Saturday, March 27, 2010

Right back to Stephen A. Emery

As someone in the Patent-Producing and brainstorming biz, I've always been intrigued by processes which purport to amplify the production of big ideas, e.g. the Kage Roi brainstorming room, which unfortunately seems to have gone to ground. This morning I re-stumbled across a New Yorker article on Intellectual Ventures, a patent mill that has recently been in the news for some smartphone-related lawsuits and came across this quote:

You know how musicians will say, ‘My teacher was So-and-So, and his teacher was So-and-So,’ right back to Beethoven?”

Actually, I have never heard a musician say this, and assuming he may have meant "composer," I'm not sure most composers can actually make the claim of "right back to Beethoven" anyway, although maybe a lot of pianists, since Beethoven taught Czerny who taught Liszt who then taught everybody.  But, curiosity having been raised, I decided to follow my teachers back a few generations where I could, limited this morning to the resources of the Internet, having lost personal access to Grove's in the divorce, and by means of so doing, arrived at the genealogy below, where the dots signify a depletion of precedence in my simple search. Some more famous nodes could be seen if I had included cousin or sibling relationships, as Horatio Parker is best know as a teacher of Charles Ives, and Dukas and Debussy were classmates.

richard grayson
 henri pousseur •
robert arthur gross •
andrew imbrie
 nadia boulanger
  gabriel fauré
   camille saint-saëns
    fromental halévy
     luigi cherubini •
  charles-marie widor
   françois-joseph fétis
    françois-adrien boieldieu •
 roger sessions
  horatio parker
   george whitefield chadwick
    stephen a. emery •
   josef rheinberger •
  ernest bloch
   iwan knorr •
john chowning
 nadia boulanger (above)
gerard grisey
 olivier messiaen
  maurice emmanuel
   léo delibes
    cesar franck
     anton reicha
      josef reicha •
      antonio salieri
       florian leopold gassmann
        johann woborschil •
      johann georg albrechtsberger •
  marcel dupré
   louis diémer
     ambrose thomas
      jean-françois le sueur •
  charles-marie widor (above)
  paul dukas
   théodore dubois
    louis fanart •
   ernest guiraud
    fromental halévy (above)
 györgy ligeti
  pál kadosa
   zoltán székely •
   zoltán kodály
    charles-marie widor (above)
  ferenc farkas
   leo weiner
    hans von koessler •
   albert siklós •
   ottorino respighi
    giuseppe martucci
     paolo serrao •
    nikolai rimsky-korsakov
     mily balakirev
      mikhail glinka
       charles meyer •
  zoltán kodály (above)
  sándor veress •
 karlheinz stockhausen
  olivier messiaen (above)
 iannis xenakis
  olivier messiaen (above)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Mother

I went to the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary yesterday to experience the laudation of my mother, who served back in the 80s as the chairman of the board of directors, the first and only woman to hold the position as evidenced by the photo panel to the left. It was an overflowing of love for her, mostly by women, mostly - of course - Lutheran women of faith. My mother was an ardent and sometimes radical Feminist, radicalized by crashing into the walls of the prison into which women had been placed (and to a fortunately less extent still are) by the American Culture and the Church, which lagged even further behind the culture and was a majorly patriarchal institution. My favorite story was that she was told she couldn't teach the Bible, as that was reserved for men, although she could be a missionary and teach the Bible to third-worlders, a statement that masterfully wraps together the worst of sexism and racism into one big lump. But, coming from inside that world, she fought for equal representation for women, for the ordination of women, and, even more shockingly for the time, the same for women of all sexual orientations.

I had to tell a story or two, and one was the story about the time she told me that women "might have to take up arms against men" which made a strong impression on my tween brain, especially as I was a member of the male species at the time. We used to have theological discussions late into the night, where she would point out the particular Hebrew word for the divine with a feminine ending, and the fact that maybe one of Paul's letters was written by a female disciple, and ask me whether the resurrected Christ first showed himself to a man or a woman. But she was very practical in the real world, starting day nurseries in all the churches she served, a place for working women to leave their children, at a time when people spoke out against the idea of a working woman, using the same arguments we hear today against the latest movements towards equality: that it would destroy the family, destroy traditions, destroy the nation. Traditions, we should always remember, are just things that happened in the past, and just having happened in the past carries no weight.

