30 October 2011

More on Shostakovich’s Privacy: Saying-without-being-said-to-have-said, Finding-without-being-found-to-have-found

Search Engine Proxy

Roderigo: Tush, never tell me! I take it much unkindly that thou, Iago, who hast my purse as if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.
Iago: ’Sblood, but you'll not hear me! If ever I did dream of such a matter, abhor me!”
  —  Shakespeare, Othello, I.1.1-5.
T he previous blogpost was mostly about hyperlinks as illocutionary acts, and the ways in which Shostakovich may have covered his tracks and obfuscated (some of) his meanings.

S everal readers emailed me to express surprise that several courts have ruled in the way that they have. The emailers were basically saying that the theory of knowing, responsible ‘linguistic agency’ under the law is, in their view, not only about the acts of speaking/writing but also about acts of listening/reading and could equally well be about the act of searching for content to hear or read.

I n other words, the audience members who are listening to a musical work, or searching for music to listen to—or the readers reading a blog, or entering search terms searching for content that they then click on and proceed to read—should bear [do bear] ethical and legal responsibility for their listening and searching and reading.

I n that connection, I observe an upsurge in attention to privacy, on the part of many users of search engines recently. I routinely monitor the traffic on this site, mostly with an eye to making the blog responsive to the issues and interests and concerns of the readers who spend time reading what I put up here.

I t was only three months ago CMT blog received its first hits that originated with Ixquick, DuckDuckGo, Scroogle, and StartPage. Today, visitors from around the world arrive at CMT about 5% of the time from searches initiated at one or another of those anonymized search-proxy sites.

I xquick is my favorite among these search engine anonymizer/search-proxy sites. It has earned the EuroPriSe "European Privacy Seal" for privacy and data-handling practices, is certified by CertifiedSecure and is registered with the Dutch Data Protection Authority.

T hese search engine anonymizers/search-proxies do not interfere with most SEO or site editorial practices that matter to me as a blog author—things that relate to the “what” of site content. The search engine anonymizers/search-proxies only obfuscate the “where” and the “who,” protecting the searchers’ privacy.

M y own use of anonymous search proxy sites arises less out of a concern for my own privacy than out of my need to monitor CMT pagerank in an objective way that is not biased/confounded by my own music-related online searching activity. If you are a professional musician or a faculty member of a conservatory, that objective-monitoring motivation may be true for you as well.

B ut if enhancing your online privacy is important to you and if you haven’t considered using an anonymous search proxy site until now, please give one or more of these sites a try. Resist being described [by the search-engine residue of your searches], like Käthe Kollwitz and her drawings and sculptures resist being described... as mere residue of so many [brush/pencil/pastel/chisel/key] strokes.

H ere are a couple of links for you who are, like the readers who sent me emails, astounded by the recent Canadian and Spanish court decisions...

27 October 2011

Midori: Close Readings of the Third Kind; ‘Deep Linking’ in Shostakovich’s Op. 134


Y   ou just have to ‘see’ more music in this music.”
  —  Valery Gergiev, regarding Shostakovich’s musical/spatial imagery, quoted by Fanning, p. 77.
T here is a sense of space and gravity... of invisible forces and large-scale coherence in the moves by Midori (五嶋 みどり, Gotō Midori), especially in her performance of the Shostakovich, Op. 134, with pianist Özgür Aydin. It is as though each phrase is a consequence of something more remote than what the immediately preceding bars contained. Her recital tonight was like an expedition...
  • Mozart - Sonata in E-flat Major K.380
  • Shostakovich - Sonata Op. 134
  • Schumann - Sonata in A minor, Op. 105
  • Schubert - Fantasy in C Major, D.934
T he Andante first movement of the Shostakovich with its twelve-tone parts embodies a kind of spacy ‘otherness’—an alien mysteriousness in this otherwise predominantly tonal movement. The violin’s expression of Shostakovich’s musical signature: D—eS—C—H (the music notes D—E-flat—C—B)... feels more like a “quotation” in this context—feels more like a citation of a statement made at another time by someone else, than a statement in its own right.

W hy does this sonata’s first movement evoke Bach for me? And what about the idiomatic ‘jazz’ figures in the piano part, about 2 minutes into the second movement (Allegretto) and about 8 minutes into the third movement (Largo)?

T he phrases are played as if they are in “double quotes”—reporting where they’ve been and what they’ve seen. They have an arresting effect. Are they accurate? Are they really meant by Shostakovich to reference artifacts of our own culture or are they instead a kind of caricature or impostor? Shrewdly constructed by an alien intelligence from outer space and sent to us for some alien purpose? Or is it devised by an empathetic terrestrial intelligence?

T he Allegretto scherzo in E-flat major is impulsive, vehement. The Largo is infused with drama, but it too is mysterious—ambiguous in its direction and tonality and genre... A Bach-like passacaglia that has now returned from outer space, changed by contact with unknown extraterrestrials? (Maybe I should not have had the absinthe before the concert...)

