josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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25 Feb '02 07:31:12 AM

Why doesn't classical music stick in my head until I've heard it a lot more than other kinds of music? This has been puzzling me off and on but I think a few things contribute to my impression being a little mistaken.

One big thing is that most of the classical that I listen to (and I don't spend much time listening to it now) has some significant degree of sameyness, either because of the music itself or the format in which I listen to it.

The latter has an obvious effect. Lots of the things I listen to come multiple compositions to a disc because they're short, or because I prefer to buy "complete" collections of whatever. I'm thinking of Chopin's nocturnes, or Mozart's wind music or piano sonatas (even with the piano music, there might be three or more compositions per disc, which is enough to make them run together, especially given the next reason).

More importantly, I've gravitated toward compositions that are just more samey sounding, because of their forms. What have I listened to most in the past few years? Piano sonatas, string quartets, nocturnes, sonfoniettas, canons, fugues... For one thing, lots of small group music. Solo music or string quartet music can sound samey because the timbres of all the voices are so similar (groups like the Budapest String Quartet make it their ideal to sound like one instrument, and I suppose that's not totally unique to them). Music like Bach's "Musical Offering", which is one of my favorites, puts the focus almost totally on counterpoint, and a restricted kind of counterpoint at that, where much of the material is sonically similar to the basic material. Less rigid small group music probably still has to devote more attention to counterpoint than, say, a symphony. Also, a lot of the forms for smaller groups are just tighter - they involve more self-similarity because of the way the material is reworked throughout the form (I'm thinking here of the way the theme is returned to in sonata form). I guess you could argue that that should make it easier to remember the music, but we're not talking about strict repetition - instead it's a kind that smooths things out and makes them harder to distinguish offhandedly, which is kind of how I tend to listen to lots of things. And thinking again of the comparison to a symphony or other large group work - even in a mixed ensemble, a small group tends to be less diverse in terms of sounds than a large one like an orchestra, just because of the greater number of instruments and ways of combining them. (Besides just the combinatorial ways, there's also the fact that a massed group of the same instrument can have more power to it, as far as memory goes. Groups like that are used often to write more memorable melodies, too, exactly because of the power.)

Part of the reason I had these thoughts is that I used to listen to a lot more symphonies, when I was starting to learn more about classical music at the beginning of college. One of my side motivations was learning about things that were considered important for quizbowl, which mostly means symphonies of the canonical composers and then some other stuff (they tend to be easier to ask questions about, for one thing). And I realized tonight that aside from the fact that I haven't listened much to those symphonies in quite a while (even though some were among my favorite pieces of music, like Mendelssohn's "Scottish" or Mahler's Fifth), I remembered at least parts of them much better than I seem to remember lots of the music I listen to now, allowing for the differences in attentiveness and time spent listening. And I think the reasons above go quite a ways toward explaining why.

Related things that may be significant: I have a harder time remembering solo jazz music like Dave Holland's Emerald Tears album than I do group jazz. (The difference in content breaks this distinction down some though - though I have a harder time remembering say solo jazz piano than piano trio jazz, the solo is still easier than solo classical. Of course the solo jazz I listen to most is Monk, and with his compositions and soloing methods things are sort of different anyway - though notably it's easy to be confused about which of his compositions I'm hearing even if I know what's coming up.) And as for the sameness that comes from listening to lots of music in the same form, maybe Miles and Coltrane provide good examples for me to think about, because the problem of separating out individual songs in styles that I listen to a lot of may be similar to the problem in classical.

24 Feb '02 09:56:10 PM

So I put on Soundgarden's Superunknown, and I was sitting there enjoying myself, and "Drown Me" ended, and I had the usual remembering-how-the-next-song-starts-before-it-starts thing, only it was for the wrong song. I don't think it was even a song on this album - probably something off Badmotorfinger, though I can't remember what (starts "I wish to wish I dream to dream"...). How exactly did that happen, hmm?

24 Feb '02 09:46:41 PM

Awesome.

24 Feb '02 10:29:49 AM

Listening tonight: Very Soon, and in Pleasant Company by the Shipping News, Rusty by Rodan, Dmitri Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues, and a disc from Miles' In a Silent Way box.

Topics considered tonight: my inability to understand math rock as a genre, the tendency for new classical music to not 'stick' with me despite supposedly being plenty receptive (I should think).

Progress made: nil.

24 Feb '02 10:23:35 AM

All of the stories in this Citypages cover story about radio are well worth reading. I found the one about Minnesota Public Radio especially interesting in and of itself, and also because I lazily leave my alarm clock set on MPR because it comes in so much better than the music stations that do come in (which are unfortunately not the ones I like) - and more importantly, because Midmorning with Katherine Lanpher regularly fills me with white-hot rage, which I've found to be effective at at least keeping me from falling back to sleep. I can't believe she makes $90000 per year doing that show for ten hours a week and whatever other miscellaneous crap she does around the station. The show is simply awful. Occasionally they stumble on to a good topic or guest, but even then the shows are sabotaged by Lanpher's inane questions (which I get the impression are intended to be incisive), Lanpher's treatment and management of the callers (if MPR is supposed to be so cultured, then why do they rely on a format like this which stifles real discussion?), and Lanpher's grating voice. Matter of fact, I think I'll give up and find a way to make my radio pick up the hip-hop station. Now.

