alan little’s weblog archive for april 2004

might listen to ...

29th April 2004 permanent link

Richard Tanyon sends me a link he thinks may be of interest to me and readers of my weblog about Rene Gruss, “a composer on a mission to connect new audiences with dynamic new sounds.”

The quote is from Muso magazine – a UK classical musicians’ trade mag that I had never heard of up until last Sunday, but that I now know is read by working classical musicians because I saw a copy last Sunday in my brother’s office.

I also checked out the domain Richard’s mail came from, It describes itself as a “web-zine of new realism in the arts” and there’s some interesting stuff there. I found this portait by Manfred Jürgens stunning – it’s modern, but the Dürer influence the artist mentions is obvious too. On the other hand, I find Rene Gruss’s hairdo offputting. I suppose I shouldn’t let such superficial considerations prevent me from at least having a listen to the free samples on his website.

related entries: Music Photography

currently listening to ...

29th April 2004 permanent link

Here’s a small dialogue I have had with my musician brother over a period of several years:

Once upon a time, years ago, I was gently waking myself up in the morning with BBC Radio Three, and they played something that was so good that I just had to stay in bed to the end so I could hear what it was. It was the Borodin Quartet playing one of Tchaikovsky’s string quartets. I was sharing a house with my brother at the time. Over breakfast I mentioned that I’d heard this and thought it was great. “Oh”, he said dismissively, “they’re generally regarded as quite minor works”. Which I found a bit of an odd answer – I’m more interested in whether I enjoy pieces of music I hear than whether they’re regarded as “major works". Over the years I’ve generally had a lot more success with going out and buying things I’ve liked bits of on the radio, than with things I think I “ought” to listen to as part of some kind of “great works” curriculum.

This is no exception. Chandos have reissued the original Borodin Quartet Tchaikovsky recordings, I just bought them, and they’re stunning.

Here’s the good bit though - Chandos is a British label, so since I was planning to go and see my brother in Manchester last weekend, I got the CD shipped to his address. I arrived, and my brother said “a CD came for you, what is it?”, and I showed him, he came out with assorted “oh my gods” and “wows” and general expressions of awestruckness. I said “but you said to me, years ago, that these are minor works”. “Yes they are", he said “but ... Borodin Quartet. Oh my god. Wow”. Quite.

related entries: Music

photography quotes

27th April 2004 permanent link

give a better lens to a worse photographer and you'll still get a worse image
Marc Gouguenheim on

related entries: Photography

digital photography?

27th April 2004 permanent link

I’m seriously thinking it might be time to buy a digital SLR, probably the new Nikon D70. But I was just looking at looking at my absolute favourite photo book – Raymond Depardon’s Voyages – and wondering if all this wonder technology is actually relevant to anything anyway. Perhaps I should just buy a Leica, a 50mm lens and a big pile of Tri-X. Or keep the Nikon FM2 and 50mm lens I already have and just buy the big pile of Tri-X. Not that I think buying a Leica and a big pile of Tri-X would make me into Raymond Depardon – or that admiring somebody’s work means you should therefore try to be just like them.

But it is good to ask why, in fact, I think buying a digital camera would help my photography.

related entries: Photography

film music

22nd April 2004 permanent link

Interesting discussion at the moment on

I’m putting together a little video that has a lot of sped up motion of cars, buses, trains, etc. Kinda like KOYAANISQATSI.

I’m looking for some classical music to go with it. Flight of the Bumble Bee came to mind, but is a little predictable. Could be Mozart, Bach, or just about anything that feels like a lot of movement going on. Any ideas?

I half-expected some of the regulars there who are *very* serious about their music to react, er, adversely to the idea that anybdy might want to interact with classical music in ways that don’t involve sitting motionless and silent either in concert halls or “listening rooms” with headphones. But no. The guy got lots of helpful, interesting suggestions covering pretty much the whole of the last 300 years, from Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (1721) to John Adams and several other contemporary composers.

related entries: Music

mehr linux, weniger schönheit

22nd April 2004 permanent link

mehr Linux, mehr Freiheit

It’s been fashionable lately to point out the shortcomings of Linux user interfaces and the open source software community’s apparently endemic inability to do anything about them. As The Apple Turns, too, are unimpressed with the look’n’feel of LindowsLinspire’s iTunes knock-off:

We can’t say whether Apple has grounds for a look-and-feel lawsuit based on the outright theft of its functional interface, but if a suit is filed, Linspire will have a decent defense in the form of “our interface can’t possibly be a copy of Apple’s, because whereas Apple’s is pleasing to the eye, ours could blind a stoat at fifty yards.”

