Music

I will be having a Conversation with him December 4th, by the way, you can register here.  His forthcoming book is spectacular, but we will talk about everything under (and above) the sun, what should I ask him?

Here is the transcript and podcast, I enjoyed this chat very much.  Here is part of the opening summary:

Sujatha Gidla was an untouchable in India, but moved to the United States at the age of 26 and is now the first Indian woman to be employed as a conductor on the New York City Subway. In her memoir Ants Among Elephants, she explores the antiquities of her mother, her uncles, and other members of her family against modern India’s landscape.

Our conversation considered the nature and persistence of caste, gender issues in India, her time as a revolutionary, New York City lifestyle and neighborhoods and dining, religion, living in America versus living in India, Bob Dylan and Dalit music, American identity politics, the nature of Marxism, Halldor Laxness, and why she left her job at the Bank of New York to become a New York City subway conductor, among other topics.

Here is one sequence:

GIDLA: Actually, the only relation I have with my family members is political views.

[laughter]

GIDLA: If we have to connect on familial links, we will always be fighting and killing each other. All that we talk about with my mother is politics and untouchability and caste and Modi and things like that.

It’s the same thing with my sister also. This is where we connect. Otherwise, we are like enemies. My brother, we’re completely alienated from each other, firstly because he goes to church now. We never used to go to church before. He’s into this Iacocca. Is there a name . . . ?

COWEN: Iacocca?

GIDLA: Yeah.

COWEN: Lee Iacocca?

GIDLA: Yeah.

COWEN: The former Chrysler chairman?

GIDLA: Yeah. He reads that kind of books.

COWEN: Management books.

GIDLA: He’s into that kind of stuff.

COWEN: You don’t?

GIDLA: No.

GIDLA: He read Freakonomics and he liked it. I don’t relate to that stuff.

And this toward the end:

COWEN: Your most touching memory of your mother?

GIDLA: I don’t know. When I was arrested, she was very worried. She said, “I wish I could take you back into my womb.”

Strongly recommended.  I was pleased to see that Publisher’s Weekly named Sujatha Gidla’s book as one of the ten best of 2017, you can order it here.

David Evans on the economics of attention:

In 2016, 437 billion hours, worth $7.1 trillion dollars, were exchanged in the
attention market in the US based on conservative estimates reported above. Attention
platforms paid for that time with content and then sold advertisers access to portions of that
time. As a result, advertisers were able to deliver messages to consumers that those
consumers would probably not have accepted in the absence of the barter of content for
their time. Consumers often don’t like getting these messages. But by agreeing to receive
them they make markets more competitive.


The economics of attention markets focuses on three features. First it focuses on
time as the key dimension of competition since it is what is being bought and sold. Second,
it focuses on content since it plays a central role in acquiring time, embedding advertising
messages, and operating efficient attention platforms. And third it focuses on the scarcity of
time and the implications of that for competition among attention platforms.

The $7.1 trillion estimate for the value of content seems too high. The high value comes from Evans assuming that the marginal wage is higher than the average so the average wage which he uses to calculate the value of time is, if anything, an underestimate while for most people I think the marginal wage is lower than the average (many people don’t even have jobs) so the average is an over-estimate. Brynjolfsson and Oh, however, using somewhat different methods estimate the consumer surplus from television as 10% of GDP and from the internet of 6% GDP or combined about $3 trillion at current levels. Either way the attention economy is very large and understudied relative to its importance.

I say no, in my latest Bloomberg column.  Here is one bit:

We live in a country where very often the concession stands don’t stop operating during the anthem, nor do fans stop walking through the concourse. We’re fooling ourselves to think that current practices are really showing respect for the nation or its military.

And:

Anthem practices shouldn’t be viewed as sacrosanct, and no one would think the absence of an anthem unpatriotic if expectations were set differently. Professional sports don’t start their competitions with the Pledge of Allegiance, and that is hardly considered an act of treason. Nor do we play the anthem before movies, as is mandatory in India. Furthermore, “The Star-Spangled Banner” wasn’t sanctioned by Congress as our national anthem until 1931. Earlier in the history of baseball, the anthem was played during the seventh-inning stretch. It was only during World War II that the anthem was played regularly at the beginning of each game, rather than for special games alone, such as the World Series.

Might we consider moving back to some of these earlier practices? To play the anthem before the players are present or during a mid-game break, or perhaps to cease the practice altogether?

