(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘music

“Your memory and your senses will be nourishment for your creativity”*…

Handel and Beethoven

On which senses do great creators rely? Randall Collins investigates…

Beethoven started going deaf in his late 20s.  Already famous by age 25 for his piano sonatas, at 31 he was traumatized by losing his hearing. But he kept on composing: the Moonlight Sonata during the onset of deafness; the dramatic Waldstein Sonata at 32; piano sonatas kept on coming until he was 50. In his deaf period came the revolutionary sounds of his 3rd through 8th symphonies, piano and violin concertos (age 32-40). After 44 he became less productive, with intermittent flashes (Missa Solemnis, Diabelli variations, 9th symphony) composed at 47-53, dying at 56. His last string quartets were composed entirely in his head, left unperformed in his lifetime.

Handel went blind in one eye at age 66; laboriously finished the oratorio he was working on; went completely blind at 68. He never produced another significant work. But he kept on playing organ concertos, “performing from memory, or extemporizing while the players waited for their cue” almost to the day he died, aged 74. 

Johann Sebastian Bach fell ill in his 64th year; next year his vision was nearly gone; he died at 65 “after two unsuccessful operations for a cataract.”  At 62 he was still producing great works; at 64 he finished assembling the pieces of his B Minor Mass (recycling his older works being his modus operandi). At death he left unfinished his monument of musical puzzles, The Art of the Fugue, on which he had been working since 55.

Can we conclude, it is more important for a composer to see than hear?…

And given examples like Milton, that it’s more critical to poets and writers to hear than see? More at “Deaf or Blind: Beethoven, Handel,” from @sociologicaleye.

* Arthur Rimbaud

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As we contemplate creativity, we might recall that it was on this date in 2013 that Google– Google Search, YouTube, Google Mail, and Google Drive, et al.– went down for about 5 minutes. During that brief window, internet traffic around the world dropped by 40 percent.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function”*…

The Long Tail

One the one hand: Ted Gioia suggests that, while ‘The Long Tail’ was supposed to boost alternative voices in music, movies, and books, the exact opposite has happened…

When I first heard people predict the rise of the Long Tail, I was amused. Not only did it seem wrong-headed, but it ran counter to everything I saw happening around me.

It pains me to say this—because the Long Tail was sold to us as an economic law that not only predicted a more inclusive era of prosperity, but would especially help creative people. According to its proponents, the Long Tail would revitalize our culture by expanding the scope of the arts and giving a boost to visionaries on the fringes of society.

Alternative voices would be nurtured and flourish. Music would get cooler and more surprising. Books would become more diverse and interesting. Indie films would reach larger audiences. Etc. etc. etc.

Hey, what’s not to like?

But it never happened. More to the point, it was never going to happen because the story was a fairy tale. I knew it back then because I had been hired on a number of occasions to analyze the Long Tail myself. But the flaws in the reasoning are far more obvious today, even to me.

Nonetheless many believed it—and many still do. So it’s worth digging into the story of the Long Tail, and examining exactly why it never delivered its promise.

And maybe we can find some alternative pathway to that lost cultural renaissance by seeing how this one went off the rails.

On the other hand: Cal Newport suggest that Kevin Kelly‘s fourteen-year-old prediction that an artist could make a living online with a thousand true fans is (finally) coming true…

In his “1,000 True Fans” essay, Kelly explains that he wasn’t as excited about this new economic model as others seemed to be. “The long tail is famously good news for two classes of people: a few lucky aggregators, such as Amazon and Netflix, and 6 billion consumers,” he writes. “But the long tail is a decidedly mixed blessing for creators.” If your work lives in the long tail, the introduction of Internet-based markets might mean that you go from selling zero units of your creations to selling a handful of units a month, but this makes little difference to your livelihood. “The long tail offers no path out of the quiet doldrums of minuscule sales,” Kelly writes. “Other than aim for a blockbuster hit, what can an artists do to escape the long tail?”

This question might seem fatalistic, but Kelly had a solution. If your creative work exists in the long tail, generating a small but consistent number of sales, then it’s probably sufficiently good to support a small but serious fan base, assuming you’re willing to put in the work required to cultivate this community. In an earlier age, a creative professional might be limited to fans who lived nearby. But by using the tools of the Internet, Kelly argued, it was now possible for creative types to both find and interact with supporters all around the world…

A shining example of the 1,000 True Fans model is the podcasting boom. There are more than eight hundred and fifty thousand active podcasts available right now. Although most of these shows are small and don’t generate much money, the number of people making a full-time living off original audio content is substantial. The key to a financially viable podcast is to cultivate a group of True Fans eager to listen to every episode. The value of each such fan, willing to stream hours and hours of a creator’s content, is surprisingly large; if sufficiently committed, even a modest-sized audience can generate significant income for a creator. According to an advertising agency I consulted, for example, a weekly podcast that generates thirty thousand downloads per episode should be able to reach Kelly’s target of generating a hundred thousand dollars a year in income. Earning a middle-class salary by talking through a digital microphone to a fiercely loyal band of supporters around the world, who are connected by the magic of the Internet, is about as pure a distillation of Kelly’s vision as you’re likely to find…