Linux may [or may not] be a hopeless case on the desktop, but if there’s one thing Linux and Linux companies can do properly, it’s run a server. Right? I haven’t been able to look at the screenshot atAT are talking about yet because, as I write, has been unreachable for eight hours.

Update: they’re back. It’s ugly.

Another update: looks like they weren’t down for eight hours after all – they’re just doing something wierd with their website that makes it not work through the firewall at my office.

more yoga teaching

21st April 2004 permanent link

Some thoughts – prompted by my friend Bettina’s graduation from one of the most rigorous yoga teaching programmes in the world – on how yoga teachers are trained.

Here’s how it works in ashtanga vinyasa yoga, the style I practice and am most familiar with.

Teaching qualifications are only issued by the head of the school, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, to students who personally attend his school in Mysore, India. There are three levels of qualification.

  1. Students (e.g. me) who have attended the school at least once and completed the basic “primary” practice series to Pattabhi Jois’s satisfaction, are ok’d to teach the first half of the primary series to beginners, but not to bill themselves as qualified teachers.
  2. Students (e.g. my friend Bettina) who have attended the school several times and completed most of the “Intermediate” (pretty damn tough) practice series can request Pattabhi Jois’s authorisation to teach. Note the presence of words like “several”, “most” and “request” in that last sentence. There is no formal entitlement to a teaching qualification if you attend X hours of classes or can get into positions Y and Z – it’s more a matter of convincing Pattabhi Jois that you are competent, dedicated and serious about your yoga. About 80 people worldwide have this qualification – the semi-official list (everybody who is on it is qualified, but not absolutely everybody who is qualified is on it) is at These people are referred to as Authorised teachers.
  3. The most senior Certified teachers generally have to have studied with Pattabhi Jois for ten years or more and to have completed the first of several (hair-raisingly) Advanced practice series. There are just over 30 Certified teachers worldwide. (The certification is actually a something like doctoral-level degree officially recognised by the Indian government, but that’s just a curiosity. The Indian government has no more authority or competence to make pronouncements on yoga matters than any other)

I believe this teacher training system is excellent. Why? Because it works when judged by its results. Pattabhi Jois has been practicing and teaching yoga longer than almost anybody else alive, and he knows what he’s doing. I mentioned previously that I know about a third of the hundred-and-some Authorised and Certified teachers – have attended their classes and/or studied alongside them in Mysore. In my experience they are generally very dedicated yoga practitioners, capable teachers and good folks.

Some people object to the system for various reasons. One is that it absolutely requires attendance in Mysore for substantial periods and so is too much commitment in time and/or money for some people. My view on that is: tough. I wouldn’t want to be taught yoga by somebody who wasn’t dedicated and serious; willingness to go to India for several spells of several months and pay substantial tuition fees is one pretty good way of demonstrating dedication and seriousness. It’s not the only way, of course, and people who are serious about their yoga but can’t, because of family commitments or whatever, drop everything and go to India can pursue yoga teaching qualifications in other schools, some of which are also good.

In any case, acceptance of the reality of where you are is a yogic virtue: I have a small child now, and I started practicing ashtanga yoga when Pattabhi Jois was already in his eighties, so it’s very unlikely that I’ll ever be able to spend as much time studying with him as people who started twenty or thirty years ago. But that’s my karma and there’s no point wailing or gnashing my teeth about it – I just get on and do my practice anyway (currently, as much as my eleven month old son allows).

Another, superficially more serious objection is that Pattabhi Jois’s “curriculum” simply consists of aspiring teachers convincing him that they are serious about, and have attained some level of proficiency in, their own yoga practice. There is nothing in it about teaching skills or techniques as such; no anatomy training; no formal classes in yoga philosophy. In reply to which I would just reiterate: it works. All the graduates of Pattabhi Jois’s non-system that I have taken classes with have been capable, safe and inspiring teachers.

