Time once again (well, this is only the second time, but I’m trying to turn it into a trend) for the Monday-morning Web surf. Here are some things that caught my eye:
– Though minimalism has never appealed to me even slightly–not in music, not in the visual arts–the always acute Tyler Green of artsjournal.com’s Modern Art Notes puts his finger on why others beg to differ:
For many years now museums have been where secular America goes to church. In an era where most mainstream entertainment is designed to be as baroquely overblown as possible (what else could possibly explain The Rock?), museums provide rich visual quiet.
The current run of minimalism shows makes clearer than ever that museums are the new churches. Some minimalist art is hard, flat and repelling (think Judd, early Stella, Andre). It provides the viewer with something wonderful to look at, but it doesn’t give the viewer a place to go within the work (like Matisse does). Instead, it forces the viewer to examine his own response to the work as much as the work itself….
The conventional wisdom in the art world had long been that minimalism is difficult, but strong attendance for minimalism shows exposes that theory as elitist bunk. Museum boards, the folks who fund these shows, apparently love minimalism too. That’s no surprise: Museum boards are now what main-line Protestant church boards used to be: the bastion of the moneyed establishment. Museums are the new churches. The sudden prevalence of minimalism makes that clearer than ever.
– Speaking of the other side of the coin, Kyle Gann, another artsjournal.com blogger, writes an epitaph for an unloved corpse:
But I also think that aside from Berio’s Sinfonia, Babbitt’s Philomel, maybe Zimmermann’s Requiem, and a couple of other pieces with textual elements, the entire body of serialist music produced nothing that will ever mean much to anyone beyond composers and new-musicians interested in its technical aspects. There will always be interest in serialist music – it’s always fascinating when people pour tremendous creative energy into something that doesn’t appear to mean anything. Write some apparent nonsense, and people will study it for centuries! – look at the endurance of Finnegans Wake. It’s fascinating that people once wrote music that tried to alienate people. But again, once you reach a certain age it becomes less fascinating, and one can start to feel a certain urgency for connecting with that which can be understood. I think….
– Sarah has a nice post on the relative importance (or unimportance) of first lines in literature. Like most people who’ve worked for newspapers for any length of time, I’m acutely lead-conscious. I can’t continue writing a piece until I have the first sentence locked in (though I don’t always write the rest of the piece in beginning-to-end order). Books, I think, are different–you usually don’t pick a book up unless you already have a reason to read it–and I never judge them by their first lines. Instead, I use what I call the “core-sampling” method, opening the book at random to two or three different spots to get a feel for how well it’s written. If I’m disappointed every time (or if I run across one or more obvious untruths in a work of nonfiction), chances are I won’t go on with it.
Having said this, I’ll add that my electronic commonplace book does contain a section called “Opening Lines, Great.” Here’s my favorite one: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” How could you not keep reading?
– Others have linked to “Hip, But Inscrutable: Music Reviews at NPR,” a genteel rant against obscurantism by Jeffrey A. Dvorkin, NPR’s ombudsman, but his piece was so boneheaded that I wanted to make sure it reached as many readers as possible:
NPR regularly reviews new music. This is good, since it takes NPR listeners out of what is familiar and exposes them to what is happening in other parts of the culture.
The problem, according to some listeners, is that NPR’s reviews are too hip to be good journalism. In short, some musical commentary, especially on All Things Considered, is incomprehensible to some listeners, and I confess, to me….
Modern music, and especially rock ‘n’ roll, was always about who was “in” and who was not. Nothing is more embarrassing than older people claiming to dig the latest sounds.
This is a quandary for NPR. How does NPR reach out to a younger group of listeners without irritating its older core? If NPR’s music journalism is really meant for that younger audience, then irritating older listeners is a price young radio producers are willing to pay.
NPR needs to do music reviews but they need to be written so all listeners are able to understand the criticism and the music. The reviews should give listeners a glimpse of something new, even if it is hard to understand (or like).
Now, I could easily imagine a parallel universe in which these complaints were valid. But when I read the actual reviews singled out by Dvorkin for criticism, I cringed–and not at the reviewers, either. Here, for instance, is a description of the music of the Magnetic Fields:
The songs themselves are the draw. They’re disciplined little gems of composition, poison-pen letters set in the first person and caustic, coffee-shop observations propelled by not particularly heroic desires. The best of them tell about being deluded in love or not being able to let go of an old flame. And even under Merritt’s dour storm clouds, they gleam.
If NPR’s ombudsman is concerned about the accessibility of a review like that, then NPR needs a new ombudsman.
In the last decade, Maria Schneider, who regularly wins prizes for best composer and best big-band arranger in jazz, has made three albums on the Enja record label. Each sold about 20,000 copies — very good numbers for jazz. She didn’t make a dime off any of them. On two of them, she lost money.
So recently, she went off the grid. She became the first musician to sign with a company called ArtistShare. Rather than go through labels, distributors and retailers, ArtistShare sells discs over the Web and turns over all the proceeds (minus a small fee) to the artist.
Her new CD, “Concert in the Garden,” went on sale last Thursday exclusively through www.mariaschneider.com. If it sells one-quarter as many copies as any of her previous discs, she will do better than break even. If it sells half as many, she will earn tens of thousands of dollars.
“Making an album takes lots of time and effort,” Ms. Schneider said in her apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. “It takes me two or three years to write the music. Then there are the rehearsals, the studio time, the mixing and mastering. It would be nice to get something back for it. The thought that I could actually make a profit off my records — that’s unbelievable, really.”…
If you want to read more about the future of recorded music, click here and ponder.
– Also of interest is the Times‘ story about the decision of Pilobolus Dance Theater to hire Itamar Kubovy as executive director and give him the authority to overrule any of the four artistic directors, who had hitherto run the company by collective consensus throughout its three-decade-long history. I’ve spent quite a bit of time watching Pilobolus up close (I even appear in Last Dance, Mirra Bank’s 2002 cin