4/6/08

The Sorcerer

Remember David Hurwitz, from Classicstoday.com, the guy who can't keep his anti-modernist fingers off of the qwerty keyboard? He reviews a disc by, oh shit, John Cage.

There's really no way to "review" John Cage's "number" pieces, since they leave so much open to chance and it's impossible to say what they are supposed to sound like, or if the performance accurately reflects Cage's intentions.

Well, if you stuck to your guidelines (Classicstoday.com’s review philosophy), and if you knew a little something about John Cage...

Anyone who pretends otherwise is simply blowing hot air, so let's just say that if you are collecting this cycle of works and need One, Three, and Six, here they are, obviously well-played and very well recorded [sic].


...you wouldn’t have to talk about the “quality” of the music. Just flat-out say, “Here they are, obviously well-played and very well recorded.” Enough said. But you just can’t help yourself, can you?

The two works containing actual music as it's generally understood, ...

Fuck this. I’m going to go clean my cat’s litterbox.

5 comments:

Murderface said...

Since the [sic] is in re: absent punctuation, I humbly present two interpretations of how Hurwitz actually meant that phrase, with punctuation and dialogue directions.

"...obviously well-played and very...well...[hushed whisper, as if pronouncing something shameful] recorded."

"obviously well-played and -- [begrudgingly] very well: recorded."

Gustav said...

Okay, so David Hurwitz is a curmudgeon where post-WWII music is concerned, he just can't help himself with those little jabs. But let's be a little fair. He actually gives a favorable review to the music on this recording saying, "The music is delightfully mischievous", and "this disc actually gives an excellent sense of his range of interests, containing as it does music from both ends of his long career (1936 to 1991)." That basically works for me.

Empiricus said...

I understand. My problem, however, isn't that, it's this: "Recordings are rated on a scale from 1 to 10 for both PERFORMANCE and RECORDING," coupled with, "...the ultimate purpose of Classicstoday.com is to enable you to find the music and recordings that suit your personal taste."

Both found in the Review Philosophy, they point toward a review ideal where the judgment of the music ought to be suspended, in favor of an impartial valuation of performance and recording. So when Hurwitz or one of his cohorts says "the two works containing ACTUAL music...," he/they are judging the music, something that shouldn't happen, according to their own admission.

What is exponentially hilarious about this is that, their reviews of music they DO like, i.e., tonal center-having music, is spot on fantastic. It makes no judgments about the music, just the performance and recording. Therefore, their philosophy can be shelved whenever they feel like it, which is almost always when they have to review modernist stuff, or stuff they don't like (and in my opinion, stuff they don't care to know more about).

Gustav said...

No problem, Empiricus. Your criticism is fair and just, but I thought that it should be pointed out that he ACTUALLY LIKED the Cage this time.

But there is definitely something to be said for the lack of a common vocabulary when both listening to or talking about new music. It can indeed be quite difficult to judge recordings of music that you are unfamiliar with--only so much can be said about the fidelity of the recording. Music, it must be said, in the last 50 years no longer deals with a familiar language from piece to piece. Haydn and Beethoven spoke the same language (although, saying them in different ways), while even from piece to piece in the output of composers like John Cage or Xenakis or Stockhausen use in entirely differently rhetoric. That can be a hard thing to account for when reviewing hundreds of recordings.

Also, with an unfamiliar piece, how does one comment on the quality of playing where, for example, there are clarinet multiphonics which, to the unprepared ear, can sound quite unpleasant and sometimes downright wrong? Clearly, just writing that it sounds crappy is ignorant, biased and unhelpful. But as a composer who has heard quite a few works with various extended techniques, I can say that it's sometimes hard for me, with multiple degrees in this stuff, to say with much certainty how well such thing were performed (unless it were on my chosen instrument to which I am more intimately aware). Ultimately, I will be biased by my opinion of the piece...if I think the multiphonics worked well in the piece, I'll tend to say they were performed well, and vice versa if I don't like the piece.

Again, Empiricus, your beef with Classicstoday and their strong biases are definitely well supported, but like reviews of all sorts, these must be taken with a grain of salt.

Keep up the good work, I do enjoy reading you guys.

Sator Arepo said...

Great Cage video link, by the way.

I hadn't clicked on it until just now, what an interesting interview/philosophy lesson.