The real breakthroughs that enabled the revival of the 1,000 True Fans model are better understood as cultural. The rise in both online news paywalls and subscription video-streaming services trained users to be more comfortable paying à la carte for content. When you already shell out regular subscription fees for newyorker.com, Netflix, Peacock, and Disney+, why not also pay for “Breaking Points,” or throw a monthly donation toward Maria Popova? In 2008, when Kelly published the original “1,000 True Fans” essay, it was widely assumed that it would be hard to ever persuade people to pay money for most digital content. (This likely explains why so many of Kelly’s examples focus on selling tangible goods, such as DVDs or custom prints.) This is no longer true. Opening up these marketplaces to purely digital artifacts—text, audio, video, online classes—significantly lowered the barriers to entry for creative professionals looking to make a living online…

But can this last? Is it destined to fall prey to the forces that Gioia catalogues?

The recent history of the Internet, however, warns that we shouldn’t necessarily expect the endearingly homegrown nature of these 1,000 True Fans communities to persist. When viable new economic niches emerge online, venture-backed businesses, looking to extract their cut, are typically not far behind. Services such as Patreon and Kickstarter are jostling for a dominant position in this direct-to-consumer creative marketplace. A prominent recent example of such attempts to centralize the True Fan economy is Substack, which eliminates friction for writers who want to launch paid e-mail newsletters. Substack now has more than a million subscribers who pay for access to newsletters, and is currently valued at around six hundred and fifty million dollars. With this type of money at stake, it’s easy to imagine a future in which a small number of similarly optimized platforms dominate most of the mechanisms by which creative professionals interact with their 1,000 True Fans. In the optimistic scenario, this competition will lead to continued streamlining of the process of serving supporters, increasing the number of people who are able to make a good living off of their creative work: an apotheosis of sorts of Kelly’s original vision. A more pessimistic prediction is that the current True Fan revolution will eventually go the way of the original Web 2.0 revolution, with creators increasingly ground in the gears of monetization. The Substack of today makes it easy for a writer to charge fans for a newsletter. The Substack of tomorrow might move toward a flat-fee subscription model, driving users toward an algorithmically optimized collection of newsletter content, concentrating rewards within a small number of hyper-popular producers, and in turn eliminating the ability for any number of niche writers to make a living…

The future of the creative economy: “Where Did the Long Tail Go?,” from @tedgioia and “The Rise of the Internet’s Creative Middle Class,” from Cal Newport on @kevin2kelly in @NewYorker.

* F. Scott Fitzgerald (“The Crack-Up,” Esquire, February, 1936)

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As we contemplate culture and commerce, we might recall that it was on this date in 1894 (after 30 states had already enshrined the occasion) that Labor Day became a federal holiday in the United States.

labor day
The country’s first Labor Day parade in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882. This sketch appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

source (and source of more on the history of Labor Day)

“Culture is not only passed on orally or by instinctive imitation, but above all through reading and study, hence also through the assistance of such a small object as a bookmark”*…

Arthur Fry, inventor of the Post-it Note, found inspiration in the pages of his hymnal

Siena Linton explains how a failed invention and a choir hymnbook led to one of the most iconic office staples of the 20th century…

The year is 1968, and in a laboratory in the midwestern state of Minnesota, US, Dr Spencer Silver is hard at work, attempting to develop an extra-strong adhesive for 3M, then called the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company.

Instead of the super-sticky substance he had hoped to create, Silver was left with a ‘low-tack’ adhesive, albeit a reusable one which could be stuck and unstuck when pressure was applied.

Keen not to let his time and efforts go to waste, Dr Silver searched far and wide for a use for what he called his “solution without a problem”.

For five years, he brought his invention to the table at various seminars and summits, but ultimately failed to make his idea stick.

Little did Silver know, one of his colleagues at 3M had attended one of these many seminars, and was interested to find out more about the oddly-behaving adhesive. Arthur ‘Art’ Fry, who worked to develop new products at 3M, was a keen singer, and sang in his church choir in his downtime.

Fry often used small slips of paper to mark important pages in his hymnbook, but with nothing to keep them in place they frequently fell out, causing Fry to lose his place and costing him precious time.

One Sunday in 1973, during choir practice, he remembered Dr Silver’s seminar. He wondered if he could somehow coat his bookmarks with the adhesive in a way that could help save his page more effectively, without damaging the delicate, wafer-thin pages of his hymnbook.

In the spirit of encouraging creative collaboration and inventiveness, 3M operate a “permitted bootlegging” initiative, which Fry made use of to further develop his design.

Using scrap paper borrowed from the lab next door – which just so happened to be canary yellow – Fry experimented with different ways of applying the adhesive to the paper, eventually settling on a strip of glue along one edge of the paper: enough to allow it to stick, without any tackiness left on the part of the bookmark that extended from the page.

