bob, the seminal paper in this field was written by Donald Knuth back in 1977.

Jason B @ 247: The greatest cover version of "Eleanor Rigby" was recorded by The Zoot in 1970. (Supposedly branded as such by McCartney himself.)

#308 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 11:58 AM:

C. Wingate #299: Is there room in your worldview for listening to music for reasons other than the ability to look down on others? It seems to be how you use music, judging by what you've said in this thread, but please don't ascribe it to everyone.

#309 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 12:05 PM:

C. 299: I think there's a small correction needed: sub-culturally it's music. That's something of a quibble, but I'm putting it in just to forestall sweeping statements about how every person in the US views it at once.

Actually I think a more sweeping statement is in order, and that you slightly misunderstood what I meant. American (and to the extent I've got any data, European) culture treats rap (and hip-hop even more) like music, not like poetry. In our society poetry is rarely performed in public; when it is, it's at a thing called a "reading" or a "poetry slam." Poetry goes in books and is written by academics and lovestruck teenagers. Music, on the other hand, is performed in public, recorded on CDs, downloaded from the internet: if it's written down no one except musicians cares; it's consumed by listening, not by reading.

As a matter of fact,* it is a characteristic of music that for every musical genre there is someone who says it's not music. My sister said that about my Meg Christian records back in the 70s. People say that about Steve Reich. My friend Ric said that about classical when we were teenagers (his argument being "it doesn't have any beat")—I set him straight on that right quick, you may be sure!

The overall cultural treatment of rap and hip-hop is what I was talking about. That doesn't at all require every person in the US to agree. Culturally, tomatos are vegetables, and even the people who insist they are fruits don't eat them for dessert. If one is a recent immigrant from Germany, however, one might sprinkle sugar on tomato slices and eat them for dessert, because their cultural significance is different there. AND my mother used to have a recipe for tomato-soup cake, which worked fine until Campbell's changed the formula and made it too salty.

Likewise, the cultural me "gets" Steve Reich and other minimalists, but the musical me is bored out of my skull. But that's something of the point: part of the social meaning of minimalism is to look down on people who insist on having a tune.

Well, of course I disagree with this very strongly. I'm not really buying this "social meaning" notion of yours, to begin with, and if you think Reich's music doesn't have melody, you haven't listened to Proverb or Tehillim. I happen to find melodies in Music for 18 Musicians as well, but I can see how you wouldn't. Melodies are treated very differently in minimalist music; they are used as building blocks for a larger tune/harmony/program structure, or they are broken down into, or built up from, smaller blocks in combination and replication. Minimalists (especially Reich) have also explored augmentation to an extreme degree (as in Proverb), but that's a process used in conventional classical music as well. I think the term 'minimalist' is inaccurate, btw; I think 'process-oriented' is a better descriptor. Melody sometimes takes a back seat to a process which creates a slow "melody" of its own on a grand scale.

Likewise, part of the social meaning of world music is looking down on people whose subculture is deemed too "western".

If by this you mean looking down on people who insist that only conventional Western music is "really" music, or who refuse to listen to anything else, I agree. And I'm on their side about that.

a marginally competent pianist, a (limited) choral composer, and a first rate singer.

Completely off-topic, are you going to Denvention? What voice part do you sing? Can you sing straight-tone?

Cat 303: Hear, hear.

RM 306: Constant beledi is undanceable? Wow, I haven't found it so, but maybe that's because I've had really good tambourine players along with the doumbeks. (Please note for you people who are "too Western": the shakin' and bangin' way of playing the tambourine has as much resemblance to its proper use as lifting the lid and dropping it has to the proper use of a piano.)


*And by that I mean "moreover," not "the reality is"!

#310 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 12:22 PM:

And I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Tim, but if I had the words written down (since I don't understand the language) I could record it pretty easily in reasonably conventional western notation.

Really? You could notate the timbres used well enough so that someone could, solely by looking at the sheet music, record a version that could be mistaken for the original? Do tell.

#311 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 12:27 PM:

Actually, listening to it again, there are prominent enough distortion-generated inharmonic partials that I'm not convinced that a Western-style score would even capture the pitch information in a meaningful way, although of course you could notate the fundamentals.

#312 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 12:56 PM:

#309, Xopher -

I think the term 'minimalist' is inaccurate, btw; I think 'process-oriented' is a better descriptor. Melody sometimes takes a back seat to a process which creates a slow "melody" of its own on a grand scale.

I definitely was surprised when I learned what Minimalist music really was. You hear the name, and you sort of expect a tuba making occasional burbles with lots of rests, but that isn't it at all.

I think that a lot of the techno that I hear is minimalist, and I don't have the ear to appreciate it. Sometimes I think I should develop an ear, but most of the time I think there's too much else out there that would be easier to learn to appreciate. I can work a little bit and learn to appreciate hip hop, or work a lot on techno/minimalism. I choose hip hop. And hope that expanding my repertoire to include hip hop will get me closer to techno/minimialism as a side effect.

Constant beledi is undanceable? Wow, I haven't found it so, but maybe that's because I've had really good tambourine players along with the doumbeks.

It is very situational, truthfully. I imagine I'd find the beledi that you like quite danceable, especially with tambourine. But just beledi, with just drummers, and no one even riffing off the basic rhythm to add ornamentation? Nope, can't do it. And yes, I've seen drum circles do that while dancers dance to it, with everyone enthusiastic and happy. It mystifies the heck out of me.

I'm a bit more on the side of the drummers about all this than I used to be. At one time, I'd have said there was no point to constant unvarying beledi, but my husband, who is sort of learning drumming by going to circles, points out that sometimes new drummers need the practice at learning to hold a steady beat, and if no one is advanced enough to improvise solos or ornamentation, then all you get is a steady beat of one rhythm. Plus, if you're the one beating it out, even constant beledi can be fun. I understand now that there are drum circles for the drummers and drum circles for both dancers and drummers, and pouting because a drum circle isn't including me is churlish, so I don't call it "bad drumming," like I used to do. Now I say, "it isn't really good for dancing."

#313 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 12:59 PM:

Bruce, #293: I think you've nailed it -- we're having the genre-snob discussion, with "classical" in the place of "literary".

Cat, #303: As a contradancer, I run into this a lot even with different genres of Western music. My partner can't distinguish between the various Celtic contradance tunes, and I've run into several people who don't like old-time because "it all sounds the same". The analogy that comes immediately to mind is the white person who says that black people, or Asians, or some other racial group, "all look alike" -- and it all goes back to what you say here, that the brain has to be trained to recognize the distinctions. And I think your comparison to religious fundamentalism is spot-on.

Tim, #310: Aha, I think I see where our disagreement on "timbre" is coming from. What you're calling "timbre" is what I would call "arrangement" -- the specific instrumentation, vocal styling, etc. And you see this as an integral part of the song to a much greater extent than I do. A fairly good analogy for my viewpoint is that the melody and lyrics are like the recipe in a cookbook, while the arrangement is what any particular cook does with that recipe. It's still recognizably the same result, even though individual interpretations may differ over a wide range.

#314 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:02 PM:

re off-topic in 309: Oddly, I will in fact be near Denver around Denvention, but I won't be at the convention. And even at my age I can still put out straight tone, but not fortissimo. I can also produce an Irish tenor that will curl your toes.

While I'm being irrelevant, during the original discussion of Eleanor Rigby covers, my brain shifted "Aretha Franklin" to "Ella Fitzgerald".

