Thursday, October 23, 2014


Reading this Alex Ross New Yorker piece which argues that the  (deserved) deification of  Beethoven has had a stifling effect on the art form LVB helped to invent, i.e. classical music...

... it struck me that The Beatles have a similarly problematic place in rock history as deities casting a daunting shadow.

The parallels recur throughout the piece 

[Beethoven] not only left his mark on all subsequent composers but also molded entire institutions....  After Beethoven, the concert hall came to be seen not as a venue for diverse, meandering entertainments but as an austere memorial to artistic majesty. Listening underwent a fundamental change. To follow Beethoven’s dense, driving narratives, one had to lean forward and pay close attention. The musicians’ platform became the stage of an invisible drama, the temple of a sonic revelation.”

substitute long-playing 33rpm record for "concert hall"
Above all, Beethoven shaped the identity of what came to be known as classical music. In the course of the nineteenth century, dead composers began to crowd out the living on concert programs, and a canon of masterpieces materialized, with Beethoven front and center. As the scholar William Weber has established, this fetishizing of the past can be tracked with mathematical precision, as a rising line on a graph: in Leipzig, the percentage of works by deceased composers went from eleven per cent in 1782 to seventy-six per cent in 1870."
More than anything, it was the mesmerizing intricacy of Beethoven’s constructions—his way of building large structures from the obsessive development of curt motifs—that made the repertory culture of classical music possible.... No composer labors so hard to stave off boredom, to occupy the mind of one who might be hearing or playing a particular piece for the tenth or the hundredth time.”
And so Beethoven assumed the problematic status of a secular god, his shadow falling on those who came after him, and even on those who came before him.” 
Another parallel is the way that The Beatles (and Dylan) (and the Stones) instigated, catalysed, but also necessitated, demanded a new kind of criticism -- rock criticism (before, there was no rock'n'roll criticism, as such - just music biz reporting, gossip, entertainment journalism profiles).  So Ross says of E.T.A. Hoffman’s early 19th Century hype 'n' hosannas re. Ludwig Van “this is criticism in a new key. Music is being accorded powers at once transcendent and transformative: it hovers far above the ordinary world, yet it also reaches down and alters the course of human events. “ 
He further notes how Beethoven’s music has subsequently come to soundtrack world-historical events, as if his compositions  bottled the lightning that is the world-will..... making it abstract but thus suitable for applying to later weighty occasions of grand drama upon the stage of history.
Yet the idolatry has had a stifling effect on subsequent generations of composers, who must compete on a playing field that was designed to prolong Beethoven’s glory. As a teen-ager, I contemplated becoming a composer; attending a concert at Symphony Hall, in Boston, I remember seeing, with wonder and dismay, the single name “BEETHOVEN”emblazoned on the proscenium arch. “Don’t bother,” it seemed to say.
"For this conundrum—an artist almost too great for the good of his art—Beethoven himself bears little responsibility. There is no sign that he intended to oppress his successors from the grave.”
In Ross's account there is an echo of the argument in Retromania that it is above all the decade of the Beatles - the Sixties - that in a twist of ghastly irony generates retro culture through its very "charisma" as an epoch, its hold on the imagination.  Neophilia begets necrophilia.

How did Beethoven become “BEETHOVEN”? What prompted the “great transformation of musical taste,” to take a phrase from William Weber—the shift on the concert stage from a living culture to a necrophiliac one? The simplest answer might be that Beethoven was so crushingly sublime that posterity capitulated.

Yet he argues that Beethoven was the creation of his time as much as a force shaping it. Just like those Beatles

The scholar Mark Evan Bonds, in his new book “Absolute Music,” describes the “growing conviction at the turn of the nineteenth century that music had the capacity to disclose the ‘wonders’ of the universe in ways that words could not, and that the greatest composers were in effect oracles, intermediaries between the divine and the human.

Even the self-deprecating comments Beethoven made about his own work find a parallel in Lennon (and also Harrison’s) frequent disparagement of many Beatles tracks, including the ones they wrote, as “rubbish”, “garbage”, “junk”.
A final parallel: Beatlesology is a book-trade industry, and likewise “the continuing strength of the cult is evident in the accumulation of Beethoven books”. Ross mentions recent efforts by  Jan Swafford, John Suchet, Matthew Guerrieri, Michael Broyles, and  Sanford Friedman -- which “join a library of thousands of volumes."
This tasty apercu from Mr Ross - 
 "The canon is a grand illusion generated by the erasure of a less desirable past"

 - emerges from the suggestion that we better understand Beethoven in the context of all the now forgotten music made by others at that time, as well as his own failures, botch jobs, hackwork.

So listen to Beatles, but also to Moody Blues, Hollies, Herman's Hermits, and The Temperance Seven 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

timewarp cults at the movies

Any cop then, Northern Soul?

