Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

A matter of scale

September 30, 2023

From “Barry Blitt’s Sketchbook” on the Air Mail site on 9/23:

The players here: Blitt is the (politically engaged) New Yorker cover artist (who is, among other things, a whiz at caricature); Jann Wenner is co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine and author of the 2023 book The Masters: Conversations with Dylan, Lennon, Jagger, Townshend, Garcia, Bono, and Springsteen (a book of his personal enthusiasms, which consequently included no female or black masters); and Joni Mitchell is, as Wikipedia has it, “one of the most influential singer-songwriters to emerge from the 1960s folk music circuit, …  known for her starkly personal lyrics and unconventional compositions which grew to incorporate pop and jazz elements”

Some critics believe that Blitt didn’t get the scale right: to scale, Wennner should be considerably smaller than this. I am sympathetic to this criticism, but then I’ve always found Wenner to be repellent and admired Mitchell enormously.


Never-ending rock & roll

September 19, 2023

Today’s Wayno / Piraro Bizarro is a Sisyphus cartoon — the Greek mythological king (punished by having to endlessly roll a rock uphill) made into in a cartoon meme (many examples listed on the Page on this blog on comic conventions) — and also an echo of rock & roll music as a continuing theme in Bizarro cartoons (most recently in my 9/16 posting “Original Rockers”, about AC/DC), these two elements joined in a pun on rock and roll:

(#1) A classically Greek Sisyphus (muscular, wearing only a Greek tunic), rolling his rock while musing on the end of rock & roll as the dominant form of popular music (if you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page)

Out of all this, two topics for a little more comment: the end of rock & roll (“so over this fad”); and cartoonist’s favored memes (for Wayno & Piraro, these include the Psychiatrist meme, in almost any form you can imagine; for Bob Eckstein (“bob”), these include the Sisyphus meme, with various things standing in as the rock and various characters standing in as the roller).


Original Rockers

September 16, 2023

“Original Rockers”: Wayno’s title for yesterday’s Wayno / Piraro Bizarro; the published title “AC/BC” is a pun on the name AC/DC (for the rock band), cavemen being from a great many years BCE

(#1) Lead guitar with caveman backup (if you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page)


The Long Hello

September 15, 2023

(Warning: after the McPhail, there will be some tasteless jokes, including two sexual ones)

By Will McPhail, a delightful Ascent of Man (in this case, a self-possessed young woman) cartoon in the latest (9/18/23) issue of the New Yorker:

(This blog has a Page on comic conventions, including cartoon memes (like Ascent of Man); and also a Page on Will McPhail cartoons)

So: the cartoon meme, plus a joke meme that plays on liking long walks on the beach as a stock sentiment in American personals ad (I don’t know the history of the formulaic expression).


Aura Lee in the morning

September 13, 2023

Today’s morning music, playing (on the Apple Music that’s beamed into my bedroom during the night) when I arose at 3:40 am: from Anonymous 4’s 1865Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War, “Aura Lee” (sung by Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, with harmony and instrumental accompaniment by Bruce Molsky). An achingly lovely song — you can listen to the performance here — with a chorus that’s three lines of sentimental love song, topped by the transcendent line “And swallows in the air”, with its breath-taking image of the birds swooping in flight.

(#1) Photo by Keith Gough, as cover art for the demo video for “Swallows in Air”, from John Newell’s A Timbered Choir, settings (for voices and piano) of poems by Wendell Berry

The program: about the Civil War song song “Aura Lea / Lee”; about the 2015 Anonymous 4 album; and (briefly) about the Newell / Berry “Swallows in Air”.


down there

September 11, 2023

That’s down there ‘male genitals, junk’, in this Facebook ad (hat tip to Victor Steinbok) for the Dollar Shave Club’s razor starter set — the razor handle, razor blades, and three accompanying products, called the scrub (prep wash), the butter (shaving cream), and the dew (soothing lotion):

(#1) The Dollar Shave Club offer; in a small space, the ad manages to proclaim the $3 offer three times

Now, I’m not really interested in collecting further terms for the male genitals — my 9/4/23 posting “From the genital junkyard” covers the territory, and I have no enthusiasm for foolish completism — but male-genital down there evoked two strong associations for me that I want to explore here: it’s routinely used as a polite reference to the vulva (so, female-genital down there); and an allusion to Christopher Isherwood’s 1962 novel Down There on a Visit, whose title combines locational down there with actually sexual (not merely male-genital) down there.

