Music

That is the new book by Mark Lewisohn, and I was so keen to finish it that I neglected to see the Ender’s Game movie yesterday.  944 pp. and you only get up to 1962 and the beginnings of the first LP!  Despite the length, it is gripping throughout.  In addition to the obvious angles on The Beatles, it is a study of Liverpudlian history, the nature of poverty, why educating even really smart people can be problematic, why relative age matters so much for young people, how groups gel, the importance of practice, the importance of management, and the importance of origins, among a variety of other more general topics.

This work is one of my five favorite non-fiction books of the year.  And if you are wondering, it is not just me: the book has received very positive reviews elsewhere.

Fanfare is the leading periodical for classical music reviews, and every year it asks numerous critics — this time 45 of them — for their top five classical music picks of the year.  In turn, each year I present a meta-list, which simply is a list of all the works selected by more than one critic.  This year we have:

1. Meanwhile, by Eighth Blackbird., assorted contemporary pieces.

2. Haydn,  The Creation, conducted by Martin Pearlman.

3. Arvo Pärt, Adam’s Lament.

4. Bellini’s Norma, with Cecilia Bartoli.

I just ordered 1-3 of those, for the Bellini I am still stuck on Maria Callas.  My personal picks of the year, in classical music, would be:

1.  Shostakovich string quartets, Pacifica Quartet, several volumes, including some other Soviet compositions as well.  I find these more powerful than Emerson, Manhattan, Brodsky, or the other classic sets of Shostakovich.

2. Arvo Pärt, Creator Spiritus.

3. Klára Würtz and Kristóf Baráti, Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano.

4. The Art of David Tudor, seven disc box set, caveat emptor on this one.

Gangnam fact of the day

by on October 12, 2013 at 3:21 pm in Music | Permalink

I am here for a few days, so my attention turned to a new paper by Kim and Jung, entitled Investor PSY-chology, here is the abstract:

The global success of “Gangnam Style,” the 18th K-pop single by the South Korean rapper PSY in 2012, was an exogenous shock to international investor enthusiasm about DI Corp., because the company’s chairman and CEO is PSY’s father. The stock price of the semiconductor equipment company jumped by almost 800% in three months without material information. Using Korean microstructure data that identifies non-resident foreign individual (NRFInd, hereafter) investors and resident foreign individual (RFInd, hereafter) investors by nationality, we study international individual investor behavior. The count of flash mob videos and parody videos uploaded on YouTube from each country is our proxy for the enthusiasm of individual investors. We find that NRFInd (RFInd) investors in specific countries become net buyers (sellers) of DI Corp. when a flash mob or parody music video is uploaded in their country. This is because RFInd investors had already purchased the stock on the day PSY left Korea to meet Scooter Braun, the producer of Justin Bieber. Our results support a “resale option” explanation about the bubble in the asset price.

Hat tip goes to @EmanuelDerman.

Will the sports sector ever be disrupted?

by on October 12, 2013 at 10:26 am in Music, Sports | Permalink

Here is a question from a recent symposium:

People spend 4 hours per week watching sports and 40 listening to music. But the music industry is one sixth the size of the sports industry. Why?

No time-shifting for live contests, much less piracy, less substitutability (there is only one Super Bowl), and greater indivisibility of product would be the beginnings of an answer.  The source is here, hat tip goes to Ted Gioia.

My favorite things Minnesota

by on September 7, 2013 at 1:15 am in History, Music, The Arts, Uncategorized | Permalink

I am here for but a short time, speaking at the university, but here is what comes to mind:

1. Folk singer: Is that what he is?  Bringing it All Back Home remains my favorite Dylan album, of many candidates.

2. Rock music: The Replacements were pretty awesome for a short while.  The Artist Formerly Known as Prince has an impressive body of work, with Sign of the Times as my favorite or maybe Dirty Mind, though when viewed as a whole I find the corpus of work rather numbing and even somewhat off-putting.  Bob Mould I like but do not love, the peaks are too low.

3. Jazz: The Bad Plus come to mind.

4. Writer: Must I go with F. Scott Fitzgerald?  I don’t like his work very much, so Ole Rolvaag is my choice.

5. Coen Brothers movie: Raising Arizona or Fargo.   The more serious ones strike me as too grim.

6. Director: George Roy Hill, how about A Little Romance?

7. Columnist: The underrated Thomas Friedman, who ought to be considered one of the world’s leading conservative columnists but is not.