#315 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:21 PM:

#299 C. Wingate

Epatez les parents has been a core Western musical value for, I don't know, eighty or more years? And it isn't so important that the parents are actually repelled, but that the kids think their parents find it repellent.

That may be true if you are classifying as 'western' only anglo culture. When it comes to the hispanic worlds you don't see that division at all. It may have just entered the cultures with reggatone, perhaps, but generally you find all ages at latin music events, and they all dance. This I have found to be the case from North America, across the Spanish speaking Antilles to Colombia to Buenas Aires. But these are all profoundly rhythmic music cultures as well. The pop music of 'anglo', i.e. white, culture seems to be progressively shedding rhythm, i.e. all the black parts of what made 20th popular musics. Dancing was long ago dropped in favor of moshing, i.e. stylized or not so stylized violence, as group expression of kinetic energy.

Love, C.

Whc

#316 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:23 PM:

RM 312: sometimes new drummers need the practice at learning to hold a steady beat,

Where I come from, we call that "rehearsal."

and if no one is advanced enough to improvise solos or ornamentation, then all you get is a steady beat of one rhythm.

OK, there's a trick to use there. Slow down the rhythm to the point where playing it by itself is too boring even for the drummers. SOMEONE will start ornamenting. Then when you (slowly) speed it up, they'll keep playing their ornaments until it gets too fast.

But a drum circle made up entirely of people "not advanced enough" to ornament is a rare and unfortunate thing. Someone should come help them.

Plus, if you're the one beating it out, even constant beledi can be fun.

...annnnnnnd the slowdown trick works there too. I assume your husband practices alone, as well as going to drum circles?

I understand now that there are drum circles for the drummers and drum circles for both dancers and drummers, and pouting because a drum circle isn't including me is churlish, so I don't call it "bad drumming," like I used to do. Now I say, "it isn't really good for dancing."

Hmm, no good for beledi dancing maybe, but there's no such thing as a rhythm that CANNOT be danced to. There IS such a thing as bad drumming (e.g. what we call "buffalo drumming" in the Pagan community, so called because it sounds like a herd of buffalo), but it's more characterized by LACK of rhythm than anything else.

C. &PI;: Pity. And fortissimo would not be required; it's a motet. And I'd love to have my toes curled at some point!

AND:

Ella Fitzgerald
Picks up the notes that Aretha has left by the door.
Who are they for?
All the lady singers.
Where do they all come from?
All the lady singers.
Where do they all belong?
Ah, just hear all those lady singers!

#317 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:23 PM:

Lee @ 313: What you're calling "timbre" is what I would call "arrangement" -- the specific instrumentation, vocal styling, etc.

No, my whole point is that two recordings can have the same arrangement (in traditional terms) but be easily distinguished timbrally, because pop musicians and producers work hard to get particular timbres for each recording.

From an interesting article on the subject:

The subtlest reason that pop music is so flavorful to our brains is that it relies so strongly on timbre. Timbre is a peculiar blend of tones in any sound; it is why a tuba sounds so different from a flute even when they are playing the same melody in the same key. Popular performers or groups, Dr. Levitin argued, are pleasing not because of any particular virtuosity, but because they create an overall timbre that remains consistent from song to song. That quality explains why, for example, I could identify even a single note of Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets.”

“Nobody else’s piano sounds quite like that,” he said, referring to Mr. John. “Pop musicians compose with timbre. Pitch and harmony are becoming less important.”


#318 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:27 PM:

Argh. I meant C. Π, of course. Didn't check it carefully enough.

#319 ::: Joe J ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:32 PM:

If rap isn't music, then why is it that when I listen to it I get excited and want to dance? Am I doing that in order to rebel against my parents? Have I been brain washed by my culture to be thrilled by rap music? Is there some defect in my comprehension of sounds that makes it so I can't tell the difference between music and noise? Should I be reading rap lyrics instead of listening to them performed, since they are only poetry and therefore performance quality doesn't matter?

Is there something wrong with me for liking rap music? Is there something wrong with everyone who likes rap?

#320 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:44 PM:

Joe 319: That appears to be what some here (not me) are arguing, and what others (like me) are arguing against, yes.

#321 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:50 PM:

More on timbre in record production, from the infamous Mixerman Diaries (a long sordid tale of record-industry dysfunction):

In this case, the kik drum was very round and took up a lot of low-end space, so the bass had to have some mid-range attack to it in order to cut through. Half the battle is finding the specific instrument that works best for the application. In this case, we knew that this was the kik drum sound we wanted, so we were looking for a bass that fit with it. In other words, we were looking for a bass that had a very pronounced mid-range. So we used an instrument that had these precise characteristics—in this case a Hoffner bass. This particular bass was over 30 years old and could have easily been used by Paul McCartney41, as that was the bass he typically used through his career, although we have no documentation proving Paul actually played this particular bass. Not that we needed any; this was a right-handed bass, and it has been well established that Paul McCartney plays left-handed.

Different guitars and basses made at different times throughout the course of rock history have distinct and unique sounds. The same can be said about guitar and bass amplifiers. That is why on high-budget sessions, such as this, there will often be as many as 30 guitars, many of which are very old. Older instruments are usually referred to as “vintage.” Much like vintage wine, they are called that because they are the cream of the crop and have aged well. Otherwise, they are just plain “old,” which also has its place.

I’ve been on sessions where there were over 100 guitars, all owned by the artist. It’s not uncommon to try five or six different guitars (sometimes more), through several amps to find a guitar sound that works best for a song. This is not entirely a hit-or-miss process, as discussions take place, citing particular target guitar sounds. Often times, terms like warm, biting, bright, thick, crunchy, mellow, etc. will be used in an attempt to describe a guitar sound. When that fails, and that fails often, then we reference CDs. It is not uncommon to send the runner to the record store to buy specific CDs in order to demonstrate a guitar sound concept to someone. Suffice it to say, when you are surrounded by guitars and amplifiers of many varieties, you have many options available to you.

And note that this (and the previous article) are talking about "regular" pop music, with recognizable standard instruments. When you get to hip-hop, which is based on collage and electronic synthesis, timbre becomes even more important.

#322 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 01:54 PM:

Joe J @ 319: my spin is, it's music, but not music I've figured out how to hear as such. You can hear it and I can't, or at least not usually.

Just like Cat's friend who likes the experimental noise bands hears all bluegrass as "twang twang twing." That was all *I* heard of it at first, until I got much more familiar with traditional Irish music, and then I started to be able to hear past the accents (which still annoy me) to the melodies, and now I can hear bluegrass without wanting to claw my ears off.

#323 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 02:09 PM:

#316, Xopher

My husband doesn't practice much alone, no. I'm not entirely sure why not, but whatever the reason, drum circles tend to be his only practice, and that about two or three times a year.

Solutions to help the drummers improve only work if one is a drummer with sufficient force of personality to induce the other drummers to go along with it. I'm neither, so I have to accept the situation from the outside. I'll pass your suggestion on to my husband - he's both.

It would be nice if someone came and helped the clusters of beginners, but that's something else I can't affect. And heck, maybe my standards for a danceable rhythm are unreasonably high, so maybe they're doing just fine. There are often other dancers who are having a blast at these revels.

there's no such thing as a rhythm that CANNOT be danced to.

Well, yes, you're right. I'm not sure that's saying much, because some people could dance to a metronome, but I might not be able to, and I definitely don't want to. Unvarnished beledi bores me out of my skull after about ten minutes, and the stuff that my local drum circles play that you can't dance middle eastern to usually does too. I'm quite picky, I know that. They play rhythms I find undanceable at dance clubs all the time.* At the same time, if a belly dancer asks me about the drumming at the middle eastern revel, I think it is fair to say that it isn't very good for dancing without elaboration, because they're asking about belly dance.

