Category Archives: Essays and Analysis

Jake Heggie explains it all for you

Jake Heggie is kind of a big deal. If his own story were made into an opera, it would be laughed off as contrived and unbelievable (even more so than most opera plots). A working stiff writing copy in the PR department of a national opera gets noticed by the right people and is launchedContinue ReadingContinue Reading

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Melisma on the Radio

Last month, inspired by a post on Chloe Veltman’s blog Lies Like Truth, I wrote a response addressing the melismatic, overwrought style of singing that seems to have been in vogue since the 1990s. Chloe read my piece and invited me to collaborate on an episode of her radio show VoiceBox dedicated to this subjectContinue ReadingContinue Reading

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Merit vs Success

My friend Natalie Wilson recently did a remarkable job of setting an enormous goal and meeting it almost to the date. At the beginning of the year she challenged herself to write an entire play (her first) in nine months. Using the extended metaphor of birth (which time and again works uncannily well) she startedContinue ReadingContinue Reading

2 Responses to Merit vs Success

  1. mary beth woodruff says:

    a very important point is made here. it is my humble opinion that the arts is riddled with far too many success whores and it can tend to drive quality into the ground. imagine beethoven’s output if he cared what people thought? we would have no late quartets, as they weren’t even commissioned. we probably wouldn’t have a ninth symphony. then imagine a musical world without these a part of the landscape. scary. there are so many examples of this being the case in centuries past. i wonder if this body of work really exists in the 20th/21st century – works that have received no earmarks of ‘success’ but that will so clearly be recognized as such, via the fortitude of merit alone, at a future date.

  2. Thanks for this, Brian. Both for the buzz but more importantly for your thoughts. I’ve written another post in response (because I love the term “meta” and a blog post about a blog post about a blog post is just so very meta).

    http://birthofaplaywright.blogspot.com/2010/11/dia-blog-on-success-vs-merit.html

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What Technology Wants: Better Musics

Molly Sheridan’s Mind The Gap blog has gotten particularly geektastic this past week as she hosted a virtual book club. The book in question, Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants. This certainly tickled the computer scientist in me, Kelly’s Out Of Control changed the way I thought about computing in the mid 90s. Kelly has longContinue ReadingContinue Reading

2 Responses to What Technology Wants: Better Musics

  1. We actually know what art wants and how it evolves. It wants to be culturally isomorphic with the society that consumes it. It wants to conform to the major social forces that contextualize it, like religion, economic and political systems, educational systems, technology, methods of delivery, social values, etc.

    For example, the symphony orchestra arose to reflect the cultural nationalism and post-revolutionary authoritarianism of the second half of 19th century Europe. A great deal of medieval visual art was written to conform to the belief systems and mythologies of the Catholic church. Most European art up to the Napoleonic wars was written, composed, or built to reflect the status, power, and glory of the aristocracy.

    If a society believes in the harmony of the spheres it produces the clockwork music of Bach. If it believes in the rational nature of the enlightened man it produces Haydn and Mozart. If it turns toward Darwinism it produces the Rite of Spring. If it believes in scientism it produces Milton Babbitt. If it decenters authority through postmodern philsophy it prodcues John Zorn and Pixar.

    There are very few known artists who expressed ideas completely outside the cultural norms of their societies. Can you name any? Artists might contribute to the forward movement, but those who are remembered are those who remain in step with the leading edge. Avante-guardists are merely those who sense where society is headed and who express ideas near the cutting edge of the intelligentsia, but not beyond it.

    Even works that caused dismay in their time, like The Rite of Spring or Wozzeck, or transgressive authors like Joyce, Artuad, de Sade, and Genet actually conformed very strongly to the cultural currents of their periods.

    It is almost always philosophers who lead these developments, but they too can only move in step with the forward progress of the society as a whole. Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, Marx, and Foucault are a few examples. Societies move forward as a collective. Inspired geniuses only contribute to that movement. They cannot create it alone.

    If an artist defies these principles, his or her work will be neglected and forgotten, regardless of how good it is.

  2. Brian Rosen says:

    Great comment! The zeitgeist as cultural arbiter is a strong notion.

    But is the culture an indicator or instigator? Is the artist driving the culture or is culture driving the artist?

    More likely it’s an interplay, and exchange of ideas between individual speakers. What resonates is a function of the makeup of society at the time, a sort of echo chamber of individuals.

    We need an acoustic theory of memes and ideas…

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Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and… Benjamin Britten

I think it started with Whitney Houston. Then Mariah Carey. And then it spread to any R&B singer with a record deal. And then American Idol. And now, just about every YouTube video you see. It’s melisma. In singing, it’s any discrete changing of pitch while sustaining a single syllable. A common technique in baroqueContinue ReadingContinue Reading

One Response to Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and… Benjamin Britten

  1. David says:

    That video is so terrifying.

    I shall not sleep this even’.

    Thanks Brian. Thanks a lot.

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My Father Knew Milton Babbitt

John Adams titled his work “My Father Knew Charles Ives” based on a hunch that had his father ever actually met the groundbreaking American composer, their similar dispositions and interests would have made them fast friends. This little anecdote differs from Adams’ in two points.  First, my father, a lifelong athlete and track coach couldn’tContinue ReadingContinue Reading

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Requiem Praegrandis – On Baseball, Music, and Misery

I’ve come to the realization that 80% of the stress I’ve ever experienced has come from watching baseball. Specifically post season baseball. Which is equal parts a commentary on how little stress I have in my normal life and how stressful it is for me to watch baseball when something’s on the line. So yeah.Continue ReadingContinue Reading

2 Responses to Requiem Praegrandis – On Baseball, Music, and Misery

  1. gerald rosen says:

    Your years of growing up a Mets fan are finally taking root in SF. Go Giants!!!

  2. Michael Fitch says:

    If you are an Orioles fan like me, you don’t have to worry about the postseason. Except maybe worrying that one of the team will get hurt on his fishing trip.

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Inception: plot point or arcana?

This is kinda neat. One of the main musical gestures in the score of Inception is derived from an actual plot point in the film. Neat! Cool! I love it! But is it hearable? I mean, now that it’s been pointed out and delivered via the viral web you can hear it, and SOMEONE mustContinue Reading

2 Responses to Inception: plot point or arcana?

  1. joe says:

    um.. have you seen the movie? the use of this cue is specifically *about* the slowing down of the edith piaf music. the sound itself is what cues the characters to prepare themselves to awake form the dream state. hardly arcana.

  2. Brian Rosen says:

    Oh ya! I know! It’s really clever in the way it hooks up with the plot point. The arcana question come from whether or not the source of the musical reference in the score is detectable. I know I didn’t catch it the first time, and I doubt I would have caught it a third or fourth time. If it’s not ‘hearable’, than it becomes fodder for a trivia question, hence, arcana.

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Is Guitar Hero good for music?

I really dig Guitar Hero. From the first time I picked up a four buttoned plastic guitar and jammed out to We Got The Beat at the 2007 SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference I was hooked. Having a reasonable amount of musical aptitude, I took to it pretty quickly.  I can usually sight read songs atContinue Reading

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Save the small theaters!

Oh man.  Another small theater is taken out of commission.  I just learned that Climate Theater has lost its lease and is moving operations to the Traveling Jewish Theater.  Chloe Veltman covered it on her blog.  (Somehow I keep crossing paths with Chloe Veltman.  I think I only met her in person once, very brieflyContinue Reading

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