In the trailer I sense some hints of bro-huggy, buzzed-up energy that feel suspiciously like a retro-fitting of the 70s with post-rave Brit mores (and perhaps also post-clubbing movies like Human Traffic).... I wonder if they have managed to catch the slowness and inertia of England in the early 70s.... or the strangely sour fanaticism that characterises all stages of the mod / soulboy continuum

The film involves a sort of doubling of nostalgia -- a 70s-recreation about a 70s scene that repeated / suspended-in-perpetuity the mid-60s

The trailer's sales pitch kicker is "if you weren't there, you'll wish you had been" - which effectively means "if you weren't there, you'll wish you had been - when you'd have been, er, wishing you were where / when you weren't"!

Just as retro depends on the existence at one point of the new, the non-retro, likewise nostalgia has to be for periods that were unmarked by nostalgia.... the definition of a golden age is that it's not harking back to a prior golden age, surely

Perhaps this explains why there haven't been hardly any films about timewarp cults and tribal revivals...  neither period drama flashbacks nor movies documenting or drama-tising the revival as it happens in real-time

These are the only really trad jazzy bits of It's Trad, Dad! (Dick Lester's first foray into popsploitation movies, I believe) I could find -- the other clips are from the non-trad bits like Chubby Checker added to the pic as it was being made and as they realised that the trad boom was going phut

This is about the original subcult but was instrumental in a revival of it, so....

Any movies about, or even involving Deadheads?

Here's a nearly 20 year old doc about the Decade-based tribe That Style Forgot

Not really on topic but here's a whole film about the London Rock 'n 'Roll Show, the rock'n'roll nostalgia extravaganza at Wembley  in 1972

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

this was tomorrow (slight return #2)

Cybernetic Serendipity Music ICA01 | ICA02
1968 ICA Nash House, The Mall, London SW1 
A1 Lajaren Hiller & Leonard Isaacson – Illiac Suite (Experiment 4). 1957, 4 minutes, Mono.
A2 John Cage – Cartridge Music (excerpt). 1960, 5 minutes, Stereo.
A3 Iannis Xenakis – Strategie (excerpt). 1962, 5 minutes, Stereo.
A4 Wilhelm Fucks – Experiment Quatro-Due. 1963, 5 minutes, Mono.
A5 J.K. Randall – Mudgett (excerpt). 1965, 7½ minutes, Stereo.
B1 Gerald Strang – Compusition 3. 1966, 2½ minutes, Mono.
B2 Haruki Tsuchiya – Bit Music (excerpt). 1967-1968, 2⅜ minutes, Stereo.
B3 T.H. O’Beirne – Enneadic Selections. 1968, 4¼ minutes, Mono.
B4 Peter Zinovieff – January Tensions. 1968, 10½ minutes, Stereo.
B5 Herbert Brün – Infraudibles. 1967, 8 ½ minutes, Stereo.

This record was made to celebrate and commemorate the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition held at the ICA, London, 1st August to 20th October 1968. 
During the preparation of the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition two things became apparent. 
One, that in order to show what was going on in the field computer music, it was necessary to include a considerable amount of material that was not strictly composed with or played by computer. Two, that dealing with an exploratory field, all attempts at a historical perspective or firm evaluation were out of place. The exhibition and this record, therefore, are essentially a reportage of current trends and developments in programmed and stochastic music. 
The first landmark in computer composition is Lejaren A. Hiller’s ‘Illiac Suite’, 1957. Many experiments have been carried out before, but these were either exploratory without yielding a tangible music, or were mostly concerned with the technical possibilities of imitating familiar sounds. 
Ideas which are relevant to composition with computers were frequently employed in the experimental musical composition of the past thirty years. The work of Joseph Schillinger, for instance, through its systematic analysis and programming, antedates the methods employed by computer composers today. The notion of randomness exemplified in the work of John Cage is also of crucial importance. Randomness (decision avoiding, or more concisely, leaving a decision to chance within an exactly specified range of possibilities) is one of the most important tools of the computer composer. 
Computer music falls into two categories: computer composition and computer sound. Specific works may employ one or both of these. ‘Illiac Suite’ is computer composed but performed by a string quartet. Pieces by James Tenney, Gerald Strang and Peter Zinovieff utilise the computer both as a tool to compose with and a sound-making instrument. The experimental pieces produced at Bell Telephone Laboratories make use of existing tunes like ‘A bicycle built for two’ but played and sung by a computer. 
As a souvenir of the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition this record is a selection of work in progress. 
The cover shows a section of a score for “Four Sacred April Rounds’ 1968 by Peter Zinovieff

[text purloined from Cybernetic Serendipity Archive where there are lots of groovy photos and a few more videos]

Record to be reissued on vinyl says FACT -- although I doubt very much it was the "first electronic music compilation" as asserted . 

Or even as an exhibition of  art meets science  what about  E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) aka 9 Evenings at the Armory in 1966?  Perhaps lacking the computer-music element but they had John Cage...