Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Blogger's Conceit

Sorry I haven't posted in a while.

There comes a time in every amateur blogging composer's budding blogging career when they pause to reflect on the meaning of blogging. Because really, that's what it's all about.

Such important blog-centric self-reflection inevitably starts with an existential blogging crisis. This crisis is brought about by the realization that the blogger hasn't posted in a long time. This necessitates an important and heartfelt apology to the blogger's readers for their worrisome absence, with perhaps a simultaneous and ironic nod to the fact that such readers may not actually exist, let alone have noticed that the blogger had been neglecting their blogging duties.

The blogosphere can be a vast and empty sphere indeed for the lonely blogger who hasn't posted in a while.

The Blogoverse

Most blogging composers (and artists and creative types of all stripes) start out on their blog gangbusters, thinking "what a great way to generate an exciting buzz about myself. I'm so witty and charming." They are often so excited about the amazing and seemingly unlimited quantities of free publicity an amateur blog instantly bestows upon the blogger that they might initially post as much as once or twice a week. They daydream about all the additional revenue that will be generated from the advertising on their site. All their financial woes will finally be solved. And as I'm sure all their readers- who must certainly exist- agree, their cat can strike some pretty hilariously cute poses.

Eventually though it becomes painfully evident that generating interesting blog posts in a professional manner is actually a lot of work. Posts become more and more infrequent, as life and maybe the occasional actual creative activity distract the blogger. Eventually, the trickle of posts fizzles to vast nothingness, and an abandoned blog is left floating in the blogoverse, like a tiny seed of truth that never grew into a full-born tree.

Alone, lost in the digital backwaters of dreams unrealized, in search of meaning, the amateur blogger airs their crisis of being in public- which is to say, with possibly no one.

Step one: apologies.

Of course I'm not the first meta-blogger cultural critic to observe this fact. I started thinking about this thanks to the post-art conceptual artist (and music major!) Cory Arcangel, who has a re-posting blog where he re-blogs posts from around the web which are apologizing for not posting in a while. It's super meta.

However I intend to out conceptualize him. I conceive of my whole composition career as a conceptual art project, my blog about blogging included as a subset of that project. It's kind of a meta-tragi-comedy.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Micro-blog post (it's about conductors)

It was time for a blog post. I thought this would tie in with some of my previous irreverent comments on conductors.

Of course I'm really good at ignoring conductors, especially while I'm counting rests.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Everybody cover Radiohead. Go!

Maybe you are a hip young classical music group feeling down in the dumps about your number of YouTube hits. Or maybe you're feeling insecure about your street cred since that skinny-jeans and elvis-costello-glasses wearing singer/songwriter keeps stealing your lunch money. Well, did you know there's a sure-fire way to prop up your sense of cultural relevance? Believe it or not, it's actually the same secret method the singer/songwriter has been using for years: cover a Radiohead song. Everybody's doing it. Certain musicians have based entire careers on it. Some are semi-famous for it: Christopher O'Riley, Brad Mehldau. The Signal Ensemble in New York put Johnny Greenwood on a concert with Ligeti and Philip Glass. It's a cross-genre prescription. Here's the alternative-bluegrass group Punch Brothers:

Now just because everybody's doing it doesn't mean all these musicians, toiling away in the more technically virtuosic yet obscure musical genres, have an inferiority complex over Radiohead's insane worldwide popularity or something. Actually, yes it does mean that. But to be fair, it's only a small part of the story. Because also they want to get a lot of YouTube hits. And not be so down in the dumps about their street cred. And I'm pretty sure that many of these artists genuinely love Radiohead, which I suppose you could make the argument is a legitimate reason to cover Radiohead. But also, covering Radiohead has just become a thing that you do. Like Giant Steps, or law degrees. You gotta prove your chops.

One advantage that groups that involve singing have when covering Radiohead is that they involve singing. This is because often the vocal line and lyrics provide a great deal of interest in a good pop song. Here is the all-female Belgian choir Scala, which rocketed to stardom after their Radiohead cover was used in The Social Network Trailer. It turns out they do a little more than cover Radiohead. They also cover Nirvana.

Many listeners consider covering Radiohead to be the greatest thing ever. This is because many people love Radiohead so much, and because most people like to listen to music that they already know. Hence the popularity of Momma Mia! So when some strange combination of absurd instruments cover Radiohead, they experience the exciting arousal of recognition. They feel included. This is very important, and something that aspiring hip young classical groups ignore at their own peril.

