Monday, April 27, 2009

My Obsolete Car

So I read the saddish news today that GM, in its desperate gambit to stay afloat, is cutting loose the anchor that Pontiac has become.

I guess that means I now drive an obsolete car.

So does my wife.

And, so do at least 4 other people in the immediate viewing vicinity of my house.

While I certainly can't make any claim to speak for the entire nation - or the world, for that matter! - I can say that GM really hit one outta the park with the 2002 Toyota teamup that created the Vibe. I bought one that year, and now 168k miles (and change) into it, I haven't once thought about trading it in. Now, some guy on NPR opines that Pontiac "isn't really an identifiable brand," and apparently hasn't been since the Bandit ushered a semitruck full of Coors across the Mississippi in a '78 Trans Am. Which, really? 'Cause all those Vibes in my neighborhood - and the dozens more that pass me on the way to & from work every day - really belie that.

*sigh* I dunno. If GM says they need to abandon the Pontiac brand, I'll have to admit they probably know more about it than I do. On the other hand, they've just assured themselves of at least one less car sold in the years to come, 'cause if I can't buy a '10 or an '11 Vibe…I'll either buy a Toyota Matrix or a Subaru Outback. Sorry, GM: you spoiled me on the "sporty" wagon, and now that's what I want. Your loss.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Artistic Legitimacy

I always have a good time teaching the advanced 20th-Century compositional techniques class at work. This year especially seems really deep and enriching: I have a fairly full class (at 7 students, it's about as full as it ever gets) who actively follow the theoretical/philosophical/metaphysical strands of conversation that we all weave together, offering up their own opinions and respectfully disagreeing with others as appropriate. Like I said: nice.

All of this brings me around to ideas about artistic (in this case, mostly musical, but fill in your own art as needed) legitimacy. In other words: why are some things considered "legitimate," but other things of a seemingly equal nature (or talent level) are not?

I think some of it has to do with fame, and an "arrival" at legitimacy within your field. John Cage was known to use indeterminacy in his compositional process, and one of the ways he achieved this was by taking different formulations from the I-Ching and setting them to music. On its own, this is not a deep process. I see Miss Tessmacher doing the I-Ching on a regular basis, and it amounts to throwing 3 coins 8 times and recording the heads/tails outcomes; then, the outcomes correspond to "lines" that make up a "pattern," and you go into the book and read about your life via the "pattern" at the moment. It's kind of like a middle ground between existentialist philosophy and basing your life around your horoscope. Anyway. Not complicated. Now, Cage front-loaded his compositional process before setting about the piece proper, and there is certainly talent and craft involved in making those decisions; but, the process itself is as random as it sounds…which was his point. But, all the theory texts use this example as a "Gee, whiz!" moment, when in fact it's more like a "Well, duh!" process. Like, I could assign various musical attributes to Kiss lyrics and then, say, choose the first word of every Kiss song, and write my piece like that. Y'know what? It'd be a piece of shit, and no one would pay any attention. Why? 'Cause I haven't reached a Cage-ian level of musical legitimacy (roughly equavalent to "fame"). I'm nobody, so who cares? Cage is a famous composer, and so what he does matters, it has weight and gravitas and is, above all, inherently artistic.

Or, maybe not.

Getting beyond the creation of work to the philosophizing of work: we watched a PBS special on Philip Glass a couple of weeks ago, and it was extremely well done. Glass was portrayed by insiders and outsiders alike as kind of goofy, without a huge personal ego or any indefensible personality traits, other than a (not-uncommon) propensity for women half his age. What managed to irk me was that Glass' comments about music seemed so…so pithy and wise and considered and meaningful. And then I thought: "Who gives a shit what Phil Glass thinks?" Or rather, "Why should what Phil Glass thinks mean any more than what Phil Lewis thinks, or Phil O. Dendron?" In other words: Glass thinks what he thinks, but because of fame and/or notoriety, we make documentaries about him, in which his opinions come dangerously close to being regurgitated as facts. Gene Simmons says it pretty clearly when he refuses to answer reporters' questions about politics: to paraphrase, "Who cares what I think? I'm just a pop star!" Right. Exactly.

Milton Babbitt cared deeply about what people thought…maybe more so about how they thought. Especially about modern music. In a misrepresented article that's seen by many as arrogant and stand-offish, Babbitt once claimed that he didn't want folks coming to his concerts if they didn't know beans about the music in the first place. He likens the layperson's attitude of boredom and resentment of hyper-modern music to dense mathematics. To wit: no one would sit through an hour-long presentation on super-string theory and quantum mechanics without first understanding something about the math behind it all. To say "Shit, that was the most boring speech I've ever heard in my life! It didn't resonate with me at all!" would be ridiculous, because you didn't even understand the basic materials of the speech in the first place. Babbitt felt the same way about music; his approach is backed up by avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor, who felt that audiences had to "prepare" for his concerts the same way HE prepared for them. Brandon Marsalis called that attitude "self-indulgent bullshit," claiming that a person doesn't have to field 100 grounders in order to enjoy a baseball game. Maybe not…but I haven't fielded a grounder since I'm 10. Maybe if I did field 100 grounders, I'd have a greater appreciation for the skill of the player on the field…

Sometimes the legitimacy of an artistic undertaking isn't even readily apparent, or doesn't seem to "fit" the medium at all. Yoko Ono was a frequent host of quasi-musical "events" in the '70s, "concerts" that played up the weirdness of extreme experimental composers like Takehisa Kosugi. One unperformed work by Kosugi, titled Music for a Revolution, is a text score, which reads: "Scoop out one of your eyes five years from now, and do the same to the other eye five years after that." Aside from a nearly-imperceptible wet squelching sound…how is this music? Or, maybe the point isn't that it's music in and of itself; maybe the point is a philosophical undertaking, meant to have the audience THINK about what is and what is not music. Thus, legitimacy is tied (apparently) not only to fame and notoriety, but to time as well. I could write a text-score like this every day and no one cares, not only because I'm not a famously weird eccentric experimentalist, but also because, ho-hum, been there, done that. The notoriety of Ono allowed her to host and participate in these events, and the drug-addled experimentation of the '60s and '70s made it groovy, man, like, far out.

