30 ago 2009

Suppose you set your ipod on shuffle for a five hour drive and listened to 60 songs, out of a total of 3,000 (2%). How many times would you have to repeat the operation to hear all 3,000? (If you began again with a random, non-repeating selection each time, and never skipped a song or changed the playlist.)

The first time you would hear 60 "new" songs, 100%.

The second drive, you would be working at 98% efficiency, and hear an average of 58.8 new songs.

The third time, you would have heard 118.8 songs already, so now you are working at 96.04% efficiency. You will hear 57.624 new songs out of the sixty you listen to. Now we've heard 176.242. And so on. You fourth trip you'll be at an efficiency of slightly over 94%, for example, you'll add 56 songs. It seems like you should be able to finish in no time. After all, if you set it in one continuous shufflle you could finish in 50 sessions of 60 songs each.

Suppose you keep doing this a while, and have heard half of your songs. By this time your efficiency will be 50% for your next trip. In other words, about half of the songs you will hear are ones you've heard before, and half will be new. Your efficiency = 100 minus your rate of completion, so if you've heard 90% your subsequent efficiency will be down to 10%.

If gets worse. Suppose there's only one song left you haven't heard. Your efficiency rate is now down to .03333%. That's the percentage of new material in your randomly chosen play list. You basically won't hear your last song until you take an average of 300 more trips. Of course, some songs you will have heard multiple times, but that last song will be elusive. Of course, there's nothing that makes that particular song more elusive than any other, because it wasn't the last song until it became the last song. It is as likely to show up as any other song given song on any given trip. it might seem perverse that you have to listen to that other damn song over and over again, but yet somehow cannot complete the set of 3,000 with the one remaining song.

That is because true randomness is no respecter of past events. It's not going to go out of its way to choose new or old songs, because the randomizer doesn't know what it played the last time. At the end of the process there are simply 2,999 "old songs" and 1 "new" one, and chances are many of those "oldies" have been played multiple times, since efficiency (defined as percentage of new material) has been getting lower for quite some time.

At least this is more or less what I worked out in my head as I drove five hours and heard 60 random songs on my ipod.

26 ago 2009

You can check out my blog for my course on poetry and performance, here. We were discussing today Barthes's essay "The Grain of the Voice," where he deploys the contrast between German Lied and French Mélodie, with their interpreters Fischer-Diskau and Panzera. I'm going to teach my colleague Jill who's co-teaching with me how to do links on a blog and embed videos and photos--the little that I know myself.

25 ago 2009

From the mid thirties, with the rise of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, to the death of Coltrane in 1967--a thirty year stretch more or less--is what I could call the golden age of the saxophone. Dominant swing era sax players, aside from Bean and Pres, include Ben Webster, Chu Berry, Johnny Hodges, and Benny Carter. Charlie Parker revolutionizes jazz and the 50s show a plethora of postbop players: Dexter Gordon, Cannonball, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Art Pepper, Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, Wayne Shorter. At the end of the period we have avant-garde players: the later Coltrane, Ornette, Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp--Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet should be be included since he also played sax.

This is only to mention really major, innovative and/or influential or popular figures. A complete account would include Hank Mobley, Harold Land, Al Cohn, Zoot Simms Sonny Stitt, and a host of "minor" figures. The tradition is incredibly deep, in the sense that if you made a list of the twenty "greatest" or your twenty favorites, the 21st would still be formidable, on the level of a Joe Henderson, say. Don Byas, anyone? Lucky Thompson? Illinois Jacquet? Flip Phillips? Houston Pearson?

The tradition doesn't end with the death of Coltrane. Lee Konitz and Sonny Rollins are still playing some good sax, and the Joshua Redman / Branford Marsalis / Joe Lovano generation cannot be discounted. It seems to me, though, that this 30 year stretch is the golden age. This just so happens to be the golden age of jazz itself. The fluency and power of the instrument is such that many of these figures are among the greatest improvisers ever: Bird, Getz, Rollins, Konitz. The only instruments that rivals the sax in this regard are the trumpet and the piano.

For a free year's subscription to Bemsha Swing give me the name of the most significant sax player I did not mention in this post.

17 ago 2009

There is an interesting slippage in Jakobson's theory. If we remember his terminology we have context (referential function), addressor (emotive), addressee (conative), contact (phatic; gotta love that word), code (metalingual), and message (poetic).

In other words, he identifies the message not with referential content but with the phonetic and prosodic characteristics of that particle piece of language used to communicate. So my post below is wrong: in a translation the message will be totally transformed. What will remain constant is the contextual or referential function of language.