As you get ready to cover Radiohead, take note that the most successful Radiohead covers are covers of Radiohead that you don't need to recognize as a Radiohead cover to enjoy. It is possible to create a Radiohead cover that is successful in its own right, as a stand alone musical experience. Try to bring something of your own to the table. This is the gold standard of the truly great Radiohead cover. It's got to be about more than just getting YouTube hits and street cred, though if in the process you gain some then good for you! You also included people.

Just remember, when you cover Radiohead, you are also in a way competing with Radiohead. You're also helping to increase their performance royalty checks. You are offering up your own creation to be judged alongside all the covers of Radiohead that ever were and that ever will be. It's enough to make you feel kind of down in the dumps. After all, the originals are pretty good.

If, by some chance, you find that covering Radiohead doesn't work, and that singer/songwriter is still giving you a hard time, one other thing that you can try is to wear an ironical t-shirt.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Golijov's Azul

If you're anything like me, first of all, good. But secondly, you've been waiting patiently for a chance to hear Osvaldo Golijov's cello concerto Azul again, ever since you first heard it at the Aspen Music Festival a couple years ago.

Why would you want to hear this piece? Well, first of all, at Aspen the general consensus among the other composers was of vague disgust. One of your composer colleagues called it a "travesty"- and that's a quote. You never got a clear explanation of why exactly. You should just understand. Yet one of your percussionist colleagues called it "the greatest modern piece I've ever heard."

Any composer that can cause other composers such queezy, stomach-churning disgust must be doing something worth blogging about. So imagine my surprise when everyday I wake up to discover that there is still no commercial recording of the work available. EVERY. DAY. We're talking about a popular new work by one of the country's biggest living composers. Written for Yo-yo Ma, for God sakes. I mean, is there anything that guy doesn't record? Yes. Golijov's Azul. It's enough to make you wonder if the recording industry is in some kind of sea-change or something. Mostly though, I just wanted to hear it again to see if I could work out what all the fuss was about.

Well I'm reporting, for those who may care, because you should, that you CAN hear it for yourself, right now, on something called the "internet." No, not thanks to some kind of cutting-edge indie-classical underground release, but instead from the good folks at American Public Media and SymphonyCast. Thanks Brian Newhouse! And thanks to me for doing the research. You're great, me. In fact, I'm providing the link right here. The Golijov begins at 10:45.

Anyway, I don't have any great answers to how this music is downfall of serious artistic accomplishment in Western music, but I suspect one of the problems the haters have is that they are just not very comfortable with the idea of blissing out to serious music. To them, seriousness is to be taken in its purest form, as a sort of cold gritty porridge, which is to be contemplated, studied, and slowly digested through a well adapted series of four bovine stomachs. Seriousness precludes bliss, by definition. Well, not to get bogged down in these archaic aesthetic debates, but many rigorously acceptable composers from the pantheon have had their share of blissed-out extravagances- Debussy, Mahler, Messiaen, Beethoven, and I'm pretty sure Wagner based his whole career on the concept. Haters gonna hate, I guess. But if you're like me, your new main concern is that this recording kind of sounds like it was compressed through a toilet-paper roll for radio broadcast, and you would like a serious recording to play through your prized Hifi stereo system.

So write to the music industry and demand a formal release. Tell them I sent you. And while you're at it, maybe you should suggest they reexamine their business model or something, I'm worried about them.

Friday, June 3, 2011


As you are no doubt by now aware, Glockenspiel is pretty much the hippest, sexiest modern instrument. And I'm not just saying this because I own a Glockenspiel (and ladies, it's a really nice one). I'm saying this because one of the duties of this blog is to make sure that my loyal followers are kept abreast of the latest trends in musical hip-dom. On an unrelated note, did you know that I'm kind of a Glockenspiel virtuoso? I'm just saying.

But some some people still doubt the sublime sexiness of this truly remarkable and versatile instrument, so again I am obliged to share just a few of its pervasive appearances in popular hip-dom.

We begin with Oh Land, which apparently is this young Scandinavian phenom's name. Or maybe it's her magical country. Here she is performing in a super hip Brooklyn record store:

Notice how ironically cool her "band" bobs their heads in time to her music. That's to demonstrate their hippness. And that maybe they are in love with her.

If slightly dangerous blonde Norwegian bombshells aren't your thing, maybe you prefer grungy lumberjack math-rockers.

Need I point out what the two have in common?

As if somehow trying to take shameless commercial advantage of the grass-roots Glockenspiel phenomenon, viral-web-video-marketing-firm-turned-indie-rock-band Ok GO has this snazzy music video, seamlessly bringing together two of the hottest and hippest things in American pop culture: Glockenspiel and Marching Bands. It's almost as if they're trying to sell something.

On an unrelated note, this might be a good time to mention that I liked the Glockenspiel before it was cool.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Everything is AWESOME!1!!!

