One really nice thing about being in the woods all summer is catching up on a lot of wonderful internet reading. When you're part of the daily grind there's an awful lot to sift through, and it gets exhausting. When you have a few months of back information it's easier to skip some of the chaff and get at the good stuff.
First, this bit about humor in Beethoven from Jeremy Denk. Terrific writing that points up the gulf in listening abilities out there. Most untrained ears these days are not accustomed to listening for syntactical turns and twists of the sort they can comprehend in a paragraph of Bill Bryson (or Jeremy Denk). In fact, his point about Classical-era emotional mutability vs. Romantic-era emotional blockishness implicitly provides us a possible explanation. Because many of us listen to music with a paradigm still shaped by post-Romantic expectations, we listen for blocks--steady states of being, consistent tones. What kind of piece is this? Sad or happy? Passionate, heroic? It's a "beautiful" piece, usually, and we expect to feel the same way most of the way through. The "beautiful" stamp protects us from really understanding the syntax, the twists and turns, the subtlety, the irony, the humor.
On a totally different note there is also this article about postmodernism (apparently officially deceased) by Edward Docx, and I just think everyone curious about cultural history needs to read it. One of my final history credits in undergrad was an independent study on this exact subject, looking at various cultural products deemed "postmodern" and trying to figure out what they had in common. I didn't do very well, and a lot of people more widely read than I have called off the entire project of defining postmodernism. Docx is able to do it in a matter of paragraphs, and if his definition isn't 100% watertight, at least it's succinct, comprehensible, and consistent, which is more than I can say for any other attempt I've come across.
After reading Peter Gay's weighty (...flabby?) Modernism: The Lure of Heresy, I was ready to declare postmodernism just modernism, volume 2. It seemed to be many of the same things happening again. This is a common idea to encounter if you fall under the influence of aging academics who believe that all the interesting cultural developments of the twentieth century happened in the first half (I did hear a musicology prof say that exact thing to a class). Of course, this is all a matter of what you include and don't include under each heading, because in any sort of movement categorization you're going to get precursors, outliers, outsiders, iconoclasts, visionaries, reactionaries, thrilling people, boring people, and every other type of people adding their artistic or philosophical two cents into the mix.
This is perhaps why Docx is so successful, because he picks a fairly narrow range of dates (not his own, but borrowed from the postmodern art retrospective exhibition with which he kicks off the paper). He's also willing to select some important examples and dismiss much--the necessary historiographical sin, or perhaps the heart of the historiographical art. A favorite moment is when he spends a paragraph (one paragraph!) summarizing postmodernism's philosophical underpinnings... and then closes it like this:
"Sadly, 75 per cent of the rest of the stuff written about postmodernism is nonsensical, incoherent, self-contradicting or otherwise emblematic of the crap that has consumed the academic world of linguistics and 'continental' philosophy for too long."
I'm sure it's more complicated than he's making it seem, but it's still awfully thrilling to have an excellent writer explain you something complex in a satisfying way.
He even gives us a vision of what may be coming next. It's really nice and I'm not going to spoil it for you. Check out the article.
Then finally there is this NY Times piece about Pi Recordings, an avant-jazz label that is succeeding, somehow -- by putting out great music, having an identity, a lovely website, beautiful album packaging. You can't just chalk it up to marketing. I found them because they released Steve Coleman's amazing and mystifying Harvesting Semblances and Affinities last year, and everyone with an ear for interesting jazz-based music was flipping out over it. They're one of those few labels I make an effort to buy from directly, rather than saving a few bucks on Amazon, because I appreciate what they're doing and want to support them and their musicians.
The re-emergence of the record label as an organizing force among the chaff-heavy internet proliferance of musical content is a fascinating story, and only the beginning has been written.
10 Best of 2014
January: Wyoming and the Open
February: New Mexico and the Holes
Notes on The Accounts