Some of Pattabhi Jois’s senior western students do offer more formal teacher training classes including study of anatomy and theory and teaching assistantships at their own schools. I’m sure this is helpful and people learn a lot from it. But they all also emphasise that the real training is from doing, observing and learning from one’s own practice, and the qualification that counts is Pattabhi Jois’s say-so. Some of the people I’ve studied with have had this kind of apprenticeship, some haven’t. The ones that haven’t are mostly the more experienced ones who started studying with Pattabhi Jois in India years ago and didn’t have anybody to help them when they went home. I haven’t noticed that any of them are any the worse for that.

The “system” has other peculiarities. One is that some of the most experienced western teachers, who studied with Pattabhi Jois long before yoga was fashionable and starting to become commercialised, didn’t bother with any form of official authorisation or certification. I mention this partly as an excuse for a gratuitous picture of one of them, Danny Paradise, doing a demonstration at a course in England a few years ago:

Danny Paradise

Danny is resented by some latter-day purists because he never “served his time” in Mysore and (note the hairdo) because they regard him as a morally lax aging hippy who doesn’t take the whole thing seriously enough. Ha. I found him an inspiring teacher and a thoroughly nice guy, his demonstration was the most impressive I have ever seen by a westerner, and the clincher: Pattabhi Jois speaks fondly of him. A few years ago when I started a lot of these hippy-era “dinosaurs” didn’t appear on the quasi-official teachers’ list. Most but not all of them now do.

There are other good teachers who also don’t have formal qualifications from Mysore. One of my first teachers was a student of one of Pattahi Jois’s Certified teachers in England, but hadn’t been to Mysore himself. A lot of people who are visiting Mysore regularly also start teaching before they have formal authorisation. If you’re going to do this stuff seriously you pretty much have to be doing it full time, and how are you supposed to support yourself through several years of full time yoga study, including regular long trips to India, if not by teaching? So fair enough. Bettina was one of these people up until a couple of weeks ago, and I suspect she probably hasn’t suddenly, magically become an even better teacher just because she now has a piece of paper. When I was in Mysore I never noticed newly authorised teachers being taken off into a corner to be told The Secret.

That’s just the process as it works in one particular school of yoga – the one that I personally have practiced for several years and am therefore qualified to talk about (and, indeed, teach at the most basic level). Other major Indian yoga schools do things somewhat differently but similar basic principles apply in many cases. Probably the largest and most organised is the school headed by BKS Iyengar in Pune, India. Mr. Iyengar also studied with Pattabhi Joi’s teacher Krishnamacharya in the 1930s before going on to found his own school. He was one of the first Indian yoga teachers to become famous in the west in the 1960s and now has a large network of associate schools worldwide. Iyengar yoga has an elaborate system of tiered teaching qualifications. The basic levels are done by training courses in the student’s home country and the minimum training time generally appears to be two years part time; for the more advanced levels the aspirant has to attend advanced teaching courses at Mr Iyengar’s institute in Pune, for which you have to be personally recommended by one or more existing senior teachers, and I’ve heard there is a waiting list of several years. (I prefer Pattabhi Jois’s style – he’ll let anybody who shows up into his classes, but you have to convince him you’re serious before he starts to take much notice of you)

That’s already more than long enough and I haven’t even begun to get on to some of the things I wanted to talk about like: how these current systems as adopted by some of the more traditionalist Indian yoga schools represent an adaptation of the traditional guru-lineage apprenticeship to a world where there is more interest in yoga than ever before; how they compare to more formal teacher training programmes that are springing up in the west; and who, if anybody, really benefits from expecting yoga teachers to have formal paper qualifications anyway. So Coming soon: Part Two.

related entries: Yoga

digital photojournalism

21st April 2004 permanent link

Steve Fine, photo editor of Sports Illustrated on digital versus film for sports photojournalism:

For years [with film], we’ve been fighting a battle between sharpness and grain, especially in low-light shots. You try to sharpen and you just end up building more graininess. I’m amazed at the quality we’re getting in low-light shots off our digital files. We’re running [low-light pictures] up to two-page size that we could never have done before. Sometimes [digital] looks like it’s underwater, a little bit too smooth. A strobed basketball game on a Hasselblad has a sharp line and a punch that digital doesn’t have. But we don’t have grain anymore. In really poorly lit situations, the ability to make a clean picture far outweighs the downside.

