The Well-Reasoned, Fully Substantiated Attack of the Week!

This week is Spring Break for many in the world of academia, which means none of those annoying students around. And with nothing to do this morning, I decided to partake of a caffeine beverage at the local café. There I fortuitously came across a discarded copy of the New York Times. O frabjous day! A special treat to those of us without a major newspaper, to say the least. As I plodded my way through all the liberal bias and hidden socialist agenda, I eventually made it to the arts section, of which the New York Times writers rarely disappoint.

There are, of course, different approaches to writing a music critique. Review the performance, review the music, provide a play-by-play summary of the evening, or an editorial style commentary of the evening -- it's all good.

For the Flux Quartet's performance in the Bargemusic Here and Now series, Vivien Schweitzer decided the best approach was to introduce the mostly unfamiliar works to the reader subtly punctuated by a summation of her overall thoughts of the success of the piece.

Let me highlight my favorite part. (Read the full article here.)

Elliott Sharp’s “Tessellation Row” (1984) uses the Fibonacci series (in which the first two numbers are 0 and 1 and each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two) to generate rhythms, forms and tunings.

figure fibonacci: The number sequence of the Fibonacci series, just because we stand for knowing shit here at the Detritus.

Interesting. It's certainly not a new idea to use mathematical constructs as the basis of a musical composition, but the results are almost never the same so I tend to be open-minded.

A nice introduction to the piece. What else?

Pitches are played on open strings tuned to different ratios relating to the series.

See, this sounds pretty cool. Instead of using the mathematical series to determine pitch (which is so often the result), Sharp has in essence created his own tuning system. Very cool.

So, speaking as an audience member, how did it sound?

Aggressive outbursts were tempered with occasional moments of respite.

Okay. A rather generic statement, but fine. What else?

For the most part the cacophonous work sounded like something that might be used to torture prisoners.

Excuse me? Come again. Baking powder? Music for torturing prisoners?!

Are you sure?

Which actually begs the question...what is music used for torturing prisoners?

[Emails Dick Cheney...no response. Checks the internets...success!]

So, it sounded like
Eminem's song "The Real Slim Shady"?

That does sound awful. Thanks for the warning. Your well-reasoned and fully substantiated critique has surely saved many innocent music lovers from this dreadful concert (seeing as most of us prefer not to be tortured) or ever trying to listen to Elliott Sharp's music!

What a service! Thanks, Vivien.


In case you're interested and don't want to read the whole article, here's Ms. Schweitzer's concert scorecard:

Annie Gosfield, Lighthearted and Heavyhearted -- Loved it!

Giacinto Scelsi, String Quartet No. 5 -- Hated it!

Elliott Sharp, Tessellation Row -- Hated it!

David First, Elegies for the Afterland -- Strangely no opinion given...I guess it was the result of the "hypnotic, trance-inducing mood"

Conlon Nancarrow, String Quartet No. 1 -- Nancarrow later wrote for the player piano

Webern, Six Bagatelles -- "Provided a striking contrast" (e.g. better than most of the crap on this concert)


jason said...

This was *by far* the most actual critique I've ever seen in a Vivien Schweitzer review. Your description in graf 3 is basically her entire MO: (1) introduce the pieces and/or concert situation, (2) add no more than 5 or 6 "subtle" (I'll borrow your generous word here) adjectival indications of her opinion, (3) publish. Most of her articles are mere reports: "A concert happened." At least this time "a concert happened, and I didn't like it." She should be put out of her comfort zone more often.

samm said...

Reviewing the reviewers? Critiquing the critique? Absolutely should be done. Glad you're doing it here.

AnthonyS said...

I think the construction "it sounded like..." usually means "it didn't sound like [insert name of composer with whose music one is familiar]".