Before I take up female-genital down there and the Isherwood book, though, a digression to slag off the $3 offer from the Dollar Shave Club, as an example of deliberately impenetrable (and therefore misleading) sales pitches. The product would have to be truly fabulous — but how fabulous can a shaving-supplies kit get? — before I would engage with a company that advertises this way.


Annals of cultural exchange: Turkish Austrian Turkish music

September 9, 2023

A Facebook comment by Michael Covarrubias (in Turkey) on yesterday’s posting “Turkish marches” (about the Mozart Rondo alla turca and the Beethoven “Turkish March” from The Ruins of Athens):

Your second Turkish theme in only a few days! [the other was “Turkish Neutrogena” of 9/7]

When I moved to Ankara 9 years ago, a new friend would invite me regularly to classical music concerts. The most memorable was the pianist Ingholf Wunder. His encore began, and as soon as it was recognized as Mozart’s rondo, the audience made an audible delighted gasp.

Wunder ended the opening refrain with what was obviously not Mozart’s chord, and from there the fantasy swirled thru the piece, increasing in its novel energy, almost urging me for the first time in my life to stand mid-performance and applaud out of pure excitement at what I was hearing. I’ve never been so moved by an encore.

At first I thought the audience’s excitement at the opening notes was just because it’s such a well known piece, then I remembered that not everyone calls it just “rondo”. Here they really identify with the “alla turca”.

I hear the piece being played in schoolyards as the classtime bell, I hear it in elevators, I hear it all over as a welcome fanfare… They’re proud to be mentioned.

Here is a video of Wunder performing the arrangement.

And it is indeed stunning (in fact, Wundervoll — I’ll just unburden myself of that before going on). But there is something culturally notable in a Turkish fashion for the Mozart Rondo alla turca, which is one of the prime examples of a European — mostly Austrian — fashion for “Turkish music”. In other words, Turkish Austrian Turkish music. (Well, cultural exchanges do tend to bounce back and forth.)


Turkish marches

September 8, 2023

It’s the time of the year when I re-connect with Ellen Sulkis James, an old friend, going back to the early 1960s, when we were both on the staff of the Reading Eagle newspaper in Reading PA, an old friend whose birthday (on 8/30) is just a week before mine, a fact we play with annually. (As it happens, this year I’m also in almost daily contact with Ellen M. Kaisse, another old friend — and linguistics colleague, now retired from the University of Washington in Seattle — going back to the early 1970s, who is now plotting a possible visit to me here in Palo Alto; for the record, my other old friends named Ellen, Ellen Evans and Ellen Seebacher, who came to me through the newsgroup soc.motss in the late 1980s, are also a regular presence in my life. Yes, this is all very confusing.)

Back then, ESJ and I were college students who did not go into the newspaper business — she went on to become a professor of art history, I went on to become a professor of linguistics — but it turned out that we shared an enthusiasm for classical music (we still exchange discoveries of new performers and performances), and we were both pianists. So in my visits to her house, we ended up playing together, including what she remembers as a 1 piano 4 hand version of Mozart’s Rondo alla turca, originally written for solo piano. For complex reasons I’ll eventually explain to you, I wasn’t so sure it was the Mozart, but might have been a 1 piano 4 hand version of what is known as the “Turkish March” (by Beethoven, from his incidental music for the play The Ruins of Athens), originally written for symphony orchestra.

