Monday, March 21, 2005

What have you been reading, listening to, watching?

Twist Endings
Slate's David Edelstein suggests the 20 most absurd twist endings. I agree with many. His readers added some others which he posted. My favorite: Passion of the Christ ("He's not really dead!") What twist endings aren't on the list but should be?

Star Wars III
Lucas now says it will be "a real tearjerker"... I don't want to have a bad attitude about it. Really, I don't. If you haven't seen the trailer, it is here. It made me hopeful. "Tearjerker" does not.

Is 12-tone music dead?
Kyle Gann considers the ongoing (lack of) usefulness in teaching twelve-tone composition to college students. I can identify. Much of what we teach music students borders (or jumps headfirst) into the realm of the useless. But I would give up a handful of archaic things (for you initiated few: like 4-part chorale writing, which consumed 80% of my theory classes as a student) before bypassing 12-tone approaches in my own theory sequence. Even its perceived uselessness can be an important tool toward understanding the mindset and aesthetic of mid-20th century classical music.

But as a composer I can also attest that 12-tone can be an instructional compositional outlook as well, as a gateway toward serialism, an approach which need not be taught so rigidly as it typically is. It takes a little flexibility and creativity, but teaching 12-tone as a relevant tool can indeed be done. And given its dominance over classical music so recently, I think skipping it is a mistake. For you non-musicians, it would be somewhat akin to skipping dadaist art in art classes just because the students find it too weird. That having been said, I am not arguing against more attention to relevance--my entire teaching style is built on it. I'm just saying it's up to us to demonstrate to them what is, or can be, relevant. Not the other way around.

We should start by listening to the music our students listen to (there are some entire theory courses today that could have been made up of exactly the same material in 1830. Last year, I had a colleague tell me he teaches his theory courses like they are history classes...ugh!). Not only does that make is easier to connect topics to relevance (how would most of today's music theory teachers even know what counts as relevant?), it builds credibility with our students when we have to convince them--in their present state of knowledge (ignorance)--of a connection that may not be intuitive; that is, when we have to teach. Still, the suggestion to teach plunderphonics is one I endorse, and teach myself. But why not privilege the techniques of the 1950s over those of the 1650s? Even when the relevance to today is not experienced on the surface.

Movie reviews I haven't read
I don't like to read reviews before I see films. Usually the preview gives away too much as it is, and reviewers give away even more. But here are NY Times reviews that oscarwatch says are positive assessments. Beyond that, I don't know what they say. If you don't share my hangup, you may want to read...
--Manhola Dargis on Millions (the preview has already convinced me to see it, barring a spate of reviews I hear are negative...)
--AO Scott on Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda

King of Pop?
Article 19 favorite Jody Rosen, writing in the Nation, tries to remind us how Michael Jackson became famous in the first place--as a genius songwriter and unparalled singing talent. Chris Rock has a funny joke, told in the context of ridiculing Jackson's penchant for little-boy relationships (of some kind or the other): "Remember when we argued about who was better, Michael or Prince? Prince won." Rosen's doesn't address the comparison himself, but his heralding of Michael's musical career certainly calls that conclusion into question.
(T)he Jackson who emerged as a solo artist in the late 1970s was preternaturally sleek, charismatic and confident, a perfect superstar for the post-soul era. He was the first performer to assimilate disco, which had dominated the charts for a couple of years, into a wholly personal style, combining its sumptuous grooves with the songcraft and vocal expressiveness of classic soul. You can hear that style budding in "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)," the huge 1979 dance hit recorded with his brothers, and then bursting into flower on his solo breakthrough, Off the Wall (1979). The album was Jackson's first with producer Quincy Jones, and to many purists it's his best, an irresistible mix of suave soul, soft rock, pop and funk.

But it's Jackson's singing that propels Off the Wall. Here was the sound that would conquer the pop charts across the world: the limpid falsetto voice, strangely higher at age 21 than it was at 13, which could dip into a buttery midrange or explode into squeals, hiccups, grunts, "hee-hees" and other James Brown-on-helium exhortations.
His musical promise and undoubtable influence make it that much more sad--no, pathetic really--that his legacy will be forever equated with strangeness and perhaps even criminal behavior; pathetic both for the one who will be remembered, and the ones doing the remembering. Michael Jackson has become famous now only for being famous. The prequel to Courtney Love. His talent and his genius slayed by his own hand (the one with the glove I suppose), with a little help from this age of the voyeur we live in. Read the whole thing.

New CD Releases
Only three more long weeks until that new Mariah Carey comes out we've all been waiting for. I'll see you at Tower Records at Midnight. Until then, maybe the new Yo La Tengo (3-disk retrospective), or the new Beck next week will actually be worth picking up.

Weekend Box Office
1. The Ring Two (I liked the first alot--very spooky--but the second can't be any good. If you see it and I'm wrong, let me know.)
2. Robots
3. The Pacifier
4. Ice Princess
5. Hitch

You have to go down to # 11, The Upside of Anger, to find something that looks worth seeing (that I haven't already seen). And that has Kevin Costner in it.

Project Greenlight
The new season may be worth watching--I caught the first episode over the weekend. The interesting thing about this show concept is watching the process of making a movie, and rooting for a first-time director to jump-start a career. The failure is that it typically devolves into a clash between studio mentality/demands and artistic wishes, so it's less about the logistics of making a film and more about the logistics of marketing a film. Since the director is new, he has virtually no pull in this process, and rarely wins these battles. (A more interesting show may be to watch the process through with an established director...).

This season, this clash promises to be even greater. The director they chose, at Matt Damon's behest, was clearly the most talented but may be a nightmare to work with. He's a middle-aged eccentric loner recluse. His wishes are not so much career-related; he wants to make a good interesting film. He is exactly the kind of project this show was designed to promote--the talented and opportunity-less.

Either he will thwart the studio with his strangeness, or they will crush his fragile spirit. The first would be interesting to watch. The second, not so much.

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