K ristian Hibberd’s 2005 dissertation was the first application of the ideas of philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin to understanding Shostakovich’s music—theories of ‘carnival’ and ‘registers,’ voiced in discourse. Since then, others have likewise found Bakhtin’s concepts helpful (see the Chapters in Part II of Pauline Fairclough’s multi-author edited volume, plus Chapter 6 and the Epilogue in Judith Kuhn’s book, links below). They examine Shostakovich’s musical language, exploring controversies pertaining to the composer’s labile and contradictory meanings.

T hese authors give an account of the diverse interpretations by partisans in the musicological “Shostakovich Wars,” reporting that the Wars have demolished the notion of one, fixed meaning in Shostakovich’s music. Political? Hard to tell for sure whether Shostakovich was a loyal communist or a dissident! Expressions of post-modern subjectivity, filled with various voices, inscribing each other, filled with uncertainty? Hard to tell whose narratives these are!

T o me, Shostakovich’s design in Op. 134 seems prophetic of our current hyperlinked, cross-referential age. In each movement I wonder: Is Shostakovich expounding, or quoting, or inline linking (referring to the expressions of others)? Did the Soviet authorities hold him liable for his musical deep linking? for carnivalizing or caricaturizing or referencing Soviet and Western culture? Do Midori and Aydin?

A nd, 40-plus years after it was composed, how should we feel about these deep-link references? Its gestures are “late-20th Century” through and through, and I wonder how it will be received in 50 years or 100. But I am after this performance impressed by it also as a composition about composing—a ‘meta’ commentary about reporting and referencing and linking. It is that aspect of this music that interests me most. And I wonder whether it is that aspect that will contribute most to this sonata’s continuing attractiveness and relevance in the distant future.

T    he ‘inner’ sounsdcapes of writing and reading bear resonance of [and refer to, or link to—] ‘outer’ soundscapes... the world is always full of sounds... they enter and depart in processions as events pass us or as we pass them. This is why the music of the streets has no beginning or end but is all middle.”
  —  Marianne Ping Huang, ‘Gestures of the Unheard,’ in The Novelness of Bakhtin, p.168.


23 October 2011

James Mobberley: Electroacoustic Excitation, Anodized/Bionic/Fleshly Hybrids

Carter Enyeart

M   y friend and colleague, Carter Enyeart, provided not only the idea behind the piece and its reason for being, but also the recorded sound material for the fixed media... [live cello plus recorded, digitally-processed] sculpted sounds from that same instrument.”
  —  James Mobberley, program notes.
T he Charlotte Street Foundation’s annual Generative Performing Artist Awards Celebration at the H&R Block ‘City Stage Theater’ in Kansas City’s Union Station last night was really excellent. I especially enjoyed the part of the program honoring UMKC Conservatory composition faculty member James Mobberley, featuring two of his compositions.
  • Mobberley – Alter Ego (2006) for cello and fixed media, Carter Enyeart (vc)
  • Mobberley – Icarus Wept (1994-97) for trumptet and fixed media, Keith Benjamin (trpt)
C onsummately beautiful DAW editing and engineering of the fixed media sound! The ‘immersive’ intensity was boosted by having the live performer positioned in between two powered monitors, less than 1 meter away. (Ordinarily, in electroacoustic performances the fixed media speakers are deployed around the periphery of the performance space, and the musician operating the mixing surface is typically located in the center or at the rear of the hall, the net effect of which is a sense of remoteness or detachedness of the fixed media from the live performers. By contrast, the close-range speaker config last night was ‘in-your-face’ proximity, tantamount to making the monitors into ensemble players sitting right the heck next to the human soloist.)

I f you are familiar with Benjamin’s and/or Enyeart’s playing, you know that neither of them ever lacks for intensity or conviction, even under ‘normal’ conditions. But these specific Mobberley pieces, plus the point-blank immersive set-up, plus the exuberant, celebratory buzz infusing the audience members and performers and Charlotte Street leadership in attendance—put the passion over the top... these factors all combined to make the sound totally cook, man!

Keith Benjamin
H ave a listen to some previously-recorded sessions on the SoundCloud link below.

P .S.— Keith Benjamin uses a Bach 1-1/4 ‘B’ mouthpiece with a #24 backbore.

W   as funded by the NEA, a U.S. federal agency; therefore, the original concept [for ‘Icarus Wept’], involving full frontal nudity, had to be abandoned... impromptu recording session and ‘brain-fry’ in which we came up not only with trumpet sounds of all kinds but also with the formula for a ‘partially androgynacious anodized serial copolymer,’ patent-pending... [digitized sounds including] Keith’s trumpet stand, swirling coins, laughter, and various expletives [see the Caleb Kelly MIT book, link below]... Icarus’s flight toward the sun and sudden realization of his [fatal] mistake... Three movement titles (Getting Waxed; Climbing the Blue Staircase; 11 Feet from the Sun) reflect themes of Icarus. However, the other two (Somebody Else’s Face; Strap on Your Lobster) have nothing to do with Icarus at all, or with weeping either, pretty much.”
  —  James Mobberley, program notes.

