(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘art

“Any subject is good for opera if the composer feels it so intently he must sing it out”*…

We know that opera took the form we know today in Italy the first half of the 17th century, when what had largely been ponderous courtly spectacles mutated into the lively popular art that opera has remained for the past 400 year. But why did operas as we know them become… well, operas as we know them?

Why did opera first succeed as a public art form in Venice between 1637 and 1650 when all the elements of the new form were fully evident? The answer is to be found in the conjunction between Venetian carnival festivity and the intellectual politics of Venetian republicanism during the two generations after the lifting of the papal interdict against Venice in 1607. During this extraordinary period of relatively free speech, which was unmatched elsewhere at the time, Venice was the one place in Italy open to criticisms of Counter Reformation papal politics. Libertine and skeptical thought flourished in the Venetian academies, the members of which wrote the librettos and financed the theaters for many of the early Venetian operas.

How opera became Opera: “Why Venice? Venetian Society and the Success of Early Opera,” from Edward Muir (@EdwardMuir7)

* Gian Carlo Menotti

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As we fiddle with Fidelio, we might recall that it was on this date in 1600 that Euridice, an opera by Jacopo Peri, with additional music by Giulio Caccini, was first performed in Florence; the libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini is based on books X and XI of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. which recount the story of the legendary musician Orpheus and his wife Euridice. A presage of what was later to flourish in Venice, it is the oldest surviving opera (though the same authors wrote the now-lost Dafne two years earlier), and is generally regarded as marking the dawn of the Baroque period.

The Prologue, from the score of Euridice, published in Florence in 1600 [source]

“Must it be? It must be.”*…

A long lost work, found… sort of…

When Ludwig van Beethoven died in 1827, he was three years removed from the completion of his Ninth Symphony, a work heralded by many as his magnum opus. He had started work on his 10th Symphony but, due to deteriorating health, wasn’t able to make much headway: All he left behind were some musical sketches.

Ever since then, Beethoven fans and musicologists have puzzled and lamented over what could have been. His notes teased at some magnificent reward, albeit one that seemed forever out of reach.

Now, thanks to the work of a team of music historians, musicologists, composers and computer scientists, Beethoven’s vision will come to life…

A full recording of Beethoven’s 10th Symphony is set to be released on Oct. 9, 2021, the same day as the world premiere performance scheduled to take place in Bonn, Germany – the culmination of a two-year-plus effort…

How a team of musicologists and computer scientists completed Beethoven’s unfinished 10th Symphony,” replete with a sample of the “finished” work.

* Ludwig van Beethoven

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As we size up simulacra, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964 that Teressa Bellissimo, at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, created Buffalo Hot Wings as a snack for her son and several of his college friends.  Her “invention”– an unbreaded chicken wing section (flat or drumette), generally deep-fried then coated or dipped in a sauce consisting of a vinegar-based cayenne pepper hot sauce and melted butter, and served with with celery and carrot sticks and with blue cheese dressing or ranch dressing for dipping– has become a barroom and fast food staple… and has inspired a plethora of “Buffalo” dishes (other fried foods with dipping sauces).

220px-Buffalo_-_Wings_at_Airport_Anchor_Bar

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“Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the orchard”*…

American fruit and nuts…

Pascale Georgiev, editorial director at Atelier Éditions, was researching botanical artwork a few years ago when she came across the US Department of Agriculture’s pomological watercolour collection, an archive of 7,500 watercolours of fruit and nuts grown in the US between 1886 and 1942, mostly created before photography was widespread. The discovery led to a new book, An Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts (Atelier, £44), full of images that Georgiev describes as irresistible. “The belle angevine pear… makes my heart sing and I’m partial to a plum named tragedy.” She’s also proud that the book showcases women working in science: “Nine of this US department’s 21 artists were women. A rare thing at the time.” Most of all she’d like readers to think about biodiversity. “I hope they share my delight in discovering the history of the fruit we consume, alongside beautiful artworks.”

A glorious collection: “Get fruity: vintage botanical watercolors,” from @guardian.

* Walt Whitman

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As we ruminate on ripeness, we might recall that it was on this date in 1950 that the daily comic strip Peanuts premiered in eight newspapers: The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Minneapolis Tribune, The Allentown Call-Chronicle, The Bethlehem Globe-Times, The Denver Post, The Seattle Times, and The Boston Globe.  Its creator, Charles Schulz had developed the concept as a strip (L’il Folks) in his hometown paper, The St. Paul Pioneer Press, from 1947 to 1950.  At its peak, Peanuts ran in over 2,600 newspapers, with a readership of 355 million in 75 countries, and was translated into 21 languages.