So here are two problems: context does not (necessarily) equal "referential." There is the context of communication, say 19th century French realism with Balzac and his French readers of the time. And there is the referential aspect of this same communication: the imagined world of the comédie humaine.

Secondly, there are two meanings of message: the message as a particular piece of language, with its phonetics, its prosody, its morphology, etc... and the message as understood as semantic content extractable for the purposes of translation. RJ clearly means the first with "message" because he defines it as poetic and not, say, as the "ideological function" of language. I don't mean to over think this, but there is a sort of murkiness in definition. A need for a few new terms, maybe.
I'm excited about my courses. A graduate seminar on poetry and performance, and an advanced undergraduate course on translation. That, together with my jazz course in the spring and another undergraduate course, makes the year very welcoming for me.

The biggest obstacle for my undergraduate students in translating is going to be their knowledge of Spanish. The second biggest obstacle, their capacity for expression in English. The third, the linguistic interference caused by the process of translation itself. My biggest challenge is running the class bilingually, without teaching it completely in English.

Here are some lecture notes for the first day (Monday, Aug. 24):

[Taking Jakobson's six elements of communication)

El contexto es distinto: por ejemplo, otro país.

(Context, Jakobson's referential function, is different. The translation is read in another country.)

Hay dos destinadores: por ejemplo, autora original + traductora
(a menos que el autor se traduzca a sí mismo)

(There are two addressors by definition: the original author and the translator, except in the case of autotranslation.)

Los destinadores son distintos: hablantes del idioma original / hablantes del idioma de llegada.

(The addresses are different, defined as speakers of a different language. The audience for the translation never the same audience as that of original text.)

El mensaje, supuestamente, se mantiene.

(Yet the message is the same!)

(En el caso del contacto, no hay mucha relevancia.)
[The contact, J's "phatic" function, is not that relevant. A book is translated as another book.]

El código es distinto, por definición.
(The code is different: that's what defines translation as a translation? Then is an "intralingual" translation really a translation at all?)

La traducción, entonces, se puede definir como un acto de comunicación en que el mismo mensaje (un mensaje equivalente por lo menos) se transmite en otro contexto, en otro código, a otro grupo de destinatarios (mediante un método de contacto más o menos equivalente). Por lo tanto, juzgar una traducción no es solo ver si el mensaje es equivalente, sino evaluar su eficacia con referencia a los 6 elementos de la comunicación.

Translation is defined as an act of communication in which the same message (an equivalent one at least) is transmitted in another context, in another code, to another audience, using a more or less equivalent method of contact (though not always: subtitles in a film?). The result: judging a translation is not just looking to see whether the message is equivalent in two distinct codes, but of evaluating its efficacy in relation to all 6 elements of communication.
Here's a pretty good but not quite good enough explanation of the importance of Kind of Blue. There are a couple of inaccuracies.

The author, Fred Kaplan, states that a "scale" consists of the 12 notes in an octave. Well, that would be the chromatic scale--but most music is not based on the chromatic scale but on the seven notes of a major or minor scale. All the "modes" are selections of seven of these twelve notes.

But Kaplan never explains exactly what a "mode" is, so the concept of "modal improvisation" is going to remain vague for someone who doesn't already know this. His contrast between chord changes and modal improv does not really work, because he doesn't quite put his fiinger on the different feeling created by exploring one scale in open-ended fashion for many measures.

He doesn't mention Miles's previous recordings with the Coltrane, Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, Red Garland quintets. Kind of Blue didn't just appear "out of the blue." He doesn't explain what makes MIles Davis's playing so distinctive, or how the contrast between Miles and 'Trane / Cannon is so effective.

He writes as though modal jazz was the first significant development after bebop, ignoring Miles's own invention of "cool" jazz, the innovations of Mingus, Tristano... Hard bop... Even Ornette had already developed his distinctive approach by '59. Seen in its context, KOB is just one postbop innovation among many others. It is not at all true that after the death of Bird people were waiting around to see if there was going to be anything else happening. It already was a happening time for jazz. KOB is just one high note in an extraordinarily rich period stretching from the invention of bop (early 40s) to the death of Trane in 67.

I suppose it's good enough for a non-jazz audience, explaining the contributions of George Russell and Bill Evans. Maybe it will get the few people who don't already know this music to listen. I've seen Kaplan do a lot better, though.

11 ago 2009

I never had a good relationship to fusion when fusion was most popular--a period that coincided with my own teenage years. Now i can appreciate certain aspects of it more because I no longer feel resentful that it watered down jazz just at the moment when i was coming of age as a jazz fan. I remember going to a Hubert Laws concert in college and being very disappointed by the absence of improvisation and the willingness of the audience to applaud the merely familiar, the exact riffs off the records.

