This week in Internetland

  • What if everyone’s favorite child sorcerer was studying composition? Check out this amazing Harry Potter recast from Scott Spiegelberg, assistant professor of music at DePaw University. It’s the ninth installment in John Lanius’s Carnival of Music.

  •, curated by Mr Fab since October 2004, is a virtual Wal-Mart of ” ‘outsider’ recordings and utterly unique sounds.” A great lunchtime playground for audiophile adults, recent highlights include a feature on Toydeath, a band that creates music out of an “arsenal of toys to make any kindergarten green with envy”, and the gangsta rap of Philip Glass.

  • Talk about service journalism…Ionarts blogger Charles T. Downey gives us the down and dirty recap of the Santa Fe premiere of Osvaldo Golijov’s one-act opera Ainadamar.

  • Note to those seeking the youth market: it’s not a short attention span you must deal with, it’s a demand for complexity. Bring on the Ferneyhough.

  • gives Alex Ross a pop quiz. Come back from vacation, Alex. We miss you!!!

The Emancipation of Judgment

Is the Tate Gallery rejection of a collection of paintings by the Stuckists an example of careful critical evaluation or yet another example of how the arbiters of taste limit audience awareness of artistic possibilities?

Eating My Veggies or Dealing With My Personal Critical Demons

In between my fourth and fifth visits to Footlight Records to pick up, at the lowest cost imaginable, more music that I might potentially dislike, I took a websurfing break to Sequenza21, where, in today’s Composers Forum, Galen H. Brown suggests that young audiences “shopping for a subculture” are not “vulnerable” to an “‘eat your veggies’ approach” to new music which has been the way all of classical music has been marketed in this country from day one.

I too have long believed all that “Mozart makes you smarter” stuff is a turnoff, even though I started eating broccoli with a vengeance upon learning that George H.W. Bush hated it, so go figure…

Among yesterday’s Footlight acquisitions is a record that I could barely get through half of. (Another plus in the vinyl over CD battle is that if you don’t like something, it will end sooner without you having to do anything.) The LP in question is Rosemary Clooney’s Mixed Emotions. I’ve long known that Clooney is an icon among fans of the great standards singers, so for a mere 54 cents (tax included) I figured it was worth the risk. Despite my years as a PR hack, I was also sold by the liner notes (another thing CDs can’t do):

If you happen to be one of the few who have never been exposed to her vocal charms, this is the perfect starter-package. Of course, if you are a Rosemary Clooney fan, we do not have to tell you that this album is a must.

From the first horribly unreal stereo-reprocessed mono distortion (not her fault I know, but still) as soon as I dropped the needle, to the opening words of the very first song, “Bless This House” with its saccharine religiosity, I found myself nearly gagging. But why?

Tons of electronic music I love going back to Stockhausen takes acoustic recordings and distorts them all sorts of ways to great aesthetic effect. And scads of music I cherish, from the Bach cantatas to gospel records by James Cleveland or the Davis Sisters, attempt to incite religious feelings I know I will never have, yet I can still love the music. So, why am I so turned off by this? Why am I allowing myself to let these things get in the way of listening to the mellifluous sound of her voice, which is above all else what her fans are paying attention to? Could it just be a little too close to things I heard growing up that made me turn to classical music and the avant garde in the first place? If that’s the case, might I be listening to my feelings and not to the music? Might that be what happens when most people listen to music they “don’t like”?

I’m heading back over there to buy more records within the hour. Undoubtedly, I’ll pick up even more Rosemary Clooney and hopefully figure it out.

I Don’t Know What I Don’t Like

I just came back from my third trip in so many days to Footlight Records in the East Village. Presumably until the seemingly endless piles of LPs and CDs become manageable enough for Footlight to close its doors and transform itself into an online-only retailer, they are offering a 75%-off sale on vinyl and a 20%-off sale on CDs.

For 30 years, Footlight has been the No. 1 store in New York City, if not the rest of the country and the world, for folks interested in Broadway original cast albums and film soundtracks as well as crooners and other vocal icons from a bygone era. While some of this music is of immense interest to me—I’m a Sondheim and Loesser fanatic—most of it has remained on the periphery of my musical diet and some of it I even blatantly dislike. Yet for three days I’ve been shoveling piles of it home and probably will go back there again tomorrow.


Because for years my response to encountering music I don’t like has been to keep listening to it and the best way to do that is to buy a record of it.

I usually blame the “tastelessness” of my record collection and subsequent listening time on the influence of John Cage, although he would undoubtedly have been horrified by much of what I keep on my walls. (Indeed, he was horrified of recorded music in the first place despite the myriad compact discs of his music that are now available for public consumption.) But Cage’s full emancipation of all sound as potential music must mean that if everything is music, so is “bad music.”

As a John Cage-loving young composer turned Columbia ethnomusicology graduate student in the late 1980s, I was already prepared to be swayed by William Brooks’s 1982 essay “On Being Tasteless” (Popular Music 2, Cambridge University Press) and John Blacking’s 1985 book A Commonsense View of All Music, texts which argued that we would understand music better if we objectively analysed it as a universal human phenomenon rather than constantly trying to evaluate it based on something as precarious and egocentric as personal opinion. For the last twenty years, these texts became the Little Red Books of my own still-ongoing personal cultural revolution.

I still remember hating the not-quite-in-tune and horribly mannered sounds made by many rock vocalists, which can be as jarring to someone unversed in the genre as bel canto operatic vibrato to folks who aren’t Met subscribers. Yet now I can think of few experiences more intense than listening to Johnny Rotten in his prime. Through being tasteless, I’ve opened my mind to hip-hop, country-western, Frank Sinatra, and a good deal of so-called contemporary classical music since we’re probably even more guilty of exclusion within the genre than we are outside it.

How can you possibly have your mind open to a brand new piece of music if the only music you’ll allow into your life is music that you already like?

Yesterday I bought a couple of records worth of music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, whom I have never liked. And today I picked up an album featuring Teresa Brewer, a singer I only remember as one annoying voice passing by among many others on a TV commercial for an oldies collection I saw some 30 years ago. To this day, I still haven’t come to terms with Billy Joel, Elton John, or most so-called soft rock but every now and then I keep trying. Maybe tomorrow.

RE: Entertain This

Perhaps before we go any further into this discussion, we should begin to define our terms. Principally, what is “importance” when it comes to music?

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