(People still use Hasselblads for shooting sports? Wow)

I’m also intrigued by these comments by the magazine’s head of pre-press, Geoff Michaud:

There’s a different quality expectation with digital vs. film. With film, grain was accepted and tolerated. It was a by-product of sharpness. When we moved to digital we found that the expectation changed. I’m not 100% sure why. Now a softer feel image [is considered good], and when noise becomes apparent it’s a negative thing, where it wasn’t with film. I’m concerned with my operators now that because noise or grain has become a negative thing, sometimes they’re holding off on sharpening. [Sometimes] I look at images, and I feel they’re not quite sharp enough.

People expect smooth, grainless images from digital but the price of that is slightly less sharpness. This makes sense and would explain why people often say digital images look a bit flat, a a bit lacking in "pop" - I think it might be extreme edge contrast that can make really good film images (especially film images shot with classic Leica and Zeiss lenses) look almost three-dimensional.

Link courtesy of Tim Bray. As Tim says, the whole article on how Sports Illustrated’s workflow operates is a must-read for anybody with any serious interest in digital photography.

related entries: Photography

more indian genetics

20th April 2004 permanent link

I’ve picked up pointers from gene expression for two newer papers on the genetic origins of Indian populations, following on from the one by Bamshad et al that I mentioned a few months ago.

The first one is The Genetic Heritage of the Earliest Settlers Persists Both in Indian Tribal and Caste Populations by T. Kivisild et al in the American Journal of Human Genetics 2003. The authors argue that the DNA of Indian populations – both caste and tribal – appears to go back to the first wave of human settlement from Africa in the Pleistocene era and that the genetic impact of subsequent immigration, if any, has been very limited.

The second paper, Independent Origins of Indian Caste and Tribal Paternal Lineages by Richard Cordaux et al (Current Biology, February 2004) supports Bamshad et al and points out that, although there are no genetic markers that are unique to either caste or tribal populations – suggesting that there has been a lot of mixing between the two groups – nevertheless the frequencies of a number of key markers are very different. When this is taken into account the male DNA of the caste population resembles central Asians far more than it resembles the assumed-to-be-indigenous tribal populations. This appears to be true both in north and south India.

We conclude that paternal lineages of Indian caste groups are primarily descended from Indo-European speakers who migrated from central Asia 3,500 years ago

I’m inclined to agree with this conclusion. But it is far too sweeping to make just based on the evidence presented in this paper, and depends on some major unexamined and questionable assumptions.

I’m not suggesting that anybody should be expected, in a five page paper, to examine every possible nuance and counter-argument for every assumption they make. But some mention of these rather large and obvious questions might not have been a bad idea. While I’m niggling, a couple of smaller niggles:

Nevertheless, niggles aside, it’s becoming clear that the genetic evidence points to Indian caste populations – in the male line at any rate – having originated as migrants from central Asia, whereas tribal populations appear to be indigenous, quite possibly dating back to the first wave of “Out of Africa” migrations in the Palaeolithic. This would be consistent with the general view held by linguists that the Vedic speakers were immigrants to India. Note that I say “consistent with”, not “proves”: firstly because there is no provable direct correlation between genetics and language and secondly because I haven’t seen anything that seriously argues a date for the arrival of the immigrants based on the genetic evidence. For linguistic and archaeological reasons (chariots, mainly) I don’t believe the Vedic speakers can have arrived much before about 3500 years ago; Cordaux et al also give this date, but there’s nothing in their paper to say whether they base it on the genetic evidence or are just parroting the linguists’ standard geusstimate.