8. Scientist: Norman Borlaug.  I hope you all know who he is by now.

9. Advice columnist: Ann Landers, most of the time she was right, much better and sharper than her sister Dear Abby, plus she coined better phrases.

What else? Garrison Keillor belongs somewhere, even though he isn’t funny.  Thorstein Veblen is often unreadable but on status competition, and its Darwinian roots, he was way ahead of his time.

Overall this is a very strong state, and on top of that I feel I am missing some significant contributors with this list.  Are there painters or sculptors of note from Minnesota?  I can’t think of any.

What I’ve been listening to

by on August 15, 2013 at 3:40 am in Music | Permalink

These are some CDs which have stayed in my active listening pile for six months or maybe more:

1. The Roots of Drone.  Usually I hate collections, and listen to them only once, but on this virtually every track is good and the order is very well arranged.

2. St. Vincent, Strange Mercy.  I don’t like the more recent CD with David Byrne nearly as much.

3. Dabke: Sounds of the Syrian Houran.  Powerful stuff, music for a revolution or civil war.

4. Laura Marling, I Speak Because I Can.

5. Brian Eno, Lux.  As good as any of his older albums, believe it or not.

6. P.J. Harvey, Let England Shake.

7. Alela Diane, Wild Divine.

8. Continuous Beat, Rez Abbasi Trio.  Guitarist born in Karachi, this is probably my favorite jazz album over the last few years.

9. Earl Hines in New Orleans.  I’ve spent a lot of time looking for the best Hines CD and this seems to be it.

10. My Bloody Valentine, Mbv.  Get the LP version for the proper sound.  It’s amazing how good this comeback is, after a twenty year hiatus.

There is also James Blake, Taylor Swift’s “Stay, Stay, Stay” and classical music I will save for another day.  If you can find on iTunes Cecile McLorin Salvant’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” with the excellent Aaron Diehl, buy it, it is the most musical fun I have had all year.

Jakarta bleg

by on August 10, 2013 at 3:31 pm in Food and Drink, Music, Travel | Permalink

What should I look at?  Where should I eat?  Your advice is very much welcome and I thank you in advance.  And do any of you know where I can go to hear gamelan music?

This is a tough one, and I admit failure in advance, and yes I will call upon the diaspora in this case.  But even that doesn’t much help me.  Here goes:

1. Popular music: M.I.A., with Arular and then Kala being my favorite works by her.

2. Science fiction writer, lived in: Arthur C. Clarke lived there for over fifty years.

3. Author: Michael Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka, I like but do not love his work.  Two quite recent Sri Lankan novels are Michelle de Kretser, Questions of Travel, and Ru Freeman, On Sal Mal Lane, both noteworthy.

4. Movie, set in: I can’t think of one.  Bridge on the River Kwai was filmed here.

5. Architect: Geoffrey Bawa, some images are here.

Is Lal Jayawardena the most famous Sri Lankan economist?  And I have had excellent Sri Lankan food in Germany, most of all in Berlin.  There is a takeaways Sri Lankan place in Derwood, Maryland, Spice Lanka, which I have yet to try.  When I was much younger, the Sri Lankan chess player Sunil Weeramantry was always very cordial to me.  And my grandmother had a Sri Lankan friend who, when I was a small boy, used to bring us cashews.  I liked him.  I think of the music — perhaps unfairly — as falling into the “raucous, influenced by cinema, good jolly fun but I’m not going to buy it” category, but I would gladly receive your better-informed recommendations in the comments.

Sorry people, I’ll try harder next time.  I don’t follow cricket and I know virtually nothing about cinema here, I hope to learn more.

And so the journey continues.

Let’s put the Scottish Enlightenment aside and turn to some more recent creations.  Here goes:

1. Novel: Alasdair Gray, Lanark.  Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod deserve notice as well.  I don’t relate to Trainspotting.  I understand the case for Robert Louis Stevenson and would wish to jump on board, but usually I lose interest before the end of his books.

2. Painter: Henry Raeburn was part of the Scottish Enlightenment I think.  So where to turn?  Ken Currie?  Scotland is not strong in this category.

