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The election in Britain and why it's relevant for musicians

If you haven't been following the British election, you should be.  It has a become a fascinating and unexpected event where, it appears, social changes long brewing and often talked about are finally becoming manifest.

Paul Mason's analysis on his BBC blog hits the nail on the head, and points up why as I musician I've taken keen interest in this election:

Those who wonder whether the social media will "affect the outcome" of the election are asking the wrong question. It is affecting the outcome of everything, from having an idea, buying a pair of jeans or going on a date.

He uses a tech distinction as metaphor to explain why the political and financial powers-that-be in England (as in the U.S.) are utterly baffled by giant social changes they somehow never saw coming:

The more I think about this, the more I come to this conclusion. It's people with Blackberrys who don't get it.  They've had privileged access to high-speed transglobal comms for the best part of a decade but they have never downloaded an app....People with iPhones get it; young people looking at very limited job prospects get it.

This, to me, is of a piece with the American RIAA and MPAA nearly destroying their own industries and massively alienating people due to their inability to fundamentally comprehend why and how the world is changing around them. (All those mega-aggressive file-sharing lawsuits from the RIAA?  Trying to put the genie back in the bottle.)

As a musician, the relevance for me is in paying attention to and understanding these social changes.  For instance: people, not corporations or other institutions, now have substantial control over content creation and distribution.  Think about that for a minute, just that one observation.  The implications could not be more fundamental, and represent a vast difference from the cultural world we left behind in the 20th century. 

To give another nod to Jack Delaney, from Dustin's post below: "The presenters have a responsibility to meet people where they are.  And where they are is...looking for a relevant experience.  They're not looking for the same kind of concert experience that their parents and grandparents went to."  Nor are they looking for the same kinds of leaders, the same kinds of solutions to problems, and etc. etc.  My sense is that, as a musician, one can either acknowledge, be aware of, learn about, and engage with these changes (which I find to be great fun, incidentally), or not--but neither response will alter the reality of them.

Just ask the Tories and Labour in Britain, who suddenly face the reality of having to split the pie more than two ways.

LA Phil announces new season, continues to be awesome

The Los Angeles Philharmonic just announced their 2010-2011 season, and it demonstrates again why we think the LA Phil is one of the most vibrant arts organizations around.  They deftly honor the old while championing the new, with a very wide embrace. 

Not convinced to go look?  What if I told you that their slate of commissions and premieres includes: Adès, Turnage, Lindberg, Marsalis, Salonen, Barry, Golijov, Mackey, Gubaidulina, Lieberson and Górecki?  Most major orchestras may have one or two commissions or premieres per season--the LA Phil has 19 premieres (including 12 commissions and 9 world premieres) planned for 2010-2011.

Just the ways that they present the season speaks volumes: a print brochure with PDF version on the website of course, but also informal videos of Gustavo Dudamel and Deborah Borda (President & CEO) talking about the upcoming season, as well separate videos of John Adams (Creative Chair), Herbie Hancock (Creative Chair for Jazz), and Thomas Adès (Aspects of Adès Festival Director) all talking about their contributions to the season.  Check it out here.

(I didn't think I'd find myself saying this, but I hope to be in LA more often in the future.  I want to hear some of these concerts!)

Preview: the 21st Century Symphony

Jonathan Newman wrote a really beautiful symphony recently, and I currently have the privilege of rehearsing it for performances on this coming Thursday (2/4/10), as part of my lecture-recital at ASU.  We will be taping and recording over the next week to create material around this fantastic piece to post online.  Keep your eyes on the site over the next month as we'll be adding a couple of new podcasts (including an interview with Jonathan, who is here for the performances), a recording of the symphony, video of a performance, and other stuff intended to illuminate this big, bold new work as well as open up the process of premiering something like this.

(His new symphony is something else, I'm telling you--keep watching this space for our take on the 21st Century Symphony!)


The everlasting blockbuster: why Michael Bay would beat Beethoven in a cage match

An excellent recent essay from The Economist, "A World of Hits," explores how the ever-increasing world of choice brought by the internet has given blockbuster hits, those cultural juggernauts so many discerning audience members loathe, more cultural and financial dominance, not less:

In “Formal Theories of Mass Behaviour”, William McPhee noted that a disproportionate share of the audience for a hit was made up of people who consumed few products of that type. (Many other studies have since reached the same conclusion.) A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year was disproportionately likely to have read “The Lost Symbol”, by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it.

This explains why bestselling books, or blockbuster films, occasionally seem to grow not just more quickly than products which are merely very popular, but also in a wholly different way. As a media product moves from the pool of frequent consumers into the ocean of occasional consumers, the prevailing attitude to it—what Hollywood folk call word of mouth—can become less critical. The hit is carried along by a wave of ill-informed goodwill.