First Peanuts strip

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 2, 2021 at 1:00 am

“Playing bop is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing”*…

Jazz as a form of wit…

Jazz, like wit, can be broadly defined as surprising creativity. So does it follow that jazz musicians are a witty bunch?

I’ve wondered about this for longer than Kenny G has held an E-flat (45 minutes, for the record) but lacked a way to prove it. 

There was some promising neuroscience research on the subject back in 2014 that linked conversation to trading fours. Both jawing and jamming involve “an exchange of ideas that is unpredictable, collaborative, and emergent,” the paper hypothesized. In other words, a riff is a riff.

That said, all the actual data was pretty flat. The researchers brought the musicians into the lab, wired them up, and let them noodle around while they watched the blood slosh through their brains via a functional MRI machine. It went to the same spots it would go in a conversation, they found, which was interesting as far as it went but didn’t go all that far.

So when I came across the book Jazz Anecdotes at Sellers & Newel, I knew this was what I was looking for. I immediately flipped my fMRI machine on Kijiji and grabbed a copy.

Jazz anecdotes, like jazz itself, aren’t usually transcribed. In the words of drummer Shelley Manne, “We never play anything the same way once.” 

But bassist, writer, and editor Bill Crow combed through hundreds of interviews and biographies to pick just the juiciest bits, and the best display a virtuosic level of verbal dexterity. The book really slaps, as they say. There’s a whole chapter on pranks, and in said chapter there’s a whole section on Limburger cheese. (You can flip through a digitized version over at the invaluable archive.org here.)

Start with the nicknames, which alone are worth the price of admission. Fats, Shorty, and Slim were all physical descriptors. Cannonball Adderley was originally called Cannibal because of his voracious appetite — but one problem took care of the other as he rounded out.

William Randolph Cole was known as Colesy, which evolved into Cozy. Cozy, in turn, couldn’t remember names so he called everyone “Face” if they looked familiar, and then added the name of the instrument they played for Bass Face, Sax Face, and so on. Bassist George Mraz was called Bounce because he was a baaaad Czech. And bassist John Simmons got a rise out of trumpeter Oran “Hot Lips” Page by announcing at the bandstand, “Lady there at the door sent this letter to Mr. Warm Jaws.”

The greats get a chapter each, and they’re at their best when they’re playing off one another. Once John Coltrane started playing a solo, he’d just play and play —which irritated those who shared the bandstand. “I get involved in this thing and I don’t know how to stop,” he told Miles Davis, to which Davis suggested, “Try taking the saxophone out of your mouth.” Why did he play so long, Davis asked? “It took that long to get it all in.”

The pianist Errol Garner had a similar issue at a recording session in 1969. The red light in the booth flickered off, but he kept right on playing. “I couldn’t stop,” he said. “I wanted to find out how it would come out.”

The difference between live wit and recorded repartee is like the difference between fresh squeezed orange juice and the frozen concentrate. So leave the last words to Louis Armstrong, who refused to describe exactly what he did so well.

How did he define jazz, exactly? “Jazz is what I play for a living.”

Would you describe it as folk music? “Man, all music is folk music. You ain’t ever heard no horse sing a song, have you?”

Making it along as you go up: “The wit of jazz, and vice versa,” from Benjamin Errett (@benjaminerrett)

* Duke Ellington

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As we improvise, we might recall that it was on this date in 1899 that Sarah Bernhardt became the first woman to portray Hamlet on film…

The French actress was certainly a force to be reckoned with. In 1899, she took over the Théâtre de Ville in Paris and renamed it the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt, which is, as one Lit Hub editor once put it, “basically cell phone providers in the early ’00s levels of confidence.” That same year, she premiered a new production of Hamlet, with herself in the title role—a production that she would eventually also take on tour. Critics were divided—not only was she a woman, but she was a woman in her mid-fifties!—but audiences were largely enthralled, and if nothing else, the performance is now legendary.

Bernhardt may not have been the first female Hamlet—that was probably 18th-century actor Charlotte Charke—but she was the very first to play the Prince of Denmark (a bro who didn’t even like sex, mind you) on screen. On October 1, 1900, the audience of the Paris Exposition (also known as the Exposition Universelle) was treated to Le Duel d’Hamlet, the very first known film adaptation of Hamlet—albeit one that is only a minute and a half long, comprising a single scene: the Act V duel between Hamlet and Laertes. The short was filmed only a year after Bernhardt first played the role; in it, she is 56. “She’s somber, quick, natural—easily expert with her sword and clearly used to dueling,” Robert Gottlieb wrote in a biography of the actress. “There’s nothing campy or feminine about her; she’s manly and she’s coolly resolved. This isn’t an exhibition of virtuoso acting—it’s modest, in fact. But it’s certainly a vindication of her right to perform the greatest of male roles, and a welcome clue as to how she pulled it off.” Indeed. Luckily, we have even more female Hamlets in our future