When I first wrote about this whole subject of trying to reconstruct ancient history in the face of sparse evidence and political agendas, I said “I find this both fascinating and rather depressing … wondering whether there’s any chance of anything other than rival tribes shouting ideology & speculation at each other.” Razib, in this excellent essay at gene expression, thinks genetics may be that chance and talks eloquently about how genetic studies have the potential to give us some sort of firm scientific basis for studying prehistory and the origins of present-day “peoples”, whereas until now we have had really quite limited scraps of linguistic and archaeological evidence used to back up all kinds of racist and nationalist fantasies.

In the past ten years genetics has begun to highlight very sharp divergences from national myths and even linguistic and historical analyses (the latter often influenced by and used by the mythicists)

First, there are the National Essentialists. These are people who are nationalists at the least, and racialists at the most. Historical questions are crucial to the identities of these people. They come in all sorts. From Native Americans that reject the Siberian origin of their peoples on the grounds of spiritual chauvinism to upper caste Indians who react with fury when told that they are genetically closer to their black-skinned Dalit neighbors than other “Aryans.” Genetics tends to throw the “Great Chain of Being” of these people out of kilter since they invest so much in the current state of knowledge, reverse engineering the facts to show their own heritage to be the most prestigious. If they hold that “group A” brought civilization to the world, and it turns out they are a member of “group B,” it takes great effort to reinterpret the facts so that group B are the jewels of God’s creation. Rather, instead of throwing out years of self-serving “scholarship,” this group will reject the genetic evidence as long as possible.

Second, there are the National Idealists. The statistical nature of genetics gives them the room to reject all assertions of the movement of genes and people. Though a given set of results is provisional and subject to revision, they tend to deny the results a priori (or evince a divine skepticism) because they prefer to think that culture, ideas, are the prime movers, not peoples.

Both groups are concerned with norms and re-creating idealized utopias. Their values might be different, one group worships the primacy of Blood and another idolizes the power of the Idea, but their enemy is the same, facts, reality, tightly constructed deductive models buttressed by empirical evidence, subject to provision, de-sacralized and reduced to the bare necessities that science demands , but no more. They stand united as romantics against the unfeeling march of science and scholarship. Without the aid of natural science the human sciences have traditionally been hijacked and used as tools in the furtherance of ideological crusades. But now that natural science has joined the fray (the scientists have the “back” of empirically oriented scholars and the reverse), the ideologues are terrified, their utopian visions always threatened by the encroachment of reality. The scholarship is strengthened and more difficult to dismiss when buttressed by genetics or skeletal morphology (augmented by computation).

there are people out there that live in terror of facts.

Read the whole thing, it’s excellent. However, as Razib also mentioned in an email, the time of the great genetic light-shedding has not yet come because we simply don’t know enough yet:

I suspect that we'll know what's going on in about 10-15 years after we have 100 studies on every given question. right now we have about 10 years of fine precision laboratory work (the PCR era), so there are “ground-breaking” and “revolutionary” results coming out because the sample is so small that the variance is all over the place (sampling error)

These three papers on India, coming out two-to-one in favour of major immigration from central Asia based on largely the same sample of a few hundred individuals, certainly backs up Razib’s view. Not only sampling error, but apparently competent and serious researchers coming to almost directly opposite conclusions by applying different statistical techniques to the same samples. Still, it does look as though the genetic evidence is starting to point in something like the same direction as the linguistic evidence.

Discussion ...

related entries: Yoga

german yoga news

17th April 2004 permanent link

I am delighted to hear that my friend and yoga teacher, Bettina Anner, has just received formal authorisation to teach yoga from Pattabhi Jois.

Pattabhi Jois is one of the most experienced senior yoga masters in the world. I also studied with him a couple of years ago, and have previously written about his lineage and teaching style. Getting a personal seal of approval from one of the world’s most senior yoga masters is a big deal for an aspiring yoga teacher. A lot of people teach without it, and some of them are very dedicated yoga students and good teachers (Bettina was one of them, up to about a week ago). But to have his formal authorisation is the gold standard for ashtanga yoga teachers.

According to the quasi-official (but not quite 100% complete) teacher listing at there are in total just over 100 yoga teachers in the world authorised by Pattabhi Jois. Looking at the list, I find to my surprise that I know – meaning, have taken classes with and/or practiced alongside in Pattabhi Jois’s classes in Mysore – about a third of them. Bettina is the only one in Germany (not the only German, but the other two I know of are expats).

