Archive for January, 2015
Speaking of Auden, this is one of my first MSPaintbrush drawings (from 1995), based on a photo of him. Originally saved as a .bmp file and converted to .gif.
A couple of years ago a friend had an idea of making e-books of music theory and asked for proposals. The idea seems to have died on the vine but in a way I'm glad because am not sure I have the stamina to write the essay proposed below. Am posting it here as a rough manifesto for my own work as a musician.
The essay explores a tension in music since the early 20th Century between what I'll call "teaching" and "lying," that is, between the need to explain new techniques and processes and the perverse desire of the artist to indulge in misdirection, fiction, and untruths.
I'll start with an Auden lyric asserting that music -- in contrast to words -- can't lie. Daniel Albright, in his book Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature and the Other Arts, argues that French composers from Les Six group, often described as musical surrealists, were able to lie with music by "shifting its semantic plane." See notes at http://www.tommoody.us/archives/2008/03/26/daniel-albright-on-poulenc-and-surrealist-music/
Other composers of that era explored a more responsible, pedagogical approach. I'll talk about Carl Orff's Musik für Kinder (music for children) which was made simple for teaching purposes but survives as intriguing modern music in its own right, and has been used by filmmakers such as Terence Malick (in Badlands).
Somewhere in the middle is Erik Satie and his notion of interchangeable "furniture" music. I'll discuss his score for Entr'acte Cinematographique, Rene Clair's film that ran between the two acts of the Relâche ballet, as an example of modularity, anticipating DJ and techno music.
With the twin poles of dissembling and pedagogy in mind, I'll discuss more recent developments beginning with sampling in the late '80s. An example of lying or Albright's "shifting the semantic plane" would be the Beastie Boys' use of the '70s David Bromberg song "Sharon" in their song "Johnny Ryall," or De La Soul's use of a Turtles string sample in "Live Transmission from Mars," in both cases turning "authentic" or innocent expression to the dark side of absurdist irony -- even though it's exactly the same music.
Working counter to these tendencies is a strong pedagogical streak in present-day electronic music. I'll discuss how techno-ambient techniques are taught "from without" (via instrument demos) and also "from within" (classic Detroit-style techno that reveals and hides its structure during its run time).
These arguments will be mostly intuitive and based on close readings of some old and new works. Other than Albright (whose ideas I think need to be better known) I plan to talk less about music theory (say, Adorno) than music itself. Ultimately I support the need for pedagogy in an evolving technological landscape but at the same time recognize the need for dissembling in a society of surveillance and "unitary identity" initiatives.
My working title is "Teaching vs Lying, from the Modernist Composers to the Techno Era." I may not use that, since it will take 30 pages to dope out a dichotomy that in a title just sounds baffling.
Anyway, such is my drift.
Tom Moody, December 2012
The better reporting -- and art criticism -- regarding Ryder Ripps' "Art Whore" piece came not from the art world but from the "hipster" media. Michelle Lhooq's* Vice article attempted a rational, pros-and-cons defense of the work, after the art sites served up mostly kneejerk reaction.
Lhooq thinks the main point of the piece is exploring the definition of consent. I'd say the main point is the continuing use of fine art by the FIRE sector** as a sweetener for property values, in a city where artists can no longer afford to live. (To recap, Ripps thumbed his nose at a hotel that invited him to work gratis as a one-night "artist in residence" by making an elaborate prank aimed at the, let's just say, less-discussed side of their business; this was more effective than simply refusing the commission.) The debates over "exploitation" served as a distraction to discredit the piece, to FIRE's ultimate benefit.
*LHOOQ is a famous Marcel Duchamp punchline, so Michelle isn't a complete art outsider.
**Finance, Insurance and Real Estate, a term used by Robert Fitch and others to describe an extractive, rather than productive economy.
Dialogue from the "American Sniper" film, as used in the pilot for the TV comedy of the same name:
Scene: The Kyle family dining room table
Father: (speaking to his two sons, in a Texas twang): There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. Some people prefer to believe evil doesn’t exist in the world. And if it ever darkened their doorstep they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep.
Father: And then you got predators.
The camera cuts to a schoolyard bully beating a smaller boy.
[groans, some laughter]
Father: They use violence to prey on people. They’re the wolves. Then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression and an overpowering need to protect the flock. They are a rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog. (waits a beat) We’re not raising any sheep in this family.
[burst of laughter]
The father lashes his belt against the dining room table, accompanied by a loud, cartoonish whipcrack.
Father: I will whup your ass if you turn into a wolf. We protect our own. If someone tries to fight you, tries to bully your little brother, you have my permission to finish it.
[final burst of laughter]
Cut, to commercial.
All of these are well-done, or reasonably well-done films that streamlined a source novel:
Under the Skin. The ScarJo version is creepy and nicely-filmed but has only rudimentary connections to Michel Faber's novel. A woman driving around Scotland picks up men and terrible things happen to them. In the book we clearly see, and understand, the terrible things and the politics behind them. The film's actress is a beautiful blank on whom the camera lingers for most of the run-time; Faber's "Isserley" isn't much to look at but has a rich inner life.
The Man in the High Castle. This "Amazon pilot" excels at visually conjuring Philip K. Dick's parallel world where the Germans and Japanese won World War II but dumbs it down thematically. Dick's small business and lower functionary "little people" working out their fates within the context of a larger, mostly unseen political struggle become, in the Amazon version, players in a Mel Gibsonized "French Underground" story, with calculated plot twists and Nazis beating resistors to a bloody pulp.
The Prestige. Christopher Nolan also adds Hollywood "story arc" to Christopher Priest's superb Gothic novel. The book does not hinge on an absurd murder trial, or a prisoner separated from his daughter. The steampunk element in the form of a miraculous "Tesla device" figures in both both stories, but Priest handles the revelations about its powers much more effectively.
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Am pleased to announce a new Bandcamp release for the new year, titled Discreet Mutations.
Some LP notes:
These tracks feature many presets from Steinberg (Cubase) and Native Instruments (Kontakt, FM8, Battery), particularly arpeggiators that play the provided synth patches.
I don't hear enough other music using these tools to know how successfully I've personalized the patches, or if that matters. The music also incorporates field recordings and riffs played "live" in the studio using Eurorack modular gear and, in a few songs, a '90s-vintage filter called the Mutator. To my ear these change the meaning of the presets, setting up a conversation between the canned and the spontaneous, 1s-and-0s vs voltages, clean vs dirty, etc. There is questioning going on here, and emotional content (mostly anger and humor, not much sadness). Please check out the first track, "Suspicious Activity," if your time is limited -- I think it's kind of funny, especially if you are a rider of a certain NYC metro area subway system.
Compared to earlier work, the tunes are shorter but also more full. The Cubase DAW makes it possible to timestretch and stack riffs: at the most I can handle four or five interacting simultaneously, but it's like working a puzzle to fit them all together. The shortness is due to boredom -- if anything sounds too repetitious, I cut it out.
A cassette version of this recording is available! Same price as the digital, plus postage.
Note: These tunes use the full audio spectrum (i.e., aren't written with tinny laptop speakers in mind)! In some cases, notably the track "Discreet Mutations," crucial segments are laptop-inaudible because they are bass notes. A halfway decent pair of speakers are recommended, if those can be obtained.