This is a problem.  As the essay further explains, it used to be that companies could make money on more obscure cultural offerings because there were fewer choices and something a little more narrow in appeal and/or risky in subject matter would be guaranteed at least a fair-sized--and therefore profitable--audience.  Not so much anymore.  It raises a specific possibility of how all of the creative freedom brought by the internet could be substantially harmful to creative work of substance.  It's excellent food for thought, read it here.

Loving audio: the Third Coast International Audio Festival

The Third Coast International Audio Festival (TCIAF) is an annual and 0n-going celebration of the best documentary and feature work produced worldwide for radio and the internet.  From the site:

TCIAF was created by Chicago Public Radio in 2000 to support producers and other artists creating audio documentary and feature work of all styles and to bring this fresh and vital work to audiences throughout the world.

There are some really, really fantastic audio programs here, lots to listen to--I recommend starting with their most recent broadcasts or their audio library.  Enjoy.

Arts training improves attention and cognition: new empirical evidence

A very readable summary of some very interesting new research:

If there were a surefire way to improve your brain, would you try it? Judging by the abundance of products, programs and pills that claim to offer “cognitive enhancement,” many people are lining up for just such quick brain fixes. Recent research offers a possibility with much better, science-based support: that focused training in any of the arts—such as music, dance or theater—strengthens the brain’s attention system, which in turn can improve cognition more generally.

Michael Posner and Brenda Patoine, authors of the study, are finding clear causal links between arts training and increased cognitive ability!

Jonah Lehrer (my absolute favorite science journalist, and one of my favorite writers about anything, really) comments and elaborates on the importance of arts education:

That's why the research cited above is so important: it helps us appreciate the "soft" skills that we tend to neglect.

But I think that even this clinical evaluation of arts education misses an important benefit: self-expression. I shudder to think that second graders, at least in most schools, are never taught the value of putting their mind on the page. They are drilled in spelling, phonetics and arithmetic (the NCLB school day must be so tedious), and yet nobody ever shows them how to take their thoughts and feelings and translate them into a paragraph or a painting. We assume that creativity will take care of itself, that the imagination doesn't need to be nurtured. But that's false. Creativity, like every cognitive skill, takes practice; expressing oneself well is never easy.

Challenging a ubiquitous framing: The Merchants of Cool

Though it's not a new documentary, The Merchants of Cool is now available in its entirety, FREE, online from PBS.  Resonating well beyond the initial Frontline reportage, PBS has built a terrific site around the ideas and issues presented in the doc--from PBS:

They spend their days sifting through reams of market research data. They conduct endless surveys and focus groups. They comb the streets, the schools, and the malls, hot on the trail of the "next big thing" that will snare the attention of their prey--a market segment worth an estimated $150 billion a year.

They are the merchants of cool: creators and sellers of popular culture who have made teenagers the hottest consumer demographic in America. But are they simply reflecting teen desires or have they begun to manufacture those desires in a bid to secure this lucrative market? And have they gone too far in their attempts to reach the hearts--and wallets--of America's youth?

Continue reading "Challenging a ubiquitous framing: The Merchants of Cool" »

For Halloween: War of the Worlds by actors from Star Trek


From LA Theatre Works:  Based on a book by H. G. Wells, the fantastic, infamous radio thriller The War of the Worlds, originally performed by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater of the Air, is here performed by former cast members of Star Trek.  Bonus, Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.

I'm about halfway through the Wells, and it's wonderful fun, perfect for a Halloween afternoon.  (If you click the "Add to iTunes" link on the right side of the show page, it will subscribe you to the podcast and download this episode, if you want to save it for later.)

Extra bonus from the always outstanding Radiolab, their comprehensive look at the panic caused by the original Mercury Theater of the Air broadcast and an examination of the psychology around mass panic.  Really, really interesting, and free to listen or download:

An examination of the power of mass media to create panic. In Radio Lab's very first live hour, we take a deep dive into one of the most controversial moments in broadcasting history - Orson Welles' 1938 radio play about Martians invading New Jersey. And we ask: Why did it fool people then? And why has it continued to fool people since? From Santiago, Chile to Buffalo, New York to a particularly disastrous evening in Quito, Ecuador.

RadiOM's endless archive of wonderful stuff

For decades, Other Minds has been one of California's great new music organizations, and their archives at RadiOM provide huge, delightful amounts of listening from all of their concerts, interviews, etc. over the years.  From their description:

Here you will find recordings of OM's past music festivals and concert productions, selected recordings of new music sent to us by composers from around the world, and selections from 4000 hours of audiotape recordings from the KPFA Radio Music Department collection transferred to Other Minds in 2000. The KFPA tapes contain live conversations, interviews, and performances with many of the innovative musicians who created 20th Century new music. Check our site weekly for new additions. At least five new programs are made available each month.

You can listen to concerts, interviews, explore their other finds, or listen to lectures.  Have fun!

joe's last (re)mix: free score & parts + an awesome remix/composition contest!

The Loose Filter Project's newest endeavor is up, please check it out: joe's last (re)mix.  Featuring the groundbreaking work for band, joe's last mix by Tanner Menard, you can download a FREE score (and parts!), recordings, participate in a remix composition contest, and find out more about this terrific piece.  Details on the contest here, and the main page is here.