This seems like a good time for another plug for Bettina’s workshops in Erlangen in May and Tuscany in July.

Coming soon: further thoughts on how yoga teachers are trained and certified, and why I would sooner trust a system based on the gut feel of a nearly 90 year old guy in India, than any kind of formal examination and certification scheme.

related entries: Yoga

yet more leica digicams

13th April 2004 permanent link

This is my fourth weblog entry about a camera I have never even held in my hand and have no intention of buying, which seems excessive. (Previous entries here, here and here). But Ben Lifson’s article on Luminous Landscape about the ergonomics and philosophy of photography with real Leica rangefinders, and why the Digilux isn't one, is fascinating. And I *do* want to have a play with a real Leica rangefinder one day.

related entries: Photography

why classical cds are cheap

13th April 2004 permanent link

Brian Micklethwait has been listening to and enjoying Malcolm Arnold’s Ninth Symphony (1986, so definitely comes under the “good classical music written in my lifetime” heading) and so have I. We were both pointed at it by Lynn Sislo. In Brian’s comments I mentioned that I’ve been buying a lot of good classical CDs at spectacularly cheap prices lately.

On closer inspection, I discover that one way to produce CDs cheaply is not to spend money having the liner notes proof-read by somebody who understands English – or even knows how to press the button on a spell checker. In the Juilliard Quartet's legendary 1963 recording of the Bartok string quartets (Brian likes these too), Sony France inform us that Bartok wrote the fifth quartet in “Whashignton” in 1935. Really. I don’t think that’s correct even in French. They go on to tell us about the Juilliard Quartet in this remarkable paragraph:

“Whereas some artists are instinctive and intuitive and other cerebral, our goal – even at our most frenetic – is to combine heart and head”, said Robert Mann, discussing the Juilliard String Quartet. “We have always been that way”. And Mann should know, since he was the quartet founder in 1946, and has remained its first violinist during 51 years. Like Bernstein, Gould and Casals, members of the Juilliard bring a composer’s imagination and sense of adventure to the art of performance. There was two composers in the quartet in 1963 : Robert Mann and Claus Adam. With composers playing, an unconventional approach to performance is only natural ; the Juilliard Quartet examines every pieces as if the ink were wet. Whether music of Beethoven or of Shapey(*) is on the music stands, the issue is the same : what is the emotionnal truth of the music for us now, today?

I’m not suggesting I could translate a paragraph of English into completely grammatical, idiomatic, or even correctly spelt French(**). But if I were a CD producer, editor, or whatever they call themselves, I would at least want to employ a translator who could, and not just shove the original through babelfish and bung it on the CD. But considering probably a couple of hundred people worldwide are going to buy this double CD at ten bucks a go, I can understand how the liner notes translation budget might be a bit tight. On the other hand I notice that Naxos, in their Malcolm Arnold symphony series, can afford to have completely different liner notes, written by different people, in English, French and German. And Naxos are actually paying musicians (a bit) and recording engineers to make new stuff that they are selling at the same price as Sony, not just wandering around in the basement looking for old master tapes. Could do better, Sony.

(*) I’m also intrigued by the assumption that I’ve heard of Ralph Shapey (1921-2002), the Chicago-based “radical traditionalist” composer (thank you google).

(**) Years ago when I was at school I could probably have managed grammatical and correctly spelt. I don’t recall idiomatic being a prominent feature of the curriculum.

related entries: Music

moscow church

10th April 2004 permanent link

A Russian friend of Maria’s has her birthday this weekend. We thought she might like some pictures of the Rodina, so I spent a couple of happy hours in Photoshop scanning and dust-spotting pictures from our visit to Moscow a couple of years ago. I particularly like the colours in this one, of a small church just off Red Square.

