Sounds Like Now
A blog by saxophonist Brian Sacawa
Archive for May, 2005
After reading Alex’s latest article in The New Yorker I emailed him this quote from Jacques Attali’s Noise, wondering why a preeminent culture vulture would neglect such a reference:
The phonograph, then, is part of a radically new social and cultural space demolishing the earlier economic constructions of representation. With the introduction of the record, the classical space of discourse collapses. Against the wishes of Edison himself, the drugstore jukebox wins out over the singers of the caf’ conâˆšÃŸ, the record industry over the publishing industry. Even radio, which could have forestalled this process by providing representation with a new market, gradually became, as we will see, an auxiliary of the record industry. After the discourse of representation was devalued, radio provided a showcase or the record industry, and the record industry gave the radio the material it needed to fill the airwaves.
His reply: “Sousa said it first, and in better English!” He’s right, you know. Although Attali, Adorno, and Benjamin are great thinkers, their verbiage tends to get in the way and “hijack the conversation,” as Alex says.
Less is more. A subordinate conglomeration is without exception exceedingly more profitable than an innumerable agglomeration. See? Rich Crawford, the venerable American musicologist, preached this all year long to a small group of us who took his two introductory PhD musicology courses a few years ago. It’s a good rule to follow.
“‘Bravo!’ Settembrini cried. ‘Bravo, lieutenant. You have described very nicely an indubitably moral element in the nature of music: to wit, that by its peculiar and lively means of measurement, it lends an awareness, both intellectual and precious, to the flow of time. Music awakens time, awakens us to our finest enjoyment of time. Music awakens–and in that sense it is moral. Art is moral, in that it awakens. But what if it were to do the opposite? If it were to numb us, put us to sleep, counteract all activity and progress? And music can do that as well. It knows all too well the effect that opiates have. A devilish effect, gentlemen. Opiates are the Devil’s tool, for they create dullness, rigidity, stagnation, slavish inertia. There is something dubious about music, gentlemen. I maintain that music is ambiguous by its very nature. I am not going too far when I declare it to be politically suspect.’”
–Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain
Everybody knows about Bill Clinton’s love affair with the saxophone. (I’ve written about it here.) However, beginning today the Clinton Presidential Library is mounting an exhibition to show that President Clinton has a wider range of musical interests and is not simply a sax maniac. From today’s Times via The Associated Press: “The “World of Music” display includes a reproduction of parts of a White House music room built for the president, samples from his eclectic CD collection, a wall devoted to Mr. Clinton’s childhood idol, Elvis Presley . . . and a video of Mr. Clinton as a teenager playing in the Arkansas All-State Band. Also on view are the recorder given to Mr. Clinton by Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic; a lutelike instrument presented by the people of Eritrea; and, yes, some of the saxophones given by presidential guests.” Unfortunately, the letter I wrote to him offering saxophone lessons that got me the above response probably didn’t make the exhibition.
I’m moving to Tucson. This fall I will join the faculty at the University of Arizona. Go Wildcats!
Ken Ueno’s one of my favorite composers and a good friend. Here are a couple quotes from an interview he gave recently:
“There isn’t as much potential for financial rewards [in classical music] as in pop music. But, there is the potential satisfaction that one had lived an uncompromising life of art in having created the music that one wanted to make unencumbered artistically by the demands of consumerist tastes.”
“I think the two most important developments [in the field of composing] will be: 1) the further integration of live, real-time computer processing into compositional performance practice; and 2) the proliferation of non-traditional instrumental groups, including an increased participation of the composer as performer. I would like to see my main instrument, the electric guitar, come into its own as a concert instrument with new pieces that incorporate it in both chamber music and orchestral contexts. Additionally, I hope that in the future New Music will come out of the shadows of being a sub-category of Classical music and become an independent movement.”
Read the entire interview here. And don’t miss the world premiere of his new concerto for biwa, shakuhachi, and orchestra at tomorrow night’s BMOP concert.
Update: Read Ken’s program notes and BMOP interview about Kaze-no-Oka (‘Hill of the Winds’).
I don’t know what these numbers are that Alex is talking about, but when I visited the blog that tells you a lot about these numbers, something very strange happened. I was visitor number 0010774. Why is this strange? My birthday is October 4, 1977. Weird.