22 October 2011

Tokyo Quartet: Meta-Messengers, Physics of Flow in (Musical) Porous Media

Tokyo Quartet

M   usic has values which are above the ‘ordinary’ realm—unchangeable and not subject to mortal instabilities. They are not ‘human-made’ as such, but are domiciled in more esoteric realms of our musical nature. We must turn to the immaterial, spiritual aspects of music in order to find them... The veiled secrets of Art dwell in a region of visionary irrationality... the composer [and, for that matter, the performers-] can never enter this region but can only be elected as its messenger(s).”
  —  Paul Hindemith, A Composer’s World: Horizons and Limitations, pp. 2, 221.
J uxtaposing the ‘familiar’ with the ‘unfamiliar’ is tremendously helpful as a ‘programming pattern’, and this program performed by Tokyo Quartet in the Friends of Chamber Music series was a case in point. Juxtapositions like this reveal new facets of the familiar works and provide context for apprehending the facets of the unfamiliar ones. Juxtapositions produce dynamic contrasts that boost our minds’ “signal-to-noise” ratio, and we are able grasp ideas and feelings that we otherwise might totally miss.
  • Haydn – Quartet in G Major, Op. 77, No. 1
  • Hindemith – Quartet in C Major, Op. 22, No. 4 (formerly No. 3)
  • Schumann – Quartet in A Major, Op. 41, No. 3
I ’d never heard the Hindemith before. The whole program was a treat, but the Hindemith was especially cool. The Tokyos’ lyricism is a fine match for this Hinde-mythic cosmic, rapt vision. The slow Sehr Langsam and Ruhige Viertel movements have a persistent impulse keeping them going… an impulsion that is (‘stets fließend’!) almost feminine in its other-regarding flow.

T he fast passages of the Schnell Achtell, Massig schnelle Viertel, and Rondo movements are robust and motoric, as they should be. Seasoned and mature, without any compulsion to use any work as a technical warhorse. (The whole piece is extremely challenging; the viola and cello parts of Op. 22 present monumental, virtuosic demands, say, but the Tokyo Quartet’s playing never feels self-referential. It is about going to the ‘heart’ of the music... communicating its true message(s)... which is precisely as things should be!) Phenomenal to hear the deep, ‘heart-felt-but-deliberated’ results of musicians’ living for 40+ years with all of these pieces!

I listen... listen to Op. 22 and try to place it, understand it, fit it with other things I think I understand... Yet, it defies fitting. This can’t be ‘counterpoint’—Can it?—if the parts/voices are not dependably running ‘counter’. It is like Hindemith had invented a kind of parallelization/fluidization not unlike what happens in cloud computing these days—with multiple, parallel Hadoop 'map-reduce' jobs.

M utants of a theme ‘melt’ and percolate as subordinate voices, which in turn are witnessed by the other voices, moving in different pores or channels. The ‘stets fließend’ mutants accompany the theme itself, and we get a complex texture or ‘network’ of intertwining thematic lines.

T he network of relations among the various motives in this Hindemith quartet make me look at Fiore’s and Satyendra’s 2005 article (link below). The more direct the relations, the more intuitive they are, and the more of our attention they command. The more direct, intuitive ones then seem to “take precedence” over the more indirect or prosaic ones. Their flow seems to accelerate; each seems to streamline in its channel or crevice as they pass other slower-moving expressions that other members of the quartet are playing at that moment. In that regard, Dembske’s 1995 article mentions Rahn’s work exploring musical “hydraulics” and ‘paths of least resistance’… After the Tokyo Quartet performance, I guess I need to look at Rahn now, too…

A stretch with recurrent, penetrating C-sharps played by the viola (‘mit dämpfer’) in the Ruhige Viertel movement of Op. 22: acknowledging no relationship to the other ‘parts’/‘molecules’/‘reducers’ they have just passed or displaced in the flow… Fragments rejoining each other after each has percolated through different crevices and tubules and pores before converging again… And at passages with fermatas and subsequent resumptions of flow, the dynamics of the musical parts “feel like” moving-boundary integro-differential equations—equations characterizing the flow of a mixture of long-chain macromolecules, a suspension of ‘beads’ undergoing melting as it flows: phase-change equations (Stefan Problem) for flow through a 3-D (or even higher-dimensional) porous-media network. To me, it feels like there is even ‘porosity’ and inter-movement ‘trans-phase mass transport’ between the first and second movements, and between the fourth and fifth. Control-volumes of stets fließend musical ‘beads’ percolate between these movements. It is hard to imagine Hindemith writing such elegant complexity as this at the tender age of 26 years...

P hysics and computational methods for modeling flows in porous media would, I believe, be highly relevant and productive, for better understanding this wonderful music—this graphic Hindemith Vision—quantitatively (please see links below). It remains only for some enterprising young, conservatory-based music theory student to do it! Some of the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software packages that would be relevant to such a project are in the links below. Also several links for CFD papers that have been delivered at IRCAM conferences in recent years, for your interest. [It’s regrettable that the science and finite-element and Galerkin and other applied mathematics to do this were only developed after Hindemith’s lifetime, because I am confident that he would have enjoyed what they may reveal about the sonic imagery he created—this string quartet and other of his works.]

A ll in all, a tremendously exciting performance, vivid, thrilling!
Bruhn book