The Farce Awakens

January 20, 2017 at 10:20 am

Since ‘Murica has turned into a reality TV spin-off, we better pick some appropriate theme music.

It’s tempting to use Art Music to make some clever jokes, but it just doesn’t feel funny because it’s real. Well, let the farce begin. Thankfully, a composer (from ‘Murica, no less) has already composed music which we could use for the run of this TV series: Music for a Farce, by Paul Bowles. And it’s a good thing, since clearly this administration isn’t interested in the arts.

Nah, I take it back. This music is too enjoyable. Let’s Fucik instead.


Do you speak Whale?

November 14, 2016 at 10:46 am

On this day in 1851, Moby Dick was published in the US. It is one of the greatest books ever written – highly recommended reading! First, you learn that all sailors are lunatics. Then, you’ll learn all sorts of useless whale facts as you crawl through chapters of classification and lore. Lastly, you get to endure tens of thousands of words devoted to the slow mental deterioration of an already bonkers-crazy ship captain. (Joking aside, it is a truly marvelous work.)

George Crumb is an American composer whom I deeply admire for his ability to be avant-garde without being off-the-deep-end. He uses all sorts of unorthodox instruments (e.g. toy pianos, tape loops, electronic effects) and extended techniques (i.e. using an instrument in a non-traditional way, like singing into a flute or bowing on the wrong side of a violin bridge) in his music. Many composers have done this, but most fail at making music, and instead make something more akin to organized noise (if you like organized noise, that’s fine. I don’t. When I want to listen to organized noise, I turn on my washing machine.) Crumb, on the other hand, makes music – it is otherworldly, but often astoundingly beautiful.

Among his more famous works is Vox Balaenae, or voice of the whale. On one hand, it’s exactly what you might think – weird underwater “moos” like Dory does in Finding Nemo. But once you get past that, it’s oddly pleasing, calming, and brilliant. The entire work lasts 20 minutes, and is for masked performers (seriously) playing flute, cello, and piano. This video is the beginning of the piece, a flute solo with a little piano to set the mood – both using a lot of extended techniques!

And, unlike Moby Dick, you don’t have to invest hours into it before deciding you don’t like it and quitting. (Joking aside, it is a truly marvelous work.)


Halloween preparations

October 23, 2016 at 10:00 am

We all have our own rituals when preparing for a holiday. Some put up the Christmas Tree the day after Thanksgiving, some wait until Christmas Eve. Maybe there are TV specials or movies that you MUST watch every year. Some decorate like mad a month before Valentine’s or St. Patrick’s day. Or maybe you’re really into Americana on the 4th.

Every October, I have a canon of scary short stories that I read. It always begins with Poe, especially the Fall of the House of Usher, includes a handful of things like Sleepy Hollow, and ends with a generous portion of Blackwood and Lovecraft. But for now, let’s stick with Poe – how about The Masque of the Red Death?

André Caplet is mainly remembered for his orchestrations of the piano works of his friend, Claude Debussy, especially Clair de Lune. It’s difficult living in the shadow of such a great master; Caplet left behind a generous catalog of works in many different genres, including this gothic tone poem inspired by Poe’s short story. A classic string quartet instrumentation is greatly augmented by the harp, which makes the small ensemble sound much larger than five players.