Maybe I shouldn't have said it to Rikibeth about the drumming at Pennsic, though.

*Well, sort of. After about two hours I'm bored, which is what's happening with the drum circles, but drum circles do it faster.

#324 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 02:26 PM:

RM: where do you live again?

And I see your point about drum circles and so on. I had a friend once who told me that reggae is really good for beledi dancing (I'm pretty sure, without knowing why, that 'belly' as in 'belly dancing' comes from 'beledi'); so are some Hindu chants and praise songs.

Maybe you could get a real tambourine and some lessons in real tambourine playing. Then when the beledi gets dull you could dress it up. Once you get good at it, I'll bet you can do it while dancing.

Another trick I've used is to suddenly switch from beledi to fanga for a few cycles, and then switch back. Fanga is an African rhythm with the same pattern of bass notes as beledi, but with the one in a different place, and completely unrelated interpolations. It's sort of like shiftatelli, but without the big rest. So it makes some pretty wild rhythms when you switch to it, and yet the bass notes are the same.

#325 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 02:33 PM:

Man, I only just listened to that Angolan song that Tim Walters linked to at #163. Fantastic! And it also reminds me of how much I wish I had M.I.A. hanging around my house spinning records and telling me what to listen to.

#326 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 02:40 PM:

And speaking of her, M.I.A. is a fantastic rapper with a genius for melody, as you can see in, to pick two pretty much at random, "Pull Up the People" and "Jimmy". (The first isn't the real video for the song, the second is. Obviously.)

#327 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 02:45 PM:

#324, Xopher -

I live in Atlanta metro now. And I'm probably giving you a misleading picture of the state of drumming in the area, because most of my experiences with it were quite a number of years back, when I was more active in the SCA.* (I'm trying to get back into that, but it's slow.)

I've found that the movements of middle eastern dance lend themselves really well to all kinds of music if you're not maintaining a strict form (you can toss it into nearly any kind of booty-shakin, for instance. Shakira is famous for it.) I haven't tried reggae, though. And Hindu chants? Cool! It would be fun to see if strict form works with them. That's one of the things that made the N'Sync song so odd to me - it's a pop song I wanted to keep a strict form with.

I've seen the belly/beledi connection before, but never often enough to feel comfortable using that term myself. I know what you meant.

The tambourine idea is *brilliant*. I think you're right that it could be done while dancing eventually, and I think that it would make not-dancing a lot more fun, too. I've got zills, but my practice is pretty infrequent too,* so I'm still struggling with getting a predictable tone out of them. I think the tambourine might be something I could get consistent with faster. Once I got good at the tambourine, I'd have experience at adding fills and embellishments so that when I do finally hit a point where I can make the noises I want with my zills, I'll know what noises I want to make. Nice. Very nice. Thank you.

And I think I'd love the beledi/fanga drumming mix. I once ran into a drummer who would occasionally put a seven-beat measure into the mix, just to mess with the dancers. I loved it. In spite of my complaints, I don't dislike beledi, just monotony. *grins*

*I feel like a bit of a fake, actually. Dancing, both middle eastern and ballroom, are something that I *love* but haven't pursued actively for years. I have opinions and preferences but I'm not doing anything. I have reason to hope that it will get better, but right now I'm all talk. (Yes, I pointed at the same footnote twice. It's relevant both times.)

#328 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 02:49 PM:

Thinking about middle eastern dance and non-traditional music made me remember that I think a ME dancer and a beatbox artist could potentially figure out how to play off each other in the way a drummer and a dancer can do. It makes me wish I knew people with sufficient skills in those areas to prod someone into trying.

#329 ::: Jason B ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 03:08 PM:

David Hodson @307: The greatest cover version of "Eleanor Rigby" was recorded by The Zoot in 1970. (Supposedly branded as such by McCartney himself.)

I certainly wouldn't gainsay Sir Paul regarding the best cover of the song. I managed to catch a viewing of the official video to that version here, and I like it a lot. I think I'll have to look up more of The Zoot's music.

I always figured Rick Springfield had more than just "Jesse's Girl" in him. He's actually a pretty good guitarist.

#330 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 03:20 PM:

Rappers don't talk about biting timbres, they bite beats. I.e. rhythms. That is what they build on, the beats. Rhythm is always the foundation.

Love, C.

#331 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 04:51 PM:

Like several others have commented, I went for years without understanding what the seemingly overwhelming appeal of hip-hop music was, but eventually came to appreciate some of its merits and have added it to my listening repertoire. What Joe J. said about the substitution of rythym for melody in lyrical music particularly resonated, although I didn't have anything like an epiphany moment where hip-hop clicked for me; rather, I came to hip-hop from several other directions nearly at once. Since several folks have expressed interest in starting places, I'll do my best to give a few...if you're interested in samples of the artists I mention, you can find a lot of stuff on YouTube.

It began, for me, with acquiring a taste for certain types of Electronica. There, I can point at the epiphany, and it was Moby's "Play." From there I moved to artists in the loosely definied sub-genre called "Trip-hop," which uses elements of hip-hop music combined with downtempo Electronica and Scratch. DJ Shadow and Portishead are, to my taste, the best exemplars of this style. For you classical music fans, you might find Portishead's "PNYC" particularly accessible, as it was recorded live as accompanied by the NY Symphony Orchestra. From there I moved to "Breakbeat" artists, who often provide the music behind popular MCs or remix their work into more complicated pieces; here occurred another "OK, I get that" moment when I was first exposed to Überzone's album "Faith in the Future." Also recommended: Apollo 440, Cut Chemist, and the documentary "Scratch."

Around the same time I was cultivating the above interests, though, Nerdcore Hip-Hop was emerging as something resembling an actual subgenre rather than just the occasional parodic song. If it's the lyrical content of Hip-hop that really drags you down, you might find some relief in the realm of Nerdcore. Xopher, I particularly recommend MC Frontalot's I ♥ Fags as an antidote for Hip-hop's homophobia. Most of the genre is still humorous, but that's no longer the given it once was, and it values vocabulary and narrative meaning more than much (probably most) popular rap. It shares a lot of common roots and themes with the Filk community, and I know we've no shortage of Filkers and Filkfans around these parts. It's a bit hubristic, but I think my review of the RhymeTorrents.org Nerdcore Hip-Hop compilation albums is a pretty good starting place to explore the sub-genre from.

Finally, I can't recommend the podcast The Beat Oracle enough for those who are looking for a distillation of what is smart and interesting in hip-hop and electronica at the moment...very, very good show.

Whew, that was longer than I expected. I hope some of you find it interesting.

#332 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 05:15 PM:

On Drum circles:

Xopher, by your description @#268, I drum like a woman. This somehow fails to bother me in the slightest. *grin*

FWIW, though, the Wikipedia entry on beledi says that the etymology of "bellydance" to it is common, and false.

R. M., one of the reasons beledi is so commonly taught to beginners is that it is so easily ornamented. You teach the beginners beledi and, once they can hold that, your more experienced drummers can take off into variations and augmentations. The thing is, though, the beginners must maintain that base, and if you run a variation too long, or if too many vary it at once, they will inevitably lose the rythym, so you return to that base over and over again. When listening at a distance to a large circle, the base rythym is probably all that can be heard because the individual variations are simply inaudible unless you're right there in the circle.