I've been exploring some new bad-ass composition career opportunities, and I had no idea the world was so freakin' awesome. Like seriously, the world ROCKS. One awesome INSTENSE job would be to compose music for the National Geographic Channel, or as they awesomely call themselves, "NatGeo."

The thing that's really awesome about composin' music for NatGeo is that it's your job to make sure that everything is portrayed as absolutely awesomely action packed and bad-ass as possible. Boring you say? Get the freak outta here! This is the WORLD we're talkin' about. It's freakin' INTENSE. Say you have a show about long-shore men in Los Angeles. Boring, everyday stuff you say? What do you know about long-shoring, you jerk, it's crazy INTENSE! Just check out the crazy awesome action-movie soundtrack a la The Rock NatGeo lays down. (If somehow you are so intense that you get bored, at least be sure to watch the last 30 seconds!!)

And just imagine- try not to freak out now- this is just an average freakin' day at America's Port!!! I'm freakin' out! I want to freakin' tear out my hair and do a back flip in my bedroom, then kick-ass like a ninja 'cause I am a ninja. Traffic streams across the bridge!!! A crane boom is down! A rogue sailor eludes the Coast Guard (America's Guard). A movie preview announcer narrates, and a Xenakis style string glissando raises the stakes. It's so intense!!!!

For all you that thought fishin' was boring, I suggest you check out the Animal Planet show RIVER MONSTERS. That's right. It's freakin' amazing. I can barely watch the show it's so nuts. A mild-mannered British guy (maybe Australian, who the hell knows) FISHES for FISH but they're really MONSTERS. He doesn't know WHAT he's getting his-self into. There's so much WAITING. But there's also so much DRUMMING. It's INTENSE to the MAX.

And did you know about falcon photography? Check out this website. It's freakin' all over falcons. But who wrote this music? Was this a commission? I had no idea falcons were so freakin' awesome and majestic. And evil. And tragic.

If you find your life is a little boring 'cause you don't have no bad-ass musical soundtrack, I suggest you play this crazy bad-ass track I found on youTube the next time you are cooking or doin' somethin' else stupid that jerks do. You'll be cooking, but you'll feel like a fuckin' pirate.

You can find all kinds of intense-awesome-crazy-kick-ass-back-flippin' music on youTube when you do searches for things like "intense music" or "dramatic music." Everythin' freakin' ROCKS!1!!!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How to learn the violin

I should take this moment to point you towards an irreverently-toned (if that's the best way to put it) blog about music wherein the authors are actually updating it with some regularity. Enter vaughnvsviolin, a blog chronicling one man's no-holds-barred octagon-style battle against the violin, which he is learning to play as an adult student. But not just learning to play- his self-imposed challenge is to learn the Paganini 24th Caprice in a year. I have some comments on this. Did you notice that I made an an ultimate fighting championship reference though? That's awesome.

Now, I'm not sure if this is possible. My hunch is it depends on just how you define "play." But if the name of the game is speed and you focus on one piece, it does raise some interesting questions. Like, for instance, should he bother to learn to read music? He addresses this question in a recent post. Well, Pavarotti couldn't read music either. And once he does this for a year and achieves his goal, are he and violin through forever? Can he just walk away? If the main point of learning the violin is to write a blog about it, it changes some things. This is interesting.

Oh did I mention that he's married to a world-class violinist? This is great material here, folks. Somebody should write a book about it.

Sometimes it seems these days that the best way to get a nonfiction book deal is to propose trying to do something absurd for one year. This is a sure fire way to get covered on NPR's All Things Considered (the other method is to write a piece about the impending arrival of the alien super-bionic Mothership for the youTube symphony orchestra). It seems everywhere I turn authors are volunteering to go vegan for a year, eat only at McDonalds for a year, eat only locally grown food for a year (things involving eating are very popular), produce no trash for a year, wear no shoes for a year, use no electricity for a year, go on no dates for a year, go on a date every day with a different person for a year, be fat for a year, etc. Inevitably, these authors, who start out looking to make an idealist point about the ecological impoverishment of modern life, end up learning an important and touching lesson about themselves!! Oh, authors!

At least Ryan has decided to do something practical. But really, it's the journey that counts. How could it not be a good idea?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

More on useless conductors

I already got in trouble for this, but I guess I don't care that much. At least this one highly paid conductor can make himself useful. By playing an actual instrument.

Now now, before I receive any hate mail, it's all in good fun. And honestly, the orchestra might be slightly tighter rhythmically in this performance with a conductor. But it's still awesome. Also check out the end, when Simon Rattle refuses to take a bow. Because he's awesome.