(The thrice-annually perpetuated fundraising drive mentioned in the article has indeed started already, and while I have to admit it's not as annoying as the one done twice a year by WOI, the central Iowa NPR station, it weaves in and out of employing similar TV telethon annoyances, when it's not giving listeners a guilt trip about what an awful job the recession has done on MPR's budget specifically. Wouldn't it be interesting to have a Midmorning episode about the apparently quite adequate sources of funding mentioned in the article? Or the payoffs to affiliated executives? Or... etc.)

24 Feb '02 03:24:17 AM

As part of a conscious effort to stay more caught up with Freaky Trigger since Tom took over editing again, I just read Nitsuh's article on the Strokes. It was good and all, but the prospect of thinking critically about it seems to tiring to me at the moment. I suspect this has a lot to do with my impression that Nitsuh is bringing a lot of his pet ideas to bear (for instance in his casual intimation that indie listeners have gotten tired of 'knob-twiddling auteurism', but from what I remember from working at say a college radio station, people weren't that much into such a thing anyway - so it seems to be projection on Nitsuh's part) in a practical rather than critical role. I mean, I guess, that I'm made uncomfortable by the flurry of ideas that could all stand to have their own articles. Of course, I've seen Nitsuh defending or working through plenty of them on ILM, but a) it feels different in an article, and b) just because I've seen him doing so doesn't mean I was made to be happy with all the ideas. This is all just a rough impression, though.

23 Feb '02 08:42:02 AM

Oh, and I guess I have some other reasons for doing it again too.

Last year, I was often miserable. Some of that was just the usual, which has thankfully dissipated some, or gone into remission at least, this year. A good part of it was girl-related - either the continuing effects of a breakup, or the brief and mostly self-generated chaos that resulted from being lovestruck and then gently rebuked. That, too, is better this year. (Neutral is better than bad.)

So, last year I didn't think my enjoyment (or lack thereof) of 69 Love Songs had much to do with my ongoing emotional state, love-related or not. I still don't think it does - but why not check obsessively and exhaustively by writing about every single song?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

And. Despite its size, this task somehow seems approachable in a way that a similar one for a much smaller favorite album of mine doesn't. And because I've come to recognize that this is indeed one of my favorite albums, I feel compelled to sort of give in (again) to the task that the album, with all its Leyneresque dimensions, seems to taunt any listener with.

23 Feb '02 08:20:49 AM

A little over a year later, I think I'm ready to go song by song through the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs again.

The things I wrote last year were written while I still had a somewhat adversarial relationship with parts of the album, or for some of the songs, just an indifferent one. I think it's only in keeping with the josh blog modus operandi to do the whole thing over again, then, now that I hear the album differently. A lot differently.

This time I won't be doing solely Love Song entries until I finish, so things may take a bit longer. I will be setting myself a Merrittesque formalist restriction, though, since I'm doing the songs in alphabetical order. That means I'll start with "Abigail, Belle of Kilronan" when I get a chance.

I don't really have a plan, again, but one thing I want to aim for is making the value of each song more perspicuous. I had been thinking off and on about doing this again for a while now (be astounded by my proliferation of time words!), but today I idly read a review that invoked the commonly-used idea that the album only really has maybe one album's worth (the figure varies but one album is common I think) of good songs. While I don't dispute that people might think that - that they might only like about that many of the songs, or think that that many qualify as 'good' - I think it's lazy reviewing to come across that way. Perhaps one key reason this happens is that the album is large and varied, in style and yes even quality. But reviewers lean slavishly on the idea of albums like this (and by "like" I mean "with lots of songs and apparently having varying levels of quality", i.e. the similarity need only be superficial) being "messes" or "shambolic" or whatever, and I suspect that this tends to make it easy for their personal inclinations come off as objective judgments about where the diamonds in the rough are. I don't want to make every song out to be perfect or anything like that, and I don't just love every song despite what I think of its quality. I just want to look more closely.

A side motivation here is that my old trudge through the album is one of the things I most wish I had transferred into my semi-new database widget. It only seems appropriate to have 69 (or so - I rushed a couple at the end when I did some real-time listener response kind of thing) entries floating around in the widget. But I don't want to just figure out how to hack those in there without doing it up proper-like. So instead I'll just do it again, and maybe make links to the old ones in each new entry. For now. That will please me sufficiently.

21 Feb '02 07:50:21 AM

NB: I saw Singin' in the Rain tonight for my film class and it was really good.

(Most prejudices are maintained through an inertia of ignorance.)