That said, I would kill for a fucking beledi circle, these days. All my drumming lately has been at Burner events, and to say that they're composed mostly of novices with little exposure to Eastern rythyms is to say that water is wet. There are some marvelous exceptions, but it can be very hard to track them down.

#333 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 05:20 PM:

Constance Ash @ 330: they bite beats. I.e. rhythms.

In rap terminology, "beats" refers to the whole backing track behind the rap, including timbral and tonal elements. Here's a citation for that.

But it's certainly true that rhythm is the foundation of hip-hop. Rhythm is also the foundation of jazz, though, and that doesn't stop people from putting arbitrarily complex (or simple but refined and tasty) harmony and melody on top. Similarly, ambitious hip-hop producers delve into complex (or simple but refined and tasty) sonic manipulation.

I add the parentheses because, just as in any art form, something doesn't have be calling attention to itself to be important and worthy of analysis. The aforementioned Angolan track uses fairly straightforward processing techniques (mostly distortion), but it's beautifully dialed in.

#334 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 05:43 PM:

Well, you can go that way on classical music, if you feel like it. The NSO recorded the Shostakovich 8th the night after we heard it. The performance we heard was one of the only genuinely standing-O-worthy performances I have experienced; the recorded performance is just not quite as good. Is the Carlos version really the 3rd Brandenberg? How about the ELP cover of Parry's "Jerusalem"? Everyone is welcome to be as painstaking about their version of a piece. But if you're going to say, "no, to be the same music, it has to sound exactly the same"-- I reject that standard. One can only guess at the percentage of people who would recognize my version of a rap using the same words, the same rhythm, my voice, and completely different set of background sounds as being "the same music" as the original, but it is an extremely safe bet that the percentage would be a long way from zero. I personally would guess it to be pretty close to 100%.

Musicians can be obsessive to extremes about the sounds they are producing. I like Balwin and Petrof pianos better than Steinways, because I like a punchier sound; but concert pianists tend to prefer the Steinway's more delicate tone and precise action. I'm not sure how much of the rest of the population can even hear a difference. There is certainly a lot of electric guitar-based music that sounds quite different depending the instrument used. Respighi specified a "gramophone recording of a nightingale" in the Pines of Rome because he decided that orchestral imitation of the birdsong wasn't adequate. But unless you're trying simply to ape the sound of the original, there's nothing wrong with using something different. If nothing else, modern performances of the Pines use a CD or a tape instead of a gramophone.

Ethan, you've taken to misconstruing (I'm guessing out of a sense of irritation) my response to you way back in 201. I didn't say that rap wasn't at all music, and I didn't say that music requires melody. What I said was that it was, on some scale, lesser than some other music, because it lacks some elements. That scale is only a value scale for me because those elements are to me really important, but not for everyone. In some contexts, it obviously works the opposite direction. Thematic development, for instance, doesn't go well with dancing (not the same as Dance). Congregational hymns have to be within the capabilities of the congregations' singers.

One thing that has just occurred to me is how the discussion of pop music here has come to rely very heavily on the fact that it is recorded (or always performed by the same people using the same stuff, which is something of the same thing).

Xopher, what motet are you contemplating?

#335 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 06:01 PM:

RM 327: The tambourine idea is *brilliant*. *blush* Thanks. And you're welcome.

Skwid 331: OK, Nerdcore sounds like a really good starting point for me! And I loved that lyric from MC Frontalot!

___ 332: That's why I carefully said "generally." And I'm not surprised!

And yes, FWIW does go before any reference to Wikipedia! Seriously, they might have the right of it here.

Are you a burner as in Burning Man, or do you spin firepoi? I used to, but like RM with the bellydancing I haven't practiced much lately.

C. 333: I'm writing one. It won't be as good as Palestrina, but when you see the text you'll know why. Email me if curiosity is devouring your soul.

#336 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 06:13 PM:

But if you're going to say, "no, to be the same music, it has to sound exactly the same"-- I reject that standard.

It's nothing so rigid. The question is how much of what constitutes a piece of music is captured by standard music notation (remember, Xopher's original claim was that classical music was more complex because it's page/minute density was greater). For classical music, it's a lot (arguably 100%, since the score is the urtext). For arrhythmic musique concrete, it's near zero. For hip-hop, it's small.

One can only guess at the percentage of people who would recognize my version of a rap using the same words, the same rhythm, my voice, and completely different set of background sounds as being "the same music" as the original, but it is an extremely safe bet that the percentage would be a long way from zero. I personally would guess it to be pretty close to 100%.

With the words? Of course. Without them? Definitely not. I've heard "Fight The Power" performed on an acoustic guitar, and with different words it would have been completely unrecognizable.

What I said was that it was, on some scale, lesser than some other music, because it lacks some elements.

So Beethoven's Ninth is lesser than Stockhausen's Hymnen because it lacks electronic timbral control, post-modern referentiality, and spatial manipulation? Seriously, of what two pieces of music can it not be said that each has something the other lacks?

#337 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 06:16 PM:

Constance Ash @ 330: I posted a response a while back but it went into moderation for some reason. If it doesn't show up after a while, I'll post it without the (one) URL.

#338 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 06:24 PM:

One thing that has just occurred to me is how the discussion of pop music here has come to rely very heavily on the fact that it is recorded (or always performed by the same people using the same stuff, which is something of the same thing).

With pop music, the urtext is usually a recording.

#339 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 06:30 PM:

C. Wingate #333: I could easily be wrong, but I don't think I'm the only one who's interpreted you as saying you don't think hip hop (or other genres you don't enjoy or understand) is music. If that's not what you were saying, then I apologize for the misunderstanding. Also, now that you've clarified that when you say some kinds of music are "higher" than others, you mean to you and you alone, I'm less irritated at you, though I would recommend that, in the future, you find less loaded words to express your own personal preference. I find "I like this" or "I don't like this" work pretty well, as do "I don't get this" and "I prefer it when..."

Anyway, if I've been misconstruing you, please tell me that I (at #308) have done it again. If I have, I'd also like to know how I've done it, if you have the time to explain.

#340 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 06:56 PM:

Skwid, are you familiar with Mindless Self Indulgence? How would you describe their genre?

I didn't like them on first hearing, but now I do. The combination of "very rude," "very funny," and "very danceable" came together for me.

#341 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 07:38 PM:

C. Wingate @314 While I'm being irrelevant, during the original discussion of Eleanor Rigby covers, my brain shifted "Aretha Franklin" to "Ella Fitzgerald".

Continuing the irrelevance*, I frantically googled, but it looks like a cover of Eleanor Rigby by Ella Fitzgerald is not mentioned anywhere on the internet. But by following a promising looking link I did find a Ray Charles cover amongst the enormous selection of versions available.

I don't feel I have anything of great importance to contribute, but I'm following the discussion closely. Of little importance, I note that the great number of good versions of Eleanor Rigby seems to be being taken as evidence to bolster most of the hypotheses here. Also it's been ages since I listened to Jessies Girl, and I'd forgotten how much I liked it - I suspect I heard it on the radio at the age of 6. There's a lot of music I heard at around that age that I think everybody in the world ought to be familiar with, as it's been in my memory forever, but turns out to be transitory early 80s pop.

* Someone on another thread note that their presence here is like being in Teresa and Patrick's garden chatting to friends; I sometimes feel that I'm standing in the hallway blocking the route to the bathroom**
** I'm pretty large and often find myself holding forth at length so this isn't an unusual feeing.