LitHub

“There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses, and Sarah Bernhardt.”  – Mark Twain

Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 1, 2021 at 1:00 am

“To me, the ideal artist-to-audience relationship is a one-to-zero relationship. The artist should be granted anonymity.”*…

Wish granted…

Earlier this month a little piece of music history was restored. The news was easy to overlook. Sony Music Publishing announced that one of its outermost divisions would be rebranding: what had been EMI Production Music since 2011 would become KPM Music once again. The change may seem trivial, but it restores a name that has wielded a wide and surprising influence over popular culture.

The chances are you haven’t heard of KPM, despite its roots stretching back to 1780, when Robert Keith (the K of the name) set up a music shop in London. But you have almost certainly heard its music. Since 1956 KPM had been a producer of library music, which is not music to be played quietly for the benefit of readers, but music composed to a brief, kept on catalogue, and then used—in return for payment—to accompany something else.

You have probably encountered the work of KPM’s composers and musicians on television. In America the credits of “Monday Night Football” unfold to the sound of “Heavy Action” by Johnny Pearson; the melody for Channel 9’s cricket show in Australia was produced by KPM, though it was written with a news broadcast in mind. In Britain several shows have drawn on KPM’s library, including “All Creatures Great and Small”, “Mastermind”, “Grange Hill”, “The Two Ronnies” and the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon.

Even if you never watch TV, though, you will know fragments of this music, especially if you like hip-hop. kpm recordings have been a rich source of samples (a segment of sound used in another composition). Of KPM’s star composers, Brian Bennett has been sampled 114 times, by Drake, Nas, Kanye West and more. Les Baxter has been sampled 79 times by the Beastie Boys, Ghostface Killah and MF Doom, among others. Rap’s founding text, “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang, sampled KPM stalwart Alan Hawkshaw—specifically the song “Here Comes That Sound Again”. “Library music is sought after by producers, collectors and writers because it was played by people, not manufactured by [a] machine,” Mr Hawkshaw once [said]…

One of the most sampled songs in pop history came from kpm musicians playing together for fun in 1968. “Champ” by The Mohawks has a distinctive organ hook—played by Mr Hawkshaw—that was sampled by Eric B and Rakim and Afrika Bambaataa in the 1980s and is still being remixed by Frank Ocean, Janelle Monáe and Nicki Minaj today. “People think that’s a black group from Detroit [playing the tune], but it was hashed together by session musicians in Yorkshire,” Mr Hawkshaw said.

Library music is not the rich trove of unexpected wonder it used to be. These days budgets are tighter and there is less inclination to hire whole orchestras for an afternoon, so there isn’t so much scope for the moments of brilliance a room full of musicians might create. Artificial-intelligence firms are also trying to muscle in on the market, offering computer-generated compositions to accompany video content for a fraction of the cost of real musicians. But there is still magic in the thought of those shelves, full of music composed and recorded for who knows what, sitting there waiting to be used for something else entirely…

Its artists aren’t famous and you can’t buy the records in shops; but its work can be heard everywhere: “KPM Music is one of the most important record labels in history,” from @TheEconomist.

* Glenn Gould

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As we honor the unnamed, we might send suspiciously on-key birthday greetings to Faheem Rasheed Najm; he was born on this date in 1984. Better know by his stage name T-Pain, he is a rapper, singer-songwriter, and record producer. But he’ll surely be best remembered as the person who popularized Auto-Tune pitch-correction technology. Indeed, T-Pain became so associated with Auto-Tune that an iPhone app that simulated the effect was named after him.

Developed in 1997, Auto-Tune was used in 1998 in Cher’s “Believe” to create vocal effects (though the producers attributed the result to a pedal, treating Auto-Tune as a trade secret). Years later, T-Pain popularized the tool… which has become a controversial staple in the recording industry (as it allows recording engineers to turn the tuneless into accomplished singers).

Time magazine quoted an unnamed Grammy-winning recording engineer as saying, “Let’s just say I’ve had Auto-Tune save vocals on everything from Britney Spears to Bollywood cast albums. And every singer now presumes that you’ll just run their voice through the box.” The same article expressed “hope that pop’s fetish for uniform perfect pitch will fade”, speculating that pop-music songs have become harder to differentiate from one another, as “track after track has perfect pitch.” According to Tom Lord-Alge, the device is used on nearly every record these days…

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