There was a Python sketch once that ended with "the Pope" claiming "I may not know art…but I know what I like!" The legitimacy of Everyman to claim the equal authority of his opinions is seeminly woven into the fabric of our society. Sometimes, it seems like the less-informed the opinion, the greater the strength to which it is clung. "You can have my opinion when you pry it from my cold, dead hands."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Random Bursts

In true "brain fart" fashion, here are some things to consider…

1) A news headline: "Somali pirates vow to hunt down, kill Americans." Um…when did the law-breaker gain the right of victimhood?!? After the U.S. Navy shot & killed three pirates last week, these douchebags went absolutely ballistic, claiming in today's article "We will seek out the Americans and if we capture them we will slaughter them…we will target their ships because we know their flags." I dunno, I just don't understand that degree of moral outrage and desire for revenge when, goddammit, you're the fuckin' "bad guys" in the first place! Sort of like a schoolyard bully vowing revenge because he gets his ass kicked; gee, YOU started it, now YOU can't have it dished back to you? Nice. Fucking. Double. Standard. What I did like was Ron Paul's proposed answer to the pirate problem: bounty hunters. Seriously, it turns out that a Constitutional right exists for Congress to issue "letters of marque," essentially hiring private citizens to act as bounty hunters. I absolutely LOVE this idea! Let some sea-legged Rambo get out there off of east Africa and do some huntin'! It's not as if the U.S. gov't doesn't already use bounty hunters: there's still a $25m bounty for bin Laden, so moral/ethical conservatives can't get TOO much in an uproar. This is, like, the George Carlin solution, and I think it's great. Maybe I voted for the wrong guy, after all…

2) Another headline (this is why I must be stopped from reading the news): "Anti-Obama 'tea party' protests mark US tax day." So, these freedom movement nutjobs are planning country-wide protests to rail against…I'm sorry, what? Taxation? Oh, brother…seriously? Okay, so, the best thing I can ask you is this: if you abolish taxes, who's going to pay for all our shit?!? I know y'all think that "big government" is a problem, but you're not really thinking clearly about what "government" gives you that you just frickin' take for granted. If you want a "freedom movement" that gets rid of taxes, then I'll "freely" watch your house burn to the damn ground because there's no fire department anymore. I'll likewise watch some heathen-murdering-rapist-dickwad savage your teenage daughter, because you "freely" did away with a police force. Don't be dipshits. Taxes pay for ALL of us to enjoy lots of stuff that we'd be pretty fucked without. Should there be a rearranging of the tax code? Most assuredly. "Freedom movement?" Well, you're free to go fuck yourself!

3) As an aside to that: of course, in a police-free state, everyone would be a gun-totin' hero and would save his own daugher from said heathen-murdering-rapist-dickwad. But…howcum I never read a story about "Local hero shoots, kills armed assailants in coffee shop"? That's really the arguement that pro-gun folks use, right? "I want the opportunity to protect myself." Or some such thing. But I never read that story! No, I just read about a guy who comes into an office building with a Glock-9 and 30 fuckin' clips of ammo, ready to shoot 13 times in a row, as fast as he can pull the damn trigger. THAT'S what I read about. No. Outlaw the fuckin' pistols, and if you want "protection," buy a shotgun. Just…point in the general direction and shoot, you'll hit SOMETHIN', and when it's empty it's a damn good club.

4) One…more…headline: "NYC's next archbishop will challenge gay marriage." *sigh* This battle is over, folks. Face it, and move on. It's really all about the legal fees now, that's all you're in it for is the money. There's now legal gay marriage in 4 states, 4 states that didn't immediately fall off of Earth into the pits of hell, 4 states that the sun rose on the next morning…in other words, it DON'T FUCKIN' MATTER. Gays aren't out to "get you," they're not trying to "turn people gay," and they certainly are no threat to your own marriage. The new archbishop will also "…try to persuade alienated Catholics to return to the church." Sure, just as soon as you allow contraceptives and homosexuality, you'll probably see folks FLOCKING back to Catholicism. Until then…don't hold your breath. It's like this t-shirt I saw advertised:

As if, if JC were here now, he'd be a Republican. Oh, ayuh!

5) Lastly, a little eye candy from Easter: this is us taking a walk in the uncommonly good weather. Rozzle has opted for walking most everywhere now, including the 2/3-mile trip to & from the river by Tess' folks. She loves to throw stones & pinecones into the water. I love how she's tromping along in her dress, looking up at me with all the love & admiration that folks tell me will completely disappear by the time she's 12. So, I'd better soak it up now. Mmmmm…

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Checking In

Strangeite confirmed what I'd already suspected: it's been long and long since I posted. Fear not, Faithful Readers (all both of you). I'm here, and I'm actually doin' fine. Spring is being a bitchy tease (we got pasted with a snowstorm Sunday night, bleah), but everyone is healthy. The adults in the house are working like big. dogs. and that's why I've been absent. I've actually been composing like a fiend, nearly completing a choir piece in the month since spring break. I used portions of Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet for the text, and I plan on shipping it out to a contest by the end of the month. The Illustrious Dr. Miss Tessmacher has been all over the place with her three jobs (four, if you count the symphony gig), so I've been pulling double- and triple-duty with parenting. So, we're all good, and we're all here. More meaty posts once I wrap up that choir piece.


Hello? Is anyone home?