#342 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:08 PM:

I once read (I wish I could remember where) an account of European composer X who took visiting Indian master musician Y to see a Mozart concert. Y remarked that it was pleasant but very simple; when X tried to explain about Mozart's masterful use of harmony and form, Y looked at him and said, "that stuff's for children."

#343 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:47 PM:

Way up above a worry about buying the "wrong" classical music performance was expressed. Something I've found useful (two somethings, actually) are NPR's Encyclopedia of Classical Music and NPR's Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection, both found in the NPR shop here. The Encyclopedia comes with a password to a website which teams with Naxos and offers selections of music, examples of technique, and more.

I got these for Christmas a couple of years ago, and they're excellent for those who weren't exposed to much classical music growing up.

#344 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 08:49 PM:

For those whose local public radio stations have dropped classical music, NPR also lists stations which do live streaming on the right side of this page.

#345 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 09:12 PM:

R M Koske, #327: Practice suggestion: get yourself a couple of good drum CDs and play along with those until you understand how to use the tambourine. Then if/when you find yourself in a situation to play with a live drum circle, all you'll need to work on is following the changes.

Could someone please provide a basic description of the difference(s) between rap and hip-hop? I know very little about either form (except when they overlap into filk, as with The Great Lukeski), and I'm seeing the same artists being called both rappers and hip-hoppers, and I'm getting very confused!

#346 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 09:32 PM:

Could someone please provide a basic description of the difference(s) between rap and hip-hop?

My non-expert understanding: hip-hop is a broad, somewhat ill-defined musical and cultural movement. Rap is a vocal style associated therewith, although it's possible (as in rap-rock) for it to be independent.

So it's not a contradiction for someone to be both a rapper and a hip-hop artist; the best analogy I can think of is rap:hip-hop::scat:jazz.

#347 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 10:11 PM:

Reposting without URL to avoid moderation:

Constance Ash @ 330: they bite beats. I.e. rhythms.

In rap terminology, "beats" refers to the whole backing track behind the rap, including timbral and tonal elements. [link to YouTube video of guy saying "let me play the beat," followed by such a track, elided]

But it's certainly true that rhythm is the foundation of hip-hop. Rhythm is also the foundation of jazz, though, and that doesn't stop people from putting arbitrarily complex (or simple but refined and tasty) harmony and melody on top. Similarly, ambitious hip-hop producers delve into complex (or simple but refined and tasty) sonic manipulation.

I add the parentheses because, just as in any art form, something doesn't have be calling attention to itself to be important and worthy of analysis. The aforementioned Angolan track uses fairly straightforward processing techniques (mostly distortion), but it's beautifully dialed in.

#348 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 10:17 PM:

Rikibeth:

Classical music labels I can think of offhand:
Naxos
Phillips
Decca/London
Sony
Deutsche Grammophon at one point had a set/series of disks that were priced below their big name releases.

I have some recordings from Excelsior that were good enough to please me. I picked up some stuff from Intersound, Quintessence, and ProArte in the bargain bin, and I like them just fine. Penguin, the publisher, had a set/series out at Borders - they were fine, too.

Don't be afraid to pick up the sampler/best of CDs, either of a country or a composer. If you like what you hear, you can always go buy the full CD for the specific track.

Feel free to drop a line in my LJ if you like something, and if I know anything like it, I will recommend.

I should note, I'm not an expert on any of this stuff; I grew up listening to classical and doo-wop, and have slowly branched out from there.

#349 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2008, 10:45 PM:

Nancy, there are classical samplers? That'll help!

Of course, the industry isn't quite the same as it is for rock music -- there, I can go to a festival, and pick up half a dozen FREE samplers, and see what artists are scheduled to come to my local venue, and if I like the track, it's probably a $15 ticket to the live show if I haven't ever heard of the artist before, and it all seems very accessible.

With classical music, I know some big warhorse pieces, and some smaller ones that I played when I was studying flute, and... it kind of stops.

#350 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 01:03 AM:

Xopher, one of the things that makes Nerdcore easy to "try on," as it were, is that so much of it is free for the download. Frontalot has a lot out for free, although quite adamantly not everything (the full version of that song, of course, is totally free, and the link's at the bottom of the page to download it), and the aforementioned compilations are totally free.

Burner as in Burning Man, yes, although I have absolutely no interest in camping in a dust desert for a week. I prefer our regional Burn events held here in pretty Texas woodlands, like Burning Flipside and Myschievia.

Rikibeth@#339, I'd never heard of them, but from their Amazon samples I'd place them pretty solidly in the Nu Metal category. They sound pretty good for that, though!

#351 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 04:52 AM:

Tim, #290, that's just it, music theory covers other scales and cultures as well as western music. And I worded the next one awkwardly. I suppose the term would be "trained musicians." (I like Rothko, too. I like a lot of modern art.)

#352 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 08:33 AM:

re 337: and with folk music as well, but that's rather like saying that you can only truly appreciate Homer/Aesop/Gilgamesh in the original Greek/Latin/Sumerian/Akkadian. Musicians are to musical material as English is to vocabulary. Also, backing up past the two-guitars-and-a-drum-kit era, it becomes less and less true. Back up into the jazz era, and the origin is written music. Go out into anything that requires session musicians, and there's likely to be written music too. I've been trying hard to avoid having to point this out, but Irving Berlin was hardly the only guy in the business who never really learned how to write the stuff down.

And while we're at it, when you say "the ur-text," what's it the text of?

And you can say "rhythm is the foundation of jazz", but it's also the foundation of 99.95% of all other western music since about 1500. You have to have a certain attitude about rhythm to make jazz sound right, but that's also true of earlier concert hall stuff too. There's a great deal of baroque music which won't sound right unless it struts like King George or Louis XIV; there's a rhythmic exaggeration which you just have to know, because it isn't written down.

Talk about jazz is deeply polluted with snobbery and reverse snobbery, because a lot of the major jazz guys never learned how to play "right". When Benny Goodman got tired of bebop and decided to seek out classical repertoire, he had to learn how to play the clarinet all over again. In the other direction, I saw Eubie Blake play when he got an honorary from UMCP in 1978 (at age 91). He did that thing which all piano teachers rail against from the first day of instruction: he played with his fingers straight as pencils. There are people who claim that the jazz which can be written down is not the true jazz, but considering how much sheet music those guys went through, I'm disinclined to agree.

Ethan, part of the issue here is that there are two reasons to be bored by music. One is because it is too complex to engage the hearer, but the other is because it is too simple to engage him long. I imagine most people here would view the parallel situation with regard to writing as laying something of a value judgement on the reader, which is partly what got me started. Now, I really can't stand much Brubeck, at least not to really pay attention to. I'm sure it's great fun to play, but for me the complexity of it tends to disintegrate into noise. Again for me, as opera goes I am one of those detestable Wagnerians; the Italian stuff isn't complex enough harmonically or structurally to engage me. On the other end of the scale, our Indian fellow ragging on Mozart may well be reacting to the whole "baby Mozart" phenomenon, but then again I am inclined to agree with him to a degree.

Anyway, my problem with the rap/hip-hop discussion here is the presumption that I don't "get" it because I don't understand it. The problem really is that I do get it, but it doesn't hold my attention.

re 340: To shift again: I didn't care that much for the Ray Charles version of "Eleanor Rigby", but I liked Stevie Wonder's cover of We Can Work It Out. But now I want an Aretha version of "Stairway to Heaven".

#353 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 09:01 AM:

Lady Madonna on the Ukelele There's bluegrass version out there too, but it doesn't manage to get free of the Brit rhythm. Also, it needs a banjo.