Finally:

The awkward, hard-to-admit truth is that the American national anthem is a form of right-wing political correctness, designed to embarrass or intimidate those who do not see fit to sing along and pay the demanded respect.

Here is a piece by Cass Sunstein also on the theme of right-wing political correctness.

From my email:

Hi, Mr. Cowen. I recently read The Complacent Class recently and enjoyed it. I’m writing because there’s an another example of American complacency that’s only come to light in recent weeks…

Specifically: the Billboard music charts..

Shape of You by Ed Sheeran last week broke the record for most weeks in top 10, with 33 weeks. The song it beat, Closer by The Chainsmokers and Halsey, set the previous record less than a year ago. http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/7948959/ed-sheeran-shape-of-you-record-most-weeks-top-ten

(And yet another song in last week’s top 10, That’s What I Like by Bruno Mars, currently holds the 8th-longest record on that metric — and potentially still rising.)

Meanwhile, Despacito by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Justin Bieber tied the all-time record with its 16th week at #1: http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/record-labels/7942315/luis-fonsi-daddy-yankee-justin-biebers-despacito-ties-for

Meanwhile, the biggest country song in the nation right now, Body Like a Back Road by Sam Hunt, is currently in its record-extending 30th week at #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart: http://www.billboard.com/files/pdfs/country_update_0905.pdf

This did not happen in decades past. Look at the Billboard charts from the ’80s — it was a new #1 song almost every week!    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Billboard_Hot_100_number-one_singles_of_the_1980s

Just like how you describe in your book how people are moving less and want to stay in the same town where they were before, or how they’re switching jobs less and want to stay in the same job where they were before, people apparently just want to listen to the same songs they’ve been listening to already.

That is from Jesse Rifkin, who is a journalist in Washington, D.C. who writes about Congress for GovTrack Insider and about the film industry for Boxoffice Magazine.  Jesse sends along more:

And if you want links for statistical evidence, here are two — one about which movies have spent the most weekends in the box office top 10, the other about which songs have spent the most weeks in the Billboard top 10:

Certificate of purchase and receipt for grave space to be sold with miniature bible belonging to woman whose name was immortalised by McCartney

They are expected to sell for between £2,000 and £4,000.

They will go under the hammer alongside the original handwritten score for the song, which is expected to fetch £20,000.

The jar by the door, however, is not up for sale.  Via Ted Gioia.

The slope gets more slippery

by on August 18, 2017 at 12:45 am in Law, Music, Web/Tech | Permalink

Apple, LinkedIn, Spotify and Twitter have joined a growing chorus of technology companies to hit out at the far right and Donald Trump’s attempt to put white supremacists and leftwing counter-demonstrators at Saturday’s Charlottesville protest on the same moral plane.

Following the lead of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google, Go Daddy and others, Apple CEO Tim Cook pledged $1m donations to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Anti-Defamation League and sent a strongly worded memo to staff, quoting Martin Luther King, about the violence in Charlottesville on Saturday.

“We must not witness or permit such hate and bigotry in our country, and we must be unequivocal about it,” Cook wrote. “This is not about the left or the right, conservative or liberal. It is about human decency and morality.

Amid the ongoing fallout from the violence that saw a civil rights activist killed, music subscription service Spotify began removing so-called white power music, flagged by the SPLC as racist “hate bands”.

A Spotify spokesperson said: “Illegal content or material that favours hatred or incites violence against race, religion, sexuality or the like is not tolerated by us. Spotify takes immediate action to remove any such material as soon as it has been brought to our attention.

“We are glad to have been alerted to this content – and have already removed many of the bands identified, while urgently reviewing the remainder.”

What would Camille Paglia say?  Here is the article.  And here is a hate symbols database, to keep you on your toes.

Addendum: Some of you have given me grief over my posting of yesterday defending PayPal’s decision to stop serving some political groups.  I see it this way: giving PayPal its way passes a freedom of association test, and it also passes what I call a “first order Coasean test,” namely that Paypal and its affiliates wish to stop the relationship more than the cut off parties are willing to pay to maintain it.  Of course this development might have troublesome secondary consequences, due to slippery slopes, and also due to the spread of the practice to more monopolized sectors of the American economy.  Still, until major negative consequences emerge in verifiable and durable form…I am going to stick with the Coasean and freedom of association metrics for policy evaluation.  Should I have to deal with “extremist” groups if I don’t wish to?  No.  Is there a prima facie case for extending this same freedom to PayPal?  Yes.  But absolutely, I am all for vigilance to keep an eye on whether things start to go wrong in a big way.  And no, I don’t count all these “day after” reactions as nearly sufficient to establish that conclusion.