The Oral History of American Music

From Yale University, the Oral History of American Music Project is an amazing resource of primary and secondary source recordings of and about American musicians:

Would you like to hear Aaron Copland describe how "Appalachian Spring" was named? or John Cage on mushrooms and musical form? or Lou Harrison on the influence of Balinese Gamelan on American music? or--almost any significant composer of the last 100 years on a multitude of subjects?--then OHAM is the place to be! About 1800 audio and video recordings make up this unique and valuable collection at Yale University.


Oral History of American Music (OHAM) is the only ongoing project in the field of music dedicated to the collection and preservation of oral and video memoirs in the voices of the creative musicians of our century. It is a special kind of history, one that captures sights and sounds and recreates the spontaneity of a moment in time. The sound of a voice is an immediate link to the past--gestures, speech patterns, laughter--these are vivid reminders of the unique qualities of a personality, and they reflect the atmosphere of his or her time and place in history.

You have to go to Yale to have access to everything, but you can get audio excerpts and a few excellent podcasts here.  I recommend starting with this podcast about Charles Ives, featuring clips of interviews with friends, family, and colleagues.  It's an excellent listen (several more podcasts available for download here).

Recordings from a hundred years ago

From the Department of Special Collections at the University of California, Santa Barbara: the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project.  From the site:

Cylinder recordings, the first commercially produced sound recordings, are a snapshot of musical and popular culture in the decades around the turn of the 20th century. They have long held the fascination of collectors and have presented challenges for playback and preservation by archives and collectors alike.

With funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the UCSB Libraries have created a digital collection of nearly 8,000 cylinder recordings held by the Department of Special Collections. In an effort to bring these recordings to a wider audience, they can be freely downloaded or streamed online.

A few samples: From 1908, The Indestructible Band; from 1918, the Frisco Jazz Band; some fiddle music; some hymns; or some orchestra.

Chicago Symphony actually looking forward

Looks like Muti and management in Chicago are getting things moving in a very interesting direction:

Mason Bates and Anna Clyne have been named co-composers-in-residence of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Beginning in September 2010 and continuing for two seasons, their activities will include curating the CSO's contemporary music series, MusicNOW, and acting as advocates within the Chicago community to further the understanding and appreciation of all music.

You can hear Clyne's music here, and Bates' music here

Excellent choices, both.  I'd also like to point out that the Loose Filter Project had the good sense to collaborate with Mason in 2007, you can hear our interview with him here.  (Be on the lookout for a podcast about his piece for pipe organ and laptop, Digital Loom, soon.)

Tip jar music: make more money by letting customers name their price?

2D BOY, makers of the excellent game World of Goo, decided--after seeing ridiculously high rates of piracy of their game--to let customers decide how much they would pay for it instead of fixing a price.  One week later they had made $100,000--a year after the game's release. 

Even more interesting, they published the results of this experiment on their blog, with a complete summary of the data hereThis follows on the heels of Radiohead's wildly successful similar experiment in 2007 with their album In Rainbows, a practice informally known as tip jar music.

The success of these experiments bodes well for a future where artists can share their work freely and still make a living at it. 


American music is different

From 1997, a terrific interview with the brilliant Richard Crawford, musicologist extraordinaire.  Though the questions are often loaded with the kind of bias we deplore here at LF, it's always enlightening to hear Crawford discuss his ideas about music in the United States.

I am particularly enamored of his conceptualization of American music-making as happening in three spheres:  the classical, which seeks transcendence; the popular, which seeks accessibility in the present day; and the traditional (or folk), which seeks continuity, a maintenance of tradition.  And of course, the undeniable conclusion: "For me, it's been the popular sphere and its need to appeal to a present-day audience that has defined the center of American musical life." 

Regardless of whether that thought comforts or terrifies you, he is among our most cogent and lucid scholars of American music.  His significant work is America's Musical Life: A History, of course highly recommended.

What the flow of time implies about the universe

A short, clear conversation with Caltech physicist Sean M. Carroll, about what he thinks the forward flow of time implies about the nature of the universe.  A sample:

Our experience of time depends upon the growth of entropy. You can't imagine a person looking around and saying, "Time is flowing in the wrong direction," because your sense of time is due to entropy increasing. . . . This feeling that we're moving through time has to do with the fact that as we live, we feed on entropy. . . . Time exists without entropy, but entropy is what gives time its special character.

(Of course, I keep posting these interesting science tidbits because I've found that being a musician makes me curious about the world and everything in it.  I hope you enjoy them.)

Frank Zappa, pitchman

"In 1967 I hired Frank Zappa for $2,000 to do the soundtrack for this animated TV commercial that I was animating and producing. It won a Clio award for 'best use of sound.' It was the beginning of a two year relationship that had me filming 14 hours of footage to be used for a film he called "Uncle Meat".