On the other hand, it funks up nicely.

#354 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 09:14 AM:

I don't know which is scarier: the fact that now I want the Aretha cover of "Lady Madonna" (M-A-D-O-NN-A!), or the fact that she did it.

#355 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 09:37 AM:

Most people here are probably familiar with Bobby Darin's Beyond the Sea, but I prefer Charles Trenet's original version, known as La Mer - which Kevin Kline can be heard singing over the ending credits of French Kiss, and a wonderful job Kevin did.

#356 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 10:05 AM:

A historical note: G&S had a very set way of working together (which I imagine got bent a bit on some of the patter songs, but hey...). Gilbert would write out the lyric, and Sullivan then worked out the rhythm first, without pitch. Once he had the pattern of the words set, he would then work out the melody within the confines of the rhythm he had already devised.

#357 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 11:48 AM:

C. Wingate #352: my problem with the rap/hip-hop discussion here is the presumption that I don't "get" it because I don't understand it. The problem really is that I do get it, but it doesn't hold my attention.

No. No, no no. I can't speak for anyone else, but I've been presuming that you don't "get" hip hop because the things you've said have indicated that you don't get it. Things like saying you wished rappers would learn to sing, or that the lyrics are poetry, not music, or that you could reduce a hip hop song to a single staff line with lyrics, or that a symphony orchestra is intrinsically a more expressive instrument than a recording studio, to name a few examples of statements that betray a complete lack of basic understanding of the genre.

I don't care if you don't get hip hop, and I certainly don't care if you don't want to listen to it.* Where I start to care is where you're manifestly either unwilling or unable to understand the genre and yet feel perfectly comfortable throwing out condescending criticisms of it anyway. I'm starting, based on your #334, to think that the condescension wasn't deliberate (force of habit? poor communication?), although your #299 in combination with your previous comments still says to me that you use music almost exclusively to give you something to condescend to others about.

I'm also confused by this: I imagine most people here would view the parallel situation with regard to writing as laying something of a value judgement on the reader, which is partly what got me started. What does that mean?

Anyway, I'm glad you started me off on this tear, because in the course of it I've figured out how to put some things into words that I hadn't before, and I've gotten some invaluable help in that from Joe J and Tim Walters and others along the way.

*Hell, like Tim Walters at #295, "I'm not so much for hip-hop as against judging it by irrelevant standards". There's a lot of hip hop I like, but it's far from my favorite genre, and it makes up far less than 1% of my record collection. Hip hop is the McGuffin here.

#358 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 01:28 PM:

ethan, #357: You've reminded me that there was an interesting discussion on Suzette Haden Elgin's LJ a while back, in which it was specifically pointed out that poetry is not dead -- it's very much alive in the rap and hip-hop genres. OTOH, the point upthread about those genres being treated as music rather than poetry is also valid. I think it's fair to say that rap and hip-hop are blurring the line between poetry and music, and partake of attributes of both.

#359 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 01:49 PM:

C. Wingate @ 352: It seems like you're making an argument against me, but I can't figure out how: I don't disagree with anything you say, nor do I see how it contradicts anything I've previously said.

Marilee @ 351: Can you give me an example of a dictum of music theory (as opposed to psychoacoustics) that is valid for all cultures?

#360 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 03:35 PM:

One of my favorite examples of how music theory fails to translate between cultures is syncopation. Syncopation is when a stress occurs "off the beat," that is, in a pattern position where a stress is not expected.

People are always saying certain West African drum rhythms are syncopated. They sound syncopated to a Western European Music Theory-trained ear, but they are not. No such expected pattern alternating stressed and unstressed notes exists in West African drum music. The rhythms are patterns, and they repeat, but the patterns can be anything that can be drummed by human hands (and some that I really don't think can, but my friends, humans all, drum them anyway).

For example, I learned a very intense rhythm once upon a time. In Babatunde Olatunji's notation (supplemented with caps to let you know where the stresses are) it goes "PAT Gun go-do Gun go-do Gun go-do Gun (rest) PAT Gun go-do Gun go-do Gun go-do Gun (rest) PAT" etc.

Now you could write that in Western music notation. You'd write 6/8 with an accented eighth-note* pickup at the beginning, eighth notes beamed in threes for the first measure and a half, an eighth note followed by an eight note rest followed by an accented note on the last eighth note of the bar, and just keep repeating like that. You could even use staff positions to indicate different hand positions on the drum.**

But the thing is, it would not be right. It would imply all sorts of things about the rhythm that aren't true. African drum rhythms can have two stresses in a row, and it doesn't have the pattern-breaking effect to an African ear, because the expectation of alternating stressed and unstressed beats (in pairs or triples) just doesn't exist.

And then of course the writing would not actually indicate what the hand positions were.

  • 'Pat' is Baba's name for an edge-slap on the drum, where the pad of the palm is brought down sharply on the (we hope rounded) edge of the drumhead, so that the fingers snap sharply against the skin, making a loud, almost metallic pop.
  • 'Gun' (pronounced goon) is a stroke on the center of the drum with a curved-back palm, immediately withdrawn (if the hand is cupped or held against the drum, those are each different sounds and different Baba syllables); this produces a resonant bass tone.
  • 'Go' and 'do' are both strokes of the last couple of joints of the fingers near, but not on, the edge of the drum; this stroke has both these names because such strokes are often played very fast, and you need to be able to say the rhythm fast (in Baba's instruction technique).

Even writing the repetition out wouldn't really capture the feel of the rhythm, which once it's established becomes a backdrop for soloing and conversations (between drums, not people).

In short, you could write it in a way that satisfied a Western ear, and reproduce it to Western ideas of what's important, but any West African drummer would know the difference at once.


*Quaver, to y'all across the wawdah.

** Though according to Baba there are 62 of them, so that wouldn't really suffice for the general case. But since this rhythm has only pat, gun, and go(do) you could write it.

#361 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 04:22 PM:

Misc. comments, musings and questions:

I don't know if it comes naturally to a California-born gal of my generation, but I've always loved Brubeck. So did my favorite psychedelic-era rock band Quicksilver Messenger Service, whose "(Acapulco) Gold & Silver" was inspired by the rhythms of his "Take Five" -- one of their two lead guitarists was a big jazz fan.

I've mentioned this in past threads, but Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" is almost all words and rhythms rather than melodies. Dylan and some of the other folkies without particularly melodic voices could spin out these verbal skeins very cleverly. However, I'm *still* clueless about rap, since the thumping bass and sexist lyrics of its popular image have put me off (but then, so did a lot of things about Seventies Rock, back in the day).

I do wonder what the old bards made of the "Odyssey" -- chanted to lyre accompaniment I suppose, but that could have been done in a lot of different ways. (Is someone still performing the Upanishads or such in an ancient manner, in India?)


#362 ::: Scott Spiegelberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 04:24 PM:

Tim @ #359: I'm not Marilee, but I am a professional music theorist. Jay Rahn, another theorist, famously tried to come up with a universal music theory* and ended up concluding that all music used pitch and rhythm. Before you start to point out all of the previous comments about unpitched percussion or rap, I assure you I read them. And I would point out in turn that an "unpitched" percussion instrument actually consists of a combination of inharmonic partials, thus a series of pitches that don't fit our concept of 12tet octave space, but nonetheless are pitch sets. Likewise spoken words have more pitches than sung words, because the speaker is not constraining him/herself to a diatonic, modal, or chromatic pitch space. These pitches can be notated with various ideosyncratic graph's, like Berio's Sequenza III or Cage's Aria, though very difficult to exactly reproduce. I agree with you about timbre being an important part of rap, though I also regard it as an important part of every other type of music. Thus I would add timbre to Jay Rahn's universals of music. Various musickers** may not be consciously controlling for pitch, or for rhythm, or for timbre, but those elements are still present.