3. Classical music: Umm…William Primrose was a strong violist.

4. Architect: Charles Rennie MacIntosh, especially the library.

5. Inventor: James Watt, but there is lots and lots of competition here.

6. Actor: How about Sean Connery?  Don’t forget Zardoz.

7. Movie: Gregory’s Girl.

8. Movie, set in Scotland: The Queen.

9. Popular music: David Byrne was born in Scotland.  I know the Cocteau Twins, Boards of Canada, Franz Ferdinand, and others, they are OK but I do not love them.  Dire Straits and Annie Lennox deserve mention, but overall I suspect many of you rate this group higher than I do.  Jesus and Mary Chain?  While we’re at it, there is Ewan McLennan and Bert Jansch, both of whom I enjoy.

The bottom line: These are people of intellect (remember the Enlightenment!) and also people of action.  For explorers and inventors the record is extremely strong.  Yet for music and some of the arts the contributions are rather faint.

Sentences to ponder

by on June 14, 2013 at 11:10 am in History, Law, Music, The Arts, Web/Tech | Permalink

While the ethics behind holograms of deceased celebrities might be questionable (in the words of a parody Twitter account called Aaliyah’s Ghost, “The best duets imo are the ones where both artists are alive & agreed to work together”), copyright permissions and objections from various estates, in addition to the high costs, have so far prevented “resurrections” from becoming a more widespread trend. For its closing ceremony, the London Olympics scrimped on costs, reviving Freddie Mercury for a duet with Jessie J by broadcasting his image on a flat screen rather than a hologram body. It is hard to imagine the Tupac hologram moving forward without permission from his mother Afeni Shakur. The Marilyn Monroe estate, on the other hand, contested plans for a “Virtual Marilyn” concert organised by Musion partner Digicon Media.

Here is more, from the always interesting Joanne McNeil.

Benjamin Britten at 100

by on June 10, 2013 at 12:14 pm in Books, History, Music | Permalink

I very much liked Neil Powell, Benjamin Britten: A Life for Music.  Also very good is Paul Kildea, Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century.  They are both also useful for understanding English intellectual life during the 20th century, most of all Auden but even Keynes and also the broader history of homosexuality in England.  Both are already out in the UK, where I picked them up earlier in the year, and both will make my best of the year list in late November.

Here is a good Anthony Tommasini survey of Britten at 100.  I will offer these bits

The Britten pieces you are most likely to enjoy: Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, that disc has Les Illuminations and Nocturne too and is the single best Britten disc to buy, and also A Ceremony of Carols.

The ones I think are best: Cello Symphony, Winter Words (song cycle), and perhaps Billy BuddWar RequiemNocturne is a powerful spare late work.  I like Curlew River for its connection to Balinese music, although I would not put it among his best compositions from a strictly musical point of view.

My most significant Britten heresy: I’ve never enjoyed listening to Peter Grimes and I find most of the experience oppressive.  More generally, for much of my life I never felt close to Britten’s music, as it made me crave Stravinsky and Mahler instead.  But I’ve listened to it quite a bit since January and have enjoyed it more than expected.

Two points: I think he understood the English language better than any other major composer, and how he sets and understands a text is without parallel, in English at least.  Furthermore as a conductor or pianist he is superb, try his Brandenburg Concerti or his piano on Schubert’s Winterreise, Peter Pears singing, among other works.  Those are two of my favorite recordings in all of classical music.

Glamour featured film stars on half of its covers in 2012. But the May 2012 issue featuring Lauren Conrad, the former star of the reality show “The Hills,” was the year’s best-selling issue, at 500,072 copies. The magazine now expects to make film stars the minority presence in 2013.

At Cosmopolitan, the best-selling cover this year featured Kim Kardashian in April, with 1.2 million copies sold, followed by the singer Miley Cyrus in March with 1.1 million copies. In 2012, three out of five of Cosmopolitan’s top covers featured the celebrities Demi Lovato with 1.379 million copies sold, Khloé Kardashian at 1.354 million copies and Selena Gomez at 1.334 million copies.

Vogue’s best-selling cover in the first four months of 2013 featured Beyoncé with 340,000 copies sold. In 2012, Lady Gaga commanded the cover of Vogue’s September issue and sold nearly double the number of copies of the January 2012 issue, featuring Meryl Streep.

It’s not just younger women’s magazines that are moving away from film stars. When Redbook landed an interview with Gwyneth Paltrow for its January issue, the magazine featured her with her trainer Tracy Anderson and not in what the magazine’s editor in chief, Jill Herzig, called the “traditional A-lister in a ball gown kind of way.”