To understand fusion, I think we have to think of it as one of the four main movements in jazz between bop and the neo-classicism of Wynton Marsalis in the 1980s. Remember that Wynton began his career reacting against fusion (and free jazz to a lesser extent) and reviving hard bop.

Let's look at these four movements, more or less in chronological order:

Cool jazz:

Key figures: Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Lennie Tristano and his school, Bill Evans, Gerry Mulligan, saxophonists influenced by Lester Young.
Relation to popular music, culture / hybridity: This movement had its moments of greatest popularity in the success of Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, and Stan Getz. It represents the fusion of "white" and "black" forms of jazz in an experimental context. It can be seen as both cerebral or as quasi-popular.

Hard bop:

Key figures: Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Max Roach and Clifford Brown group, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley. Other Blue Note artists.
Relation to popular music and culture / hybridity: Fusion of jazz with gospel and R&B.

Free jazz:

Key figures: Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, etc...
Relation to popular music and culture / hybridity: intersection with Afro-centrism and the black arts movement; popularity of Coltrane. Ornette's use of electronic, fusion oriented bands. Beginnings of "world music."


Key Figures: Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea--many other alumni of Miles's bands... Chuck Mangione
Relation to popular music and culture / hybridity: the entire style was based on a fusion with certain elements of rock, especially in terms of rhythm and use of electronic instruments. Collaboration between black, Latino, and white musicians is the norm.

These brief description suggest several conclusions:

*** the interaction of jazz with popular music is a constant, present in all four movements. The bluesiness of hard bop should not be seen as alien to the funkiness of fusion. Think of Joe Zawinul's hit "Mercy, Mercy," which he wrote for Cannonball, and his later hit "Birdland," which he wrote for Weather Report.

*** Jazz is always a hybrid music, always responsive to other styles of music.

*** Miles Davis was heavily involved in just about everything during this period (1950s-70s), except for free jazz. Of course, there are freer influences in Miles's music too, especially in collaborations with Wayne Shorter. Many musicians of the period crossed boundaries among these four styles, though none as much as Miles. We've got to see them as overlapping both in time and in terms of the musicians involved.

*** The neoclassical revival of the 80s chose ONE out of four interesting developments of the preceding period to champion. Jazz-rock fusion and cool jazz were too "white," or too hybridized, for Wynton's taste. You get people like Crouch saying that Bill Evans couldn't swing or play the blues.

10 ago 2009

My first post is up at Arcade.

7 ago 2009

I ran into Kyle Waugh and Cyrus Console in Lawrence a few days ago. They were hard at work in a café downtown editing Ken Irby's complete poetry, which will be a magnificent volume when it appears later this year or early 2010.

6 ago 2009

The winner of the Lorca giveaway is...

Bob Basil


Tom Beckett

I have decided to give away two copies this month. After all, what better to spend my royalty check on than additional copies of the book? Basil is a friend of long standing (early 80s) with a strong web presence (basil.ca) and has already been generously promoting the book. Beckett is an esteemed poetic collaborator (see the poem "Hurricane Season" that the two of us wrote together) and has corrected his Spanish grammar. I couldn't really decide between these two fine individuals, especially since they both expressed interest in the last giveaway in July.

I may do the next giveaway in September, or just wait until October. Stay tuned. Pretty much, if you enter the contest you have a pretty good chance of getting the book.

Winners, please send me a current mailing address.

3 ago 2009

I think Skip Gates should just produce the "long form" of his Harvard i.d. and put this whole controversy to rest.

Time for me to give away another copy of Apo Lorca to any interested person in North America who gives me the best reason, in my own subjective but infallible judgment, why s/he should receive a copy of the book. Contest closes 11:59 p.m. central time on August 5. If you ask for someone else and not yourself, make sure that person actually wants the book and can send me a postal address soon after I announce the winner on August 6.

Use comment box to give me your reason.
I got my Sonny Rollins tickets today. I really want Julia to see Sonny play. It might be her last chance to see someone of that historic stature. I have seen him before, but I think he is still playing extremely well based some recent things I've seen / heard on his podcasts.
This goes beyond teh stupid. Lets look at these criteria for a moment.
To count as Art Music, a work must meet ALL* the following criteria:

It must be written for acoustic instruments and/or unamplified voices (Mechanical and electr(on)ic devices may be employed for textural effect, but not as the main 'instrument'. Technical amplification, for recording purposes or to enhance performances in arenas of poor acoustics, are not part of the composer's effects or intention, and are not counted.)

It must be the original work of a single author (Texts notwithstanding. If a composer dies before finishing a work, its completion by another composer, if based on detailed notes left by the dead composer, may be considered a kind of 'amalgam' art work.)