Moscow church

The sky really was that strange grey-pink colour – Moscow was suffering from bad smog that summer, caused by forest fires in the surrounding countryside.

related entries: Photography

a real classical music blogger

8th April 2004 permanent link

Back in January, thinking about Brian Micklethwait’s thoughts about film music, I said:

Here’s a half-formed Big Thought: film music is a return to musical normality. Throughout most of human history in most societies (including our own), music has mainly been a mood-altering adjunct to other activities, generally religious ceremonies and/or dancing. (Religious ceremonies and dancing having also been much the same thing throughout most of human history). What western classical music has tried to do in the last two hundred years is take music out of the temple, off of the dancefloor and make listening an end in itself, a quasi-religious act in its own right. An interesting experiment that, in the long run, didn’t work.

Which at the time I thought was broadly true as far as my limited knowledge goes, but quite likely to be ripped to pieces by people who really know about such things. Apparently not. Greg Sandow knows a lot about musical history – among other things he teaches at Juilliard, America’s top music college. He also writes an excellent weblog for, billed as “Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music”. Here he is on the kind of atmosphere Mozart would have been used to performing in:

Canaletto Rotunda

As a footnote to my little piece of Mozart history, in my last post, here’s a Canaletto painting, done in 1754, called "London: Interior of the Rotunda at Ranelagh." It shows a concert. Notice how informal it is, and in some ways how much like a modern rock club. A few people are gathered by the stage, listening (I’d think) intently. Others are scattered through the space, talking and hanging out. It’s easy to see how in an atmosphere like this, people would feel free to clap right in the middle of the music, if they heard something that they liked. Our concept of "classical music" simply didn’t exist yet, and people listened quite informally.

See the rest of Greg’s October archive for a lot more on the same subject. Ah, I feel so … vindicated.

This entry brought to you by the “linking is easier than thinking” school of weblogging. Or, to take a less cynical view, conversation is better than pontification.

related entries: Music

currently listening to …

7th April 2004 permanent link

Frank Bridge … Frank Bridge’s third string quartet.

This isn’t exactly contemporary music, but it’s modern in the sense of modernist in style(*). Brief googling reveals that Bridge wrote it in 1926, and people seem to like comparing it to the better known works of Alban Berg (also that it’s missing from this otherwise useful Chronology of Major String Quartet Works. It sounds pretty major to me).

Anyway, I’m really enjoying it. It’s a tremendous piece of music, the performance by the Brindisi Quartet is excellent and the sound quality (on an mp3 downloaded from emusic), is perfectly acceptable.

Asking for modern music recommendations seems to have worked pretty well for me so far, so here goes again: I know nothing about any other music by Frank Bridge or any other recordings by the Brindisi Quartet. Recommendations welcome. (Perhaps the best thing to do would be to imply that I think all other works by Frank Bridge must be trivial crap because I haven’t heard of them. On recent experience, that ought to bring about a deluge of emails and weblog responses from enraged Frank Bridge fans.)

(*) *I* know what I meant by that. There’s an unfortunate disconnect in talking anything arts-related, between modern-with-a-small-m in its normal English language meaning of current, contemporary, up to date etc; and Modern[ism]-with-a-capital-M, a confusingly-named early to mid 20th century European artistic style. Modern[ism]-with-a-capital-M is now anything but modern-with-a-small-m.

related entries: Music

the insignificant music industry

5th April 2004 permanent link

Last one today from Alan’s all-music-some-of-the-time weblog. The recorded music industry in the US has a total turnover of $12 billion (and falling, probably). Total expenditure on amateur music-making – money spent on things like instruments and music lessons by people who don’t make their living playing music – is estimated at $10 billion and rising. I don’t play an instrument myself and don’t want to, but that still  strikes me as a healthy trend.

I wonder what the figure would be for attending performances of live music.

Figures from Steve Crandall via Martin Geddes.

Another statistic to put in perspective just how trivial the recorded music industry actually is:  US GDP in 2003 was 11 trillion dollars. The so-politically-influential recorded music industry is, then, just over a thousandth of the economy. (I have been spending a lot more than a thousandth of my gross income on recorded music lately. I’m obviously unusual, and in any case I don’t live in the US. A fair chunk of my CD buying is used on ebay, so presumably wouldn’t count even if I did.)

related entries: Music

more contemporary music

5th April 2004 permanent link

Tim Johnson, who describes me as “Classical music blogger Alan Little” (no guarantees regarding future subject matter, although I admit it has been looking that way lately) and R (first name not obvious from his or her website) Gable both provide more recommendations of contemporary music worth listening to. Thanks, Tim and R.