Unfortunately, at 92, half-blind and crippled with Parkinson's, she couldn't make it, so her most atheist son was sent as a representative, a sheep or wolf among the group of older, smart, attractive and somewhat maternal-to-me women.  I did sing the hymns heartily and even took communion for the first time in decades, as I believe in religion-as-performance & religion as one of the biggest collaborative artworks ever. Yes, it is the opiate of the people, but it stands there along with all other entertainment, no worse, with TV and video games and the perils of the Interweb.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dieci Giorni

Jim Cave has talked me into contributing to a project on the Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio along with some of the other SFCCO composers. Looks like it will take place in September 2010 at Thick House just down the hill here in the southeasternmost of the seven hills of the Eternal City of San Francisco. More information about it will be showing up on the Dieci Giorni web site. Even though some of the stories are quite enticing to me, mixing the anti-clerical with the sexually promiscuous with the bisexual, all near to my general locus of literary interest, I've decided to take on the frame, and have been penning some lyrics of mine own to mix in with Giovanni's:

In our lives, we fear for death and disease to take us and to take those we love but, during our lives, we wall those fears away, we entertain ourselves with distractions and projects, and the accumulation of pleasures and recognitions and technologies that do not keep us safe from death, a rude and uninvited guest to our reality, that which we have ourselves constructed, a seeming solid, yet fragile to its core.

From time to time, even here in the countryside on a beautifully crisp and sunny day, we hear quiet sobbing of those left behind, embarrassed by what they have done, a husband who has stepped out, promising a doctor for his sickened wife, but in truth fleeing the city, condemning her and her children to a lonely and frightful death. Even here in the countryside, something hides among the flowers. A sweet smell that slowly grows more disagreeable as the days pass. Where is the doctor? He needs his beak, filled with aromatic herbs, to keep out the miasma, the poisonous breath of the creatures of the marshes wafting into the bodies of the inhabitants of the city, the stench of their rotting bodies. Where is the priest and his bishop? They need to pray, to ask God to mitigate his anger, to tell us what is the cause. Should we practice to mortify our flesh? Should we burn the Jews, our neighbors? But soon the physicians and the priests and the flagellants are also dead and there is no one else to ask.

We, here, who attend this diverse entertainment are ourselves diverting ourselves from the pestilence that rages outside, that we shut away in hospice and hospital room, here in this theater, keeping the contagion of death at bay, just outside these walls, that it may not infect us. We will laugh and sing and tell each other stories. And how does this entertainment end? With death, which soon visits us all.


Susie Bright, a facebook neighbor of mine, passed along a link to a recent article on David Cope, pictured dashingly in the photo to the left.  I like the two snips of sound, the first one a bit like something I might have written, the second something I wish I could write, as I have little talent for unaccompanied melodies.

I for one am happy to be replaced by an algorithm. This would allow me more time to follow my alternate paths to bliss, e.g., drinking myself into an early grave. Regarding such, my colleague Thom Blum once rhapsodized on the movie Leaving Las Vegas, as it represented the story of one who sets a goal for himself and achieves it. Other paths include watching a lot more television, gaining a lot of weight, lying in my own filth, and so on.

I have tried several times to enlist the aid of the computers that have surrounded me since my days at North Star, when I had the energy to solder and code just to achieve some polymetrically imagined wonderland, usually worked at the notelist level, but later at the sound stratum, as the latter has been the source of my bread and water for the last twenty-plus years. I still do from time to time, when I, like Mr. Cope, have been blocked and need a bit of inspiration.  But isn't random inspiration just about as good? Remember the Oblique Strategies, now available on the iPhone? Not sure why Cope spent so much effort at the expense of all else just to produce a score. Scores are one thing, but it's easy to confuse the map for the territory. We remember the works of Cage and others derived from star charts and I Ching and we realize those pieces can actually be pretty good. Why? Because composers are just one teeny part of the process that passes through the skill of the performer and sometimes the mixing engineer. And does anyone else worry about his destruction of his databases?  Was all of this music really generated just by his algorithms?  Hard for someone else to really test that now.
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