It must be preserved and transmitted as a score, written in orthodox musical notation, alterable only by the composer (If the composer dies before completion, elaboration of the score may be made by another composer, though only of the dead composer's notes. 'Orthodox' means readily intelligible to professional and proficient amateur musicians.)

It must acknowledge, build on or work from a musical heritage based on structure and tonality and its precursors

It must be conceived for performance according to the instructions and faithful to the intent of the composer (Performers should follow the score precisely, in as much detail as the composer provides; improvisations and ornamentations are permitted where the composer allows or expects, according to practice or tradition.)

It must be musically and intellectually complex, coherent and sophisticated (i.e. display and encode, in various permutations, articulation, originality, discursiveness, subtlety, intricacy, novelty, contrast, suspense, symbolism, logic, humour, passion etc through the use, in various combinations, of advanced harmony, modulation, variation, variance of musical phrase length and metre, periodicity, through-composition, counterpoint, polyphony etc.)

It will therefore:

Require a high level of musicianship (concentration, insight, accomplishment) on the part of performers, who must draw on musical education, personal experience and imagination, knowledge of a work's idiom, and the accumulated body of historical performance practices (even for a merely competent performance)

Require relatively high levels of concentration, understanding and competence from listeners for non-superficial appreciation and comprehension

Be susceptible to detailed musicological (formal) analysis

It must aspire (i.e. be the composer's intention) to provide the listener with emotional and intellectual enjoyment and satisfaction through musical complexity, sophistication and coherence (as above), and thereby communicate exceptional and/or transcendent reflections on the human condition

* For argument's sake, a work not satisfying one of these conditions may also be considered Art Music, especially if a majority of other works by the same composer do. This exception allows the inclusion particularly of pieces of music that would otherwise be excluded primarily on the basis of their shortness.

Let us utterly dismantle the reasoning here:

(1) What is there inherent to acoustic instruments that makes them more artistic? I might prefer that Bob Crenshaw play the acoustic bass when accompanying Sonny Rollins, but he plays an electric one. So what?

(2) Do the notes care how many people wrote them? In other words, what is there about the absence of collaboration that makes music more artistic? What if Mozart and Haydn had collaborated on a piece? Wouldn't you just have to judge the piece on its own merits?

(3) The third criterion has to do with notation. Suppose I go to a concert and enjoy the music. Later, I find out that the scores were not "orthodox." So I ought to revoke my view of the music as artistic? In principle, I can notate music after the fact, such as in a transcription of music not originally written out. The notational status of the music has no necessary bearing on how "artistic" it is.

(4) Most music has some "tonality" and "structure" and "precursors." This criterion is hopeslessly vague. I suppose it is designed to exclude certain kinds of atonality or music based on ambient soundscapes.

(5) Hopelessly vague again. Most music is "conceived for performance" according to certain "instructions" or at least expectations. If the performers don't carry out the intentions of the composer, it might be judged an inadequate performance.

(6) This criterion is a laundry list of things that artistic music might contain to make it complex, ambitious enough, etc... The list seems at once too narrow and too broad, since it is unclear whether these are just examples of things that make a piece of music "artistic" or requisite elements. The footnote basically destroys this criterion anyway, because a classical composer who writes a simpler piece still gets credit for it.

(7) Artistic music will be hard to play. This seems to confuse the intrinsic artistic quality of the music with issues of performance. It's hard to play guitar like Eric Clapton too, so any kind of music involving performance at all will satisfy this criterion, I think.

(8) Hard to listen to? Of course, my appreciation of Clapton's guitar might be every bit as superficial as my appreciation of Yo Yo Ma playing Bach. In either case, I could be a more competent listener and hence achieve a less superficial appreciation. I could have Stan Getz or Mozart on as background music, because either one sounds pleasant, or else devote my full attention to either one.

(9) Ready for the musicologist's scalpel? Isn't that putting the cart before the horse? If the musicologist doesn't have the tools to analyze it s/he should acquire them.

(10) I suppose the final question-begging escape clause in the footnote is designed to let in a shorter Schubert song, for example, with the excuse that Schubert wrote other, more complex and longer works with more modulations, more complex structures, etc... So the artistic value of that song would depend on the existence of other works outside of itself? These people don't know how to think.

The purpose of this list presumably is to separate traditional "classical" music in the European tradition from various kinds of pop, jazz, "postclassical" forms of minimalism and chance, electronic music, etc... not to mention entire traditions of music outside the Western world. The mixture of overly broad and overly specific criteria make such a list entirely incoherent. It is clear that it is not based on any underlying idea of "ART" at all, but on a series of characteristics and conventions that this particular variety of Western Art music already possesses. The reasoning is entirely circular, in other words.