Here is the transcript and audio (no video).

We discuss what makes Florida special, why business writing is so terrible, Eddie Murphy, whether social conservatives can be funny (in public), the weirdness of Peter Pan, how he is so productive, playing guitar with Roger McGuinn, DT, the future of comedy, and much much more.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: If I look at old slapstick, it doesn’t seem funny at all. Intuitively, you would think slapstick, being only physical, would have a much longer half-life. What I find funny is very culturally specific references. Now, am I strange?

BARRY: Well, not about slapstick. When I was a little guy, I maybe thought that the Three Stooges were kind of funny but that stopped a long time ago. Some physical humor is still funny to me. Abbott and Costello were pretty physical, but they were funny without being slapstick. Just hitting each other in the nose and going, “nyuk, nyuk, nyuk” never struck me as funny at all. I have forgotten the second part of your question.

On different comedians and what’s not funny anymore

COWEN: You mentioned Abbott and Costello. If you’re willing, I’ll talk about a few comedians, or mention a few, and you can tell me what you found funny with them, didn’t find funny.

Let’s start with Abbott and Costello. Favorite of my father. I’ve watched almost all the movies. As I kid, I didn’t find them funny, but I actually started to find them funny in retrospect after having watched a bit of Seinfeld and Larry David. What’s your take on Abbott and Costello?

BARRY: Yeah, I can see the connection there. It more relies on you letting it — the humor — slowly develop and the characters themselves being the humor without coming right out and saying what’s funny about it: The one who never understands what’s going on, the one who’s always losing his patience with the other one. The first, maybe, three or four times, it’s just mildly amusing. But after a while, when you see it coming, that becomes very funny to you.

It’s very rare to find that kind of patience in humor anymore. I don’t think the audience is as generous as it used to be, allowing humor to build the way it did in an Abbott and Costello sketch.

COWEN: And is Abbott or Costello funnier to you? Abbott being the straight man.

BARRY: Yeah, I think Abbott is funnier.

COWEN: I think he’s much funnier.

Most of all, I was impressed by Dave Barry as a managerial force for his own career.  Again, here is the link.

Let’s cut to the chase:

1. Symphonies #1, 5,  and 7 are dominated assets, the latter two being too sprawling.  #8 is meant to be seen live, and #10 isn’t Mahler’s finished version.  #4 is attractive, but somewhat lightweight.

2. #2 requires a very good recording, my favorite is Stokowski with the London Symphony Orchestra, even though he changes the score.  If you can’t find that, try Abbado or Levine, both of those two being good default choices for Mahler.  Those two conductors are also good choices for #3, another symphony in the Mahler pantheon.

3. #6 is the most nerve-wracking and insane and requiring of full volume.  I’m still looking for the perfect recording of that one, sometimes I like Barbirolli.

4. #9 is the best music, I recommend von Karajan.

5. Pierre Boulez offers an alternative perspective on any of these symphonies, plus he has one of the very best Das Lied von der Erde recordings, that song cycle being part of the canon of essential Mahler works.

6. The quality of your listening conditions is especially important for Mahler.  And during any listen a) try to spot the Austrian folk tunes, and b) think of Mahler as one of the greatest opera conductors, including for Mozart, of his time.

7. A short piano piece by Mozart, as a palate cleaner, sounds especially good after a Mahler symphony.

That’s what you need to know.

There’s no point in doing a complete survey, but here are a few observations and suggestions:

1. I am not intrigued by much Mozart written before K330 or so.  Piano Concerto #9 is one exception to this.  But Toscanini was right to claim that too much of it sounds the same.

2. The string quintets are the best Mozart pieces you might not know, but skip K174.

3. The string quartets and Requiem might be the most overrated Mozart, though the latter would be wonderful if he could have finished it.  It is better to listen to the fragmented version, without the artificial Süssmayr ending.

4. The Milos Forman Mozart movie is worth a viewing, if you don’t already know it.  I thought I would hate it, but didn’t.  Don’t try to learn history from it, however.

5. Clive Geoffrey, The Romantic Enlightenment, has my favorite essay on Mozart.  A reasonably priced reissue is needed.  The standard biographies are very good, also read Mozart’s letters.