However, universal music theory is rather boring, since there is so much more that can be described or interpreted when the specific culture and genre is considered. For rap and pop, besides the timbral sophistications already mentioned, there are also the microfluctuations in pitch and rhythm to be considered. Listen to a Frank Sinatra song, and try to sing along exactly with him. You will be close, but to sing in the exact same rhythm is quite a challenge. Notating it exactly is also a major challenge. Likewise consider the difference in beat placement between Little Richard's version of Tutti Frutti and Pat Boone's (ignoring the timbral differences).

Every type of music has its own complexities, and that is my joy in discovering those complexities.

*I disagree with Marilee that there is only one music theory. College music theory is only one type, usually fixated on harmonic theory of Western Common Practice music. Even expanding to the idea of notation, that is still dependent upon 12tet octave pitch space, which is not universal.

**To borrow Small's term for anyone who makes music by listening, performing, or composing.

#363 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 04:27 PM:

Faren @ 361... I do wonder what the old bards made of the "Odyssey" -- chanted to lyre accompaniment I suppose

Hopefully better than Nero.

#364 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 04:39 PM:

Scott, #362: Listen to a Frank Sinatra song, and try to sing along exactly with him. You will be close, but to sing in the exact same rhythm is quite a challenge. Notating it exactly is also a major challenge.

You've reminded me of something. A few years ago, I was asked to contribute a song to a filk book; since it used an original tune, this required writing it down. I very carefully recorded the notation of the first verse, then started to sing the second verse against it... and it was wrong! In fact, every single verse of that song was slightly different -- still the same notes in the same order, but the lengths and the rhythmic patterns varied, as did the points in the measures where I would move from one note to the next when singing the song. I was gobsmacked. And yet, to the ear when I'm singing it, all the verses use the same melody.

#365 ::: TB ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 05:01 PM:

I find this discussion mostly flabbergasting; but Tim Walters has said most of the real things I would have said, thanks Tim, so I can now discourse in re: noise. I am totally serious about everything I am about to say, but luckily my position is so extreme that nobody need pay attention. It is not unlike certain others' in that regard.

Noise is sound and only sound and only ears can hear it. Music, on the other hand, is heard by the brain as well. A melody, a rythm, etc, these can be recalled in their absence by the brain; but the brain cannot store or recall noise. We may recognize noise, but we cannot recall it. I agree with C Wingate @ 208: "noise is the most irreducible form."

I find the comment of Cat Meadors's friend paraphrased @ 250, "he can tell the difference between 'good' noise and 'just' noise", to be absurd: if it is not just noise, then it is not noise. If you add a beat to noise, it becomes merely noisy music, that is, music using "noisy sound" as one instrument. Similarly noise which repeats is not noise, as any repeated sound becomes a beat. I'm on the fence about whether environmental sounds count as noise, because they can be identified (though I certainly like them, sometimes); and pure drones I'm also sort of unsure about, although I think they are probably music and not noise. Most people who like noise will say there is such thing as "good" and "bad" noise, but both of them would be "just" noise.

I am going to be as ridiculously condescending as the archetypical classical music snob and say that most people who think they like noise actually like "noise rock" or another kind of noisy music, not noise properly so-called. The number of artists recording true noise is small and almost entirely Japanese. Merzbow, Masonna, and Hijokaidan are famous examples. "Modern" by Hijokaidan is my favorite CD. I listen to a lot of noise; but I like a lot of music too, especially sugary pop. I can't believe that someone would regret liking "Sugar Sugar" in their youth: that song is perfect.

#366 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 05:40 PM:

Scott Spiegelberg @ 362: Jay Rahn, another theorist, famously tried to come up with a universal music theory* and ended up concluding that all music used pitch and rhythm.

But all sound contains pitch and rhythm (and timbre), so this isn't really a music theory per se. (I'm happy with the idea that music is a mode of listening that can be applied to any sound, but a universal music theory would then have to explicate that mode of listening.)

#367 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 05:51 PM:

TB, I think when people say they listen to noise music, they know that they don't mean the literal, scientific definition of noise, although that definition does play into the music made by noise bands.

I agree that "Sugar Sugar" is perfect.

#368 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 05:56 PM:

TB @ 365: The number of artists recording true noise is small and almost entirely Japanese. Merzbow, Masonna, and Hijokaidan are famous examples.

There's a pretty strong scene here in California as well. Some of those artists are probably noise-rock, but many aren't.

#369 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 06:47 PM:

C.Wingate @354 - Various websites claim Aretha's Lady Madonna was used as a theme tune; in which case this gives a 1 minute exerpt of it.

#370 ::: Scott Spiegelberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 10:08 PM:

Tim Walters @366: Yes, music is more of a mode of listening than anything. One good article about that, David Lewin's "Music Theory, Phenomenology, Modes of Perception" in the journal Music Perception. And a recent book looks at modes of listening, Eric Clarke's Ways of Listening: an Ecological Approach to the Perception of Musical Meaning. That perhaps is a better approach to universality than musical features, but still will ultimately fail. There are African cultures that create what we would call music, but they do not regard as an aesthetic creation whatsoever.

#371 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 10:42 PM:

C. Wingate, #352, I get bored with almost everything audible unless I'm performing. And generally, they don't like you performing during the lecture.

Tim, #359, you've got the classes wrong. Music theory is like language classes. You learn French, Spanish, western music, cuban music, indian music, Italian, etc.

Xopher, #360, you are also trying to say that all music theory is western -- that it forces other cultures into the western staff. That's not true.

#372 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 11:23 PM:

No, I'm saying that Western music theory has no good way of dealing with African music.

#373 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2008, 11:49 PM:

Marilee @ 371... you are also trying to say that all music theory is western

Stand by your man
Give him two arms to cling to
And somethin' warm to come to
When nights are cold and lonely
Stand by your man
And show the world you love him
Keep givin' all the love you can
Stand by your ma

#374 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 12:16 AM:

Serge @ 373: Stand by your man who is your ma? Sounds like a David Byrne song to me. Or maybe late Heinlein.

#375 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 12:22 AM:

John A Arkansawyer @ 374... Or like the pretentious narration for the Spirit movie: "The City is his mother, the City is his lover" Ewww.

#376 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 01:23 AM:

TB @ 365: Okay, I'll confess. Sugar Sugar was a publicly presentable stand-in for the real earworm from my early teen years, another bubblegum ditty titled Chewy Chewy (no, I don't care to search for a Youtube link).

Much more recently I heard for the first time another sugary pop number which I think is actually a better song: Sugar Baby Love (link is NQSFW).

#377 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 01:51 AM:

Holy crap, Sugar Baby Love! I love that song!

#378 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 02:59 AM:

Tim, #359, you've got the classes wrong. Music theory is like language classes. You learn French, Spanish, western music, cuban music, indian music, Italian, etc.

Um... that sounds exactly like what I was saying. No universal language, no universal music theory.

Whereas you said "there is just one theory of music." How do you reconcile this with it being like language classes?

#379 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 09:24 AM:

Serge @ 373, "We've got BOTH kinds of music, country AND Western," right?