Silver and Fry later began leaving each other notes, stuck to various surfaces around the office. It was then that they realised the full potential of their discovery…

The rest of the extraordinary story at “The surprising role classical music played in the invention of the Post-it Note,” from @sienalinton at @ClassicFM, via @tedgioia.

Marco Ferreri

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As we mark our progress, we might recall that it is on this date in 1948 that Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” was published in The New Yorker. In her tale, each year (on June 27– so just as the issue was landing) the the roughly 300 residents of a small village participate in a drawing that determines who will be sacrificed to insure a good harvest…

The story evoked strong initial negative response: subscriptions were cancelled; much hate mail received throughout the summer; and the Union of South Africa banned the story.  It is now considered a classic of short fiction (and among the most famous American short stories); it spawned several radio, television, and film adaptations, and inspired voluminous analysis, both literary and sociological.

lottery

source

“Heavy Metal is the most conservative of all loud music. Let’s face it, not even a gym teacher could get as many people to dress alike.”*…

Nimrod and His Companions Venerating Fire, by Rudolf von Ems, c. 1400. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Jeremy Swist on heavy metal’s fascination with Roman emperors…

Roman emperors have enjoyed a prolific reception in metal music around the world—Caligula and Nero most of all, with not only hundreds of individual songs but also entire concept albums dedicated to them, such as the Belgian band Paragon Impure’s 2005 album To Gaius! (For the Delivery of Agrippina) and the Russian band Neron Kaisar’s 2013 album Madness of the Tyrant. The year 2021 saw the release of two separate records about Nero: the UK band Acid Age’s Semper Pessimus and the Canadian band Ex Deo’s The Thirteen Years of Nero. The extent of certain emperors’ popularity can even be quantified, thanks to the online database Encyclopaedia Metallum. Entering each emperor’s name into the advanced search for their appearance in lyrics and song titles, and after eliminating duplicates and false positives (e.g., nero being Italian for “black”), led me to create the following bar graph, which went semi-viral on Twitter in April 2021:

Nero with 139 songs, followed by Caligula with 110, tops a sizable catalogue of 444 songs. Yet this data set consists only of mentions by name in songs with available lyrics in the Encyclopaedia Metallum and excludes untold numbers of tracks about emperors that do not name them, such as “Incitatus,” an old-school death metal ode to Caligula’s horse and would-be consul from 2019 by the Brazilian band Orthostat, or the American band Graves of Valor’s 2009 song “Locusta,” named after the woman Nero praises as the poisoner of not only his predecessor Claudius but also his stepbrother Britannicus and his mother Agrippina.

The numbers speak for themselves: emperors are metal. But why?…

Find out: “Enjoy My Flames,” from @MetalClassicist in @laphamsquart— an illuminating (and entertaining) look at (what is, in the end) a fascinating sub-genre of historical fiction, and what it tells us about our times.

Jello Biafra

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As we ponder head-banging, we might recall that on this date in 2003 Metallica’s St. Anger (the heavy metal band’s eighth studio album) was released– and went to #1 on the Billboard album chart (holding off a strong entry at #2 by Jewel, who’d moved on from her folkier roots to dance pop with 0304).

The St. Anger cover

source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 12, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water”*…

Prohibition agents amid cases of scotch whiskey in hold of a rum running ship, 1924 (Library of Congress)

From the annals of self-help, get rich quick writing, The Saturday Evening Post

If you were a bright, ambitious, young man in 1922 who wasn’t inconvenienced by your conscience, you might have considered starting your own liquor distribution business.

There were, of course, challenges: specifically, the 18th Amendment, Treasury Department officers, and, to a wildly unpredictable level, state and local law enforcement.

But in our May 13, 1922, issue, an Anonymous Bootlegger offered insider information to help ambitious entrepreneurs on their way to becoming the next Al Capone.

He discussed three promising business models: brokering legal “medicinal” liquor, driving liquor over the border from Canada, or bringing it by boat from overseas…

How to: “So You Want to Be a Bootlegger,” from @SatEvePost.

* W.C. Fields

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As we scoff at the law, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that city authorities in the California beach town of Santa Cruz announced a total ban on the public performance or playing of rock and roll music, calling it “detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community.”

It may seem obvious now that Santa Cruz’s ban on “Rock-and-roll and other forms of frenzied music” was doomed to fail, but it was hardly the only such attempt. Just two weeks later in its June 18, 1956 issue, Time magazine reported on similar bans recently enacted in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and in San Antonio, Texas, where the city council’s fear of “undesirable elements” echoed the not-so-thinly-veiled concerns of Santa Cruz authorities over the racially integrated nature of the event that prompted the rock-and-roll ban… (source)

rock ban

 source

On an orthogonol (and personal) note: the important (and revolutionary) work of @b612foundation (on whose board I sit) is featured on the front page of this week’s New York Times Science Section: “Killer Asteroids Are Hiding in Plain Sight. A New Tool Helps Spot Them” (unlocked).

Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 3, 2022 at 1:00 am

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