Both of these discovered via Technorati.

Steve Hicken, one of Tim Johnson’s commenters, accuses me of “mak[ing] the leap from ‘the last piece I like was written in 1960’ to ‘therefore nothing written since 1960 is good’”. Which isn’t exactly what I said, although I certainly could be read as having implied it. I do think that if the last forty years or so is remembered by posterity for a great flowering of musical creativity, then it’s unlikely to be for what’s been going on in western “classical” or “serious” contemporary music. (Any art form whose practitioners start describing it as “serious” is probably in deep trouble). But I’d be quite happy to be wrong, and in any case that isn’t the same as “no good music”.

Another of Tim’s commenters says “My problem with contemporary music … has always been knowing where to start!”. I certainly can’t claim to have that problem any more.

Update: Lynn S of Reflections in D Minor responds too, with some recommendations and this:

In my several years of experience hanging out on classical music discussion forums I noticed an amusing senario that was repeated over and over again. Someone will ask if there is anything worth listening to in the last forty or fifty years (or, more often, declare that there is nothing worth listening to in the last forty of fifty years) and fans of contemporary art music respond with lists of exactly the kind of music that turns many people off contemporary art music …

related entries: Music

shostakovich again

5th April 2004 permanent link

Interesting mail from Chris Martin, drawing my attention to his comment on Brian Micklethwait's samizdata article on Dimitri Shostakovich (scroll down for Chris's comment). Chris drew my attention to this in response to my follow-ups to Brian's article (here and here), and says that Norman Lebrecht’s view of saintly Shostakovich and self-seeking driven-by-spite critics Richard Taruskin et al is, er, perhaps a little too one-sided.

Chris says Shostakovich’s memoir, Testimony, “has been completely exposed as a fraud” (doesn’t say how or by whom, but then I wouldn’t necessarily expect him to in a weblog comment or a short email). Then says “Most damning is the fact that is that Shostakovich himself knew how to exploit the communist system very well”. I don’t necessarily see it as “damning” that somebody is smart enough to learn to play the game they find themselves in, whether they like it or not. Would be interested to hear more about Chris’s views on the matter though, and will definitely add the two articles he links to to my reading list.

I love that I get this sort of feedback by mail even though I haven’t added comments (yet?) to my homegrown weblog software (due to being busy with other things, see below). It’s an excellent way of getting an education – publish your half-informed opinions about things, get feedback from people who know more. Having only an email link instead of comments might actually be better, because it means only the truly motivated bother to get in touch.

related entries: Music

such a perfect day

4th April 2004 permanent link

Writing less lately, on account of being busy with more important things like, well, all of the following that happened today:

Get up. Feed baby. Have breakfast. (These first three happen at the same time every day– babies’ metabolisms don’t recognise weekends). Drive to mountains to go walking. (Doctor’s orders – Maria has a foot problem and her chiropodist says the foot must be exercised). Park, set off up mountain. Be surprised by how much snow there still is. Conveniently arrive at sunlit clearing at baby’s lunchtime. Feed baby. Decide to turn back due to unexpectedly large amount of snow.

On the way back down the mountain, see a weasel running through the snow. Discuss English, Russian and German words for weasel, stoat, ferret, ermine etc. and how many different animals they actually refer to. Go to beergarden by lake, admire view of mountains. Talk about this being the happiest time of our lives.

Go home. Bath baby, play with baby. Do yoga. Cook dinner, eat dinner.

After dinner Baby (aged ten and a half months) decides he is going to go for a walk too. His first four steps are across the kitchen to his mum. Clearly inspired by the example of mum & dad’s mountaineering exploits earlier in the day, and turbo-charged by dad’s special pasta sauce for babies (same as mum & dad’s except a bit less garlic). Immediately phone (his) grandmother (my mother), then send SMS to assorted aunts, uncles & friends. Fourth of the fourth of the fourth will be an easy date to remember.

Put baby to bed. Won’t be long before I’m following him.

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