It is music and TV which are in the ascendancy.  I blame the globalization of the movie market in part, which skews Hollywood movies more toward Asian male audiences, in turn limiting their appeal to American females.  In general international audiences lower the return to good dialog and raise the return on action and explosions, which on average hurts prominent female roles.  Note that men’s magazines are now having more film stars on their covers.  And there is this:

A recently published study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism showed that the percentage of female characters with a speaking part in the nation’s top movies each year reached its lowest point in the past five years in 2012, at 28 percent. Ms. Coles said it had become so difficult to find female film stars to feature from this summer’s blockbusters that her magazine was publishing an article about the problem.

The full article is here.

Sentences to ponder

by on May 19, 2013 at 9:14 am in Data Source, Economics, Education, Music | Permalink

For jazz players, there is a negative relationship between earnings and having a BFA or a MFA.

The quotation is from here (pdf), the original source is Thomas M. Smith, pdf of the underlying paper here.  There are other interesting results in this paper as well.  Do note that if you don’t end up as a jazz player the degree still correlates with higher earnings.

They’re signing up as we speak for a two-year degree course in heavy metal music (believed to be the first of its kind), which begins in September in a college in Nottingham.

…The degree organisers are loftily talking up the course by using terms such as “culture” and “context”. They point out that you can study music at Oxford, Cambridge or any other university, but that this “genre” degree is unique.

“Heavy metal is an extremely technical genre of music and its study is a rising academic theme,” they say. Metal is “seriously studied in conservatoires in Helsinki”, has classical music roots, and leading axe-men such as Joe Satriani incorporate the works of Paganini in their oeuvre.

Wow, Paganini.  Get this:

“It’s a degree, so it will be academically rigorous,” said Mr Maloy [the sequence designer].

And why Nottingham?:

Not only was Earache Records, a heavy metal-focused record label, founded in the city, but additionally, the region’s Download Festival appeals to over 75,000 rock and metal fans on an annual basis.

The course fees are £5,750 a year.  Here is a bit more information.

Here is one not inaccurate description of the professional status of Jason Collins:

Collins’s announcement in a thoughtful, first-person Sports Illustrated story has created a conundrum for the NBA, which does not want to appear intolerant but whose teams could wind up passing on Collins this offseason. While he would represent a relatively inexpensive option for a team in need of a physical defender at the veteran minimum salary of roughly $1.35 million, Collins will turn 35 in December and is at a stage in his career when declining, low-impact players are generally pushed aside.

I would put it this way.  It is good news that he “came out” and he is to be applauded for his courage.  Still, I am discomforted by the fact that only a male athlete on the down side of his career would be the one doing this.

Female athletes are more likely to identify as lesbian or bisexual than male athletes will identify as gay or bisexual.  I suspect this does not involve a comparable fear of loss of endorsement income or mass appeal.

Could it also be that women are more open in this regard?  Martina Navratilova came out in 1981 at the age of 24 and at or near the peak or her career.

Hollywood is ostensibly a more “gay tolerant” culture than is professional athletics, yet how many leading movie actors have come out as gay or bisexual?  I can’t think of many.  Here is one list of openly gay actors and I have not heard of most of them.  The number one guy on that list is identified as “Actor, Starship Troopers.”  As for the others on the list, Ricky Martin is famous but mostly a singer and Rupert Everett very often plays gay or possibly-gay characters, so his coming out presumably involved much less career risk.

Presumably if an up-and-coming actor comes out, it is hardly for that actor to get roles as a romantic lead and perhaps as an action lead in a “buddy movie” as well.  If you look at this list, it seems well-known female celebrities find it easier to mix coming out with continued career success.  Ellen, Rachel Maddow, Rosie O’Donnell, and Jodie Foster do not seem to have obvious male counterparts, again outside of music and figures such as Ricky Martin, Elton John, and David Bowie, and even Bowie has sent some mixed signals over the years.

For all the talk about the macho culture of professional sports, I wonder how much the problem is in fact the viewing public and the “least common denominator” imperatives of some forms of commercialized entertainment, especially when funded by advertisements.  The commercial upside for male coming out is usually smaller than the downside, at least for sports and movies with built-in mass audiences, again with connections to image-conscious mainstream advertisers.  If male “coming out” is easier in the world of music, it is perhaps because the product is directly financed by consumers, which implies more of a niche audience and a willingness to forgo some classes of consumers altogether.  Alex and I discuss related mechanisms in our paper on avant-garde vs. popular culture (pdf).

I am happy to read about Collins.  But we will be seeing much more progress when up-and-coming handsome actors, shooting for big Hollywood roles, also come out as gay.  That to me still seems far away.