Now, EMK is also a musician (an accomplished singer) with an enthusiasm for classical music (we exchange discoveries of new performers and performances). You can see that at the moment I tend to suffer from Ellen Blending. At least neither of the Turkish pieces seems to have been supplied with a vocal line.

In any case, I’m now convinced that ESJ is right about our having played the Mozart, not the Beethoven, those 60 years ago. I just wasn’t used to the Rondo alla turca being called a “Turkish March”. But Wikipedia reports this alternative name, and ESJ unearthed this performance of the (solo) Rondo alla turca (by Ronald Brautigam) recorded under the title “Turkish March”. So there.


herd it / heard it

August 30, 2023

The pay-off to an elaborate set-up tale, giving a pun on a familiar expression (in this case a song title). From Vince the Sign Guy: Vince Rozmiarek of Indian Hills CO and (from his Facebook page) “his lighthearted puns shown on local community signs”:

Phonologically, there’s a stretch of speech that’s both I herd it through the grapevines (the pun, the pay-off from the vineyard cow story) and the nearly homophonous “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (the model, the song title); semiotically, however, that stretch of speech is either about one of these situations or the other, not two nearly identical situations

Specifically, there’s no metaphorical structuring of the vineyard cow situation (in the story) on the basis of the information exchange situation (in the song). Their only relationship is phonological.

This isn’t a defect; most puns are merely phonological, and that’s fine. Vince Rozmiarek’s vineyard cow story is a great little joke, of a recognizable genre of punning: the set-up + pay-off story based on a formulaic expression — for short, a formula pun.

It’s just that a small number of puns are what I’ve sometimes called — I’ve wrestled a long time with ways of saying this — satisfying, meaning semiotically satisfying: the participants are represented as belonging to two worlds at once. They are anteaters, say, with the formicavore’s passionate hunger for the insects, but they are also diners in conventional American restaurants, insisting on specific kinds of table service and exhibiting dining quirks (like an aversion to spicy food). The first of these worlds is systematically mapped into the second, in an elaborate metaphor. (The restaurant-going anteaters are a recurring theme in Bizarro cartoons.)

From this month in my postings: on 8/3 “Brief shot: cock time”, about the expression cock time:

An atrocious pun [on clock time], but satisfying in that some … item is not merely introduced into a context for a near-homophone, but participates in the world of that model expression. We see something that’s a cock [a man’s penis] and a (kind of) clock.


It is the grief of love

August 26, 2023

Most of my day today was taken up with the Palo Alto Sacred Harp all-day singing (shapenotes from 10 to 3!); I’m pleased to say I was not only able to participate in this event (via Zoom), but managed to last through the whole thing, sometimes singing quite powerfully. I wasn’t physically there, and people couldn’t hear me (I had to mute myself because of the way Zoom works), but I got to choose a couple of songs (Confidence SH270 and Bridgewater SH276), and managed a really big contact high — a tonic for my life of solitude these days.

Early in the singing someone chose a song that I found moving but didn’t recall ever having sung before: SH83t, Vale of Sorrow: brief and easy to sing, a haunting minor melody, and a text I found deeply moving: the words of an earnest Christian who hopes to have earned his place with Jesus in heaven, but is nevertheless saddened that his death will take him from those he loves. He is experiencing what he thinks of as the grief of love.

The music (from the 1991 Denson revision of The Sacred Harp (first compiled in 1844)):

A reminder: the melody is in the tenor line, the third from the top (the treble line, at the top, has either high harmony or a counter-melody); the different shapes of the notes locate them in a scale (sort of a visual DO-RE-MI)

The text comes on two parts: one stanza of background, one with the grief of love:

While in this vale of sorrow,
I travel on in pain;
My heart is fixed on Jesus,
I hope the prize to gain.

But when I come to bid adieu
To those I dearly love,
My heart is often melted —
It is the grief of love.

The phrase comes at you out of the blue, after some conventional imagery and conventional expression (vale of sorrow, the heart being fixed on something, gaining a prize, bidding adieu, the heart melting with emotion).