6. The operas reign supreme.  Try Currentzis or Colin Davis for Don Giovanni, Haitink or Klemperer for The Magic Flute, Boehm for Cosi Fan Tutte, Giulini for Figaro, and Rene Jacobs for Idomeneo.  I don’t know of a definitive version of Abduction from the Seraglio, but Beecham and Krips are good and Harnoncourt does the overture best, as he never lets up on the rambunctious in it.  If I had to choose the operas, or all the rest of Mozart put together, I would go for the operas.

In the 1960s, an average hit song on the Billboard Top 10 had an average of 1.87 writers and 1.68 publishers each year. Songwriting duos were common, and creativity a simpler endeavor…

During the LP era (60s-80s), the number of songwriters and publishers on hit songs didn’t rise as dramatically.  Based on the Songdex analysis, in the 70s, hit songs on the Billboard Top 10 had an average of 1.95 writers and 2.04 publishers each.  During the 80s, the number of average publishers in top 10 songs slightly rose to 2.06.  The number of writers remained the same.

In the 90s, the number spiked to an average of 3.13 writers and 3.49 publishers per top 10 song.  Incidentally, the change coincides with the rise of digital music formats, such as the MP3.  Napster also launched in 1999.  All of which ushered in an era of massive data overload (and that’s before streaming took hold).

Consumers quickly adopted digital music formats, resulting in a “market need for registration, licensing and reporting systems,” says Music Reports.  In the 2000s, Billboard Top 10 hits had an average of 3.50 writers and 4.96 publishers each year.

This past decade, streaming has emerged as a major source of revenue for record labels.  Using its Songdex catalog registry, Music Reports noted that Billboard Top 10 hits saw an average of 4.07 writers and six publishers.

Here is the full story, I am glad Beethoven never did much co-authoring, with apologies to Diabelli.

Too many people think of him as ordinary and earthy, compared to Mozart or Beethoven.  Yet he composed amazing amounts of pathbreaking, first-rate music, and it wears remarkably well upon repeated listenings.

My approach to Haydn is pretty simple:

1. Some of the early piano music is boring, but a simple availability metric will point you to the best material.  The deepest are the six last sonatas, and most well-known performances are quite good.  Ax, McCabe, Kalish, Richter, and Brendel are among the first choices, Jando (Naxos) and Buchbinder are good enough to listen to but not preferred.  By the way, piano > pianoforte, there was no great stagnation.

2. Listen to as many of the string quartets as you can, with preference given to Opus 76.  On average, the later opus numbers are better, yet Op.9 and Op.20 still are worthwhile.

3. Listen to the London Symphonies.  Again and again.  All of them, Dorati being one option for conductor.

That’s hardly the only wonderful Haydn, but those are the pieces that work best through recordings.  See the choral and vocal music live.  Most of the concerti bore me, as do the piano trios.  Many of the earlier symphonies are good, including the Paris set and the “Sturm und Drang” period, but unless you have lots and lots of time I say focus on the London ones for now.

As the years or decades pass, you will realize you have been underrating Haydn.

The latest instance of the musical death and resurrection show is none other than Ronnie James Dio, who died in 2010. Thanks to a hologram (actually a high-tech version of an old parlor trick), the former Black Sabbath frontman will start touring Europe the November 30th before hitting the States next spring. “His” set will change nightly, according to Rolling Stone, and audio recordings were pulled from his entire career. “He” will play each night with a backing band and some dates will have singers Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest) and Oni Logan (Racer X) on stage as well.

Here is more, via the excellent Samir Varma.  How about Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher as the warm-up act?

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, RIP

by on July 28, 2017 at 9:44 am in Music | Permalink

Age 46, a Torres Strait Islander, here are various obituaries.

I am in Delaware only briefly.  I have not covered the state before, so here are some of my picks:

1. Chemicals manufacturer: I think that one has to go to the Duponts, I enjoyed the Gerard Zilg biography of the Dupont family and history.

2. Economic historian: Alfred Chandler.

3. Monetarist who studied policy instruments and uncertainty: William Poole.

4. Semi-libertarian journalist: Dave Weigel.

Hmm…music?  I don’t like George Thorogood.  A quality novelist?  How about a painter or sculptor?  Some big time NBA star?  Biden is my favorite of Obama’s VPs.  It is claimed that the movie Fight Club is set in Delaware.  So many special dishes too, in the local cuisine.

The bottom line: Small wonder it is!