#380 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 09:26 AM:

Rikibeth @ 379... Rawhide!

#381 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 09:47 AM:

Allan, #376: "Chewy, Chewy" doesn't hold up quite as well as some of their other stuff. Did you know that they did a cover of "Achy Breaky Heart"? And it's better than the original... not that this is hard.

(BTW, the book arrived, but I haven't started reading it yet.)

#382 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 01:11 PM:

Bubblegum will never die, as long as I still have my Ohio Express 45 ("Simon Says" b/w "1-2-3 Red Light").

#383 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 06:38 PM:

re 362: I've used "unpitched" here in the conventional sense of not being locked into a harmonic structure. Relative pitch is of course important.

re 360: I sort of understand what you are saying here, but it sort of begs the question a bit. You can certainly understand syncopation within the context of a western piece which is otherwise "regular" having the sense of deviancy that you're trying to get at. OTOH in the example given one could notate it in 12 rather than six or three or four or two (or alternating seven and five-- we have a birhythmic piece we do at church which does something like that). One can do without bar lines or leave out the time signatures or a bunch of different techniques. We're talking about a case of imperfection here, not total failure. One might ask how much trouble these Africans have performing western pieces in a western style.

And the deeper problem is that these issues do come up in notating western music anyway. Trying to treat classical music as if it were a genre means you're talking about a "genre" that is on the same scope as ALL popular music ever recorded. Classical music is the English of "styles"; it ransacks everything that comes along for material. (Hymn writing is the same way, toned down by the need to produce stuff that ordinary people can actually perform.) At the same time, there's no avoiding the need to grasp the "feel" of the material in order to perform it well. The advantage of the core classical repertoire is that the people who have learned to play the instruments needed to perform it have been steeped in the style of it-- and for that matter, so have we been steeped. One of the issues I have in writing is that I've been exposed to so much rock that I have a tendency to make rhythms that are difficult to sing. I just slide into it, and it's only after the fact when I testing what I wrote that I discover the problem. If you look at the "West Side Story" suite, there's a lot of jazz notated there. It isn't going to sound "right" until the orchestra acquires the accent. But it is classical music.

Going way back: music theory in the large doesn't have dicta. When you are composing, you are advised to avoid certain things (e.g. the "no parallel fourths on the inner parts" rule). But they are never absolute rules; generally they are more in the form of "if you do this, you will get this effect, which you probably don't want." There are famous cases in the repertoire where the "rules" are deliberately flouted, as in the beginning of the "Danse Macabre", which begins with a passage of the "forbidden" tritone. But the reason the rule is there in the first place is that the tritone doesn't fit into the harmonic structure in any of the ways that any of the other intervals do, so its inclusion in normal part writing produces a disruption. But if that's what you want to happen, then you use the interval.

Part of what I sense here is that "western" or "classical" music is being defined here on the basis of the techniques it eschews. That's problematic to begin with because my original thesis was that the genres in question were eschewing a great deal more. But it also seems to me that you think that music in the concert hall is doing without more than is actually the case.

#384 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 07:27 PM:

C. Wingate @ 383: Trying to treat classical music as if it were a genre means you're talking about a "genre" that is on the same scope as ALL popular music ever recorded.

Only in the sense that the EPCOT center has the same scope as all world culture.

Classical music is the English of "styles"; it ransacks everything that comes along for material.

As do most styles*, rock, jazz and hip-hop most certainly included.

One of the issues I have in writing is that I've been exposed to so much rock that I have a tendency to make rhythms that are difficult to sing.

Difficult to sing, or difficult to read? If (as I'm guessing) the latter, the problem only arises because you desire a specific rhythm to be reproduced in detail, which a rock writer wouldn't.

If you look at the "West Side Story" suite, there's a lot of jazz notated there. It isn't going to sound "right" until the orchestra acquires the accent.

If the goal is jazz-inflected classical, then sure. If the goal is jazz, then it will never be "right" no matter what the orchestra does.

Going way back: music theory in the large doesn't have dicta.

You're right; that was a poor choice of words on my part.

Part of what I sense here is that "western" or "classical" music is being defined here on the basis of the techniques it eschews.

I don't know if I'd go that far, but its reliance on scores** certainly means that it eschews a great deal (as, of course, do genres that don't use scores), and this is certainly an important part of any definition of classical music.

*And, I believe, most languages, although I'm no expert.

**Yes, I know there are borderline cases that don't use scores, or use open or partially open scores. I'm talking about the center.

#385 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 08:14 PM:

Tim: Yes, all languages borrow words much as the French try to stop theirs from doing so. English borrows more aggressively, and more hungrily, than most.

#386 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 08:52 PM:

Chiming in on the 'Sugar, Sugar' strand, apart from the Pinky and The Brain 'Brainstem' song, still available on YouTube, my favourite science song is 'Glucose - Oh Sugar, Sugar', which can be experienced from here or here (Sing-A-long Cellular respiration, with a good blogroll); or direct MP3 link.

Alas, that's all the information I have for it. If anyone has the story behind it, or the author or singers, I'd be glad to know. Both of them are parodies, or filks (?) of popular tunes.

#387 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2008, 11:44 PM:

Tim Walters, #378, I used that phrasing to mimic ethan's. Note that the link under those words was to the Wikipedia's "Music Theory" article. Music theory covers many subsets, including ethan's hip hop.

#388 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 01:16 AM:

C. Wingate #383: Trying to treat classical music as if it were a genre means you're talking about a "genre" that is on the same scope as ALL popular music ever recorded.

While I think you're going a bit too far with this, this is basically what I've been saying to you all along, and was one of my original problems with your saying that classical music has more "musical substance" than hip-hop. Comparing the massively non-specific umbrella term "classical" to the specific genre hip-hop just plain didn't make sense, and still doesn't.

#389 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 01:25 AM:

Marilee #387: Whoa, it's not my hip-hop! If I own a genre, it's probably girl groups of the 60s.

#390 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 01:58 AM:

Wow, I wondered who owned that one! Can you get the Shirelles back together, please?

#391 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 05:20 AM:

#389 - Just as well. After typing "Ethan's Hip Hop" into Youtube, I've come to the conclusion that ethan's version of hiphop revolves around small children dancing on stage to rap I can't identify. (Sadly "Ethan's Girl Groups" gets nothing)

#392 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 05:25 AM:

#389 - Just as well. After typing "Ethan's Hip Hop" into Youtube, I've come to the conclusion that ethan's version of hiphop revolves around small children dancing on stage to rap I can't identify. (Sadly "Ethan's Girl Groups" gets nothing)

#393 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 10:28 AM:

I call dibs on obscure Baroque composers!

#394 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 01:47 PM:

Nancy C Mittens #393:

Sorry, unless you had them pre-1968, *and* you categorically hold that if the Musical Heritage Society recorded/licensed it, it's not obscure, then I have you beat. (That was the year my parents gave me an MHS subscription as a Christmas present. Definitely the gift that kept on costing.)

#395 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 06:57 PM:

Xopher #390: Sure, but they refuse to sing "Will You Love Me Tomorrow". They still do a kick-ass "What Does a Girl Do", though.

#396 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2008, 10:20 PM:

Squeedom! Went rummaging and found another of my favourite nerdsongs: Kate & Anna McGarrigle - NaCl (Sodium Chloride). Also a great combination of two good things. This hyeah Intartubez is great stuff.

#397 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2008, 10:07 PM:

Nancy C. Mittens, you can have all the obscure Baroque composers except Telemann, because his were the first flute sonatas I learned how to play!

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