Some sharp satire from Alex Ross over the Hyperion Records case. How about the Alex Ross edition of Prokofiev’s Sarcasms?
As an undergraduate I had the great honor of studying with the legendary saxophonist Yusef Lateef for a time. Yusef’s on another level in terms of the thought process and execution of improvised music. Notice that I said “improvised music” rather than jazz or bebop. (His own term for the kind of music he plays is autophysiopsychic music, meaning music which comes from one’s physical, mental, and spiritual self. Read all about it here.) Yusef’s got an incredible wealth of knowledge, but is highly picky about terminology. Jazz, he contends, is a deragatory term derived from a colloquialism for the male ejaculate. And he professes to not know what bebop or any other stylistic label is or sounds like. If you go to Yusef and want to learn to play bebop, you should tell him that you’d like to learn to play in the style of Charlie Parker or Cannonball Adderley, and so on. Once you get on the same page w/r/t terminology you’ll be fine.
For Yusef, improvisation is complete and utter spontaneity. If you begin playing with preconceived ideas or parameters of any sort, you are not truly improvising. As I got deeper into my studies with Yusef, I said to him that it seems as though the more you learn–the more licks you play in twelve keys, the more vocabulary you internalize, the more tunes you know, the more scales and patterns and patterns and patterns you drill, the more great artists you transcribe and learn to perfect their every nuance–the harder it becomes to truly improvise. His response was simply, “You understand.”
I’ve always wrestled with that issue as an improviser and to know that it was something that concerned even a great master made me feel better. When I play an improvised solo in a jazz style, I often feel as though I am putting everyone on. Like it’s not really “improvised” because I’ve practiced so hard to be able to make all the changes in a stylistically correct and hopefully somewhat hip way. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel this way when I hear other jazz players improvise. To the contrary, I even find it exciting to listen to the best Brecker clone even if I know every single lick that he/she is ripping off. I just could never find my voice as a jazz artist the way I feel as though I’ve found it as an interpreter of composed music.
Yet recently I’ve had to improvise in music that’s not in a jazz style. See I formed this band with this drummer guy from Boston, who is not only a world class percussionist but also an extremely accomplished improviser. Part of what we do, well what our biography says we do, is “play music that treads the boundary between composition and improvisation.” So when we work with composers, we like them to leave us some room if they’re willing. Not only that but sometimes we just get up on stage and play. Me, Tim, and his laptop. This type of playing suits me. It allows me to draw on a sonic vocabulary that is not constrained by the parameters of style. We play what we hear. It’s exhilarating, refreshing, and utterly freeing. And it’s more along the lines of what I was searching for when I studied with Yusef.
N.B. Heather’s recent post about experiencing Sun Ra in her car reminded me of a funny story Yusef once told me in a lesson. One day he was walking down a street in New York City when who should happen to be approaching him but Sun Ra. They were friends and so Yusef said, “Hey man, what’s going on?” Sun Ra replied, “I just got back from Venus, man.” The look in Yusef’s eye was priceless as he told me this. He thought clearly that Sun Ra must be nuts but he decided to humor him. “Oh yeah, man. Well, what was going on there,” he replied, laughing as he recalled the encounter. Now some people might think Yusef is on a different planet but his reaction to Sun Ra’s statement that he’d just returned from some interplanetary travel proves that he’s firmly on the planet Earth.
Have you ever wanted to get inside the mind of a critic? A new report released by Princeton University’s Lawrence McGill allows you to do just that. Called “The Classical Music Critic: A Survey of Music Critics at General-Interest and Specialized News Publications in America,” the document is the result of a collaborative effort between the Music Critics Association of North America and the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University. You can download your copy here. The report is a cornucopia of facts, including demographics, gender, types of stories, publications, approaches to criticism, the contemporary situation of classical music and its coverage, the critic’s relationship with his/her constituencies, the critic’s musical tastes, and the ethical norms of the classical music beat, among other things. Real juicy stuff. While I haven’t had a chance to read it yet and thus register my thoughts, you can be sure that it’s going to create a buzz around the blogosphere and likely well beyond. Klye Gann and Alex Ross have already struck up a conversation about it over at Sequenza21. I guarantee there’s more to come.
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A couple new blogs added to the list. Piano blogging: The Well-Tempered Blog. And the smart On An Overgrown Path.